November 08, 2008

A favour, for a favour. We know the phrase from every Godfather film, every organisation which stands in a position of power.

The power is not only power to provide, but also a sharply dichotomous division of information. The representative of the organisation knows upfront what is asked, and can decide whether or not to accept it -- but in exchange the petitioner enters into an open and unknowable contract. Nor is there any reason to suppose that the giftor particularly has the petitioner's best interests at heart. The giftor has full knowledge, the petitioner none.

The only way, rationally, that anyone would enter into such a contract is if all other avenues have been closed to them and they have absolutely no choice.

Today, in the Internet age, we find another interesting petty wielding of power which has been rising in vogue for some years: the ability to delete other people's comments, other people's posts, other people's writing. Of course it has been rising in popularity! Administrating a set of forums is an easy power to acquire, while blogs are a dime a dozen, set whatever parameters on it you want. For all that every single business manual out there tells us again and again to value the naysayer and fire the yes-man, the reality of the Internet, as of the workplace, is that the naysayer is valued only insofar as they can be discredited. Let the naysayer speak something that cannot be refuted, and it is the naysayer who will be excised, every time.

Some call this behaviour "bullying". I call it a self-protecting human nature which acts to protect the individual at the expense of the greater social structure. These days, to admit to having been mistaken is tantamont to admitting a fundamentally flawed intellect incapable of clear judgement. Forget learning from mistakes. Instead, re-write the framework through which reality is to be perceived in order to re-write the mistake into what was obviously the right course then and will yet be proven to be the right course in the end. This is a simple comparison argument that always works, precisely because no single framework ever shows the full picture and no single judgement ever acts on full information. Sooner or later all judgements will fail against a fuller picture -- and what easier, at that isolated moment, than for another to point and say, "See?"

Our only existence on the Internet is that of the uploaded communication. Thus deletion, here, is tantamont to erasure of our very selves.

An interesting side-effect is that blogs continue to grow in popularity, while what is called debate these days increasingly is little more than isolated articles or orchestrated events arguing one side or another without any real chance of challenge. In more interactive structures, such as forums or blogs, it is called "debate" when one or another cheerleading mob shouts down any dissenter. When modern schoolchildren are encouraged to "question", that questioning is only intended to lead them to the correct answer. Is it any surprise that the adults who have grown up out of those children can't conceive of any other meaning?

Today, I happened to learn of an even more curious application of the forum deletion, one where the administrator firmly believes that occasionally deleting his own posts is the same thing as fairness:
I will do my best to run the boards fairly, and that means that I'm not immune to my actions either, regardless of the provocation. Hey, if I can pick on myself, that shows that I don't show favoritism, right? :)
We have arrived full circle. Once again the representative of the organisation knows upfront what has been posted and has the sole power to decide whether or not to delete, be it his own post history or that of others -- but in exchange every other poster enters into an open and unknowable contract ... and this time, what looks like fixed evidence is completely selectively mutable.

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