Local Culture and the E-Business: The Freedom and Threat of Communication


Constantinos Athanasopoulos


Not only our contemporary economy but our societies and local cultures as well are permeated and transformed by the increasing and widespread use of the modern technologies and in particular the Internet. Many see this as a beneficial factor for our societies: they believe that local cultures can be freed by the menace of nationalism and fanaticism that 19th and 20th centuries have brought upon them. Others however, see such a widespread and with no similar precedence infiltration of foreign customs and ways of life into local culture as a highly corrosive and deleterious effect of the advance of modern technology. This dilemma between absolute freedom in the flow of information via the Internet into the local societies and cultures and a regulated use of the Internet so that local societies are protected and local cultures preserved and keep flourishing well into the next century is the main topic of this paper. Since the paper uses theories from both cultural theory and philosophy (mainly philosophy of culture, philosophy of civilisation, ethics -and mainly business ethics- and political philosophy) it follows an inter-disciplinary attitude and perspective. After an investigation into the nature and the main characteristics of local cultures and civilisation in today’s globalised economy and world of internet based information (based both on cultural theory -esp. the theories of Breslow and Jones 1977- and on the philosophy of civilisation -esp. the theories of McKeon 1981, Canfield 1996, Jacobson 1954), the paper shall analyse the main ethical arguments in favour of the widespread freedom of enterprise in the Internet, and in particular in the form of the recent development of Electronic and Internet based Businesses (based mainly on welfare based criteria and arguments -such as those offered by Kaplow and Shavell 2002). This new form of business is criticised by many as a threat to local cultures and traditions. The paper shall analyse this criticism and shall relate it to the traditional ethical arguments connected to the deontological vs. the consequentialist basis for the freedom of communication. Using a critique on the welfare basis for the freedom of communication (found in an early form in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty), as well as a critique on the ethical subjectivism and relativism that the believers in the absolute freedom of expression presuppose, the paper shall attempt to divest the main arguments for an absolute freedom of communication via the internet and the internet based business from logical fallacies and shall propose a new principle in regulating internet based communication, which can also apply in the case of e-business and the related e-business’ activities. This principle encapsulates intuitions from the communication and language theory of L. Wittgenstein (esp. his later philosophy of language and communication views). Language and communication in the later Wittgenstein are so immersed in the community based and social life that Wittgenstein sees them as forms of life. I shall enlarge on what exactly we can understand from Wittgenstein’s intuitions about language and communication and how they are related to both cultural and civilisation theory and my proposed here regulatory principle. Since one of the main purposes of e-business is to relay information via the internet, the regulatory principle which shall be proposed here can form as a platform and a control mechanism for filtering commercial information via the internet, protecting crucial areas and characteristics of local culture and community life. In this way the proposed here principle shall escape the welfare-based pitfalls of the “absolute freedom of expression” adherents through the philosophical analysis of the use of the concepts of “culture”, “civilisation” and “communication”. At the end of my paper, I shall embark into a comparison (by way of an example) between the application of such a principle in the Internet and the current state of e-business and Internet based flow of information and e-communication. The purpose of such an endeavour shall be to find how the proposed guiding principle can be a beneficial factor in the radical transformation in society and local culture that the widespread use of the Internet by business and other private commercial or non-commercial agencies and groups of people forces upon it.