A community exists as a social fiction between a group of individuals who find themselves drawn together by something common - locality, religion, or common interest. A community is a microcosm of society, and the ties that bind people together can be ever so fragile.

Oddly, one often finds that as a society grows, it can create rewards for some form of antisocial behavior. Take a look at any depression era. Some would act out - throwing a rock through a store window - for the privilege of spending a warm night in jail, and getting a hot square meal at the same time. Inadvertent rewards are but a small step - it's when the reward becomes institutionalized that the community must beware.

Example: Curve-based grading

When my mother was getting her degree, she recalls a professor with a strict curving system: 3 people would get an A on each exam from each class; 8 a B, etc. Now my mother was a straight A student, and, halfway through the semester, switched from one class to another.

When introduced to her new class, it was as, "This is Sandee. She always gets an A." She noticed that there was no cooperative learning - struggling students weren't helped by other students, who were afraid of hurting their own grade by helping someone else.

Example: E2 Honor Roll

In its original incarnation, it was designed to reward those who performed well against an arbitrary standard. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the arbitrary standard, it has the advantage that another's performance does not impact your own. With the implemented incarnation, however, the exact opposite is true - the better that someone else performs, the worse that you perform!

A primer in statistics is useful here - understanding measures of central tendency, standard deviation, and how the honor roll is calculated for you. Once you've understood these concepts, note the following:

  • If one of your central writeups is upvoted, your performance metric increases.
  • If one of your central writeups is downvoted, your performance metric decreases.
Now that's all well and good, but note that...
  • If someone else's central writeups are downvoted, your performance metric increases.
  • If someone else's central writeups are upvoted, your performance metric decreases.
Now you're sitting there, thinking, "Hmmm. I've got 35 votes to spend. What should I do with them?" In an ideal world, you'll go vote your conscience - which seems to mean mostly upvotes. In this world, going and performing targeted downvoting - especially of high merit noders (thus lowering not only the mean, but maximizing the reduction to the standard deviation) - provides the best reward for a noder.

This should not be taken as instruction to go out and downvote, of course.