Wikipedia’s ‘Invisible Hand’: More Right-Wing than Left (Le Temps, Switzerland)
Why are so many academics still not sold on Wikipedia? After all, encompassing shared digital property provided for free by a collective, Wikipedia may seem like the realization of left-wing utopian ideal. But Dr. Frederic Kaplan, professor of digital humanities at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale, writes that by advocating decentralized conflict resolution and encouraging the emergence of a ‘neutral’ community in which experts and amateurs are put on an equal footing, Wikipedia operates much like the ‘hidden hand’ theorized by free-market icon Adam Smith.
For Le Temps, Dr. Frederic Kaplan starts out this way:
Why do academics remain so divided over Wikipedia and its hundreds of thousands of collaboratively-written articles? Beyond the debate about accuracy or the relevance of the online encyclopedia, a deeper ideological malaise may be lurking. In our political culture, which separates ideas and programs on the left-right axis, Wikipedia’s design remains singularly objective.
By aiming to create shared digital property, including free content provided by a collective, the online encyclopedia is a project of shared values typically associated with the “left.” Some might see in it the concrete technological realization of a utopia imbued with Marxism: collectivism that really works.
However, by reducing control structures to a minimum, advocating decentralized conflict resolution, and encouraging the emergence of a “neutral” community in which experts and amateurs are put on an equal footing, Wikipedia also bears the imprint of a profoundly liberal ideology, often associated in Europe with “right-wing” thinking. The encyclopedia’s success is based on the promise of advancing knowledge through self-regulating market of free contributions. Participating individuals pursue their own personal goals, sometimes in competition, but they contribute to the general interest. Free competition leads to the gradual elimination of error. Marc Foglia, in his book on Wikipedia, draws a parallel with one of Adam Smith’s 18th century theories. Just as in economics, the “invisible hand” will always guide Wikipedia toward increasingly reliable information.
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