Wiki: anarchic knowledge organization

There's an interesting article on wired about Wikipedia, the anarchic encyclopedia. It's on online work that anyone can edit. Doesn't that cause problems? Well yes and no. "Vandals" as they are called do try to make a mark. But anybody can place an article on a "watch list"; when it changes, they can find out easily and potentially revert the change if they don't like it.

Wikipedia has an innate capacity to heal itself. As a result, woefully outnumbered vandals often give up and leave. ... making changes is so simple that who prevails often comes down to who cares more. And hardcore Wikipedians care. A lot.

Wool logs on to Wikipedia at 6 each morning and works two hours before leaving for his day job developing education programs for a museum. When he gets back home around 6:30 pm, he hops back on Wikipedia for a few more hours. ... It's tempting to urge people like Wool ... to get a life. But imagine if they instead spent their free time walking through public parks, picking up garbage. We'd call them good citizens.

Many wiki "citizens" defeat most casual defacement by uncoordinated action opposing it. But some defacement is not casual... and so the process of government formation has started.

Still, even committed citizens sometimes aren't muscular enough to fend off determined bad guys. As Wikipedia has grown, Wales has been forced to impose some more centralized, policelike measures - to guard against 'edit warriors,' 'point-of-view warriors,' 'revert warriors,' and all those who have difficulty playing well with others. 'We try to be as open as we can,' Wales says, 'but some of these people are just impossible.' During last year's presidential election, Wikipedia had to lock both the George W. Bush and the John Kerry pages because of incessant vandalism and bickering. The Wikipedia front page, another target of attacks, is also protected.

If that suggests an emerging hierarchy in this bastion of egalitarian knowledge-gathering, so be it. The Wikipedia power pyramid looks like this: At the bottom are anonymous contributors, people who make a few edits and are identified only by their IP addresses. On the next level stand Wikipedia's myriad registered users around the globe, people who have chosen a screen name and make edits under that byline. Some of the most dedicated users try to reach the next level - administrator. Wikipedia's 400 administrators ... can delete articles, protect pages, and block IP addresses. Above this group are bureaucrats, who can crown administrators. The most privileged bureaucrats are stewards. And above stewards are developers, 57 superelites who can make direct changes to the Wikipedia software and database. There's also an arbitration committee that hears disputes and can ban bad users.

At the very top, with powers that range far beyond those of any mere Wikipedian mortal, is Wales, known to everyone in Wiki-world as Jimbo. He can do pretty much anything he wants - from locking pages to banning people to getting rid of developers. So vast are his powers that some began calling him 'the benevolent dictator.' But Wales bristled at that tag. So his minions assigned him a different, though no less imposing, label. 'Jimbo,' says Wikipedia administrator Mark Pellegrini, 'is the God-King.'

The God-King drives a Hyundai.
Chuckle. Good stuff. Order, and government, arises in anarchy. It's only when government turns monopolistic/coercive that it becomes the state and must be opposed by the moral man.

Anarchists have a many good examples these days arising online.

Terri Schiavo is dead

The Schiavo case has been on my mind lately, and since I've tossed off some comments on some of my favorite blogs I thought I'd write a bit more on it.

First off, to my mind the most salient aspect of the thing is that Schiavo's body ought to be hers. Her private property. Not her husband's, not her parents', not the Congress's. Hers. It should be disposed of as she wills, or, in her absence, as she willed. Now this is a liberal society, in the best sense of that word (meaning: libertarian). Liberals believe in self-ownership; it is the one thing still connecting the Left to the term "liberal". So it is not surprising to find them supporting Schiavo's "right to die", which is really her property right in herself.

It would be nice if Terri Schiavo could be consulted as to what to do with her, but that is not the case. She's not here anymore; she's dead. So the decision must be made by others. It was made by the court, as a finding of fact. Schiavo wanted to be killed in this circumstance. They may or may not be right. But to overturn that finding would be to overturn our entire judicial system. Of course, finding that she wanted to die, and giving people the right to kill themselves are different things. Suicide is illegal in many (most?) states. As a liberal, I'll fight for the right to die. But Florida evidently allows people to will themselves to be unplugged, and I am fine with that both on liberal grounds and on Federalism grounds; I don't care what they do in Florida.

Speaking of which... second thing that needs to be mentioned is how appalling it is to see the Congress trying to involve itself. Federalism, conservatives?

Third: one thing that few are mentioning is cost. Money is talked about, it being the cause of the first rift between Michael Schiavo and Terri's parents. But not the cost of keeping Schiavo alive as a vegetable. Medical care is not cheap. For the price of one Terri Schiavo meat puppet, 100 children could be kept from dying from dehydration during diarhea. Of course, by killing Terri's body we don't magically shunt money to the third world. We do, however, shunt it either to Michael Schiavo, the parents, or to insurance companies (and by extension everyone paying premiums). It helps someone. Or to put it another way: someone is paying for this.

All of that is a long way to get to saying: there are real costs involved on both sides here. It's not just a matter of "life" versus nothing. It's a matter of money, and money buys everything, including life if you're poor enough.

Some have suggested just giving the body over the parents who'd presumably take care of it. Well, see point 1. The issue of cost is more one about the motives of someone contemplating what to tell their friends and family to do with them in this sort of case. Staying alive will be taking money out of the pockets of someone, probably those you love. Do you really want to do that? For a 2% chance that I might wake up and be marginally the person I am not... well, that's worth a lot. But for a .001% chance that I'd wake up as a horribly damaged near-animal? Kill me.