Thursday, January 20, 2011

Terminology: Consensus

The first thing I need to mention is that I don't actually know what consensus is. Not anymore, anyway. Supposedly my edit-ban was as a result of my violating the tenets of consensus, but in spite of my repeated use of the question "how?" no one was very interested in actually explaining what it was that I was doing to violate this spirit. Part of this may have to do with what I'm about to write here- while I don't know what consensus means today, I do know what it meant back when major page action was committed through YKTTW.

Consensus was what happened when both sides of an argument agreed that they would accept some sort of resolution so long as it addresses their central objection. The concept was not a particularly controversial one, and in arguments where it occurred it was usually as a natural outcropping of earlier posts. The benefits of consensus-based resolution were obvious- this was the same TV Tropes where people were scared of offending each other by taking initiative in spite of objections. Many of us were looking for excuses to take action, and this capitulation was an excellent one since in theory it made everyone happy.

One helpful part of this idea was some of the subtler points. Posters who simply popped in to write "I oppose this rename" were largely ignored. You can't negotiate with someone who refuses to explain themselves. Those who took the extra step and said "I oppose this rename because" were given special attention- by identifying a central complaint, there was the implication that there was possible reconciliation on a rename provided this issue was satisfied.

It's easiest to demonstrate this by way of example. There was a page called The Magnificent Seven- not the movie, but a trope named after the movie (an admin fiat later forbade such titles). Specifically, the seven varied individuals who team up to achieve some apparently impossible goal, usually the protection of innocents from an external threat. I challenged this title on the grounds of confusion with the movie and proposed a rename. One troper strongly defended the title as being a classical reference to the Trope Maker, the Seven Samurai.

Throughout the debate I came to learn something- while I may have been right in that the title needed to be changed, my attitude about it was completely wrong. Most of the titles I came up with were terrible- this was the reason why the dispute was so spirited. Most tropes named after characters are done in the wrong spirit, but in this case the argument was quite reasonable, as nearly every use of the trope at least references Seven Samurai. Consensus was reached when another troper suggested the page be renamed to The Magnificent Seven Samurai. It satisfied my request for a title that would not be confused with the original film, and it satisfied the other troper's insistence that the classical reference be kept. Because this title satisfied both our arguments, everyone agreed that this was a reasonable rename.

That's the heart of what consensus was all about. We weren't unearthing the correct answer by burrowing into the wiki hivemind. We were creating the correct answer by asking each other questions about what works for a title on this specific change and finally coming to a conclusion that effectively dealt with all the addressed issues.

This worked great when it worked, but many of the early disputes featured differences that were not reconcilable. Jonas Quinn, for example, could either be named after the character or not- there really wasn't any context that would allow the title to be coherent while still maintaining the Stargate reference. Most of the time, though, changes could be well-negotiated. It was all a matter of both sides submitting to the possibility that they could be wrong. Such gestures of humility were, unsurprisingly, not as a popular as the bare-knuckles fights over contentious titles such as Jonas Quinn. This was a real pity in the end, as when discussions came forth to deal with heated disputes everyone, including myself, were more concerned with what went wrong with Jonas Quinn than what went right with The Magnificent Seven Samurai.

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