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  Discussion regarding the necessity (or lack thereof) of protecting bad manners

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

Since dimension10 started censoring the discussion in http://www.physicsoverflow.org/28188/ for being irrelevant to the topic I create here a new topic to make sure that my contribution is relevant. But it refers to the discussion there.

@RonMaimon: You defend your actions (to press dilaton to resign as a moderator) here:

[...] why such psychological pressure was applied. The moderator in question went about editing VK's posts, and didn't tell the other moderators about it, and left us to think that VK was crazy for claiming his material was vanishing. The result was very abusive, and abusive in a similar, but worse, way as moderation in stackexchange was abusive.
his comments were secretly edited by the moderator in question, who 
then deliberately hid this from the other moderators.
When you edit one person's comments and no one else's, when you don't tell anyone about it, it is not a theoretical issue.

and here:

I didn't think Dilaton needs to step down until Drake told me what it feels like to see such abuse as a user, that it feels like user contributions are not valued. Drake was adamant that Dilaton needs to step down immediately, and I came to agree with him

but I say (@RonMaimon @JiaYiyang @drake), citing my boss in heaven (Matthew 23:24 King James Version):

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

You protect the bad manners of members (whose effects are visible to the whole world) but are merciless concerning mistakes of a hardworking and dedicated moderator (without whom PO wouldn't even exist).  

asked Mar 19, 2015 in Conflict Resolution by Arnold Neumaier (15,488 points) [ revision history ]
recategorized Apr 2, 2015 by dimension10

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" (G. Orwell).

@VladimirKalitvianski: At present you are the most equal animal.


Please don't claim that your comments felt threatened because I "started to censor the discussion" - I stopped immediately after Dilaton reshowed everything (besides a comment by Ron which I later reverted the edit to, but Ron claims otherwise, I need to look into that later), and I made my reasons clear - it wasn't actually about the discussion being off-topic, it was in my opinion, but nevertheless, my motivation was to "try and expose Dilaton's political motivations". On hindsight I know this was a ridiculous idea on my part, and I shouldn't have done "pointy" behaviour, sorry, and Dilaton probably didn't have any political motivations as such.

3 Answers

+ 2 like - 2 dislike

I hate to bring this up and stir the muddy water again, but to make a readable answer, I have to do this recap, and I must apologize in advance to Dilaton for this recap that I never thought I had to bring up again in public:

Dilaton's edit of  VK's comment per se wasn't a big deal, the big deal was that even at the point where almost everyone(including Ron) was thinking VK was a lunatic and making things up, he/she still remained silent and just watched(it's really not that Dilaton didn't know what VK was referring to, Dilaton admitted himself/herself later that he/she didn't dare to take the responsibility in the beginning, but I'll concede that it could be partly due to Ron's aggressiveness), it was only after VK convinced Ron with screenshot and when all evidences pointed to him/her did he/she stand out and admitted the mistake. 

I think nobody would deny this is among the worst atrocities moderating crimes a moderator can possibly commit, you can't say the outcome is unjust. Of course, if there later established a unanimous mercy, then yes Dilaton wouldn't have had to resign, and this is the direction I tried to push to at the beginning, I think even Dilaton can't deny my such effort. However, once I realized this unanimous mercy was impossible, I had to push it to the other direction, i.e. the just direction instead of the merciful direction.

As for

You protect the bad manners of members (whose effects are visible to the whole world) but are merciless concerning mistakes of a hardworking and dedicated moderator (without whom PO wouldn't even exist).       

this is a unfair comparison, if you are talking about Ron, I have never liked it when he got the rude tone, but this is nothing atrocious compared to what Dilaton did. But yes I should at least try to remind him of manner(I remember doing so at some point during the “war” period, when urging for a peaceful resolution, but perhaps I should do it more often.); If you are talking about VK, he got very much the punishment(fairly or unfairly, I don't know, I never had the patience to thoroughly read through his theory) from the inbuilt mechanism: he got constant downvotes, and movement of his material to chat.

Nobody would deny the foundership and the absolutely important contribution from Dilaton, I often stressed it from time to time(publicly or in email exchanges, I don't remember). PO will be a shining trophy for Dilaton, and of course also for polarkernel and dimension10. And Dilaton still has the right to be re-elected after this stepdown, but after a period of time of course. I see no point of revoking the stepdown.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Jia Yiyang (2,640 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 22, 2015 by Jia Yiyang
Most voted comments show all comments

Dilaton's episode led Drake to leave, because he felt there is no moderator accountabilty. I haven't seen him in a while. He was active.

@Ron Maimon this is not true. Drake only participated in private beta and in the early days of public beta of PhysicsOverflow. Then he was inactive for months and only came back exclusively to team up with you in organizing the meta (wars, lynchmobs) investigations. After things were settled, Drake did a few isolated contributions and then diappeared again.

So please dont claim that Drake became inactive because of the mentioned episode. This is not true, he has been inactive for months before (maybe because of real-world issues, his topics of interest were not represented enough, that site is not active enough, etc?).

Its not my coinage but a quote from a standard dictionary; I had given the link to my source.

Thanks for making the change. Not that I never disputed that your action was just (assuming the accusations you make were true - I have no intention to investigate this closely).

My point was and is that justice should never be an end it itself and if it gets out of proportion to the effect it has on the community, it is bad. In real life, there is a corrective that is not present at PO: People sentenced always have the right to appeal at a higher level, and even in grave matters, legal conflicts are preferably solved by settlements. Even in case of watergate this would have been best, too, but the factions didn't want to.

My main goal

It takes patient and continuous effort to work for unanimous mercy, if one is serious about it. I spent many, many hours in the last 10 days to work for unanimous mercy, and I expect that I'll succeed. 

was expressed here. The proposal you refer to was explicitly expressed to be the last resort should I fail:

In this spirit I propose that if a majority here still feels the continued need to punish that dilaton committed what appears to some as the worst atrocities moderator crimes a moderator can possibly commit, he should be reelected as moderator after a symbolic period of 1 day. 

@ArnoldNeumaier, that clarifies, thanks. 


 But you didn't consider it to be shameful to be teamed up with someone who did all the things so abominable in your view, at a time where he still had the strength to resist the mobbing of his peers to force him to resign? I am surprised about your wavering standards. So, yes, please step down from being a moderator!  By the way, where is the record that you were actually elected moderator, and by which margin?

You mean Ron? I dislike the rudeness, but rudeness is quite far away from offending my border line, as I claimed long time ago here. I am not inconsistent. OK, you mean Dilaton, I don't remember the exact timeline, but that probably happened when I thought when a unanimous mercy can be reached, and before I was convinced establishing moderator accountablity is very worthwhile.

Basically that comment resulted from a (perhaps miserable) attempt to build a bridge for peaceful communication. I got the nomination requests from both sides for several times(privately from dimension10 and openly from Ron) and refused for several times before that comment you quote. It was really an emergency measure, and I don't consider myself very good at this business. I'd be perfectly happy to resign if you mean it. 

Most recent comments show all comments

@ArnoldNeumaier, I've posted the resignation claim.

I meant with unanimous just unanimous among the moderators, since it is these who must work together most closely. A divided leadership is disastrous. Having moderators with somewhat competing political interests is important for checking the power of moderators.

Given my observation during my short stay on the the moderator team, the moderation is working very well on a relatively decentralized structure. And it's strange to consider moderators as leaders of the site, their primary function should be more like janitors and technicians,  making the site organized instead of giving orders.

And I'd rather see moderators treat each other as colleagues instead of friends. 

@JiaYiyang: You are not counting my vote, in nominating you. You are also ignoring Prathyush's new support, and the support of others. You made a miracle of reconciliation happen by making a resignation promise from Dilaton, it healed the bad feelings on the site. As for "I wouldn't work with Dilaton", when you joined, it was not clear what would happen, and Dilaton agreed to step down for a symblic period, this was good enough to get by. But when there is backpeddling, it's wasn't a serious proposal, it was just a gimmick. Gimmicks are not what is expected from a moderator (or a user), you need to mean what you say.

The moderation is working well, because it is in balance. Every time someone steps up or steps down, the balance changes, and there is no guarantee it will work well in the future. Please don't spoil it, we have good new policies, and solid consensus on these, and the problems of the past can be healed completely if everything just goes as before, with a symbolic resignation, even if it is one day, so that it doesn't transpire that we have one person who is a single permanent moderator. 

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

Arnold, do you honestly think I didn't consider this? Do you honestly think anyone was after retribution? Are we a bunch of shylocks in your eyes? I personally initially just thought Dilaton should apologize, say ok, sorry, and move on. That's more or less what happened. I really didn't care about anything else, so long as the harrassment didn't happen again and the policy was still ok going forward.

But I was a moderator, and this is a moderator perspective on forgiving your friends. I had no user perspective on this, and Drake pointed out that the position was self-centered and moderator-centered, because it enshrines no-accountabiltiy at the highest level. He has a point about this. If Nixon does something bad, Nixon needs to resign. Drake also harbors no bad-feelings toward Dilaton (I really, honestly, don't either), but wanted a uniform policy of accountability in moderator actions. I couldn't disagree with this.

But you can't apply rules retroactively, so any accountability policy would not cover the period. So I thought it through. I came up with the best solution I could think of by thinking what would  we-both-know-who do? I thought, why not resign myself first? Even though I did nothing wrong in this instance. You know, take on the burden on myself first for any sins of the site. I figured, enough is enough, we moderators are an incestuous bunch. If I resign, ask to implement rotating modship like we talked about, others will take over, the problem will disappear, and accountability will happen.

This isn't really punitive, it's not retributive, and only my resignation was my idea, Drake thought it was madness. Now that people tell me about all the crappy stuff I did, I realize that it was the best thing I could have done, because I don't think I would hear about all the alienating stuff I did if I didn't resign.

I was following Drake's suggestion to enshrine moderator accountability, to make it clear to people like Drake that rules are not just things that only apply to ordinary users, that moderators aren't above the law. The rules should limit the people with extra powers more than ordinary users, not less. Removing modship shouldn't be that big a deal anyway, it's not like it's banishment, or shunning, and we all pretty much agreed to reelect Dilaton as mod after a symbolic period, because we knew there was no real ill intent in the actions, even Drake. Drake is not retributive either, he just wanted to make sure a good precedent of accountability was set up.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon (7,720 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 20, 2015 by Ron Maimon
Most voted comments show all comments

Arnold, do you honestly think I didn't consider this? Do you honestly think anyone was after retribution? Are we a bunch of shylocks in your eyes?

No. I honestly think what I expressed in my OP - that when justice and mercy get out of proportion it is the justice that is to be blamed.

@ArnoldNeumaier: We all know this, Arnold, and we all agree to forgive. The problem is moderator accountability toward users, who are not at the same social position as the small group of moderators. Mercy and forgiveness are fantastic when everyone is equal. But when mercy and forgiveness is only shown toward the small group of moderators, the moderators become unforgiving and merciless toward the users, and only forgive each other for any transgressions towards the users. This is also not hypothetical, moderators on Wikipedia would forgive each other the most outrageous abuses toward users, because they were all brothers in moderation, while the users were not.

St. Paul, in the Epistle to Philemon, explained the only way that compassion and mercy are to work in situations of unequal authority. The slave was to return to the master, the master was to forgive to the slave, and they must both be equal members within the Church, and the master is socially expected to free the slave. Likewise here, forgiveness requires equal authority for all in context, like rotating moderatorship, so that there is no master and there is no slave. But honestly speaking VK will never be moderator, so there is unequal authority, and in such circumstances, one must be careful only to forgive mistreatment when it is certain that it can't happen again, because there is an accountability mechanism.

This is not about the abstract qualities of compassion, it is about the application of power. I don't have any animosity toward individuals here, I am scared to death of the unequal power of moderators and users.

@Dilaton: These scares are shared by more than half of the users here, and by you too when we started. These fears have been justified by events at every single such site, they are not just my personal opinion, and you will find full agreement on these fears from any user that went through the experience of some months back.

@Dilaton: You're right, it is a personal opinion. But you will find full agreement on this opinon from a majority of those who discussed the issues in previous votes. I am not crazy, I know that most people always disagree with me, it has always been so, I am not popular. But this site was founded by a minority who fled from stackexchange, and within this minority, the opinion I gave was accepted. The claim I am making is that this minority view will eventually prevail, and become the majority view. This, of course, can be a subject of disagreement.

@anonymous: Freedom of speech is not an exception granted to those who have good ideas, it is something that needs to be granted to everyone, so that the good ideas percolate up, and are properly credited. Having good ideas in the past is not a good predictor for having good ideas in the future, because everything is different. The goal is to protect everyone's right to speak, not mine. If only my speech is protected, that is incredibly offensive to me. There's nothing special about me, it's demeaning and humiliating, because it is saying that I am defective in a certain way and need special consideration, like an autistic child with tourette's syndrome.

In India, they had a caste of untouchables. I guess you weren't allowed to touch the untouchables if you weren't yourself untouchable. But then they noticed that holy Hindu theologens, the wisest religious people, would regularly go out of their way to break this rule, and not discriminate against the untouchables. What was the response of the secular leaders? Did they say "hey, perhaps we should scrap this odious caste system?" Not at first, no. The consensus developed for a new rule: you can't touch the untouchables, unless you're an untouchable, or a holy Hindu person! They made a special exception. So you had to wait for Gandhi and Nehru to obliterate the caste sytem.

I am not a special exception, the tolerance of speech is a universal principle, for everyone. For academic physicists, anyone who is not an academic is untouchable in a discussion about physics, and this is no more justified than the Hindu caste system.

Most recent comments show all comments

The overall purpose and goal of PhysicsOverflow (in short to be a revival of TP.SE and a physics analog of MathOverflow with a new reviewing feature included ) is stated for example in the official announcement on MathOverflow:


This has always been the mission of PhysicsOverflow, even though some people on the site always vigorously tried and still do try to redifine the purpose of the site to be something else.

@Arnold Neumaier the site was also founded on the principle of rudeness being allowed, and misunderstood geniuses like Ron allowed to be rude, without being oppressed by the wicked moderators at PSE putting politics before talent.

+ 1 like - 1 dislike

Ron Maimon wrote in his answer that

Drake pointed out that the position was self-centered and moderator-centered,

Most people are self-centered and most groups that efficiently work together (as moderators should do) are group-centered. This is natural and not worth a complaint.

Apart from that, the only right position for PO-moderators is to be centered on the goals and the good of PO. 

we all pretty much agreed to reelect Dilaton as mod after a symbolic period, 

Famous old building and other things that are really priceless are often sold for the symbolic price of 1 Dollar or 1 Euro. In this spirit I propose that if a majority here still feels the continued need to punish that dilaton committed what appears to some as

the worst atrocities moderator crimes a moderator can possibly commit,

he should be reelected as moderator after a symbolic period of 1 day. Then both justice and mercy have had their right, and we all learnt from this unpleasant episode of PO which I hope will never recur.

answered Mar 20, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier (15,488 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 22, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier

The symbolic resignation is totally acceptable, as I said, I didn't care about this so much. But the process of reelection is by vote, as always, and I think that it is difficult to get people to accept this is sincere when the decision is made in advance. I don't see the big deal here, being a user is actually useful--- you remember again what moderator actions feel like when you can't do anything about them. The policy of automatically rotating mods is a good idea independent of all this nonsense. We discussed it separately, and the vote on that was independent of the details of Dilaton's particular case, that was just the catalyst. You could replace Dilaton for a few months, Arnold. We have enough users to rotate.

Regarding the "group-centered" business, yes, it is natural, but it is serious problem with moderation, because of the formation of a hive-mind of moderators without independent thought. In order to catch mistakes, there is a need for a person to isolate themselves from the hive-mind to be able to see things from the point of view of those shut out of the in-group.

This is an issue of power. It is addressed by the Church in the Epistle to Philemon, by requiring that all that join the church renounce master-slave relationships, it continued to evolve in the Middle ages, but it never worked very well until the reformation, because you don't get true difference of opinion sufficient for science until that point. If you want brotherhood, you also need equal power, so that you don't become intolerant toward dissenters who are outside the community of mercy so established.

You could replace Dilaton for a few months, Arnold.

No. I want to use my time for science, not for moderation. That I had to make an exception this week is an emergency - needed to save the site.  Once these discussions are over, I'll revert to my usual meta-quiet way of producing nice scientific explanations. 

We view power and how it should be used or not used very differently. There are very good reasons why science in general thrives best in academia, which is based on the authority of the best rather than on democracy. The occasional exception is not worse than what occasionally goes wrong in any institution. I don't see the slightest advantage of your proposed anti-authoritarian view, which in my eyes is much more prone to producing garbage.

The real contributors to PO (measured at its goal) are currently all apolitical. Most of them (with notable exception of Urs Schreiber) don't even bother to vote here. I prefer to do the same, and am very happy that some like polarkernel, dilaton or dimension10 are willing to contribute to the site on an organizational way. They are generally doing a really good job and should be allowed to continue to do so.

Whereas you should better spend your time contributing physics. That's what you were valued for in SE, and that's what you should be valued for here. Your fight against authority is in my eyes just Sisyphos work, energy wasted that should have been used for physics. It is a pity that your priorities are what they are.

@ArnoldNeumaier: You might be right, but if it is Sisyphus work, I turned into Sisyphus more than 20 years ago, when I saw the potential in usenet for reversing entrenched power issues that festered since the end of the 1968 movements. I think this is one of the most critical times for human communities, we can either continue in the same authoritative way with the new tools, which will be a catstrophe of surveillance and oppression due to the power these tools have to amplify authority, or instead we can use the internet to make a more decentralized authority structure, where everyone's voice is heard freely. It's a much more sensitive system now, because it's as if suddenly everyone in the world knows everyone else on a first name basis.

I am not the only person who had this epiphane, LInus Torvalds created Linux, and with it a decentralized programming culture (and he is rude as all heck). Most importantly, he created Git, which is a tool for decentralized collaboration on anything at all, with versioning. A Git version of Wikipedia is a project that I thought about sometimes. In our world, Terry Tao started his math blog to spread the light, Lubos Motl did the physics blog more to do review and politics. As for me, I was always an invisible guy on the left, working in communities of like-minded people trying to make the rules less authoritarian. I tried on Wikiepdia, and failed catastrophically. I tried on Stackexchange, and failed less catastrophically, I am trying here, and I hope it will not fail. I don't think your proposals threaten freedom of speech significantly, but I could be wrong. I don't know. I just trust you, really, because of we-both-know-who.

It's only when you have an online medium that you can succeed in a decentralized authority free decision-making process, although it is not guaranteed. Freedom is possible because authority is not as necessary with communities which have free speech. The physics is important, but I think this is the main struggle of my time. Maybe like democracy was a struggle in 1848, or socialism was a struggle in 1933, or anti-fascism was a struggle in 1968 and anti-communism was the struggle in 1989. Now it's internet anarchism, or else totalitarian terror, it's really an extension of 1968, but I think this time, the good guys win.

But I can only do this nonsense for so long. I want to do science now. Once the VK thing was sorted out, I figured the moderation here is pretty much permanently fixed, because everyone is now aware of the issues of power, and I don't have to devote any more time to it. But then you bring it up again (justly--- the issue with my Dynin review and associated rudeness was catastrophic). I think you can edit away the rudeness and fix the problem without altering any rules, using your FAQ guidelines, if they pass. Sorry this is rambling, Dim10 will probably say it's off topic.

@RonMaimon: I sympathize with your quest for freedom of speech and tried from the beginning to make all my proposals compatible with it. What I revolted against is to give it higher priority than what is needed to make the site attractive for those we need to have fruitful discussions about high level physics.

No amount of freedom of speech can make up for quality lost when it results in an atmosphere where hardly anyone of those who have the necessary expertise to contribute with answers and reviews feels at home, and where instead some of the few who keep the site living are effectively forced into shame, and thus silenced. 

As important as user rights are therefore moderator rights, and I'll soon open a new thread for discussing these. 

@ArnoldNeumaier: Moderators have user rights due to being users too. As nobody can suppress moderators by force, there is no need to protect their rights, it's like saying you need to protect Senators' rights, it's silly.

Dilaton hasn't been harmed at all, except in ability to exercise authoritative decisions on this site due to others seeing that the decisions made in the past were not optimal, and the course correction too minimal. Dilaton's academic reputation will be unharmed, and actually, this process is a testament to Dilaton's ability to tolerate a self-correcting mechanism that is doesn't go 100% Dilaton's way.

It is essential to have freedom of speech. It is more essential than having Edward Witten or Gerard 't Hooft here. If you have freedom of speech, the material builds up in quality gradually, eventually reaching a point where 't Hooft and Witten must pay attention simply because everyone else is. If you start from the bottom you build to the top.. If you don't start from the bottom, if you try to make the top powerful, the material deteriorates to the same nonsense you see anywhere else, all original material is driven elsewhere, because original material always starts at the bottom, not the top.

At the same time, you can't have wrong and rude nonsense like my wrong review, but I will point out that although it took 6 months, there is no more nonsense and there is no more rudeness.

Dilaton hasn't been harmed at all, except in ability to exercise authoritative decisions

Limiting his abilities to act on PO is not the only harm to be taken into account. Since hiding actions is now already impossible due to the edit history, the only problem is the emotional harm done, and that this damage is very serious is staring into the eyes from all the defensive and pleading mails dilaton writes. I am completely sure that dilaton was well-intentioned in all he did, though it was perceived as a most terrible crime in the eyes of drake, you and Yiyang.

Just imagine that the roles were reversed, you had created the site, and had spent selflessly for many months all your free energy into making it a nice place. Then you see it deteriorating due to the lack of clear policies of how to prevent things damaging the site in the eyes of the world, and a trusted moderator playing a serious part in it, so that it is very unlikely that a discussion of the rules would change this.

With the reversed roles a perhaps not too unrealistic scenario could have been that a new user appears who would write each day a very hostile review mixing facts and unfounded opinions in every contribution. You felt trapped because you promised freedom of speech but conclude that the person in question deliberately posts this way to pervert the freedom granted, but there is no moderator agreement about that.  I am sure you would have done something to stop this unilaterally (and, with your personality, openly), even against the prevailing rules, especially if half of these rules were passed though you never supported them wholeheartedly. it is resented by the other moderators, so you apologize. To the others  the apology sounds half-heated only, but fine, everyone continues work. Then another, otherwise unconspicuous user stands up and says that what you did is an unbelievable crime since it goes against the written rules, and if even one user is treated specially completely undermines the trust in a fair treatment on the site. The other moderators feel that their pardon was indeed done more out of group tolerance than out of user consideration and put you under pressure to resign. Your own site, whom you were nurturing with all that energy and with the best intentions, turns against you, and in the worst tone. You are hurting, try to generate understanding by writing many posts, but being hurt, your posts all sound self-defensive and are simply ignored by those in power. You think about leaving but you cannot; it is your child that causes you the trouble, and you feel unescapably miserable.

I don't know whether you could ever feel this way, but, now undoing the role reversal, I am sure dilaton feels it, and it is hurting and hurting and hurting, and those in power continue to be merciless though such a thing cannot repeat itself, hence is already purged.

@ArnoldNeumaier; Yes, I know that you are 100% correct, the only time I also wasn't sure of this was a brief period of paranoia where I thought Polarkernel and Dilaton were conspiring together or not telling the truth about other things, but this ended quickly after some obviously valid assurances. If everyone weren't acting in good faith, what the heck are we doing here?

Out of respect for Dilaton's role as founder, I kept my mouth mostly shut for 4 months between the time that VK was first harassed on the site and became a target of attention in moderator emails and the time that there was actual demonstrably abusive action towards him. I was full of dread the whole time, because the moderation pages and emails consisted of exclusionary proposals and demands for "dealing with him", I knew that this is how the issues of moderation begin on sites such as this, having seen every stage of the process before on Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Brews_ohare ) and Stackexchange ( http://math.stackexchange.com/users/26489/abc ). I explained this concern in moderator emails, I got told I was naive and wrecking the site's fundamental mission, and further, basically that the people here are good, and good people don't do such terrible things. Out of respect for Dilaton and consideration for Dilaton's role and status, I shut my mouth, lost the other moderators' respect (the feeling was mutual) and also lost enthusiasm for the site. Much like your inability to correct my mistakes probably made you lose respect of me and lose enthusiasm for the site. That's in the past now.

I know that Dilaton's opinions are made from a genuine desire to see high-level physics activity and I also know that what happened wasn't done out of malice nor is it a sign of personal defects of character, that it was out of pure desire to make the site succeed and out of genuine perception of consistent rule-breaking behavior by VK ruining the site.

But ultimately, this is not important. The exact same thing is true on Wikipedia and Stackexchange. All moderator abuse happens through sincere well-meaning people who believe they are enforcing the rules fairly with a view of making the site better. It's just the usual banality of evil. The even slightly unequal authority structure naturally amplifies what, under conditions of freedom, are natural conflicts and social pressures into oppression and censorship. The inevitable result of letting this process continue without blunt intervention is this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Brews_ohare and this: http://math.stackexchange.com/users/26489/abc (ABC's suspension ends in 8 days)

I also know that Dilaton sees legitimate issues from a point of view that is important, a point of view similar to yours Arnold. I hope the recent changes fully redress the complaints from this point of view. I know that VK's over the top pronouncements and mix of mathematical work and unfounded extrapolation makes the site less acceptable in the academic perception, but I also know the site's social mechanisms are already firmly against VK's material, and this is enough rejection as it is. I also know that if this material is removed by administrative fiat instead of reviewed by users, that this will set a precedent that will lead to future rejection of every controversial new idea, right or wrong, and of every biting criticism that is not understood yet by others by users, because it will serve to initialize an authority structure that will do evil structurally and automatically simply through unemotional, banal, bureaucratic moderator decisions.

Dilaton, due to being the main founder, had the complete support of Dimension10, Polarkernel, and nearly every user when I arrived, so I needed to go it alone. Any support I got was built up gradually through discussion from an initial position of zero support. At the start, nobody was happy I was talking about this except obviously VK. My activities were not that of a powerful person seeking to impose, they were those of a desperate person trying to save the site from the principal danger. I got things done, stepped down, felt I succeeded, and didn't want to do anything further. I still don't. This is really my sole political/adminstrative concern.

Dilaton has other important concerns, and these can surely be adressed without undue conflict with my own concerns. There should be no irreconcilable tension between academic high-level material, proper tone, and freedom of speech and criticism, as these are clearly abstractly compatible. They just aren't always present in any particular user's postings. So long as there is social pressure towards high level accurate material in a proper tone, this should be enough without additional exertion of moderation power on sincere users.

Not one of the people here have any personal hostility to Dilaton. Nor will an uninvolved outsider who reviews the exchange come away with anything but a sense of puzzlement as to why this is such an acrimonious debate and why this became such a big deal, because the outsider's emotions are not invested in the site, nor are they familiar with the personalities or the issues. Basically, what I'm saying is that it feels much worse than it actually is. It isn't really bad for Dilaton's reputation, because nobody cares except for us, the meta community, and we all know each other's good qualities from the past and forgive each others' trespasses.

That feeling of persecution comes from the social forces on the site turning against you. The fear comes from the public nature of the internet, the fact that everyone can see this stuff. This is an extremely powerful social force. That social force was felt more harshly by VK during the administrative actions, and he feels it every time his comments and papers are downvoted. It is extremely powerful as it is, without any enforcement at all, and if it is coupled with formal rules which give individuals enforcement power to exercise administrative actions amplifying and using this power, it can be catastrophic, as it was in the USSR. Individuals, even the most well meaning ones, can't be allowed to ride on top of the cherubs, because they will unwittingly smite people with lightning. You don't need humans to do that, the gods are cruel enough.

@Dilaton: I think you are great, I respect you, and you are the hard-working founder without whom the site would not exist. This stuff sounds to you way more hostile than it really is. That feeling you have of persecution is not a reflection of how people feel about you. I like you, I'd have a nonalcoholic beverage with you, and I'd certainly vote to reelect you for moderator after you step down for a symbolic period.

It is essential to have freedom of speech.

 Freedom of speech is already firmly implemented through the history feature, and my proposals do not change this. This means that there is no longer any strong reason not to pardon past transgressions now.

Insistence on justice for its own sake will only continue to strain the relations between those currently active on meta, without having any compensating constructive effect.

It is more essential than having Edward Witten or Gerard 't Hooft here.

This would be the case if the site were Freedom Overflow. But it is Physics Overflow, where freedom of speech is subordinate; quality and growth of PO doesn't depend on the precise extent of this freedom. 

Note that  we had already Gerard 't Hooft here and lost him almost immediately.

@ArnoldNeumaier: The only insistence is to follow through on promises made in the past, which were really a minimal response to the problem and have no significant punitive component. They just establish a symbolic precedent for the future, that no one individual can be above the community will, that's all. I will also follow through on promises that I made in the more distant past, as I do agree that we all will be judged on every word.

I didn't know 't Hooft was here, that's interesting. He doesn't seem to have any bad interactions here, just a wave of chatter trying to get his attention. Maybe he only had one thing to say so far. I don't know why you think he was driven away.

The only insistence is to follow through on promises made in the past,

I don't see anywhere past promises to punish a moderator.  The promises concerned user rights, and as far as I can tell, VK's rights have been restored as far as the software allowed it. Moreover, all steps have been taken to ensure that this cannot be repeated.

So what's the point of having an additional humiliating symbolic sign? It is enough to point to the discussion here - which is a much more powerful sign for the future. 

have no significant punitive component.

It is arrogant of a persecutor to assert this, especially in the light of dilaton's repeated comments. I'd believe it only if the recipient of the disciplinary action would say it.

I don't know why you think he was driven away.

I only said that we lost him immediately. I hope that he didn't browse the site and read your Dynin review, or he'll never come back. 

I agree regarding 't Hooft and my review. I know it was awful. But I'm one person, Arnold, I can't get it right all the time.

The promise is Dilaton's explicit promise to step down in a month. It was socially expected, it was freely given, it was clarified that it would not be contingent on future circumstances, and it was explicitly stated that this would not be a punitive or retributive thing, rather an integral part of instituting a (perhaps at first symbolic) tradition of moderator rotation, in reverse order moderator activity (so me first, Dilaton next, then Dim10--- Eduardo was a special case, he disappeared due to personal issues).

The period would always have been short in Dilaton's case, contingent on a new vote with assurances that it would be with a clean slate. We thought 6 months, maybe, less time for dim10, because he is so needed for cleanup. Given the "former moderator" category, it wasn't a big deal, and dim10 has said that he would like to see the site from user perspective too. It's not a punitive measure, really, really. I mean it. You can't punish someone retroactively using rules that didn't exist.

But perhaps someone would draw up a moderator expected behavior thing, and limitations on moderators outside the user-rights. I suggested just that the net-vote on the mod page should stay positive during the moderator tenure, that's it.

The promise is Dilaton's explicit promise to step down in a month. It was socially expected, it was freely given

The document containing the forced promise speaks a different language. The promise was as freely given as anyone freely hands his purse over to a person threatening him enough. 

But perhaps someone would draw up a moderator expected behavior thing, and limitations on moderators outside the user-rights.

I already announced that I'll make a proposal on moderator rights, and this will also clarify the expected behavior. Unfortunately I also have real work to do, and therefore haven't been able so far to make a reasonable proposal.

By the way, I don't like moderator rotation. I'd much prefer to have moderator election at a fixed time each year, with either confirmation or replacement of moderators. And co-elections in case more moderators are needed (due to more traffic or due to moderators stepping down.) 

Threatening with what? What threat? The only "threat" was that people felt strongly about it, and would be discouraged and dissuaded from participating if it didn't happen. That's a threat?

There's a difference between threat and social consensus leading to pressure. There was a consensus that Dilaton should step down and the moderator rotation was instituted by me precisely to make sure it would not be punitive, nor could it be seen as punitive, and we all assured Dilaton explicitly that it would be temporary and nobody would carry any grudges.

There is no such thing as "moderator rights". There are only "moderator limitations", and policy for moderator recall. Moderators just users with more power, they are the people who enforce the rules. They don't get any different rights from any other user.

Your idea of elections once a year is fine too. But so far, without rotation, we have permanent modship. Further, if a moderator does things which are shabby, we need a policy to recall quickly, because a year of shabby stuff is too long.

if a moderator does things which are shabby, we need a policy to recall quickly, because a year of shabby stuff is too long.

Find something that works as families work out their problems! Parents don't step down because there is friction in the air due to misbehavior of one of the parties.

Threatening with what? What threat?

You can read it in dilaton's declaration of intent, where he writes about you:

 I have to admit that the last few weeks I have been very VERY VERY angry and upset about you, because your recent Meta activities gave me a hell of a bad time and I seriously felt persecuted, hunted, harassed, and turned into an unperson personally.

You said repeatedly you don't notice rudeness, but this doesn't entitle you to think that others are as elephant-skinned as you and don't feel if you treat them rudely.

@ArnoldNeumaier: Not having mod buttons for a few months is not the same as abandoning your children, Arnold. It's not like it's anything but symbolic, and it was consensus, and it was a promise given without coercion, only under (justified) social pressure. What was your quote exactly? We will all be judged by every word we say?

I'm sorry, Dilaton. I'm really sorry I hurt your feelings. I should have been more careful in my phrases, I am a crude person with the emotional depth of a Neanderthal. It wasn't a personal attack on you, it was an attempt to get to the bottom of things honestly, and make sure policy is sound going forward. I genuinely like you. You are like roses and wine, and sugarplum fairies dance when you smile. I was just driven crazy by the thought that this site is busted by moderation issues, like all the others. Now that it's clear it's not, pretty please, with sugar on top, find it in your heart to forgive me. And also, for everyone's sake, so we can finally move on, please, please, please, please, step down like you promised. I already stepped down, so it wouldn't be hard, and I didn't do anything at all which had a consensus against by the community. Life without "the precious" is actually quite nice, and you don't go crazy anymore.

As you fought for the rights of VK to be treated with respect so I fight for the rights of dilaton to be treated with respect.

Such demeaning verbal procedures as used against him should be ostracized so that it never happens again. Moderators need the same protection as ordinary users and even more, as they are more exposed to attacks. 

@ArnoldNeumaier: Will you please say what the "demeaning verbal procedure" was exactly? I was reporting the events honestly, event by event, as best as I could. I tried to persuade people that it was worthy of attention, and any pressure did not come from me, as Dilaton ignored me, it all came from disinterested people who were persuaded agreed with me. I did not even use crude language.

Are you going to punish me for being a persuasive speaker? What? Speaking out about moderation misdeeds is the primary right of users, it's in the FAQ as a strict injunction--- all users have the right to challenge moderation issues on meta, and meta is where the discussions take place, and there is no restriction on how good a lawyer you are.

What was your quote exactly? We will all be judged by every word we say?

What I said on my wall was:

 I sincerely hope that you repent and start to make good on your promise, for we-both-know-who also thought that one day we must account for every word we have spoken.

 I don't judge, this is up to we-both-know-who. I have enough to do to take care that I won't be judged myself. 

Will you please say what the "demeaning verbal procedure" was exactly? 

I don't know; I only hear dilaton's deep hurt caused by it. Reread the many comments by dilaton in the last two weeks, and try to make sense of them with as much empathy as you mustered for VK. Maybe ask him in a private mail - better not on the wall.

Are you going to punish me for being a persuasive speaker?

No - don't you see that I don't want to punish anyone? I want to prepare the ground for a healthy and robust future for PO, and expose what needs to be exposed once so that it never recurs. I have forgiven you though your legal actions were far more detrimental to PO than all dilaton ever did wrong. 

Being persuasive is a valuable asset, but only if kept in check by filters that make sure that it comes across as persuasion rather than as coercion. 

G. 't Hooft got lost because of me, I guess. He came here, participated a bit and found out that I was a user here. He does not like my approach (reformulation, smearing physics, "non-locality", etc.). I received his reply to my ideas several ears ago:

"I do think that your views on QED and other quantum field theories are a bit too dogmatic and will be difficult to maintain if one insists on both causality and relativistic invariance; these in combination force us to write the interactions as local phenomena. I am not interested in theories where relativity and/or causality cannot be proven. Since renormalization can be done and in practice leads to no fundamental problems, the use of point like charges is preferred."

So he decided to quit such a low-level forum because of my low level, I believe. Ron has mush higher level. Let him stay here.

With the reversed roles a perhaps not too unrealistic scenario.....I am sure you would have done something to stop this unilaterally (and, with your personality, openly), even against the prevailing rules

@ArnoldNeumaier, with all the discussion happened, you should well know this chain of imagination breaks right here: if it were done openly, we would've ended up in a very different situation.

@JiaYiyang: I don't see why secrecy makes much of a difference. In real life what makes a difference is whether it is deliberate or not. but (unless it it a primarily political trial such as with watergate) there is no difference in punishing whether a crime is done in public or in secret. 

To make such a big difference turns it into a political trial and no longer a matter of justice per se. 

Will you please say what the "demeaning verbal procedure" was exactly? 

Now I can point to some of it:

I made sure we were on completely hostile terms first,

I haven't done anything except come here and bitch.

I'd appreciate if you'd apologize for that and, if you can, promise that if will never happen again.

and one more, namely whatever you did that dimension10 referred to:

I was referring to Ron publicising Dilaton's private emails out of context, and accusing him of asking him to leave the site

Again,  I'd appreciate if you'd apologize for that and, if you can, promise that it will never happen again.


 In real life what makes a difference is whether it is deliberate or not. 

It was a deliberate cover up, even the most sincere make up actions can't make the nature of the original crime go away.

It was a deliberate cover up,

A thief also covers up his actions until it is discovered that he was the thief - and it would be foolish to behave otherwise -, and it makes no difference to the crime.

Only in political trials makes covering up things worse. The reason is that in the latter case it is a power fight, not just a matter of justice being done.

@VladimirKalitvianski: What would you like me to apologize for?

If I see anything wrong in it I'll apologize. 

@ArnoldNeumaier: "I made sure we were on completely hostile terms first" meant I sent a private email saying in crude language that I did not approve of what was going on, and that this site is going to hell. I apologized for that at some point, but just to make sure, I apologized for this crude email specifically again in a personal message this morning to Dilaton, sent before I read this stuff here. It is not moderator misbehavior to say what you think crudely in an email, although it does hurt feelings, and this is why I apologized--- for the hurt feelings.

Regarding "I only come here and bitch", this meant that my only major role as a moderator was to review the actions of other moderators. That's the "bitching", it's the long complaints about what is going on. I not only will not apologize for it, I am proud of it. It was extremely necessary, this is what is missing from other sites. The moderators on other sites cannot resolve disputes, because they are not allowed to have disputes, they make a single hive-mind, and this is why they act so terribly towards users.

As for publicizing Dilaton's personal emails 'out of context', it was not out of context, I put up the whole email! I don't consider moderation emails private, I never did, anything said to me is automatically public unless you specifically ask or imply that it should be private. The email came right after I announced my intention to get to the bottom of things, and it asked me not to investigate, but to step down as moderator instead. That's how I became sure that something was rotten. I didn't think I had anything to apologize for, because I didn't think that an email regarding site moderation was private. Dimension10 told me that it was assumed private, so I hid it immediately, and apologized for misunderstanding the nature, well before the moderation issue was resolved.

I really wish you had been following the events Arnold so that you wouldn't be saying these things. You are not really bringing anything new to the prior discussion. Your review is somewhat hampered by not being able to see the email I published (I could dig it up and forward it to you, it said exactly what I say above--- don't look into VK's case, it's better if you left PO).

The subtext of your reconciliation push seems to be to say "Dilaton does not need to step down", but unfortunately, this is not so. Dilaton must step down at leat for a symbolic period, because otherwise you just installed our least trusted moderator as our only permanent moderator, and that make Dilaton dictator for life.

 It is not moderator misbehavior to say what you think crudely in an email, although it does hurt feelings, and this is why I apologized--- for the hurt feelings.

For me, hurting feelings unnecessarily is moderator misbehavior, and I am glad that you apologized.

As for publicizing Dilaton's personal emails 'out of context', it was not out of context, I put up the whole email!

Private messages are what the notion says - private, and thus (like everywhere else) require the consent of the sender to make them public. This should be part of the user rights! Publicizing them completely is no less an offence than publicizing parts of it. 

@ArnoldNeumaier: Regarding the moderator mailing list, and inter-moderator communications, I always assumed these are not private, because they are simply an extension of meta, to boring nitpicking details. If they are discussing sockpuppet investigation, or sensitive coding details, obviously they are private. But if they are discussing general issues of moderation, they are no more private in my eyes than a post on my wall or a private message here.

For this reason, I didn't consider messages of Dilaton and Dim10 as private, until Dim10 started prefacing every message with "this is private", and it got on my nerves. We don't have secret trials here and private moderator discussions often turn into secret behind the scenes trials. I don't see any need for this type of communication between moderators to stay secret. But as I understood that this was an anomalous position, and that there was an expectation of privacy, I hid the message, and apologized for it. It wasn't discussed previously, I didn't break any rules, nor was I in any way dishonest, despite Dimension10's claim. His complaint was that I didn't publish my previous rude emails too, which I would have been more than willing to do, as I wasn't ashamed of them. Now, considering hurt feelings, I would not repeat this, but I would still write such a letter in private, except, as Abraham Lincoln recommended, I would not send it, I would trash it and start again with a polite expression of the same sentiment.

Hurt feelings is something that happens whenever there is conflict, it's not something you can call "misconduct", as it cannot be the basis of any sort of uniform rule that can be enforced. It is a social compact, which is important in a different, soft, way. You know very well we can't legislate hurt feelings, and it is important to have honesty in moderator discussions, and allow diverging opinion, and without allowing some degree of hurt feelings, it is easy to self-censor any criticism away and produce barbaric consensus even when 8 out of 10 people would disagree with the consensus, just none of the eight want to hurt the feeling of the other 2.

The idea that moderation is supposed to be harmonious is offensive to my sensibilities, and hurts my feelings, because there are cases where moderators do things with extra power against users, and then saying that the moderators feeling are important is ignoring the users' feeling in far greater measure. Dilaton's feelings were not hurt as much as VK's feelings were hurt by the censorship. There was a choice of whose feelings to take into consideration, and when there is such a choice, I always choose the feelings of the side with less power. Generally, by default, everyone else on such sites chooses the opposite way, leading to abuse never getting corrected.

@RonMaimon By "out of context", I meant that you didn't make your previous emails public - not because they were rude, but because the previous emails had you saying "I should probably resign" and things like that, which Dilaton wanted to encourage, but not instigate. I prefaced my following messages with "please don't publicise this", not because of their content/meaning, but because it was extremely rude stuff, and I didn't want that public - I didn't mind at all when you made the meaning public.

 But if they are discussing general issues of moderation, they are no more private in my eyes than a post on my wall or a private message here.

A wall post is public but a private message must be private (it is visible only to the writer and the recipient), else it is misleading the user.  

 I always assumed these are not private, because they are simply an extension of meta

You should check your assumptions - which are not always correct - with those affected. I don't know how moderator community is organized on PO, but if there is a moderator-internal public communication medium then it is clear that, in contrast, private messages about moderation issues are still private - the whole point of changing from public to private is to be able to discuss something without involving all.

And of course, moderation issues even when public among moderators must remain internal to the moderator community, and never quoted on meta. Only the final outcomes are for meta.

This is necessary to have the same options as one has in real life. It must be protected more carefully since unlike in real life, electronic communication is much more permanent than verbal communication.

 It wasn't discussed previously, I didn't break any rules,

This is the reason why we need guidelines for everything. No hard rules but guidelines that are expected to be kept by all, so that all can trust that things will bee handled in a way agreeable for everyone.

@RonMaimon (for the last few comments)

we can't legislate hurt feelings, 

yes, but one can appeal to both sides -  to the critics that they choose their language to minimize the danger of hurting, and to the criticized that they take the critique in a factual way and forgive any perceived verbal violence (whether intended or unintended).

but I would still write such a letter in private, except, as Abraham Lincoln recommended, I would not send it, I would trash it and start again with a polite expression of the same sentiment.

 This is an excellent idea.

A thief also covers up his actions until it is discovered that he was the thief - and it would be foolish to behave otherwise -, and it makes no difference to the crime.

But it's the cover up itself that was considered as the crime, we have repeated the point many times.

As for your comments on hurting feelings, wouldn't that imply it's always beneficial for every user to be a louder crying baby? There just has to be a boarder line beyond which feelings become secondary concerns. 

And what if the feelings are still hurt even the tones were polite? Again it's not hypothetical, in the email exchanges with Dilaton, at some point it was clear from his/her reply that I hurt his/her feeling by exerting pressure to him/her to urge the resignation to happen, and to agree with Ron, and I was not rude at all. Even today he/she still thinks what I did should count as inappropriate exhortation, and shall I start claiming that my feelings are hurt for being misunderstood? Just don't initiate this kind of game, it can easily go endless. 

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