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General News    H3'ed 1/17/12

Wikipedia blackout, why we fight

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Message Al Rodbell
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The reason can be viewed as a protest against something we don't usually conceptualize. "Agnotology," The Science of Creating Ignorance . If you type Agnotology, your spell checker won't recognize it, nor will your readers, but, it's a word we need to promote to our national lexicon. It is in Wikipedia, but the article won't be available January 18, as for the first time this world wide encyclopedia will be closed down to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act that in the name of protecting commerce could jeopardize sites such as Wikipedia. 

Agnotology I would argue is a fundamental unseen component of all groups, from the smallest friendship network to vast complex countries. If we see this, (and I'm writing this for my own benefit, an actual diary) it helps to accept the society we are living in without wasted anger. In some ways those who lived in autocratic states such as the USSR had it easier than we do. There, there were only official sources of information with everyone knowing that "Pravda," meaning truth in English, was in fact the official limits of what could be expressed. No one was running around saying..."hey, this isn't factual and is really propaganda..." as they would have been laughed at since everyone knew this. 

Wikipedia is the single most valuable invention that counters agnotology in this country and the world. We all know that it was invented by silicon valley billionaire Jimmy Wales, as he describes himself as the founder. Yet, if we read the article on Larry Sanger, it was he who was the co-founder who wrote many of the original principles that have lead to it's great success. You can read about it right on Wikipedia, which reinforces my point of its anti-agnotologic nature, in that truth prevails even over the authority of the person who financed it.

Agnotology is different from ignorance, as it is can be understood from economic, sociological-psychological and political dimensions. It is an active force, one that requires many central elements, one being activation of primary emotions such as fear, rage and then hatred of the "other." This hatred is essential for many reasons. It is a satisfying catharsis, a substitute for the imperative to take more effective action, to oppose agnotology with information. This wrath, this hatred, also acts as a deterrent to those who consider opposing a given body of ignorance that happens to be entrenched in the existing order.

This helps understand the popularity of satire, of programs such as the Daily Show, which thrives on puncturing agnotology. The realization is quickly dissipated in the laughter, the enjoyment of being among the cognoscenti, but without a need to engage in programmatic action. Such satire was actually allowed in the last years of the Soviet era, as it was considered a harmless social outlet.

Agnotology is inherent in House bill 3699, the Research Works Act, or RWA, that will remove from the public domain full reports of publicly funded research. There was a OpEd against this in the N.Y. Times, and some organizations such as the American Library Association are opposing it, but vast publishing resources are pushing it, with their implied campaign funding prowess.

Perhaps closing Wikipedia for a day is an important reminder of what it means not to have this fount of open source information at our finger tips, this uncounted billions of dollars worth of information that is produced without any profit motive by those who share a mutual desire for a more informed rational world.

It's something worth fighting for.

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Retired Commercial Printing Executive, developer of I.T. systems for the industry. Advanced degrees in Social Psychology, now living in Southern California
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