Utopia is not a lie

In a recent weblog posting, Prad Prathivi bemoans the condition of the mainland, and calls for more control, saying that (and I’m probably distorting his thesis here) the more or less uncontrolled mainland is so ugly that it proves that when people aren’t controlled enough, they make icky stuff, and so “utopia is a lie”.

This posting (and some of the comments on it) came closer to enraging me than anything I’ve read in a Second Life related weblog posting in quite awhile. :) I may be reading more into it than was intended, but it seem so typical of the whole “freedom is bad because people use it to do stuff I don’t like” thought that it pushed some of my buttons really hard. I wrote a long and probably insufficiently thought out comment, which I’ll reproduce (with the typos fixed) below.

It occurs to me, also, that all of this is strongly related to the thinking in Nozick’s “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”, a book that I’ve always loved (and ought to read again sometime). In that book, Nozick starts from basic philosophical premises, derives a description of the ideal society, and finds that it’s basically anarchy (i.e. everyone can do what they like, including starting non-anarchical societies (like private estates!) within it), with just a few qualifications that it would be very hard to implement in real life: the most important one is the ability to move elsewhere if you don’t like the one that you’re in (including, as I recall, being able to move elsewhere in time to avoid that knife that’s about to sink into your back).

Nozick’s utopia is, sadly, not feasible in RL at our current levels of technology (and Nozick himself backed away from it in a sense in later works, writing about more statists and more practical arrangements of society); but it describes SL almost exactly. People can do what they like, but you can always TP away. If you want to start your own society, go right ahead: buy a private island or a big chunk of mainland, alone or with your buddies, and impose whatever rules you like there. But if someone else, somewhere else on the grid, is doing stuff you wish they wouldn’t, tough luck!

And that’s Utopia for me. :)

Anyway, here’s what I wrote on Prad’s posting. Comments and feedback most welcome.

So let’s see. There are vast areas of SL, the island estates, where there are covenants in place, where parcel owners can build only within the covenant imposed by the estate owner, where things can be just as controlled as people want. There are lots of different islands with lots of different covenants, and people can choose from a wide variety of degrees and types of control.

And then there’s an area, the mainland, where the only covenant is the ToS, and people can do whatever they want within the ToS. Everyone who buys or rents mainland knows this in advance, and presumably buys or rents mainland because that idea suits them.

From this we conclude that mainland is awful and broken and needs to be controlled! It is ugly (i.e. it doesn’t fit my particular taste)! It has things on it that I personally don’t like! People build things that I would rather they would not build! Oh no! It must be cleaned up (i.e. made to fit my personal taste better)! It must have a government! It must be maintained!

Pheh. I’m going to get a bit mean and sarcastic here, because you’re attacking something that I value highly. Apologies in advance. :)

I love the mainland for its anarchy, its unpredictability, its freedom. Most of the land that I own is mainland. My main holding is the park near the center of Hughes Rise (stop by sometime!). Yeah, I’ve had big ugly stores move in next door, and all manner of wannabe clubs, and a “police station”, and some lots with really ugly FOR SALE signs, and all of them amused me. It’s mainland, ffs! That’s how it works! If you want nice clean suburban yards where you get a fine for letting your grass grow too long, go buy estate land.

It really bugs me that people can’t stand the idea of having *any* part of the grid be free and open to anything within-ToS. Does every square meter of the grid have to be under the control of some finger-wagging controlling body? Is anarchy really all that terrifying and unbearable? It’s not like people are really in physical danger in the seedy areas. It’s not like someone’s going to trash your car if you leave it parked on the mainland (at worst it’ll be returned to your inventory).

For me utopia is a place where people can do whatever they want, with reasonable and minimal limits to prevent violating the rights of others (i.e. the ToS). Yes, this results in anarchy, in ugliness and in beauty, in chaos and unpredictability, and creativity and squalor, in stuff I love and stuff I don’t. That’s what’s wonderful about it! Managing it, controlling it, cleaning it up, would ruin it. Yes, the mainland is Utopia, and it’s not a lie at all! It’s just something that seems to enrage and/or frighten some people, for reasons I really don’t understand.

“Yet Mainland needs a good clean up – I want to see Mature content moved away”; why do you think that your wants should be the law? “but I don’t see that happening at all.” And a good thing, too. :)

end rant…

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