Small pieces unjoined

There have been some interesting comments on my post about the divide between deletionist and inclusionist wikipedians. I suggested that the split is a manifestation of the deeper divide between absolutists and relativists. Morgan Goeller sees it as a replay of “the battle between coherentism and foundationalism.” Dermot Casey says it’s “another round in the battle between the Big Endians and the Little Endians.” Kevin Kelly writes, “This grand dichotomy also resembles the ancient and huge gulf between ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’ in the biological taxonomic world (and somewhat in the library classification world). The lumpers tend to want to shoehorn a new-found organism (or subjects) into the existing categories (too many categories become a junkyard), while splitters tend to want to fork categories and create new species or subjects (to increase distinction and precision).”

All of these seem reasonable interpretations. I would suggest, though, that the “lumpers” are better represented, in the Wikipedia world, by the “mergists” than by the deletionists. The adherents of mergism – the Association of Mergist Wikipedians (see logo) currently has 109 members – believe “that while much information may warrant inclusion somewhere, very little of it probably warrants its own article.” Like lumpers, they look to combine narrow subjects into broader categories. I do think, though, that the mergists are best viewed as a subsect of the deletionists, even though they see themselves as being “grounded firmly in the center of the Inclusionism-Deletionism spectrum.” (They are also, of course, a subset of the delusionists.)

Maybe the most interesting aspect of all this mumbo-jumbo is the way it reveals the rampant sectarianism of the wikipedians. In adddition to the deletionists, inclusionists, mergists, and delusionists, there are (in alphabetical order) the antistatusquoists, authorists, communalists, communityists, darwikinists, encyclopedists, essentialists, eventualists, exclusionists, exopedianists, immediatists, incrementalists, metapedianists, politicists, rehabilists, statusquoists, sysopists, and wikipacifists. Many of these sects also have subsects. For instance, there are extreme statusquoists and moderate statusquoists as well as extreme antistatusquoists and moderate antistatusquoists.

Which leads me to an inevitable conclusion: The human urge to divide communities is just slightly stronger than the human urge to create them.

11 thoughts on “Small pieces unjoined

  1. Ezra

    The human urge to divide communities is just slightly stronger than the human urge to create them.

    I think that’s going too far. I think the “urge to divide” is really just the urge to participate in a community which you can actually influence. Once a community gets too big to feel a part of in a meaningful way, sects arise. And once that happens, what Freud called “The Narcissism of Minor Differences” takes over.

  2. Bryan Wilhite

    These urges are not human. They are an imperial triumph of the will. When you invade an “enemy” for your own “defence” you need highly trained people to index the spoils.

    The urge to be imperial is literally popular. Popularity will forever be confused with humanity. These foundational assumptions happen when an “illegitimate” child of a centurion grows up on the mean streets of ancient Rome.

  3. Kevin Kelly

    Nick, this is a wonderful thread you’ve been weaving. For me, part of the delight of this subject is its tendency to throw off recursive loops. Where things point back to themselves in a “strange loop.” In the way that this statement does: “There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” In that same spirit the long list of wikipedia sect “isms” was created by a splitter, or splitterism, so the entire set is recursively contained in one member of the set. And that’s true for any position one takes — the very distinction of thinking oneself a lumper is a splittism! There’s no way or end out of the paradox once you start, and the contradictions should simply be embraced. So the endless dissecting of sects seems to me to be pure play, a rather more creative impulse than the signal you suggest we take away: that the urge to divide slightly overwhelms the urge to create. But then I am an off-the-chart optimist.

  4. Nick Carr

    Ezra points out that dividing a community may be indistinguishable from forming a community (since a new community is formed by the division), which is a very good point, though I would argue, contrary to Ezra, that it doesn’t follow that the urge to divide a community is the same urge as the urge to form a community. I’m pretty sure they’re very different urges – the urge to define oneself as different versus the urge to define oneself as the same – even if the former may end up having the same effect as the latter. To pick up on the Freud reference (and to call Bryan Wilhite’s comment into question), the urge to join together is a manifestation of the human desire to love (or at least to be loved) while the urge to divide is a manifestation of the human desire for aggression. In “Civilization and Its Discontents,” Freud calls aggressiveness “an indestructible feature of human nature”:

    It is clearly not easy for men to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression. They do not feel comfortable without it. The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.

    Well put, no?

    I similarly smile and rebel at Kevin Kelly’s mind game. Yes, the desire to categorize oneself as a lumper is a form of splittism, but isn’t the paradox superficial? Does it really erase the difference between the splitter and the lumper? I think there’s more going on here than “pure play” – even if, granted, my own personal bent is to reduce (elevate?) everything to pure play. When optimism goes off the charts, does it become indistinguishable from nihilism?

  5. Ben King

    Fascinating – but does it matter? It’s not like these people are burning at stake anyone who disagrees. The Wikipedia is still an extremely useful reference work.

  6. Chris_B

    All this is good for a laugh or three, but it makes me suspect that some people have far too much time on their hands or that the joke is on me.

  7. Blake Merriam

    Somehow I am reminded of the recent debate over the status of Pluto as a planet. Caused by a division in classifications?

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