Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf

Ted Lemon <mellon@fugue.com> Thu, 05 December 2013 12:27 UTC

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From: Ted Lemon <mellon@fugue.com>
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Date: Thu, 5 Dec 2013 07:27:09 -0500
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To: Elijah Sparrow <elijah@bitmask.net>
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Subject: Re: [perpass] politics and the ietf
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Elijah, the IETF is well aware of politics, and has been for a long time.   Google "OSI layer 9" for a review.   But what we mean by politics is something very specific.   You might get quite a few answers from IETFers if you asked what "politics" is, but most of them would boil down to this: a political argument is one where a person or group of people bloviate loudly about some position they hold, but cannot or will not expose the rationale for that position to the light of public criticism.

And the IETF has a strong, and I think important, tradition of trying not to make decisions based on such bloviations.   When we do, we produce crap.   When we stick to arguments that can be openly stated and agreed upon, we produce goodness (at least often enough that people keep coming).

As for the question of great power and great responsibility, that's a lovely sentiment, but it can mean whatever you want it to mean.   We've heard at least one person say that we should be careful not to do too good a job, for fear of unstated but clearly bad consequences.   I personally think we should do a better job, because I know people who have been victimized by 419 scams that couldn't have been perpetrated if we had done a better job with SMTP.   I also know people who have been victimized and lost businesses because we didn't get security right in HTTP.

Bruce Schneier has a term that I really like, "movie plot threat," which I think applies here.   The reason the IETF insists on making decisions in the open, and not accepting peoples' word that something really bad might happen if we do X, but we can't say what it will be, is that  these arguments invariably boil down to "put these real people, with real problems, here in the real world, at risk so that we can avoid a movie plot threat scenario."

This is actually a classic example of what we mean by "politics."