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Most of my submissions on meta are comments in RfCs. Two basic principles that one might presumably observe (and which, by the way, should also hold true in any honest discourse) are

1) RfCs are not RfACs (Requests for Assenting Comments).

2) If you reply to someone, they are entitled to reply back.

A sequence of such events is called a discussion. No kidding, you say? One might be surprised by how often one is cajoled, strongly advised, or forced to drop a discussion before it reaches its logical conclusion. A broad array of semantic stop-signs are at the disposal of the editor whose argument is not holding up under scrutiny. So stop beating a dead horse and bludgeoning the process. Just drop it, desist and mind your own business. Catch once, let it go and walk your dog. And remember, silence is golden.

Disturbing and Orwellian, no? I do chuckle a bit (or groan) when one of these quasi-policy essays is completely on-the-nose. For instance, w:WP:Desist begins "WP:Desist can be cited whenever there is a dispute on Wikipedia and you want to put an end to it." Reading through Wikipedia's essays on civility, one can see an aphorism for every occasion. There's even an essay entitled w:Wikipedia:Encourage full discussions, though I've never seen anyone cite it myself. Many of these essays can seem very reasonable at first glance, and a few even are. Yet in aggregate, one wonders why the encyclopedia that anyone can edit has such a profusion of semiofficial essays (or perhaps, rhetorical devices) for shutting down conversations. There are also essays like w:WP:POVRAILROAD and w:WP:9STEPS, of seemingly questionable intent.

Christopher Hitchens published a collection of his letters - regrettably entitled "letters to a young contrarian"[Note 1] - including a letter in which he remarked "In place of honest disputation we are offered platitudes about “healing.” The idea of “unity” is granted huge privileges over any notion of “division” or, worse, “divisiveness.” I cringe every time I hear denunciations of “the politics of division”—as if politics was not division by definition. Semi-educated people join cults whose whole purpose is to dull the pain of thought, or take medications that claim to abolish anxiety. Oriental religions, with their emphasis on Nirvana and fatalism, are repackaged for Westerners as therapy, and platitudes or tautologies masquerade as wisdom." On Wikipedia, Meta and presumably other projects, "disagreement" is treated as a behavioral problem. Authority often speaks about disagreement as if it were something that should not rightfully exist.

Consider, for example, w:Wikipedia:Divisiveness, which includes a short quote from Jimbo Whales: "Remember what we are doing here. We are building a free encyclopedia for every single person on the planet. We are trying to do it in an atmosphere of fun, love, and respect for others. We try to be kind to others, thoughtful in our actions, and professional in our approach to our responsibilities.", itself reminding me of another Hitchens letter; "Distrust any speaker who talks confidently about “we,” or speaks in the name of “us.” Distrust yourself if you hear these tones creeping into your own style. ", and later at the end "

P.S. A note on language. Be even more suspicious than I was just telling you to be, of all those who employ the term “we” or “us” without your permission. This is another form of surreptitious conscription, designed to suggest that “we” are all agreed on “our” interests and identity. " Yet expressing suspicion can itself get one in trouble here, per w:WP:AGF, which, in very polite and seemingly reasonable terms, demands credulity from the editor. To be fair to Mr. Whales, the quote is out of its (somewhat amusing) context, but certainly the author of the essay uses it in the sense Hitchens cautions about. Interesting, though, how some editors seem to enjoy such broad lenience and patience while others are sharply sanctioned at the drop of a hat.

Consensus? Policy like w:WP:5P4 and w:WP:CON arguably uses the the word <consensus> as an ideograph. Do projects like Wikipedia represent public consensus, or is this merely a belief they like to encourage? Must there always be consensus? Can there always be such a thing in the first place? Again, I must cite Hitchens. It must make me seem like a fanatic, though I'm not. His book naturally does not include the letters that prompted his corresponding replies. That he published his responses without this context perhaps implies he thought they'd be of value in a more general sense. Considering all this, it seems fair to interpret the following as a rebuke of <consensus> in no uncertain terms: "You seem to have grasped the point that there is something idiotic about those who believe that consensus (to give the hydra-headed beast just one of its names) is the highest good. [...] As a species, we may by all means think ruefully about the waste and horror produced by war and other forms of rivalry and jealousy. However, this can’t alter the fact that in life we make progress by conflict and in mental life by argument and disputation. The concept of the dialectic may well have been partly discredited by its advocates, but that does not permit us to disown it. There must be confrontation and opposition, in order that sparks may be kindled."

In The Prevention of Literature, Orwell wrote "The enemies of intellectual liberty always try to present their case as a plea for discipline versus individualism. The issue truth-versus-untruth is as far as possible kept in the background. " In this case, "discipline" has been rebranded and repackaged as "civility". Dispute is presumed to lead to uncivil behavior if allowed to continue long enough and thus treated as inherently "disruptive". This is the pretense that's usually applied when it's convenient to shut down a conversation. There are two obvious points which together refute this. First, a dispute does not always lead to incivility. Second, and perhaps more importantly, so what if it does? Sometimes that's unavoidable, and sometimes the dispute is still worthwhile. This is common sense, yet Wikipedia's contrived decorum (and by extension that of most other projects) undermines any serious critique or discussion. The ideograph <consensus> is flexible enough to obstruct outsiders from meaningful participation when it's convenient and allow the small cadre of "whitelisted" users typically associated with a given topic to make the changes they want - all while giving the public the vague impression that a project's content represents public consensus and withstands public scrutiny. This does not work if dissenting opinions must be seriously addressed instead of dismissed and forgotten about. Therefore, dissent is conflated with "incivility" and eliminated simply by blocking 'problematic' editors. Most dissenting editors I imagine lose patience or lose their temper when dealing with editors who purposefully obstruct them, and anything that can be construed as "impolite" is usually trumped up and used to support a long-term block. Their block and the circumstances surrounding it then fade into obscurity as another block log entry among many blocks issued to vandals and other ostensible rule breakers, most of which seem to be well-deserved. [Note 2]

An RfC I've created: Requests for comment/The block log lacks useful information - basic requirements for sysop/admin accountability. I propose a practical and simple policy to mitigate abusive blocks, along with a few relevant observations. I was quite tempted to include other policy changes, because so much policy and quasi-policy essays are utter rubbish. While the former have a veneer of officiality and seem at least superficially objective, the latter often drop these pretenses entirely. Considered as a whole, they make up the body (or fly-blown carcass) of de-facto policy on Wikipedia, which is frequently-cited on other projects as well. Overwrought and selectively enforced, one could rightfully complain about any number of parts. Yet before everything else, I believe it's necessary to build in a measure that would make it possible for the public to hold admins to account for their actions, so that these projects cannot claim one policy as "official" while enforcing something quite different.

  1. During an episode of "Conversations With History", he strongly implies that the publisher forced this rather patronizing title.
  2. While I'm sure most blocks are deserved, I cannot help but imagine how easy it would be to automate a system of vandalism and 'real' incivility along with corresponding blocks to generate a consistent stream of block log entries. "Wash trading", as it were. They could probably eliminate about half of the apparent abuse by requiring users to make an account, so why don't they?

AP295 (talk)