Banning the Wikipedia bans as a governance tool

This add-on to our comments field is worth upgrading to a full entry. It details another negative aspect of curent Wikipedia governance: the practice of indiscriminate banning without due process.

Moulton:

The governance model of Wikipedia was so anachronistic that it took me over a year to place it in the timeline of historic governance models adopted at various times in the annals of human history.

The thing that stymied me was the prominence of blocking and banning as the primary tool of governance. I simply couldn’t place that among the recognized tools of governance in any historic context.

And then I happened to take a look at the oldest surviving account of secular law — the Code of Hammurabi of 1750 BC.

Of the 282 laws that Hammurabi of Mesopotamia carved into the stone tablets, take note of the very first one:

1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

Evidently, banning (ostracism) was a common practice in the tribal cultures in the Middle East some 4000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization. Capricious and spurious banning was evidently such a common and egregious abuse of tribal overlords that Hammurabi made it a capital offense to ban someone without proving just cause.

And yet, on Wikipedia, indefinite blocks and bans without due process are a common occurrence. That is to say, the prevailing governance model of Wikipedia corresponds to a pre-Hammurabic tribal ochlocracy that is so anachronistic, it predates the advent of the Rule of Law.

When Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders drafted the US Constitution, one of the provisions they put in Article One was a prohibition against Bills of Attainder. A Bill of Attainder is the technical term in the law for declaring a person to be an outlaw (without respect to having violated any specific law that applies equally to everyone). The Founders excluded Bills of Attainder from the tools of governance because 4000 years of political history had demonstrated that such a toxic practice is corrosive and ridden with corruption, and invariably sinks any government that comes to rely on it.

The irony here is that Wikipedia purports to be the “sum of all knowledge” with an educational mission that reaches out to students, teachers, and scholars around the world. And yet those exercising power in Wikipedia have not yet learned the oldest and most profound lessons in the annals of human history — lessons enshrined in the first written law and in the first article of the US Constitution.

The consequence of adopting such an anachronistic governance model is that Wikipedians are fated to relive and reify the long-forgotten lessons of history. They relive those lessons by reprising the same kind of political dramas that fill the history books since the dawn of civilization.

The anachronistic governance model which Jimbo Wales foolishly and mindlessly introjected into Wikipedia is simply not a sustainable model in this day and age. Summary and capricious banning wasn’t even a sustainable model some 3750 years ago when Hammurabi first singled it out as an unacceptable practice in a civilized culture.”

3 Comments Banning the Wikipedia bans as a governance tool

  1. james

    It is quite ironic that being enmeshed inside peer based silicon enabled communication networks and culture, it’s as if were doing a complete re-run of political structural evolution in parallel with our existing structures.

  2. Sepp Hasslberger

    Thanks for putting this on a separate page. The skewing of wiki editing towards certain established and entrenched views (and of course the practice of indiscriminate banning as a tool to enforce “editing discipline” or what passes for that really needs to be widely known and eventually overcome.

    The usefulness of wikipedia as a repository of human knowledge suffers greatly from the current restriction to mainstream views only. There is more knowledge in the alternatives than in the entrenched views, so wikipedia gets to present less than half the available knowledge.

    Whether something has been published elsewhere or is in accord with received wisdom should really not be a criterium for allowing publication. What’s wrong with a note saying that “this is not from published scientific sources”, somewhat akin to “this statement has not been evaluated by the FDA” which we sometimes find on food labels.

    Banning is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more serious and potentially disastrous situation at wikipedia, which is the exclusion of new knowledge.

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