Saturday, April 17, 2021

Seeking Definition: Fifth Attempt

        Still seeking a definition for "dignity", the tone I found in the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, I turned to Wikipedia, not expecting much, actually.

       Wikipedia has a mixed reputation, doesn't it? Many folks see it as simplistic, others see it as plebian, still others see it as confrontational.

       The original encyclopedias that it has replaced, were based on an assumption that the articles should be written by paid, credentialed experts. This gave those articles an aura of superiority, because people of "superior" scholarship were writing the articles.

       According to Richard Cooke, in his vast, informative and fun article about Wikipedia in WIRED Magazine, March 2020, the articles in the 1965 Britannica were "mostly high quality and high minded". He also says, "Almost all the articles are authored by white men, and some were already 30 years out of date when they were published." Also, of course there was the problem that those encyclopedias were printed on paper, thus creating an automatic limitation on the number of articles and the word counts.

       By contrast, according to Cooke, Wikipedia is a place for "enthusiasts", people who love a topic, know way more than everyone else in their neighborhood about it (think railroad fanatics who dash out the door of their home when they hear a new train whistle), and want to share their knowledge in a public venue. Cooke says,

… Wikipedia has eccentricity, elegance and surprise in abundance, especially in those moments when enthusiasm becomes excess and detail is rendered so finely (and pointlessly) that it becomes beautiful.

        Wikipedia is not built on superior knowledge or credentials of anyone. According to Cooke, it "is built on the personal interests and idiosyncrasies of its contributors. You could even say it is built on love."

       Wow! An interesting replacement for those out-of-date, hoity-toity, limited-by-printing-technology encyclopedias.

       I love using Wikipedia because it is quick, has articles about almost everything I search for, and often takes me down rabbit holes (the "surprising" Cook mentions), usually ending with poisonous frogs in the Amazon jungle.

       Therefore, searching this online source for the meaning of a word was an automatic action for me.

       Here's what I found:

Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake, and to be treated ethically. It is of significance in morality, ethics, law and politics as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights. The term may also be used to describe personal conduct, as in "behaving with dignity".

        (Interestingly, the Wikipedia article claimed that there is not a complete definition:

"There is also a long history of special philosophical use of this term. However, it is rarely defined outright in political, legal, and scientific discussions. International proclamations have thus far left dignity undefined, and scientific commentators, such as those arguing against genetic research and algeny, cite dignity as a reason but are ambiguous about its application.")

      Whoa! This is a big shift from the "official of rank" definition from 1933.

       In this definition, no rank is mentioned, and no dignitaries make an appearance.

       Rather like Wikipedia, the definition of "dignity" has come to apply to us masses. We all have dignity, and dignity is a way of treating every single one of us with respect.

       With this definition, I felt that I had discovered the base note of the tone I discovered when reading through those copies of the Christian Science Monitor.

       However, I was seeking that final answer, which Wikipedia did not provide: What exactly does "dignity" mean, and how do I recognize it?


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