Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: [long agreement] What's the deal with Third Voice?

Author:Jeremy Bowers
Posted:9/27/1999; 12:18:31 PM
Topic:Windows apps on Linux: the real reason
Msg #:11501 (In response to 11480)
Prev/Next:11500 / 11502

(In case you're browsing in order, this is in reply to the message Dave referenced on the Scripting News, not a later message)

What you were getting at seems in many ways to be similar to the thought train I was intending to record under the cryptic "Democracy Vs. Republic" section on my Third Voice paper that probably makes very little sense at first glance. How it connects isn't obvious, but it makes sense (to me, anyhow). Let me try to outline it, starting with some stuff about the United States most residents should already know.

(Warning! US-centric message posted ahead! "qbullet.smiley" It does make sense elsewhere, though.)

If you ask most US residents what sort of government they have, most will reply "A democracy." They are, of course, wrong. The US is a republic. A brief review of the differences:

In a democracy, the people vote on everything, directly. The majority/most votes wins (an unimportent distinction for my current purposes). There are no limitations in a democracy, because the people could vote down any limits that may exist. Representation is totally direct.

In a republic, the people elect representatives which function as their representatives. (The US has some additional accoutrements, but, for the most part, Congress makes all laws. Even many executive branch departments have powers that derive from Congress, not the President.) The system itself typically has more power (the Constitution is not as easily voted down, so it has some actual teeth). Representation is indirect, sometimes very indirect (how influential are you on your US Senate representative?).

In many high school government classes (including my own), the teacher, having just explained the above, will hand out a sort of quiz where he asks you to explain which system you think is better, and why.

Generally, the class will overwhelmingly choose "democracy", and the primary justification will be that "representation is direct, which is obviously better then an indirect representation."

Of course, democracy turns out to have huge, gaping problems, such that I can't think of a large country that has actually tried it successfully in the modern times. Even Russian Communism works better (where NOT(Communism SAME Russian Communism), but this just being an example, let's not get into it, OK?). It creates a "tyranny of the majority", where the minority will get totally disenfranchised on any given topic. The republic avoids that for reasons I won't go into. Republics may have a weakness for ideologues (most systems do), but democracy has a pathological weakness for them. An ideologue can manipulate the democracy into making a snap judgement with emotional appeals, so easily that it is unusual for the opposite to occur. Such as when Athens executed Socrates. (I don't know if it happened the way they tell us it did in school, but the story could be true, it's believable, and that's all that matters.)

Obviously, a web page is not a country or a governmental system. As a metaphor for Third Voice, this is abysmal. That is why I'm not using it as a metaphor; I'm using it as a demonstration of the principles I'm talking about, so I can make some points.

Free Speech is good; I will accept that as axiomatic, and I'll accept government by the people as good. (After all, even Communism claims to be governing by the mandate of the people.) However, Free Speech is only necessary for the minority... democracies and Free Speech don't go together very well.

Having typed all this, I can now address what Dave was saying. As he says, The thing I like about the web is that it gives each of us our own space to tell our story. On the web, we all have all the free speech we need. We don't even need to be webmasters... just by posting this message on a provided forum, I have become a "webmaster". (Many people in the TV debate forget that we are all webmasters now, esp. since Dejanews started archiving the Usenet.) If you disagree, you have the right to do so, as usual. That's civil discourse.

But just as in a democracy, where too much of a good thing (people's government) leads to many obvious, practical, and difficult to deny problems, Third Voice can be too direct. It's right on the page, after all. It's even interleaved with the text itself. It turns what at least has the potential to be a reasoned discourse (even if not everything lives up to that) into a mob scene, with anybody posting what they want, right on the original speech itself.

That is the difference. I can't find a link to any of the news stories that covered this, but do you remember when the KKK demonstrated at the one of the southern state's capitals? The police actually had to hold back the counter-demonstrators, who made more noise. And they made more trouble, too; it was the counter-demonstrators who scuffled with the police. We, as a society (the majority), find the KKK's principle disgusting, but they have the right to speak without being directly inturrupted... because this is a republic. In a democracy, where the people's will is supreme, the KKK would probably have been punished somehow for their speech. (And something tells me, though I have no direct proof, that it would be easy for a lot of people to vote high punishments for the KKK, perhaps even death, as they have been so vilified [rightly or wrongly, doesn't matter much; both are distubing].)

With Third Voice, the mob is being allowed in. While the mob can't physically harm the writers of the website, it can do a lot of other things that a physical mob can do; vandalize the site (leaving 1000 of those little note markers will do the trick well), or, more importently, it can simply shout the site down. It should not take a lot to see that this is an infringement on free speech for the original writers.

(Note: "Speaking without inturruption" != "Speaking without contradiction". Please don't argue against me as if I claimed the two were the same.)

The web, without annotation, is a lot more like the republic, but instead of representatives, we have pages, where our opinions are stated/represented, and there are pages where the opposing opinions are stated/represented, and the great dialog goes on. Third Voice "democratizes" the process, and, while that seems good, it will have much the same effect that a democracy has, where it is the majority opinion that will be represented on every page... oh, the minority opinion is still in the original content, but it will be ridiculed and demeaned in all the crude-yet-surprisingly-effective ways that the mob mentality can produce, before the reader is even done reading the original content.

My final point is that this is not theory... it has already occurred. The obvious tech pages, like Microsoft, is full of anti-company propoganda, of course, but the more interesting things are elsewhere. The Scientologists shut Third Voice out of their website within days with a redirection, and while there is a [large!] part of me that is upset in some way that they were the first group to use some of the work I and others had done on Third Voice detection, they were getting shouted down (and I will stand next to their right to speak freely on their own page). The other big example right now is the itself, which, when viewed with Third Voice, is just getting shouted to pieces. You can't tell me that you are seeing the page in the same fashion both without and with the annotations, because humans just aren't capable of "ignoring" that sort of thing. Even if you are, the majority are not. (cf. many psychological studies on the effects of marketing; the only advertisements that are honestly ignored are the banner ads on web pages, which you don't even see.)

Now, as a person, a "user" of the web, you don't have to worry about it much. You can shut it off and see the original site and derive all the benefits of the web. And I tend to agree with those who say that all of the "intelligent" web surfers will shut off all annotation software after a while (although, I would point out that "intelligent" web surfer seems to translate awfully closely to "technically savvy and wise web surfer", which I daresay don't form the majority, even now).

But as webmasters, we do need to worry about that .5% that will be leading the mob on our webpages, and the 20-80% that will still be using the annotation software that was included in the browser (because it's legal, so why not just have everyone use it?). I demand the continued right to speak without direct inturruption, for me and everybody.

(Yeah, it's abtruse, abstract, and seemingly impractical. But it's already happenning, even this early, and I see no compelling reason it will stop. Can you imagine what's going to happen/already has happened to saynotothirdvoice? Gay issues sites? Christian issues sites? Microsoft's web page? The democrat's and republican's are already filled with junk. Visited with TV yet?)

To summarize, this is a verbose way to agree with Dave's "If TV-style DGs take-hold, kiss the web goodbye.", with hopefully a bit of explanation of where that comes from. See you in the next medium... that's where the fun's always been anyhow. I was hoping this time the masses might be able to be involved...

And the thought/question for this message is What are the limits to Free Speech?

(well, that probably uses my byte quota for the next few days; please don't make your replies too interesting, I'm out of bytes I can use to defend myself "qbullet.smiley")

This page was archived on 6/13/2001; 4:52:50 PM.

© Copyright 1998-2001 UserLand Software, Inc.