[EM] over the top personal comments, revisited

Abd ulRahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Thu May 12 07:43:03 PDT 2005

Having been the moderator of a highly contentious newsgroup, where 
arguments were rooted in differences which have stood for centuries and 
where, offline, they can and do lead to serious and major violence, I have 
a suggestion.

First of all, there are two basic forms of organization, oligarchical and 
democratic. Many, many organizations -- and a mailing list is a form of 
organization, it has members and it has control forms -- are oligarchically 
organized. Let me point out immediately that "oligarchical" is descriptive, 
not judgemental. It merely means that a subset of the organization controls 
it; many mailing lists, indeed the vast majority, are simply controlled by 
the owner, who may also be the moderator or one of them.

However, due to the advantages of free and open discussion and debate, many 
list owners are reluctant to use the powerful tools available to them, and, 
I think, such reserve is quite appropriate.

What I suggest is that major list decisions be rooted in the general 
consent of the list. A moderator, when this is the case, may act on his or 
her own initiative, believing that this represents the consensus, but, as 
under Robert's Rules, such decisions would always be appealable.

In a free association of peers, an approach to consensus is highly 
desireable. There are many ways to approach the problems represented by the 
instant flame war. Any of the various electoral forms could be used to seek 
a consensus decision; and, failing consensus, it should be noted that it is 
highly undesirable that a minority be able to impose itself on the 
majority, or at least to long continue in such imposition.

One device which I've seen used is to give moderator privileges widely to 
generally-trusted members of the list, and then to put, at moderator 
discretion (not all moderators might have this privilege), problem 
individuals on moderation, with any of the trusted moderators being able to 
approve posts. Of course, by approving a post, a trusted moderator would be 
held responsible for it, not in the sense of agreeing with it, but for the 
decision to expose the list to it. The vast majority of list members may be 
trusted to post without moderation, it is only a few that might need some 

Basically, such a system would be easy to implement, easy to maintain, and 
where moderation was imposed, it would be effective only if there were 
general consent, at least among the trusted moderators, that it was 

This idea is an extension of my suggestion that electoral reform 
organizations implement within themselves the electoral reforms that they 
propose or which they are studying, rather than remaining content with the 
usual oligarchical structure. (The ultimate oligarchical structure is a 
dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise. The owner of a list is a dictator, 
even if he or she wisely refrains from exercising the powers available to 
him or her. "Trustee" is the term I've used for such situations.)

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