Column 3: TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting (Dan 5:27)

(This column was originally posted on Conservapedia on 2 May, 2007. It has since been deleted. It was the last column to be posted on Conservapedia before my resignation.)

Ladies and Gentlemen. Today marks the one month anniversary of my first edit at Conservapedia. (Or should that properly be mensiversary? Hm.)

Anyway. I had actually intended to write a big, scathing, polemical Column to celebrate the occasion, and then get on with the editing – but then I noticed a comment that Ed Poor had just left on the talk page for a previous Column: “Why are any of us here? Especially us Wikipedians? Why bother starting over?”

That got me thinking. I thought those were pretty good questions. And I tried to answer them. And I found that I couldn’t. I still have no idea why I am here. And that seems to leave room for only one conclusion: To cease being here.

It is, of course, more than just a question of not knowing why one is or should be here. That could be overlooked or sorted out with time. No, the greater problem is that with a few notorious exceptions, Conservapedia is in fact a massively unpleasant place to spend one’s time.

I’m looking first and last at Andrew Schlafly who, considering his overpowering influence over this place, must have final responsibility for the working environment, and for the behaviour of his administrators. I am also looking at people like User:Conservative and User:TK, who generally seem to behave with a viciousness and malice that I would have thought impossible in normal adult human beings. The fact that they can do this absolutely unhindered and still retain their position as sysops possibly says more than anything else about this whole operation.

This problem carries over into the intellectual climate of the site as such. Over the past months, I have been engaged in discussions that I previously would never have thought possible. I have had to argue trivialities like definite articles in Koine as though they were complex questions of translation. I have had to argue for allowing people to actually discuss important edits ahead of time. And the crowning achievement: I have tried – and failed – to convince a Harvard Law ”magna cum laude” graduate to calculate basic ratios in a mathematically correct way, rather than present them in a manner that, while incorrect, would better serve their propagandistic purposes.

Such things are bad enough in themselves, but they are just symptoms of a greater issue. Because, ladies and gentlemen, Deceit is afoot here: Conservapedia calls itself a conservative encyclopaedia. But this is quite incorrect. It is neither conservative nor an encyclopaedia.

Most of those people in charge of this place who would label themselves conservative are more properly reactionaries. Totalitarian reactionaries, at that. Personally, I am not a conservative, but I hold great respect for at least some parts of the conservative movement, especially the part that emphasizes such virtues as respectability, open-mindedness and civic responsibility. I see nothing of the sort in most of the self-styled conservative members of the management here.

Rather, the site is generally characterized by a culture of extreme narrow-mindedness, gross examples of abuse of power by administrators, and widespread tendencies towards groupthink. The general mismanagement and promotion of political agendas to the detriment of the site as such is endemic. Free speech and academic integrity is stifled through threats and sanctions. Rules and regulations are implemented and enforced haphazardly at best, arbitrarily at worst. And political opponents are banned over trivialities, while friends and allies get away with one transgression after another. In other words, in my opinion, these people are completely unworthy of placing themselves in the same proud tradition as true conservatives such as Burke, Disraeli and Churchill.

Nor is Conservapedia an encyclopaedia. I find it ludicrous to even consider comparing Conservapaedia to the true encyclopaedias: Such works as the Encyclopédie of Diderot and his fellow editors, the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie. These were and are monuments of learning, of reliability, and not least of popular education, of the drive for enlightenment of the public and the benefit of the common good – not to act as Trojan Horses for the narrow-minded and reactionary political agenda of a few. That is what Conservapedia is, and as long as it remains so, it will never achieve the respectability and good reputation that is due a serious encyclopedia. It will be and remain an obscurity and a failure, no matter how many Article Improvement Drives are implemented. And to be honest, I see no justification for spending my time, effort and emotions on such a project.

The above notwithstanding, my stay here has not been all bad, of course. I’ve met some good and interesting people here, and I’m happy about that – you know who you are.

I’ve also had a good time writing the various articles I’ve been engaged on. I probably could have spent all that energy in better ways, but at least I hope they will be useful to someone down the line.

I would further like to thank the Conservapedia management for the opportunity to reinforce my belief in the absolute necessity for administrative transparency, accountability and rule of law in any kind of organization. The fact that, even in an organization as relatively small as Conservapedia, unchecked power can still lead to abuses on the level which I have seen here is a very important lesson, and I thank you for it.

Finally, I realize that the above manifesto will have no effect on the people who are actually at the core of this problem. These people are beyond the reach of pedagogy. But maybe others will begin to think a bit about what is going on with this site, whether the current situation is ideal, and whether the leadership style and vision of mr. Schlafly and others will truly help this site achieve its stated goals. And eventually, perhaps somebody will start thinking that maybe, just maybe, Conservapedia has the potential to be something more and something different than what mr. Schlafly wants it to be. I hope so.

In closing, I would like to ensure everyone that I am by no means finished with Conservapedia as such. I won’t be editing anymore, but Conservapedia is still way too fascinating a creature to not keep updated on.

Also, comments on the preceding are welcome. I probably won’t be keeping an eye on my talk page – assuming I’m not banned outright for this manifesto, of course – but you are welcome to direct comments, flames and miscellaneous legal threats to my work mail address at kjeldsen@villaluisarecords.com.

Good night, and good luck.

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