The Internet is Jain: How Gunslingin' Technolibertarianism Leads to Lotus Petals

by Sunir Shah ( of Meatball and Accented Technology


The principles of techno-libertarianism that underly the Internet make it a wild and unlawful environment. Online discourse is a rough business. But without the ability to impose control, the best answer is to entice control. Over the past decade, the Meatball collective has learned how to cope with an unruly Internet, inspired by the Jain concept of non-violence. However, behind Jainism is the tension between attachment and non-attachment. The technical properties of the Internet make this especially vivid. We reincarnate ourselves through anonymous death as identity tourists and our casual insults leave a karmic trace in the Internet archive. But also, there is the joy of meeting people we would otherwise hate on the Street and the unencumbered space to grow into better people. I will describe how I, a Jain, see the Internet.

Author bio

Sunir Shah is the founder of the Meatball society, a collective studying online collaboration, coming mostly from wiki culture. Professionally, he is a technical consultant to the non-profit and public sector with the Commons Group and a social software developer with Socialtext. He is also a Master's student in the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto. Sunir was born and raised in Canada to Gujarati Jain parents, themselves born in Kenya. He grew up in small town Ontario, disconnected from their culture yet connected by the Network to another. And in the wake of the crash, 9/11, globalization, and the open source counter-movement, he found life rudely disrupted by the very wires that were changing everything. He writes, “Searching for meaning, I have found a centre in my parents’ culture, what I learned through a thousand acts of living.”


Much of the text below comes directly from MeatballWiki, and so it is proper to credit the Meatball collective in part for the authorship of this paper.

See also

1. Introduction
2. Jainism overview
2.1. Karma and Reincarnation
2.2. Jain vows
2.3. Non-violence
2.3.1. Violence is unavoidable
2.3.2. Violence is necessary
2.3.3. Strength in weakness
2.4. Critical points
3. The Internet
3.1. Technical summary
3.2. Libertarianism
3.3. Consequences
3.4. Summary
4. Meatball
4.1. Meatball culture is Jain
5. Jain Technology
5.1. Explicit karma
5.2. Soft security in practice
6. Conclusion
7. References

1. Introduction

In my field of facilitating online collabation there are presumptions (e.g. Kim, 2001) about the way to keep order that are based on traditions that are wholly Western. We have moderators in a hierarchy of control. We keep records. We assign scores and ratings to people. We have metric to measure trust.

I am the Founder of the Meatball collective, an altogether extremely unique endeavour on the Internet today. We have spent the last four years trying to figure out just how to reconcile the amazing potential for collaboration that the disintermediation on the Internet brings with the dangers disintermediation also creates--but we have done so in our own way. Our goal is to build a society that remains open to newcomers and yet remains coherent in the face of troublemakers, all without the use of systemic, structurally biased force. This is not for some lofty utopian ideal. It's for the simple prosaic reason that no one wants the responsibility of dealing with trouble, yet we all want to live trouble free.

The more I do this, the more I realize that the obvious solutions to the problems in this environment coincide with the religion of my parents. Jainism is a religion born more than 2500 years ago in India, whose greatest modern proponent has been Mahatma Gandhi. While I have to admit that I do not adhere to it very well, the more I understand about life and Jainism, the more I see the parallels. I have come to the conclusion that this is no mistake, but something necessary to the nature of the Internet, or at least the aspect of the Internet we work with.

I'll admit as well that the title of this essay is a fallacy. It really cannot be true that the Internet, an artifact created in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s and 1980s primarily in the United States, informed by the particular values of a particular group of technologists, could really be characterized by a religion founded over 2500 years ago, a sociological phenomenon, a means to Salvation itself. Rather, more prosaically, it is simply my interpretation of the practice of the Internet informed by my values as a Jain.

It is therefore wholly situated in my experience, and wholly deficient through my own deficiencies at interpreting this religion of my ancestors. After all, I did not grow up Jain, even if my parents were Jains. I was born in southern Ontario and grew up in Deep River, a nuclear research town in the Ottawa Valley. I have a healthy dose of Canadian secular society underpinning my thinking. As a software developer by training, I am more Platonic than religious scholar. Thus, I write this with a healthy dose of self-effacement. I am no authority. But I can only ask the reader to recognize my perspective.

My objectives are to demonstrate that

2. Jainism overview

Jainism is a religion stemming back over 2500 years from India. It's not a very popular religion. At the last major census, only 3.2 million people in India call themselves Jains. That being said, it has managed to survive all this time because it continues to provide meaning for its practitioners.

Jainism is situated near Hinduism and Buddhism. When it was founded, it was in large part a reaction against the Hindu Vedic traditions current at the time. Yet at the same time, Jain society has mostly integrated itself with and even identified itself with Hindus. Meanwhile, Lord Mahavira, the last and greatest Thirthankara of the Jain tradition was a contemporary of Buddha. There are some indications that Buddha started off life as a Jain monk, in the sense that ascetic monk traditions at the time were more or less of one tradition.

While discussions of Jainism's place in the pantheon of religions are fascinating, they are out of scope for this exercise. Rather, it would serve us better to just describe the core essence of what is Jainism.

2.1. Karma and Reincarnation

Jains believe that time is infinite. There is no beginning, no end, and no creator. Each of us--including animals, plants, demons, and gods--is constituted by a permanent soul that undergoes a neverending cycle of birth and death. Whenever we die, we are reincarnated into a form of being that reflects our station in life as determined by our actions in our previous lives. If we have done good things, we end up in a good station, even as a god; if we have done bad, we may end up in hell.

Underlying this belief is the concept of karma, which literally translates as action. Unique to Jainism is the concept that karma is a physical material, albeit impossible to detect. This physical material affixes itself to our immortal soul as a form of memory or data that records our every action in the world, for each of our lives. This karma is not inert; rather it interacts with the world to cause the soul joy or suffering. The more bad we have done, the more bad karma we have accumulated, the more bad luck we will have in the world's affairs. Conversely, the more good we have done, the more good luck we will have.

The reason we are reincarnated is twofold. One, it is the logical outcome of the above discussion. When we are born, we have yet to have acted in this life, and yet we have already been stricken with good fortune or bad, say being born healthy into a wealthy family or being born poor and diseased. Further, we never experience the results of our actions. Good deeds may not result in suitable rewards in this lifetime, and bad people may enjoy a fruitful life. Therefore, if you perceive as life as being beyond a single birth and death, but a continuation of many lives next to each other, then the motivations and consequences for the events if your life may extend beyond your current life time.

The second reason we are reincarnated is that karma holds the soul to the cycle of life and death, as it must act out its consequences eventually. Jainism holds that the ultimate salvation is freeing a soul of karma so that it might escape the cycle of reincarnation, and thus avoid suffering.

An good exemplary case to understand is the nature of gods. Even if you have done so much good you are reincarnated as a god, you will eventually die again. And so, gods, living in luxury, have no motivation to escape their karma. Moreover, they do not have opportunity since they cannot suffer in order to extinguish latent karma. Consequently, they are reborn in a lower station in life and undergo suffering once again. And thus, there is no wordly escape from suffering except to escape the cycle of reincarnation.

The purpose of Jainism is to teach methods to first stop karma from accumulating (samvar) and then burn off karma attached to oneself (nirjara). In essence, Jainism is a religion of non-attachment (also known as personal detachment). The more the soul is attached to things in the world, the less it is able to escape the world.

2.2. Jain vows

Jains make five major vows that stem from their desire to be personally detached from the world:

  1. Ahimsa - To protect all life (NonViolence?)
  2. Satya - To speak truth
  3. Asteya - To not steal
  4. Brahmacharya - To not commit adultery
  5. Aparigraha - To limit one's possessions

For the purposes of this discussion, we shall focus on the foremost Jain vow, non-violence.

2.3. Non-violence

Violence is bad because it is destructive. Literally, it dismantles structure. Physical violence destroys physical material, such as damaging property or injuring a person. Psychological violence unravels the emotional and mental framework of the victim so that they may not be able function as effectively nor feel very good. Destruction is expensive because it requires more energy and effort to put things back together, if that is even possible. Some violence is traumatic, leaving scars or open wounds that have not healed (e.g. the World Trade Center destruction or the bombings of Iraq left an open wound on the planetary psyche). Some violence is fatal, like Revolutions gone wrong (e.g. towards the Congolese government). When someone undertakes a violent approach as a means to an end, they do so believing that the value they are destroying (or the value it takes to replace it) is less than any gain they might acquire. This may be because they do not hold the same valuations as the victim(s), such as a rapist devaluing his victim's psyche.

We must seek to avoid violence, and to do this we must infuse our lives with the principle of non-violence. The principle of non-violence often conjures an impression of weakness. We are taught since childhood that the only effective means to defend oneself against violence is violence in turn (tit-for-tat). In fact, some of us are encultured to believe that is wrong to avoid violent conflict and that we must step up to confront it. The world is a tough place and we have to be tough to live in it.

However, the problem with responding with violence is that begets more violence. Just as you feel you must respond to violence with violence, your opponent will respond to your violence with more violence. You enter a conflict cycle that you cannot escape, and this cycle may degrade into a death spiral if it steadily increases in intensity. Further, violence teaches violence as conflict resolution. If one watches violence, one is more likely to think it is acceptable, or at the very least, it will teach a new behavior. Witnessing violence need not be indirect; one may only see the outcomes and know that protecting our communal property is not a community expectation. This is why we must always be vigorous in defending each other. Finally, if one is a victim of violence, one is more likely to pass on the violence. If someone does violence to us that we cannot fight, we sometimes project our anger onto others. This is human nature, and it sadly makes violence a virus that spreads throughout society.

Non-violence seeks to escape the conflict cycle. This actually requires a lot of strength. In fact, unreasonable strength to do so in every situation, but it will result in less violence over all. As mentioned, it will avoid an escalating conflict cycle; it will also avoid teaching a culture of violence. Further, if all of us were non-violent, there would be no violence. Thus, while it is not an easy solution, it is the easiest. The strength needed is an investment.

2.3.1. Violence is unavoidable

But of course, violence is unavoidable. The world is an open system, not a closed one. Some people may come to us with violence even if we are not violent to them. They may not have any other method of interaction than violence. They may have psychological disorders. They may be immature. They may be oppressed by your class, even if not directly by you. Being non-violent in these cases is the hardest because there may not be anything you can do.

Competitive life is brutal. It's difficult to give so much of yourself that you will support those less meritous than yourself, especially if they are so much less efficient that they waste your time, patience, money, or love, which are all precious commodities. Non-violence is a sacrifice for a greater good, but some sacrifices are too much. Sacrificing your own happiness is violence unto yourself. Further, competing interests may be vicious, not just annoying. They may intend to hurt you to gain your resources, say by going to war against your country or your race. These people must be stopped somehow. Some believe this requires violence, as it is a trade off of violence now versus much more violence later. Others believe warmongers can be stopped through civil disobedience and low-scale resistance, assuming of course that civilians won't be killed. Others believe perhaps fatalistically, that it doesn't matter in the long-term because any society that is that destructive is sowing their own destruction by wasting so many of the most important resources (people).

We are also not perfect. We do violence to others without thinking about it because we cannot be holistically and omnipresently aware of everything, nor can we realistically control for everything. We step on ants, we buy products made in third world sweatshops, we pay taxes to bomb other countries, we misspeak encultured hate. Life is tough and complex. Sometimes we also have bad days or have bad things happen to us, and our moods hamper our fairness--we enter into blinding anger. And violence is a virus as said above, so victims may transfer our violent reactions to others.

Some have dreamt of an utopian world where we are all non-violent. This is impossible because the world is a traumatic place. Violence may be a natural disaster; that is just how it is. The goal of non-violence is to mitigate for the brutality of life as much as possible, between humans and nature, and within human nature.

This utopian world is also boring taken to an extreme, and it is boring because it will accomplish nothing. Nothing will happen in this world, value will not be produced, and that is because violence is necessary.

2.3.2. Violence is necessary

Of course, violence is not always bad. It is in fact necessary, as all things are violent because everything is finite, even cyberspace. Creation is destruction. When you create something, you destroy resources. Yet, destruction is creation. When you destroy something, you free resources for new creations. At some extreme point, everything degrades to a zero-sum game. (Or even a less-than-zero game, due to entropy.)

Further, acting is violence, for a choice excludes the others. But inaction is also violence, for the world degrades on its own (entropy), so it demands our attention to maintain it.

Violence must be controlled towards a higher purpose; it becomes a balancing force against inefficiency. It is the selective force in evolution. Evolution is brutal, but it makes things better. The goal is always to produce something of greater value, to always add value, and sometimes that means subtracting value from somewhere else.

This tension underlies liberalism and capitalism as the ideal of competitive virtue. That is, in a free market, the fear that one may rise while you may fall will propel each to strive harder in an escalating race. While in fact this is valid, it can only be done at a backdrop of safety and fairness or else one's fall may be greater than one can bear, resulting in excessive suffering. From an economic efficiency point of view, it's important to mitigate risk of competition as well, since otherwise only the already well off (and therefore those with prior safety nets) would undertake the risk of trying, the risk of living.

Similarly, a little healthy conflict and a little fair criticism is actually very constructive. But in these cases, the "violence" is intentional and controlled. Cooperating often provides more value than competing. In this case, a much more valuable approach may be to seek common ground through common context to find a superordinate gaol that allows all parties to win.

It is only violence against living things that is of concern, and that includes violence against societies and violence against economies and violence against ecologies. Why? Because living systems are actually the machines that add value. The goal is to maximize every living system's ability to add value.

2.3.3. Strength in weakness

If you practice non-violence wholly and completely, you must put with insults, rebukes, criticisms, and assaults. You should never retaliate nor wish to offend anybody even under extreme provocation. You should not entertain any evil thought against anybody. You should not harbour anger. You should not curse. You should be prepared to lose joyfully even your life in the cause of Truth. For Jains, the Ultimate Truth can be attained only through Ahimsa.

And so, ahimsa is the utmost bravery. It demands courage. Ahimsa is not possible without fearlessness. Non-violence cannot be practiced by weak persons. Ahimsa cannot be practiced by a man who is terribly afraid of death and has no power of resistance and endurance. It is a shield, not of the coward, but of the potent. Ahimsa is a quality of the strong. It is a weapon of the strong. When a man beats you with a stick, you should not entertain any thought of retaliation or any unkind feeling towards the tormentor. Ahimsa is the perfection of forgiveness.

2.4. Critical points

The critical points to remember for the discussion below are that

3. The Internet

The Internet is not quite as old as Jainism, but it is fairly old by contemporary standards. Built in the 1960s, the Internet has been primarily a venture of a particular subculture of American developers who had a particular vision in mind. That vision has social ramifications. Lessig (1999) has written eloquently on the ramifications of the architecture of the Internet on law. But there are wider social implications by its fundamental nature.

The Internet is based on The Internet Protocol (IP) is the fundamental protocol that underlies the Internet. As a protocol, it is not that complicated. Its objective is to provide a standard way for packet-switched networks to inter-operate. As such, the Internet is not a single network, but rather a network of networks; hence internet.

3.1. Technical summary

Defined in RFC 791 (Information Sciences Institute, 1981), the protocol has two basic functions: addressing and fragmentation of data. Fragmentation is very interesting. It means that a large piece of information, like a web page, is broken into a string of very small pieces called packets, datagrams or segments which are independently sent out on the Internet. Each piece has no knowledge of the other pieces while it is being transferred over the Internet. Each piece may travel a different route across the network and thus they might arrive in a different order than as they were sent. Some might get lost in the network, following dead ends or going around in circles. They may get stuck on a server. Thus, every packet has a time limit that it lives before the network destroys it. This timespan is embedded in the packet.

Built on top of the InternetProtocol? are two transport protocols. One, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is the protocol used to reliably ensure a stream of information gets to a peer host. It has a sufficient amount of overhead bookkeeping to ensure that all segments arrived as intended, including retransmission and flow control. The User Datagram Protocol (UDP) on the other hand is used when data loss is acceptable, such as when streaming information that is temporal like an Internet radio cast. If you lose information for part of the stream that has already played, it is not a big deal since it will never be replayed, and so it is more efficient to just send as much data at the other end as possible.

The source and destination addresses of a packet depend on the network it is sent over. As the Internet is really a bunch of networks sewn together, for each network, the packet has to be routed over that network from one point to another. This may result in changes of address as it crosses networks, since each network might have a unique internal addressing system. The boundary between networks is called a gateway. The gateway has two addresses, one on each side of a network. The gateway's job is to forward packets between networks, translating addresses if necessary.

3.2. Libertarianism

The architecture of the Internet was intended to create certain social outcomes. One important goal was that because the actual InternetProtocol? is so simple, amounting to "passing notes", it puts all the application-level complexity at the ends (Saltzer, Reed, and Clark, 1984; Isenberg, 1997). This end-to-end design means that the Internet does not favour one application type over another, but rather facilitates any type of application that could be conceivably created on top of it. This is likened to the road network which does not control what type of person can travel it or for what purpose. You can drive to the beach, truck lumber, or drive military vehicles all on the same road network. In this way, it's more proper to consider the Internet as communications infrastructure than a content distribution system.

It also means that there is very little opportunity for a third party to exert control and order over Internet activity. Attempts to control the middle will be routed around. We know this scenario well, since attempts to control criminal activity or censor content on the Internet are routinely routed around. This means that appeals to government to regulate behaviour on the Internet are often futile. Rather instead it is incumbent upon individuals to sort out the problems themselves. This was most famously stated in John Perry Barlow's (1996) A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. To quote him:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

... You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don't exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

3.3. Consequences

The freedom inherent in the structure of the network has consequences.

Because information on the network only needs to know where it currently is and where it has to go, the conception of where it came from is not particularly relevant. As such, tracing a message directly back to its originator is non-trivial, and in fact impossible with just the Internet Protocol alone, particularly since the protocol relies on the honour system to maintain the integrity of the source address. This means that anonymous communication is greatly facilitated by the Internet Protocol. Moreover, since the network is a network of networks, there are numerous political opportunities to hide authorship. One gateway may opt not to disclose the nature of the network on one side to the other. Further, information may be sent to one network which then retransmits it as if originated from there.

As a result, the Internet encourages anonymous communication. This is by design, but it has serious consequences. It empowers people to act out their innate desires. In regular physical society, they are inhibited by accountability.

Consider that as the Internet grows more and more popular, more and more people have come online, and they naturally are communicating with each more and more. The history of online communication has been replete with conflicts that are unique to the media in which they are expressed. While most conflicts are the kind we face daily, a certain type of conflict seems most particular online. Trolls prey on open communities for their own entertainment, seeking to do nothing more than sow discord for the sake of it.

“Trolling” is a phenomenon that has become a prevalent and pronounced problem for online communities. The canonical definition for trolling comes from The On-line Hacker Jargon File [TJF], version 4.4.7 (2003), “To utter a posting on Usenet designed to attract predictable responses or flames; or, the post itself. Derives from the phrase ‘trolling for newbies’ which in turn comes from mainstream ‘trolling’, a style of fishing in which one trails bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite.” Trolls seek to sow discontent within a community by drawing hapless victims into futile and endless arguments for either personal amusement or vindictiveness. Most communities actively quash trolling. This creates a paradoxical problem because a “freedom of speech” still remains an important and pragmatic ideal to healthy community management (Mowbray, 2001).

Although the earliest reference to trolling in the Google Usenet archive was Miller (1990, February 8), trolling has only been recently described by the literature, initially by Donath (1999), who used several anecdotal examples from various Usenet newsgroups in her discussion. She provides a concise overview of what trolling actually means socially to an online community:

"Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings and, upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they--and the troll--understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group.

"Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling--where the rate of deception is high--many honestly naive questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one's online reputation." (Donath, 1999, p. 45)

Long term trolling results in community dysfunction, and thus trolls are loathed online. Their goal is to inspire long conflicts that bring out the worst in us. So, when DejaNews? began to offer an archive of Usenet articles in 1995, suddenly all these conflicts were recorded for posterity. The seriousness of this was most famously made fun of in this Dr. Fun cartoon:

(Farley, 1996)

With the Internet Archive ( project now, not to mention the fact that any individual can keep records of any conversation, it is becoming increasingly likely that what you say or do on the Internet will be recorded for posterity.

Further, and much more problematic, the power imbalance that anonymity creates unlocks behaviour that would otherwise be inhibited in our society. One telling study by McFarlane? and Bocij (2003) suggests that stalking behaviour online changes dramatically due to the anonymous nature to be about power over individuals than about sexual attraction.

3.4. Summary

The critical points to remember for the discussion below are that

  1. The Internet is designed to be minimize control in the centre of the network so to maximize power at the ends.
    1. This puts the locus of control in interactions on the parties involved rather than the society they are embedded in.
    2. Consequently, negative behaviour increases.
  2. The Internet also increasingly records your actions.
    1. Consequently, your reputation is at stake.

4. Meatball

In April 2000, I founded the Meatball project to explore "collaborative hypermedia". Mostly, it provided a common space for wiki developers and proprietors from all over the Internet to collaborate and organize themselves as a collective.

Wikis are communally editable websites, where every word on every page can be modified by each and every person. They are consequently highly collaborative spaces, where no content is explicitly controlled by any one person. Wikis were first implemented in 1995 as the WikiWikiWeb? by Ward Cunningham as a backend to the Portland Pattern Repository. Influenced consequently by Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press, 1977) wikis architecturally are heavily-crosslinked hypertext, where each node in the hypertext represents one concept (e.g. a Pattern). They are identifiable not only by their universal editability, but by their simple "page name is link name" equivalence.

4.1. Meatball culture is Jain

Meatball primarily organizes itself on a wiki called MeatballWiki?. As a result, the entire collective's operations were open to be edited by the entire world. Yet, I made the choice that even as the founder of MeatballWiki? that I did not want access to the server or special administrative access to the site. A consequence of this choice was that I could not use special technological powers to enforce social control, even banning IPs. Any technical power, such as deleting pages, we insisted on providing equally for everyone. Since wikis do not provide normal users any technological methods to limit participation, this did mean that MeatballWiki? was left at the whims of social forces. We were forced into a position of weakness; and just like Ahimsa in Jainism teaches, that forced us to be truly strong of character.

Activity on a wiki such as ours is not like many other places. Like many other text-based communications media on the Internet, as all of our conversations happen through text on the site, all of our conversations are recorded by the system. This feels often like the breath of our words freezing in mid-air. However, the site remains malleable. Conversations can be edited. History can be undone, or refashioned. Old dialogues can be condensed into tight summaries. In fact, normal dialogue can be altogether replaced by simply ammending an ongoing document. Why waste words on salutations and hedging. Why say "I think..." when you can just say? We can always change it later. So, often people have a conversation simply by working over the same text again and again, directly "talking through the document." Over time, the document reflectcs the opinion of all who've worked on it. Further, these conversations do not exist in a temporal context. Conversations from the past may resume at any time since, once again, everything is editable. This can be quite embarassing, as you might have changed your mind from several years ago. Thus, you are encouraged to avoid signing your writing. This helps immeasurably when "talking through the document" as well since it's meaningless to sign a single sentence in the middle of a paragraph.

Without the crush of ego and without the need for conventional conversation cues and salutations, this aesthetic reflects greatly the Jain ideals of silence (Mauna), laying aside the bad karma of ego (Mana), and diversity and acceptance of opinion (Anekawad). By saying this, I do not mean a hamfisted attempt to relate Meatball culture to Jainism. Because we have forced ourselves to be in a weak position, we have no other way of maintaining order than to encourage harmony amongst participants. People who speak without purpose are trying to take attention for themselves, and this creates conflicts with others. People who refuse to let others edit their writing have not contributed to the collectivity, and thus they create conflicts. Working duefully to listen to people and include their thoughts into our fabric is better than forcibly silencing them.

This has not been an easy path, and we have failed repeatedly. Over time, though, we have learnt the hard way a set of practices we call soft security. Soft security is now the canonical name for the architectural decisions that have gone into wiki design to ensure that their essential openness is not unfortunate naďveité. It flows from a few basic principles. The most basic principle is that we never want to use power to force the issue. That is the essence of non-violent governance. We'd rather collaborate than have a conflict, and we will do whatever we can to do this. Collaboration is a win-win scenario, after all. To facilitate this objective, we try to employ these principles of action:

As you can tell, these are all about non-violence. We begin by trusting people rather than mistrusting them (assume good faith); we include them rather than exclude them (fair process); we limit the ways they can do violence to others when making mistakes (limit damage, peer review); and when they do make mistakes or transgress them, we forgive and forget them rather than hold animosity in our hearts.

5. Jain Technology

We've seen how the Internet facilitates the creation of difficult, problematic conflicts. We've also seen how the Meatball collective is embued with principles akin to Jain teachings, naturally since as the Founder embued it with my own principles. The question is then can there be such a thing as technology inspired and embedded with Jain principles? And the answer to that is emphatically yes. However, we have yet to see why this is so necessary in the world of the Internet. For that, we need to understand the parallel between karma and the Internet archive.

5.1. Explicit karma

Unique only to Jain thought is the notion that karma is a physical material. The Internet makes this the case explicitly. If you recall, karma means action, and on the Internet all your actions are recorded. They are made explicit by the very means the Internet operates: on explicit data. Once the records of your actions are made public in a permanent archive, those actions will be permanently stuck to your reputation. Thus, the Internet is fundamentally karmic in nature.

The notion of a public record is not new, of course, but the difference is that the Internet makes what was previously considered flippant conversation now part of the public record. I call it your "life in text." As you go about your daily business, many of your minute actions become recorded by the network and stored. This goes beyond your conversations in online communities. Your shopping habits, your music tastes, your friends networks. All these aspects of you are becoming explicit data to be crunched, analyzed, and indexed.

And thus everything you do on the Internet comes to haunt you. All the mistakes you made, even those as a child, are mistakes you have made forever, in the public record as The Ghost of Usenet Postings Past reminds us above. Also, all your successes become attached to you. People are attracted by the power law of preferential attachment (Barabási and Albert, 1999) to known winners. You will find your own popularity snowballing, perhaps out of control. We are carried along by our own reputations, good and bad.

Even the Internet's own version of reincarnation--that is, switching from one online forum to another--brings along with it the karma of previous incarnations. Google knows all. It will allow others to find out about your past. Even if you try to mask your identity from one incarnation to another, if someone finds out who you've been, all that reputation will suddenly be there once again to reckon with.

Hence, I have argued that the Internet is Jain, simply because it records actions in text attached to your name just as karma in Jainism records action as metaphysical particles attached to your soul. Or, conversely, one might argue that Jainism is made apparent by the Internet, as now we have all the data to manipulate ourselves as a human race rather than leaving it to the universe alone to reveal it to us in due course. Either way, the parallel between recordings on the Internet and karma in Jainism are informative for the kinds of social solutions that are necessary to keep us all from harming each other.

5.2. Soft security in practice

The principles of soft security have inspired a number of solutions to common problems. Almost all solutions rely almost totally on people to do the right thing. Technology is only introduced to assist the people in their work. Because soft security relies entirely on social forces to maintain order, it remains not only adaptable to new threats, but tolerant in its responses. Conversely, encoded, programmatic ("hard") security is incapable of distinguishing attacks from mistakes, nor can it be argued with, nor can it be held accountable. Generally, soft security seeks to be humane and liberalist rather than impersonally technocratic. Thus, soft security practices leave open the possibility that humans might try to stop accumulating karma (samvara) or even destroy it (nirjara).

For instance, in our system, all changes are reversible by anybody. Even reverted changes are themselves reversible. This means that we do not have to be attached to the consequences of our actions, but rather we are free from them if we are willing to let them be rolled back if improper. The ability to revert a mistake is tremendously liberating, as it encourages people to take chances. If things go wrong, safety can be restored.

Also, while we maintain an audit trail of all actions, the system forgets actions more than two weeks old. While we cannot control what people remember in their own heads, there is no reason for the software to keep a record of ancient history. That way our mistakes and triumphs can be properly forgotten, and our reputations can remain unencumbered.

We further limit temptation. We do not advertise our site. We do not attempt to grow. We do not use fancy graphics. We do not make claims that are false. We do not seek power over others. And we do not claim we are secure. Thus, others are not tempted to come bother us. We simply don't bother them. As our quirky saying is, we aim to be boring to everything except those who are interested in us. Either we have a personal relationship or we don't. We grant everyone the Right to Leave, and that keeps us honest as we do not want our friends to leave. But that also empowers us by detachment us from relationships that are not moving us forward.

6. Conclusion

While it is a far stretch to say that Jain karma theory describes the Internet, it is not a fair stretch to say that Jainism has survived for 2500 years and influenced many in India for a good reason. The social reasons for acting as though karma exists are readily apparent. We remove ourselves from unnecessary conflicts, prevent harm to each other as a collective, and prevent harm to ourselves as individuals. The Internet, in its explicitness, just makes this readily apparent since Google knows all.

The Wiki Way, particularly that of soft security, is one of the hardest endeavours on the Internet. It has taken a lot of patience, and it has left us in many great quandaries of how to move forward. Trolls, sociopaths, and spammers have all sent us back down to the ground on more than one occasion. However, if you see that underlying our technological solutions is a set of principles of social and personal justice, then it does not become so difficult to devise solutions to our problems. We just ignore everything that doesn't adhere.

Over time that will set us further and further afield from the rest of the Internet perhaps, but we also hope that we will influence the Internet just as Jainism influence Gandhi to liberate his country.

7. References

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