Battlefield of ideas

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(English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.

The battlefield of ideas is a way to represent Wikipedia's nature that contrasts with, and denies, the ideal and stated purpose that Wikipedia is a community devoted to creating a free, internet encyclopedia.

This conceptual metaphor is already suggested by such terms as edit war, troll war, flame war and even "Volunteer Fire Department" (originally Militia) which suggests that those they deal with are a form of arsonist or flamethrower. The terms truce and ceasefire have also been used, plucked directly from discourse appropriate to battles. Such terms are also used, with less frequency, on other wikis, perhaps reflecting Wikipedia's influence.

The use of such terms as edit war is in part a reflection of their widespread use in describing all kinds of debate. As debates do occur on Wikipedia, there is no surprise that it borrows the metaphor used in academia that Argument is War/Battle:

  • I won that argument.
  • Your position is indefensible.
  • He undermined my argument.
  • If you use that strategy, then ...

A bad metaphor ?[edit]

"Argument is war" is also at the core of the adversarial process which is at the core of Western ideas of fairness. This view may be built in to the whole "break it down into words" Western culture. It may be inherent. There may be no "community within" Wikipedia, or many. There are a bunch of people, many anonymous, trying to make some point they consider necessary or balancing. It is perhaps an exact analog of academia, which is that way for a reason.

But from the community point of view, this metaphor inaccurately describes how Wikipedia really works, and why it has been so successful. Each article is creation of multiple authors, neutrality is the declared ideal, and so Wikipedia is best seen as a collaborative work of art at the level of the encyclopedia and article.

In this view, holding too strongly to the traditional Argument is War metaphor is immature - a battlefield must in time evolve to a community. The question for the community is how does it best prevent the Argument is War metaphor from being too dominant across Wikipedia and triumphing in controversial articles and so undermining the community, and how does it ensure that best or strongest really is neutral and brilliant prose, rather than just being popular. As such Wikipedia will unfortunately have to exile and has indeed exiled - usually temporarily - those users who will not maintain some degree of Community spirit. They of course can come back again and again, and in effect, keep the battlefield bloodied.

But, there are larger debates in the real world that evolve and change, and there are political disputes for instance that simply don't "resolve to a neutral position" except perhaps by some process of attrition or extinction. And, there is of course the common perception that academia is necessarily run as a competition, at least, and a battle, often. The "community" dogma applies in academia too, where it is broadly perceived as enabling competent social climbers while it disables those devoted to integrity or truth that happens to be very unpopular.


If the battlefield of Ideas metaphor is valid at all, then civilized competition via WikiParty may well be the only way to proceed and expand the project in certain controversial topics. Regime change would take place as in any democracy, by vote. Votes are already in use for many things at Wikipedia, and seem to have a sort of protocol. It doesn't hurt that voting systems are already well documented and translated.

Related ideas[edit]

A third powerful metaphor for Wikipedia is that it is actually an evolving ecosystem of ideas where only the best and strongest survive. This view extends the classical liberal philosophy of Human Action, whereby optimized value emerges out of a decentralized, free and competitive process of trial-and-error creation.

Within Wikipedia best or strongest is defined as neutral and brilliant prose, though to what extent this neutrality is achieved is of course debatable.

See Darwikinism.

See factionalism, Wikipedia Vicious Cycle, regime change, etc.