“Historically, Americans have been better at living democracy than at understanding it. They consider it a birthright and a universal aspiration, not a rare form of government that for two millennia was dismissed as base, unstable, and potentially tyrannical. They are generally unaware that democracy in the West went from being considered an irredeemable regime in classical antiquity, to a potentially good one only in the nineteenth century, to the best form of government only after World War II, to the sole legitimate regime only in the past twenty-five years.”
This morning’s Observer column:
Since its inception, it’s been the butt of jokes, a focus for academic ire and a victim of epistemological snobbery. I remember one moment when the vice-chancellor of a top university made a dismissive remark about Wikipedia, only to have a world-leading chemist in the audience icily retort that the pages on his particular arcane speciality were the most up-to-date summary currently available anywhere – because he wrote them. And this has been my experience; in specialist areas, Wikipedia pages are often curated by experts and are usually the best places to gain an informed and up-to-date overview.
Because Wikipedia is so vast and varied (in both range and quality), the controversies it engenders have traditionally been about its content and rarely about its modus operandi and its governance. Which is a pity, because in some ways these are the most significant aspects of the project. The political events of the last two years should have alerted us to the fact that Wikipedia had to invent a way of tackling the problem that now confronts us at a global level: how to get at some approximation to the truth…