Friday, August 08, 2008

Durova's Blog, Part 2

Durova is a Wikipedian who also writes a blog about Wikipedia.

A week ago last Thursday, she made good on an offer to post remarks on my behalf during a brief interlude when I was unable to post on Wikipedia Review.

After a few rounds of comments, Durova posted one final remark of hers, and then closed out the comments without posting my response to her last remark.

Here is her last comment...
Durova said...

Moulton, you assert that your goal is to promote excellence and ethics in online communications. Having been expelled from Wikipedia Review, and before that from Wikipedia, Slashdot, and various other sites, now would be a good time to reassess how that project is going.

Supposing your aims are sincere, and you are an intelligent and rational Ph.D. with an (unpaid) position at MIT, then it must be obvious by now that you’ve expended a great deal of effort only to meet rejection at site after site. If key positions throughout the Internet are indeed held by (as you say) “anankastic control freaks“, then your ability to identify these problems is futile without the tools and support to implement reform. Tilting at windmills may be picturesque, but it is a waste of effort. Surely your considerable talents would achieve more result if redirected into efforts that played to your strengths. So far, this endeavor at excellence has been so unsuccessful that I also write what follows.

Your record also has the characteristics of a spectacularly successful troll. Disruption and turmoil thrive wherever you go. You manage to stick around just long enough to really spin a community into a tizzy, and you are quite skilled at identifying weak points in online structures and kicking them hard enough to really throw the anatomy out of joint. In spite of that, due to your credentials and your articulate civility, a long line of people extend the benefit of the doubt. It takes a while for a person to realize that dialog doesn’t actually happen with you. When they offer solutions to the problems you raise you pause long enough for them to have their say, then resume whatever destructive course you had already embarked upon--all the while proclaiming that no other option remains due to the ethical failures of the people who control the site.

If the former estimate is true then it should give you pause to read that the latter interpretation is possible. Surely “excellent” communications would never be misconstrued as badly as this. And if the latter estimate is true then I applaud you, wholeheartedly and publicly: this is performance art.

I think these two possibilities will shake down to one based upon Moulton’s experience at the next online community he joins.

And now, per the mutually agreeable terms of engagement that Moulton and I worked out before this post started, I wish you all well. Adieu.

Here is my response to her final comment...

I'm not sure where you're getting your information from, since (as far as I know) you are neither a reader nor a poster on WR or Slashdot. So let me ask you: Upon what evidence are you relying to assert that I have been "expelled" from WR, Wikipedia, Slashdot, and various other sites? Is this original investigative reporting on your part, or have you adopted the version of some intermediate reporter? If the latter, please identify and cite your source, so that we may examine it for accuracy and ethics in reporting.

I don't have the power to "implement reform". I only have to power to research known problems, construct system models and theories with as much insight as I am able to muster, and publish my findings for the benefit of those who wish to learn how to solve the problems I'm studying.

I will grant you that there are many (perhaps a majority) who have less than zero interest in rectifying corruption and ineptitude. There is little I can do about desire or motivation, short of revealing the ineluctable consequences of failing to ascend the ladder of improvement in terms of accuracy, excellence, and ethics in online media.

My position is that projects which fail to become successful learning organizations in this regard simply don't have much of a future. Those who (for whatever reason) wish to see Wikipedia fail might well be in favor of more ineptitude and corruption, and thus alarmed at any movement to salvage the project.

A "troll" is defined as someone who asks difficult questions that those being questioned would prefer not to have to answer. I do ask hard questions, and there are some who frankly would prefer not to have to answer them. Those who prefer not to address hard questions may well seek to dismiss me as a "troll" in their terminology.

There is another more classical term for someone who asks such questions. Socrates was called a "gadfly". Beckett was similarly a gadfly to King Henry. It is the role of educators who employ the maieutic method to ask serious questions that only serious scholars will undertake to answers. Those who prefer not to think their way through the issues will dismiss their interlocutor with a curt, "Giddoudahere, Doofus."

Was Filll trolling when he asked his famous Eight Questions at RfC/ID? I didn't think so at the time. I undertook to respond to them directly, and to support my responses with hard evidence. But when he sought to redact and expunge my response, I began to wonder why he would ask such questions if he could not abide the answers.

As I look back on other pioneers of science and didactic education, I can see the recurring pattern. Everyone is familiar with the well-known examples of Socrates, Beckett, and Galileo. The central drama of their stories is repeated time and again in lesser known variations of the same process. Perhaps no one caricatured it more amusingly as Lewis Carroll. There is no shortage of Red Queens.

I once asked a learned scholar why Socrates didn't just write a novel, like Mark Twain or JK Rowling. He replied that the novel hadn't been invented yet, and didn't really become a mainstay until the Russian Realists perfected the genre. Probably Dostoevsky signifies the epitome of this method. His sendup of a profoundly dysfunctional culture remains one of the most seminal and insightful adaptations of literature to the problem I'm working on.

Fiction is a great scam. You get to tell the truth while pretending to lie.

Alas I am a theory guy, not a storymaker.

I greatly admire Umberto Eco, but it's unlikely I'll ever write any work of fiction as brilliant or effective as his in translating subtle theory into compelling story.

I'll have to stick to the drama of the Socratic Method, at least for now.

If you have the Hemlock concession, Durova, you stand to make a killing.

No comments: