There are two related issues here:
- Does downvoting on Ask Ubuntu make Ubuntu culture more authoritarian and/or closed-minded?
- Are there alternatives to downvoting that should usually be used instead?
The second question has been discussed before; I'll focus on answering the first one, and I'll try to answer the second one as it relates to the first one.
Does downvoting on Ask Ubuntu make Ubuntu culture more authoritarian and/or closed-minded?
Being "down-voted" is somehow ancient and leads into direction like
Down-voting reminds me always of educators or child-care-workers like
in times before high-school (schools in time of colonialism ? --- ;o)
Votes on a post are about the post and not the author. Voting up or down based on the identity of the author is actually the one kind of voting that is prohibited here.
But there are a few ways voting reflects on an author, too:
- Most people take pride in their contributions, and thus like having their posts upvoted and dislike having them downvoted.
- Voting leads to reputation changes, and reputation is about the author themself, in the sense that is is a composite measure of how people have reacted to all their posts (and some other site activity), rather than giving information about any specific post. If Ask Ubuntu is a game, reputation is the score.
- In what is intended to be extreme and unusual cases, a user whose questions (or answers) appear to be especially low quality--which considers downvotes, upvotes, closure, and self-deletion--may be prevented from posting anymore questions (or answers) until the overall quality calculation improves.
So when you vote a post up or down, are you saying something about its author? Well, yes, but not directly.
There is nothing un-modern or closed-minded about expressing what you think; voting is a way to do that. In the larger world outside Ask Ubuntu, it is even often considered appropriate to express vigorous negative opinions about people themselves (as well as their actions). For example, a candidate running for high political office will come under extreme scrutiny--there's just too much at stake to always be nice.
Stack Exchange does differ from most open-minded, anti-authoritarian cultures in one notable way: we have enormously less tolerance for anything resembling a personal attack. In some ways that's good, but actually I do think that has the potential to suppress the open exchange of ideas, if we are not careful. I don't think we err on the side of being too openly critical, though.
Furthermore, one of the differences between the Ask Ubuntu voting system an an authoritarian "educational" system like the kind presented in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (and the kind that exists today, more or less, throughout many parts of the world) is that:
- We try to respect people's personal autonomy; we don't vote on posts to control their authors' lives.
- We are much more democratic. This is not limited to the voting system, but it includes it: Votes are being cast by a large body of users, not by a tiny cadre of overlords.
- We recognize that votes--up or down--can be wrong, sometimes even if they represent a broad consensus. Objective reality is a higher authority than communal votes.
With that said, there are some real concerns about the negative effects of our reputation system.
The problems, I think, arise almost entirely from the effects of upvoting, since after all, downvoting removes little rep, compared to the amount added by upvoting. That doesn't mean you shouldn't upvote a lot--within a reputation system, frequent voting does much more good than harm. This is a concern about the system itself.
The strong emphasis on reputation is a way in which Ask Ubuntu (and the Stack Exchange system as a whole) might share disadvantages with some authoritarian, reward-based "educational" practices. In short, the problem is that rewarding people for doing something often tends to send the message that it's not worth doing without the reward, and not worth excelling at except as measured by the reward.
For a good discussion of some of these issues as they may apply to the Stack Exchange system, I recommend:
As I've said before in other contexts, I think this just illustrates why it's important to have a variety of different resources with different communities that work in different ways. Ask Ubuntu (and the Stack Exchange system in general) has many advantages, but some disadvantages too. No one website is best for everything or in every way. The Ubuntu community is sort of a microcosm of this: we have a number of different support options including and beyond Ask Ubuntu.
Are there alternatives to downvoting that should usually be used instead?
There are sometimes alternatives to downvoting, and sometimes people downvote when they really shouldn't, so in that sense, yes.
But in general, no.
When editing or downvoting are both acceptable, editing is better. But if someone won't edit for whatever reason--for example, they might not have time or the post might not be clear enough for someone besides its author to improve it--then downvoting is still a whole lot better than nothing. (Commenting constructively should often accompany a downvote.)
Often editing is not acceptable. Some bad posts can't be edited to make them good, because such an edit wouldn't respect the intent of the original author. We don't generally edit questions and answers to fundamentally change their meaning from what their authors intended.
We also do not delete most bad posts immediately, because they could be improved, or we could have been wrong in thinking they were bad. Furthermore, there's no reason to think people would prefer to find that their posts have been deleted, than to find they've been downvoted. If we were super-willing to delete people's posts swiftly without giving them any chance to improve them, some users would probably see us as silencing them unfairly. They would be right.
This is not just a theoretical point. It has happened.
Why not just not upvote bad posts?
Because then not upvoting would mean what downvoting means now, and every post that doesn't get upvoted--including many excellent posts that just haven't been noticed--would appear to have been judged as bad.
In ordinary conversation, people disagree with one another, and sometimes people think something another person has done or created is not up to applicable standards. They usually don't--or at least shouldn't--just remain silent when they don't agree. People who don't feel comfort objecting to things they think are bad experience major social difficulties, because to be unable to say something is bad is deeply disempowering and inefficient.
I think it would not work well for us, either.