Note: I understand the reluctance to use a word like "policy" here. But it appears to me to be a fact that, when any sort of in-the-moment dispute arises, there is an inevitable appeal to authority of a meta question. Even if we don't want to call things "policies", pointing to a meta question's top-voted answer as the last word of a dispute is functionally identical to actually having and enforcing a policy.
So I don't want to get too hung up on the specific words. If another word which describes how things play out here is a better fit, I'd be happy to edit it into this question. If "policy" is the most accurate one, that's information worth being aware of. Especially if that's not the way users would like the stack to operate. And it really does seem to me that when some users want to see A, and someone does B instead, it turns out that those users find A is policy-like enough that B is formally unacceptable.
This all might be better than edit wars and proxy disputes. But whatever the stack at large might prefer, if it looks like a policy, walks like a policy, and quacks like a policy, it's probably a policy (or a duck, but it's the policy part that is relevant here). I'm open to being better educated on how this all plays out here, but I feel that the issues I'm trying to describe exist identically whether we use the word "policy" to describe them or not. And it's those issues which seem to me to be causing the problems that I am observing.
I've observed some disagreements in and around the stack lately regarding specific actions in specific circumstances. Some of those seem to have become heated and unpleasant for those involved. I don't think it would be helpful to this question to link to, or precisely describe, specific examples. But some explanations offered in many of those situations are very explicitly "this is stack policy, I'm just applying it".
Outside of a handful of specific rules, I'm not clear on how stack policy is defined. We discuss things on meta fairly often, but frequently questions and answers only draw the attention of a small number of members. Worse, the vote totals can change over time. I recall a specific case of trying to determine stack policy which was decided (as best as I can tell) by an answer gaining a plurality of votes in a certain window of time. But now, some time later, the balance of votes indicates the community favoring a different approach than the one described in the previously top-voted answer.
I'm not saying I have a specific, superior suggestion for how to decide on policies. I am, however, unsure if we already have a standard which says that if 41 votes are cast for suggestion A, and 40 votes are cast for suggestion B, suggestion A becomes, officially, the only permitted approach and that the 41st vote represents an absolute justification for A in all subsequent disputes.
Do we have a set of criteria which define official stack policies, especially for questions discussed on meta? Is the balance of votes on any situation raised in meta the final word on that situation? Should we be periodically reviewing specific, key meta posts to see if community consensus has changed (automatically changing enforceable policy with it)?