A modest proposal: Wikipedia policy should follow the spirit of ahimsa, or ahinsa, rather than that of violence.
1. When in doubt, don't delete.
- That is, edit towards a goal, not away from what you think is bad. If someone contributes something which you find unclear or misleading, polish their work to make it shine. This polishing may involve deletion, but that shouldn't be considered the intent of the edit. (Like the aphorism about how the master sculptor carves an elephant out of a block of marble: he just removes anything that isn't elephant.)
2. When in doubt, don't ascribe bad motives to people
- Don't say that stuff you don't like is "vandalism" or "diatribe" or "screed". Rather, treat everyone as if you believe everyone is trying to make a contribution, and is in fact contributing, even if the contribution isn't clear. AssumeGoodFaith - see en:hanlon's law
3. Remember that NPOV is a collective goal, not individually achievable
- Don't call stuff that you do like "NPOV", if you can help it. Everyone is trying to make the articles more "NPOV", so saying that's what you're doing is a way of implying that others aren't. Rather, indicate where your concern or confusion lies.
The following refers to the Jain conception of ahinsa, which is the most comprehensive.
(Note: Ahinsa is a Sanskrit word which in Romanized scripts is often written "ahimsa" with an 'm'. However, linguistically "ahimsa" is identical to misspelling the word "Sanskrit" as "Samskrit" or the river "Ganga" (the Ganges) as "Gamga". Here, the linguistically accurate transliteration is preferred.)
Adherence to ahinsa
Adherence to ahinsa is tripartite: neither do injury oneself, get injury done by others, or approve injury done by others.
That makes sense, don't it?
Let's look at this again:
- Do no injury oneself
This should be self-evident.
- Do not get others to do injury
If you get someone else to do your dirty work, you are still to blame.
- Do not approve of injury done by others
If someone commits hinsa, don't approve of it--even if you approve of the results.
Many people limit their responsibility to the first, but we need to commit to trying to adhere to all aspects of ahinsa.
According to capacity
Observance of ahinsa is to be constantly followed by each person according to capacity.
Only saints are expected to be saints. (In Jainism, everyone is expected to work towards sainthood or asceticism, but only few are expected to achieve that.)
Responding to hinsa
Adherence to ahinsa doesn't mean to just sit back and watch when bad things happen (i.e. when hinsa happens) -- rather, one of the accepted Jain professions is that of soldier (writer, artisan, and intellectual are some of the others).
Commiting hinsa is a sin; in the physical world, some hinsa is unavoidable for the propagation and health of society.
Nonascetics are permitted occupational, domestic, and protective (udyami, graharambhi, and virodhi) hinsa, though avoidance as far as possible is encouraged. Intentional injury (samkalpi Hinsa) is forbidden.
- Occupational injury is committed, for example, by the writer in upsetting a reader, and the agriculturalist in the weeding of plants--slash-and-burn agriculture is great hinsa; Wikipedia weeding could be hinsa if done improperly.
- Some domestic injury is unavoidably committed in the performance of necessary duties, such as keeping things clean, building a house, etc.
- Protective or defensive hinsa is unavoidably commited in the protection of the self or property--this is the one that can lead to the must incorrectly justified hinsa.
Is there any unavoidable injury in cyberspace? Certainly to a lesser degree than in the physical world. There's basically no physical property to protect; no physical harm can be done to others. Only thoughts and time can be affected.
Wikipedia as household?
The world may be separated between householders (property owners) and ascetics. Ascetics are capable of the total conduct of ahinsa (sakala charitra); the responsibilities of the householder permit only partial conduct of ahinsa (vikala charitra). Hinsa committed within the upkeep and protection of the household is permissible, though discouraged if possible (and should be atoned for).
May Wikipedia be better considered as the natural world, which noone owns, in which the ascetic lives and thus sakala charitra is possible, or a household, permitting only vikala charitra?
As Wikipedia is licensed under the w:GFDL, the content of Wikipedia is essentially a permanent natural resource, one which cannot be locked away.
But it certainly can be (and has been) argued that just about everything else about Wikipedia, from style to quality to comfort of editing, is like damageable property under the auspices of the Wikipedia "householders", and needs to be protected, violently if necessary.
The goal of sakala charitra means that each of those arguments should be handled separately, and wherever possible, a way should be found to remove the need for hinsa in the form of upkeep and in the form of protection.
Many times it may be found that arguments that injury is unavoidable are founded upon false attachment (see below).
The goal of Wikipedia may be recognized in the second vow of Jainism, satya, truth (or the abstension from falsehood).
More specifically, the goal of Wikipedia may be recognized in the dharma of uttama arjava, uttama satya, and uttama akinchana: supreme honesty, supreme truth, and supreme objectivity (or non-attachment, neutrality), and the tenet of anekantavada, that a thing may be considered from many points of view (note the similarities to the idea of NPOV).
This point was similarly made by the Biblically influenced Larry Wall, founder of Perl, who identified diligence, patience and humility as the virtues of community, and laziness, impatience, and hubris as the virtues of the passionate individual--and said it all depends on perspective: "you can do them all at the same time."
As asatya (speaking falsehood) is considered hinsa, adherence to satya is party of adherence to ahinsa.
The Jain conception of satya could be used as a justification of censorship or suppression of disagreement, since apriya, or disagreeable speech, is considered asatya. However, this must be balanced against the dharma of honesty and non-attachment--in other words, it is essential to speak one's mind and to not take things personally. If someone is made uneasy by the speech of someone else, that ahinsa is as much the listener's responsibility as the speaker's--for with true renunciation of injury, attachment (pride), and falsehood, it is impossible to be made uneasy.
Rather, understand that criticism, if well-meant, should always be encouraged and that the scorning of others is much more harmful than criticism or objection can be. Adherence to Anekantavada (literally Non-one-endedness or Nonsingular Conclusivity) means owning up to the natural limitations of one’s own ability to grasp the full truth and understanding that more than one perspective and more than one conclusion is needed to get closer to the full picture of reality.
To achieve a non-violent community one must root out the source of violence, which is ultimately false attachment. False attachment causes fear, which leads to violence. False attachment involves the clinging to wealth and power, which is expressed in society by the centralization of authority and concentration of wealth. Much Wikipedia violence is based on the fear of Wikipedia violence. Much of that fear is based on false attachment. While it is a reality of society that the servers of Wikipedia are owned, and thus they can be genuinely attacked and need to be defended, it is reasonable to consider that no individual owns the content or direction of Wikipedia.
Longer notes which probably belong in Wikipedia
The Jainist conception of ahinsa involves three times three--the three actions (karanas) of hinsa in the three modes (yogas)--of observances:
Neither mentally, orally, or physically
- do injury oneself (krita)
- get injury done by others (karita)
- approve injury done by others (anumata, mananat, or anumodana)
The ten noble virtues (dharma) are:
- supreme forgiveness or forbearance (uttama kshama)
- supreme humility or tenderness (uttama mardava)
- supreme honesty or straight forwardness (uttama arjava)
- supreme contentment or purity of thought and freedom from greed
- supreme truth (uttama satya)
- supreme self-control or self-restraint (uttama samyama)
- supreme austerities
- supreme renunciation
- supreme non-attachment or not taking the non-self for one's own self (uttama akinchana)
- supreme chastity (uttama brahmacharya)
Note the similarites to the Biblical virtues of the excellent wife: humility, forbearance, love, and diligence [Philippians 4:2,3], upon which Larry Wall, the founder of Perl, has famously expounded.
- Most of you are familiar with the virtues of a programmer. There are three, of course: laziness, impatience, and hubris. These are virtues of passion. They are not, however, virtues of community. The virtues of community sound like their opposites: diligence, patience, and humility. They're not really opposites, because you can do them all at the same time. It's another matter of perspective. These are the virtues that have brought us this far. These are the virtues that will carry our community into the future, if we do not abandon them.