Book of Dissent

This is a controversial and experimental project for EdgeRyders. The aim of the project is to protect, encourage, and facilitate the reporting of risk with regard to members projects, or indeed the EdgeRyders project as a whole. It is a sort of Whistle Blowing Manifesto for EdgeRyders.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that there are hard and important limits to radical transparency, especially when you add the requirement to discuss all issues on a text based online platform - however good the platform is. This topic is a place to constructively discuss this thesis, and to propose patches or fixes to the problem.

Another aim of the project is to come up with community techniques to prevent unnecessary flame-wars. Not all flame-wars are unnecessary, but there is a specific category of flame-war which is detrimental to effective knowledge sharing within an open topic - and that is not simply the problem of trolling, and bad online etiquette. The problem I am referring to is a structural problem, regarding deep criticism of an individual or groups work.

What sort of criticisms are problematic?

Most criticisms are fine to post directly and transparently on EdgeRyders. Indeed this is to be encouraged. The regular early, and open participation of a wide range of members is vital to the process of tapping into the collective intelligence of the group. However this founding principle of EdgeRyders has it’s limits, and it is the purpose of this topic to discuss and elaborate these limits.

One of the forms of criticism, that appears to be deeply problematic to EdgeRyders current philosophy, is worth elaborating here. It is subtle and a little hard to express, but I believe it is essential to the health of this community. The difficulty arises when:

  • The topic of criticism is a piece of work that an individual or group has invested significant time or energy in.
  • The criticisms is complex, philosophical, and may take time to listen to and comprehend.
  • Or the criticism is highly novel
  • Or expressed in a language or cultural tradition very different from the person being criticised.

In this circumstance, the natural reaction of the people intimately involved in the project, and wider community, is to protect the individual, their reputation, and the work they have invested. This is true even if the critic is proposing a positive alternative. This is because the positive alternative can at the same time be a deep and highly personal criticism of another individuals competence, or it can fundamentally undermine a groups ethos - provoking a backlash. The motivations are all good, but it results in important critical feedback being missed from the planning process, only for these problems to hit the project hard at a later date.

Why is this topic private?

The aim of this topic is for it to evolve into a safe place for critical thinking or whistle blowers. It is a place where I’d like to discuss problems and issues from both the recent past (by way of example), and more importantly of present and future projects. One initial proposal for a methodology that would address this is that the following principles should apply to all discussions:

  1. Discussions are private - this is a safe place to Black-Hat.
  2. Conversations are constructive - if you criticise you must offer a positive alternative.
  3. Conversations should not refer to individuals unless absolutely necessary. However it will almost always be very clear which individuals or groups are being referred to.
  4. Conversations will be made public (in order to keep the content respectful). However exactly when and how these conversations are to be made public is a matter to be planned and discussed in this topic.

A Practical Start

To make a start the plan is to slowly invite people, particularly people intimately concerned with these topics, and to discuss through the way of real-world constructive examples how to proceed. If this experiment works out to the satisfaction of the group, the entire proceedings of this project including all proposed methodologies, and the details of individual discussions help here will be published. To be precise:

  1. All discussions in this topic will be made public within 12 months of this post.
  2. Given unanimous consent from members of this groups certain topics discussed here may be published earlier.
  3. Unless there is a formal vote of members of this group and the decision to delay or cancel publication is unanimous.

Does this seem like a good idea?


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Today I renamed this topic. I hope the name captures more closely the whistle blowing element of the project. One of the inspirations for the title of this project comes from Bembo’s project at the unMonastery - The Book of Errors. Being open about mistakes is equally important - but supporting constructive dissent is paramount in the era of mass social media and the politics of radical transparency.

The following quote comes from an anthology of dissent by Verso Books:

Throughout the ages and across every continent, people have struggled against those in power and raised their voices in protest—rallying others around them and inspiring uprisings in eras yet to come. Their echoes reverberate from Ancient Greece, China and Egypt, via the dissident poets and philosophers of Islam and Judaism, through to the Arab slave revolts and anti-Ottoman rebellions of the Middle Ages. These sources were tapped during the Dutch and English revolutions at the outset of the Modern world, and in turn flowed into the French, Haitian, American, Russian and Chinese revolutions. More recently, resistance to war and economic oppression has flared up on battlefields and in public spaces from Beijing and Baghdad to Caracas and Los Angeles.

Openness vs. whistleblowing

Interesting experiment. I’ll be watching. As we built Edgeryders, we thought that whistleblowing would be superseded by Who Does The Work Calls The Shot: if you don’t like the governance, be the governance by working harder and being smarter than others. And if you can’t do that… well, too bad. You still don’t get to tell people what to do; and especially you don’t get to tell people what not to do.

Other than a few basic rules of good neighborhood incorporated in the interaction protocol, there are really very few rules in Egderyders. In the community, pretty much anything goes other than spam and offensive or hatemongering behavior; and even with the company, so far anybody who has asked to wrap himself in it has been allowed to do so, with very few questions asked.

So, people are enabled, insofar as that is possible. Anybody who blows the whistle in this situation is going to be told to make it better.

That’s the theory, of course. Whether it really works, we’ll see.

It’s a good theory

I think you put the argument for the power of transparent, constructive and respectful criticism very well. This topic is about looking at the limits of the approach, and perhaps some of the contradictions within it (or how it is practiced). My working assumption is that transparent, early, openly expressed views will cover very effectively over 90% of situations. The question is what about the these other cases?