Walled Gardens Need Environmental Gates
And Make Them Spikey!
In my previous post, I said that Freedom of Association allows people to have significantly better lives. I want to live with people who value the same things I do, to a certain extent.
In Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism Eliezer argues that online communities should be much more liberal with banning and censorship, in order to keep them valuable to the people within them. If they are overrun with trolls and idiots, they will die.
I. The Failure Of The Ban Hammer
As much as he makes a good case, the Ban Hammer is a very blunt tool. It doesn’t allow for people to learn and grow, as they are removed from those who can most set a good example of how to be valued and what to grow into. It can create a climate of fear if people worry about losing their community for overstepping a line, or having a bad day.
It can lead to intense legalism as every little rule has to be spelled out (to avoid that sort of fear, and prevent the existence of unspoken rules/unseen lines). And this of course always leads to malicious actors who constantly skirt right up to the line, often necessitating the creation of more and more rules that must be codified, and that never actually get banned for this bullshit.
It can lead to echo chambers if moderators are too ban-happy.
It can lead to accidental false-positives (I know someone who suffered just such a fate with her first ill-timed post by joining right after a particular flare-up had been put down and not knowing this was currently a touchy issue).
We want a place where people don’t have to consult a tome of rules, don’t have to live in fear of banning for marginal infractions, don’t allow malicious users to poison things with technical safety, don’t overwhelm moderators with constant surveillance duty, do allow people to be wrong without being ejected, do provide everyone with a chance to grow, and still remain nice places to be!
How the hell do we do all that?
II. Nurturing Environments & Hostile Environments - Forming Environmental Gates
The Ban Hammer is a very all-or-nothing tool. Warnings and temporary suspensions are more granular, but are essentially Ban Hammer Lite. You want to use them rarely.
Creating environments that nurture some things and drive away others solves many such problems. In my previous post I specifically singled out reggaetón music. I hate reggaetón. It’s not just that it sounds bad. It is viscerally unpleasant to me. I can tolerate if I absolutely must, but I will leave any area that plays reggaetón if I have the ability to do so. It’s insanely effective at keeping me away.
I’m sure the opposite is true for some people and the types of music that I love.1 This is a well-known enough phenomenon that stores will play classical music to keep away teens. Music can be a delight to some groups, a Nurturing Environment, while being averse to others, a Hostile Environment.
Music is just the most salient example of this sort of thing. Another thing that works great is casual disrespect of the sacred cows of people you don’t want around. Expletives that reference “Sweet Zombie Jesus” or “Jesus Christ On A Stick” or “Jesus H. Dick-Fucking Christ!” will keep away most Christians. Occasional lewd gay humor will keep away homophobes. Mockery of conspiracy theories will keep away conspiracy theorists.
In general, some pokey/ribald humor will keep away the overly sensitive that get performatively butthurt over every little thing. Lack of humor is a red flag, and if someone can’t take a joke and come back with one, they shouldn’t feel comfortable where they are yet. And that’s good.
There are many advantages to Environmental Gates. They tend to be self-perpetuating, and don’t need constant monitoring by a moderation corps. They don’t come with a list of rules. They aren’t all-or-nothing rejections/acceptances, they are proportionally more/less welcoming to people based on how well they fit. They allow people that mostly fit but a few deviances to participate without fear of exile (my Discord server has quite a few people like this, that are nuts on one issue, but mostly fine). They encourage people to self-select out of the community if it’s a bad match. They allow people to keep returning over time as they grow and change, if they find that they are growing into the community. These environments will often even help wear away the worst parts of someone who finds a lot of value in the community, helping them to become a better match (and hopefully a better person!).
This also prevents the community from being purity-based, and from turning into an echo chamber. Others with dissenting ideas can still come around and participate, for as long as they can tolerate the spikey environment.
III. Personal Experiences
If there’s one thing I don’t want intruding into my personal spaces, it’s Woke Folk. I try to keep my Discord server somewhat hostile to Wokeness. Not so bad that there aren’t any Wokes there, but enough that it doesn’t take root. Since they live online, the threat of Woke takeover is especially relevant in online places.
I didn’t used to be this way. I learned the hard way that Wokeism must be resisted. For years I followed the Hugos, both the nominations and winners. After a while I started voting and nominating as well. Eventually I began attending WorldCon, and for a few years it was the greatest experience.
Now it has been completely taken over by the Woke, and non-Woke readers and authors don’t need to get involved. It was a long and slow process. But what was once a place for SF nerds, a place that was created by SF nerds so we could have a place to ourselves where the normies wouldn’t crush us, was taken away by the well-connected and socially-powerful.2
This is the danger of not employing Environmental Gates. Your community is likely to turn into an autocracy under The Hammer, and a hive of Wokeism without any mitigation.
IV. This Doesn’t Work Without Jokes
Personally, I really hated being unpleasant. I am a people-pleaser by nature. I learned that unpleasantness to hostile invaders is a requirement, and the alternative is death. The unpleasantness can be drastically mitigated by teasing, moderate mocking, and generally having an atmosphere of “humor excuses a lot.” This is particularly important because lots of times people will be subjected to the hostile environment that you like, and want to stay around! I have conspiracy theorists on my server that I think are great people, just with stupid brain-worms. Heck, there’s socialists up in that piece. And at least one lawyer!
The humor part allows people to swallow the criticism/poking, and remain friends. Unmitigated poking is crippling, and will drive away those you want driven away. Some poking of people you like is inevitable. You yourself WILL be poked. And you MUST be OK with it happening, or none of this will ever work. The best way for this to resolve? Making it a game. Some knees will be skinned. That’s OK. It’s still fun.
(Speaking of which, to see this exact dynamic at work, listen to The Mind Killer podcast, where my cohosts include an anarcho-capitalist that flirts with conspiracies, and a friggin lawyer that hates HOAs!)
IV. Unpleasant Consequences
There are some unpleasant consequences to this particular line of thought.
Freedom of Association is great.
Exercising this freedom means putting up gates to keep out those you don’t want to associate with. Failure to do so = Game Over if your community ends up being valuable at all.
Small, Constant Irritants that pervade the environment make great gates, especially in social communities
You know what else are small, constant irritant? Seeing crosses everywhere you go. Having people quoting the Bible as if it’s a good thing frequently. Jesus-praising music during Christmas (which is still the best holiday regardless). Seeing your coach pray at the sideline of centerfield after every game.
That’s right, apparently the Christians have been doing this sort of thing for friggin ages. It worked really well, too. I had to be taught how to resist conformity by my parents and religious leaders. It had to become a point of pride.
I draw a sharp line between “voluntary” and “compelled” here. For people to be compelled to participate is evil, and must be fought against. But if someone wants to use their Freedom of Speech to pray after a football game, and other people want to do so with him, and have him lead them… as long as there aren’t reprisals against non-participants, that should be fine. They were just screaming for two hours about how their team is better than the other team, this isn’t different in principle.
This shows the limitations of Environmental Gates. They can keep small areas (rural towns, Discord servers, shopping centers) mostly aligned with a group, but they can’t turn back the tide of history. I think this, too, may be a feature. Something like this shouldn’t be able to stop all progress. Especially when that progress is desired by the majority, and supported by reason. But it should be able to keep small areas clear for the people who want to live under those conditions. There has to be some place for the minority that inexplicably loves reggaetón, or that very logically loves grunge, to retreat to.
To have gardens we love, we must also allow gardens we’d never want a part of.
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In fact, now that I mention it, I wonder if this isn’t part of the reason that musical tastes are formed in adolescence and are very resistant to change in adulthood? An in-built mechanism for group sorting, courtesy of evolution. I dunno, I suspect Wes would accuse me of shitty evo-psych, so I’ll stop.
There were those who tried to warn us. Larry Correia first sounded an alarm, but the way he went about it alienated and angered pretty much everyone who had a stake in the matter, including myself. In the end, he actually made the situation much worse, by convincing the vanguard to leave, and giving the Wokes a lot of popular support and a big victory. I don’t fault him too much though, Wokeism is insidious, and very few people knew what was happening or how to fight it at the time.