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    Wikipedia is, as a scholarly project, very badly broken. The result is that the quality of the articles tends to vary inversely with the possibility of controversy regarding them. A system which attempts to do without any practice of critical judgement and expertise on the part of the editors will 1) always fail to accomplish that "objective" state; 2) drive away expertise; 3) protect "gamers"; and 4) tend to produce a synthesis of the worst sources, rather than the best. Mediocre work, offhand references, popular works, works citing other work without adequate verification, partisan sources, ignorant smack-talking, etc.—all these things will inevitable outnumber the solid, critical material on any even slightly controversial topic. And Wikipedia lacks the filters to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or it possesses them in plenty, in the form of its editors, but it squanders the resource by turning editors into copyists. As a serious historian of the anarchist movement, I can only encourage readers to question everything they find on a site like this. Unfortunately, you can expect that entries will be at least as wrong as they are right.

    [Note: Well, I seem to be back at it, picking away at some of the worst misrepresentations here. We'll see how long it lasts.] Libertatia (talk) 19:19, 19 August 2008 (UTC)

    A Traveller in the Libertarian Labyrinth[edit]

    I'm Shawn P. Wilbur, a part-time university instructor and full-time scholar—an Americanist trained in interdisciplinary studies. My first love is literature, but most of my work these days is as a historian and archivist. I teach intellectual history and critical thinking, and am currently developing a graduate-level course on "The Roots of American Anarchism."

    Current projects:

    • With the help of divers hands, The Liberty Site, a complete electronic archive of Benjamin R. Tucker's Liberty and related materials. See the working pdf archive here.
    • I am at work on a major archive-combing project, and the development of a number of anarchist bibliographies
    • A critical edition of William Batchelder Greene's earliest currency reform writings.
    • A full biography of Greene is the Great American Work-in-Progress.

    My archiving projects are frequently responses to the needs of friends, students and colleagues. Let me know if I can help with projects related to anarchist history.

    Outside links:

    Thoughts on Method in Anarchist History[edit]

    Historians of oppositional movements face a special set of challenges, all of which further complicate the project of producing accurate entries within the Wikipedia framework. Wikipedia depends on the assumption that scholarly standards within academe and the publishing industry are

    • sufficient to vet the quality of source material for encyclopedia entries, and
    • a filter superior to open debate between interested (though perhaps uncredentialled) researchers.

    In many cases, these assumptions are, if not necessarily correct, at least functional. They are conservative in a way that is useful when the subject matter is relatively uncontroversial, and where conflicts are likely to be over strictly factual material. The stricture against original research prevents bizarre theories or questionable details from being introduced. No doubt, in some small number of instances it has, or could have, prevented some enterprising amateur researcher from piecing together some new insight, but in most of those cases it could probably be argued that no partisan position is being pressed.

    The Wikipedia way is not, however, without its serious drawbacks.

    One of my first edits on Wikipedia was a correction of numerous errors on the William Batchelder Greene page. What struck me immediately was that nearly every one of the errors on the page was supported by one or more published sources. A long section from the Modern Publishers edition of Mutual Banking was attributed to Greene, although it was the work of the Indian editors. Having done complete collations of nearly all the editions of the work, and being intimately familiar with Greene's prose, the error was obvious to me. And the question is, from my perspective, essentially one of fact. New text appears in a foreign edition, edited from another posthumous edition, nearly seventy years after the death of the author—it is not Greene's work. In other cases it was a matter of choosing between published sources for birth dates, educational data, and such. Some published sources are obviously incorrect. Greene was born in 1819, not 1818. He did not, in fact, graduate from West Point, although he did attend and was subsequently an officer on two, or perhaps three, occasions.

    It is not clear that Wikipedia has a mechanism for authoritatively choosing between citeable alternatives of this sort, if they are contested in the editing process. The rule about original research prohibits collecting data to forward an argument not found in published sources, which, in effect, elevates secondary sources above primary sources and tends to privilege the least nuanced interpretations, since they are subject to the least subsequent interpretation. Conventional historical scholarship sticks close to the primary sources when possible.

    What If Accuracy Didn't Matter[edit]

    Imagine if it was necessary to mention all of the published errors on the William Batchelder Greene page, simply because they meet the criteria for citeability. Our "encyclopedia entry" might start:

    William Batchelor (or possible Blanchard) Greene was born in either 1818 or 1819 in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He was accepted to West Point and either did or did not graduate from that institution.

    And so on.

    The "Problem" of POV[edit]

    When scholars sit down to write a contribution to the academic literature, "point of view" enters into their labor in two rather different ways. On the one hand, it is in important, in most fields, to maintain some degree of critical objectivity when working on a problem. As much as possible, scholars should let the evidence speak, and avoid imposing too much of their own perspectives on the material. This is particularly true of historical work, where one of the primary difficulties is to understand primary documents in their original contexts. It is often an even greater issue for historians of radical or marginal movements, as the primary works to be examined are likely to be premised on assumptions different from those held by the majorities or hegemonic groups within their own time periods. When we're dealing with anarchist history, the likelihood of dealing conscious iconoclasts is naturally great. The greatest difficulties in understanding Proudhon are arguably not theoretical, but are instead rhetorical, the result of Proudhon's shifting engagement with the languages of "property" and the state. As he moves from provocation to subversion, we have to be on our toes to follow. The same is true of Benjamin R. Tucker, who, among other things, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the kind of quibbling points against an antagonist that might or might not actually illuminate the question being discussed. When he argues that "voluntary communists" must be supporters of "private property," he may or may not have actually said something profound. Our answer to that question is going to depend a great deal on how we understand the meanings of the key terms. The pages of Liberty are full of "debates" where it never seems quite clear if there is actually a disagreement, or whether the lack of a shared set of key terms has prevented any substantive debate from taking place. There are some harsh words exchanged in the debate on mutual banking between Tucker and Joshua King Ingalls, and much harsher ones in the "standard of value" debate some years later. I started the Travelling in Liberty project to trace the debates in a serious, issue-by-issue fashion, and hopefully that will help to clarify some of the historical questions (though such original research will probably find no welcome here.)

    The "on the other hand here" is, of course, that scholarly objectivity is ultimately married to the other half of the business of being a scholar: the accumulation of expertise, and the development of an informed point-of-view. Where the task of writing or editing an entry requires more than just untrained clerical work, compiling sources which supplement and do not contradict one another, "original research" takes place, but it is unobjectionably in Wikipedia terms because there appears to be only one agenda to pursue. A POV reduced to "completeness and accuracy" is the sort of standard that bibliographers use. That it is frequently inadequate to other fairly basic sorts of questions is something, arguably, proven by our interactions on Wikipedia every day.

    Also missing from the Wikipedia policies on "POV" is an understanding of how important it is for academics to advance controversial aguments, in the interest of carving out an interpretive space of their own. Careers rise and fall, particularly in the humanities, on the persuasiveness of sometimes outlandish interpretations. Citing David DeLeon on the pervasiveness of anarchism in American culture is not quite like citing Jean Baudrillard as a source that "the Gulf War did not take place," but there is a family resemblance between the arguments. The strength of DeLeon's book is its slightly monomaniacal ambition to find anarchism throughout the American tradition. But to build further scholarship on the basis that he establishes is an academic task requiring considerable skill and sensitivity to the specific ways he identifies and treats "the American as anarchist."

    The Trouble with Dictionaries (and other general references)[edit]

    It is not a question of conspiracy theory when we suggest that dictionaries, and other very general references, tend to present hegemonic views, and it should come as no surprise when hegemonic views of oppositional movements are contested on POV grounds. All of this is, in a sense, as it should be. What dictionaries do, when they "define," is a very imprecise sort of work. Dictionary compilers are inevitably "fighting the last war" when it comes to really current usage, and they are at the mercy of the size and accessibility of the archive—by which I mean everything that has been published in English, related material in other languages, and whatever hints they give us about the vast majority of speech acts which have simply not been archived—when they try to do scholarly, historical work. Digital archives and projects such as Google Books have already shown us the inadequacy of even the most scholarly dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

    Sheep in Wolves' Clothing[edit]

    The general inversion of scholarly values on Wikipedia, which encourages the most abstract of definitions and characterizations, has the effect, where radical movements are concerned of "opening the envelope" to movements which are hardly oppositional at all. Looking at the various anarchist entries, it is immediately clear that debates can turn on the most off-hand of statements—as long as they have been recorded in print—while actual practices are hardly represented at all. It is probably the case that anarchism is simply not reducible to any small set of coherent ideologies. This shouldn't surprise us. More importantly, it shouldn't force us to posit any particular common ideological element as necessary and sufficient to identify "anarchism." Like any social movement, anarchism is best understood as a set of loosely connected practices, embedded in a specific history of personal connections, debates, institutions planned and founded, projects failed and successful, schisms, mergers, fallings-away and conversions. Viewed in this way, the complex history of anarchism is not difficult to understand at all.

    This view also allows us to make better sense of the relationship between the "anarcho-capitalism" that emerged in the US in the 20th century and the mainstreams of anarchism. Various forces worked to weaken and splinter the US anarchist movement in the late 19th century, from Marx's machinations in the IWA, which first targeted the American individualist sections, to the pressures created by the McKinley assassination and the Haymarket bombing. The lack of a mass base made the actions of a small number of controversialists and would-be leaders considerably more important, and divisive, than they might otherwise have been. Anarchists never presented a program that captured a substantial public, though there is no reason to believe that practical campaigns to promote mutual aid projects might not have succeeded as well, in times of economic crisis, as the cooperative projects of the Tolstoyan and "progressive" anarchists, or the state socialist projects of Bellamyite Nationalism or Lawsonian "Direct Credits for Everybody." As mutualism became "philosophical anarchism," and as egoism became a dominant element in individualist circles, the decline in practical projects is understandable (although that shift itself still needs explanation.) In any event, the retreat of Tucker from the field of struggle removed at one a major irritant and impetus. Although individualist anarchism did not expire, as some histories have claimed, it certainly assumed a much quieter role, and the practices associated with it lost much of their original connections to the labor movement and socialism.

    Mutualism: Developing Impressions and Blatant OR[edit]

    Since mutualist has gone through roughly four or five separate phases without ever being reduced to an explicit ideology, most of the wrangles over details on the Wikipedia pages amount to either the repetition of ill-informed hearsay or blatant OR. I think a Wikipedia-acceptable synthesis is possible, but probably not until more of the primary source material is unearthed and made more widely available. Contemporary neo-mutualism—the mutualism of Kevin Carson, myself, and others largely outside the mutualist federations and institutions—is probably a movement in search of a more coherent statement of its own principles, currently defined by a combination of partial inheritance from some or all of the early traditions and personal connections. The common denominator is obviously not commitment to Lockean, praxeological, or conventional theories of property, or promotion of a particular land reform or currency reform scheme. The contemporary debates on those subjects are interesting, but the obvious lesson of, say, a Kellogg vs. Greene debate in the 21st century is that neither is adequate to contemporary conditions. If mutualism were merely adherence to old projects, it would be every bit as anachronistic as some of its critics make out.

    A fave quote, from a banished troll[edit]

    "Wikipedia editors should be as mindless as possible and just regurgitate sourced information." - Illegal editor

    "Notability hoop-jumps"[edit]

    Roderick T. Long[edit]

    and, of course

    Vanity Plates[edit]

    I'll archive here the Wikipedia article written about me, and since deleted. The deletion discussion is fairly textbook Wikipedia, where it's not even clear if those involved ever did an adequate citation search, or just accepted the partial search offered as what there was. Notability remains almost entirely a matter of the uninformed judgment of a handful of editors, many of whom are, when the pages are political, ideologically motivated, and Wikipedia remains willfully and ironically blind to contributions made to outside academia. In the real world, of course, a college term paper, written at the right time, can be "the paper" on Paul Virilio for quite a number of years, get published multiple times in hip journals and translated into several languages by fellow scholars.

    Shawn P. Wilbur (born March 9, 1963) is an American mutualist and left-libertarian scholar.

    He received his bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies (English/History) from Oregon State University in 1989, which was followed by a master's degree in American Cultural Studies from Bowling Green State University in 1992. He worked as an instructor at Bowling Green from 1990–2001, and again from 2005–2007, lecturing on philosophy, intellectual history, critical thinking and Internet culture. During the mid-1990s, Wilbur was a member of the Spunk Library collective and contributor to the influential An Anarchist FAQ. Wilbur began working at the independent bookstore Pauper's Books in Bowling Green, Ohio as a graduate student in 1991, later becoming manager of the store and purchasing it in 1997.[1] The store closed down in 2003 as changing market conditions became less conducive to independent bookstores.[1]

    A full-time independent scholar, Wilbur is a prolific blogger, operating From the Libertarian Library, High Hills of Ossapy, In the Libertarian Labyrinth, Travelling in Liberty, Intellectual History: The Very Idea!, on ALLiance, and the Libertatia Laboratories Audioblog, as well as participating in the Mutualist journal club and the Carnival of Anarchy.[2] He is currently affiliated with the Anarchist Studies Network, the Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective, and the Movement of the Libertarian Left.

    Wilbur is a critic of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, calling it "very badly broken" as a scholarly project, citing among other causes the lack of critical judgement and expertise of its editors.


    • "Gun Molls: A Product-Line Approach." Popular Culture Association. Cleveland, Ohio, September, 1991.
    • "Neuromancer as a Novel of Business." Popular Culture Association. Indianapolis, Indiana. September, 1992.
    • "On Virtual Community." (panel) Life, Sex & Death in the Digital World. New School for Social Research, April 23, 1996.


    • "Dromologies: Speed, Politics, and the End of the Political State." Speed 1.4, 1997.
    • "An Archaeology of Cyberspaces: Virtuality, Community, Identity." in Porter, David, ed. Internet Culture. New York: Routledge, 1997.

    o Republished in The Cybercultures Reader. Bell, David, and Kennedy, Barbara M., eds. New York, Routledge, 2000.

    • "Day-to-Day MOO Administration and How to Survive It." Haynes, Cynthia, and Holmevik, Rune, eds. Hard Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs. Ann Arbor. University of Michigan Press, 1998.
    • "What Means This Art Strike?", ca 1994.
    • "Cyberpunks" to Synners: Toward a Feminist Posthumanism?, ca 1995.
    • (with Jesse Cohn) "What's Wrong With Postanarchism?" Theory and Politics, Institute of Anarchist Studies, August 31, 2003.
    • "On the Use of the Situationist International"[3]
    • "Ezra Hervey Heywood," "Benjamin R. Tucker," "Josiah Warren." M. Ness, ed. Encyclopedia of Revolution and Social Protest. Wiley.

    See also[edit]

    • Anarchism in the United States
    • Kevin Carson


    1. ^ a b Kess, Stacy (2003-08-09). "Pauper's closes a 28-year chapter". BG News (Bowling Green State University). Retrieved on 2008-07-30. 2. ^ "Blogger: User Profile: Shawn P. Wilbur". Blogger. Google Inc.. Retrieved on 2008-07-30. 3. ^ Lawrence, N.R. (2006). "Frank O'Hara in New York: race relations, poetic situations, postcolonial space". Comparative American Studies 4 (1): 85-103. doi:10.1177/1477570006056915.

    External links[edit]

    • The Libertarian Labyrinth

    o The Distributive Passions - Science fiction + Distributive Passions Gallery o William Batchelder Greene Project Archive and commentary on William Batchelder Greene


    • In the Libertarian Labyrinth - Collection of anarchist/libertarian history, texts, and commentary
    • From the Libertarian Library - Additional anarchist/libertarian texts
    • Travelling in Liberty - Journal focusing on Benjamin Tucker
    • Intellectual History: The Very Idea! - General intellectual history blog


    Retrieved from "" Categories: 1963 births | Living people | American bloggers | American historians | American humanities academics | Anarchist academics | Bowling Green State University alumni | Critics of Wikipedia | Historians of anarchism | Left-libertarians | Mutualists | Oregon State University alumni | Alternate history writers