You know, I have been at dailykos for a pretty long time and in that time I have seen a lot of nasty dust ups between people who largely agree about everything. The interpersonal drama on dailykos is, perhaps, the most interesting thing (from a social-psychological and interpersonal) that happens on dailykos. It also happens to be our greatest distraction, and, in my opinion, our biggest weakness.
Do not get me wrong, this diary is not about limiting the diversity of opinion here on the GOS. I am a believer in forming the broadest coalition possible, getting as many ideas as we can and duking it out in the intellectual arena for which one is the best fit solution for a given problem. That is what makes this community great: there is no overarching litmus test. There are people here that would qualify as republicans in earlier eras in American politics. There are people here that are very far to the left. I think that this is a good thing both for the site and for the democratic party as a whole.
I am also a big believer in coexistence, despite vast ideological or practical differences. The community that the users here have built is often vibrant, intelligent, empathetic and caring because of that diversity of opinion. That same diversity of opinion allows us to be responsive, intelligent, and witty in our political operations, making us very dangerous to our ideological rivals on the right. But the very same traits that make this community so great and such an asset in the politcal arena is also set against itself. The very same disagreements slowly rip the very fabric of the userbase here apart, and as ideological rifts turn into chasms, the community begins to drift into very different directions.
The process by which a country, society or community tears apart and reforms as multiple, non-cooperative groupings is called balkanization, and many warned that dailykos could head down a path of balkanization if we were not careful with the way in which we interact with our ideological rivals. Let me be clear: no one pie fight will rip apart the dailykos community. What is feared is that the way in which we disagree with each other and build factions and coalitions, organized or unorganized, in direct opposition to a competing faction or coalition may rip us apart if we are not careful.
My first premise is this: the way in which we disagree with each other could rip us apart in the end if we are not careful. And let me explain what I mean -- I am not saying that disagreements, even heated ones, will rip us apart. Remember, diversity of opinion is a very good thing, especially on a political forum. I completely support the idea of dailykos being an open marketplace of ideas and perspectives, where good ideas based in reason and evidence are supported, and bad ideas based in fallacy or over inflated rhetoric are rejected. But once those disagreements run into days, months, years, and those little, isolated heated debates turn into long interplays and interlocking personal dramas, forming their own cliques and factions and rules and systems of behavior, does the way in which we communicate threaten to rip the fabric of the community apart. The systems of ideological alliances that we form begin to have memories of their own, their own histories, their own standards of behavior, and their own enemies.
The second premise to my argument is related to the first: the building of factions and coalitions, if perspective is lost, can tear the community apart. People who share something in common tend to form systems of alliances, and these alliances can often be in direct opposition with another, competing alliance. The structure of dailykos version 4 supports the formation of these alliances in the form of groups: but much of the interpersonal infighting happens within unspoken alliances between users who have found trust in one another.
At one level, the discussions are about politics or tactics. I am assuming anyone who is clicking on a meta diary in the first place understands the political or tactical arguments happening. Unfortunately, that is just the first level of discussion happening. Underneath the surface is a teeming world of interpersonal transaction, people gaining and losing respect for one another, forming written agreements, and even forming extremely long lasting friendships based on having each others backs. These friendships, alliances, rivalries and histories segue into the political and tactical conversation, setting a context and tone that is oppositional, adversarial, and zero-sum.
So how do we fix this problem? I have, for some reason, devoted much of my time thinking about this problem. Don't ask why, I have no idea. I find myself attracted to these conflagrations not because they are entertaining to me (quite the contrary, I find them to be quite disappointing, personally), but because I have become obsessed with understanding the nature of these complex alliances and histories and finding a better method of discourse for all of us.
First of all, I think a little perspective is in order. The overarching community of dailykos is as strong and vibrant as it ever was. These flame wars are just a small percentage of the total discourse that happens here on a day to day basis. This is a very good thing. The purpose of the site has not been lost in a cloud of meta, like so many other websites I have been a part of over the years. The interpersonal drama has yet to overrun the site's main mission: the election of more and better democrats. This is all good news for the long-term survival of the dailykos community. There are, however, several small things that could be improved.
I think that markos' version of community moderation, while imperfect, is just the right touch. I have been to forums that were overmoderated, and it stifles and kills conversation. Not exactly the right direction for this website, if you ask me for my (not-so-qualified) opinion. I think what needs to change is the way we moderate. First of all, the current system of hiding comments has become untenable. There are so many unspoken rules, hidden ways to interpret the system, and quite frankly, justifications for gaming the system that the hidden comments has just become an expression of what one faction or another considers unacceptable or, in some cases, unpopular discourse in the rules of their faction. This system has become so burdensome that I hardly think anyone on the outside looking in could even begin to decipher it. What system should replace it, I have no idea. I have read that markos is planning a flagging system for dailykos 5, so lets hope that throws a little water on the flame.
Secondly, I think that while community moderation should be open and transparent, and every user should be able to be an active participant in it (which is one of the high points of the TU system), I think that the conversation about what is being moderated and why should be moved offsite. The helpdesk was a very good start, IMO, but still much of the moderation goes on in the comment section itself, which can be an incredible distraction to the other conversation going on in the thread. In fact, many times meta will spread and otherwise good, on-point comments will get lost in the noise. This is not good for discourse. The conversation including the vast amounts of personal history, the comprehensive reviews of whether or not a comment should be hidden, the dissertation on whether or not User X should be banned for the grievous crime of violating an in-group norm should be moved to another site entirely.
Lastly, we should all work to remember that we are not here in opposition to on another, or, at least that shouldn't be the main goal. The goal should be to unite, use our collective influence in the political system, and change things for the better. Tearing each other down, forming rivalries, going on crusades to get this user or that user banned, has absolutely nothing to do with progressive politics. As a dailykos user I know once observed, the system is often like an MMORPG, where users have hit points and attacking and felling your foe gains you points for your faction. This is not the way that alliances work, and that is certainly not the way to concentrate our collective power to influence the political system. Of course, we will always have our disagreements, perhaps a vast ideological or practical chasm separates us, but we all share at least one common goal, or else we wouldn't be gathered here in this goofy, orange place.
Much of the meta problem is intractable. It is so entrenched and supported by our structure and has become so much of what has made us successful that it wouldn't make sense to change it. But that doesn't mean there aren't practical changes each and everyone of us can make to ensure the long term survival of this little oasis lost in the sea of the internet. We are, each of us, responsible for the long term health of discourse and community here. The community is what we make of it, and we can all make it better with little changes to our behavior. Simply remembering that another human is behind the keyboard, who is capable of having a bad day, saying the wrong thing, being unable to apologize, can go a long way to ensuring that the discourse doesn't go too far off the rails. It takes each and every one of us to step up and act as a group to ensure the community survives.
TL;DR: "Grow up and act your age" - My mom.
Edit: I posted this late last night, so it might have been missed. Would like for this diary to have a second chance, so I pulled it, cleaned it up a bit and republished it. I worked really hard on it :D
oh btw, this is a new weekly series I plan on doing...Next week Monday Morning Meta -- Toward a More Perfect Community Moderation System