Decline Of Civility

I (DougMerritt) refactored this rather old page to try to make it less specific to one individual, because the issues discussed are, I think, always relevant to wiki, regardless of which person behaves in a certain way. Anticipating objections: I'm not doing this out of political correctness. I really do think that we all care about everyone's behavior here, and the only value a really old page has is to instruct us as a group in the future - not to continue to critique actions that are many years old. -- DougMerritt
This (circa 2001?) page has had removed all the specific, personal stuff, and kept the very general how-does-a-Wiki-deal-with-incivility discussion.

The older version of this page might have looked like flame wars, but one can learn a lot about growth of personalities, tolerance and learning.


[ The following discussion applies to many people who have been c2 regulars at one time or another, regardless of when the original comment was written: ]

So, what are we going to do about people whose behavior violates local norms for an extended period?

Ask him to stop? Tried that, doesn't work.

Ignore him and hope they'll go away? This seems to be the most popular response. Might be the wisest. Maybe he'll get bored and go away, and after a while the WikiCommunity can regenerate.

Delete his tirades? Tried that, he just pastes them back in.

Rewrite his stuff so it contains only the ideas and not the venom? Tried that, seems to have no effect. Also, it's a lot of work, and the tirades are often off-topic, so the resulting page is still a mess. If you move it to a different page, he doesn't take the hint and moves it back.

Shred his text the way he shreds other people's? I don't think this has been tried.

Give him a dose of his own condescension? I don't think this has been tried, either.

Any other ideas?

For me, in 3 years of regular wiki contribution I had my share of stoushes, yet somehow always found a way to live and let live.

Recently the current situation seems qualitatively different, however. Recently I've been disturbed by someone who is completely uninterested in agreement or page utility except as those properties serve his agenda. Trying to converse with him, even if you are the soul of discretion and diplomacy, and refactor diligently, and always give him the benefit of the doubt, results only in ThreadMess and repetition of dogma. His views are immovable, intolerant, and far from those of any other wiki participant. It's my opinion that there is no hope for improvement in relations with him.

What to do? Well, bug out seems like the only sensible alternative to me. That's painful - we've had a very civilized community here for several years, and we'll miss it. If you respect the WikiNature, however, you must admit that RK has as much right to refactor wiki in his own image as do we. So - bug out to a place where there is a voluntary social contract to prevent incivility? Heck, no - you never know when you yourself will end up on the wrong side of it. But bug out - there are lots of wikis out there, and enough un-RKed content here to last a while. Transclude what you need, and BugOut?. -- PeterMerel

I definitely don't think 'giving him a taste of his own medicine' is a good idea. He seems to have a lot more time than any one of us, and has shown that he's looking for a fight. Giving him one will only wear you down. We've got lives, he doesn't. No contest. I think ignoring and SilentTreatment? are viable options. Simply put him in your mental kill-file.

On the other hand, there is one thing I've been pondering, and that is TagTeamRefactoring?. Two people team up and remove the venom. The first one removes the venom, the second makes a minor change on the page so he can't simply re-paste it. After a while he should get the message.

One thing we should remember is that although he has more time than any one of us, there are many more of us than him. With enough collaboration, we can make it really hard for him to be obnoxious. -- RobHarwood

... CunninghamsMonster, chased by an angry mob armed with stakes, gibbets, and burning torches, instinctively makes his way back to the cemetery that spawned him ...

Um, look, I hate to put a damper on a good AutoDaFe, but this is both silly and liable to escalate. Wiki has been a wonderful experience, but something like this was bound to happen eventually. If it hadn't been that guy, it would have been the scientologists, white supremacists, script kiddies, or some similar ilk. When wikis grow too big for their inhabitants to maintain in the face of the forces of incivility, then they die. It's only natural. Move on.

My opinion is that his stuff has been a bit of fresh air around here. Maybe I've not been close enough to observe all the purported nasty behaviour, but some of the things I read on this page disgusted me at first reading. Then it started to look like juvenile brown-nosing. His stoushes with some other regulars have been very interesting. Who dares to say what is Good and Bad on Wiki. My opinion is that that small handful that have contributed to many hundreds of pages deserve some respect; the rest of us are very lucky to be part of an amazing contribution to the history of the web. Remember, you don't have to agree on everything to be friends.

If his biggest crime is to have presented some difficult and challenging ideas, well ....

Maybe you guys want to start a page listing those of us who are excluded from your moral majority??

-- RichardCollins

It is not so much his ideas, but his manners - he started out with insults, and descended from there. He demonizes all who disagree with him, and introduces his favorite flavor of fringe politics into nearly every discussion.

Exactly: the trouble is the manners, not the ideas. We love his ideas. Wiki is a playground for ideas, especially ideas like his. The trouble is the HORRIBLE distaste that you get whenever you deal with him - the insults, the condescension, the accusations, the never-ending insinuations (and even explicit statements) that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, a boob, a psychopath, a dupe, an ignoramus, a coward, an intellectual weakling, and in general someone who doesn't deserve to live. Anyone who acted in person the way he acts on-line would quickly get a fierce dose of ParkingLotTherapy. This style of interacting makes participating on Wiki a really unpleasant, rotten experience.

To borrow a concept from another page, he's like a prion - once he's on a page, he starts the chain reaction that escalates.

Unlike ordinary proteins, we each have the choice, once exposed to a prion, whether or not we will also bend into that shape.

Now go read SnowCrash.

One thing that many people may not know about is that he will spend a long time insulting and charading until you stop bothering to respond, and then he'll remove the flames and leave behind a much tamer public version of the debate. I experienced this on ArgumentByTheMasses (you'll notice that there's no evidence a flame war even existed). The problem is not what's left behind, it's how he behaves during the debate. However, if you try to refactor it yourself, you'll just get a blasting of accusations in reply. At least, that's my experience, I haven't been following any of his other flame wars. -- RobHarwood

Interjection: Rob, I followed that one. What he is doing is going on the principle that if you can't address his points, your position is invalid, and so the page should be refactored. Normally, this is good reasoning and good practice. It does run into problems when one person just gets TiredOfDebating, but if you're worried that will happen, I suggest you just switch from rhetoric to dialectic. "True or false: blah is the case?" When that works, it becomes invincibly clear whether a position is valid.

While this may be the case for factual issues, for philosophical issues I have to disagree, especially after witnessing the heavy-handed bludgeoning that RK with the help of JoshuaGrosse used to devastating effect on DefinitionOfLife. What could have been an interesting page discussing many possible definitions and their uses and limitations was forced into a tirade in favour of one specific definition to the exclusion of all other possibilities. A direct quote from that page: The above is the penultimate definition. Until someone comes up with at least one counter-example to it or reasonable counter-argument, it has primacy over all other definitions on this page. What people don't realize is that the essence of philosophy is the discussion of ideas and not the quest for the ultimate unassailable truth. I once had an epistemology professor who advocated a very common sense oriented stance towards what could be known. When I asked him one day what the point of studying philosophy was if the answer to all the deep questions was simple common sense, it illustrated to him in spades that I had completely missed the point. -- AndyPierce

I don't think you saw what happened on DefinitionOfLife. Rob proposed a definition that was both interesting and worth considering. After some consideration, though, it turned out not to work for known cases, and so was turned down. Repeatedly turned down, but still, I find that hard to call heavy bludgeoning - at least, it was not in defense of any given ideology, and whether or not philosophy is about discussion inconsistent ideas do not need to be discussed.

The reason his definition gained primacy was not because we were working in its favor - at least, I wasn't - but because all the other positions failed for simple cases: sponges, fridges, eunuchs. His comment quoted above was not addressed to those proposing the alternate definitions, but to me - as a note that the idea, which hadn't failed yet, shouldn't be classed with those that had. Thinking about it, I found it difficult to say he was wrong. And, btw, there is no need to refer to me in the third person when I am the person you are responding to. :) -- JoshuaGrosse

Actually, I dipped an oar into that debate. Well, posted a leading question anyway. He simply deleted it without comment. My seeing no point in further contributing to that page, despite two decades of personal interest in ArtificialLife, and recent professional experience with same, exemplifies the problem here. Why contribute when your content is certain to be butchered? But I was happy to agree with RK's observation that his definition is PenUltimate ... -- Pete''

This wasn't just now, was it? The most recent question wasn't deleted, but I think it was slid down.

Not to reopen the debate: The funniest thing about that 'penultimate' claim is that he kept significantly changing the definition as new counterpoints came up. But anyway, that's neither here nor there. The point is he was rude, damned rude. Ruder than probably anybody I've come across online so far. He degraded the entire debate with insults and accusations. The funniest thing about the whole debate was that he resorted to ArgumentByTheMasses, and yet he claims to be an anarchist. Maybe I'm not clear on the definition of anarchist, but aren't they supposed to dislike authoritarian stances? Anyway, to avoid triggering a new useless flamewar, I'm backing off of this page for a long while. I just think his behaviour was pretty pathetic, that's all. -- RobHarwood

(One last snipe: The real reason his definition gained so-called 'primacy' is because he was willing to carry on the flame war and I wasn't. Congratulations on your 'victory'. ;-)

I'm not going to defend his manners, but I put just as much work into that debate as him or you, and I don't think it's fair for you to claim that nothing said actually mattered save his insults. Not to reopen the debate is an awful way to start a statement: I'm going to hit you, but don't strike back, I'd hate to get in a fight. -- JoshuaGrosse

Nope. As I mentioned on the home page, I'm curtailing my activity on c2. Well, except for pissing and moaning right here, of course :-)

No, the problem is what's left behind as well. By removing the flames the impression is left that consensus has been achieved, when in reality it has simply been the result of ArgumentumAdInfinitum. -- anonymous

Last week I received my share of open fire directed my way on usenet, because I applied what I thought was BrutalSarcasm, but was in the end mostly gibberish. Boy! I really wanted to have the chance to go back and change what I wrote back then. -- DavidSchmitt, 2001-02-05

My suggestion is to just give him space, don't try to push him, and give him a chance to grow out of this phase. Something about this community draws him, and I think if we just let him be, it will work out fine. From what I've seen so far, his views are no more onerous than several of the others who have pushed our envelope - and we've always grown from the experience. If you don't like what he says, either don't read it or don't respond to it. If you see something he says that you like, try responding to THAT. -- TomStambaugh


Story about master who kicked wastebasket moved to EmotionalCatharsis
Many pages here on WardsWiki are now worthless, due to the conversational styles of certain people. But there are still many worthwhile pages here. Learn to tell the difference between the two, and spend your time here accordingly. -- FrancisHwang

I try to view comments, especially inflammatory ones, with a critical eye. If a page becomes less civil, it's because: My advice it to not feed the troll, let the page die down. To coin a (terribly inelegant) phrase: "The bendy willow survives the hurricane. The sturdy oak is destroyed."

The Worthless Pages will be there to be refactored when the storm is over. If not by us, then by some WikiCitizen down the line. Meanwhile, they do serve a purpose, they document a contributor's position... TrollDroppings? if you will.
Is this the same Richard I had so much fun arguing with??... and don't worry, I am not going to restart that discussion here :), even though I was a bit surprised about how little support I got ... oh, well .... NissimHadar

Well, yes, RK was the example people used to start this page. But he is not the only relevant example here. -- FrancisHwang

Additionally, RK has either moderated his tone, or we got used to him, or a bit of both. In my personal opinion, the ratio of signal to noise that RK provides tends to be high, and now that a lot of the unnecessary personal invective seems to have faded, I'm happy to have him around. -- AndyPierce
Just an observation: I've had a wonderful 4+ hours reading this page and rk's page and all the pages that have come from them. I find it amazing how much energy people have spent talking about and fighting with this guy. He has really fired this place up. He's given people a whole new side of Wiki to work with. And in exchange, all these people have put so much time and effort into feeding his ego. I would feel great if any thing I said got the amount of responses his stuff does. I think he's got a higher response quota right now than anyone here and you know he's loving it. It's really quite amazing to see someone so extreme-minded still have that necessary geekiness to thrive in Wiki.

-- LeeNathan


See also: CivilityPatterns, ItDepends (definitely related), DeleteInsults

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