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Social punishment 2/3: communication societies



Social punishment 2/3: communication societies

If one examines the use of social punishment, one sees that that it is 
strongest in the smallest of units (a family - 'if you do that again, we won't
talk to you') and while best seen as a way of keeping order in small villages 
or tribes, is gradually replaced by more formal legal systems, with some form
of judiciary, police and prison as populations gather in towns and cities.

Social punishment also works best with non-lethal 'crimes' rather than murder
and rape, presumably more common in cities than in villages (or cyberspace).

It has been argued that cities need formal legal systems due to the complex
situations created by a large, concentrated population. More people means more
people who don't know (and therefore trust) each other, and leads to more
crime. Taboo and other social punishment can't work because the people are not
as strongly bound together as in a smaller community.

This may be partially true. I would say, however, that the primary reason that
social punishment works in a village is that it is a _communication society_.
People depend on each other (rather than on faceless municipal corporations or
public utilities) for most activities. Most of all, they depend on each other
to _talk_ - for social interaction. Social interaction is a far more important
component of life in a village than in a big city. It is because of this 
greater need for communication, rather than the size of the population, that
ostracization is so effective.

Cyberspace is also a communication society. While McLuhan's Global Village
has become extremely cliched, in this aspect cyberspace does resemble a 
village. People on the Net may not be dependent on each other for food and 
clothing, but they are for almost anything else concerned with a cyber life.
There is thankfully no Internet Municipal Corporation that takes care of all
roads (net connections), supplies (of information and public keys), and order 
(through centralized credentials or certification). Most would be repelled at
the thought of such a thing.

Cyberspace is full of vibrant communities that do little else but talk. Social
interaction is at a higher level than at any time in history. The 'crimes' 
committed in cyberspace are non-lethal and primarily violations of protocol.
Like the other communication society, the tribe or village, cyberspace is well
suited to a system of social punishment. 

It's not as if taboos and ostracization don't already exist in cyberspace, to
keep people within the few unwritten rules that exist at present. Flames,
newbies, kill files etc. As a variety of activities take place in cyberspace,
from digital cash transfers to elections to escrow, the number of rules will
grow, but there is no reason why the system of punishment cannot be equally
effective.

No, I'm not saying that you can solve electronic fraud by putting a name in
your kill file. More recent technologies - cancelbots, reputation systems
(in concept if not in fact) - can make social punishment in cyberspace 
highly practical.

And in cyberspace, if noone reads your posts, you're dead.

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Rishab Aiyer Ghosh             "Clean the air! clean the sky! wash the wind!
[email protected]                   take stone from stone and wash them..."
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