Who Watches the Watchmen?

An Editorial by Kalel Venkman

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The phrase is Latin, and is literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

In other words, “Who watches the watchmen?”  I have encountered this for years, and I finally figured out the answer to that question.

And it’s a real answer.

The real answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is, “We watch ourselves.  We are answerable to our own conscience, ethics, morals and sense of duty. We can trust no one else’s more than our own.”

And that implies that we are being asked to follow somebody else’s ethics and morals without questioning them, and that’s exactly what we’re being asked to do by those very people who ask “Who watches the watchmen?” What they’re implicitly saying is that our own judgment should give way to theirs.

This argument is almost always used not in the search for truth, but in the obstruction of it.  It introduces a self-referential logical conundrum that cannot be solved, thereby stopping any reasonable discourse in its tracks. By attempting to declare that there is no clear acceptable answer, the speaker implies that the opponents are intrinsically wrong, and this is a logical fallacy. An unknown solution does not imply incorrect action. It’s basically a false dilemma fallacy, similar to a loaded question such as “Have you stopped beating your wife?” or “Are you going to admit that you’re wrong?”

Those who stand up for the good, the innocent, the right and the just are often publicly attacked by those seek to set themselves on a throne and tell others how to think, feel and act — or worse, seek simply to do society harm and not be caught at it.

The next time you hear someone ask “who watches the watchmen”, think about why they’re really asking this.  The answers may surprise you.

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Facebook Comments


  1. Vagabond "Tony" Carter

    Related to this is a previous Editorial
    this information remains true to this day

  2. Ask the watchers, instead, “Why did/do you do that?” There is a question we can and will gladly answer in full. It is a question asked by someone who truly wishes transparency and accountability. Contrast to the “Who watches…?” question, which is really demand for a higher authority, disguised as a question in order to mask its source and nature. Do people care who asks a question? Not usually; they just want to see an answer. When a demand is made, on the other hand, people generally think about its validity and wish to know its source.

    Reporters ask questions. Politicians make demands.

  3. An honest question indeed. I’m not really a fan of the entire controversy between this, although I have followed it quite a bit. There are people in bad societies in Second Life who would say such things, but there are also people in modern societies in-world that would as well. Personally, in my point of view I wouldn’t want anyone not actually sanctioned openly by the higher authority that is in charge being The Watchmen, whether the intentions were for bad or good. I am not questioning the authority of the people here, but merely adding my own opinion to this matter. If I recall, the whole theory about “Watching the Watchmen” was a very interesting one. If, by chance, a group is acting of their own desire, and not directly under another presence that has actual legal authority, they tend to be regarded as vigilantes even if they mean to not be such, and even if they work for the greater good of society. Sometimes by the legal authority itself, sometimes by the media, sometimes by the commonfolk, and sometimes even by the very people they fight against. In some cases it could even be any combination of the four. I followed the story however and from what it seems it appears the legal authority should be watching the Watchers. Just my honest opinion of course. Not to keep oneself safe from accusation as well, but because it seems to be a more tactical and publicly acceptable course than acting on one’s own volition. Take, for example, the movie Hancock. I know, it’s not the best of examples out there, but to get down to the point he essentially seemed to have gained great public approval once he stopped acting alone and started cooperating with the authorities. I did read plenty of evidence that suggests however that Linden Labs, or a small part of it at the very least, was fully okay with the Justice League Unlimited. The problem I see here though is that everything was so privatized. Before jumping to conclusions, no, I do not mean to refer to the wiki leak. What I mean is the connections themselves linking the JLU to Linden Labs. Until that leak occurred, most of what was tossed around was gossip and heresay, mostly about Plexus Linden. If, however, rather than keeping things like meetings, who was supporting the JLU, etcetera, private and almost completely shut off from the public, the JLU at least were honest about these things a lot sooner, if it were more properly openly explained to the common populace, it would be more easily acceptable to have Watchers Watched by a higher authority, in this case, Linden Labs, and for these Watchers to be supported openly by Linden Labs. It sounds somewhat of a reasonable idea, at least.

  4. Hi, NotoriousD!

    First, thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned response.

    The Justice League is watched by a higher authority, and if Linden Lab took exception to what the League does for the community and the manner in which we do it, we’d have been gone long ago. We follow the rules Linden Lab has laid out to proscribe the behavior of everyone on the grid, and it is certainly true that we have worked closely with the Lindens in the past on certain projects having to do with grid security. If they had issues with what we did, they mentioned it and we changed our procedures to suit. This didn’t happen often, because we were diligent about adhering to the rules in the first place – so to reply to your desire that a higher legal authority be watching the League, I would say that this is already the case.

    The need for keeping these things privately I think should be obvious given the nature of the material – much of the information we track relates to emergent situations, and griefer organizations would be tipped off to what was being collected in evidence against them before we could deploy it to Linden Lab and/or real life law enforcement (yes, we have had to talk to real life law enforcement on occasion). This would severely impair our effectiveness. While we serve the public interest, it is not necessarily in the public interest to simply show everything we’re working on while we’re still sifting through and validating our information. It was in the best interests of the community that we not release information potentially harmful to others, especially in the understanding that the body of knowledge we maintain is in constant flux and frequently must be corrected and updated.

    I draw your attention once again to the question of who is asking the question in the first place – it is now public knowledge that the Alphaville Herald, in collusion with Tizzers Foxchase, manufactured much of the press against the League by endorsing and exploiting a partially successful attempt to infiltrate the League and steal some of the information we had been keeping away from prying eyes. Foxchase, with the full administrative access to the Herald he has enjoyed since 2007, frequently posed as Pixeleen Mistral in the press and was able to prosecute a complex public relations campaign, even to the point of claiming that Pixeleen Mistral was Mark P. McCahill in real life, and “proving” this with a personal email from McCahill – from a fabricated Gmail account. McCahills’ real email address derives from Duke University. If we receive an email directly from McCahill from his Duke University account, it will clarify matters, but we don’t anticipate that this will happen. So again we must consider the source when we hear this unanswerable question.

    Your reasoning, though, is still flawed from a Socratic perspective – it doesn’t really answer the question of who should watch the watchers, it simply identifies a group other than the League to do it. But then who watches them? You see the problem. You’re not answering the question. You’re simply moving it.

  5. Your mention of privacy is well placed. I did not mean that everything should be open, I was merely suggesting that, say, the attendees of the meetings be known, like who was there, just to get it out there who exactly is most supportive of your group. What was/is said during meetings is surely something to remain private, however.

    Your remarks on the Herald campaigns are a surprise however. After everything calmed down I hadn’t paid much attention to the whole thing(my interests tend to shift constantly). I had no clue that such an elaborate move was pulled to fabricate Pixeleen’s real life identity. At least now I have more knowledge now of this event. However, for the sake of staying on top I will remain on the focus of your last bit there.

    I’m only somewhat of a philosophical person, so of course I expect errors in my responses. My response and perspective was given from a structural view(citizens watched by JLU, JLU watched by Linden Labs). It was a rather simple perspective, honestly, and of course it doesn’t answer the question appropriately. My response was mostly however towards just a snippet of what I read in the article:

    “The real answer to “Who Watches the Watchmen?” is, “We watch ourselves. We are answerable to our own conscience, ethics, morals and sense of duty. We can trust no one else’s more than our own.””

    I’m not usually a nitpicker, but I feel that simply considering “We watch ourselves and account for ourselves and what we do” to be the real answer to such a question is a bit odd. It is also, however, understandable. If I may bring an example from a somewhat unrelated subject into this: Recently reports on the news of real life super heroes have been made on television news stations. I wasn’t there to see them initially but a friend of mine that lives some few states away mentioned it one morning while I was talking to him through Yahoo. So I looked it up online and found several articles regarding it, that stated a group of common citizens turned hero were watching the streets. I read that they were rather successful, in their attempts, and the leader, if not figurehead, of them even stopped someone from stealing a vehicle, and apparently even busted a few drug peddlers.

    These reports is where my input comes in. They also state he has been shot at multiple times. Were it not for the fact that he took measures to ensure his own safety(the reports state he wears a flak jacket and armor guards on the arms and legs), he would have been fatally injured. Furthermore, even if someone is experienced or capable, as with all human beings even a hero can make mistakes. So the idea that the hero is responsible for what they do is, while unorthodox(maybe it’s just my view of things, I’m not entirely certain myself), is also near completely accurate.

    I do apologize if my input seems rather off topic.

  6. Not AT ALL off topic, actually. So how about those real-life heroes? Are they vigilantes? Not necessarily. Generally we reserve the term “vigilante” for someone who acts unlawfully. The online dictionary at http://dictionary.reference.com/ gives us three definitions that I think are all worth discussing: “vigilante – 1. (noun) a member of a vigilance committee. 2. (noun) any person who takes the law into his or her own hands, as by avenging a crime. 3. (adjective) done violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures: vigilante justice.”

    Definitions #2 and #3 talk about revenge (which is different from justice) and about acting outside the law. Definition #1 talks about a “vigilance committee” so we might look up that definition too: “vigilance committee – 1. (noun) an unauthorized committee of citizens organized for the maintenance of order and the summary punishment of crime in the absence of regular or efficient courts. 2. (noun) History/Historical . (in the South) an organization of citizens using extralegal means to control or intimidate blacks and abolitionists and, during the civil war, to suppress Union loyalists.”

    Well, that obviously connotes unlawful/unauthorized action. But NONE of those definitions talk about actions that fall INSIDE the law and ARE authorized; things that citizens can do both passively (e.g. observing, reporting) and actively (e.g. most U.S. states–and many other countries–allow normal citizens or residents to make an arrest if they carefully follow procedure and can justify their actions; certain actions ARE authorized even if you aren’t “an authority”).

    If you witness a real crime, are you going to act, and if so, how? Lots of people–especially these days–may simply turn away, pull their hoods up, walk off, and pretend it’s somebody else’s problem.

  7. A bit odd, I’ll agree to – but an answer to a question intended specifically not to have a suitable answer would necessarily an unexpected one.

    However, I stand by my statement. The alternative is that we allow others to define what we think is right. People who ask you to do this are usually asking for your submission, and are trying to abrogate your rights as a human being to trust in your own judgment. This is what they must do to justify their own actions against both society the individuals who comprise it, and their own malicious history.

    You and I don’t have to accept this. What makes their judgment superior to our own? If one accepts the question as viable and valid despite the unresolvable conflict, then it is equally valid turned to face the other way.

    Or to put it simply, “Who watches those who demand that the watchmen be watched? Do they seek to place themselves above the watchmen? And, what have they to fear?”

    As you can see, the argument can go in circles pretty much forever if you accept the validity of it at all. I, personally, don’t.

  8. A little digging found the first actual corroboration that Pixeleen Mistral, the monofocused editrix of the Herald who has spent literally years in an active smear campaign against the League in retribution for our work against griefer groups in Second Life, is in fact Mark P. McCahill of Duke University’s Office of Information Technology.

    We never accept information as fact if that information comes from a single source, or an untrusted one. Now that we have multiple corroborative sources for this information, we can safely move it to the “proven” column.

    The link: http://www.opencobalt.org/community/contributors-volunteers/mark-mccahill-collaborative-systems-architect

  9. Indeed, research is always important in these matters. And I do see the point you’re making at the moment. There can never be a single entity or group in full control, in my own opinion.

What do you think?