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The role of threatened ostracisation in decision making

Ostracisation means the exclusion of someone from a social group.

Is the threat of ostracisation an acceptable part of decision-making in an Indymedia collective?

Since Indymedia is generally meant to be very open and inclusive, the threat to exclude someone from the group - to ''ostracise'' him or her - is generally seen as something that may never need to happen in practice if the group has the right sort of ConflictResolution policies and is generally open and consensual and has good communication habits, but could happen in exceptional cases.

So to have a method of ostracisation as a key part of decision-making might seem to be contrary to what most Indymedia participants would feel comfortable with.

The IMC Portland case

ImcPortland has had internal organising problems, and for many months (at least on the date 28 Jul 2003), has on its main information a description of a decision-making method which includes ostracisation as a key part of decision-making.

Since Indymedia strongly respects the autonomy of local collectives, there is probably no point for the network to try to impose any change on ImcPortland. However, the text might be a problem if new collectives accept it naively without realising how ostracisation relates to http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism , in which the exclusion of dissidents and social pressure to conform, at the risk of being excluded or punished, is very strong.

There are reports, in fact, that as of early 2005 the tendency of Portland IMC to 'fasicist' style has reified and become a standard operating procedure which has spiralled out of control and may discredit IMC across the board.

text of ostracisation threat

As of 28 Jul 2003, here is the ostracisation part of the ImcPortland decision-making method at general meetings:


"I block" means "I feel that the group has compromised its own values with this choice," or "If we move forward with this idea, I cannot personally continue to work with this group." The individual making a block should balance their opposition to the idea with their willingness to continue working with the group. Instead of blocking, an individual may also "stand aside" from a decision.

To address the individual making the block, the group will go around the circle to see if anyone else agrees. If no one else does, the blocker is asked if s/he wants to stand aside. If not, the individual needs to give another, new reason to block. Going around in the circle like this can happen up to three times. The individual making the block is then asked if they are choosing to stand aside or leave, and the idea passes.

arguments against the ostracisation threat

The interpretation "I feel that the group has compromised its own values with this choice" is similar to the meaning of a block in most of the references on consensus decision-making listed at ConflictResolution.

However, the interpretation "If we move forward with this idea, I cannot personally continue to work with this group" puts an extremely strong pressure on a concerned individual who feels that a fundamental goal of the group is at risk if the proposal being discussed is accepted. Rather than focussing on communication and better attempts at understanding between the rest of the group and the dissenter, the focus is on a power play and an extremely strong threat against the dissenter.

A dissenter who really is interested in doing what is best for the group, and who genuinely feels part of the group and wants to remain part of the group, can either drop the block despite feeling that something is fundamentally wrong, and the group will continue with a deeply unresolved conflict which superficially appears to be resolved, or else the dissenter will take the risk of being excluded and one of the most valuable members of the group will be excluded.

With the above decision-making method, the only people likely to try to block a decision are those who are not that serious about remaining part of the group, or who wish to emotionally blackmail the group into accepting their point of view.

The latter case is most likely with someone who has clearly contributed a lot to the group or who is quite popular in the group. If such a person makes a block, others may decide to support the blocker in order that he/she is not excluded from the group, despite not accepting the reasons for blocking. In this sense, the big-contributor or popular-person emotionally blackmails the group to accept his/her block. This reinforces the power of the most powerful people, which is the opposite of what a block should be able to be - something in which the least persuasive, least popular people (maybe least popular for cultural reasons, for example) are empowered.

The second paragraph quoted above makes it clear that the goal is use of the threat of ostracisation rather than attempts at better communication. Communication and better understanding take time, while discussion which goes around a circle three times, building up the risk of ostracisation with each round, is more like a poker game where the stakes of losing become higher and higher with each bid, rather than like any attempt at communication.

arguments in favour of ostracisation threat

Anyone who sees any argument in favour is welcome to write this section.
Topic revision: r2 - 25 Apr 2005, EricStein
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