You Can’t Fix Culture With Policy

NEWS/OPINION — SCP Staff are finally tapping the breaks, but you can’t cure bad driving with speed limit signs.

“We’ve been wrapping ourselves in so much other bureaucracy that we don’t even know where to focus our attention most of the time.” —fabledtiefling, SCP Staff member

I think the SCP Wiki, the Staff most of all, has fallen into this trap which seems to be universal among empires across history; eventually, and because of their self-assured success, the only people in its institutions become those who unquestionably agree with the hegemon’s goals and objectives. Thus, there is no counterbalance. Disagreement of any kind is seen as disloyalty, and opposing views are attacked.

Voicing contrarian opinions is the only way anything will ever change for the SCP Wiki Staff culturally. That is to say, meaningfully. One of the highlights in my posts here is that the Staff is broken beyond a simple repair. They are stuck in a behavioral loop that they are unaware of, repeating the same core action over and over, like broken automatons. This loop is one of self-reinforcement. Most of their issues are knots that defy design, a tangling that comes from their bureaucratic overreach and creep, which they try to solve with more bureaucracy (when they recognize it). Policy printer go brrrrt.

Their numbers have swelled over the years, and more new positions are added than are removed. There are full-time, unpaid internships with less grunt work than what’s here. Participation entails a total digestion of the soul & the rate of burnout is outlandish. They have given themselves so much work, that they can’t allocate enough people to censure two of their top admins, which was proposed a year and a half ago in response to an episode of unmasked power abuse. A retired individual (thedeadlymoose) has taken it upon themself to do this, while the rest of the Staff argue about changing the font for the site, just because. And this person can’t do it alone, but the other admins are too busy to care.

For the efforts the Staff does see through, often times, they do not understand the reasoning or purpose of their products (e.g. Vice Captain, Age Raise), and only inspect it much, much later... and even then, sometimes with no more clarity to show for it. Cart-before-the-horse proposals are pumped out like bird shot. These are primed by the eager anticipation of praise and often make it to the public stage for no good reason at all.

The result is a water-logged & root-bound system. The structure is filled to the brim with people clamoring to be involved for the cult of second-hand, downstream status. Each member is granted the thinnest of purviews, room made for no other reasoning than the insecure desire to count themselves a part of something they think can elevate them to non-peer status. For those already present, it’s to continue control of an initiation rite into a politically-gated in-group.

These individuals are then transformed from authors putting out a literary product for the purpose of the site, into politicians putting out policy proposals for themselves. (Both gravitate inescapably around clout chasing.) The mindset subtly becomes that of a pathologically desperate and psychologically traumatized superhero in those moments that exist after the movie has ended, and the ostensive villain is gone, the wild lovers just sitting at the dinner table, scraping the bottom of their thoughts for conversation (“Remember that one time we saved the world?”), pining for the glory of past years. Crises and catastrophes are slowly encouraged, manufactured if need be, in order to play the role again. Back in reality, this is like a cinema studio that does this ad infinitum, encouraged by an audience that can’t understand they are watching the same movie over and over. This is not a charity, but a cloaked self-service that only the dullest are fooled by. That they can still believe they are helping the Wiki speaks to how rotted on Marvel and social media “activism” their brains must be.

But as of this month, it seems the joyride has finally hit a wall. The strain on the sinew has stretched beyond function and the whole carnival coaster has somewhat detached… a predictable inevitability for those who can’t slow the thing down by their own accord.

A recent O5 Command policy proposal is absurdly meta. It is a policy to suspend policies for a while so that the idea of policy can be torn down and rebuilt. This is called a “Policy Overhaul”, but is also the promised Charter Rewrite of yesteryear. It seems that not enough progress has been made, in part due to other policies always being posited and discussed, and cutting in line.

The OP:

Over the course of the last year or so, we have seen the discussion of policy stretch many on staff thin, with short term policy proposals aimed at band-aiding issues continuing to take up more and more of the staff discussion bandwidth, and diverting attention and effort from the long term solutions that are needed, the most important being the SCP Wiki Charter Rewrite / Policy Overhaul.

Here we see a Staff diluted across so large of a surface area that they have become something of a band-aid printing press, with the stack doubling as their institutional structure. Take for example something like the Town Halls, which birthed over 15 policy changes, none of which besides the Recap Team and Recaps have survived (e.g. remember the we-promise-to-not-be-petty policy change?). Or, take the policy changes from the 2020 underage sex scandal, which have either frittered into obscurity or been actively pushed back against once their utter unhelpfulness was realized (e.g. the Age Raise/Unraise Proposals).

It seems as though the SCP Wiki Staff are proficient and prolific at creating policies that make as little eye contact as possible with the deeper issues, which are cultural. They imagine instead that a concession in the impersonal and removed terms of their rules, their sociological scripture, will fix things by virtue of being stated. This way, the deeper issues that trace from the culture back to themselves don’t have to be recognized. So historically, these amount to little more than a concealed admission of the cultural concerns.

So, the SCP Wiki Staff on the whole are going to try to quit policy proposals, at least those that don’t have to do with the Charter Rewrite/Overhaul. Cold turkey? Apparently. They have vowed to give up new policy proposals for at least 45 days, which beats the Catholic Church’s lent this calls so much to mind by 5. Can they actually do this?

In SCP Staff land, this is the equivalent of the temporary pause for SCP articles during the Mass Edit. Imagine that occurring again in the present day, where so many rely on upvotes on the SCP Wiki for personal validation. A similar sort of junkie, the Staff qualify their pledge by allowing for “an exception of emergency discussion”, which the OP goes on to write is “an existential threat to the site if not dealt with in a timely manner during this time period”. This is the same Staff that unanimously felt that if they didn’t take down SCP-173’s image after the legal tranquility of 14 years, then the SCP Wiki might explode, so what constitutes “an existential threat” seems a bit up for grabs.

In the next paragraph of the O5 Command post, the OP commits an SCP Wiki no-no & unintentionally misgenders Staff members by referring to the collective work force as “manpower”. Ha!

So how are they going to ensure they re-allocate all their “staff discussion bandwidth” to completing this Sisyphean and Herculean overhaul? A policy proposal & vote. The thread goes on to self-diagnose the Staff with an autism spectrum disorder; they take the opportunity to bicker about why there wasn’t a discussion for this first. Classic.

This has not stopped new, even unrelated proposals from pouring in while this vote is occurring. The idea of a memorandum on policy creation has directly created two integral policy proposals so far, and a list has been made on the O5 thread to keep track of any more. Each of these derivative threads also attemlt to solve cultural issues with band-aid level solutions. (About these, OP clarifies: “If this vote passes it will be enacted after the above policies are wrapped up, as they are part of the process to facilitate this overhaul.”)

This should be a strong indicator of the futility of this larger attempt. It’s as if the curtains on the theater stage are starting to close, and the egoist actors are crowding the center, throwing their favorite lines out before it’s too late. (OptimisticLucio seems to have the largest spotlight hunger: “I may be prone to rushing things through, but I’m cool with slowing down as long as we’re actually getting shit done.” — source)

Interestingly, this is not the first attempt at a Charter or Policy Overhaul. According to one Staffer, it has been attempted numerous times before and failed. (This same individual: “also, why no discussion thread for this?” LOL.) Admin ManyMeats adds: “I would take this opportunity to remind people that previous attempts have been ‘failures’ only in the sense that the ultimate objective has not been achieved.”

Another Staffer votes yes and writes: “Because the charter rewrite is the most important thing rn”. This is interesting. It’s important to understand the context of this Charter Overhaul; it came as a result of the Staff’s inability to discipline itself. After the promised censure of long-time and senior Staff members Dexanote and DrEverettMann continually failed due to perceived impediments on the policy side of the process (riiiight), the attention (read: diversion) turned towards the larger Charter as a way to pave the way for such a disciplinary action.

So in a sense, the Staff is incidentally making a moral decision; if this Policy Overhaul is truly inspired by the promise to discipline one of their own in a manner that they effortlessly do for the regular user, then that’s good. However, it is likely this has become its own vine by now, and that most of the users (and, so also the Staff) have forgotten that this huge action was identified as a means. It’s in this way that I can’t award any moral points to the Staff, who are simply robotically doing what they have conditioned themselves to do; enormous policy preening for its own sake.

On the other hand, they didn’t do this for the actual admin’s disciplinary process itself. The prioritization of the Charter Rewrite over the proper dealing of abuse of users is its own mistake and commentary. Funnily, Dexanote himself votes in the thread in the affirmative, coyly by way of a text-surrogate cat emoji… surely glancing from side to side behind the keyboard, unsure if people’s long term memories are strong enough to lift the years-long thread. But back to reading their priorities; this wasn’t done when Staff was addressing proper policy for underage users (and failing); it isn’t implemented for the technical team and Project Foundation, which is easily the most important and best use of time for any of Staff.

The memorandum might encourage more resources to the Charter Rewrite, but it will not slow or cease the flood of policy proposals on O5. People who are chomping at the bit to release theirs will simply wait until the stay is lifted. It’s a lot like those performative acts of slacktivism where a large number of people don’t buy gasoline one day to “stick it to the corporations”… corporations that will simply make up for the anomaly in subsequent days when the slacktivists purchase gas on that Tuesday instead of Monday.

The admins are right to ignore a discussion for this and jump straight to vote. Not only is most of the Staff a line of parrots, but the discussion would only prove the need for the proposal further, behaving as an impediment to action. Decisiveness is the ticket here but the ship is so large and convoluted, it takes years (albeit of half-assed effort) to course correct, or even pass a motion to try. Not to mention, the leaders here are too timid to act with any authority. This is even with the clear demonstration that there is little to no reckoning for their fiat actions and they don’t necessarily have to officially own up to any wrongs.

It is great they are ceasing all policy proposals for over a month to have a self-cleanse from their typical toxins of choice. But it is not far enough. The real fix and challenge will not come simply by halting new policy proposals, or by any policy change, no matter how encompassing. The real fix must be cultural, which means it must be personal. For that, they will have to draft more than just words and votes in O5.

The fix would be to apply the breaks to themselves; to cull their own numbers and reduce their continual surveillance. In short, to go against everything in their own nature that needs to signal to themselves and others how necessary they are. This level of personal sacrifice is impossible to access through the edifice of their bureaucracy. They are de facto incapable of doing this without loosening the grip of their self-importance, and without any leaders capable of this sort of self-imposition, no one knows how. The most of that we’ve seen is a weak self-imposition of “censure” that will cost the entire remnovation of all policy before enacting.

It’s the same song, now with just a larger and louder chorus. Neither the additions of the policy hiatus or the Charter Rework have the strength to change anything significant beyond the Staff’s continual reassurance to themselves that they can safely avoid the tremendous personal problems they model and fractalize into the greater culture.

I believe our internal organization will be vastly improved, and I think it is worth the extra steps needed to facilitate this change. — Vivarium, a bad take and diagnostic sentence for Staff’s issue

But that’s cool guys, continue to spit shine the turd.

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Separation of confic and state. The SCP Foundation Wiki’s most dedicated and hated critic. Co-founder @ Confic Magazine LLC.

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