alien & sedition.
Friday, July 06, 2007
  Is It All About the Lindens?

Every so often in the modern era somebody crops up with a loopy, poorly-considered manifesto about how this technological development or that cyber-whatsit proves the case for libertarianism. Twelve years ago it was the "Californian ideology" of Wired and Mondo 2000 and other bright and ignorant young tech geeks; lately Newt Gingrich has been carrying the standard for those unable to grasp the relationship between technology, public investment, and the real world.

Now comes Michael Gerson, who writes that Second Life is "a large-scale experiment in libertarianism." Gerson, a social conservative, is not out to argue that the experiment is a success, but it got me thinking.

You may or may not be into SL. I had fun, for about a week, running around with my avatar ("Cosmo Mills," which I thought was a decent name for a character in a manufactured universe) looking at all the neat stuff and pretending to have a soul patch and a jacket made of shag carpeting. That was about as far as it went for me, but I can understand why people like it, especially when they get involved in what is, undeniably, a working economy of the game. But Gerson seems to buy the claims that it's somehow relevant to actual political economy:
Instead of showing the guiding hand of an author, this universe is created by the choices of its participants, or "residents." They can build, buy, trade and talk in a world entirely without rules or laws; a pure market where choice and consumption are the highest values.
Now, Gerson is actually using SL to criticize libertarianism, arguing that the game reveals the bankruptcy of a world without "moral rules" or "social obligations" or negative consequences to bad choices (thus resulting in too much random sex and consumerism). (Ramesh Ponnuru points out a flaw in Gerson's logic.)

At any rate, I've seen this claim before, from SL enthusiasts: that the game is somehow one big exercise in libertarianism, a "pure market" as Gerson calls it. Do people really believe that a "pure market" consists of a world in which there is no need for food or shelter or medicine, no scarcity at all beyond an economy of status items?

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This Second Life game: sounds like a DAYDREAM of libertarian minds.

Why do they long to flee society, flee the reality of bonds, of societal obligations and limitations?

Don't they see that in a "pure market" world they would become prey for the SHARKS, too - - - because they daydream instead of being shark themselves?

Sharks do NOT daydream - or play silly games like Second Life.

They swallow the daydreamers and players of entertaining games.
Hi Leo - speaking of your Green socialist point of view, I should add another criticism of SL-as-market: no environmental limitations on growth (though perhaps the creators have set limits of their own - anyone know?)

I don't really think there's anything wrong w/enjoying SL or using it for social networking. I'm just wary of people who try to extrapolate from that to, y'know, the first life.
I fear the games we play for entertainment have their link with the games we try to play with reality ...
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