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The world we live in is full of constraints.

But the opposite of constraints is anarchy, rather than freedom. In trivialised terms I can only walk because my legs are constrained by rigid bones and it is only by imposing sets of constraints that it is possible to achieve anything.

The same is true of community rules, working environments and human behaviour. No rules and it is not a nice place to live. Too many rules and it is not a nice place to live. I have worked in a Francophone African country where there were "instructions permanents" which governed every detail of commercial and office behaviour. There is a big US Oil company like that. No thanks.

So here is a question: where do we stop and why do many people go too far in terms of rules?

I reckon a lot of what drives too many rules is partly insecurity (wanting to tie down everything to sleep well) and partly a misunderstanding on the nature of truth which means people think detailing rules is a convergent process to Utopia.

Thoughts anyone?


I like the picture of "driving a car", where you don't have the "freedom" to move your hands on the steering wheel arbitrarily. The faster you go, the less of this "freedom" do you have. Does anyone feel unfree driving a car? Freedom is a difficult term.

Anarchy is IMHO a misunderstanding of the vague and difficult terms of freedom and violence. Anything and any rule that reduces freedom seems like some form of violence to anarchists. But violence only starts when something is enforced and as a by-product a damage to other humans or vital interests is accepted. The rule "you must go to school" is not a form of violence, for there is no damage.

Rules are invented to help people to cooperate. People must feel bound to them, because the rules (constitutions) make sense. There may be forces that enforce rules, but the rules must make sense too. Rules are a matter of the community, so they should be under constant discussion and development of the community.

Any member should be autonomous to give his opinion, any community should have the means to change its rules. No rules should exist that reach outside of its community (WTO). No community should exist without the necessary process to optimize its rules (meatball, UNO).

-- HelmutLeitner

Interesting. But I am perhaps more conservative that you and worry about the problem of creating a stable belief system and stable society to protect values such as the ones you express. I suspect if people may abolish rules like "you must go to school" (which is a bit like expecting Newbies to take heed of the history :o)) on the basis of a test that rules are only allowed where disobediance is provably harmful you will end up with harm done because the whole belief structure will be de-stablised, risking BeliefSystemFailure?. That's not to say that discretion to loosed the rules on school is a good plan but I think where I am heading is towards there are not rules which work without discretion anyway? -- ac

I think we need stability and the ability to question and evolve rules at the same time. In online-communities where only rudimentary rule-systems exist, I'm usually viewed as a "law and order" and "constitutional" man (SuggestedWikiRoleModel, CommunityMember, BootstrapConstitution). To normal offline people (conservative) I appear as someone who constantly questions rules, institutions and values. There is a large gap between online and offline, but online and offline worlds are bound to merge in a global multi-cultural online collaboration community. I can't imagine that this can happen on the basis of existing fixed rule-systems. I try to move and think on the borderline between these and other dichotomies (e.g. science and religion) which makes me an unloved outsider to any single of these worlds. -- hl

The truth of "You must go to school" heavily depends on what "school" is. It is surely not true per se and thereby the term "rule" is already reduced to being a mere "recommendation". When you open your fridge you say there are three eggs left. You don't say there are three potential chicken left, right? -- MattisManzel

There is a woman in the UK who spent a six month stint in jail because her offspring played truant, and in early 2004 was sentenced to another stint. The law "you must go to school" is a form of violence for her.

I'd be horified if the eggs in my fridge were fertilised?? -- AndrewCates Prior to battery farming, eating fertilised eggs was common. Fifty years ago it was legal in the UK to beat your wife provided you used a stick no thicker than your thumb... so your point is? --ac

The metaphor was pretty scewish, rigt. But thinking about it ... I remember the "Peanuts": "Don't eat yellow snow." A recommendation, but a pretty good one. You can break this "rule" no problem, it's just not really pleasant to do so, it is a good recommendation therefore. It comes close, closer to beeing "true", "useful", "effective" than for example "You have to go to school". Good recommendations turn into chickens. There's life in good recommendations. Pretty screwish nevertheless, sure. I am like that sometimes, ask the others. Apart I'm German. -- MattisManzel

No forbidding ever, what I do is recommend. You are free to act. I just wonder if it would be more effective to talk about recommendations instead of rules. A lot of rules are "widely accepted recommendations". It makes language more complicated, a disadvantage. The thing is, there is no real force here to execute power when someone does not act according to a rule. Driving without a driving license gets punished. But here, what will you do? Ban the IP. One way. Make OldParkingPlaceToDriveAroundOn? is another. My metaphors are a bit cheezy today, indeed. -- MattisManzel

Andrew, anarchists - like Mattis (we are good friends, so I dare to label him that way) - don't want to see that only systems that are unimportant can live with "recommendations". There are wikis without constraints, but they are void, not even the anarchist write there. The moment systems come to life, become interesting, hold value ... people will protect their work, their relationsships, their cooperations, their community. Its fun to see e.g. trolls form a community (ConsumeriumWiki?) and create rules in the classical way. There is a development from recommendations to rules to constitutions that is natural and inevitable. The more systems are under attack, the faster the development becomes, the more the constraints are enforced. Mattis suffers "like a dog" when vandals, trolls and spams hit the communities and advance the means of security, he immediately hurries to defend us and tries to mediate. Anarchists live from the fact that many of our offline rules and institutions are fundamentally flawed. We can only develop online communities collaboratively when we accept that they are basically right in this point and when we credibly use the online communities to create social hope to change the world to the better. Of course all this has paradoxical aspects, but to me this is consistent because life is paradoxical in essence (skyscrapers aren't made earthquake-resistent by making them more rigid, but by giving them more freedom to move <=> social systems and value systems become more stable not by conservativism but by adding tolerance and flexibility). Perhaps RuleAxioms might help. -- HelmutLeitner

The AntiAuthoritarian opposes rules and constraints enforced by authority. Those are not the only rules and constraints. Of course, a community with no constraints would be uninteresting, but such communities do not exist. In the real world I am constrained by gravity; via email I am constrained by the SMTP protocol; on usenet I am constrained by NEWS; MetaBaby is constrained by its design, by offline storage, by the nature of humans and bots, and so forth; in any social situation, I am constrained by my peers; even in the privacy of my own mind, I am constrained by myself.

In any social situation, there is no constraint without freedom, and no freedom without constraint. On wiki, I am free to edit any page, but constrained because I cannot create uneditable content. On usenet I am free to post uneditable content, but constrained not to edit the post of another. A traditional website constrains all but the author to never edit, in exchange for the freedom of the author to precisely control every aspect of the site. Which has "more constraints"?

Still, one can distinguish between "constraints" in the broadest sense, and rules qua LegalSolutions. There are many interesting and valuable communities that survive without the need for legal solutions. They tend to be small, but no less important for that. If they stay small, then they may well stay free of legal solutions. Large communites have to have rules, not because they necessarilly give any benefit, but because people expect rules when dealing with large communities. --MartinHarper

What exactly do you mean by authority? I think that most rules are legitimized by some form of authority, e. g. the founder or the coregroup of an community, if not a parliament. Where does the term authority end? -- HelmutLeitner

Authority is only legitimized by power, and in an OnlineCommunity, power is defined by interest, and thus authority is nulled. Put it this way: authority is created by interest, but it ceases to be if it becomes uninteresting, and abusing power is uninteresting, and therefore authority only follows interest, and therefore the only real power is interest. This is covered in some detail on the page RightToLeave. An AntiAuthoritarian in an OnlineCommunity like a wiki, or at least like a true wiki like MeatballWiki, is really opposed to arrogance, which is not authority per se, but rather some sort of soi dissant authority. The solution is to simply resign such authority, in both senses. Resign the position, and be resigned to the fact that such authority doesn't really exist.

The power in such a community really rests in who pays the bills and who knows the administrator password(s). Eliminate the administrator password (as much as possible) and decentralize payment through a NonProfit, and then the community is self-actualized. -- SunirShah

The same can be achieved if the bill-payer(s) and those who know the admin password do not intervene in any way. This applies to most unmoderated usenet groups, for example. Alternatively, in a peer-to-peer network like FreeNet, everyone is a bill-payer. --MartinHarper

In an general social system there is always power. If there is no legitimate power, then you have the power of the stronger. Our experience of SoftSecurity shows that a loyal community can be stronger than any individual or external attacker. But this is all on a very small scale. It is a fellacy to think that what works in the small will also work in the large.

The problem of scaling: I did chemistry in a former life and there the problem of scaling processes is well-known and evident. There are 4-5 totally different areas of chemistry depending on the amount of substance you deal with. For example, the very basic problem of mixing liquids (often within time constraints) changes completely whether you have drops (microchemistry), bottles (laboratory), a small reactor or large scale (industry). You can't stir a drop, nor a sea. So everything changes. This is very fundamental. To have small subspaces without visible personal power doesn't mean that large systems without power / authority can be stabilized. I think that power is inevitable - but controlled power may be possible if the community is in the right mind. -- HelmutLeitner

When people say that "wiki is anarchy", I think they either fail to understand wikis, anarchy, or the concept of equivalence. Clearly wikis can have a PeckingOrder, which can be as unfair as so desired. The trade off with SoftSecurity is that even if a loyal community is very strong, it is still always subject to the RightToLeave by SelfishVolunteers, so the strength is really in knowing it is weak, and always seeking to build the community. Loyalty is a hard won bond, not something automatically granted, and so a strong community requires active and continuous cultivation. -- SunirShah

School is a particularly totalitarian sort of violence. I've been to jail and to school and I assure you there is more freedom in jail. Of course, both are designed to train you for work, which is only marginally better than either. -- Andy


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