No Politics

D351

Villager
Given the recent thread closure elsewhere, and the derailing that took that thread in that direction, it might be worth asking some questions about the policy for keeping threads on topic and/or what qualifies as politics. In my opinion, this site has a somewhat stricter enforcement of these things than most. I assume this is because of a longer history and experiences here that have proven that approach necessary. At times this is refreshing and at others jarring. I also see multiple people saying that "politics" is code for "things I disagree with" and while that is often the case elsewhere when one here's complaints of someone "getting political", it is just as readily its own weak excuse to continue sidelining discussion into politics. It's a shame that this community is unable to discuss issues involving handling problematic behavior in the RPG community and profession (a question that is, at its core, ultimately political) without allowing those voices to derail the discussion so hard as to end the thread. And in the spirit of attempting to avoid getting myself in trouble, I'd like to explicitly say that I am not trying to revive that discussion. I'm more interested in a fuller explanation of what amounts to "politics", and not by simply forming a list of subjects that are not allowed.

In a forum site like this, with an expressed focal subject, it seems that issues tangential to politics are inevitable but that when the subject strays entirely away from RPG it becomes more obviously "political" (a situation that is unfortunately extremely easy to engineer). This allows for a certain amount of implicit political discussion necessary to the topic and only results on occasion in confusion due to differences in worldview too vast as to have shared understandings. Another unfortunate side-effect is that a non-political subject can easily come with enormous political assumptions, to which a person who doesn't share the opinions of the OP cannot honestly respond to without bringing up the politics of those assumptions. Often these are issues where politics and philosophy blur. In the context of a "no politics" rule, it is best for such a person to simply ignore that thread. If their politics are beyond the realm of the question, then they are implicitly not welcome in that thread. This can be hard to accept, and a simple "I would disagree with the premise of your question" is simply asking for an invitation to make the discussion political. Ultimately, this feels marginalizing, but is likely necessary to keep the peace on the forums. That marginalization lends to the formation of an implicit politics of the community, but that's just how these things go. The alternative is to have shouting matches that result in an explicit politics of the community, as opponents are driven off.

But back to the point, I think when defining politics it is best to acknowledge that politics encompasses those things that directly address what communities should (or shouldn't) do to control/protect/maintain themselves as a unit. Politics is a matter of defining actions for a group larger than oneself. In this way, most subjects in this Meta forum are directly matters of politics, so long as they address anything more abstract than describing the way things are. A rule that exists is not political, but questions and proposals regarding rules are. Now assuming that we restrict this definition further to be purely matters of government, we unleash a torrent of subjects that fill an ambiguous middle ground, as many political "isms" do not necessarily require government but address the will of a broader society. These seem to be the topics that most frequently get threads shut down (not just here but elsewhere) for being "political". So where does one draw that line so as to, presumably, hit a useful middle ground that meets what those who write the rules actually mean? I don't know.

In my opinion, most forums' "no politics" rule is more often treated as a "stay on topic and don't try to spread intolerance" rule. This leaves the admin(s) to either decide on a case-by-case basis what qualifies as a violation or to create a list of specific forms of intolerance that are not to be tolerated. Some places do both. Either way there is an implied politics, for good or ill. What one usually sees when someone starts complaining about those implicit politics is a thinly veiled proponent of a politics that is directly opposed to that of the person(s) making or enforcing the rules. This may be good or bad from an external view, but is inherently bad from the admin's view. This is not because it requires the admin to admit that their political assumptions and norms are political (forum trolls love to depict themselves as bringers of enlightenment, causing people to question their assumptions) but because it is difficult to excise a person whose views are hazardous to the community (assuming that the admins policies are in place to protect the community) in a context in which that person is not allowed to make clear exactly how hazardous their views are. It's a catch 22. No admin wants to seem overbearing and drive off other users, but they also don't want their forum to become a place where people whose politics directly oppose their own flourish (and drive away other users). And to clarify, when I say directly oppose, I mean disagreements on core issues that in bigger contexts are matters of life and death: things that it is reasonable to worry about providing space for. It's a difficult task, and I don't think there are any easy answers.

Sorry if this is too close to diving into topics that are not allowed. I am trying to keep this as politically neutral as possible, as this is an important topic in understanding how these issues are settled on the site.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I think it’s quite simple. Opposition of harassment and abuse in our little community is not politics, and I oppose any attempts to paint them as such.
 

Gradine

Archivist
It's a struggle, though, because no issue, and especially not one as large and thorny as this, exists in a vacuum. It's hard to separate what has happened recently in our hobby re: Zak S & Mentzer with trends in the broader culture. When it only takes a few well-meaning responses to intentionally derailing posts to shut a thread down, how do we continue the conversation?
 

D351

Villager
I think it’s quite simple. Opposition of harassment and abuse in our little community is not politics, and I oppose any attempts to paint them as such.
I was going for a more broadly applicable philosophy, but I'll take it. It certainly meets the needs of addressing this most recent issue in most details. Is it fair to extrapolate that to an understanding that it is not "politics" to discuss how the community should best create and maintain an environment safe from harassment and abuse? Part of the reason I brought this question up is that it seems that it would be difficult to have that kind of conversation without directly shutting down those who attempt to derail the subject into politics (or into calling the subject politics) before the thread has been derailed. In the recent example, the fact that the thread was closed left me with the incorrect impression that the subject itself had been the problem (in that it lent itself to attracting that kind of attention). I'm glad to see that that was apparently not the case. I understand that you are not obligated to go into detail explaining your every action as admin, but I do appreciate this clarification.

I also apologize if my post here was taken to "paint them as such". My intention was to simply draw the broadest and strictest definitions for the word, not to make a categorical statement in that regard.
 

Eltab

Villager
When it only takes a few well-meaning responses to intentionally derailing posts to shut a thread down, how do we continue the conversation?
I think EnWorld is short-staffed for moderators (I have seen 2 plus the owner). A more robust staff would be able to keep track of what is said (over multiple threads) that starts mutual Fireball contests, and let staff know to rebuke such posts / posters when they appear. Right now moderators show up when the column of smoke becomes visible, alerting them to the problem.

Is there a way to apply for a job as Moderator? What are the qualifications?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
A more robust staff would be able to keep track of what is said...
We have had more staff at various times. Right now, day-to-day, there isn't enough work for a notably larger staff. Most times, the place is quiet, and there is an infrequent spike when a thread starts with, or diverges into, one of a small number of rather predictable topics.

With volunteers, if there's usually nothing for them to do, they wander off and find other uses for their time, and then they aren't available when you need them. Morrus has added to the staff several times over the years, and this pattern repeats.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yeah, I think it’s testament to moderators past and present that things are usually pretty calm and civil. Like Umbran says, it’s mainly just a couple of topics which cause spikes. It’s more spambanning than anything else.

These days it’s just me, Umbran, and Danny (and Danny mainly focuses on spam).
 

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