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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 (15,757 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 (15,757 points) [ revision history ]
edited Mar 22, 2015 by Arnold Neumaier
Most voted comments show all comments

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.

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.

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. 

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.

@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.

Most recent comments show all comments

@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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