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Would you hold a paper clip with your bare fingers and insert it into an electrical wall outlet? If you do, the odds are much better than fifty-fifty that you will receive a very nasty electrical shock. It is likely that you are aware of this fact – you know what would probably happen. So you don't insert a paper clip into a wall outlet not because you are afraid of electricity, but because you respect it.

If Wikipedia could speak, it is just witty enough to upstage the late, but illustrious, Dangerfield and might in fact say...

There is little respect for me in the academic world. I am edited and improved by a vast community composed of anyone and everyone who desires to do so, regardless of background, who they are, or where in the world they may be. Big surprise!

Now, we all know that respect is not easy to come by. It can be earned only through long periods of trusted behavior and can be extinguished overnight by one untrustworthy act. No matter how we might measure respect, the one thread that weaves itself in and out of the fabric of philosophical time and study is that there can be no respect from others unless and until there is self-respect.

So, the question arises... is the product of a reference-work project such as Wikipedia capable of such a thing as self-respect?

One contributor to Wikipedia asks...

There is a category of Parodies of Wikipedia, which so far does not contain Wikipedia.

"By an unconscious self-parody I mean a poem or a passage in which the author is both characteristically and unintentionally absurd. I regret it has not been possible to include any Carlyle because, when I came to look through that fulgurating prose again after a happy lapse of thirty years since I had to read it in Freshman English at Yale, I discovered it was all self-parody."

Dwight MacDonald, Parodies, p. 474
Dwight MacDonald dichotomizes self-parodies as either conscious or unconscious. Is Wikipedia unconsciously or consciously a self-parody? Kiefer.Wolfowitz 21:22, 26 May 2013 (UTC)[3]
cheese and wine
"A little cheese with your wine?"

While MacDonald's trenchant style seems to rival Carlyle's, Wolfowitz makes a good point. Often I read on some talk page from another editor how Wikipedia just isn't respected out there in "polite society". A whine is a whine, and perhaps the problem is that we don't have any cheese to go with that whine? ...that we don't just focus on improvement of Wikipedia and stop whining about how it (we) "don't get no respect"?

Recently, while I helped a new contributor, RQ, who wanted to do the best job he possibly could on an article, he all of a sudden reared up and blurted, "What if I'm just wasting my time? What if we're all just wasting our time?" The following ensued...

. . . Here's the thing (and this is something that all of us have to get used to)... Wikipedia is a place where anybody at any time can make edits to our work. Hopefully those edits are improvements. And therein lies the real beauty of this encyclopedia. Other contributors build on our work to make a better body of reference. When seen this way, virtually nothing we do is a waste of time. You do your best with what you have. Get in there and don't concern yourself that it might be a waste of your time. Nor should you worry about breaking Wikipedia. If what you do isn't perfect, then expect somebody to come in and try to make it better. This is not a one-man show, RQ, it's a community effort of staggering proportions. That's not always easy to get used to; however, it can be a most rewarding personal experience! Happy trails!  Paine Ellsworth
"...a most rewarding personal experience" -- I concur -- thanks for your patience, Paine. Observation: I'm taking 700-level-graduate courses at the local university, thus getting involved in class/group projects with the others in class. And, I'm 3 times their age. So, it's interesting to be deeply immersed in how they work (as opposed to their professors) -- and Wikipedia is almost always their first reference, live, in the midst of a class lecture or discussion. Its quality & directness have gained a level of vital importance for the next generation, despite whatever qualms their teachers, mentors, or ancestors may have. RQ

So it does appear that Wikipedia continues to gain respectability among the young learners who will shape the coming world. And if that thought keeps you awake at night, try some Carlyle or even some MacDonald. Sweet dreams!

See also[edit]


Written by Paine Ellsworth, who accepts no respectability for anyone who slips on the sidewalk while intently reading it.