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Practical Ethics: Poaching

HM Solomon I

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This part of a new series called Practical Ethics, which will be about the ethics of affairs across the Cyberverse.

This entry will be on poaching, which for the purposes of this article is defined as soliciting a member of a foreign alliance to join your alliance without that alliance's explicit permission to do so. The question is whether this is ethically permissible. This is actually a rather complicated question because for many the gut reaction is to say no, but it brings up issues of consent, ownership, and even the nature of alliances themselves.

What does it mean to be a member of an alliance? Does being a member give that alliance exclusive rights over you? It seems that the answer is yes. Joining an alliance does mean giving up certain freedoms, and it certainly gives alliances the right to a level of control over you and your nation, but the interesting question is where does this end? How much control is really turned over upon joining? There must be a limit as nations can and do leave alliances and join others. Certainly there is a limit to be found there. That limit is that alliances can never really possess ownership. Alliances never own their members, which means that those members don't give irrevocable exclusive rights to the alliances that they join. Because of this, nations can revoke those rights and grant them to another. By virtue of this, can others solicit nations to exercise their ownership?

While nations possess a right of revocation, if you will, this doesn't necessarily mean that foreign alliances can solicit its use. For one, only the nation can exercise it and until they do, the alliance it is currently in possesses exclusive rights, that, while revocable, are valid until revoked. So do alliances have as one of these exclusive rights the right to exclusive communication with their members? It seems difficult to justify this because a right to exclusive communication hardly seems necessary to the functioning of an alliance, and nations really only grant those rights which are truly necessary to the functioning of an alliance when joining. Any rights that are not necessary are never granted by implication, they must be explicitly granted by a given nation, and are not automatically provided upon joining. To state otherwise would be to violate principles of consent by assuming too much without reason to do so. No reasonable nation would assign rights beyond which are necessary for membership itself since it can be assumed that reasonable people will want to reserve as many rights to themselves as they can.

If alliances do not normally possess the right to exclusive communication, then other alliances would be within their rights to message nations with solicitations of membership. However, there is a massive caveat to this. If alliances do not possess this right, then nations do, which means that they must, by implication, have the right to control communication with themselves. So they can decide not to accept such solicitations, and alliances should respect this stance because to do otherwise would be to harass, which by definition is unwanted communication. I think we can all agree that harassment is something that is not ethically permissible.

What it comes down to is this: poaching is allowed in the sense that alliances do not really have the right to control who their members communicate with, but that said nations do have such a right and thus nations, and not alliances, decide when poaching is over the line and when it isn't. By default (i.e., in the absence of a nation deciding to exercise its rights over who may communicate with it), poaching is ethically allowed as there is nothing inherent to alliance membership to indicate otherwise, and there would have to be if it was by default not ethically permissible.



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I'd personally draw a distinction between individual contact between people who know each other, and mass messaging an entire alliance of strangers to join. Varying degrees.

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I don't think such a distinction is necessary, communication is communication; alliances do not possess the right to exclusive communication and so by default anyone, whether they be alliances en masse or individuals, can message anyone else. Nations though can draw a distinction and decide not to accept some but accept others.

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You do give up some rights when joining alliance, but you never give up the right to self-determination.

This is a CN ethical norm, most of us have believed for a long time that poaching is something we shouldn't do.

That being said, there is certainly a history of many of the greats of this game breaking CN norms, and so we have to be prepared for certain ways this game may trend to.

The real question here is, if a poached member really dislikes or thinks so little of their current alliance, perhaps it wasn't the right alliance for them to begin with.

The real question this poses is on alliance sovereignty. Is a poacher violating an alliances sovereignty? Is alliance sovereignty even worthy anything in CN?

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If we had no rules against any level of poaching, we'd all be mass messaging each others alliance every day. It would be super annoying, and some people join alliances just to avoid all the recruitment messages in the first place. Now these people would have no place of solace!

If the member were interested in hearing all that, they could leave the alliance. They could search out new alliances. We don't stop them from doing that.

We just stop other alliances from unwarranted or en masse recruitment attempts. I see it as an alliance sovereignty issue.

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If we had no rules against any level of poaching, we'd all be mass messaging each others alliance every day. It would be super annoying, and some people join alliances just to avoid all the recruitment messages in the first place. Now these people would have no place of solace!

If the member were interested in hearing all that, they could leave the alliance. They could search out new alliances. We don't stop them from doing that.

We just stop other alliances from unwarranted or en masse recruitment attempts. I see it as an alliance sovereignty issue.

I don't think anyone has ever done that on an alliance-wide level. RV used to message some people on other AA's, but he was the only person I remember really doing it.

The more interesting thing to consider is what MI6 does, in that we befriend people from around the cyberverse, tout our achievements, and let these members realize how great we are, and then end up joining us.

Is it an act against alliance sovereignty? Perhaps, I think you could make a strong argument that it is. But is it not also against an alliance's sovereignty to tell them who they can and cannot recruit?

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I don't think anyone has ever done that on an alliance-wide level. RV used to message some people on other AA's, but he was the only person I remember really doing it.

Because never has an alliance been cool with someone doing that. Although, NSO did do it to TDO because TDO is weak and isolated. So NSO didn't give a damn if TDO tried to do something about it.

If people didn't think they'd be rolled for it, I think it goes without saying that people would try to poach en masse. I know I would.

The more interesting thing to consider is what MI6 does, in that we befriend people from around the cyberverse, tout our achievements, and let these members realize how great we are, and then end up joining us.

That is more interesting, and admitting it's done with the intent/hope to steal members makes it even more interesting.. but so long as it's done in moderation, and without actually ever asking the member to join, you'll generally (maybe always) get away with it.

Is it an act against alliance sovereignty? Perhaps, I think you could make a strong argument that it is. But is it not also against an alliance's sovereignty to tell them who they can and cannot recruit?

I wouldn't tell them who they can and cannot recruit, but if you try to recruit from my alliance, I will push for war. We are just protecting our own. Telling me I can't declare war over it is another breach of sovereignty.

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If I found out a foreign entity such an alliance was mass-messaging my alliance membership I would not hesitate to advocate war against them, not out of fear of losing members but rather because it is an infringement on my alliance's sovereignty.

Poaching only affects those who are willing to be poached, though: if you lose members by the scores you should probably check out what's wrong with your own alliance.

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The more interesting thing to consider is what MI6 does, in that we befriend people from around the cyberverse, tout our achievements, and let these members realize how great we are, and then end up joining us.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not trying to recruit someone every time I talk to them or befriend them.

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If I found out a foreign entity such an alliance was mass-messaging my alliance membership I would not hesitate to advocate war against them, not out of fear of losing members but rather because it is an infringement on my alliance's sovereignty.

Poaching only affects those who are willing to be poached, though: if you lose members by the scores you should probably check out what's wrong with your own alliance.

My thoughts exactly

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If I found out a foreign entity such an alliance was mass-messaging my alliance membership I would not hesitate to advocate war against them, not out of fear of losing members but rather because it is an infringement on my alliance's sovereignty.

Poaching only affects those who are willing to be poached, though: if you lose members by the scores you should probably check out what's wrong with your own alliance.

By saying this, you're implying that alliances do have the right to exclusive communication with their members, which means you need to justify that. It isn't enough to just say that it violates sovereignty, how and why both need to be answered. I've outlined above some reasoning why I think they don't possess such a right, if you think otherwise, then systematically refute it. Trust me, I'll be more than happy to be proven wrong. :)

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I did give some reasoning here:

If we had no rules against any level of poaching, we'd all be mass messaging each others alliance every day. It would be super annoying, and some people join alliances just to avoid all the recruitment messages in the first place. Now these people would have no place of solace!


People don't like spam. Not everyone hates, but most don't care for it at the very least. Too much and it can be disruptive for actual communications the nation or alliance is trying to get done.

We have a right to protect our members from that.

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The whole concept of poaching is kind of absurd. In non-democratic alliances or clique democracies, leaving for greener pastures is often the only real way for your voice to be heard, voting with your feet as it where.

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I can tell you why it seems so weird - what you described isn't poaching. That's someone wanting to leave of their own accord.

Poaching requires recruitment attempts by a foreign alliance.

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I don't think anyone would treat mass-messaging campaigns as anything besides harassment and violation of an alliance's sovreignty.

At the end of the day, we live in a global cyberverse, where members are encouraged to make connections and friends with people outside of their AA.

Since this is the case, it is only natural for people who are friendly to want to share membership in one alliance.

The question then becomes, is it a violation if two people who are friendly to try to recruit one another to each other's alliances?

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I think the confusion with many "ethical" questions is a lack of understanding of the basis of original alliance power. People start from the assumption that when a nation joins an alliance the nation is somehow giving up "rights" to the alliance when that is not correct. We're not giving up rights, we are chosing to band togher with other nations and agreeing to protect each other. An alliance is essentially a MDMAP between its members with each other. The leadership of an alliance, regardless of how they are chosen, are the public "face" of that MDMAP. Thus whether or not any outside interference with the alliance is a cause for war is determined by the alliance based on how they individual members chose to view the act.

Practically speaking regarding the matter of "poaching" - it is a violation if, and only if, the understanding of the members of the alliance to what they are agreeing to defend each other includes being free of solitication from other alliances. If that's not part of the internal understanding, then it is fine. However by most alliance standards these daqys - being free of spam once you join is part of the deal. After that point the question becomes what, if anything, the group as a whole (i.e. the "alliance") is going to do to stop it.

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That sounds a lot like what I said, with some purely semantic changes. I even said that it isn't ethically wrong by default, meaning that members could decide that they want their alliance to have the right to exclusive communication. It's just that this cannot be assumed to always be the case.

If you're pledging to defend your fellow members, you are, by definition, giving up the right not to defend them. And you're giving up any rights ancillary to that one, such as the right to use your nation exactly and only as you see fit. It is not something that can be avoided even in the most free form alliances, at least some rights must be ceded to the alliance upon joining.

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Poaching should be done regularly and without regard for other alliances. Why? Because those other alliances are your competition and their well being shouldn't mean a goddamn thing to you. If that alliance wants to fight, then let them. It'll allow for a form of natural selection in which the stronger alliance (whether it be through the strength of their nations or their treaties) will prevail and in the wake of it prove to the defeated members that perhaps, they'd benefit from a stronger community.

It would at the very least, promote the strong and lead to a far more polarizing and entertaining world. Frankly, any moralistic arguments against it are done from a position of weakness because these individuals likely fear the NPO's & IRON's of the world deciding to take an interest in their memberships. And so be it, it's only in their interest to argue against it and so I can't blame them. But the idea of an inherit right towards sovereignty is asinine... your sovereignty is earned through your power (see previous definition) not through any contrived notion of "rights" in an online game solely driven by the interactions of each other.

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Oni, I like how you think.. but your own alliance's well-being should definitely mean something to you, and with the treaty web as it is those fights are going to be costly. That's why it's rarely done outright.

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I really don't know how the web works in the grand scheme of whose tied to whom but looking at it from a pure nations standpoint I wanna say Doombird Doomcave (and by extension Doomsquad) could and should pull it off... chances are nobody will have the balls (let alone ability) to stop them. And what happens then? Well a bunch of pissed of players and nations finally have a spark lit under their asses to either band together and survive, or fall to the pressure and die.

And really I think I have a unique perspective on these sorts of things because I'm not entrenched in the CN community and come from a very different world of gaming that is a bit more cut throat to say the least. But in that same token, that world is much more enjoyable and dynamic.

I just wanna bring a bit of dynamism to a game that from my 3 weeks of observation seems dreadfully dull.

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By saying this, you're implying that alliances do have the right to exclusive communication with their members, which means you need to justify that.

Sovereignty, there's no need for more explanation.

Communication with membership has always been seen as exclusive right of elected or appointed officials thanks to the membership belonging to a specific group with specific values and rules, and specific duties. One of those duties is loyalty, which is infringed by dealing with foreign entities as an individual and not as alliance representative.

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Sovereignty, there's no need for more explanation.

Communication with membership has always been seen as exclusive right of elected or appointed officials thanks to the membership belonging to a specific group with specific values and rules, and specific duties. One of those duties is loyalty, which is infringed by dealing with foreign entities as an individual and not as alliance representative.

This simply isn't the case. By saying that, you're saying that members can't post on the OWF, can't talk to friends from other alliances on IRC, can't send a message to a foreign nation in-game or receive one. I've never heard of an alliance in which this is the case, nor would I imagine such an alliance would attract very many members.

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That sounds a lot like what I said, with some purely semantic changes.

I agree that it is a semantic change, but semantics can and often do matter. To say a nation is "giving up rights" to an alliance by joining is placing the power in the hands of the alliance power structure over the individual nation. Of course the people holding power in an alliance make this claim because it allows them to decide NOT to keep their end of bargain (i.e. in this example to keep individual nations from being spammed) by telling the member that when he/she joined he/she agreed to give up certain "rights" and place the decision of what's best to do with the leadership. If the leadership choses not to do what the member wants, "tough" goes the arguments by the leadership - that's what "you" agreed to when "you" joined "us" - aka: the alliance. However, if one looks as the relationship as an exchange (ie.e "I'll protect you from spam and you protect me from spam") then it's easy to see that if the "leadership" refuses to do something about ending the messages there is no longer any obligation on the part of the member to stay with that alliance. The deal was broken. IF more individual nations looked at it this way, Planet Bob would be a very different place.

If you're pledging to defend your fellow members, you are, by definition, giving up the right not to defend them. And you're giving up any rights ancillary to that one, such as the right to use your nation exactly and only as you see fit. It is not something that can be avoided even in the most free form alliances, at least some rights must be ceded to the alliance upon joining.

I'm not giving up any rights. I'm exercising my right to make deals with other nations for mutual protection. If at some point the other nations fail to meet the deal we made, I can exercise my right to do whatever I think makes sense to me to fix it. If I fail to keep my deal with them, they can do whatever they feel is necessary to fix it.

And really I think I have a unique perspective on these sorts of things because I'm not entrenched in the CN community and come from a very different world of gaming that is a bit more cut throat to say the least. But in that same token, that world is much more enjoyable and dynamic. I just wanna bring a bit of dynamism to a game that from my 3 weeks of observation seems dreadfully dull.

I think you have a unique perspective also. Ever think about inviting some of your friends from that other world over here to bring a bit more of the "dynamism" that you're talking about. This world seems "dreadfully dull" because for anyone other than the leadership of alliances who can engage in the "politics" of this world, it is often dull. Some alliances try to do things internally to change that and some don't - but in terms of interacting here, it's far more fun if you're a leader than a regular member.

The usual excuse here is "well, it is what it is" and people sometimes advertise the lack of action as being a plus - i.e. "it doesn't take much time out of you day to play." Now doesn't that just make you want to jump in and join the fun :D

I'm curious - how many people are playing that other game vs. this one?

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I agree that it is a semantic change, but semantics can and often do matter. To say a nation is "giving up rights" to an alliance by joining is placing the power in the hands of the alliance power structure over the individual nation. Of course the people holding power in an alliance make this claim because it allows them to decide NOT to keep their end of bargain (i.e. in this example to keep individual nations from being spammed) by telling the member that when he/she joined he/she agreed to give up certain "rights" and place the decision of what's best to do with the leadership. If the leadership choses not to do what the member wants, "tough" goes the arguments by the leadership - that's what "you" agreed to when "you" joined "us" - aka: the alliance. However, if one looks as the relationship as an exchange (ie.e "I'll protect you from spam and you protect me from spam") then it's easy to see that if the "leadership" refuses to do something about ending the messages there is no longer any obligation on the part of the member to stay with that alliance. The deal was broken. IF more individual nations looked at it this way, Planet Bob would be a very different place.

I'm not giving up any rights. I'm exercising my right to make deals with other nations for mutual protection. If at some point the other nations fail to meet the deal we made, I can exercise my right to do whatever I think makes sense to me to fix it. If I fail to keep my deal with them, they can do whatever they feel is necessary to fix it.

The problem with this is it assumes that I said that nations give up irrevocable rights; in other words, they give up ownership of their nations. I specifically said that they don't do this.

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