A few months back, the German Pirate Party had some sort of breakthrough. After winning a few local elections, they suddenly soared up in polls, hitting 13% at their prime. This shook a number of people out of their political slumber—myself included. Suddenly, the seemingly so deadlocked political landscape was shaken up. Maybe, just maybe, we can actually change something?
This is the story of one who went to become a pirate.
Geeks in Politics
The Pirate Party had come under attack in public media concerning rampant sexism and Nazi ideologies at times. I figured those, while having a true core, were mostly the media trying to discredit them. But better be sure.
After heaving read a lot of stuff on the Pirate Party homepage, both on the federal level as well as on the local level for my state, I figured as an inhabitant of IRC for close to 15 years that joining their IRC channels would be a good start to see if I like them.
The channels I joined were a help channel, a general chat channel, and a political discussion channel. That setup sounded sensible to me until much later when I learned how it came to that. But let me start at the beginning.
The general chat channel was the one with the most traffic. On my first day there, I saw someone regularly post pictures of car crashes with women next to them. I didn’t understand what he’s going for at first, but after the fourth I got it: “Lol, women can’t drive cars, rotfl” or something. He also didn’t react to my prompts on why he is posting them. After having seen a few other clearly sexist remarks, I started a discussion about just that topic: Sexism. Suddenly, I was faced with strong hostility. I’m “just saying that because of the public media trying to paint them that way,” I “should provide proof,” and whatnot.
After having shown “proof” in the form of chat logs that, indeed, in the last hour there were rather rampant sexist remarks on that channel, the discussion simply died off with no apparent reactions or conclusions.
This proved to be typical of the channel. Problems arose, be it with sexism, homophobia, racism, simple hostility, or trolling; I pointed them out, and I was told I’m wrong or overreacting.
At some point, I got to chat with the ops of those channels in private. Turns out the help channel and the politics channel I mentioned above were created because the main channel was overrun by trolls. Their very strict and inclusive moderation principles, decreed upon democratically, didn’t allow them to be any more restrictive than they are. They also were close to burn-out and just didn’t have the energy for those hour-long discussions anymore. So conceding the space to the trolls and creating new places for actual discussions was their best option. While I was there, they even created a semi-public “only for regulars” chat channel to have fewer trolls around.
The epitome summary of this whole thing was one guy who had picked me out as a censoring, oppressive person because I point out sexism when it happens. He used sexist language repeatedly, and generally tended to insult me when I raised the topic with anyone. I tried to raise the issue with the ops, and was told he’s a recurring offender, and “they have an eye on him.” From the good dozen incidents I witnessed during that time, he was given a temporary, few hour ban exactly once. Usually, the problem was that his actions were bad but “not quite that bad,” and they couldn’t allow recurring behavior to affect their decisions, that would be “unfair”. And once, they told me they couldn’t do anything because they have to react with punishment immediately, not retroactively based on logs. Yeah, too bad that at the time it happened, no op had been around.
When I raised all of that with the ops, and how that channel is completely hostile, they told me they understand, but that they can’t do anything about it, really. But I shouldn’t worry—almost no one on those channels is an actual member of the Pirate Party, so I shouldn’t let the official IRC channels of the Pirate Party influence my opinion of the Pirate Party.
There had been some political discussions on IRC, but they had been on such a low level intellectually (i.e. pretty basic stuff) and such a high level topically (i.e. nothing concrete on how to implement the rough ideas they came up with) that I looked for alternatives for actual political discussion.
Turns out the Pirate Party was very open, very transparent and very inclusive. Their mailing lists on which (supposedly) all political discussions happened were public, and there was even a forum that gave a web interface to the same lists. Great, I thought. And boy was I wrong.
I subscribed to a number of lists I found interesting, lurked for a while, and then joined the discussions. To make one thing clear upfront, in my whole time on those lists, I didn’t gain any knowledge on the topic at hand. But the experience was still … special.
The forum for the discussion of the Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) was dominated by a debate between two people who were “discussing” whether the GBI should be paid for solely by a negative income tax, or solely by a consumption tax (like the VAT). It was a textbook example of a false dichotomy. I put the quotation marks around “discussing” because both of them simply reiterated their arguments over and over again with no change. If someone dared to try and argue with them, or even point out when their premises were simply factually wrong, they became condescending and insulting. They also hijacked other people’s discussions, no matter what they tried to talk about, and pointed out that their respective solution already had the answer to everything, so no further discussion was needed.
Unusable, and pretty bad for my blood pressure.
The other forums were better than this, but not by much. The majority of people discussing there had little to no prior education on the topic, so the level of discussion never reached anything beyond normal internet politics discussion.
And still, I was reassured repeatedly that this is the only place official pirate political discussions actually happen. I was really hoping for the pirates that they have secret places for their discussions somewhere, because else, I doubted they could get anything done.
Recently, I read a news report that one major dispute (party program) was solved by a group of pirates withdrawing from the official discussions and writing up a proposal all by themselves, and then putting that for vote. It won.
Admittedly, I giggled.
So, what do I draw from this.
The German Pirate Party at least in the first half of 2012 was a bunch of geeks who applied the typical geek social fallacies to political debate.
Ostracizing anyone was strictly taboo (GSF #1). Even the most disruptive people can not be evicted from anywhere because that’s cruel and oppressive. This resulted in most discussions being overrun with idiots, while the sensible people had long given up and gone elsewhere. Also, it set precedence for others on what is acceptable behavior. The Pirate Party can be proud of having introduced the English word “shitstorm” into the German mainstream media.
Conversely, everything has to be open to everyone. Transparency was a major selling point for the Pirate Party, something they wanted to do different from the other parties. They were completely unable to deal with the negative consequences. Discussions necessarily happen on the level that most of the people involved can follow. If you have a large group of people actively discussing something, it is incredibly difficult to raise the level of discussion beyond basics.
I’ve now read repeatedly about the Pirate Party trying to change with regards to those problems. The repeated Nazi problems got them to be more careful in who they accept into the party. Some of them apparently realized that smaller discussions can be more effective, despite all the technological advances we have. But there’s still a lot of resistance to that.
Maybe now that the hype is over and the pirates hover between 6 and 7% they can slowly start to cope with these problems. Sadly, though, they burned out a lot of good leaders they had. And I suppose they already got rid of a number of good possible politicians.
I’m not sure if I could have been a good politician, but I sure as hell will not even try in the Pirate Party.
On the other hand, they did shake me up out of my anti-party political slumber. So I am at least grateful for that.