Where are we?
Jimmy Wales is an American Internet entrepreneur known for his role in the creation of Wikipedia, a free, open-content encyclopedia launched in 2001. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, holding the board-appointed "community founder" seat. In 2004, he co-founded Wikia, a privately owned, free Web-hosting service, along with Angela Beesley.
Together with Larry Sanger and others, Wales helped lay the foundation for Wikipedia, which subsequently enjoyed rapid growth and popularity. As Wikipedia expanded and its public profile grew, Wales took on the role of the project's spokesman and promoter through speaking engagements and media appearances. Wales has been historically cited as the co-founder of Wikipedia but he disputes the "co-" designation, asserting that he is the sole founder of Wikipedia. Wales' work developing Wikipedia, which has become the world's largest encyclopedia, prompted Time magazine to name him in its 2006 list of the world's most influential people.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, Wales attended a small private school, then a university preparation school, eventually attaining a bachelor's degree and master's degree in finance. During his graduate studies he taught at two universities.
Question: When you read the newspaper or watch the news, what issues stand out for you?
Jimmy Wales: I guess for me, the big issues that stand out when I read the news and newspapers is issues having to do with violations of human rights; corrupt governments around the world still causing an enormous amount of pain, suffering, death. And I think some progress has been made in that area.
It's very difficult now to imagine Europe in a state of war. And just last century, we had just a huge, enormous blood bath in Europe. And things seemed to have stabilized there, and that's a good thing.
Question: What is the world's biggest challenge in the coming decade?
Jimmy Wales: Oh dear. I always try to remind people that five years ago [i.e. circa 2002], I was just some guy sitting at home in my pajamas typing on the Internet, and now I get all these big picture, deep guru questions about the future of the world and so forth. I think a lot of the challenges that face the world in the next five to 10 years are pretty obvious things. Basically trying to figure out how to contain the threat of terrorism without destroying freedom. That's a very complicated issue that I don't think anybody has all of the answers for.
I think we have a few things we know don't work but we do them anyway. So the excessively paranoid security at airports doesn't seem to be doing any good whatsoever to me. But well, I don't see us stopping doing that any time soon. But I think that one of the challenges that we face is to realize that military solutions to those problems are woefully inadequate. There may be times when military action is necessary or worth doing; but it's hardly the right answer in a lot of cases. And it certainly is never the fundamental answer.
The fundamental answer always has to be education, dialogue, learning, not just us learning about them, but also us teaching them. It goes both ways of course. But I think it's important to realize that there is a certain brand of irrationality which is extremely dangerous. When we think of some group like the Taliban, their gross violations of human rights in the name of religion that are just completely unconscionable that we cannot, in the name of a spirited multiculturalism, which is a fine thing; but you cannot go down a path that says, "Well gee. That's just a different way of living. And it's kind of okay to stone people to death for being homosexuals." It's not okay. It's completely wrong and we have to stand firm in that. Well how do we fix that problem? It's not easy.
Question: What are the challenges confronting the U.S.?
Jimmy Wales: The big challenges facing the U.S. in the next decade; I think the U.S. has a lot of work ahead in changing our public image around the world. I think it’s been a real problem in the last 10 years or so [i.e. circa 1997 to 2007], even longer than that. The fact that we have such a massive and undisputed military superiority has tempted our leaders to go down military paths to solve problems that really are not military problems. This, in turn, has given rise to an enormous amount of ill-will around the world, and a forgetting on our part, and on the part of other people around the world, what the U.S. really could and should stand for symbolically.
The traditional American values of freedom of speech, of toleration of different kinds of people, living together in peace, of being a melting pot culturally, of a real value for education, and higher education in particular, all those kinds of values are really important still around the world, and are something that we should be much more projecting – that benevolent side of what it means to be American. So that it can be something that people look to us and say, “This is actually a model of a society that I would like to live in. And I would like to change my world to be something more like that.”
We have that opportunity, but it gets lost if our answer to any problem around the world is always to send in the bombers. So I think that’s an enormous challenge, to really think about how do we communicate that those values are good values, and that they’re still here. They’re still among us.
Many times I see people overseas that simply assume freedom of speech is dead in the U.S. The Patriot Act has created a police state. Well that’s completely not true. The Patriot Act has some problematic provisions, but it’s fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. Things need to be fixed to be sure, but we still have this open, vibrant democracy that we have the opportunity to shine around the world, if only we will.
Question: What should be the big issues in the 2008 US presidential election?
Jimmy Wales: Big issues. Wow. I don’t even know. I think in the short term, I think that both political parties are so problematic in so many ways that it’s really difficult to say what issues they could even possibly address in their current state. Certainly there are some very practical issues that have to be dealt with obviously. The situation in Iraq is currently quite a mess, and somebody’s got to do something about it. We don’t have a choice of making it go away. And so the question of, “Do we commit more resources there? Do we commit fewer resources there? Do we leave? What do we do? How do we do it?” That’s obviously very important, and of course has an impact on all the other things that I was talking about – about our image abroad; how do we educate people in the values that are beneficial? And well I wouldn’t envy anybody to try to figure out how to get us to a better place in the Iraq situation. So that’s clearly an issue that I personally will be very interested in hearing from the candidates about.
I think some of the simple answers just don’t make any sense to me. You know, the simple answer of, “Let’s just pull out all our troops tomorrow and go home.” Well that’s just unbelievably immoral to leave the situation there completely wrecked, and clearly to fall under the hands of the worst possible thugs. Very bad idea. Okay what does that mean? Keep doing what we’re doing? That doesn’t seem to be working very well. Send three times as many troops over? That doesn’t seem like a great idea either. I don’t know the answer. So we’re in this really tough situation, and I’m really looking for somebody to come up with some new, innovative solutions that sound useful. And I don’t think there’s going to be anything that makes everything wonderful there. It’s too late for that. But hopefully we can do the most ethical things possible and try to help to some extent.
Question: Should the government do more to encourage innovation?
Jimmy Wales: I think a lot of innovation just happens when you get the government out of the way. A lot of times when people talk about encouraging innovation, what they end up thinking about way too much is some massive public subsidies for some new chip manufacturing something-something. And it’s usually a complete and total fiasco because you get the wrong types of people coming in, the wrong types of politically-connected businesses doing things that make no sense because they’re being subsidized to do it. I think it’s really important to recognize that it’s very, very difficult for the government to encourage innovation. The most important thing you could do is just get out of our way.Recorded On: Aug 10, 2007
It's very difficult now to imagine Europe in a state of war.
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