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…

24 Responses

  1. Well said, and well argued in Prad’s post comments too. I don’t think Nozick is the strongest or most convincing philosopher for the Libertarian / Anarchy position (in fact some point out that he presents a weak straw-man-ish argument that has hurt the cause of freedom to some extent), but I respect you for knowing about and liking theory to the extent you do. You’re a good clear thinker and writer Dale, keep it up ^^

  2. :) Nice post. Freedom isn’t pretty; it’s beautiful and ugly, brilliant and stupid, never static, always organic, and alive. Its expression cannot please everyone, nor even anyone all the time. It is more than any one person can imagine, or enjoy, it is more even than one group, or even a majority can define; it is essentially respect for the unique perspective and expression of every mind including the minorities, down to that quirky one individual perspective you will NEVER understand.

    Freedom costs a lot, and is worth everything.

  3. Love that time-travel freedom, the “ability to move elsewhere to dodge the knife about to sink into one’s back”!

    Prad Prathivi said, and asked, ” It’s hoped that Second Life represents a perfect society free of government and restrictions, where we can all just get along and function together without an enforcement of power over each other. Result: Mainland.. how’s that working out for you?”

    My two small chunks of land, one mainland and one estate, can perhaps serve as an example of the power of rules. Me… I think I like anarchy better than sly rule-breaking.

    On my mainland parcel, (on a sim that was up for grabs when I came), I am enjoying how the new neighbors are either following my lead or are like-minded — planting trees, putting in houses and landscapes that I find “pretty.” I have no “legal” reason to complain about anything on my mainland plot: nobody is breaking any rules/

    At my estate-island place, where the covenant forbids rotating signs, clubs, and sales of free items, all three forbidden features have moved in. My neighbor has flashing rotating signs, runs sripted strobe lights 24/7, is selling “Reseller Pack” “Business in a Box” items, and has been inviting and encouraging bots to sit on his 24-hour camping pads. He has a freebie area but it’s totally useless to the newbies who go there, because they need clothing and he is giving out houses. They have to save up their camping money to buy his $100L freebies, for he is not helping them find the other freebie places. sometimes I walk over there and give them stuff. This was supposed to have been “residential” land, but my neighbor’s lil club has a traffic rating of 14,000+ now. When I walk over and talk to the campers, only a very few
    of them respond.

  4. I love the anarchy as well but I consider it a wonderful dystopia ;) A utopia wouldn’t have so many zyngo machines or griefers :>

  5. Oh, I dunno, Chad. My utopia has zyngo machines, and even the occasional griefer (and anti-griefer squads with cool uniforms!). But that may be exactly what you mean by “wonderful dystopia” (my favorite oxymoron so far this week). :)

    Very, very nicely said, Cloud. And thanks, Landsend! Yeah, Anarchy State and Utopia is one o’ them book best read first when young. Like much of Rand!

    Interesting datapoint, Vremya! Has anyone talked to the estate owner about the violations by your neighbor? Might be interesting to know what leads estate owners to enforce, or fail to enforce, the nominal rules…

  6. I think you may have overreacted a little to Prad’s anti-Mainland snobbery, as his is a fairly common attitude, but both positions are understandable. Well maybe his less so, I honestly don’t know what he’s saying. He seems to be yearning for a feudal master, or peasants to whip and enslave. Doesn’t he know about Goreans? :D

    Seriously, I’ve always lived on the Mainland, simply because I can’t abide by living under someone else’s Covenant, restricting what I can or can’t do. Even worse is getting mixed up in the occasionally psychotic group politics that can evolve when a small number of essentially random residents all rent expensive plots on a single sim from one landlord, whose personality can range from classic absentee landlord to psychotic control freak. Those private sims easily become ghastly little medieval villages, the quaint, idealized Hobbitons morphing after midnight into Transylvanian terror towns, replete with nepotism, witch-hunts, and despair:

    “Your freaky furry party guests were lewd and crude on my land!”
    “You’re only taking her side because she’s your committed handfasted life partner!”
    “Please read the rules again, peasants, NO GODDAMN BANTHA RAIDERS! It is a violation of our Gorean Drow Cyberpunk theme!”

    If that’s Prad’s idea of the superiority of the ‘Aristocracy’ then well, I say viva la Revolucion. Sure, the trains in Caledon run on time, but behind each foppish monocle there is a look of sheer terror, lest their actions be deemed inconsiderate or out of theme and they are ostracized by their own tartan mafia!

    On the other hand, I always thought Mainland could use some minimal tweaks to improve it – for example, every other sim could be designated residential or commercial. That would eliminate 90% of your eyesore problems right there.

  7. Hey, you make covenanted island estates sound like good psychotic fun! :) I’ve always thought there should be more “drama as performance art” in the grid. So much of the drama we see is so inexpert…

    Yeah, some sort of general zoning of sims seems like a plausible idea (although it shouldn’t involve moving tons of already-established ppl; it should be done in new areas). I’d love to see the Lab experiment with that, rather than starting out at the “completely impossible to do well” end of the stick. Ah well…

  8. Way back when I was a little more than new but still too young to know better, I would have shared Prad’s view.

    But then my eyes were opened.

    Actually, I just chilled out.

    Yes the mainland is a bizarre mix and not everything I see I like, but so is my hometown. Life is messy and thank fek for that – it makes it interesting.

    And once people start saying “you can’t build that, it’s not pretty enough” where does that stop?

    The mainland is what PIs can never be – leave ’em be I say, sex bits an’ all.

  9. Chilling out is good. :)

    I’m actually finding myself wondering where the whole “the mainland is an ugly mess” meme comes from. ’cause really it isn’t, in general. I’ve wandered randomly alot lately, and haven’t really come across much in the way of ugly messes. There are boring rectangular stores, and there are places with lots of plywood where someone is in the midst of building, but that doesn’t really rise to the level of “ugly” for me.

    Maybe I’m just easy to please… :)

  10. […] A jaunt northward Posted on 29 April 2009 by daleinnis So v good friend Chestnut put up a weblog entry about her an’ Zha’s new mainland land, and I thought I’d pop over and look at it, being a big mainland fan myself. […]

  11. […] that’s most obviously and chaotically like this is the mainland (which, as you may recall, I adore); but private estates are that way also, in that each one represents a consensus of some sort among […]

  12. […] But I have a landmark! :) And I expect to wander aimlessly along Route 7 again in the not too distant future. (Mainland ftw!) […]

  13. Freedom means your neighbor can crawl the whole sim to a halt and you can’t use your land.

    I think this trumps all other arguments. We could debate the use-cases and desirability of mainland land and what is beautiful, but if people can drag down the performance of a sim, crash it with some simple scripts, etc, well, then there’s no content there to debate.

    At the very least, some sort of automated system for sim-self-management should be in place. Prad (and I) aren’t arguing that the mainland be tightly controlled – you draw a false dichotomy in your argument. We’re arguing that there are so little controls in the mainland that things are far too easily griefed or broken.

    Some ideas:

    Why isn’t there some sort of voting system where landowners get votes equal to how much land they own in a sim?

    Why not let people indicate on their land what type of land it is? (commercial, private, art, educational, whatever) and then show the statistics on the map / when looking for land. People could organically find common interests / sims that are tailored for their use case simply by having access to data.

    Ignore user / all of user’s objects. This was talked about at the lab before the big downsizings.

    Block neighbor view. On your parcel, make it so that you can choose for your visitors not to see anything on your neighbor’s property.

    Instanced indoor private spaces. An idea I float around every few months – I’d love a tool where I can draw an invisible box around an area and deem it “private” where no one outside of that area can see in.

    None of these ideas require some 3rd party controlling space, but would offer more control for individual land-owners.

    • Sure, the fact that one user can consume more than their share of the resources of a sim, degrading the experience for everyone else, is a bug that should be fixed. It’s not peculiar to mainland, though; someone with a million-prim scripted hair can do that to your estate as well.

      The parts of Prad’s original post that I was responding to are the parts about aesthetics, not about server resource-contention.

      On that voting system, just what would these big landowners be able to vote ON? What color the neighbor’s house is allowed to be? Srsly, if you want to be able to control that, buy an estate and write it into your covenant. The fact that you own more of the sim than I do doesn’t mean you ought to be able to control what I do in any sense beyond what’s in the ToS; that is, for me, the best part about the mainland.

      • “On that voting system, just what would these big landowners be able to vote ON?”

        That of course is the main question. Off the top of my head, I think for some stuff, simple majority or 2/3 rule would work. For more serious suggestions (banning from estate), maybe 75%? Or even, maybe 100% for some things. (Allowing a week for a vote, and abstentions don’t count.)

        – If at least 75% of a sim wants someone evicted, they should be evictable. Let’s move the policing system more local.
        – Shared ban lists, maybe 2/3 majority?
        – Set sun?
        – Zoning – commercial vs. residential
        – Theme: Let people vote on theme. Then attach meta-tagging to the estate in search / About Estate as to theme. Allow this data to be accessed online. Imagine the search tools for finding communities!
        – Rating
        – Access to high script / collision tools for estate. (Elect a representative(s) who could examine the sim’s resources)

      • That all strikes me as incredibly horrible. :) I don’t think that the owner of 75% of a sim should be able to ban people from the 25% that he doesn’t own; why should he?

        If all that “voting on a theme” does is cause the string receiving the most votes to show up in search somewhere, I suppose that would be okay; but if it means that I could be ARd for being “out of theme” because the owner(s) of 2/3 of the land around me decide that my cloud-castle doesn’t fit in with their “urban shopping mall” theme, that’s again horrible.

        What is the obsession with control? We have the estates for controlled places; does every inch of the grid have to be under someone’s thumb?

        I think *everyone* who owns land in a sim ought to be able to have read-only access to the estate tools; why not?

        Tyranny of the majority is one of the worst dangers of democracy. Can’t you keep it to the estates?

  14. “I don’t think that the owner of 75% of a sim should be able to ban people from the 25% that he doesn’t own; why should he? ”

    Because if he has a reason to ban someone, then it’s likely a good reason for the whole sim to ban them. Yes, neighbors may have disputes, but they have disputes, as is, so what’s the difference? My suggestion is a step in defense of griefers.

    “if it means that I could be ARd for being “out of theme” because the owner(s) of 2/3 of the land around me decide that my cloud-castle doesn’t fit in with their “urban shopping mall” theme, that’s again horrible.”

    I agree. I see theme-voting as a way of essentially providing data on what’s already on the grid and making it easier for people to find what they want.

    “I think *everyone* who owns land in a sim ought to be able to have read-only access to the estate tools; why not? ”

    Then you should move onto a sim where the majority of people feel the same way. ;)

    “Tyranny of the majority is one of the worst dangers of democracy. Can’t you keep it to the estates?”

    The estates are monarchy. Democracy’s a step up.

  15. I guess all I can say is that you have FAR more trust in the rationality of the powerful than I do. :) If someone who owns 75% of the sim that my house is in happens to hate someone, that is for me no reason whatever that that person should be unable to come to MY house unless I decide otherwise. It might help with the occasional griefer, but the potential for abuse far overbalances that benefit imho…

    • If you have a sucky neighbor, it’s going to be a problem no matter what. If you don’t, then you have powers against griefers. But I wouldn’t suggest the voting be universal – I’d basically make it something where there has to be a unanimous vote to initiate. Or just have it on some sims.

      • If I have a “sucky” neighbor, presumably things will be somewhat worse if they have powers over the entire sim just by virtual of owning alot of it, eh? :)

        Sure, if it’s unanimous, and every single parcel owner in the sim things that X should be banned, then X should be banned. And X *will* be banned, due to being in the banlist for every parcel. Problem solved!

  16. You just don’t believe in Democracy, Dale ;)

    I’m glad we got to discuss this topic, though.

  17. I’ve been reading this with great interest. I do NOT like the idea of someone else on my sim banning people from my parcel. I have banned someone that visits my next-door-neighbor (I believe) because that visitor killed my chicken. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t visit next door.

    On the other hand, I LOVE Ron’s other ideas: block neighbor view and private spaces. I would love to block some of my neighbors’ buildings, but putting up trees uses up my prims. And I would like to get privacy without having to buy my own island.

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