Saturday, June 02, 2007

Beware the tyranny of the majority

I've been bothered by Daniel Linden's response to Hamlet on New World Notes in regards to the latest furor to sweep Second Life (but one that has been brewing all this time). To quote:

Hamlet: You say "our community has made it clear to us that certain types of content and activity are simply not acceptable in any form." When did the community decide simulated rape was broadly offensive? Some consensual roleplay areas include activity that would arguably be called that, and some are relatively popular.

DL: The Community actively defines what is and is not acceptable in Second Life by providing feedback to Linden Lab via Abuse Reports, blog commentary, forum discussion, and other communication channels. Linden Lab sets standards and acts in-world according to the expressed wishes of the Residents.

I understand that it's hard to discuss some of the current issues around unsavory behavior in a soundbite, but Daniel's response is dangerous in its scope. I firmly believe that the individual and the minority needs protections from what de Tocqueville called the tyranny of the majority -- pure democracy without protections can become an ugly thing. Daniel's statement is unnerving in its implication that the individual freedoms Second Lifers have enjoyed could fall prey to the mob.

Some folks have long called for an avatar bill of rights, while most have been content to live under the benign and hands-off dictator of Linden Lab. A fundamental trust has existed between LL and residents that Linden Lab has to be careful not to break. What does an avatar bill of rights even mean in a new, intangible world which has no real regulatory standing, since at the end of the day, we're subject to the laws of our nation of residence and policy is just starting to wrestle with the supranational issues brought upon by the Internet?

I will say that one of the brilliant things about Second Life has always been its libertarian nature. There were a few basic rules to respect, and if you felt the need to wrap yourself in "more government", you could do so on a local level (Neualtenberg, now Neufreistadt, was an example of a local government). It has been a world based on choice rather than compulsion. Second Life to so many people has meant freedom -- freedom to be who you really are or even who you are not. Freedom to stretch your wings outside of the norms and confines of your local society. People are exploring a new world and in doing so, exploring themselves. SL will inevitably turn more mainstream but these dynamics will remain.

I've always said that SL is a reflection of humanity, from our best to our worst. Unfortunately, and inevitably, SL is used in some horrible ways, including some ways that should not be permitted. However, human beings have a tendency to get over-emotional on certain issues and throw a lot of good out with the bad. I have no tolerance for child pornography or abuse (as a father, it triggers a primal reaction in me as in most people), but when the torches start being lit for every small avatar or playful childlike avatar in SL, rationality and balance have lost their sway. It's all fine and good if the number of torches remains loud but limited, however history shows plenty of wreckage where mob mentality took hold.

Am I really really worried about all this? Frankly no, because I think the Linden leadership cares too much about individual rights to let this run amuck. But I would love to see further clarification from Linden Lab, and I imagine there are some intense discussions taking place among the company's leadership and legal advisors.


  1. One part of Nazi philosophy was a term called "Gesundes Volksempfinden" (roughly translateable to "what all well meaning people think is right"). Gesundes Volksempfinden was used to justify the Holocaust for example and is used in many east european states of today to justify many forms of gay descrimination.

    That said ... I don't even have to go back to Tocqueville, to get a very bad feeling when a government official (Linden) uses the voice of the majority (or a vocal minority) to justify the suppression of an individuals or minority's rights.

    There is a reason why law isn't made by plebiscites in all modern democracies. That reason is: the mob isn't very good in making sensible laws - or enforcing the LAW. But even if we would accept a plebiscitary element in law making, assuming that "Abuse Reports, blog commentary, forum discussion" resembles a representative sampling of "the community's"opinion seems to be more than a little bit naive to me.

    I am worried, that defending SL against mindless accusations from yellow press media has a higher priority than good governance of a community that is more than a million strong these days.

  2. Nice comment Pham. Injustice is often created when an environment of fear exists - fear by good people to speak up. Fear doesn't just mean bodily fear, as many good Germans must have felt during WWII, but it can mean reputational fear as well (think how many journalists and politicians were afraid to be seen as "unamerican" in the wake of 9-11). Sometimes injustice is caused by very well meaning people who pursue their particular mission with myopic zeal, but don't realize the full implications of their actions until later. Checks and balances are needed in all things.

  3. Oh, dear God, Frans. Lovely to see you get all agitated about "tyranny of the majority." But in this case, Daniel is wrong and I'm disturbed by him, too, but NOT because there is any "tyranny of the majority" or majority *anything*.

    It's tyranny by the *minority* here. The minority of people who bother to post on forums -- the one-two percent -- who aren't banned; the minority who bother to abuse report, to suck up to Lindens. Every channel of feedback to Lindens is pretty much dominated by MINORITY not MAJORITY; it's a very atomized society, and there is no community.

    I object to what Daniel is saying *strenuously* because it's fake: "Linden Lab sets standards and acts in-world according to the expressed wishes of the Residents."

    No. 1, they do no such thing. They set the standards and drop them down in cards, blogs, or the TOS without ANY consultation with the community. NONE. Daniel does not come inworld. He has no office hours. He never answers emails that I can see. To be sure, Robin, Chadrick, some others do interact quite a bit, but they do not execute any deliberated, liberal, democratic view of the majority with protected minority expression -- nothing of the sort. They do what they do -- as a tiny clique, along with their close friends and allies.

    No. 2, there's a sleight of hand that takes place here. If there really is community control, there would be representative democracy (preferably) or at least one of these noveau crowd-wisdom things that has voting or something. But there's nothing of the sort. Nobody got to articulate and vote on in any fashion on any "ageplay" policy.

    No. 3, there is nothing new about Daniel's edict. It is exactly as they've always done it. It's what enabled the people on *this blog* for example to *hound me off the official forums* through abuse reporting -- a tiny minority can set the standard and force the hand of the Lindens because they don't enforce the Rule of Law, subjecting all to the law, including themselves, they enforce code-as-law as a tribal edict, and when it suits them, they cite these "community expressions" as justification, or they cave to articulate and mobilized constituencies that they have no reason to cross, i.e. high-end content-creators.

    No. 4, could you please reflect a little bit more on where you think this majority -- or minority for that matter -- lobbying against "ageplay" is coming from? Where is it?

    The Herald hasn't lobbied against "ageplay". I had one article AFTER the policy was made. Has the blogosphere lobbied against it? I had one article mainly devoted to exposing the propagandistic and mendatious techniques of the pedophile lobby -- but I didn't call for a policy like the Lindens. The SL Insider took a very liberal stance on "ageplay" with both Tateru and Aimee filing pieces urging a very liberal interpretation of the matter. I think I can recall *only one resident with a blog", where Meta Linden attempted to silence the person who was exposing soliciting "ageplayers".

    I don't see any chorus. I see some forums comments, and I see some people saying they've AR'd neighbours. But I don't see any mob with pitch forks. I don't even see a small but determined clique with pitchforks. I see one German TV station and one German law-enforcement agency. So could we climb off the high horse imagining that America's "Moral Majority" is policing people's swingsets, and perhaps, judiciously, "Blame Europe" on this one as Carl Metropolitan suggested on the Herald?

    The Lindens made this policy -- full stop. They made it prompted by a TV and police probe, and they made it to limit liability of litigation. There isn't any "community that has spoken". Assuming that is even a good way to organize things -- which it isn't. If anything, Daniel's edict is duplicitous, like these soi-disant "People's Democracies" that always had to qualify their communist paradise democracies with the word "people". He hides behind community participation, and we have absolutely no feedback, transparency, accountability to see -- we're to imagine that legions of anonymous abuse reporters are making policy (and I simply can't believe that's the case).

    So don't go nattering on about law being made by plebiscites. I wish! There isn't any plebiscite; there isn't any law-making; there is the People's Democracy of Kremlinden Lab issuing an edict.

    And if you want to poke a stick in the eye of the "yellow press," that's fine but...where's that yellow press? German TV? We've all been explained now that it isn't tabloidy TV as first imagined, but more respectable. Where are the news articles that should be making hay of this? An AP wire that fetched up in the Wisconsin Daily Citizen? Where's that firestorm of indigant mass media? If anything, the pieces you do find out there such as the Washington Post are pretty thoughtful.

    Communities can only be made by...communities. Not by game companies or world companies or cliques or "People" who make up "People's Democracies."

    If you care about this *really*, you'll do two things.

    No. 1: protest the witch-hunting that has already begun against me for my views on this matter, attempting to trump up an "ageplay" case on my tenant (false):

    Protest to Clickable Culture, which permabanned me and Csven Concord over a debate on this subject in a thread about "child porn panic" here:

    That's how you get and keep freedom, Frans Charming and Forseti Svarog, not by pious moralizing about fake pitchfork mobs and grumping about Linden Lab. You get it by defending real people who you know in real situations where real principles are at stake.


  4. Prok, first of all, I wrote the original post not Frans so you can spare him any ire. Second, I was purposefully addressing the theory of his comment not the realism of it or what LL does or does not do to enforce ARs, which has been addressed by other blogs already.

    I personally do not want to see an overarching representative government in SL right now -- I think it would fail and cause a rather large exodus. What Daniel was talking about was letting ARs and community feedback drive LL actions. What you refer to as the minority is indeed the case, but that's in line with what I am talking about... it's not whether it's a majority of a silent population but a majority of the voices Linden Lab is hearing.

    As for your case, I was willing to publicly argue for your right to attend SLCC, but I'm not going to tell Tony what to do on his personal blog simply because you and Csven are once again going at it hammer and tongs. Nor am I going to defend Csven by any means -- I haven't been following the details of the argument but it looks nasty and I don't want to touch it.

    You already know that your martyr claims hold no water with me. You just point the finger or say "s/he hit me first!" You can blame everyone else but at some point in time, a problem gets frequent enough that you have to look in the mirror and decide what you are contributing and how you can change the equation if you don't like the results.

    Since you never do this, the obvious conclusion is that you must like it. You're too smart not to know exactly what you are doing and saying, so I have to assume you just love the tussle, you love playing this role. You've been doing it for years.

  5. I think Daniel Linden knows fine well that he's spouting a load of crap about what the "community" tells him.

    The evidence is in their server logs, transactions, avatar location monitoring and the rest of it. It shows a "community" demonstrating its opinion through action, 24/7 in the sex clubs and private island skybox dungeons the grid over.

    I mean do we have to start ARing people for being too twee and self-righteous now? To make some statement and balance the "feedback"? Every time the issue comes up about anything remotely mentioning "adult" stuff on the forum, it seems to be about two people in total respond with a vocal (obsessive, even) need to bang on about how much SL shouldn't be about sex, but they're surrounded by it or something.

    I say pfft. Linden Lab should just be honest and say it's to do with legal advice or business or whatever, because it's certainly not about the community. I don't think SL even has *a* community. Not any more, if it ever did.

  6. "I mean do we have to start ARing people for being too twee and self-righteous now? To make some statement and balance the "feedback"?"

    lol Ace, I was thinking the same thing.

    And re: community, I agree, I don't think SL has been a "community" for years. There are a zillion overlapping sub communities.

  7. Forseti, I'm happy to transfer my ire over to you -- Frans posted a link to this piece on Twitter, I clicked on it, and thought it was therefore his piece, sorry. But you're even more at fault for invoking "Moral Majority" type stuff than a far-away European might be -- you know better, as you know full well, Forseti that there is no "Moral Majority" in RL in the US paying any attention to SL (yet), no significant media coverage of this issue like the German TV was, and no "Moral Majority" insider SL. So it's all fake.

    I realize you are addressing the theory, but you are claiming that the theory is about "the tyranny of the moral majority" and "the failure to protect the minority". And while I'm obviously all for those concerns, that's not what Daniel is doing, and it pays to make the distinction. He is invoking the fake majority that doesn't exist and he has no intention of ever accessing, as a justification for doing what he/his company wishes to do. The answer to Daniel isn't to say, oh, but there isn't any "moral majority"; the answer isn't even to say "but what about protecting the immoral minority" -- the answer is to say: nothing has spoken, there are no people with a voice, you haven't represented them, we need real governance with authentic representation.

    While I recognize that it's not in YOUR corporate and personal interest to see any representative government emerge, in fact that's what needs to emerge and will eventually. If indeed sim owners are now to be handling all their abuse reports and have more governance turned over to them and eventually some day even licensing to host their own servers, then some sort of confederation of simulators will have to be formed. It's like to take a very awful form at first, with stuff like Ban-Link and Balkanization and warlords. That's what we have now. It's not causing any exodus, however.

    Daniel isn't talkinga bout REALLY letting ARs drive LL actions -- and how can we know, as the Lindens never reveal the ARs, or who made them, or what they are, even aggregated. The Police Blotter has no memory, and is not a full report -- it's only a sample.

    If there really were community feedback of a kind that we could really see transparently, that might arguably be some guidelines for LL action based on community authentication, and I wouldn't necessarily throw it out of hand, but I'd still say we need better checks and balances and protection of minorities.

    LL isn't hearing any voices, Forseti, except the voices of German TV and their lawyers.

    As for your supposed willingness to argue for me attending SLCC (gracious of you!) I don't seem to recall you doing this publicly, or early, when it might have mattered. And sure, Tony has the right to ban anyone he wishes from his blog. Indeed, had he had the time and energy to moderate his blog when Csven went off the rails, I wouldn't have to be fighting Csven line by line and I wouldn't be banned.

    But I would argue that far from being "just a blog," Tony's blog is an institution, a community treasure, just that kind of place that serves, for better or worse -- and now worse -- as a sounding board for the community to know itself and know what it thinks. Now I feel that has been destroyed, and not because I'm banned but because the notion of banning as a solution to conflict is legitimized.

    "it looks nasty and I don't want to touch it" -- yeah, that's how I felt about the "ageplay" story that I went to cover last August, and why I, too, decided not to touch it, and that's what I'm being grilled on. I did the right thing, then and now.

    I have no martyr complex, Forseti. I'm a dissident in this world because it's a world very much controlled by a tiny minority of tekkie wikinistas like yourself and it hasn't opened up yet in a significant way to the rest of the educated, thinking, and chattering classes around the world. As it does, there will be more and more people who come on like me, and say exactly the same things. No doubt there will be some that say it much better, with more skill, and then you won't be able to dismiss them in all the facile ways you dismiss me now.

    As for "a problem gets frequent enough that you have to look in the mirror and decide what you are contributing and how you can change the equation if you don't like the results" -- I wouldn't change a thing. I know I'm doing the right thing, speaking out by the light of my conscience. I'm appalled, continuously how orthodox, rigid, hide-bound, and blinkered the elites of Second Life are. You would never know it is an imaginative world.

    I don't find any particular "love" for being called all kinds of names and treated absolutely appallingly. But I think it's the right thing to do, and I wish I had more company. I firmly believe I will indeed have more company as time goes on and more and more people question this way of doing things with self-chosen elites and their code-as-law.


  8. Yup not me, I have a auto twit thing that checks once a day if there is a new Slog post and twits it. Sadly it doesn't say it is a autotwit.