WikiDebateLimits

1. Where does the limitations in debates lie ?

2. A precise example of such limitations


1. My first long-run teleinformatic experience was from 1993 to 1995, when I used RTC servers on "minitel", which was the french equivalent for what you guys would call BBS in US. Not so precisely, for there were also BBS in France at the same time… In fact, the french RTC/BBS issue is a complex one and I don't want to speak of it right now. Suffice to say that, using RTC servers and minitel, one could interact in many interfaces (most of them with a weird mix of mosaic 6-colors graphism and teletype text) and some of this interfaces served as what we would now call Usenet-like forums.

All that is neither really new nor fantastic, but my purpose lies in this :

At this time, there were people who used these forums (few people indeed, and a very particular slide of the society), and these people tend to discuss anything, given the "formal" constraint of expressing things through series of 40 cols x 24 lines tty pages.

The individual idiosyncrasies put aside, I very soon realized that this way of discussing was not good at all, since discussions tended to part at every moment, since there was no Ariane thread, since there was not definite culture to handle that.

Thus, I left this area, and no longer indulged myself in RTC debates.

– In 1997, I got a new Internet connection. I mean, I could already read some of the Usenet newsgroups at the end of 1995 using RTC gateways, and I already had some mail and ftp facilities, but well… in 1997, I invested in a true computer, and the Web.

As a result, I took a real interest in Usenet as it was then. I try to contribute in some newsgroup. Very soon, and much much sooner than the last time, I realized that this was not a good way of developing critical thought and debate.

In fact, I had thought that Usenet was better than the "minitel" because of the lack of formal constraints (such as the stupid 40x24 format), and thus, that those of the human users who do not know how to overcome such limitations would be in better condition to create interesting things.

Well, this was utopian. Things were even worse, since now all the forum incivilities could be done in desired quantity. And the basic failure reason was still there : that a discussion, or a debate, if it is to be true and meaningful and with some future, is always a two-person debate, a dialogue. And this is so true that it is in this way that philosophy began (Socrates…)

So, in 1998, I used no longer Usenet (or episodically, since for some purposes it can still be useful).

– But then, in 1999, I discovered wikiwikis ! Was the same story to start up again ?

Well, not so. For a very basic reason : Yann Schwartz, who had created one of the first (if not the first) french wikis, had made a very borderline wiki, in which there were no defined rule yet - and certainly no such things as KeepItSimple?, PlainTalk, Refactorization, and so on. In fact, it was some litterature experience, and it served no definite purpose, even for ourselves.

But then, this wikiwiki (AltraQuaze) grew and gained success. Near 2002, there were some guys who began to run "Usenet-like debates" on it. My interest in this particular wiki got down, for the aforementioned reasons. I deserted the place and took a view of the others wikis.

Near 2003, I found CommunityWiki (emacswiki). Or maybe even 2002, I'm not sure. But anyway, I saw a real community which seems to function at a good rythm (this is unusual), which was not too much informatics-oriented (yet a little too much, but…), and where "refactoring" had a "human face".

By "human face" of "refactoring", I mean that if a debate got too tough or in too many directions, it would be refactored in a way such that a rational parsing of the site remained possible.

But lo ! I understand today that, even if it is good, it is by no way sufficient ! And that, for lack of other precautions on all the wikis I've ever seen (including now this one), no real debate can be handled on a wiki (and here too, thus).

The reason is still the same, and I'm quite astonished it did not fire me with lightning before (but maybe I didn't want to be fired by it…) : true philosophical discussion is always a dialogue. Collective discourse dilutes thought.

In the case you say something and multiple contradictors turn what you say each one into his side, there is no clear way of replying to everybody without either (1) lose oneself into unparsable casuistic; or (2) write a definitive personal synthesis. But, if you do (2), then it is just as if you had a personal website, or a blog, or if you published a paper book… and the contributors exist only as would e-mail correspondents. So, this destroys the interest of wikis as for debating questions…

I give now a precise particular example to make things clearer.

2. I told on UselessSchool that the "school education system" did not serve the real purpose of educating people, and that the task of transmitting knowledge to the next generation could certainly be done by another way than this "mass factory" one.

I also pointed out that most people have no use of what they learn in college for the rest of their lives, – but also that there will always be fans of medieval poetry or high algebra in every class of society, so that, if we only let children and people read the things they enjoy, we would not have, eventually, less geniuses and less experts in every branch of knowledge than we nowadays have. We would only have less arbitrary trissotinism.

Well, this idea has had contradictors, many contradictors. – And contradictors who said they all fully agreed to it, moreover ! – Which is the worst thing that can happen to an orator ! – Especially if the orator happens to have been misinterpreted !

I'm not very sure for instance, that what I had in mind when speaking of making the concept of "professor" obsolete, or suppressing school was at any rate the same as many other thought. Of course, it is my fault, because I perfectly know that english is not my native language, and that, for this reason, I should not use provocative phrases. Expressions such as obsolescence of "professor" are ambiguous in the same way that dictature of the proletariat or getting rid of poverty or killing the old sinner are…

And I'm not even sure it is useful to make things clear, because if wikiwikis are a way of diluting discussions (as I really tend to think), then any clarification or examplification will be confused itself at last… Anyway, just to prevent the hap-hazard reader from thinking that I expressed ultra-reactionary view, let me precise that :

– by making the concept of "professor" obsolete, I never meant such things as to forcefully close schools and fire professors; nor any compelling programme;

– and that by this expression, I do not either mean that intellectual authority should be suppressed;

– on the contrary, I think that the function of transmitting knowledge is highly valuable, and that intellectual authority (with all the subtelties, social order and even painful talk it implies) is clearly good;

– but I think that the social division of work that separates specialized professor for, say, basic arithmetic and english grammar from the rest of the society is an absurdity, and an absurdity that alienates humans. So it should be abolished and, as long as the subjects are not too much specialized, they should be taught by the entirety of society.

To be continued (another day). – NicolasMontessuit

Interesting. I'm interested in debate though I don't have as much experience different supports (mainly online forums, mailing lists and recently Wiki). Some time back I wrote a few pages around the idea of a DebateTool on Meatball. Maybe this can be linked to WikiForDebate. DoubleWiki is a potential solution, but it has never been really tried. It may have some of the advantages of what you consider the only "good" form of debate, with two people (It's basically about collaboratively building two opposing points of view - different dynamics from usual debate).

I think it's interesting that DebateWiki says: "A Debate Wiki is a wiki that's specially dedicated to debate. Addressing deep differences and MappingArguments are the goals. The debate wiki is a vehicle for extracting KnowledgeFromDebate."

DocumentMode text in a DebateWiki is intended for addressing differences and MappingArguments – this is different than actual debate.

A debate is something where sides talk with one another, and try to persuade the other side. But the DebateWiki as just described is primarily a place for constructing maps of arguments– which is different.

I am sympathetic to the idea that wiki are not good places for debates. I'd say I think wiki are good places for collecting ideas and linking them together, that wiki are good places for sharing ideas, that wiki are good places for people who have a shared sense of boundaries to rework their thoughts. You can carry out a debate on a wiki, and as long as the different sides are "within the boundaries" (something that people are SelectivelyOpenMinded to,) then it can be reworked into DocumentMode. There are plenty of worthwhile activites that are not debate. Writing software, for instance. Writing a story. Explaining something.

I disagree with the idea that usenet doesn't work because only two people can have a debate: two people can have a debate in IRC, in wiki, on UseNet, etc.,. You just have your conversation with the other person, and ignore the other people.

I don't know if wiki can be good for debate, or if DebateWiki can work.

However, I tend to be frustrated with forums and mailing lists for debate. It's just the same thing over and over again, and there's no "memory". Maybe it's "deliberation" I want to talk about. I just wish there was a way I could just map out differences with someone I disagree with in a fairly persistant way. A lot of differences in opinion have their roots in philosophy. It's those philosophical differences I'm interested in making clearer. And confrontation of ideas forces them to come out, unless the discussion degenerates into name-calling, or the true essence of the disagreement is burried in pages of bickering over minor details.

So, maybe wiki isn't a good place, but I don't know of any good place.

Hm; I think DebateWiki can work. Maybe not support a community, but I think it can work.

Allow me to explain:

Suppose you have a DevelopersVirtualWorld / SuperTingTool.

And lets suppose that there's a lively debate going on.

And let's say that someone takes an interest in the debate, as a debate.

Said person goes around, performing ArgumentMapping, and writing what they discover into the DebateWiki.

Over time, due to InternetConcentration, other interested argument mappers discover the wiki, and contribute to it as well.

Two sides in the giant debate happen to have WikiDebateBases. They then provide links from the DebateWiki to their own, which the DebateWiki managers oblige.

See? It can work.

I just don't think it can work very well like it does now, where it's an all-or-nothing CommunityTiedToOneTechnology deal.

We have to envision the wiki more as paper, than as "the magic super communications medium where all our hopes and dreams come true."

As for the memory that you want, I think we're going to see a ton of WikiDebateBases.

I think that, basically, as people catch on, that there will be an arms race. Notice that, not only is there an EvoWiki (I think it came first,) there is also a CreationWiki?. Yes, see?

The pattern will spread. Other causes will start cataloging their arguments on wiki. And then, their opponents will do the same. Why? Because their opponents are better armed, and coming back at every argument with a hundred citations, strong points, etc., etc.,.

So that memory will develop.

And I think people will think of themselves and disagreements differently, as they go through this a few times.

Define external redirect: KeepItSimple CreationWiki

EditNearLinks: WikiForDebate UseNet DoubleWiki NicolasMontessuit EvoWiki DocumentMode AltraQuaze

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