You can learn a lot about what’s driving the nuttiness in the GOP by peeking in on the far-Right’s awkward war against Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia built and moderated by its users is one of the most interesting phenomena of the Internet Age. Anyone can post or edit an article. Moderators decide what stays and what goes based on a set of standards aimed at delivering information verified by credible sources.
Is it subject to abuse? Hell, yea. Look what happened when someone vandalized former pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller’s Wikipedia entry. But considering the site’s open model its general reliability is the real story. It has become a first class source of sources, giving Internet users a ready starting point for research on a topic.
Can you be certain that the information you find on the site is correct? According to Wikipedia the answer is no. It is a permanent work in progress.
It’s that nuanced approach to documenting the world that places Wikipedia atop the cultural fault line that divides the extreme right from everyone else. Glenn Beck last year implied (inaccurately, as if that matters) that Wikipedia was created by the Jewish supervillain George Soros, explaining “it’s perfect Open Society stuff.” Fox News consistently runs hack pieces on them. And Newsmax has made it clear – Wikipedia is controlled by the left.
Why is Wikipedia so bad? Not because it can be so easily vandalized or because of its handling of controversial figures, but because of its bias. But what bias are they complaining about exactly?
Well, that’s where it gets interesting. Are there errors and disagreements about controversial topics? Sure. But that isn’t really what’s driving this hostility. Simply insinuating that there can be more than one correct account of the same set of events is itself a bias in these folks’ eyes. That’s the bias that bothers them.
Afterall, if you have to question what you read in the encyclopedia, then what else might people start questioning? Perhaps the Bible? Me? It is an idea they feel they must challenge. And challenge it they have.
A few people have taken the bold and inadvertently hilarious step of publishing their own Wiki to confront the lies. Conservapedia was founded by the son of Phyllis Schlafley. Unlike Wikipedia it limits its irony-impaired articles to the absolute truth. Instead of a set of guidelines it has “commandments.” It also includes an entertaining account of Wikipedia’s proven bias. A few examples:
Reason 57: Wikipedia promotes suicide with 21,544 entries that mention this depravity.
Reason 84: Wikipedia’s entry for the Renaissance denies any credit to Christianity, its primary inspiration (this one would have been Galileo’s favorite).
Reason 102: Wikipedia allows the use of B.C.E.
And it goes on and on for hours.
The far Right’s real problem with Wikipedia is philosphical. If my core values, everything that allows me make sense of life, depends on a brittle set of beliefs, I will not cotton to careless folk who question things.
If, for example, my mental well-being depends on my certainty that one literal afternoon about 4000 years ago a man named Noah literally sailed through a flood on a home-made boat containing two of every animal on Earth, or that America was perfect the moment in 1789 when the Constitution was passed into law (by God) and has only been unraveling since that time, well, I’m unlikely to appreciate Wikipedia.
For that matter, I’ll probably be suspicious of journalists, scientists, foreigners, professors and others who are unwilling to accept my received truths and leave well enough alone. If my values are the only correct ones, any contradictory information is by definition flawed. I may not be able to tell why it’s wrong, but it must necessarily be wrong somehow. Tagging a “bias” claim on information I don’t like is a default tactic that protects the warm bubble in which I hide.
This tactic, so plainly on display in the Wikipedia debates, makes every disagreement passionate and personal, short-circuiting the essential machinery of representative government. And unfortunately, it is becoming a core element of Republican politics.
It was never inevitable that the GOP would become the final fortress of people fleeing from the frustrating complexity of the modern world. It didn’t have to be this way. Goldwater called them “a bunch of kooks.” But here we are.
So place my bio, if I ever earn one, on Conservapedia alongside Deliberate Ignorance, Hollywood Values, Liberal Denial, Counter-Examples to Relativity, and the many other enlightening and 100% completely accurate entries. I anticipate my article will be brief.
In closing, I leave you with insights from The Onion; Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Independence.