I had been a little "involved" in this meta question regarding overzealous comments, and I noticed this in Martin's answer:

I agree, that these comments may be seen as a bit overzealous. They suggest that this is a community driven by rules, which is definitely not the case.

I saw the sentence that I highlighted in bold, and a chill went up my spine. My whole life was a lie. I have always viewed SE as a very strict place, where "rules" are enforced to the core. I always appreciated this alot, even though it annoys me from time to time. But honestly, I did not expect this, at all. SE has no rules?

Ever since I noticed this, I have been looking around on Mother Meta. I found a few posts that do say that SE has no rules, but only guidelines. I, however, don't agree that the FAQ is made up of just mere guidelines. My views of what a guidelines is, and what a rule is:

Guidelines are like "You may do...", but rules are like "You must do...".

Guidelines make it easier for users to use a certain feature, but rules make it possible to use the feature. You can use the feature if you don't follow the guidelines (albeit not so smoothly), but you can't use the feature if you don't follow the rules. (you simply won't be allowed to)

Now, let's consider a couple of examples from the Help Center:

  1. Be Nice: We all know this rule/guideline. SE does expect users to maintain professionalism while using this site. But of course, this is very much a rule from my perspective, because if you violate the rule, you will be suspended/banned from using the site.

  2. What topics can I ask about here? : Here it's even more obvious that the very idea of what SE is, a Q/A site, is made up of rules, or else we wouldn't have such a question in the FAQ anyway. Why is the question What topics can I ask about here? such a frequently asked question anyway? Because we at SE, won't allow answering questions that don't follow it. It's pretty much a rule to me.

I will be adding more examples if needed.

Please keep in mind, I am not against the fact that SE has rules. I very much support having rules, it has made SE the cleanest and concise Q/A site I have ever seen. But dismissing the FAQ as not rules seems to be a bit off to me. Please let me know your views on this matter.

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    $\begingroup$ Are gonna argue here about semantics here or what? $\endgroup$ – Mithoron Aug 14 '17 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ I think the overall point of the comment is that the community wasn't built to enforce some rule structure. The "rules" are in place to keep the site orderly, but they shouldn't get in the way of the primary purpose of the site. We should have more concern about whether something fits within the mission of the site rather than whether it fits exactly into the current iteration of the rules. $\endgroup$ – Tyberius Aug 14 '17 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you overlooked the "driven" part of the sentence. We're primarily driven by good content, but we still have rules. It's just a matter of being able to do some "letter of the law"/"spirit of the law" distinctions from time to time. $\endgroup$ – jonsca Aug 14 '17 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ (otherwise, I agree on the point of this being primarily semantics rather than something that needs a heavy debate) $\endgroup$ – jonsca Aug 14 '17 at 23:25

With such a catchy title, and leaving out the "guideline" thing, it's kinda implied that SE is a chaotic mess. That's not the case, even though we just have pesky guidelines, not an 17000-page rulebook full of "thou shalt not drink while close voting.".

That's where the human element comes into play. Rules are stiff and unbendable, but they cover a limited set of situations, and it's impossible to cover every possible scenario. There's the upside though: If you do manage to cover all situations, a script would be able to run the site. Scripts don't get tired.

We're never told how to review first posts, we're never obliged to comment with downvotes, we're never made to upvote answers, and so on. We're only encouraged to do so. "Be Nice" is just a guideline that's actively enforced. Considering niceness is subjective, I might even type a fucking in an answer and get away with it.

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    $\begingroup$ "thou shalt not drink while close voting" That's what you think. You aren't my mother! $\endgroup$ – pentavalentcarbon Aug 14 '17 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Which part of my question implies SE is a chaotic mess? When did I ever imply that? $\endgroup$ – Pritt says Reinstate Monica Aug 15 '17 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Pritt as I said, quoting half of what Mart said, instead of mentioning "guideline" in the title as well. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Aug 15 '17 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ inb4 this gets flagged as rude or abusive $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Aug 15 '17 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ Thou shalt not drink while close voting — so that’s why Mart rarely closes any questions in the afternoon/evening? $\endgroup$ – Jan Aug 17 '17 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan I believe in the power of community closing. I have only closed 5 questions in the last quarter. And since my failed attempt to reconstruct the homework close reason, I'm not touching these questions any more. So in principle there is very seldom a reason for me to close anything. (Also I would not have closed this question.) $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Sep 20 '17 at 6:01

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