“Democracy” you say…

There’s been this meme going around the weblogs lately, on the notion that Second Life should (or shouldn’t, or could, or couldn’t) be, or contain, or support, or be structured as, a democracy.

I think this is a fun idea :) and will play with it here a little. This isn’t intended as a direct response to, or agreement or disagreement with, anything that anyone else has written. Well, except where it is.

Some folks have said that it’s really impossible, because you couldn’t have direct democracy because you couldn’t get all the Residents in one place to vote or whatever, and you couldn’t have representative democracy because who would decide which groups would get represented (furries? Goreans? dragons?), and anyway however you did it people would just cheat by creating additional accounts and additional Residents to get extra votes.

I think alot of that would really be not all that hard to get around. You could have direct democracy by just putting voting into the client or a web-page or whatever; no need to get all the Residents in one place inworld. Whatever question was up for vote could be voted on from wherever you happened to be when you felt like voting, and voting could be left open for a week or whatever.

You could have representative democracy, too, without having to establish an official set of interest groups, by doing it just like in the Atomic World. Representatives don’t represent Bowlers, or Married People, or Camera Buffs; they represent everyone who lives in a certain area. The idea being, presumably, that people who live near each other tend, as a general rule with countless exceptions, to have similar interests. In SL, this could be done by setting up election districts according to where people’s homes are set, say.

Or, acknowledging that people whose homes are set close to each other don’t necessarily have common interests even as a general rule, representatives could be by last name; since everyone with the same last name joined SL at about the same time (roughly, and with exceptions), they will have had about the same amount of SL experience and be at roughly the same stage of the enthusiasm / burnout / maturity cycle, and therefore be about as reasonable a group to be represented together as the people who happen to live in a particular suburb are in RL. (This idea makes me smile, although I’m not sure why; I realize it’s a bit oddball.)

Or, for that matter, we could not divide people up at all, but elect all representatives “At Large”. There are all sorts of clever voting schemes that lend themselves to this; cumulative voting, preferential voting, rank voting, instant-runoff voting… (See the Wikipedia article on voting systems for a variety.) Many of these have odd little quirks that have made people reluctant to actually try them out widely for electing actual governments; might be fun to see what happened if they were tried in a virtual world where people actually do care about the outcome, but no one was actually going to be shot or starved or imprisoned.

Who would actually get to vote? Well, that’s slightly tricky. Obviously you have to keep people from generating tons of anonymous alts just to vote. Sad to say, there might therefore have to be some sort of tie to RL identity; one vote per Premium account would at least make it expensive to generate lots of little fake voters, and one vote per instance of age-verification would solve things to the extent that that actually works (while at the same time disenfranchising people who can’t or don’t want to age-verify because of national or identity issues or not having a credit card or whatever I forget, which would be bad). One vote per 256m2 of land owned could work, but so blatantly giving power in rough proportion to wealth would probably not be popular.

And what would people and/or representatives be voting about? Whatever the Lindens decided to put up for vote! Or decided to allow other people to put up for vote. As many other people have said, SL is a private enterprise, and the owners can do what they like. So if they decide to institute some sort of democracy, they also get to decide which issues are democratically decided. All sorts of possibilities suggest themselves! We could vote on changes to the ToS, on the naming of new continents, on whether to have SL9B on PG or Adult land, on what color to pave Route 12. We could elect members of the G-team!

Probably we shouldn’t be allowed to vote on the banning or not-banning of particular people. :)

Whatever voting system was set up could also be used by sim (and even parcel?) owners, to hold local elections about local issues. Someone who owns a bunch of contiguous sims with a bunch of tenants could use it to hold an election about allowing the brothel to expand, or whether to change the blood in the fountain to water (or wine). The Blake Sea folks could hold an election (picking the eligible voters I’m not sure how) about expanding the tiny rezzing zones to be less tiny. (People who own land in Zindra could vote on whether to use the sim called “Zindra” for something actually useful in terms of helping people who come to it looking for information about Adult mainland in general, or to just plop down a generic Mole build there and forget about it. But that’s a whole nother can of worms…)

Anyway, could be fun! Chaotic! Full of unintended consequences and delightful surprises!

The stickiest thing, I think, would be preventing voter fraud without disenfranchising too many people. In fact at the moment I can’t think of a solution to the problem that would actually work. But maybe we will come up with something…

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6 Responses

  1. nicely written! to me this sums up how i felt when i left second life

    in 2006 it did feel like “our” world and that anything was possible without limits

    it did not feel like that to me anymore and my expectations (truly my own) no longer were supported or nurtured (in my head) by what was going on at Linden Lab

    bravo on a lovely and articulate exploration of democracy

    • Thanks again! :) Sorry SL came to feel like that to you; I’ve been lucky in that it still feels roughly as fascinating and okay addictive as it did in 2006. I think something like random fun experiments with democracy would have been more likely then, just because there was so much less water under the bridge at the Lab, and much less baggage… but you never know!

  2. OK Dale, I vote that you propose a workshop about this for SLCC!

    • There’s another thing we probably shouldn’t decide by popular vote. :) I’m impressed enough with myself for just planning to attend. You have my permission to organize the workshop on democracy in my stead…

  3. Very interesting, but we have to acknowledge that SL belongs to Linden Labs.Like it or not, they could pull the plug on it tomorrow (gee, that’s not intended to give them any ideas). We, as residentsof SL are no more and no less than consumers of LL’s product (qlthough, very kindly, the cost of consuming is neglible – as a friend once said to me ‘I spill more on a bar in NYC ona good night out’). However, it is a commercial organisation and to suggest we should have some kind of democratic input is, IMHO, as realistic as suggesting, for example, that consumers of Big Macs should have a democratic imput into the running of that organisation.Capitalism just don’t work like that (and, yes, I know all about share (stock) holder meetings – and how much influence they have).

    Even if you diagree with this, just imagine what running some kind of democratic forum within the chaotic world that is SL would be. It is stuffed full of opinated folk, all of whom would want a say. For many years I was a member of Mensa but eventually left as I became so fed up with the continuing politicing. As soon as one AGM was over, fighting would take place in respect of what had or had not happened and positions were being jockeyed for in respect of the next with people becoming fanatical enemiesover what were, really, silly, points I very much fear that such would happen in SL and democracy would be more divisive than inclusive. There is a great deal to be said for a benign dictatorship. Let’s just get on with out building, terraforming, selling, flirting, dancing or whatever floats your boat in sl.

    • Yeah, pretty much complete agreement. I was speculating on how it could work *if LL decided* that they’d like to inject some democracy (or “Resident issue-voting”, if you prefer) into the world. Since they can do anything they want with SL, including pulling the plug, they might decide to try voting also. You never know!

      I’m not sure what “democratic forum” means, really. There are already lots of forums, both LL-owned and not, where anyone who wants to can say anything they want about SL. And yeah they are chaotic and crazy and full of trolls and flamers. But I don’t think anyone’s been silly enough to suggest that democracy might work by having an open forum and getting everyone to come to consensus. :) Democracy in the real world is done by voting, not by consensus in a forum. So I don’t think the flamogenic and irrational nature of forums has much to do with the idea of injecting democracy into SL, really?

      Thanks much for the comments!

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