Issue XXVIII of The Northern Lights was intended from the beginning to be WA-themed, and seeks to accompany the WA Symposium hosted by The North Pacific a few days ago. This Issue includes a host of authors from around the NS world discussing their views on the WA. It is our hope that The Northern Lights becomes a recognized place to discuss issues that confront NS as a whole. As always, no views espoused in this or future Issues represent the official TNP government stance unless otherwise stated.
El Fiji Grande
TNP Minister of Communications
World, Assemble: Why Every Region Should Participate in the World Assembly
Like any aspect of NS, the World Assembly has no shortage of critics and proponents, and a wide variety of perspectives for how best to utilize or mitigate its impact on the game. And that is true just by looking at the dedicated subset of players who engage in the WA every day. Expand the lens to the game as a whole, and that collection of opinions and ideas for the WA grows a great deal larger. As of the writing of this article, there are close to 25,000 nations in the WA, eclipsed by the over 175,000 nations the game currently boasts (keeping in mind that a great deal of those nations are puppets and not all separate individuals). Considering that player influence grows the more endorsements a player has, and a region’s voting power in the WA grows with each endorsement given to delegates, this discrepancy seems strange. Why is it that such a significant part of the game is underutilized? Granted, it can be hard to mobilize a great number of people to endorse delegates, to get them to agree to be part of a collective effort that doesn’t always give them a tangible benefit and many times appeals to their pride or regionalism. And a lot of people oppose the WA because of the extra votes delegates have, benefiting more populous nations at the expense of those who cannot muster the same number of votes.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that all regions should make the effort to include WA activity as a central pillar of their governments’ agendas. The WA offers a myriad of domestic and foreign policy benefits for all regions regardless of size, R/D affiliation, GP or RP culture. While every region divides their ministries and duties in their own way, we all generally cover the same ground. Obviously our World Assembly Affairs ministry is concerned with our WA voting and campaigns, and any region that chooses to participate in the WA would likely have something similar. When it comes to the rest of our ministries, every one of them is enhanced by WA participation. Defense benefits from the WA differently than the rest, because it is the endorsements themselves and not the effect of those endorsements in votes that affect it. Obviously the more endorsements a delegate has, the harder it is for raiders to take over. But as we have demonstrated in TNP, more nations maintaining a high number of endorsements also makes it more difficult for coups to remove key players and purge those with greater residency in the region. There is a kind of herd immunity that makes the region as a whole more secure. Engaging in WA initiatives enhances the number of nations exchanging endorsements and contributes to that herd immunity. In short, the more people join the WA and endoswap, the more secure a region can become.
In every other ministry, WA engagement enhances influence and the endorsements’ value as extra votes is the aspect that is the focus. TNP divides its internal affairs into three ministries, Home Affairs, Culture, and Communications. Home Affairs is the primary internal ministry and is concerned with coordinating participation in the other ministries, informing the region of events and activities and in many cases managing those activities, and recruiting from within to bring more players to the offsite areas. In recent years Home Affairs has also been concerned with linking the gameside-active players to the offsite areas, and regulating the RMB. Every player has an aspect of the game that calls to them, and some of those players are either interested or primed to be interested in the WA. Obviously reaching out to those players and appealing to that interest will activate them as players who can contribute their talents to the region at large. Many times the initial interest serves as the gateway for broader participation in a wider variety of departments a region may have. Any region’s recruitment or internal affairs department should include WA engagement to harness this cohort of players.
Engagement with the WA has an added benefit of being one of the clearest examples of NS activity that is strictly and primarily game-based. Of all the potential categories of government or activity in a region, WA is built into the game’s DNA and is a tangible example of game-based activity. In a game state where R/D is not as central to defining a metagame in NS, participation in the WA offers an alternative, or even another arrow in the quiver of specific gameside activities that regions can point out to prospective new players. Recruitment and activity efforts are boosted when players have clear things they can do, and if they are more inclined to favor the gameside over offsite forums or Discord servers, being able to point to a robust WA program, particularly one with a competitive edge in delegate votes, makes for an easy selling point.
When defining a region’s purpose or niche, and selling the region to a prospective player, the WA can be an important aspect of a region’s identity. Some regions favor roleplay over gameplay and vice versa, but in either case the culture of a region can be enhanced by the WA. Clearly gameplay-oriented regions have an easier connection to the WA, but the two chambers play to either kind in different ways. Roleplay regions are far more likely to get something out of the General Assembly, particularly if their roleplay in any way is informed by the game’s stats and how game issues are answered by their players. Gameplay regions on the other hand will be far more likely to get something out of the Security Council, which has long since been considered the aspect of the WA geared toward GP. Most of the time liberations will be the aspect that most informs their gameplay, but commendations and condemnations can help build loyalty and notoriety, as well as be useful tools for alliances and relationship building (as can be seen when I explore foreign affairs). But there are ways to pick and choose which resolutions get a region’s focus to help inform what that region is in the grand scheme of the game.
Regions like Forest, known for its environmental advocacy, can use the WA to live out their own code and focus on issues they care about. The resolutions a region supports or opposes tell the rest of the game what their purpose is and if they can enhance their influence in the WA they can make sure they stand out more in that area, or successfully contribute to the game with important victories in their policy area. This is clear in the GA but can also be seen in the SC depending on which regions they help or oppose, or choose to recognize. In this way the point is not simply to get a lot of endorsements and be able to help swing votes, but to be influential enough that when a vote comes along that appeals to a region’s interests, they can better ensure that it goes the way they want it to. As a region starts to rack up victories in the WA, or becomes part of successful efforts to pass resolutions they like, they build a case for being an authority in particular areas and can utilize that experience in teaching the incoming players and making a successful case for why players who share their beliefs or passions should join them.
For those regions who do not have particular interests or much of a desire to be involved in the WA, participation in the WA still offers them a valuable tool. Of course, regions can enhance their relations with other like-minded regions, or can use their influence to defeat natural enemies or rivals. But if they have neither of these things and are not defined in large or small part by their WA activity, having a greater vote in the WA can be used to entice other regions or deter them. Assuming another region is involved in the WA or utilizes it for one of the aforementioned reasons, a region with little interest in the WA can effectively strategically deploy its WA vote in any given vote. Allies can count on them for additional votes, or enemies can fear their involvement. When a region truly has no stake in a vote, not utilizing their votes strategically is a huge missed opportunity. Instead of abstaining or opposing votes reflexively, a region in this situation could vote for something one day and against something else based solely on arrangements with their particular friends or foes. The greater the influence a region has in the WA, the more potent that option becomes.
We have seen the rise of voting blocs in the WA, which provide a great way for allied or friendly regions to enhance their cooperation and relationships with each other, while also boosting their collective global influence. TNP is part of the World Assembly Legislative League (WALL), an arrangement consisting of signatories who all also happen to be treaty allies with TNP, allowing our alliance to work toward clear goals and practice working with each other outside of the classic military operations that most often dominate the concrete examples of allies working together. As of late another bloc, the Interregional Legislative Coalition (ILC), has come on the scene with a more pointed goal of supporting resolutions that appeal broadly to the generally left-leaning regions that make up the bloc. This fits more with the culture-enhancement aspect of WA activity, but achieves the same things as WALL in terms of cooperation and finding ways to deepen and enhance the partnership made by neighboring regions. There are plenty of regions with relationships similar to the regions in these blocs, and perhaps WA activity is one way they could build stronger bonds and achieve goals that fit their respective cultures.
Note that at no point was actually drafting WA resolutions, or participating in the editing and advice process in drafts on the forum specifically mentioned. The nitty gritty of WA resolution writing is a very specific thing that does not interest most players, especially as so few have an affinity for it. Everything else, from concerns about the “lemming effect” to the fact that some regions have way more votes in the WA, can be mitigated by greater focus in participation and outreach in WA affairs. A robust, successful WA program like the one in TNP is not developed overnight, and smaller regions will have to choose their battles more carefully, pull off more successful recruitment of new players, or collaborate with other regions in official or unofficial voting blocs. But there is simply too much untapped potential and benefit in becoming involved in the WA for regions to ignore it entirely. It can be utilized in so many ways direct and indirect, and tailored to fit the needs or interests of the regions who are willing to invest in its exploration.
More regions should be working toward becoming bigger players in the WA, and if this were done in any significant way, new avenues of gameplay could be opened up as the established order of things would begin to change shape. As more people become involved and find novel ways to make use of the WA, how we understand it would continue to evolve and those already participating in it would have to evolve along with it. In short, it isn’t just for their own good that regions should get involved in the WA, but for the game as a whole. But even if most regions don’t get on board with the “greater good” argument, that’s just more of a reason for individual regions to step up their game. Just as the few regions we currently have dedicated enough to build their endorsements to high levels benefit from the lack of challengers in that regard, new regions willing to step up can do the same. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the WA is still very much a space with much more room to be filled by those brave and creative enough to make the effort.
WA Blocs: When Will We See a New One?
A spectre is haunting Gameplay - the spectre of blocism. All the powers of old Gameplay have entered into a not yet official alliance to exorcise this spectre: Admin and Emperor, Glen-Rhodes and United Massachusetts, Southern Defenders and Western purge-squads. Bad communism fan-fiction aside, those of us in Gameplay have probably noticed the World Assembly Voting Blocs which have risen around us. They are scary and big and are coming for all of our sovereignty. We will all end up democratic and will be forced to run elections every week, by the time they are done with us. Well maybe not necessarily. The current voting blocs are built on very specific circumstances that just do not exist elsewhere in the current diplomatic climate and the system they seek to dominate is just not one regions are obligated to care about. The most prominent, successful, and the biggest boogeyman around is of course WALL, or the World Assembly Legislative League, consisting of: The North Pacific, Balder, Europeia, Europe, and the International Democratic Union. Less well known but still going strong is the Interregional Legislative Coalition, abbreviated to ILC, consisting of: the Democratic Socialist Assembly, Social Liberal Union, The Communist Bloc, The Internationale/Grenada, The Leftist Assembly, and The Versutian Federation. Finally, perhaps more known but a whole lot less successful is the Strategic Interregional Exchange for Growth and Equity, colloquially known as SIEGE. SIEGE is currently not an existing bloc and the membership list was never publicly announced; but we know it was proposed by The East Pacific and that The South Pacific, The West Pacific, and The Pacific were at the least in discussions in regards to it. These three blocs stand as the most high profile. Each was and is different however.
The Blocs in Existence
The first WA bloc I would like to look at is the ILC. The ILC is a bloc created entirely of User Created Regions (UCRs). These UCRs with the exception of The Versutian Federation and the Social Liberal Union are members of NSLeft. A rather storied and the most closely knit UCR political sphere. Within the ILC we recognize The Communist Bloc as the largest and most dominant force, controlling almost fifty-percent of the delegate endorsements in the entire bloc and NSLeft as a whole controlling more than eighty-five percent of the endorsements. What is interesting is that even with The Communist Bloc as the dominant region size-wise, the current chairman of the ILC is from The Versutian Federation.. The ILC controls north of five hundred World Assembly votes which puts them as the smallest bloc, by a significant margin.
Now, we could not mention WALL without talking about The North Pacific. Because, TNP very much is WALL. Proportionally their position in WALL is even more dominant than The Communist Bloc in the ILC, TNP alone controls over fifty percent of the delegate endorsements This presence and dominance within WALL naturally elevates TNP to a leadership role in WALL. Furthermore, much like the ILC is built out of a pre-existing diplomatic sphere, so was WALL. Europeia, Balder, and TNP are all signatures of the Independent Manifesto and heavily base their regional diplomacy around that document. WALL as a whole controls over two thousand World Assembly votes, the largest World Assembly bloc in existence.
Now, SIEGE was being built with a motive in mind. The name alone should give away their intention to be an opposition to WALL. The four regions together would have had parity with WALL, and the addition of another region (The Rejected Realms for example) could have set them above. But they also would have had parity with each other. No member region of SIEGE would have had the WA dominance, and by extension bloc dominance, that TCB and TNP enjoy. Not necessarily a negative but a noticeable difference. However what is definitely a negative is the lack of a pre-existing diplomatic sphere. SIEGE would have been built on at best shaky diplomatic foundations. It would be generous to call the ties between the regions close, considering TSP’s and TWP’s recent historic diplomatic agreement is detente. Not a Treaty or even a Declaration of Friendship, just detente. It was indeed a historic agreement, but not exactly the foundations of a sphere. Looking at the numbers, the four regions combined would have been at twenty three hundred endorsements, two hundred ahead of WALL.
Why We Will Not See A New Bloc
Overall, I think the diplomatic foundations upon which WALL and the ILC were built are special and they do not exist elsewhere on NationStates. With WALL and the ILC we saw existing diplomatic spheres being capitalized upon and turned into the WA Blocs. These spheres range from rare to non-existent in the rest of NationStates. Furthermore, while WALL is very scary, the mechanical forces at play are not strong enough to force a new sphere into existence.
Spheres like the Independent Sphere and the NSLeft just do not exist in the rest of NationStates. Aside from Out-Of-Character documents pertaining to the safety of individuals, there are not many multilateral diplomatic ties between major regions. Taking a look at the bloc-less regions, few of them are in a diplomatic position to form a bloc. In the UCR world itself, the chance of a legitimate bloc forming is next to nil. Of the five largest UCRs, two are in WALL already, one in the ILC, one is Ten Thousand Islands, which is a historically isolationist region, and the other is a blacklisted region. Then as you continue down the list, the regions and the WA counts continue to get smaller. If any bloc were to form in the UCR world, it would be tiny and irrelevant in comparison to the existing ones.
When we look at the bloc-less Feeders and Sinkers, they at least have numbers on their side. The East Pacific and The South Pacific alone both have the endorsement counts to outnumber the ILC. But I see these regions as lacking the diplomatic ties and the political will necessary to form a WA bloc. As we noted with SIEGE, it was built to counter WALL, but to build a counter bloc is to generate animosity with the other group. TSP and TRR are both regions that are deeply tied with The North Pacific, in order to start generating animosity with WALL, it would take considerable political and diplomatic will; diplomatic will that may very well not exist. Looking at the remaining GCRs, The Pacific stands rather isolated now, lacking treaties, and at war with Lazarus and Osiris. The East Pacific and The West Pacific would be the best bet for a potential bloc forming, but I doubt they would.
Now, to explain why I do not think TEP or TWP would form a World Assembly bloc, we must take a look back at the World Assembly itself. Overall, The East Pacific and The West Pacific can be characterized as Gameplay-centric regions, which means they do not care about the General Assembly and there is no incentive to care about the General Assembly. This is coupled with a Security Council that has grown rather unimportant and ineffectual. Both Commendations and Condemnations are seen as badges of honor. They may be nice to have, but do not affect anything. Liberations are the only resolutions with a mechanical effect but they diminish in value and priority with each passing day. We see joke proposals, like SCR 247 Liberate The East Pacific, or offensive liberations being the most common use for liberations. Neither of which help the situation, but the real nail in the coffin is the mechanical effect in and of itself. Liberations are for R/D, a segment of the game which can be best characterized as dying. There is no tangible benefit to forming a WA bloc and fight for control over a segment of a game that becomes less relevant every week.
WALL Plays Nice
The nail in the coffin of why I do not see another WA bloc rising is the very behavior of WALL so far. Frankly they have not behaved how we expected them to. They have not strangled the World Assembly in order to enact their pro-Democracy agenda. They have yet to bend the lemmings to their will and doom us all. Overall they vote for good resolutions and against bad ones. Maybe they will become the big bads in the future and NS will have to band together to stop them; but that has yet to happen.
So to wrap it all up. I do not think we will see another diplomatic bloc on NationStates. Nothing like NSLeft or the Independent Sphere, upon which the ILC and WALL are built upon, exist anywhere else. Furthermore, the mechanics of the World Assembly are not valuable or important enough to necessitate a group rising to oppose WALL and to complement it all, WALL has not behaved in a manner which demanded opposition.
A few years ago, I told a friend of mine about our somewhat peculiar WA proclivities. When asked about Committees, I repeated the standard GA dogma: Committees are perfect, since otherwise, they become meaningless. I thought about his response: then why not have the Assembly take direct control of all member nations? If they are perfect, then they will always do better than whatever the imperfect member nations would do.
This is an important point. Member nations are regulated and proposals are repealed due, sometimes, to enforcement issues. At other times, it has to do with some policy not suiting all nations. Implicitly, under a Committee-perfection standard, if all these responsibilities were given to Committees, they would never happen. In fact, a perfectly administering and knowing Committee would be, by definition, always more responsible, proactive, effective, and accountable than any member nation could be by virtue of their imperfection.
If that is the case, and member nations always perform more poorly, why should we not delegate every single operation of the state to the World Assembly, which would be more efficient and proactive? Why not delegate over the maintenance of jails and criminal justice if the WA cannot make mistakes and will always execute the laws perfectly? Why not delegate over welfare programs if nobody under WA welfare can cheat and nor can any member nation skim off the money? The consequences of this dogma lead only and inexorably towards a single, near-universal authority with unlimited jurisdiction.
But let us first examine the emergence of this doctrine. With all committee matters, it emerged shortly before the creation of the post-Enodian ruleset by The Most Glorious Hack and others. At the time, Hack viewed committees as a metagaming violation – that attempting to create a committee in fact did not, to the site, create one, thus falling outside the scope of the then-NS United Nations. This view was reversed amid strong protest from many then-NSUN members, arguing that removing the ability for the GA to use committees would doom every possible proposal into endless minutiae and enforcement provisions.
Part of this was the Moderators at the time wanting to avoid committee staffing being specified in resolutions, as that would enshrine certain nations or regions into resolutions. In these discussions, Hack proposed something of a compromise that ended up taking root: that Committees are staffed by “gnomes” which spring into existence for the purpose of those Committees and have no connection to any specific member nation. From here emerged the view that no committee can be biased towards or against any member nation, and ergo, all committees are perfectly neutral and unbiased.
By the formation of the current forums, the gnomes on the GA committees and the gnomes responsible for the enforcement of WA resolutions had become conflated. The latter gnomes - those responsible for WA enforcement - were ascribed omnipotent and omniscient powers to enforce WA resolutions. It was they who affected the statistical changes associated with a resolution and changed the laws mentioned in every World Assembly telegram. The later development of what is now somewhat derisively called “magical compliance” further extended to the committees staffed by gnomes. For if the gnomes enforcing resolutions are all-powerful, why would the same sort of gnomes sitting on committees not be?
Much more recently, one of my resolutions, Compliance Commission, was a significant part of overturning the view that non-compliance, due to the existence of the gnomes, was impossible. The total exclusion of even the concept of non-compliance from the World Assembly’s roleplay had severe consequences. And by removing it, we have expanded the scope of roleplay generally as well as created space for a detailed and substantial discussion on the enforcement of GA resolutions writ large.
That space has been partially occupied by a resolution which Separatist Peoples and I worked on, Administrative Compliance Act. Its explicit recognition of non-compliance and provision of a mechanism to fight it has firmly rooted magical compliance out of the Assembly. There are many more means by which compliance can be ensured or protected, as well as debate about whether the current or possible future means to do so are justifiable. All of those debates would not have happened but for magical compliance’s defeat.
Yet, if gnomes are endowed with their omnipotent powers by magical compliance, such magic’s demise should also yield the fall of their omnipotence. Verily, the intellectual foundation for endowing the gnomes with such god-like abilities has been firmly discarded. The internal contradictions between that magic and any reasonable conception of the world have been resolved by depriving magic of its wonder.
A theory of perfect gnomes has similar pretensions. It too carries the same contradictions against any reasonable conception of how the world of NationStates ought to work. Their perfection, unto apotheosis, does not accord with any sense. We as players should not simply accept what comes from the past as mos maiorem without independent thought of our own. That this conception of committees was handed down from the past is no reason not to examine it with the same intensity with which we have re-examined magical compliance.
The internal contradictions of the perfect gnome must too be resolved by their perfection’s removal. With the demise of magical compliance, there is no reason to retain the absurdity of perfect gnome-staffed committee and the implications of the utopian unitary state it conjures. Perhaps the radical international federalist (perhaps a contradiction in terms, for at this point, it verges on the abolition of the nation) may protest, but it was always thus, for the public writ large has never ascribed to this most peculiar belief of the Assembly.
The Case for Liberations
The World Assembly is celebrating a special anniversary this year: the introduction of the Liberation into the WA ten years ago. The Liberation has been used in many ways: to free regions oppressed by raider regimes, to allow NS historians to retrieve historic regions, and (lately) to punish regions who do not fall in line with the ideals of the World Assembly. While some of these goals are controversial, most people can agree that liberations do far more good than harm. Cormac, in talking about offensive liberations, summed up my views perfectly on the matter. He wrote:
“I don't think offensive liberations are inherently either positive or negative, it just depends on what one does with them. I do think we've seen offensive liberations used in positive ways in the past -- against NAZI EUROPE, to be sure, as well as some other regions. So I don't regret being one of the people who pioneered that tactic. It does seem they're being overused now by certain authors, but on the other hand those authors haven't had much success passing unwarranted offensive liberations. At the end of the day, I think WA voters can be trusted to responsibly decide when an offensive liberation is warranted and when it isn't, and I think offensive liberation remains an important tool. It would be as much of a mistake to take a kneejerk stance against all offensive liberations as it would be to pass offensive liberations that are unwarranted. We should take a middle ground approach and use them only when warranted.”
The World Assembly, especially with Liberations, is very careful to ensure they are not overused. Many times, a Liberation won’t even pass forum drafting if there are no natives to the region that can be identified. However, some members of the WA believe that Liberations are a dark mark upon the esteemed assembly. I disagree and would like to counter their main arguments.
The first, and possibly most realistic argument, is that raiders can use liberations to be able to raid founderless and passworded regions that still have active delegates. This situation is certainly plausible. However, most raiders are well known to WA members, and if they attempted to propose a liberation of this nature the liberation would fail. Additionally, if a liberation like this did pass, defender forces could assist the delegate in retaking the region and overturning the liberation. Raiders cannot immediately take control of a region and refound it; they would need time to accumulate the necessary influence. This time could be preemptively lengthened by a strong endotarting program like the ones seen in many GCRs. Additionally, creating strong alliances with other regions can help repel attacks.
The second argument is that it is up to natives to secure their own regions. For example, a region which recently became founderless could refound their region with a more responsible founder. However, not all regions have the expertise or want to put in the effort to do this. What’s worse, for bigger founderless regions it may be impossible to refound. Additionally, GCRs never had founders, and they never will. There must be a last-resort mechanism for these situations. That is not to say that regions should ignore security since they can just be liberated anyways. Regions can and should do their best to secure themselves, whether that be through endotarting programs, alliances with other regions, or military forces of their own. Sometimes, though, things just don’t work out. Regions may not be big enough for formal endorsement programs. Military forces, whether at home or abroad, might not be able to counter the raiders until it is too late. Small regions may not have enough publicity, and large regions may have political adversaries actively working against them.
The liberation is the best tool we have to restore regions to their former glory. Liberations can bring awareness to regions which may have slipped under the radar. Through international discourse, political rivalries can be subdued to allow regions to thrive again. Regions can learn from their mistakes, and can get valuable assistance from defender organizations who restore the regions. Above all else, liberations give regions a chance to recover, if they choose to. This does not mean that we grant liberations to everyone who asks for them. There is validity in the argument that the liberation can be abused. The Security Council should do its best to seek out and verify true natives. If no natives are available, the region should either be put into the hands of a player deemed trustworthy, or not liberated at all. After a region is liberated, prominent members of the WA should teach natives how to properly secure themselves.
Liberations are not just about regional defense. They can be used to create monuments to former communities or to punish misbehaving regions. For example, Nazi Europe was Liberated and eventually taken over by defender forces. For Nazi Europe, condemnations were badges of honor, but a liberation was its downfall. Even then, it was years before the region could be taken over, years in which the region could have appealed to the SC to remove the liberation. If they had been shown to change their ways, they very well could have been granted that appeal. This shows that even when used in unconventional ways, liberations are not an immediate death sentence. Many regions were taken over by Nazi Europe, and the creation of liberations made it possible for them to be revived and returned to their rightful owners. This was true for many others, too.
Opponents of liberations claim that liberations decrease regional security by allowing raiders to liberate and take over passworded and founderless regions. While these claims have merit, liberations are a last resort for regions that have been raided and could not have been saved. Liberations, however, are not a total replacement for regional security measures and should be used by the Security Council with caution. If used correctly, liberations can be a massive force for good in the world of NationStates.
Finding Yourself in the World Assembly
World Assembly resolutions regularly come and go, and it’s very easy to get into a habit of skimming over the text, getting a sense of the overall subject matter, and making a quick decision to clear the docket.
Efforts have been made to create greater engagement among members, but always with the emphasis on the betterment of the Assembly. I’d like to shine a light on some of the personal benefits of taking things a bit more slowly when reviewing and deciding on resolutions.
While we may take it for granted, membership in the WA affords an often overlooked opportunity for personal and political growth, and a means to gain a deeper understanding of self.
Much of who we are politically is influenced by our environment. As individuals, we are bombarded by ideas and exposed to a variety of perspectives from the earliest age. Directly, our friends, families, teachers, religious leaders, and our media choices all contribute to what eventually becomes our individual mosaic of political opinion. We are also - often unwittingly - subject to more subtle, cultural influences like ethnocentricity, nationalism, notions of exceptionalism, religion, and so on.
Political mosaics often form when we are young, and can stay with us, influencing our actions and choices for a lifetime. Too often, we don’t give our mosaic a second thought. We simply believe we are who we are without putting our system of political beliefs to any kind of rigorous self-examination.
It is possible to walk through life wearing your political views like borrowed clothing. They may keep you in the fashion of the moment. They may even serve as a form of camouflage and keep you out of conflict. In time, however, these ideas can cement, and what you are left with is something familiar and comfortable, yet not entirely your own.
It is imperative to question the origins of your mosaic and ask if that which has accumulated over time truly reflects your innermost beliefs.
As 19th Century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“Be not the slave of your own past… But dare rather to quit the platform, plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so shall you come back with self respect, with new power, with an advanced experience, that shall explain and overlook the old.”
Emerson’s quote is felicitous to a discussion about the World Assembly, because the WA - and particularly the General Assembly - is just the sort of platform from which a deep dive can be taken. It’s an environment tailor made for the acquisition of new power, self-respect, and advanced experience. Its periodic resolutions provide an opportunity for personal political reflection using an ever-changing situational model.
Situational models are often the most revealing when conducting this sort of political check-in, because they create a tangible connection between the issues, and lived experience. They give you an opportunity to stretch your imagination, and look at things from a variety of angles. These are important abilities to have, but must be refined through practice. So, where to begin?
I strongly recommend an online search for The Political Compass, a quick, anonymous test that will provide you with your unique placement on their custom x-y political grid. It does this by asking for your level of agreement with a series of practical or situational statements. Not only is it a great starting point in understanding your deeper political mind, but it’s a great thought experiment that will prime you for deeper consideration on future WA resolutions.
It is critical to really drill down on each question when taking the test. Do not take an ideological, politics-first approach. Don’t attempt to steer the test towards the position on the spectrum you believe you occupy. Instead, weigh each question independently of the others, follow a few of the steps outlined below, and let the placement on the spectrum occur organically.
Here’s a sample question, taken right from the Compass test: Military action that defies international law is sometimes justified.
Using the above sample statement about military action, ask yourself under what specific circumstances it might be okay to defy international law? Consider real-world examples where international law has been violated, such as POW torture to extract information, use of chemical weapons in civil conflicts, or ‘extrajudicial’ detentions. Consider the outcomes of those violations and their collateral effects on civilians. Consider the historical events that led up to the creation of these international laws, and what it was, as a society, that we were trying to achieve, or avoid.
Imagine yourself in a scenario where you might be impacted by a violation of international law by an invading or occupying force. Whenever possible, immerse yourself and visualize. Run each question through the ringer before giving your answer and you will get a result that is much closer to you than to your mosaic. Be brutally honest with yourself when answering each question.
I’m not suggesting this approach as a means to convert you to any specific political viewpoint. I wholeheartedly respect your individual right to take any position you wish, on any subject. The emphasis here is not on how you answer, but how you arrive at your answer. What I want to ensure is that at the end of the process - and with the benefit of broad consideration - you can reasonably justify your position to yourself. If you’ve put in the effort and done the heavy intellectual lifting, then you can own that position in confidence and in good conscience. That is tremendously important.
The most common issue in our increasingly political world, is that many can’t justify their positions or make a coherent argument for their reasoning. A lot of the time, that’s because it isn’t really their position - it’s a product of their mosaic. It isn’t born of consideration, or empathy, or lived experience, or critical evaluation. It’s just what’s been picked up over time, and that’s a skin worth shedding.
This use of practical scenarios by which to gauge individual politics is nothing new. In fact, it’s pretty much the foundation of NationStates and nation evolution. Unlike daily issue answering in NS, though, where our choices may be subject to how we roleplay our nation, WA votes tend to align more with our personal political beliefs.
Granted, some carry the nation role forward into their WA decisions and keep it completely in-character. For the most part, however, our nations are the sandbox where we can be whomever we like, and our WA votes are more closely aligned with our individual real-world beliefs. Those who lean libertarian in life, either right or left, tend to favor national sovereignty over WA encroachment. Those who favor socially liberal values in life, tend to vote favorably for similarly aligned GA resolutions. Those who favor a firm leadership hand in the real world, tend to vote more favorably on crime and punishment legislation.
Given that, you can use each resolution as a tool to bypass the mosaic, and to exercise your political mind. It doesn’t need to take all day, but twenty or thirty minutes to give each resolution genuine consideration from a variety of angles. Treat it like a meditation or a workout. Take it slowly, and find your ground.
Essentially, what resolutions do is suggest that there is a problem and provide a series of possible solutions to that problem. Ask questions of the resolution: Is the problem being presented really a problem? Is it the kind of problem the WA should be addressing, or is it more for nations to decide? Are the solutions realistic, and do they adequately address the problem raised?
If you can answer yes to those, then go a bit deeper: How will this solution affect my nation? How will this solution affect the theoretical citizens of my nation? Is it fair and just? How will this solution affect other nations and their citizens? Is the solution best accommodating the wide variety of nations in the Assembly? If this solution were being applied to me, in real life, would I be comfortable with it?
Bestow gravity on the questions that arise in your mind from the scenarios painted in the resolutions. Read each resolution in full, and pay attention to those pieces of text that spark a reaction in you. Once you’ve found those things that have caught your attention, give them more attention.
If you’re unsure about some specific element of a resolution or its overarching subject matter, do a bit of quick research, and then see if you can find an opposing point of view to consider as well. If you’re having trouble deciding, ask for others’ perspectives. Bounce ideas off your peers, on your forum or on Discord. Exchanging ideas with others is critical in gaining perspective. Seek opposing viewpoints as readily as you seek those that confirm your own. Avoid the echo chambers of the universally like-minded. No harm can ever come from hearing another opinion. You always hold the power to politely disagree.
Sadly, civility in political discourse has deteriorated significantly as the left-right paradigm has become increasingly polarized. More and more frequently, we hear about the rise of political tribalism, and that can make the free exchange of ideas incredibly difficult. Often, it’s something more akin to trench warfare, with each side taking shots at each other, but neither gaining any ground. The rise of identity politics has made political bullying fashionable, and that can have a stifling effect on communication, and a narrowing effect on the mind, both for those engaging in such tactics, and for the recipients.
Take a cue from Nietzsche: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."
Whenever possible, avoid the name-callers, the blamers, and the shamers. They are the toxic enemies of free thought, and intellectual growth. Similarly, avoid ideologues who seek only to convert you to their way of thinking. They are the hopeless prisoners of their own mosaic.
Instead, seek out those with an open approach to debate and a willingness to consider all sides. They are a critical sounding board for ideas and can often give you a new insights into an issue that you may not have considered. Then, be that to others.
Be thoughtful. Be brave. Become the owner of a political mind in agreement with itself, and a political psyche comfortable in its own skin. Take the deep dive into the next WA resolution, and enjoy the swim.
Stop Thinking About SC Condemnations as Badges
During discussion of Security Council resolutions, or even discussion of the idea of writing one, there is an argument that is frequently bandied about that claims that the resolution should or should not be written or proposed or voted for because the resolution would result in awarding a “badge” to the targeted nation or region. Of course, this argument is usually reserved for condemnations by the nature of how condemnations work. The frequent refrain is something to the effect of “That nation/region should not be awarded with a condemnation badge. That’s exactly what they want! It’s just a trophy for them.” This argument has been utilized when discussing condemnations of certain individuals as well as entire regions and organizations across NationStates. This argument should not be seen as legitimate.
The idea that commendations or condemnations are nothing more than a badge for the recipient is essentially moot. Of course it’s a badge. The entire point of the Security Council is to give in-character badges to individuals and regions. That it is anything else is essentially a fabrication. Commendations are and should be written for nations or regions who have some lasting positive impact on the game, engage in some sort of heroic acts as far as the game is concerned, and/or engage in very good roleplay that is internationally known as very positive and high quality. On the flip side of that coin, condemnations are and should be written for nations or regions who have some lasting in character negative impact on the game. Whether it is for their exceptional ability to play a villain, their Benedict-esque turn-coating abilities, or their dastardly (but still high quality) roleplaying, that is all up for debate in the halls of the Security Council, and rightly so. However, what is not up for debate is whether or not someone should be condemned because “a badge is exactly what they would want.” It is simply a pointless discussion.
The idea that a Security Council resolution can be considered a badge by the recipient is not new. Certainly, it is something that has been brought up since the creation of the Security Council. This argument has not gotten more compelling over time, nor has one application of the argument been more compelling or persuading than the other. It has been discussed in terms of several commendations and most notably with condemnations. It’s been argued regarding prospective condemnations ranging from The Black Hawks, Land of Kings and Emperors, United Massachusetts, and Stujenske. Across all these wide-ranging prospective nominees, the argument has been much the same. Indeed, the search term “badge” in the Security Council forums and WA Archives on NationStates appears a total of 3,833 times alone. Clearly, this is an argument that many people find to be totally solid. However, this premise serves only as a quick way to invalidate the arguments of legitimate proposals.
Ultimately, the measure of what is an acceptable Security Council resolution should be based upon those aforementioned criteria. “Has this player or players done enough to warrant a resolution?” “Do their actions have historical weight, and can they stand the test of time?” “Did they really act like a hero in this moment?” “Were they especially good at being a villain, and did it really frustrate people?” These are the questions that should be asked and the debates that should be had when discussing a prospective nominee for a Security Council resolution.
This is a game where the drama and most of the action is based almost entirely on in-character activities. As such, the discussion of the Security Council, in my view, should be based around a meta discussion of those in-character actions, whether they were good, bad, or ugly. At the very least, most prospective Security Council nominees deserve an honest discussion about the legacy of their actions rather than a vapid, superficial discussion about whether or not the recipient would view the resolution as a “badge” or not. We can all do better than that as a game wide community. Of course, these discussions of badges will still occur regardless, but the community as a whole should move more toward the meta discussion of a nominee’s actions and their merit rather than these things. Certainly, this is not one of the most pressing issues out of all issues out there in NationStates, but encouraging more honest and fact- based discussions in the Security Council can perhaps make the game more enjoyable for everyone involved.
Why TWP Votes The Way It Does
The West Pacific has been said to be anti-World Assembly for quite some time. Is this the case, and if so, why? To some extent, this is true. Although we consider Security Council resolutions on a case-by-case basis, General Assembly proposals are another matter. The Delegate of The West Pacific will vote AGAINST almost any proposal unless there is a compelling reason not to do so, and FOR any proposed repeal. Why is this?
In my opinion, it all stems from our region’s firm position on the primacy of game mechanics. For example, recognition of the superiority of game mechanics is what underpins our support for Delegate Supremacy. The primacy of game mechanics also recognizes that every other WA member nation has the same right as the Delegate to vote his/her conscience on all proposals that come before the World Assembly.
With regard to the World Assembly itself, and especially the General Assembly, I would interpret it this way. The oldest and most fundamental mechanism by which to play NationStates is choosing a response to an issue. This has been a constant throughout the history of the game and is the only way a player can change their nation. It is really the only purely game-created mechanism. All other play is either meta-game, developed solely by the players, or at least influenced by players, like the development of the World Assembly. I’m not going to go into the history of the World Assembly here, but suffice it to say that the World Assembly (originally the United Nations) was created in part because of the support of the concept by some of the players.
The West Pacific is a strong proponent of national sovereignty. It is of the opinion that a player should be able to be the sole creator of their nation, uninhibited by outside influence. The World Assembly, specifically the General Assembly, forces nations to change, albeit only slightly. We hold that the sovereignty of each nation should not be violated! One might argue that a nation does not have to join the World Assembly, but not to do so would exclude a player from participating fully in their region. World Assembly membership, endorsements and influence have become integral to the NationStates meta-game.
The West Pacific holds that game mechanics are the foundation of NationStates. This is at the base of all of our policies – Delegate Supremacy, Independence … and an aversion to World Assembly interference in national sovereignty.
The Two Faces of the WA
NationStates, as with most political simulations, lends itself towards the drawing of parallels with real life politics and situations. Everything from historical events to modern political party lines comes into the crossfire of debate and legislation. Within this Molotov cocktail of law, come two primary schools of thought. There are those who are able to shelve either all or part of their real life convictions in favor of adopting differing ones to roleplay their nations, and then there are those who are more attached to their real life beliefs and allegiances, which they then pursue and perpetuate in the NS world. An additional way to represent this divide is between in-character (IC) and Out of Character (OOC) beliefs held by players.
While neither way of playing the game is objectively wrong, their conflict in various parts of NS inherently causes issues even with players acting in the best of faith. This becomes especially apparent in the World Assembly as potentially inflammatory and controversial topics are legislated upon and the fallout of arguments, repeals, and redrafts commence.
Specifically in the General Assembly, the topics of abortion, LGBT rights including gay marriage, and environmental reform have had their fair share of heated debate and controversy. While very civil and constructive debate can be had regarding any of these topics, they tend to spiral out of control on a regular basis, some more than others of course. Abortion in the WA has been host to it all, seeing many attempts at resolutions and repeals of said resolutions. These discussions include thousands of comments on hundreds of pages of forum threads.
The most heated, perhaps even toxic debate comes from those who blindly apply their real-life beliefs without considering the other side’s position. Instead, the WA should be seen as an opportunity to build a more nuanced and balanced understanding of the topics at hand. Additionally, topics like LGBT rights and environmental reform open the floodgates for the more toxic parts of real-life politics to pour in through passionate and often shortsighted debate by those who do not separate their out of character beliefs from their in character persona. Things such as identity politics and labeling of opponents lead to open flaming in forums, as well as near OOC harassment directed at those who oppose proposal efforts.
Sadly, while the Security Council possesses these same problems, the partisan split can be much more obvious at times. This can be most easily observed in the use of condemnations and liberations targeted at the more extreme ends of party lines such as openly fascist and communist regions and players. While the extreme of any political stance is sure to be toxic and harmful to discourse in real life politics, no thought is given to the in game aspects of in-character role play and the separation between someone’s IC vs OOC stances. This causes the verbal crucifixion of people who try to rationalize and defend the “tainted” groups when those groups come under attack by those who are unable to separate IC vs OOC stances. No matter how reasonable and factual their arguments made may be, those who try to think rationally and see from a neutral perspective will be labeled as sympathizers to the undesirable group and be cast aside by the unhinged opposing party. To many of those who apply their real-life beliefs here, a zero-sum game is played in which advancing their chosen agenda is all that matters. They pile on excuses and irrelevant OOC items to justify toxic and harmful IC behavior which can begin to hamper moderation efforts as well. Unfortunately, this reduces complex and nuanced topics regarding extremist politics to flame wars and muckraking, with those who wish to participate in logical debate staying quiet and waiting for the storm to blow over.
A concerning symptom of the examples above is observed in the quality of proposals which manage to make quorum during these times of heated debate. More common in the Security Council, this can be best observed during the string of preemptive liberations targeting allegedly fascist regions which were consecutively proposed some eight months ago. While there may have been due cause for these liberations to take place, their writing was well below standard but still easily made quorum and were subsequently passed following heated and toxic interactions as described above. Some of these liberations were of such a quality that they were repealed a short time after passage. This can be so easily done in the SC because the proposals only have a singular function with the text of each proposal simply being reasoning. Many players may approach this with a Machiavellian mindset and ignore quality flaws for the sake of the passage of the proposal and the result it entails. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest issues as it allows for a degradation of writing standards at the hands of inflammatory politics and player divides, which will ultimately harm the WA.
In conclusion, heated debate and passion is healthy and normal for the WA. I encourage everyone to find an issue they are passionate about and write or support legislation on it - that's how our community grows. However, issues arise when players begin to assume that their opposition is arguing with the worst possible motives or that they believe that they can harm their opposition and their argument by abusing an IC or OOC position. When debating and attempting to understand someone’s position, it should be a priority to understand where they draw their convictions, or else you may be arguing from two whole different perspectives and only toxicity and flaming will follow. This is not to deny that bad faith actors exist in the WA, but rather to outline that there are differences in the way people argue and hold their convictions, and the differing stances between two opposing parties doesn’t necessarily indicate bad faith, or any disrespect at all.
Why Liberations Are Flawed
In October of 2003, my cousin Steve emailed me about a new online political game he had heard about called NationStates and - knowing my interest in all things political given that I have a degree in Political Science - urged me to explore it. I tend not to be too interested in internet games, but decided to give it a shot anyway. As such, the nation Mikeswill was born into a Pacific region with the Eagle of Albania on the eve of NationStates’ first birthday. In the ensuing days, I spread the word of the game to another friend who joined and created a region called ‘NationStates’ and asked me to move. My first puppet, Mikes Hope, became resident number twenty-one.
The earliest days of the game were hectic and reactionary mostly because it was never meant to become a sustained platform. Max Barry initially created the game simply to promote his book “Jennifer Government,” but in the explosion of interest, a true game was formed. As such, the original game mechanisms were not made to deal with a plethora of player activity and antics, and had to constantly evolve.
A purview of the News bulletins from 2003 exemplifies the challenges of early game play especially as it tried to deal with “obnoxious morons”. Password hackers, griefers, region crashers and UN (now WA) Cheats were unforeseen problems that required a response. Prior to April 29, 2003, nations could move at will throughout the multitude of regions, spam at will, and create multiple UN identities with little recourse. As such, regional controls were created which allowed the delegate and founder to eject nations and password-protect the region. In May, NS Etiquette was introduced in part to define region crashing ie. raiding/invading. June saw the creation of Moderators: “kind, noble players who have volunteered their time to weed out some of the obnoxious elements.”
During this period, legend has it that the NationStates region was often raided and fought over due to the fact that it is named after the game and also because of its founderless status. Regional population was minimal until November. Thus, by the time Mikes Hope became UN Delegate of NationStates in early November of 2003, raiding was a major threat and password protection was the last line of defense. Moreover, without a founder, the power and responsibility to keep the region safe and secure was left solely to the delegate.
As the game increased in popularity, the region of NationStates grew exponentially and added players from around the world. September 2004, saw Mikes Hope deleted for griefing (not my best moment) and the region in flux as players split on the future direction of the region. Despite my humiliation, I was determined to be a candidate for the delegacy and thought I had a chance because I had personally recruited nearly every player in the region. By the end of the month, I secured the delegacy as Mikeswill and have remained in this position ever since. The other faction split off and continues to this day as a small, tight-knit community of fifteen nations.
By late September of 2004, the game unveiled the process to repeal previous UN/WA Resolutions. At first glance this mechanism looked to have much merit as it gave the UN/WA electorate to reconsider past legislation. Resolutions were no longer etched in stone, rather, they had to be able to stand the test of time. Unfortunately, this mechanism would become the most abused tool in the World Assembly and in the yet to be created Security Council.
Fundamentally, it makes sense to have a mechanism to correct flawed or erroneous legislation or to amend legislation which no longer reflects the essence of a changing environment. The United States has examples of changing course via legislation (the 18th and 21st Amendments regarding Prohibition) and judicial review (Plessy v. Ferguson and subsequently Brown v. Board of Education regarding segregation). In each case the ethos of a nation was heard and altered. In general, however, legislation has a long lasting effect and is difficult to undo.
Not so in our World Assembly where the opposition of legislation has written a repeal before the initial resolution has concluded the vote. What has become important is not the essence of the legislation rather the artistry of persuasion to convince a haphazard, easily manipulated, electorate to alter their position minutes after they cast their votes. Often times it seems that Repeal writers are more interested in authoring a repeal than the substance of their position.
Thus, in my region most of us vote for a resolution one week and against the repeal the second week. Unfortunately, the first legislation which passed with say 80% approval in round one dies with the same percent in round two. The result is a perceive travesty of justice and an inclination to believe that the overall electorate is easily manipulated. Were we overly engaged we could have submit a fix whereby no Resolution could be repealed for a period of six months.
Meanwhile, the game continued. In 2006 Regional Influence was added to the game in another attempt to stem the tide of Invading. The result was that WA Delegates had greater power to keep invaders out and the Regional Power ranking minimized many threats. Undeterred the Raiders continued. May of 2009 saw the addition on Commend and Condemn Resolutions which had the effect of creating a badge of excellence for the Condemned. And in July 2009 came the worse mechanism of the game, in my opinion, the Liberation Resolution.
Liberation resolution: “A Liberation Resolution overrides any Delegate password in the nominated region, allowing other nations to enter freely. (It doesn't restrict the Delegate's ability to eject, ban, or do anything else; nor does it affect regions with Founders.) This allows the World Assembly to further its aims of bringing freedom and justice to the world, or grossly overstep its moral authority, depending on your perspective”.
The purpose of Liberations is basically to free a region that has been raided and return it to the natives. Whereas the idea has a degree of altruistic merit it is the most dangerous piece of legislation ever to threaten the NationStates region. How so? As a founderless region, it potentially removes my last line of defense as WA Delegate of the region. And sure enough the use of Liberation Resolutions soon became a tool of organizations to manipulate the borders and member nations of a region only then to use the repeal mechanism to revert back to the security of password-protection once they established hegemony over the region.
Moreover, the rationale for a resolution that nulls a game mechanism was flawed from my perspective. The reality was that regions without founders were most likely to be affected by such a provision mostly because they were easy to attack. Regions with founders are not favorable given the omnipotence of a founder. The cries of so-called natives that their precious region had been disturbed by raiders overshadowed their own irresponsibility to secure their own region, either by a strong Delegate or the refounding of their region.
In a nutshell, our fear is that an unscrupulous author will manipulate the electorate to usurp our Regional security via a Liberation and then Invade the region in such numbers to successfully take the Delegacy. As Condemn/ Commend/ Liberation were moved into the Security Council in February 2010, I petitioned for and received an Anti-Security Council Tag. Since that time we have voted against all liberations and for their repeals even when said repeals were merely the completion of power politics. And until such time as the travesty of liberations are removed from existence we shall continue in this direction so long as I am WA Delegate.
Publisher: Pallaith (Ghost) :: Executive Editor: El Fiji Grande :: Managing Editor: BMWSurfer
The Northern Lights is produced by the Ministry of Communications on behalf of the Government of The North Pacific and distributed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Except where otherwise indicated, all content does not represent the views of the Government of The North Pacific.