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Integrating my many lives on Wikipedia

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By Hurricanehink

Hurricanehink is a musician, a composer, a member of WikiProject:Tropical cyclones since 2005, and a member of WikiProject:New Jersey since 2018. His featured articles include Hurricane Isabel, 1991 Perfect Storm, and Typhoon Tip.

Short résumé

The most recent article I've nominated for good article is Cape May County, New Jersey, where I've spent most of my life. When I was 16, I attended Ocean City High School. I have played piano for two city mayoral inaugurations, and I have spent much time at Ocean City City Hall (including at a town council meetings, where I argued on behalf of the Ocean City Repertory Theatre, now defunct). In my adult life, I have spent time traversing much of Cape May County (and going across Great Egg Harbor Bay several times a week) for various jobs and gigs, or to visit some of my area's great breweries, including Cape May Brewing Company, now the third largest brewery in the state. I have edited all of these articles linked, mostly in the past few months.

An image I took for a Wikipedia article I worked on, Great Egg Harbor Bay

Resistance: truthful documentation matters

This might sound like a bland story for the Signpost, but I have been a Wikipedian since 2005, and in most of 13 years of editing, I have almost solely worked on hurricane articles, with an occasional nor'easter. I have taken many breaks as an editor. I think we all have to take a break from anything in life that becomes routine, or worse, if it's becoming toxic. A part of me got tired of writing about destructive cyclones killing thousands of people each year, but a part of me also knows my role in the #Resistance.

In a world where the Turkish government has banned its country's access to this great human experiment where knowledge is free for everyone, it is more important than ever to recognize what we are doing. We aren't just writing an encyclopedia – we're documenting the history of our world, at the same time when politicians and foreign adversaries are attempting to sabotage the freedoms we take for granted (see net neutrality for a topic of concern since I first became a Wikipedian). There is a downward trend in the Press Freedom Index around the world, especially here in my own United States, where my President said (on November 6, 2012) that "[t]he concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." The same man has significant conflicts of interest, has installed a Cabinet of people diametrically opposed to doing their job. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has gone to extraordinary lengths to undermine the environmental regulations.

Local activism is activism

Atlantic Cape Community College's first female and first African-American president, Dr. Barbara Gaba. As a note of disclosure, I teach music at the college, and try to edit the article as independently as possible.

Facts are more important than ever, and it all starts at a local level. In my research for Wikipedia, I have found some unanswered questions in my research. For example, there is apparently a "Great Sound State Park" located in Cape May County that has been designated since 1927, but it only has 2 pages of Google hits, hasn't been developed, and doesn't seem to make sense why New Jersey resources were going. I thought at one point that it was some nefarious scheme involving money laundering, the mob, and some environmental conspiracy. It turns out it's even cooler. On the site of the state park is the Cape May Plant Materials Center, which provides plant resources to nine states. I couldn't find a way to integrate that into the article, but I hope to visit their office one day, see what science is being done around me.

I've also come across some dead ends. When writing about Atlantic Cape Community College (I should disclose that I am an employee there, but not a paid editor in any means – I only teach music), I learned that a new campus in 2005 was built on environmentally sensitive land (which is pretty much the entire county), and the county was supposed to secure land. According to some forums in my search, the county hadn't done it as of 2012. I asked the staff and emailed the freeholders, but I haven't heard anything. Perhaps it wasn't publicized, or perhaps they never intended to secure the land, instead hoping that no one would dig up old articles.

I am still searching for answers, and I expect to find more mysteries about my area. One of the most pressing issues in my county is our unemployment rate (14%, worst in New Jersey, but it plummets to 5% in the summer because of the shoobies, who also give me a source of income, I should disclose). My county also drinks more per capita than any other metropolitan area in the state. There is significant poverty, and because of our isolation, the county is losing population with each passing year. I wanted to find out why. That question drove me to Wikipedia, that curiosity about how the world works. I used to primarily wonder how clouds could become some of nature's worst beasts, which is why I wrote 75 featured articles about them (give or take a few clunkers: older ones that no longer meet the criteria). Now though, I turn more local to make more sense of my world.

What I've learned on Wikipedia changed my life

I am a musician, a writer, a teacher, a hurricane enthusiast, a resident of South Jersey, a Wikipedian, and an environmentalist (Team Earth!). Lately, my worlds are merging, and I'm incorporating what I've learned on Wikipedia into my songwriting, my daily conversation, going to meetings I wouldn't otherwise attend, and just enhancing my view on my own corner of the world. I'm in the planning stages for a Tricentennial in 2023 for three area municipalities, and I'm writing a musical about an upcoming 250 year Revolutionary War anniversary. If everyone learned a bit more about their world, we could all understand it a little better and make it a bit better.

Beginning a dialog

To you, the Wikipedia community of editors and writers, I thank you for your time in reading my words. I end my rant with a few questions that I hope emphasize my point, and I would love feedback in the comments on them.

TL;DR version: keep editing and stay awesome, Wikipedians.

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  • The systems and institutions of society, and indeed the social totality itself, can likewise be described as thriving on popular ignorance. - now that's a justification for Wikipedia if I ever read one! How do we fix that, both from a society and a Wikipedia point of view? Societally - our ignorance is nostalgized and reappears as the Mandala effect, such a fake movie that people would know didn't exist if they just looked it up on Wikipedia. That also links up with the fact that Wikipedia is an incomplete encyclopedia. It would be nice if all new editors to the project were adding good content or copyediting existing content instead of doing vandalism - it would save an incredible amount of time for admins and regular users alike. Alas, our society values misinformation for the sake of... politics? Entertainment? Malice? ♫ Hurricanehink (talk) 03:44, 28 May 2018 (UTC)[reply]
  • Apologies for the delay; I have been distracted by other matters. I was also unsure about whether to post this, both due to the content and due to the length. Hopefully, this reply is sufficient even if excessive. Lastly, as a preface to these remarks, I should clarify that I agree that Wikipedia can be a great positive influence when it comes to addressing the kind of "nostalgized" ignorance you are describing. However, when this discussion is extended to the social impact of Wikipedia more generally—particularly regarding its coverage of philosophy, history, politics, economics, and so on—I think it becomes far less clear. It is the latter that I am addressing below.
    It can be a "justification for Wikipedia", but I think that assumes Wikipedia does not contribute to the maintenance of that popular ignorance. If Wikipedia is ultimately the "summarizer of the status quo" (as I claimed in my full responses), then it nonetheless maintains and reinforces that status quo, which is the same status quo that produces and thrives on that popular ignorance. In that sense, Wikipedia can—and arguably does—act as both the opponent and organizer of popular ignorance.
    Consequently, I think that Wikipedia's capacity to address popular ignorance is necessarily defined and confined by its project as the summarizer of the status quo. Moreover, that popular ignorance almost certainly is promoted on Wikipedia, especially due to it being the encyclopedia anyone can edit. If that popular ignorance is crucial to the preservation of the status quo, and Wikipedia is the summarizer of that status quo, then Wikipedia is likely also assisting the preservation of that popular ignorance generally beyond whatever it does to counter it particularly, even when its role is as countering general ignorance and accidentally preserving particular ones. I wonder what an agnotologic analysis of Wikipedia would look like.
    On "fix[ing]" popular ignorance, that of course entirely depends on how that is defined. When it comes to popular ignorance totally and especially systemically, I suspect that is a project necessarily beyond that of Wikipedia—at least, as presently and historically understood—because its own policies and principles preclude that. Although Wikipedia was founded with a commitment to rather radical ideas, such as free knowledge and free education; the core policies upon which all of Wikipedia was predicated were (and are) neutrality, verifiability, and unoriginality, the last two of which are arguably derivatives of the neutrality principle. It is the latter, and not any of those former, which has been exempt from compromise; and as far as I am aware, neutrality is one of only two (non-legal) policies which cannot be ignored—or can be, but will be enforced anyway—because there is no acceptable use case in which its ignorance would help with "improving or maintaining Wikipedia" without also catastrophically compromising the integrity of the project itself. Every other rule, policy, and guideline has exceptions and edge cases, but not the neutrality principle. The other is the policy on consensus, though I would consider it to likewise be a derivative of the neutrality principle and even it has exceptions. (The legal policies are non-negotiable for legal reasons, but they are not founding principles.) In every case, what unites all these policies and principles is their support for the same status quo that thrives on popular ignorance.
    This leads back to power. In my opinion, how to "fix" the problem of popular ignorance socially and societally—indeed, and whether it is a problem or fixable at all—is a philosophical and political question. A quick demonstration of this would be to problematize words like "ignorance" and "misinformation". According to whom? Who benefits? What is being assumed? Which people and groups are being classed as such? Which are privileged and which are marginalized? Moreover, given Wikipedia's role as described above, is opposition to the status quo and the popular ignorance on which it thrives reconciliable with support for the Wikipedia project?
    When it comes to addressing these problems, at least in the domains wherein such problems are integral to the systems and institutions in which we live, I am not confident in Wikipedia's constitutional capacity to facilitate that. That would require Wikipedia to support something other than the status quo and doing so would violate its founding principle of neutrality. Wikipedia may have a role to play, but the exact nature of that role—and whose side it is on—is unclear, at least to me. —Nøkkenbuer (talkcontribs) 05:59, 28 June 2018 (UTC)[reply]


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