The only true encyclopedia?

I see one immediate use for this space: items I printed for possible use in Cites & Insights that turn out to be a bit too odd or difficult to use there–and, as a post later this weekend will show (I hope), topics I plan to cover that deserve a head’s-up earlier.

I’ve got several more items in the unending saga of Wikipedia in the Net Media folder, but as I look at “The political importance of the Wikipedia Project : the only true Encyclopedia of our days”, I think it deserves separate comment.

That comment might boil down to “Wha?” or “The French, they will be French.” Or it might not.

Jean-Baptiste Soufron subtitles this four-page essay “Wikipedia : Towards a new electronic Enlightenment Era ?” (Those extra spaces around punctuation are in the original; I can only assume they’re important for some reason. I quote the first three paragraphs:

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” — Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

I am convinced that Wikipedia is the only real Encyclopedia of our days because it’s the only one that relies on a real political goal : to pursue freedom over content and information.

On the other hand, books like the Encyclopedia Britannica are nothing else than simple knowledge compendiums without any political soul and usurping the term “Encyclopedia”.

Scratching your head yet? I love that first paragraph: Wales could give Michael Hart lessons in grandiosity. “The sum of all human knowledge.” Sure, Jimmy. Never mind that.

Were you aware that something is only an encyclopedia if it has a “political soul”? No, neither was I. Ah, but after trashing Robert McHenry and explaining why Wikipedia is inherently superior in every respect, we get the real stuff here: Diderot and d’Alembert of the French Encyclopedie, of the mid-18th century, had a strong political basis for that encyclopedia. So, “a real encyclopedia should be a place directed toward a political project of its own…”

What’s that you say? The word “encyclopedia” has Greek roots? According to Merriam-Webster, it was used in English as early as 1644–a full century before the French Encyclopedie?

That may be factually true, but I’d guess it’s irrelevant to Soufron. Once the French took over the word for a definition of their own, it is uncivilized for anyone else to give it any other meaning, even if that usage preceded the French usage. The Diderot and d’Alembert effort was “the original encyclopedia,” and nothing else can claim to be an encyclopedia unless it has a similarly political end.

Wikipedia’s goal? “The political goal of freedom over content and information.” Read that carefully: freedom is more important to Wikipedia than the actual content.

My only real comment here is: “I laugh in your general direction.”

One Response to “The only true encyclopedia?”

  1. Brian Says:

    Wow, Walt, it must’ve taken some effort for you to read that whole article. I couldn’t continue past the claim that it’s morally shocking for the former EB editor-in-chief to make fun of the Klingon version of Wikipedia. (p.s. Watering down lines from Monty Python … now *that’s* morally shocking!)

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