I’m writing this blog post on impulse, not entirely sure how it’s going to end. For context, it comes after some thinking about how to co-exist with other people. To “manage expectations”, I am not going to heavily research or put significant amounts of thought into this — it’s merely me trying to articulate my own thoughts on this.
So, the crux of the problem I am thinking about is social retribution. More generally,
- How do you decide the scope of the social community of which you are a member?
- How do you decide when someone has violated the (potentially unwritten) guidelines of the community?
- How do you decide what the appropriate retribution of the violation should warrant?
- How do you decide when to take responsibility for dealing that retribution, and communicating that role to others in the social group?
There have been various examples of this in the open source community:
In both of the above cases, the principle social violation was associated with sexual abuse (or allegations thereof), however the questions about are not limited to significant infractions such as these. I will attempt to document how I would handle the above.
How do you decide the scope of the social community of which you are a member?
There are broadly two sets of violations that I see as problematic:
- Violations specific to that community, and that only make sense within that community. For example, in Boxing, sparring with too much violence, and inflicting unnecessary pain on your boxing partner.
- Violations of the standards that are expected of all people in your life. For example, violence with a view to control another person.
Punitive actions for community specific infractions should be limited to that community explicitly. In the above example, the sparring partner would not be included in additional sparring matches for some period of time.
An exclusionary criteria should be applied to membership, with a forgiveness mechanism. Such a criteria must be clearly documented, but can be amended and reapplied to existing members. In the above example, if the offense happened several years ago and remediation can be clearly established, the individual should be allowed into the community. Not otherwise.
How do you decide when someone has violated the (potentially unwritten) guidelines of that community?
As much as possible, a pre-established mechanism for determining whether or not something is appropriate should exists. However, as we cannot predict the range of human action, consensus is a reasonable solution for amending the criteria. However, where consensus exists, the guidelines must be updated so that they can be applied uniformly in future.
How do you decide what the appropriate retribution for the violation should warrant?
The aforementioned mechanism for deciding whether an individual has violated the guidelines also applies to determining the appropriate retribution.
Particularly large social structures
In some cases, there exists a community of 100’s or 1000’s of people, or several levels of hierarchy within that community. In those cases, the leaders of the community need to achieve consensus; all members of the community do not.
How do you decide when to take responsibility for dealing that retribution, and communicating that role to others in the social group?
If you are in a position of trust to establish communication with both parties of a violation, than it is up to you to to handle the remediation. If you are not, but also no one else is, than it is again up to you. Communicate this among your peers such that there are not multiple punitive actions being taken simultaneously.
Handling the infraction
Firstly, I think it’s important to establish I think punitive action should only ever be about reducing the likelihood of the infraction in future. Secondly, I have never met another human is innately evil, or inherently desires the destruction of others for no cause. I have met people who are:
All of the above are perfectly normal human feelings, and are nothing which require shame in and of themselves. These two things mean that punitive action only makes sense if it is about teaching that person a more appropriate way to seek the help they need, rather than some sort of satisfaction for the victim. As part of the remediation for this issue, the person who committed the infraction must be required to make amends for their infraction to the victim until such a time they feel OK continuing. Such forgiveness allows a community to remain diverse and handle the problems of being human.
A note about other members of the community
In the absence of an appropriate response from the community leaders, other members of the community will self-organize and deal the punitive action in a self directed, somewhat random way. This is not a good strategy long term for handling the continued infractions present in any community.
Handle things quickly. Be open about it. Answer questions as they come up.
Handling the abuse of the reporting mechanism
As soon as a mechanism exists that allows punitive action to be handled by an intermediary, it is likely to be abused by those who’s infractions it is supposed to catch. The above mechanism, requiring understanding, remediation and forgiveness makes it extremely difficult for this abuse to take place as it will become apparent that the alleged complaint did not exist, and no remediation is necessary.
Handling remediation failure
In some cases, the person who committed the infraction will believe that such rules are not necessary, and they thus did nothing wrong. In these cases, the only resolution is exclusion from the community.
The complications of power and money
In social systems, it often seems to be the case that those who are in positions of power are those who are tasked with handling the infractions. If they themselves are the person committing the infraction, there is no recourse for the victim.
To mitigate that, those in power must either
- Delegate the authority of handling the infraction to another group who, in turn, has the power to overrule that power.
- Be sufficiently diverse as to mitigate the risk of a % of bad actors corrupting the system.
Do #1. It’s way better.