Twofish's Blog

August 31, 2006

Transparency, inclusion and wikipedia

Filed under: academia, china, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:10 pm

One problem with being part of a new power structure (and wikipedia is a new power structure) is trying to avoid the mistakes of the old power structure.  I’ve been in some e-mail conversations about ways of dealing with the PRC’s block, and I always am a bit uncomfortable in these sorts of private e-mail discussions because they involve creating a division between people who have information and people who don’t.  It might seem silly to worry about this since its just an e-mail conversation between people with no particular power, but something that I’m reminded of is the history of how the Communist Parties of the Soviet Union and of China gradually transformed themselves from small bands of committed idealists to big nasty bureaucracies.

At the same time, there is a lot of semi-confidential information that probably shouldn’t be public. The two principles I think of wikipedia and of open culture are:

  • transparency
  • inclusion

I suppose the best way for me to deal with this is to make public that these sorts of conversations exist, and if you want to be a part of it, just e-mail me, and I’ll try to get you linked in.  I’ve been wondering what happens if someone I strongly disagree with wants in, but if that is the case, I’ll just refer them to someone else in the conversation, and see if they can get in through them.  Sort of the reverse of black-balling.

Anyway, the big argument that I’ve come up as to why the PRC and the CCP should lift the block is that they people that they are hurting are supporters of the CCP and the current government.  People who oppose the government are going to be posting to wikipedia anyhow.  The trouble with the block is that it effectively prevents someone who supports the CCP from posting and that runs the risk of creating an imbalance.

It’s also really embarrassing and difficult to be even moderating sympathetic to the CCP as I am, and be working on a project which is blocked by the PRC government.  If the PRC government were to lift the block, this would give a big boost to supporters of the government to participate in wikipedia.

The other arguments are:

  • The Chinese wikipedia is aiding the cause of national unification and promoting unity among Chinese worldwide by creating a common language and set of understandings
  • Chinese wikipedia allows the PRC to export culture and soft power.  It’s a hugely useful language learning tool
  • Chinese wikipedia is an ideal forum to disseminate information about laws and regulations of the Central Government which aids in promotion of rule of law and constructing a advance system of government.

However, I do have this nagging worry.  What if I’m wrong?

What if unblocking wikipedia causes social instability causing the downfall of the party, creating economic problems that wreck the global economic system, thereby destroying the stability of the core regions and handing victory in the Long War to Bin-Laden?

This is the problem with having an open mind and being pragamatic rather than ideological.  Someone who is committed to free speech as a matter of principle and who sees things in black and white is going to just dismiss that argument out of hand.  However, it is very possible that if I were to talk to a Communist Party official, I’d come away with the conclusion that “yes wikipedia must be blocked.”  But the possibility that someone might change your mind is the price one has to accept if one wants a real discussion in which you have a possibility of changing their mind.

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