EP375 – WordPress – Democratizing Publishing and Democracy!

November 13, 2020

This week on the WPwatercooler we’re going to be discussing if we are democratizing publishing when using WordPress


Jason Tucker @jasontucker
Steve Zehngut @zengy
Sé Reed @sereedmedia
Jason Cosper @boogah
Morten Rand-Hendriksen @mor10

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Episode Transcription

Jason Tucker 0:08
This is episode number 375 of the WPwatercooler, WordPress, democratizing publishing democracy. Sponsored by our fine friends over at ServerPress, makers of DesktopServer they make local WordPress development easy. Check them out at ServerPress.com

Steve Zehngut 0:28
Did you say Episode 375 75? Wow, we’re getting up there

Jason Cosper 0:33
we are. We are

Sé Reed 0:35
these are midlife crisis, can we get a car,

Steve Zehngut 0:37
I’ve already gone through it.

Sé Reed 0:41
I really thought you’re gonna say serverpress.js to just to like, like, there is cool. There’s all of it.

Jason Tucker 0:50
Power on this morning.

Sé Reed 0:54
I’m, like chomping at the bit for this conversation. And so I’m going to just segue into it.

Jason Tucker 1:01
I’m going to say go for it.

Sé Reed 1:06
Um, so for the past couple of weeks, there’s been some things going on in the world, particularly in the US. I don’t know if anyone’s paid attention to this. Yeah, it’s kind of like low low profile. So you may not have noticed, um, but the whole, like, democracy of the United States of America has been, has been a little up in the air for a couple weeks. And, you know, we’re, we’re not really a political we try not to take political stances on the show, we try to respect the spectrum of political belief, especially amongst the WordPress community. face. No, but really, you know, people, you know, have different views on economic policy and whatevs. But given the I’ve just been thinking a lot about democracy, no reason. And, um, you know, it occurred to me that we so much is that the United States is a democracy. And we also have WordPress, that’s core ethos is democratizing publishing. And basically, I have had for the past few weeks, kind of that line from the Princess Bride, if any of you’re familiar with this movie, and rattling in my head, that you keep saying that word. I do not think it means you think it means.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 2:39
What? Is that from the princess?

Sé Reed 2:42
bride? Yeah. Because you keep saying inconceivable, inconceivable, inconceivable. And everyone’s walking around going our democracy. And I’m like, well, then I was thinking about WordPress in terms of our democracy. And it occurred to me that much like the United States of America, the democracy label, or the democratizing publishing ethos is somewhat of a misnomer in our country, even you know, all politics aside, we’ve got the whole democracy idea everyone votes or can vote, some people can vote. But then it turns over to the electors and that’s what actually happens and that those votes can be overturned by for example, the Supreme Court or whatnot or they can be curtailed by and really that kind of like sidestepping of democracy where the theory is everyone gets one vote one voice is really was kind of striking me is stunningly similar to the the WordPress world, including and not including, but not limited to the concept of a dictatorship. That right out there, um, you know, because even though we have democratizing publishing is our ethos, we have a dictator for life. So there’s definitely a bit of a benevolent dictator for life man, for sure. Um, but so we have this kind of competing thing happening that really struck me as similar to the United States. And it also occurred to me that there would be no other person better to discuss this with than Morton, Rand Hendrickson down somewhere in this thing, because he’s got a lot of thoughts on democracy, even though he’s not from yield United States of America. Um, so I really wanted to invite you on here and talk about it with all of us Yahoo’s. That’s really that’s really what it is.

Jason Tucker 4:49
Say American, Yahoo’s

Sé Reed 4:51
American, Yahoo’s who’ve been entrenched in this experiment and you know, a subject to this experiment. of democracy. So I just wanted to really talk about that both for the United States, obviously, but less so and more about WordPress, because, you know, this is a WordPress show and not a totally political. I mean, ideally, I just really like to talk about the US, but we can talk about WordPress since is more relevant. More anyway, I just wanted to discuss that. So, um, what is everyone’s thoughts on? Has anyone else been having this kind of nagging feeling? I mean, I know you’ve been having this nagging feeling for the past like five years. Morton Phil’s

Steve Zehngut 5:33
gonna say this predates our election in the US.

Sé Reed 5:36
Yeah. It’s just such a so high profile right now this conversation, and I just thought we could bring it in and talk about it in terms of, you know, this could be what happens when a democracy is not actually democracy. Mm hmm. Thoughts?

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 5:54
So, I mean, have you watched that new TV show called a brave new world? Yeah, no, which Which one? Brave New World. It’s a really nice book.

Sé Reed 6:07
I’ve read the book, have not reimagined shop. So

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 6:12
doesn’t really matter if you read the book, or watch the show, either will do so in this concept of brave new world that Aldous Huxley mapped out in like the 40s, or 50s, or something like that, he created this world in which the private sphere was something bad, right? Everyone can everyone knows what everyone else is doing and being private or being with yourself only is, by default, a bad thing because it harms society. And that idea stems from the term idiots, which was, which goes back to idiota, which is the Greek term for a private person who chose not to be part of Paulus. Right, oh, someone who

Sé Reed 7:00
Aaron idiot,

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 7:02
who chooses to not take part in the democratic processes that govern their lives. So the term idiot, wow, I did not

Sé Reed 7:13
know that.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 7:13
Wow. Art of back in its mythology, you’ll find all this weird stuff, right? And in contrast to this, to the person who chooses not to look sorry, the problem with a person who chooses not to take part in the policy or in like, public decision making, arises from the fact that if you have a democracy, meaning you have a governance system that is designed so that the people rule, democracy literally means what is it the most and karateka, which is the people and rule, right? You get the situation where there is a people’s rule, but the people choose not to partake? And then decisions are made only by the people who show up, which is a term we hear a lot. Right?

Sé Reed 8:05
Yes, it is, are made

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 8:07
by those who show up. This is late.

Sé Reed 8:08
So that means them call them thinking we’re idiots is actually a linguistically sound. Yes. And they’re not weak because I show up.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 8:16
So there’s a line that goes from ancient Greek and Athens where the idea of a democracy was built to open source governance today. And the problems that occurred back then right around who gets to decide? How is the process made? How do you ensure that there are no undue influences in all the stuff per are persisting today in this sphere, the main difference is, in the open source type mentality, we’ve done away with this idea of you have a populace who all have an equal say, and then they can choose whether they want to partake, instead of taking only the the meritocratic part of it and said, Those who show up are the ones that get to the side. However, to show up and have decision power, you need to be of a certain level, in terms of skill in terms of social interactions, and you also need to sort of be it passively approved by the powers that be though the powers that be are not defined as a specific group. And then on top of this usually have a benevolent benevolent dictator for life, which is a contradiction in terms of like nominal proportions. This is big crystal, this is sort of the the balance right? The the the balance of justice in the system,

Sé Reed 9:46
like the vice president in the Senate, right. That’s how it’s more portrayed, right cast the deciding vote. I don’t know that that’s necessarily at all how it works, but that is definitely how it is portrayed is The more

Unknown 10:02
I read logically the benevolent benevolent dictator for life, so I have trouble saying benevolent benevolent dictator for life is supposed to be the person who points in the direction the project should be going. And then everyone who wants to follow, goes like, goes in line with this direction and follows the direction,

Sé Reed 10:22
kind of like the Pied Piper.

Unknown 10:24
Yep. It’s very much like the history of Pied Piper actually stems from this, the children crusades that happen in the Middle Ages, where people would actually convince kids to join the Crusades and walk down to the holy lands to fight the war, and then all those kids got sold as slaves. But

Sé Reed 10:49
that got dark fat

Jason Tucker 10:52
every night, either.

Steve Zehngut 10:57
All history is dark.

Unknown 11:00
These terms right now all stem from something in history, and usually that is something really disturbing. Yeah, it is.

Sé Reed 11:09
There’s a lot of words like that. Don’t start looking up etymologies you just be talking anymore. Maybe I should do that.

Unknown 11:16
But I think in the context of WordPress, if you want to go down that path, the term democratized publishing refers specifically to what WordPress does to the people who use it not to how WordPress often

Sé Reed 11:29
what it does. Like what it allows them to do, as opposed to like what it does to them crazy.

Unknown 11:39
No, no, very much what it does to them. It gives people like, the idea is that WordPress would give people the capability of publishing, right? Right, having that voice that voice and and, and take control over their web presence and put their voice on to the internet. Now, the interesting thing is, if you want to boil it down to just that basic fact, WordPress is basically just saying I am an online, I am a web application, because all web applications do that. Right? If you like democratize publishing with a watered down definition, like that applies to everything Facebook, Twitter, talking on right now, like don’t

Sé Reed 12:13
give Zuckerberg any ideas. So

Unknown 12:15
it’s not it. The definition of democratizing publishing in the WordPress context is not defined beyond the term itself. I mean, I asked Matt about this at wordcamp ages ago, the answer was basically just means what it says, which is what I just said, you’re defining what the web is. So it’s, it’s problematic in that it’s so poorly defined. But the idea the core idea of giving people the the capabilities and agency to publish their own content online and have control over it is a solid one, if it was only actually applied in the policies and practices of the project itself, right? Because we want to say, our project doesn’t have to be WordPress can be anything if someone says, Hey,

Unknown 13:09
yes. So if you have a project and you say, our goal is to democratize publishing, then you have to go one step back and say what are the necessary conditions for democratizing publishing, right? And we define here democratizing publishing as every single person on the web, who has access to the web and the technology means necessary to use it should be able to publish content on the web, what are the necessary conditions for that to work? Well, that is things like access to inexpensive, stable broadband internet for everyone, that is access to an internet that is not being censored by ISP, or governments so that people’s voices are censored before they even reach the platform. It also means that the people that use it are not cannot be subjected to any type of onerous activity on behalf of other entities in terms of preventing them from seeing saying certain things. But within that realm, we also have this idea that free speech, as defined as like you can express your opinion does not also allow you to express opinions that directly infringe on other rights from other people. Meaning even though you can say what you want to say, there are certain limits to what you can say because speech acts can actually influence other people. So if you say something that insane that oppresses the rights of another person, your speech, free speech rights do not supersede their right to live freedom and liberty and security in person, for instance, right? It’s part of a larger context. Now, all of this, all I just said, are necessary conditions for democratizing publishing. Right? And the only way that you can say justifiably that you are standing for democratizing publishing is if you also defend these things. things and promote these things to the people who make decisions. Those would be governments, those would be multinational corporations, those would be the actual decision makers that govern the web and the internet. And advocacy then go into who makes that the like, who puts those people in powerful? That’s the electorate, right? So all of this stuff, sticks together in this huge loop of participation, power struggles. And then what does it do? Bob says, who decide now? Who knows? Who decides? And who decides? Who decides?

Sé Reed 15:37
Well, that’s just the questions about WordPress, I want to keep asking, Who knows? Who decides? Who knows? Who decides if we can answer those questions, there would be a lot everyone’s like, Oh, we know who decides? And we know, who knows who decides? Anyway, I have a point about all of that. Because, well, two points. One point is, I think that the point that you made about the advocacy concept, that democratizing publishing really would be advocating for access to the ability to publish, as opposed to just the ability to publish with all those barriers. So that makes that’s really your I think you’re really right, totally agree with you in terms of that’s really what that means democratizing publishing, making it available to everybody. But I also think there is oftentimes a WordPress and maybe possibly in actual, like working government democracies, this difference between a voice and a vote, because having a voice is one thing, but having a vote is a whole other thing. Right, like so. In in WordPress, you know, theoretically the voice that you’re given from your website, or even the voice that you’re given on the make channel that you could just, you know, make one up and and have that is not the same thing as a vote. And I think that that is really interesting. Also, in terms of, for example, the United States democracy, because we’re all obsessed with free speech, which is great. And everyone’s like, I have my opinion and whatever. But like, in theory, in the in the in our world, you still only get one vote, that’s ignoring the electoral college and all of that drama and what that means. But the which totally negates the whole idea of one vote. But in in WordPress, the vote and the voice are very different. Because even if you have a voice in the ecosystem, or in the meritocracy, you don’t necessarily get a vote, there are no votes. They’re not made, there are decisions made at meetings, sometimes somewhere. But it also kind of brings in a little bit of the element of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is super nerdy reference I’m going to make when the vogons come and they’re like, what you didn’t see the paperwork that was filed on Alpha Centauri. It’s been there for 40 years, you should have complained then. And that is what I feel like we often do with with WordPress is that we’re often like, well, we talked about it in the main channel at, you know, 3am pacific time for four days. So you really should have been paying attention and it was on one blog post, you know, in like two lines, where we decided that we you know, what, unless someone brings those things up, like recently it was brought up and covered by some of the the media, the WordPress media about the whole PHP thing that would have just that that ticket that PHP ticket about being for PHP, eight, making things good for PHP was just kind of like, disappeared into the ethos unless someone like kind of made a fuss about it. And so I think that that is that there’s there is no democracy within the WordPress organization at all. So that whole concept of democratize publishing, really feel because there’s no vote, there’s no rule. There’s no people rule at all. And so I feel like the split is that the tool and use your argument that we there’s no advocacy there, I would probably agree that it’s not even applicable to the tool that it is democratizing publishing, publishing, let alone the organization. But can the tool democratize publishing at all if the organization doesn’t even follow those same ethos? Like Is that even possible? So to

Jason Cosper 19:31
raise call back to raise a quick point on you know, oh, well, it’s it’s in the make blogs, it’s in slack. telling somebody to follow the make blogs to follow slack for an issue that they’re interested in, is like telling someone who’s interested in US politics to figure out US politics by watching c span. It’ll be on eventually the issue will be surely Or they’ll they’ll cover whatever Senate or congressional hearing, and you just have to kind of hope to catch it.

Sé Reed 20:07
And you’ll see it. do anything about it, you can just watch it happen. Yeah,

Steve Zehngut 20:12
yeah. And you also have to you have to wade through the noise.

Jason Cosper 20:16

Jason Tucker 20:17
So when do we get our like Rock the Vote moment here, like how do we like learn to learn to learn to to register to vote, and then and then figure out how to vote and then go and vote?

Steve Zehngut 20:29
There is no,

Sé Reed 20:31
it’s not even pretending to be that that’s

Steve Zehngut 20:33
you can even you can even put a flag on your car, Jason. And it’s not just a no vote. This is I think that’s how it works here in the US, you just put a flag on your car and then

Sé Reed 20:43
see people to a certain degree, it kind of feels like that is that these are those similarities that really bopping around in my head, like the difference between the people rule or the people’s vote, versus the people just talking a bunch of smack like, and that is really what’s happening here. There’s like, all this noise like you’re saying, Steve, and it’s like, in the US, it’s like, does your voting matter? People who vote on the Republican ticket in California are totally disenfranchise people who try to vote blue in well, better in Texas this time, or better. In Alabama, different in Texas this year. But yeah, say Alabama, or, you know, Arkansas, like if you happen to be more liberal than you feel totally disenfranchised. So I feel I feel like that disenfranchisement is is is really similar to that disenfranchisement that we feel within the WordPress community. And I’m wondering, Is this a problem with democracy itself? Or is it that democracy doesn’t exist? Well, in both WordPress and in the government, and so

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 21:53
cracy is the best of the worst governance models, right? It’s just, you have the worst governance models, and the best one we’ve come up with all the terrible ones is democracy.

Sé Reed 22:07
Yeah, but we’re democracy being a theoretical model, because we’re not actually doing that here. Right. And, but we’re doing that in WordPress,

Unknown 22:17
you. When if every time you approach an open source project, and you say, Hey, we need some sort of democracy here, the pushback from the people in power will always be look at how democracy doesn’t work, right? I mean, you’re all in California, right? California has a bathroom example of this, where there’s an absolute democracy factor to that if you just get enough signatures, you can put anything on a ballot, and then people vote for any all those things, right?

Sé Reed 22:45
And then definitely, right.

Unknown 22:47
If you vote for this thing, which costs 100 billion dollars, then you have to take 100 billion dollars off something else, right. So the cat someone told me was like the California budget is in the permanent deficit, not because any of the money’s actually spent, but because theoretically, it should be being spent on things that there isn’t money for. So there’s all these things that people vote for. That never happen, because there’s no money, and then they get angry with the politicians for not doing it and the politicians are going like I have $100 you’re asking me to do something costs $10,000 How on earth am I supposed to do this? Right? We had a good tutorial race that had this exact same issue where we just had we had

Jason Tucker 23:25
literally anyone and everyone that was running for governor all at the same time. And it’s the one

Sé Reed 23:31
Arnold Schwarzenegger one

Steve Zehngut 23:33
with Arnold. The recall election.

Sé Reed 23:39
Fun fact, he said my diploma, so my college diploma is signed by Arnold Swartz and I, it really feels like it has been completely a waste. It was a complete waste of my four years and my money just for the record.

Unknown 23:52
I’m back in Iceland, in the UK in Iceland. So back in Iceland in like year 1100, or something like that. They introduced this thing called a tng or thing, which is where a representative from each group would go into a central location, and then they would make decisions on behalf of their, their populace, right. So each each little tablet or whatever would select one person to represent their interest in goal and then make decisions with everyone else. That’s representative democracy.

Sé Reed 24:25
That’s so we are basically at the same level as Iceland in 1000.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 24:30
They their system actually worked because they each group would be like 40 people, right, or like 40 households, and they would have very similar interest because they were isolated in some fjord in Iceland, right? Like because glacier is coming. We need to move over there. Can we get help? Everyone had the same concerns within the local community. So the person they sent would represent that community very well. When you look at a country like Canada, or like united states, which is very, very large. And, and you have like one central government that tries to do things for people that live in different financial, social, and even climate zones, apply one solution to everything, it just doesn’t work.

Sé Reed 25:16
And I mean, that in theory is supposed to be the state’s concept, right? Like the state’s rule then, right now,

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 25:22
America is 50 countries pretending to be one country, Canada is 11 countries pretending to be one country,

Sé Reed 25:28
you’re also a little schizophrenia.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 25:30
Europe is a bunch of countries pretending to be America. Right? It’s, it’s this, this doesn’t work that way. So, like, problem with WordPress and democracy, you need to go back and look at the original ideas of what open source ideology is, because those ideas were written by, like socialist, libertarian crazy people who thought that if you just make enough open source software, corporate control of open source will simply collapse. And nothing will cost money anymore. Like you read the original new Manifesto. It’s a political manifesto of we just put open source into the world, we will destroy corporate power.

Sé Reed 26:15
Good job what it is, they don’t get it. No, no, wait,

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 26:19
no. It’s completely detached from reality. Because it says things like, when you need something to be done, someone will just do it out of the effectively out of the goodness of their heart. The reality though, is if you read like, if you read the new Manifesto, and you read the what is it called the cathedral and bizarre, they both have this underlying premise that if we just do this corporate power will disappear. What has actually happened is corporate power is the only thing that contributes to open source, but the things that people don’t want to do, right, so whenever the issue or some major problem, the only people who are willing to pay anyone to do any work, are the corporations, and they’re just infringing and taking control. Right? And

Sé Reed 27:02
to do it are getting paid when they’re not willing to do it.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 27:08
Right. And then you have that the people who started these projects, also then say, hey, I want to make money from this. So they start cathedrals that look like bazaars. And then they say, hey, look, this is the same thing. But it’s actually not, but you won’t be able to tell the difference. And whenever the bazaar does something good, we’ll just incorporate it into the cathedral. But when the cathedral does something good, we’ll keep it in here because that earns money. Right? And that’s where the power problem is. And that’s when like Michael Sandel published a book this year, about democracy about meritocracy. And he says meritocracy is the tendency of winners to inhale too deeply have their own success. That is the definition of Wow, the people who sit at the top and go like I got here because I am the best at this. And therefore I should make a little decisions, not realizing that you got there because millions of other people didn’t have the time, money and privilege to be able to contribute, and you gave them no way of doing it. Because you have no funding system, you have no support system, you just sit there and say, Hey, I’m successful, why aren’t you successful, it must be your own fault.

Sé Reed 28:11
Or they they those people actually do give their time and their energy. And because those other people can just be there longer, because they’re paid to be there. They collect all of that bounty and claim it as what they did. They’re like, well, I’ve been here for a year doing this. And these people have only been here for three months. And they may have helped a little, but it’s us, and then claiming it and putting it on there.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 28:35
One minute left. If you want to see a model that kind of works differently, and it kind of has an indication of maybe being the right way to go, is it

Steve Zehngut 28:44
look like the Hunger Games? It’s the Hunger Games, yes.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen 28:48
Foundation, das Foundation, they’ve created a system so that things that are considered infrastructure actually gets funded, right. And decisions are not made by the contributors randomly by just pushing for things. There’s actually oversight committees in the hierarchical structure that says, Are these things worth investing in? Is this a direction we want to go? So they’re basically taking responsibility. That’s what a project light workers should have. It shouldn’t have a full on democracy, but it shouldn’t have some form of structure that ensures that decisions that are made are made for the right reasons, and that there’s transparency in that decision making process. But as long as the people who settled the top either say I’m not interested in having this conversation, or even worse, say, I don’t have any power, then.

Sé Reed 29:34
Right? That never gets said, You know, I gotta tell you, I would be happy with the electoral college version of democracy and WordPress. We don’t even have like, Can we just get to that level and then we’ll move next to the next one. I think we should you Steven, which topic next week and refine the topic further, because I’m refining this topic.

Steve Zehngut 29:55
Always, always run away from the cornucopia not toward the cornucopia.

Sé Reed 30:00
Don’t get it

Steve Zehngut 30:01
in the Hunger Games.

Sé Reed 30:04
I’ve never I’ve never heard of the middle let all the people run through this. I

Steve Zehngut 30:07
can’t you do not get you got to go out to the woods out to the woods. You’re only gonna survive if you go out to the woods. Alright.

Sé Reed 30:17
And I love talking about this stuff because I am political geek. But I would love to talk about what Stephen is talking about and hit refining that refining this topic. I think this is something that’s really on me.

Steve Zehngut 30:29
Not me, Stephan Carnam somebody way smarter than me.

Sé Reed 30:32
Zeek talking about him, anyway. Yeah, thank you for talking about this, by the way with us. Yeah. And bringing Latin etymology into it.

Jason Tucker 30:47
Exactly. Alright, folks, thank you very much. Here’s our outro go support us over on Patreon. Go to patreon.com/wpwatercooler. We’d love it. If you were to help us out over there. There’s a fine folks that are helping us out over there. Subscribe, click the bell to be notified. We appreciate that. And if you’d like to listen to us as a podcast, you can do so as well. Go over to the wpwatercooler.com/subscribe to learn and subscribe to this podcast on any of the podcasting networks that are over there. Thank y’all very much. Have a good rest of your day. Enjoy your Friday or whatever day it is that you’re watching y’all later

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