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Who's my worst enemy? Surely you jest!

No. And don't call me Shirley.

There's an excellent article available on the Intarwebs (fount of all knowledge and wisdom, except for Wikipedia, which is right about a third of the time) called A Group is its own Worst Enemy, by a wise and learned gentleman named Clay Shirky. Go ahead and read it now, because I'm going to be pulling a couple of things from it to illustrate why internet, e-mail, and list dynamics can be astoundingly harmful to the well-being of the members of the SCA, and how circumventing this cycle reduces the amount of Drama Llama poop being flung about at any given moment.

Go ahead, read it. I'll wait. It's an excellent article. It's about much more than my little idea today.

Back? Good.

The one quote that sticks out in my head like a beacon is:

...even if someone isn't really your enemy, identifying them as an enemy can cause a pleasant sense of group cohesion. And groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies.

How often do you see this happen on a list? Someone is identified as the "bad guy", and suddenly everyone is either for or against the group. All rational discussion has ended; there is no grey area. The group now has no hope of reaching a reasonable compromise, and everyone goes down in flames. The "enemy" is often innocent of anything but disagreeing with the leaders of the group, but you would think they'd been eating babies judging from the level of outrage and vitriol directed their way. In the worst cases, the group members will pursue the "bad guy" to other groups and try to discredit them there as well.

This is an unhealthy way to run any group, but it often happens. Before the Internets, this kind of character assassination happened slowly through gossip and rumour; now, it can happen in the time it takes to hit "send". To use the wonder of group communication to ravage other people with whom the group disagrees seems to be more popular than using that same medium to bring a group together and achieve things. As Shirky points out with his example of Linux users given the choice between coding or bitching about Microsoft, bitching wins every time.

Awareness of this dynamic can help to alleviate the effects and get a group thinking about accomplishments rather than bitching, but it takes more than one person to do so effectively. Every person who refuses to get involved in a flame war needs to put forward their wish to get going on positive projects; only then are the flamers embarrassed by the peer pressure of the group into behaving. Unfortunately, if only one person tries to speak up for reason, they are likely to be villified by the group and lumped in with the "enemy"; it needs to be - natch - a group effort. The problem becomes most acute when the voices of reason refuse to speak up; without vocal refusal to play along, the loudest voice on the list dominates, and new members cannot see that this is not acceptable behaviour.

At this moment, it is acceptable behaviour on some lists; this is unhealthy. Save it for the snark lists if you absolutely have to bitch.

Our big problem in SCA internet interactions is that we have no rules, and a lot of the time, no moderator. Shirky points out that without structure, the group destroys itself.

Group structure exists to keep a group on target, on track, on message, on charter, whatever. To keep a group focused on its own sophisticated goals and to keep a group from sliding into these basic patterns [sex talk, bitching, demanding absolute loyalty to only one way of thinking - ed.]. Group structure defends the group from the action of its own members.

Why don't we take a stronger hand in dealing with negative people? I put a large amount of the blame on the misunderstanding of what the "right to free speech" actually entails. Everyone who has bleated about their right to say whatever they want in any forum needs to go back and look up their constitutional rights. Hell, I don't even come from this country and I know what they are better than most people. You're protected (to some extent) from Government censorship, but the SCA can put any rules on your speech that it likes.

In the SCA, you have no right to free speech. Those who think they can say what they want abuse the indulgence of people who believe wholeheartedly that "no-one's feelings must get hurt".

And that idea, my friends, is quite frankly a steaming pile of bullshit. Shirky's detailing of the history of Communitree  in the 1970s is an excellent example of why it's a good thing to tell people to knock it the fuck off when they start being idiots. Pretending that people are noble, good, and will never abuse the conventions of the group is naivete of the highest order, and will get you fucked up the ass every time (using terms any less graphic fails to convey the end result of allowing people free reign to indulge their neuroses).

Someone who holds sway over a group simply because no-one wants to hurt their feelings by telling them to shut the fuck up is hurting far more people than their precious feelings are worth. I see time and time again that the people who scream the loudest about their "rights" on SCA groups are the least likely to give a damn about the rights of others. Who is hurting who? And why are they being allowed to get away with it?

Because we let them.  We have fallen sway to the tyranny of the loud. It's a useful phrase to remember. Those who whine the loudest get the most attention in the SCA, and they know it. Forget the good people who don't make waves, who follow the rules, learn to interact with grace and politesse, it's the assholes, the whiners, and the tantrum-throwers that get catered to as if they hold the keys to the city. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of people thinking it's perfectly okay to trash people and say things they would never dare to say face to face, and I'm tired of the absolute refusal of the group to come down and say "this is not acceptable behaviour" (edit:  even worse, in the current atmosphere of "no-one gets hurt!" the person who says "unacceptable!" will be vilified for speaking up, therefore proving that it is perfectly fine with everyone for the "enemies" of the group to be hurt). I want those people to be told "put up or shut up". I want the people who haven't been assholes to get most of my time and effort, because they deserve it, not the screaming babies who refuse to play by the rules but also refuse to leave and find something more suited to their oh-so-delicate sensibilites. Instead, we let them upset groups and drive away the people who might be really good for the group.  

This method is a losing proposition for everyone but the loudmouth, who gets tons of attention, all sorts of indulgences, and a group of higher-ups all standing around wringing their hands and saying "they're unhappy!  It must be our fault!".  They will never be satisfied.  Sit them down, shut them up, and tell them that if they hate the status quo so much, they should book for greener pastures.  Then use all that spare time you suddenly have for nurturing people who really do enjoy what the SCA has to offer. 

When we allow the group to exist without any imposed rules or structure, Shirky says, we end up with a mess. Not because anyone actively wants to destroy the group, but because without structure, people's baser natures come out, people behave badly because they can, and no-one's going to say anything, let alone punish them for being assholes. This spills over into real life behaviour for the SCA, but the RL shenanigans are nothing compared to what can happen on a list. Flames, ahoy.

(I had the oddest experience once of someone who simply trashed me and my friends on an SCA list come bouncing up to me at an event like we were best friends, and what was said on line didn't count. I extricated myself as politely and quickly as I was capable of at the time. On-line interaction has an effect, and anyone who says otherwise is being naive.)

There are so many positive things that go with increased web communication - look at the SCA community on LiveJournal - people who have never met IRL can visit with each other, catch up on each others' lives, gain new perspectives on things, and seek feedback on any number of things. But drama rears its ugly head even here - fortunately, we have some control with filters and friend's lists, and locked posts to control part of it, but there will always be the passive aggressive types that leave scathing entries unlocked, just like we always get people who post letters to lists that should never have been sent.

By the way, I thank all of you, my readers, for keeping this journal relatively drama-free. It probably helps that I don't care or mind if I'm unfriended, and I think flouncing is childish. What you do comes back to you, I believe, and one should always treat others in the way one expects to be treated. Fight against the negative dynamic, and don't feed into the drama.  Say what's right, say what should be said, and don't flame.  Respect differing opinions, and state yours respectfully.  Stick to your guns and call people out (politely) for negative behaviour.  To paraphrase Gandhi, be the change you want to see on-line.  The more of us that speak out, the better the SCA on-line community will thrive. 

We communicate faster, better, and more comprehensively than we ever have before, but I think that we need to start thinking beyond "don't hurt anyone's feelings" for guidelines on SCA online communication. I think it's time.

(Quoted passages from A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy: A speech at ETech, April, 2003, by Clay Shirky. All rights reserved; if you choose to link or copy this post, please include a link back to the original article at http://www.shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html)


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Oct. 11th, 2007 01:11 pm (UTC)
Dang. Except for it not being so much on the intraweb, that sounds very much like the situation I'm dealing with right now... Of course, there's a bit more involved than just my feelings, so I'm trying to maintain grace.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:58 pm (UTC)
Stick to your guns; this, too, will pass. The flip side of this is that being the "bitch who always says things people don't want to hear" is a lonely, but vitally neccessary job. There's only a few of us out there, and we must stay strong and not give in to "don't make waves!".
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Oct. 11th, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)
lulz. "Anal rape" sound so much more civilized when I say it, don't you think, old chap?
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Oct. 11th, 2007 01:18 pm (UTC)
Wow. That sure is a lot o' readin'.

Can we talk about sex now? ;-)
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)
The fucking up the ass wasn't enough for you? Oh, you naughty, naughty man.
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Oct. 11th, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Amen sister. THANK YOU for saying this! May I quote you later as my own dhrama lhamas are kissing the drama queen's a$$ and hurting a lot of others. I'm done too with it and ready to stop it.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)
Please. I try to live by this too, but one voice doesn't work as well as many.
Oct. 11th, 2007 01:19 pm (UTC)
Amen! I even know of a friend who nearly got banished in their kingdom for daring to tell a muckity muck that they had been rude to someone (in private I may add).

Apparently the loudest firmly believe they are infallable and damn all those who see otherwise.
Oct. 12th, 2007 12:58 am (UTC)
I have been both banished and been bestowed at least one of my peerages, possibly both, for doing just that.

I like my collection of Level Ones. I don't need any Atlantian ones, done now, kthx. ;)

I was paid the most exquisite compliment just yesterday by a Pelican who had himself for years painted me as "that enemy":
"You might have been considered crazy here, but I've never heard the words rude and Rowena in the same breath. (OK, once, but that was a special, and I suspect, deliberate occasion.)"

The moral of the story being, of course, that attack_laurel is correct: "Stick to your guns; this, too, will pass. ...Being the "bitch who always says things people don't want to hear" is a lonely, but vitally necessary job. There's only a few of us out there, and we must stay strong and not give in to "don't make waves!"

Even if you have to wait a decade or so to see the heads of your enemies float by in the river the epiphany hit home and your beloved Society pull its collective head out of its ass.
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Oct. 11th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
Plz fl freh. I has intarwebz!
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Oct. 11th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
Shirky is a necessary read. Thank you for pointing me to that resource. The tyranny of the Loud. An excellent phrase. Even as I agree with you I find I have some things to ponder.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:17 pm (UTC)
(needless to say) Brava!

The internet can be such a wonderful place for buidling communities. But at the same time, part of what defines a community isn't what brings them together but what sets them apart. It's both what we believe in and what are we against. That leads to the definition of enemies. As people are identified as enemies and ostracized from the group, the group grows closer. But then the group becomes about defending itself from its enemies, as the Linux group became about bitching about Microsoft. It's easier than actually doing anything constructive, isn't it! In the SCA those enemies could be "mundanes" or "Rennies" or even "authenticists" vs "fun mavens" or "high muckity mucks" vs "the untitled" or "fighters" vs "artisans", depending on what circles you run in.

The 'Net is odd, to say the least. I think I am the same here as in real life, but I have no idea if that is reality or just my fervent hope. But I have seen dear friends of mine get labelled "the enemy" when they were simply misunderstood on a list. If you know someone and can "hear" her tone in a post, you understand what she's trying to say. But when that tone doesn't convey itself well in text, it can lead to some terrible misunderstandings. And everyone seems sure that the perpetrator is "the enemy" and not someone who just didn't convey her feelings well.

And then there is the ability to hide behind a computer screen. And the ability to hit "send" too quickly and then later blame a bad day. We ALL have bad days. It's no reason to be nasty to someone. You wouldn't do that in real life. And if you do, an apology is warranted. Not apologising because you don't really know the person you insulted is simply not acceptable!

I think I've gone far afield of what I was trying to say, but this isn't unique to the SCA, of course. It's every group I've ever been in. I've even been in some that defined themselves as being "anti-SCA" (even though most members were SCAdians).

In any case, wonderful article and wonderful commentary upon it. I hope many read your post and see themselves in it.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
And then there is the ability to hide behind a computer screen. And the ability to hit "send" too quickly and then later blame a bad day. We ALL have bad days. It's no reason to be nasty to someone. You wouldn't do that in real life. And if you do, an apology is warranted. Not apologising because you don't really know the person you insulted is simply not acceptable!

"Keyboard Courage", Kass?
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Oct. 11th, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)
Oh my! I feel all tingly!


WONDERFUL read, thank you!
Oct. 11th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
De nada. I enjoy writing. I'm usually a lot less pissed off than I sound, but I always mean what I write. It's one of the reasons I don't lock my journal - I hope to corrupt everyone who comes through here to my perspective. :)
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Oct. 11th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you. No, really. Thank you.
Oct. 11th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. Every now and then I get a wild idea, and start writing. It's usually right around the time the pills kick in. :)
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
It's impossible to tell people to STFU in the SCA. Look at the nature of the populous. The vast majority tend to be misfits from society, generally geekish in nature (oft in extremis). These (we) as a people have an extensive childhood history of being picked on. So it's totally against the culture to repress bad behavior and tyranny of the loud is actually encouraged by accomodating these morons.

On a forum I frequent, there's a discussion going on now about how tolerant and encouraging the SCA should be to people who are in the SCA just to "Freak the Mundanes". I have a hard time associating with people who haven't grown out of the teenage mentality of choosing a lifestyle just to offend.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:51 pm (UTC)
For many, many members, the SCA is still high school. A surprising number of those people that witter on about "not hurting anyone's feelings" are quite prepared to be bullies when they decide someone is not "one of us!", however. I find the practice hypocritical in the extreme.

I've seen really deplorable behaviour from some people as soon as they thought they were in a position of power, while listening to them whine about "mean bullies that hurt their feelings". Nuh-uh. Can't have it both ways, sweetheart - if you act like a bully to *anyone*, you lose any victim points you got as a child.

As a severe bullying and harassment victim in my childhood (physical beatings, threats, constant foul sexually-oriented verbal abuse, and not a teacher willing to stand up for me), I'm very unforgiving of people who act like a mean clique when they get the chance. The worst bullies, in my experience, are the ones who scream victimhood at every opportunity, like they are excused all bad behaviour because someone was mean to them once.
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Oct. 11th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC)
Once again, a well-considered and useful rant. Which, naturally, is the best kind. I hope you will accept being quoted (with necessary attribution, of course) as needed to the unwashed masses.
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC)
Feel free. :) I like writing about stuff in my head, it makes the voices go quiet for a bit.
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC)
Have I told you lately that I love you?
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
Queston? Why are there some comments that I can't read? Is this some sort of filtering? Excellent post of course....
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:20 pm (UTC)
Hm, but I can read them if I click on them...odd....
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Oct. 11th, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
That is an excellent article.

What catches my attention is that we fall under one of the problem specifically mentioned in the Communitree example, but in a more alarming way from his viewpoint.

Anyone with a legal kit of armor and a good sword arm, can become a ruling voice of influence (moderator), and the general populace are helpless against it to a point. The populace is free to choose to leave, but that is damaging to the group. The group does have the control of time in the term limit, but looking at the writer's perspective, it's like we as a group, (and I am using the terms above specifically as per the article's use of them) have the potential to do ourselves occasional and temporary damage by our method of choice of leadership and government. We have as much potential of getting a good and normal leader as we do a complete and total jerk, and there is no controlling factor to weed out someone who has been abusive to others, or has caused some to leave the game unless they do so in such a LARGE way as to affect the GINORMOUS WORLD-WIDE SCA group, which DOES have the power to affect the smaller Kingdom group leader. The check and balance is extremely weighty and often unused simply for the fact that the term is short enough, and the check and balance machinery tedious enough, that barring a major crime, it will likely never be used.

While we do have other groups within the large group to mitigate the fall-out from the overhead large group's erraticism in leadership and decision, since members can take "refuge" as it were at a Baronial level, it is still a weakness, at least if you take this guy's viewpoint of group dynamics as gospel.

Me, I'm more prone to believing that eventually, any largish group of people WILL do the right thing. Eventually enough people will come together and tell So-and-so, he's being a jerk. Or they'll make a rule to prevent a bad thing from occuring. The only thing is it does take time for the group's focus to do the right thing to overcome the individual's sabotage of the group for whatever reason. Enough people will go to a victim privately and say "I support you, I'm sorry so and so is a dick.", and often that can help mitigate an "email forum" enough that the damage is abnegated.

But yes, members of the group should take responsibility for the jerks, assholes and crack-monkeys in their group. My only problem with telling people so is the knowledge that on occasion I can be a jerk, an asshole or a crack-monkey.
Oct. 11th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
Ah, see, that all works IRL; the limiting factors of face-to-face time and direct physical consequences of actions all serve to keep the group on a fairly even keel.

Since on-line groups (the thing I'm referring to in my post) lack the limiting physical factors, the consequences of bad behaviour are practically nil under the current moderator-sparse conditions. People bully and shout and attack their way into control of on-line groups (barony lists, order lists, and such) and brutally attack people who disagree with them. Pretty soon all the people that could have made a difference have left in disgust, and you're left with nothing but a useless shell of a group with a tinpot dictator that rules supreme.

In a private "let's talk about SCA stuff!" group, this is merely a pain, but when the larger lists and groups with a specific purpose like order lists become a haven for bullies and pedagogues, everyone who isn't an asshole loses. I won't go back on the Laurel list while a certain person is on there because the last time I offered my carefully measured opinion on a candidate, I got attacked by two different people who accused me of hating the candidate (not true) because my opinion wasn't as glowing as theirs. It was a devastating experience, most notably because no-one told the attackers that they were being assholes because "people shouldn't be embarrassed in public". But it was okay for me to be attacked, clearly.

This has a chilling effect on reasonable discourse, and prevents anything useful from being done. And yes, I'm still hurt about it. I was driven out of a list where I could have been helpful, because someone decided their opinion was the only right one.
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