Comfortable Space For Disagreement


People tend to disagree quite a lot. This is fundamental to the human condition: limited size of our own skull, cultural background, no time to read enough, prejudices, idiosynchrazies,etc. We are all conditioned to act on limited knowledge and limited reasoning. Contrary to the initial belief, wikis are not going to change any of that and problems ensue. The history of WardsWiki is witness to that (MissingWikiBeforeXp, BigWikiFireOfDoubleOught, TheTroubleWithConsensus, WikiReductionists, WikiMindWipeDiscussion are just a few wiki pages dealing with the issue, a lot more is in the memory of the participants and it's a history that might be worth written someday).

On the other hand most reasonable people have very little problem understanding there are dissenting opinions, point of views that are competing with their own. There are also not an insignificant number of people who think that their point of view should clearly be made to prevail (especially in a public space such as wiki), and there are also the cases where one point of view is inadvertently given an unfair advantage by lack of care or accident. And this is the essence of quasi totality of wiki conflicts. It happens not only on technical issues dynamic vs static, object versus relational databases, JavaVsSmalltalk, it also happens on the meta level: ToSignOrNotToSign, etc.

In the same time it's worth keeping in mind that not all opinions are created equal, so this adds to the puzzle.

Proposed solution:

Give people confortable room for disagreement. One kind of such space are editorial branches in WikiChangeProposal, but I think any innovative solutions will do.

As the history of conflicts shows, on the current wiki technology there's not enough space for people to be confortable in their disagreements. A PageName is seen as prime real estate -- wouldn't it be nice if the opposing viewpoint is relegated to a more obscure PageName, the first paragraph is important, the first part of the screen in a browser, the PatternForm all these are fought over. In the same time NeutralPointOfView is not quite the solution, as there will be a non-trivial negotiation to draw it more to the middle, to the left and to the right, while in the same time WikiReaders may be rendered a disservice by having to read boring ThereForBut?.

So just create the space for opposing viewpoints to coexist confortably. Empower WikiReader to decide which suits them best, and for sure the history itself will settle the argument, in 10 years, in 50 or in 100, but what you can be sure of is that it will be settled eventually.

Disagreement leads to debate, which may lead to new ideas or understandings. The more comfortable we are in settling for disagreement, the less progress we will make. I think we need a means to have more civilized debates -- not a means to avoid debates. -- MichaelSparks

I think your concern is very valid. My point of view is that maybe a means to avoid debates is a possible way forward, towards more civilized debates. Including having debates at a comfortable distance, and acknowledging that some debates have to just take a break until new knowledge is available. It is true that in theory such debates can be had within current technology if all the participants are exceedingly disciplined. Practically I claim that the history of the online world (wikis, newsgroups ) has shown that this problem is roughly HC-complete (where HC stands for HerdingCats).

If online people get too comfortable for having reasonable debates, that might reflect in the quality of what they have to say, or it might not, in which case maybe debates were not the way to go forward. Let the market decide whatever that market is (WikiReaders , book sales or other kinds of formal or informal markets). --CostinCozianu

What is your opinion on political parties? I'm not much into politics, but from what I've seen, the majority of people are either "red" or "blue". They are like teams. If you're on the red team and you take a moment to listen to something the blue team has to say, you are looked at funny. If you believe in one of their ideas and try to spread it, you become an outcast traitor. It works both ways.

Now, what is more likely? That there is one right team and one wrong team? To me it seems clear that ideas should be considered independently of their source. I bet you could get almost everyone to agree with that in principle. But when it gets specific, and you start throwing around the name of the other team, egos get flaired up and nobody wants to listen to anybody anymore. They especially won't listen to any new teams that aren't already dominant.

Do you think WCP could turn into something similar? Is the alternative any better? People are a lot more complicated than programs, and we can't even accurately predict the behavior of programs. I suppose the easiest way to know if WCP works is to try it. -- MichaelSparks

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