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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)

Comments

harleenquinzell
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.
attack_laurel
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.
jljonsn
Oct. 11th, 2007 05:14 pm (UTC)
I've seen instances where a couple of people were booted from lists for being obnoxious. The problem is that because of the mess they make, more than a few leave these lists and the list becomes tainted.

Lacking a time machine, or full moderation of posts, it's hard to undo some of the mess these people create.

harleenquinzell
Oct. 11th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)
I wonder if perhaps the limiting factor of the online retaliation is the complete lack of moderators on the list, a lack of courage to respond, or the idea that "arguing with someone's bad behavior just makes more spam and no one cares, and is ungenteel behavior." You could also add in the factor that some people with certain goals may be afraid to speak up on a public record for or against anything for fear of damaging their "paths.", which is unique to SCA lists.

For example, recently on the Merry Rose a debate was begun. Someone took offense to someone's viewpoint and told them they were disappointed in their viewpoint publically in feeling that it clashed with the title they held. Possibly wrong, but that was that person's single opinion. Said target AND their spouse immediately retaliated and set the relatively newish person to the SCA alight.

And no one publically stated, to all parties concerned, "Your behavior isn't acceptable. While the first person was wrong possibly in calling your title into question, your response intended to crush and embarrass was unwarranted and unnecessary, and unwanted in a public forum like this."

Mostly because the ugliness involved was probably hoped to best go away quickly, and a response would have just started more drama, and responses, and ugliness.

Thankfully the new person responded privately, and took the discussion off the list.

The problem I think arises mostly from the fact that there ISN'T someone specifically tasked with moderating the list. Someone with authority to say, "I'm sorry, your post was hurtful/rude/etc., so I am going to remove it from the list." There's no one with the authority to do so, and so those inclined to do so face both the fact that

a) While there is a moral responsibility, they have no more or less right to dictate what is said on the list than the other person. They have an opinion, and while an opinion may be right or wrong, it has no validating weight to stop an argument, and will only cause a more heated response, and possibly be a waste of words.

b) In such an instance it seems the best behavior is not to comment at all, not to provide more fodder for the flame war, and in such deprivation hope it dies quickly. But you're right, in such a thing does not cause any "punishment" to the offender except a public silence.

It would be different if perhaps everyone was prone to speaking up and saying, "This behavior is not acceptable." But then you might get to the mishy marshy quagmire of quashing free speech because it offends someone.

Blegh. I don't know if there is a right answer.
nq3x
Oct. 11th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC)
The right answer was given in the article our esteemed hostess quoted.

Have rules.

Have rules as to how more rules can be made.

Make the rules clear immediately, so there can be no obfuscation of what is behaviorally expected from a group member.

Make the rules stick for everyone.

On fora I moderate - thankfully fewer than in years past - I always make it quite clear that anal haberdashery will not be tolerated. I also make it quite clear that I, as moderator, am the sole arbiter of what is and what is not anal haber dashery. It is also quite clear that if the applicant doesn't like that, s/he can pound sand with no harm done.

People need to realise that other people provide things like email lists and forums and LJs and stuff. One is permitted to display one's idiocy at the sufferance of someone else. In other words, there is no Gawd-given right to post on the Internet. There is nothing in the First Amendment that guarantees one the ability to post "Jeff Johnson is a crack whore" (Hi, Jeff!), or anything else, for that matter.

I recognize that SCAdians take a rather dim view of rules, generally speaking. Has to do with subculture or something, I'm given to understand. (Which makes their participation in an organization which purports to study one of the most hierarchical and, above all, rules-laden periods in history more than a little ironic, but I digress.) But people who make craziness for craziness's sake need thwapping, not concern about whether or not their feelings will be hurt.

It was written above that disciplining an aberrant list-denizen was avoided in order to preserve the buttwipe's feelings. What of the feelings of the person(s) he's verbally assaulted? Eh? If you're worry at all about the attacker's feelings, you overtly display your disdain and dismissal of the victim(s).

And that ain't right.

The only way round that is with clearly delineated and cleanly enforced Roolz. Even on hte Intarnets.
stitchwhich
Oct. 11th, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
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".

that's one of the things that I constantly trip on. I sent private messages to the who had been so nasty because one of the things we teach is, "commend in public, correct in private" but this gives the false impression that an online bully-victim is standing alone.

And after careful thought about how upset I was about how your incident was handled, I stopped being so private in my responses. Because the group cannot supply pressure if no one else knows it's being done.
margaretc
Oct. 12th, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
Huh. I think that, in that particular incident, if I had seen a public correction of the knight in question, I too would have chimed in. I don't care about his opinion of me, online or in person, but precisely because nobody else said anything in public I didn't either. I didn't send him a message in private because it didn't occur to me to do so. I'm usually unafraid to do things publicly, and although I have no standing in the peerages, I have plenty of it online. I was annoyed about the incident, but I've long ago given up being angry at that particular knight for several different reasons. So. How's about a deal - if you see such behaviour (not just from him) before I do, you say something publicly, and I'll 'me too' you. And if I see it before you do, I'll say something in public and hope for backup. Anyone else?
stitchwhich
Oct. 12th, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)
Um, we're talking about two different incidents. And I can't think of who you are referring to - send me an email?
margaretc
Oct. 12th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC)
Ah crud. It was on Windmasters' list (the Keep), about disabilities and not wanting to pay for other peoples' disabilities. But the offer still stands.
attack_laurel
Oct. 15th, 2007 09:56 am (UTC)
Heh. That wasn't me - it was on an order list. I suggested some intelligent responses in the journal of the person who was a bit wound up about your issue ("point out that our current Queen has limited access to events, and say that you *want* the Queen at your event"), so that the discussion could move away from yelling at each other and into the realm of the real people who would be affected by such an attitude. :)

I find when you put faces to the abstract concept, it humanizes the discussion.
attack_laurel
Oct. 15th, 2007 10:00 am (UTC)
It did hurt, mostly because it really felt like a dismissal of my chops as a Laurel - I *clearly* couldn't know anything, it had to be animosity. Since I have a lot of respect for the candidate involved, it was an opinion I put a lot of care and thought into, and I basically got questioned as to my qualifications to have such an opinion - something that should *never* happen on a list like that - the qualifications are, to a great extent, a given.

I had a *lot* of private correspondence with a certain person ont hat one, but I don't think it did much good. :(

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