[Home]DemaGogue

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A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace. Essentially, someone who appeals to the "mob" to gain power by running along their emotions. Typically, negative because those are the easiest and most powerful emotions to harness. The "mind" in a HiveMinded mob.

However, after a certain point, the mob separates itself from the DemaGogue and runs out of control. OrsonScottCard's XenoCide? offers an interesting discussion of this phenomenon using philotes.

The word "demagogue" is often used to attack the character of opposing charismatic leaders. It is often easier to attack the character of the opponent's leader (and followers) than to rationally challenge the opponent's ideas. Even in clear cases, I would rather read "X's leadership is based on emotional national/ethnic arguments" than "X is a demagogue."


I think DemaGoguery is something that communities must seek to limit because it pollutes the stabilizing information stream. We do it in normal society through libel and slander laws. Online, there aren't such devices directly available because of AnonymousIdentities and the problem of GlobalizedJurisdiction?.

One way might be to equally place all viewpoints. However, the only way to do this fairly is by having an impartial human editor. Unfortunately, finding impartial humans in a "mob rule" situation is difficult because emotions run high. Besides, it's difficult to find impartial editors over time as JournalisticEthics have been dissolving over the years (in my opinion).

Another way is to remove temporality from the medium. Demagogues can only really flourish when they get active feedback; but there was no active dialogue, they couldn't grow. You can remove dialogue by not announcing publically what people have recently said. For instance, not having a "RecentChanges" or "What's new." Of course, then you lose PeerReview as well. -- SunirShah


As I understand it, this is basically a problem with democracy. Are you saying democracy isn't good enough?

Suppose we start with a simple one-man-one-vote system. Are you saying that people who vote for a DemaGogue should have their opinions discounted?

You mentioned in AnotherPlace problems with SlashDot... is this what you had in mind? Surely the problem with SlashDot is that it limits the franchise to an "impartial" elite. -- DaveHarris


Are you saying democracy isn't good enough?

I've long maintained that Wiki:AthenianDemocracy isn't good enough. People aren't capable of spending that much of their lives staying on top of issues. Consequently, they get swayed by surface information. This is why marketing fluff wins over engineering know how when choosing tools at some companies. Wiki:RepresentativeGovernment is superior in this regard (but worse in others).

Anyway, online, demagoguery is far more pervasive and relevant than in normal everyday life because it's easy to lie and get away with it, especially through an AnonymousIdentity. Accountability is a good step forward. And so is impartial PeerReview, although PeerReview normally results in a feedback loop leading you to the horrors of a CollectiveIntelligence.

And hey! I don't have the answers yet. Working on it. ;) -- SunirShah

What horrors would you be referring to? The CollectiveIntelligence page makes CollectiveIntelligence sound like a nice thing. (is GroupThink the horror?) -- BayleShanks

Currently I think democracy is still something to be aspired to. When we have it, we can think about fixing it.

I'm not sure if the feedback loop of PeerReview is a bad thing. If the franchise is wide enough, and a few basic safeguards in place, people will get the "government" they deserve. It doesn't bother me if SlashDot has got stuck in an anti-Microsoft groove, for example, if that is what the people want and if nothing is preventing pro-Microsoft alternatives from setting up. -- DaveHarris


"Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others."

Government is a means of telling people they can't do what they want to do. (In situations where all people can do whatever they want to do, government is unnecessary.) Conflicts arise over limited resources, and usually someone will lose. Democracy is one of the best known ways for people to lose gracefully, with a minimum of violence.

Online writing has very few natural limits, and thus has very little need for governing. Almost anyone with Internet access can get free or low-cost web space to present their ideas. (A few restrictions usually apply, like no pornography or illegal materials.)

The important limit for online communities is people's attention. People can't read everything, so they filter their reading, and they usually keep a small list of good sites. If a site does not have effective means of filtering out "noise", users will stop visiting.

Most Web sites are filtered by editors who decide what material to allow. Even most "discussion" sites limit the ability to create "top level" discussion topics. Wikis are different in that they allow anyone to be an editor, although they usually have a specific topic set by the wiki host.

Other forums, such as Usenet and the Slashdot replies, are nearly unrestricted. Filtering is considered the individual user's responsibility. (SlashDot moderation is an optional tool, although a minimal level of moderation (hiding -1 comments) is on by default.)

With the "ViewPoint" system, I hope to explore several different kinds of filtering. The biggest difference from other sites is that people and content will not be restricted into any particular system. Groups that want strong editing should be able to work together with those favoring very open systems. I hope to support almost any conceivable system within the framework--ViewPoint could be considered a toolkit for filtering systems. Wiki:StoneSociety, editorial hierarchicies, "open" wiki-like systems, and point-based scoring are just some of the possibilities...

Now, if only I could give an inspiring speech and get everyone to follow me... ;-) --CliffordAdams


Demagogues depend on the control of the mass medium they use. If they can't control the medium and force their arguments on the listening public, they are lost.

They are lost, because their arguments do not hold. If the arguments were good, the rhetoric and the show that's typical for demagogues would be superfluous.

Classical mass media (books, newspaper, television) are not well suited for a thorough analysis of their content. The audience has no good way to react to the single parts of the argument line.

It may be naive to think that all this will change in the time of internet communication. But a forum or a wiki is different:

More likely is for a company to buy an open source project by hiring enough of its developers as staff.

You can also use rhetoric and lie. See Wiki:UnethicalEditing.


I've heard and seen too much BS from lefties and righties in this country it would make you all sick. Our democracy is a 40-year old tale of demagoguery. I'm trying (haven't started, though) to write a book that would teach people of ALL socio-economic classification slots how to recognize a demagogue, lest we repeat our history. Socrates defined rhetoric as the art of presenting facts in a clear and understandable way. On the other hand, Plato defined rhetoric as the art of persuasion. I would think a demagogue uses rhetoric in the Platonian manner.--Luis E. Hernandez

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