Ayn Rand and Wikipedia

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Ayn Rand and Wikipedia, an article writen and copyright 2008 by Will Johnson, wjhonson@aol.com

This page is locked, if you'd like to comment on it, you may email me.

Note: This article is not yet finished, it's being built in pieces. I'm also writing a version of this same topic called "Why Ayn Rand would decry Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia" on Knol



Jimmy Wales is a fan of Ayn Rand. Jimmy is also the instigator (or co-instigator) of the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. Jimmy Wales states that he is a Libertarian, which typically would mean a person who wants government to be as small as possible thereby allowing laissez-faire capitalism to thrive with little interference.

The Artist and the Committee

Chapter 1

Ayn Rand was also a great fan of laissez-faire capitalism, believing it to be the necessary society in which man, the individual man of purpose and dedication, can achieve his greatest work. That is, the man unfettered by rules, procedures, bureaucracy and committees interjecting themselves into his work; partly because that system is as small as desirable and only as large as necessary. When an artist creates a great sculpture, an author an amazing novel, an architect a beautiful building, they do so neither by forming a committee, taking a vote, nor reaching consensus with others. Ayn Rand's viewpoint was that each person must live free from these sorts of restrictions, free to create fantastic works of art, as individuals. Ayn felt that whenever an outside agency interferes in the art process, the result is not a beautiful piece of work. The work created might be imposing but is also mediocre, it might be enormous but is also mundane.

In "The Fountainhead", her character the Dean says in contrast to her philosophy :
"Nothing has ever been invented by one man in architecture. The proper creative process is a slow, gradual anonymous, collective one, in which each man collaborates with all the others and subordinates himself to the standards of the majority."

In this way Wikipedia, represents, not the hero Howard Roark's point-of-view, but rather the point against which he battles. Wikipedia is a slow, gradual anonymous, collective work, in which each man collaborates with all the others and subordinates himself to the standards of the majority.

Chapter 2

So in Rand's ideal world, each man is the master of his own artistic destiny, which is not to say, that one man of vision cannot employ others, but they work for him — at his will and order — to accomplish his purpose. You might say they are his adoring accomplices, but the work is credited to the man at the top of the organization. So how in Ayn's ideal world can two separate men, each with will and vision work together to accomplish a greater purpose?

We do see examples in Ayn's writings of how two men, each negotiate with the other, to exchange product at an agreed-upon price or performance. They do not dictate the means of accomplishing the contract, only the ends. To create an example: "I wish to buy 1000 pounds of steel and will pay you $30,000 for it. I'm not going to tell you how to make the steel because I know you are a steel-making perfectionist which is why I'm contracting with you." This is the manner in which two artists of commerce work together in Ayn's ideal world. However in the Wikipedian world, there are no individuals as such. Each personality is subsumed in the mass collective, much like an anthill, where the idea is for efficiency, and normality of expression, rather than creativity.

Can there exist an editor in Ayn Rand's ideal world who can create an encyclopedia at all? Does Ayn envision this act as fitting her model? If so how can this be done in a way other than the Wikipedian way?

Chapter 3

On Wikien-L recently there was renewed discussion, around whether Knol would be better or worse than Wikipedia. In that thread I stated:
My take on her view, is that she was very anti-committee, anything created by committee was almost always fatally flawed vis a vis items created by an individual. Instead of the final result being "here is an item which is the ultimate expression of X", you would have "here are several items, each individually created, which each are an expression of X, you the consumer decides which is the best"
I'm not quite sure if the Knolian approach to how the consumer decides is really going to work or not. But then every system has flaws. I'm willing to give it a shot and see. I don't even think the Knol architects really know what's going to happen or what they want to happen until a situation appears directly in front of them. The Knolian approach does however almost entirely remove the aspect of edit-warring doesn't it? And edit-wars are really at the heart of 85% of WP problems. — wikien-l@lists.wikimedia.org, "Why Google's online encyclopedia will never be as good as Wiki...", 22 Sep 2008 by Will Johnson


Chapter 1

Another issue that's come forward is whether contributions to Wikipedia are acts of altruism. If so, do they violate Rand's concepts of altruism? If not, then what are they?

Chapter 2

"We are here to do something positive and loving for the world, and it makes us proud to be a part of it." — "Re: [WikiEN-l] Searchability of non-mainspace pages", Jimmy Wales, 29 Apr 2008 WikiEN-l

Further reading

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