Nietzsche and the NPOV

Wikipedia's Neutral Point of view is, understandably, a controversial thing in some circles. I'm still investigating what the actual impact of the NPOV is, and I think its effects are actually complicated. However, I think some people are getting hung up on the word “Neutral,” which may imply a sort of “objectivity” that they find distasteful. Namely, a vision of objective knowledge that is “neutral” because it is “pure,” somehow detached from the messy world of politics and subjectivity we live in. This critique of the NPOV, I think, is a mistake. I'm not the only one to make this argument, Wikipedians themselves make it in their FAQ for the NPOV, and Joe Reagle has made it as well.

Nietzsche, in The Geneology of Morals makes a critique of the notion of “pure reason” or “knowledge in itself,” not dissimilar, I think, to the criticism that is sometimes leveled at the NPOV. He writes:

There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our “concept” of this thing, our “objectivity,” be.

I couldn't help but be struck by how similar Nietzsche's call for an “objectivity” based on a multitude of perspectives is to the NPOV itself! One section of the policy reads:

[The NPOV] is not a lack of viewpoint, but is rather an editorially neutral point of view. An article and its sub-articles should clearly describe, represent, and characterize all the disputes within a topic, but should not endorse any particular point of view. It should explain who believes what, and why, and which points of view are most common.

Of course, this proves nothing about how the NPOV is actually employed in practice, which is considerably more complicated. Still, I think it makes for an interesting comparison.

About Copyvillain

Hello! And welcome to the blog!

Here on Copyvillain, I hope to work toward a crtical examination of what's called been called Free Culture, Peer-to-Peer culture, or Peer Production. Basically, all of these terms refer to the mode of producing culture that we find on Wikipedia, in which many loosely organized collaborators work together to produce a larger text without a strictly hierarchical organization.

I think it is important to explain what I mean when I say I intend to take a “critical” take on this method of production on this blog. I do not come here to bury Wikipedia (or YouTube, or Hacker spaces, or what have you). These are some of my favorite things. I think that these projects, and the people involved with them, are often animated by a tremendous idealism, and a wonderful sense that they are working together to build a better future for all of humanity.

I think that idealism is real, in fact I'm banking on it. What I'd like to do here is to argue that some of the cultural assumptions Peer Production brings with it from capitalism may serve to undercut the very idealistic goals that its practitioners embrace. My hope is that their genuine commitment to a better, fairer, human future will motivate them to move away from these assumptions and towards a new vision for Peer Production based on a broader understanding of human equality and shared responsibility.

Of course, I'll also be posting some short write ups on current news, just keeping abreast of things.

Stay tuned!