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Social Isms

November 15, 2010

Sorry to disappoint anyone for the lack of full entries lately–anyone?–but in case you hadn’t already noticed, you can look to the right-hand side of the blog for more continuous posts of more irreverent links.  I’m trying to keep it in the style of my old Minifeed, for those of you who come here just to kill time or for an entertaining/interesting diversion.  In that sense, my tweetering is an attempt to relay some of the things I love most about the Internet, an activity that is simultaneously fueled and represented by Reddit.

The linking-and-commentary that both Reddit and I provide gratis is simply how humans derive satisfaction from their interactions with one another; money need not enter the equation, even though “work” is performed by all involved.  And in that sense, yes, both this blog and the community behind The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear™ are steeped in activities that I am proud to consider essentially anarchic and socialistic.  As I’ve wailed on about before (and as any Economics 101 lesson will indicate), a producer need not charge for non-rivalrous (i.e., non-scarce) goods because another person’s enjoyment does not diminish the enjoyment of anyone else’s.  When I post a link, the enjoyment I get from a comment or a one-on-one conversation I get with someone who brings it up to me after the fact is enjoyment enough to justify the activity, and everyone else gets to benefit.

In fact, in Reddit’s case, the network effects of admiration and gratitude allow people to achieve personal satisfaction from helping others in the real world of rivalrous goods and services.  Voltier has provided an excellent summary of anecdotes of the amazing acmes of altruism achieved by anarchic attitudes on Reddit.

The upvoting system has had a number of remarkable results. For one thing, attention-seekers who post outrageous or intentionally offensive links and comments are generally downvoted by dozens or even hundreds of people with remarkable speed, pushing their noxious posts down into obscurity within minutes.. But the most extraordinary effect of this system has been the emergence of a very large, very influential altruistic movement on Reddit.

Redditors who post questions, problems, and even requests for help are very often upvoted by hundreds, and this gives their issues weight in the community. They can get their message out to thousands of people, if just a few dozen think their cause is worthy. As a consequence, Reddit has become famous as a forum for nice people, where kindness is encouraged and applauded and cruelty is put in its place.

Even more amazing has been the flood of selfless generosity on Reddit. The upvoting system has encouraged the Reddit community to be brave. As a general rule, Redditors are not mocked or scoffed at for offering advice and support to one another. The result has been an unprecedented swell of uncontrolled, unmitigated, and often unsolicited help and succor. From using software prowess to help clean up family photos to donating thousands of dollars to an individual’s cause, the Reddit community has come out in force time and again to help one another.

Condensed for your pleasure, here’s Voltier’s top 25 picks of “Reddit’s Astonishing Altruism.”

  1. Reddit Secret Santa
  2. Girl with Huntington’s Disease Given Shopping Spree
  3. Operation Birthday Boy
  4. Reddit Restores Last Photo of User’s Mom
  5. One Random Redditor Buys Another a New Monitor
  6. Reddit Helps Injured Boy Win Pepsi Refresh Grant of 25k
  7. Reddit and the Rally to Restore Sanity
  8. Reddit Buys Disabled Man a New Wheelchair
  9. Outpouring of Gifts for a Redditor with Cancer
  10. Reddit Starts a Suicide Prevention Site
  11. Reddit Reunites a Member With His Birth Mother
  12. Reddit Restores an Online Reputation
  13. Reddit Helps Pay For Member’s Mother’s Funeral Costs
  14. Redditors Aid in Murder Investigation
  15. Reddit Brings Family Music Heirloom to Life
  16. Reddit Fulfills a Teen’s Birthday Wish and Gives Thousands to Charity
  17. Reddit Helps Procure a Visa for a Popular Web Comic Author
  18. Reddit User Gives $30 Tip to Man Stiffed on Huge Pizza Delivery
  19. Thief Who Stole a Redditor’s Car Tracked Down
  20. Reddit Correctly Diagnoses Fellow Redditor’s Cause of Severe Depression, Saves Her Life
  21. Small-Time Developer’s iPhone Game Made a Hit By Reddit
  22. Reddit Helps Make Dream Come True for Dying Man
  23. Reddit Buys Young Woman A Hearing Aid
  24. Reddit Community Saves Small Business
  25. One Redditor Finds Another’s Long-Lost Art

And there are other, more mundane examples that I have seen pop up on Reddit lately, including random assistance to (near-)starving students motivated by no discernible reason more self-serving than one Redditor seeking love or respect.  Of course, in that event, the exchange is mutually beneficial.

One could easily argue that Reddit demonstrates that socialism actually does work if it’s done in a non-coercive way, which was the Marxist point in the first place; human nature has some growing up to do if socialism could ever work on a large scale.  Of course, everyone implicitly knows that socialism works on a micro scale; the most famous socialistic unit is the nuclear family.  Think about it; where else does the maxim of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” get more purely played out than in a family?  However, conflict invariably arises when that ethic is required of people who don’t accept love as legal tender.

In a way, at the other end of the spectrum of community activism to effect real world change is 4chan’s /b/ message board.  Symbolic of its alternative tact, 4chan’s take on “socialism” is as delightfully trollish and illustrative as one might expect from the most profoundly anarchic community on the Internet:

The juxtaposition of approaches is illustrative.  Whereas 4chan’s /b/ makes its name by abjuring all social norms of sheer human decency that might otherwise provide a backstop to their antics, Reddit’s community controls the ethic and the ethic achieves greatness through recognition of the highest angels of our natures, not the lowest common denominator.  I have some faith in Reddit because, whereas /b/ isn’t likely to work hard to achieve something practical and positive in earnest (like, say, the New York Times’ “You Fix the Budget” challenge), I think Reddit might.  If the Rally™ was any evidence, Reddit seems to be approaching a critical mass of regular real-world participation that is so elusive to most online communities.  The wisdom of those enlightened crowds might yet shine through.

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