> From: Nathaniel Borenstein <nsb(_at_)guppylake(_dot_)com>
> Perhaps the rule of thumb is that if the discussion of a topic
> repeatedly deteriorates into arguments about the philosophical
> underpinnings of civil society, it's not a suitable topic for
> the IETF?
Here's an idea, for what it's worth:
One can think of IETF as a sovereign society whose sovereignty is
"IETF publications and events". This society has its own form of
Poltical and philosophical homogeneity within that society is
undesirable and hopefully unachievable. At the same time, it's very
often the political and philosophical implications of what IETF does
that make it worth caring about. Rather than surpressing those
discussions, why not institutionalize them in a way that resolves the
tension between having those discussions and making forward progress
on IETF's tasks?
Maybe a next step (for IETF generally, not just on the narrow issue of
spam) is the formation of formal _political_parties_ within the IETF
society, each founded on a set of explicit principles. Before you
roll your eyes ....
There are proto-parties already, aren't there? Over particular issues
and particular careers, some members of the IETF society already form
temporary, shifting alliances -- creating factions on this or that
issue. Some of those relationships are persistent -- others
transient. The shared beliefs of these alliances are sometimes
narrowly pragmatic but sometimes rooted in the deeper issues, no?
IETF political parties could give that proto-party habit some
structure and better effectiveness. It could contain while protecting
the kinds of discussion that can degrade into flamewars on the IETF
list. Parties could develop and express cross-cutting perspectives on
a wide range of issues. They could publish party agendas and
platforms. They could publish analysis papers in reaction to
particular RFCs and other events. Parties could float candidates for
positions within IETF.
Parties could be useful interfaces between IETF and external political
and cultural organizations: a next-step form of the widely-signed
"open letter". Where there are divergences between what people
within IETF think some of the technology is for and how it is deployed
in the real world -- parties could add an air of legitimacy to raising
the greater (outside of IETF) society's awareness of the issues.
Parties could help to focus IETF participant's messages to the rest of
> The question that remains for IETF is this one: what can we --
> including people like Paul and me who are mutually friendly and
> respectful, but philosophically from opposite ends of the Earth -- do
> together *constructively* about spam?
And where there are deep philosophical differences, such as between
you and Paul, parties could (a) create separate forums in which your
respective positions can be developed, studied, and promoted; (b)
help to depersonalize the confrontations between competing ideas; (c)
muster participents on both sides to perform the search for the best
points of agreement.
Would parties have "real teeth"? Inevitably, if they took off,
successful parties could muster enough support to block even "rough
consensus" on any one issue. But it would take a while to reach that
point and, anyway, my guess is that that would be only a mutually
assured destruction scenario that in practice, led instead to
formations of better-informed consensus.
Would parties partition IETF participants into disjoint sets? I see
no reason why they should. There is no need for "voter registration"
in which people state an affiliation. Individuals could have
multiple memberships and shifting memberships. The parties would
simply be superimposed organizations each of which is chartered to
focus on a particular set of broadly applicable principles.
> For my part, I think we as an engineering community can make a lot of
> progress on the less-philosophically-controversial stuff that won't
> solve the whole spam problem, but that support both of our approaches
The only problem I see with that attitude is that it easily devolves
into hiding away the differences and turning them from an issue for
public debate into an issue for back-room intrigue. There's no such
thing as apolitical engineering, especially within IETF.
It's legitimate to not want to mire the technical work of IETF in
flame-wars. But that can be done without sacrificing open and public
vigilance towards the issues by enriching the political structure of
_IF_ (a big if) the idea of political parties has appeal, it might be
an interesting starting point to think about how some first ones might