1. On crucibles and hammers; on ethos and multistakeholderism

    Last week I was given an award.  Something I never expected until I received it.  Even though Fadi  told me a week before that it was scheduled to happen, a part of me never believes something is going to happen until it does because things change; that is just the way things go.

    But it did happen and since then I have been thinking about it on and off.  Thinking about how nice it felt to be recognized by people I would never have expected it from. A novel sort of feeling that was impossible for my natural cynicism to repress.  It is a rather pleasant feeling.

    And I started thinking about what it meant.  The first thoughts that blurted from my mouth after being directed to the lectern to say something, another event I had not expected, were short and contained a mixed metaphor.  Some people have thanked me for making an appropriate length speech and some have questioned why I did not say more. Only a few pointed at the mixed metaphor. I said:

    It is very pretty.

    I am really quite amazed. Truly quite amazed.

    "Ethos," what does that mean? Character? Attitude?

    I have certainly had a lot of that.

    But “multistakeholder,” I truly am devoted to that and I found ICANN to be one of the best crucibles for hammering it out.

    So, thank you very much.

    What did I mean? What is behind these few words?  I have since spent a few days thinking about what I said and this is what I come up with.

    It is very pretty.


    Indeed it is. The facets are cut in such a way as to let the light play.  It has found a space in a dinning room cabinet with other valued things where the light can hit it and the cat can’t.

    "Ethos," what does that mean?

    On being told I had won an Ethos award I starting thinking about the word and what it meant, and what it had meant throughout the history of philosophy.  Yes, I remembered that it was one of the triad of Pathos, Logos and Ethos of Rhetoric.  And that its basic meaning was character and attitude as I had said in my brief remarks.

    Aside: In my ‘speech’ I meant I had lots of attitude, not that I had lots of character and attitude. Seems pretentious to say I have lots of character, though I know I am often identified as a character, and characters do generally have lots of character. Oh, well.

    I started with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the first reference I found was the use in pragmatism.  Seemed a good place to go to understand Ethos in a practical context such as ICANN.  What I found was satisfying and gave me a deeper working understanding:

    The radical and unconventional character of Dewey’s conception of democracy and his political philosophy generally derives from its boldness, which some readers find hard to stomach. The abstract character of conception of democracy is as far from a common and ‘realist’ view of democracy as the name of a set of specific political procedures and institutions as it is possible to find. Participation may not be a good, or appreciated as one, by every individual, such as those who are too shy or busy. Furthermore, it is a bold assumption to hope, as Dewey does, that complex industrial societies can be characterised by a high level of harmony among the interests of their members, to be secured through public discussion and communication. Of course, this very boldness is appealing to others, for whom the connection Dewey makes between an ethos of flexible openness and democratic self-government stands as an enduring critical challenge to a circumscribed democratic pessimism.

    Yes, this seemed to explain a meaning of the word and a proper use quite well, a definition fit for purpose.  It has been a while since I read Dewey, but I have downloaded some free Dewey content to my Kindle to compensate. Over the course of the next months, I will continue to research the word Ethos to see what else I can learn about the word and the expectations of those who use it.


    I spoke of being dedicated to the multistakeholder model.  I am.  I write about it, and I work on it most days.   I am proud to associate with multistakeholderism (m17m for the spelling challenged) as a theory and as practice.  I even go so far as to think I can define it:


    The study and practice of forms of participatory democracy that allow for all those who have a stake and who have the inclination, to participate on equal footing in the deliberation of issues and the recommendation of solutions. While final decisions and implementation may be assigned to a single stakeholder group, these decision makers are always accountable to all of the stakeholders for their decisions and the implementations.

    I believe in democracy and while I see representative democracy as necessary, I do not see it as sufficient for society’s or individuals’ needs.  While I have romanticized the idea of direct democracy at times in my life, I still don’t see it as scaling very well. I also do not see most people as interested in getting involved in many of the nitty gritty policy decisions that society needs to make on a continuing basis.  The forms of participatory democracy, including a variety of multistakeholder architectures and models occupy a point between representation by bureaucrats picked by national leaders, some of whom were elected at some point somewhere, and the ideal of direct democracy.  All those who want to participate, those who bring their stake to table, should be able to participate in determining the path forward.

    I believe that multistakeholderism is a form of participatory democracy that is absolutely necessary in today’s inter-jurisdictional world and that inter-governmental decisions can measure their legitimacy in terms of the depth and breadth of the multistakeholder process that led to the decisions.  Incidentally, I also believe that forms of participatory democracy, such as the variety of multistakeholder models, are as important at the national level, but issues of citizenship modify the discussion and result in a different sort of citizen-stakeholder model.

    In terms of the inter-jurisdictional issues I am involved in, whether Internet governance or Human Rights on the Internet and for threatened peoples such as the LGBTQI community (aka the global gay community) most everywhere, yes, I believe that full legitimacy demands full and open multistakeholder participation on an equal footing in making recommendations and decisions.  And I believe that those who are given the privilege of making ‘treaties’ should participate and should craft their agreements based on the results of the recommendations that emerge from those processes.

    In terms of inter-jurisdictional areas I am not involved in, I expect that something similar is the case.  Time, study and experience will tell the extent to which these considerations are generalizable.

    People argue that multistakeholderism (m17m) should not be an end in itself. I disagree.  Yes, the issues at ICANN are indeed important in themselves, regardless of what methods are used to resolve them.  Solving those problems is the primary goal of the work in ICANN.  But developing new democratic methods is necessary in a world that cannot make just decisions.  The quest for Democracy, as an ideal and as practice, still has long way to go, and the work on multistakeholderism is work on Democracy, a goal that is most important in itself.  ICANN has declared itself a center for multistakeholder action, and that is a good thing, a necessary thing, a thing I am proud to be part of.

    Hammering and the Crucible

    Definitely a mixed metaphor.  One that sent me scurrying to the web to see if it could help me wiggle out of it. In the attempt, I read about crucible steel and read about the importance of hammering before something went into the crucible and hammering again after it came out of the crucible.  While it is true that one does not hammer in a crucible, things are made strong by the hammer and the crucible used together.

    ICANN provides an excellent crucible where all stakeholders can come to work their concerns into the mixture. And then, after the application of heat (sometimes a lot of heat), these same stakeholders work to hammer out solutions from the consensus mix that is produced.  I find excellent parallels between the making of crucible steel, and the forging of multistakeholder solutions at ICANN.


    Then again, perhaps as one friend told me, I should drink champagne and dance on the beach in celebration  Well, while respecting the concerns of the GAC on .vin and & .wine,  I had lots of wonderful Prosecco and I did dance about my room - close enough. 

    I really am tickled, pleased, and honored by this award.

    I will try to remain worthy of it.