[WikiEN-l] We need a policy to deal with new policies

Ray Saintonge saintonge at telus.net
Sun May 14 05:23:54 UTC 2006

Mark Gallagher wrote:

>As a general rule, policy in an environment like Wikipedia is a Good 
>Thing.  It means people get to know what to expect, those comparatively 
>few users with power over other users are kept accountable, and a bunch 
>of other fine things.  Thanks to policy, users can comfortably 
>contribute to the encyclopaedia knowing that they are protected by 
>English law, as is their birthright.
>Wikipedia has a few basic, overarching, dreadfully important policies:
>* we are an encyclopaedia
>* we write from a neutral point-of-view
>* we don't abuse Wikipedia to publish our own theories
>* we treat each other with civility and respect and do our very best to
>   assume good faith and not behave like dicks and disrupt the project
>* anything that is not on this list is negotiable
I generally agree with this, though I would add
* our contributions are subject to verification
* we respect copyrights

To a large extent all these rules ezcept the first one apply to the 
sister projects.  Variations of the first rule serve as the basis for 
defining the specific sister projects.

>Somehow, however, this is not sufficient.  People start to look at our 
>principles as a game of Nomic: "Wikipedia could be really cool, if only 
>it weren't an encyclopaedia."; "This article is about X, so *of course* 
>it's going to be written from X's point-of-view.  Anything else is 
>crazy!"; "Why should I need good sources?  You're just trying to censor 
>THE TRUTH!"; "I didn't know edit warring was wrong."; "We should get rid 
>of Ignore All Rules, it just encourages anarchy".  How many of these 
>statements are fictitious?  They look awfully familiar, don't they?
Thanks to you I just had to waste two hours learning about Nomic!  :-(

Perhaps we could look at the principles as being the immutable rules, 
and the policies and processes as the mutable rules.

>Now, we can't rely on our basic principles for day-to-day dealings. 
>There's too much potential for abuse: sure, NPOV, but *how* NPOV?  What 
>*does* NOR mean, anyway?  Why should admins be allowed to decide who is 
>and isn't being disruptive?  So we have to define, and define, and 
>define, over and over again, in a never-ending bid to create the Grand 
>Unified Policy of Everything.  If we don't have an exact definition, 
>people won't know what to expect ... and that's tyranny!  But there are 
>no perfect definitions, and there are always gaps in policy.  Admins who 
>fall back on basic common sense to deal with stuff that falls into such 
>a gap are rounded on by policy wonks and wikilawyers: "can you point to 
>the policy that forbids <insert dickish behaviour here/>?  Then why 
>should I not be allowed to do it?  The First Amendment says I can!"
Would it make more sense to change "Ignore all rules" to "Ignore all 
mutable rules"?  Perhaps the distinction is that the wikilawyers still 
believe that they can win their game of Nomic by acquiring some number 
of points, while others of us will only accept a victory by paradox.

>Whenever we run into an unexpected situation, the first cry heard is 
>always "we need a policy to deal with this!"  As the amount of policy 
>increases, the feeling that we need to strictly adhere to policy also 
>increases ... until we cannot do anything unless there's a policy to 
>back it up.  Which, in turn, makes the gaps in policy gape all the more 
>broadly ... which leads to yet more cries: "we need a policy to deal 
>with this!"  Seal that gap!  What does one put into a policy-shaped hole 
>except policy?  Every gap in policy proves that we need more rules ...
It's a lot more fun to put a principle-shaped peg into that 
policy-shaped hole.  To be sure high speed computing has permitted the 
codification of an increasingly broad corpus of laws.  Some people never 
learn that the series 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 + ... does not converge.

>If "don't be a dick!" is insufficiently enlightening as to what is and 
>is not acceptable in a collaborative environment, then there's probably 
>no hope for you in mountains of policies guiding social interactions 
>either.  And our reaction to anyone who triumphantly proclaims the 
>discovery of a loophole in our policy should not be to say "oh, no! 
>He's right!  We can't touch him!", but rather to reply with something 
>like "well done!  You're still banned, though."
Dicks are ruled by the brains contained in a dickhead.

>It seems we can't trust ourselves to do the right thing, to use common 
>sense, to work within broad guidelines.  Why on Earth not?  Are we 
>afraid of making mistakes?  Doing the Wrong Thing, with policy support, 
>can never be considered a mistake: we were just following the 
>community's orders, Jimbo!  And if we need a Byzantine collection of 
>poorly-understood, constantly-shifting commands and definitions to cite 
>as authority for any argument, then so be it.  At least we can't be 
>blamed for anything!
>Come *on*, people!  Do the Right Thing, and accept the plaudits if you 
>get it right, and apologise if you don't!  So long as you're 
>level-headed and honest with yourself, you can't go wrong.  Mistakes can 
>be forgiven, and their effects will not last long; the same cannot be as 
>easily said about process fetishism.  Remember when people discussed 
>what was best for the project, rather than what was most likely to fit 
>in with policy?
EB is a professionally run publication, and preofessionals never make 

Congratulations Mark for a well expressed criticism.


More information about the WikiEN-l mailing list