Fragments Of Comprehension

(semi-internal) Our consciousness and humility must reflect, refine and redeem every scattered fragment of the material world

► The self-organizing revolutionary community that we need will require political transparency, distributed authority and democratic moderation – [FoC.12.10.10]

Posted by Ben Seattle on October 10, 2012

I created this blog as a place to assemble, over time and with deliberation, scattered thoughts into coherent articles.  This blog is what I am calling a “lower” blog, which means (fancy media theory about “push” and “pull” aside) that this is a place where it is ok for me to post ideas which are half-finished or just plain wrong.  Of course, a “lower” blog does not make a lot of sense without an “upper” blog to go with it.  I hope to soon create an upper blog, and this lower blog will be helpful in putting together material for it.

It is also important, for several reasons, that this blog be public.  One reason is so that activists who would like to help me put together articles that are good enough for other activists to read–can do so.

Moderation policy for this blog is not yet decided.  The purpose of this post is to lay out some of the basic principles that will need to guide moderation policy for this blog–and maybe other blogs that aspire to serve the development of a revolutionary self-organizing community.

In the last few days an activist, Greg Butler, started to comment here.  Initially, his comments were helpful and I was glad to see him post.  Soon however, I lost confidence that it would be possible for me, at this time, to engage Greg in a way that would be productive.

I told Greg that I did not intend to engage with him and would prefer that he not participate in this blog, at least for a while.  Greg responded by accusing me of censuring his posts and acting in the way that Mike Ely (of Kasama fame) has acted against me.

I believe that the stand of revolutionary activists, as materialists, must be that everything that happens in the material world, happens for a reason–and (with sufficiently deep humility) can be harnessed to serve our mission.

Everything.  Every drop of rain.  Every drop of pain.  Every drop of sorrow.

So the recent friction between Greg and me does not need to be looked at as a bad thing.  We can see it as a good thing.  We can use this friction in many ways to deepen our insight into the powerful principles which must guide our action in building revolutionary self-organizing community.

What Principles Must Guide Moderation?

We must start from the needs of the revolutionary movement.  I assert that the revolutionary movement will assemble itself in the context of a self-organizing community.  This community must be open.  This means it must be (1) politically transparent and (2) all revolutionary activists must have a right to participate in it.  This means, for example, that the community cannot be controlled by a political trend that abuses this control to suppress the voice of its critics.  That’s the first principle.

An open community means that the struggle between political trends will take place in full view of everyone–who will, by the nature of this open struggle–have access to the views of all sides.

So how can my recent friction with Greg help to illustrate how these principles might work?

On the one hand, I have no desire to see Greg post here anytime soon.  He is (in my humble opinion) aggressive clueless, shallow, reactive and a waste of my time.  (At least that’s how it seems to me right now, since, as is probably obvious, I am writing these words in anger.  I should add that I see this as a symptom of larger problems in our movement that isolate individuals and deprive them of perspective.  I should also add that I am confident that, in the period ahead, Greg will learn how to engage with others in a productive way.)  So I don’t want to see him here (at least not for several months, until I have time to cool off).  Also (it would appear) that Greg intends to post here in the future regardless of my wishes.

Of course, the Word Press software allows me to block his posts.  And that may, eventually, become necessary.  But I want to avoid this, at least for now.  Because we need better methods of handling moderation–and because Greg’s participation here, and the antagonistic form it has assumed–offers us an opportunity to better understand how a self-organizing community would use democratic methods of moderation, based on political transparency and distributed authority.

It may be useful to discuss Greg’s accusation that I am behaving like Mike Ely.  To start that off–let me point out that there are two distinct principles that emerge here:

(1) Greg Butler, like all other revolutionary activists, must have a right to participate in the revolutionary community we need.  We need to create the kind of community where it is simply not possible for one section of the community (which has become exhausted dealing with Greg) to cut out Greg’s ability to participate in the community as a whole.

(2) Activists must also have the right to be protected from aggressively clueless people who attempt to steal their attention.

Can we find a way to satisfy the demands of both of these principles?  We can and we must.

My experience with the Kasama community is something I will describe soon, when I post part 3 of my reply to Red Fox.  But briefly, Mike (and his comrades) felt that my activity there was counter-productive to the development of the community and placed restrictions on my ability to post so that it would not be practical for me to participate there.  Basically, Mike got tired of dealing with me.  His time was limited and that was how he solved what he saw as a problem.

Two opposing models of moderation

Any significant forum of revolutionary activists will require moderation, of course.  But the issue here is that there are different models of how moderation is done.  The most common model is what I will call the “New York Times Kasama” model of moderation.  I use that name because it is used in a wide range of websites and forums, ranging from the corporate New York Times to the activist oriented Kasama.  According to this model, a relatively small and trusted team makes decisions about what comments are allowed.  Comments (and people) are banned in the context of secrecy.  The community plays no role (or, at most, a token role) in moderation decisions and often is simply kept in the dark concerning the real nature of moderation policy.

The “New York Times Kasama” model of moderation can be thought of as the top-down, paternalistic method of moderation.

There is a different model of how moderation can be done that is based on “bottom up” self-organization, political transparency and distributed authority.  That is the model that the revolutionary community that we are working to create will certainly need and use.  So we need to understand this model better and experiment with it.  This model will require a place where moderation can be discussed by everyone (including people who are being moderated).  This model will require announcements and updates of who has been put on moderation or suspended–and why.  This model will require public “trash bins” into which deleted posts are copied–so that all readers have the right to inspect, for themselves, any post which has been moderated–in order to assess whether or not the moderator is doing a good job.  The only kinds of material which would not be saved for public inspection would be material with potential for creating legal problems (such as threats or the kind of information which invites harassment by police or grand juries) or which violates security culture (such as personally identifiable information, or “PII” as it is known in the information technology industry).

The new model we need may also involve a system of blogs that make it difficult for any section (or sections) of our revolutionary community to abuse the authority of its editorial priviledge.  This model will eventually also require the use of custom software that would allow readers to rate and filter posts and comments as well as choose (for themselves, based on their own preferences) which moderator fits their needs (or become a moderator themselves if they conclude that existing moderators are simply not good enough).  And members of the revolutionary community will not only have the right to rate and filter posts and comments.  They will have the right to rate and filter one another.  If you are a social democrat, or simply an aggressively clueless, word-twisting, time-wasting, know-it-all then, whatever you are, your reputation will precede you, and your ability to steal time and attention from members of the revolutionary community will be cut down (in a democratic and politically transparent way, based on collaborative filtering) to whatever size is appropriate, including something that would be pretty close to size zero.

I have had ideas about these topics for years, and have written about them at length.  Solutions will be developed as problems assert themselves.  The transition from the old, top-down, paternalistic, “NYT-Kasama” model to the new model based on political transparency and distributed authority is inevitable as the revolutionary movement begins to grow and finds the old model to be slowing the necessary increase in its rate of information metabolism.  From a political perspective, we can see that the paternalistic top-down model is required any time a minority is exploiting the majority.  The most obvious example of this today is modern China, which has the largest and most rapidly growing internet population in the world.  The Chinese government is reported to employ an army of 30 or 60 thousand people who do nothing but censor internet posts.  But careful study of news reports about China reveals that the system of internet censorship there is already beginning to break down.

I have been harsh here with Greg, but I have done so in the conviction that he can take it.  I believe in Greg.  I know that he can do better and I want him to know he can do better.  And he will.  I want Greg to recognize that his participation in our future revolutionary community (that he wants to see develop as much as anyone) will be far more productive if he gives thought to doing this in such a way that those with whom he is engaged will feel respected.

— For the proletariat, Ben


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