Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Reciprocity Test: Pros & Cons

Political differences are usually projected onto a spectrum with Left and Right designating the two ends. But what defines Left or Right? And doesn’t this approach privilege the ‘centre’ in some way as the most balanced position?

To gain a better understanding of political differences, I propose the Reciprocity Test. Whether people think of themselves as Left, Right, or neutral/centrist/independent, taking the test would help them see where they are situated in relation to others politically, and what underpin their contrasting positions.

Instead of a spectrum, the Reciprocity Test maps its results on a series of concentric circles. The mapping itself is determined by the extent to which people agree/disagree with eight propositions derived from the ethical Golden Rule of reciprocity: as we would want others to treat us with due consideration, we should treat others with similar consideration. The eight propositions are:

• As we would want others not to act in a prejudiced way against us (because of our ethnicity, sex, religion, etc), we should avoid acting with prejudice towards others.
• As we would not want any punitive sanction directed at us without due process, we should not impose any arbitrary sanctions on others.
• As we would want to be protected from the dangers posed by transgressors and high-risk activities, we should back the protection of others from similar dangers.
• As we would want others to help us in desperate times, we should ensure others are helped in desperate times.
• As we would want others to support collective action where it can improve our common wellbeing, we should be prepared to contribute to such collective action.
• As we would not want anyone to amass such wealth and power that would leave us at their mercy, we should not allow anyone to have so much wealth and power that would put others at their mercy.
• As we would not accept any claims put forward by others without the backing of adequate evidence and coherent arguments, we should not expect others to accept unjustifiable claims.
• As we would want to have a say about any important decision that can affect us, we should not make key decisions affecting others without giving them a say.

Those who firmly agree with all eight propositions would constitute the core circle – they are the Pros. They consistently back practices and systems, which respect the needs of others, because they appreciate being treated with similar respect themselves. Beyond them, there are four other concentric circles, representing ‘tend to agree’, ‘not sure’, ‘tend to disagree’, and ‘firmly disagree’. Those who firmly disagree with all eight propositions occupy the fringe of our political disc – they are the Cons. What they want from others for themselves, they are unwilling to reciprocate for others.

Between the core and the fringe, people’s answers may not fall uniformly on one circle or another. Some may answer ‘tend to agree’ to some of the propositions, but opt for ‘not sure’ or ‘tend to disagree’ in relation to others. What we then get is what is often called a spider-gram where the answers are joined up across the different circles (for it resembles a spider web). Spider-grams closer to the core are people inclined towards being Pros, and those with more points nearer to the fringe are people inclined towards being Cons. Those in between are not so much neutral or independent, but just people who can’t make up their minds about their readiness to reciprocate towards others.

Mapping our political differences with the Reciprocity Test helps to show what set people apart, not in terms of their party allegiance, attachment to cultural labels, or stance on single issues, but in relation to their readiness to apply the Golden Rule of reciprocity to diverse interactions with their fellow human beings. People can go on disputing what Left and Right really stand for, but the Reciprocity Test would reveal who are the Pros, the Cons, and those who have yet to decide.

[It may be noted that beyond the outermost circle of the Cons, there is a further category of people who reject the very premise of every one of our eight propositions. These are people who do not want or expect others to treat them with any consideration at all. They shrug their shoulders at being neglected or treated badly. And they see no problem with neglecting or treating others badly. While Pros can try to enter into a dialogue with Cons by probing why the latter refuse to accord others what they demand for themselves, there is little prospect of any real engagement with nihilists, for whom anything goes, and nothing needs any justification.]

Note: anyone interested to read more on the eight propositions and what they may entail, please go to ‘Notes on the Reciprocity Test’.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Bouncers for Cyber Clubs?

Take any club in physical space. In order to gain admission, people have to sign up to the terms on offer. They go in and meet others, some they know as friends, some they have heard of, and many are strangers. They mingle, they join in some conversations and avoid others. Common courtesy suggests that people are free to exchange views respectfully, and everyone should desist from rudely confronting others. So far, so good.

What if some new members of the club were to put on masks and go up to others to shout nasty abuse at them? Any responsible club would warn them about their unacceptable behaviour, and throw them out if necessary. In cases where the abusive reprobates go so far as to threaten other club members, the club would have to consider reporting the individuals to law enforcement agencies to protect the innocent and hold the culprits to account.

But when the club is located in cyber space, however, we are told different rules apply. Club owners maintain that they are not ‘publishers’ and cannot be held responsible for the ‘contents’ that appear in their domain. For good measure, they throw in the claim that their club is a ‘democratic’ space which is open to anyone saying whatever they want.

The inescapable fact is that club owners who set up a meeting place which is under their control, and where the terms of admission are set by them, have a choice in either preventing or facilitating nasty, threatening behaviour against people who have entered their clubs. If they want their clubs to be a free-for-all venue for malicious abuse, where vicious threats can be directed against anyone without consequence, then they should be honest about their intent. Social media clubs making millions of $ and £ out of their members have to decide if their business is to serve as a refuge for unconscionable abusers to quench their pathological craving to intimidate others.

Some may say that any suggestion that the abusive behaviour of a minority should be curtailed is not only an overreaction, but unworkable. But it is hardly an overreaction to expect any reputable club to take a firm stance against anyone using its facilities to launch attacks on its members.

As for how abuse can be detected, evaluated and dealt with, cyber clubs are actually in a much stronger position to determine exactly what is passed from one member to another. A code of conduct can be crowd-sourced. Volunteers for adjudication panels would not at all be hard to find. Decisions can be reached rapidly. Ejection of those who have breached the rules, subject to appeals, is easily implemented. Similar procedures can be set up for referrals to the police for any hateful, abusive, threatening behaviour targeted at anyone with the aid of the cyber club’s facilities.

It’s time to end the pretence that perpetrators of abuse in cyber space can transcend censure. There’s certainly no reason why they should be shielded from punishment.