The digital encyclopedia is petitioning the United Nations for recognition as a world heritage site
Boasting more than 18 million entries in 279 languages, Wikipedia is arguably the largest store of human knowledge in the history of mankind. In its first decade, the digital encyclopedia has done more to challenge the way we think about the relationship between knowledge and the Internet than virtually any other website. But is this ubiquitous tree of knowledge as culturally sacred as the pyramids of Giza, the archaeological site of Troy, or the Native American mound cities of Cahokia?
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, thinks so. Spurred on by a German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the digital encyclopedia will launch a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders.
The first digital entity to vie for recognition as cultural treasure, Wikipedia argues that the site meets the first and foremost of UNESCO's criteria: "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. "
"'What if everyone was given free access to the sum of all human knowledge?' Within the last 10 years, this seemingly utopian idea has resulted in nothing less than the largest collection of human knowledge ever created," argues the team at Wikipedia 10, a page dedicated to celebrating the first decade of the site. "Independent, unrestrictedly accessible, and non-commercial. This achievement made Wikipedia a pioneer of cultural change because Wikipedia transferred the tradition of knowledge exchange into the new, digital age. Thus creating a unique place of knowledge exchange in the history of civilization."
The speed, sophistication, and novelty of Wikipedia may hurt the website's chances. The New York Times' Kevin O'Brien reports that the website will likely face skepticism:
"Heritage professionals tend to be rather conservative types, or they wouldn't choose this kind of occupation," said Britta Rudolff, a heritage consultant who teaches on the subject at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany. "They like to play with the past, and something only a decade old is going to face challenges."
[Wikipedia] will have to negotiate a complicated approval process and overcome the skeptical regard of Unesco and heritage consultants to be considered for recognition. Susan Williams, the head of external media relations at Unesco in Paris, said a bid by a digital entity like Wikipedia would be unprecedented.
"Anyone can apply," said Ms. Williams, who added that she was not aware of Wikipedia's plans. "But it may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria." One of the criteria for inclusion, she said, is that the culture or practice be endangered.
UNESCO has always encouraged the recognition of technological advancements as "an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design." Wikipedia is certainly some kind of "space" for the advancement of human intelligence, if it is any kind of space at all. And that might be the issue.
Arguably, the inclusion of Wikipedia as the symbol of a given epistemological epoch is as intuitive as the inclusion of Alexander the Great's library at Alexandria, hub of knowledge for the ancient world. But UNESCO's world heritage is usually reserved for monuments to cultures past or stunning works of natural beauty (like the Alexandria library's stunning architecture and collection of ancient tomes.) Do Wikipedia's vast server farms qualify as physical manifestations of Wikipedia's digital contents, or will Wikipedia as a website find itself relegated to the lesser-known Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which includes endangered traditions and practices divorced from a particular physical locale?
The tough to resolve debate over Wikipedia's placeness may obscure the more immediate consequence of any kind of UNESCO membership. The primary mission and goals of UNESCO are to reduce poverty, encourage sustainable development, and promote intercultural dialogue: within this mission, the UN identifies world heritage sites significant in humanity's cultural history that require international cooperation and attention in their preservation and protection. The designation isn't merely ceremonial; it has pragmatic, legal purpose. While home states exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over heritage sites, UNESCO actively provides material assistance in coordination with member states and NGOs, as outlined in the UNESCO's 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Is Wikipedia a knowledge store worthy of UNESCO's recognition? Perhaps. But does the Wikimedia Foundation really need UN resources to polish its servers and build "an appreciation for Wikipedians" and "higher attention for Wikipedia in the public," as outlined on Wikipedia 10? Probably not. The Wikimedia Foundation, which supports Wikipedia and other wiki projects, has a fairly robust and dedicated fundraising operation, and the foundation raised more than $21 million from November 2010 to January 2011 in the service of new initiatives. UNESCO would be better suited to focus its resources on heritage sites facing more immediate challenges.
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
These statements have alarmed many. “If we lived in a different sort of country,” Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate, “this could fairly be seen as the prelude to a military coup.”
And I have some sympathy for this alarm.
As I have written in these pages, I am growing increasingly worried about the politicization of our military. And when I see the military appear to resist the impulses or tweeted policy preferences of the president, I am very conscious that—to build on an astute observation made by my friend Erin Simpson early on in this administration—some of the actions that protect the fabric of American society in the near term could be detrimental to American institutions in the long term. A politicized military that endures beyond this administration, for example, is not in the interests of the American people.
If the president is concerned about violence on the left, he can start by fighting the white supremacist movements whose growth has fueled its rise.
In his Tuesday press conference, Donald Trump talked at length about what he called “the alt left.” White supremacists, he claimed, weren’t the only people in Charlottesville last weekend that deserved condemnation. “You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he declared. “Nobody wants to say that.”
I can say with great confidence that Trump’s final sentence is untrue. I can do so because the September issue of TheAtlantic contains an essay of mine entitled “The Rise of the Violent Left,” which discusses the very phenomenon that Trump claims “nobody wants” to discuss. Trump is right that, in Charlottesville and beyond, the violence of some leftist activists constitutes a real problem. Where he’s wrong is in suggesting that it’s a problem in any way comparable to white supremacism.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
President Trump, forced to choose between working with business leaders and espousing white identity politics, has chosen the latter.
Updated on August 16 at 3:59 p.m.
While Donald Trump is on vacation, there are major renovations going on in the West Wing. Perhaps they’ll alter plans and include a portcullis and a moat, because the White House is under siege.
The president is once again facing loud denunciation (though so far little else) from members of his own party. Vice President Pence is cutting short an overseas trip and returning home to an administration in crisis. And Wednesday afternoon, the president announced he was pulling the plug on a manufacturing council and a strategy and policy forum, both comprised of business leaders, after a spree of defections in reaction to Trump’s handling of violence in Charlottesville.
An analysis of Stormfront forums shows a sometimes sophisticated understanding of the limits of ancestry tests.
The white-nationalist forum Stormfront hosts discussions on a wide range of topics, from politics to guns to The Lord of the Rings. And of particular and enduring interest: genetic ancestry tests. For white nationalists, DNA tests are a way to prove their racial purity. Of course, their results don’t always come back that way. And how white nationalists try to explain away non-European ancestry is rather illuminating of their beliefs.
Two years ago—before Donald Trump was elected president, before white nationalism had become central to the political conversation—Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists then at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study Stormfront forum posts about genetic ancestry tests. They presented their study at the American Sociological Association meeting this Monday. After the events in Charlottesville this week, their research struck a particular chord with the audience.
Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?
Since 1907, Portland, Oregon, has hosted an annual Rose Festival. Since 2007, the festival had included a parade down 82nd Avenue. Since 2013, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, had taken part. This April, all of that changed.
In the days leading up to the planned parade, a group called the Direct Action Alliance declared, “Fascists plan to march through the streets,” and warned, “Nazis will not march through Portland unopposed.” The alliance said it didn’t object to the Multnomah GOP itself, but to “fascists” who planned to infiltrate its ranks. Yet it also denounced marchers with “Trump flags” and “red maga hats” who could “normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.” A second group, Oregon Students Empowered, created a Facebook page called “Shut down fascism! No nazis in Portland!”
Charlottesville marks a new era of even bolder assertion of the right to threaten violence for political purposes.
It could have been so much worse.
Like ISIS attackers in Europe, the Charlottesville murderer used a car as his assault weapon. But Charlottesville this past weekend was crammed with anti-social personalities carrying sub-military firearms. It could just as easily have been one—or more—of those gun-carriers who made the decision to kill. If so, Americans might this week be mourning not one life lost to an attack, but dozens.
As recently as 2009, the nation retained a capacity to be shocked when individuals carried weapons to political events. Such was the case in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 18, 2009:
A man toting an assault rifle was among a dozen protesters carrying weapons while demonstrating outside President Obama's speech to veterans on Monday, but no laws were broken. It was the second instance in recent days in which weapons have been seen near presidential events.
The House resolution faults the president for failing to adequately condemn white supremacists “and assure the American people of his resolve to opposing domestic terrorism.”
When Donald Trump failed to single out and denounce Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and their allies Sunday, even after they marched by torchlight through an American city, where one among them ran down an anti-racist protester, I noted the historic failure of presidential leadership—a failure underscored by the praise that white supremacist leaders heaped on his approach—and called on Congress to step into the breach, reasserting the nation’s conscience by censuring the president.
In the days that followed, Trump buckled to widespread pressure to single out the white-supremacist groups, naming them in a statement that he read from a teleprompter. But he subsequently declared, in a combative, unscripted press conference Tuesday, that there were some good people on both sides of the Charlottesville protest, implying that good people marched alongside swastikas and KKK members.