Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Rabble Dousing

In my last blog post Fixing Second Life I formulated a proposal concerning a Second Life Parliament.

I wanted to know Prokofy Neva's opinion about it, so I sent an email to the address given on his blog. Prokofy replied, and we exchanged views on the subject, from 16th to the 18th of March. Prokofy has given me permission to post the text of these emails. What follows is a verbatim transcript of the discussion.

Danton Sideways:

Prokofy -

If you get a chance I'd like to know what you think of two proposals I put in my latest blog post:


One proposal takes your Magna Carta idea further by envisaging a Second Life Parliament. I'm serious! The other takes off from my recent proposal to CDS that they should privatise at least part of their collective property, and imagines using a similar contractual scheme (binding in-world only) for group rehabilitation of patches of mainland.

Just for the fun. - Danton

Prokofy Neva:

The only reasonable parliament in SL is a parliament of land-owners -- tier-payers. Socialists can't stomach that idea, so you can't have a parliament with them. But it is the only reasonable beginning in that synthetic setting.


Danton Sideways:

Prokofy Neva, renowned advocate of democracy and avatar rights, says that only land barons should have democratic representation in any SL parliament. Do you want to go on record with that?

Any geographically-based scheme would already give landlords crushing over-representation, since they could simply *appoint* the delegates for their sims. That should be enough of an advantage, I would think. Your view makes the landlords into a sort of aristocracy (thus you go for the Magna Carta, but no further), and all the other avatars into a "third estate."

Abbé Sièyes:
1° What is the third estate ? Everything.
2° What has it been until now in the political system ? Nothing.
3° What is it asking for ? To be something.

Prokofy Neva:

Absolutely. It's the only way to fairly get started, letting those who pay to tier land have a say in how that land is governed.

It's far from a perfect society; it's from from anything remotely like human rights and democracy. But unfortunately, it's a historical phase in a society without freedom and a constitution that you cannot skip. You cannot skip it in real life; you can't skip it here.

Try to distinguish between what's an idealistic fantasy, and what is reasonable and pragmatic.

I'm not obliged to allow no-payment-on-file anonymous alts to decide how my land is governed. No country automatically accords full civil and political -- and economic and social rights -- to a day-old immigrant -- especially illegal immigrant.

Most top creators with a stake in the world pay tier.

Tier-payers need not be disenfranchised by larger land-barons, the tools accord them ample opportunity to unite across sims as small-holders.

People who don't pay tier but are "creative" -- the people who whine the largest about any scheme that allows land-holders to decide...about how *their land* will be disposed -- are usually progammers, scripters, sandboxers, etc. So, yeah, they're the class enemy, given that they are a fifth column for the Overlord, the Lindens.

If some set of sandboxers wants to unite and put up a candidate, and they have some significant showing and stake in SL, they may get a seat in parliament. It would be proportionate to their actual ability to organize and their power.

The first task is to overthrow the Lindens, or co-opt them

The second task is to have land owners form a parliament and decide some basic rules among themselves of governance across sims of *their land* that *they pay for* -- they make up 80 percent or more of the revenue.

The third task is to decide what to do with script-kiddies in sandboxes, and see if there is anything other than a criminal code as a means of addressing the problems they create :)

You're welcome to go on playing socialism on one sim, if you like, sounds like a fun game. Grown-ups who pay tier and run businesses needs something more practical.


Danton Sideways:

Excuse me, Prokofy, actually I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying only *big* landowners (whole sims) could be represented. I fully agree that only avatars who own or rent land should have voting rights. That is how it works in CDS by the way.

But this brings up the point, as you note, that all of the landless avatars will howl. To calm them down, to circumvent their protests, how about a system with several "colleges" or "houses" (whatever you want to call them, the French called them Estates)? One would be for the big landowners, one for the small landowners and renters, and one for all of the landless rabble - recognizing that this could include all sorts of alts and rubbish. The goal is just to get people talking, so it really matters little how things are set up. You just have to set it up such that everyone will accept it.

- Danton

Prokofy Neva:

You're typical of all socialists who imagine that land owning is evil, and only big land owners counter.

I don't care of people scream. Let them. They don't pay the bills. They use the resources -- FPS, attention, programming of Lindens -- to make a profit out of their own content creation, or they suck it down for free. So, let them organize into Script Kiddies United and lobby to get into parliament. Let them organize guerilla warfare and try to shoot their way to power, let the central government squash them, and let UN peace negotiators urge that they be given a seat in parliament. Do whatever. But don't give people without land a seat in the initial parliament. They do not pay for this place.

>Excuse me, Prokofy, actually I misunderstood you. I thought you were saying only *big* landowners (whole sims) could be represented. I fully agree that only avatars who own or rent land should have voting rights. That is how it works in CDS by the way.

The French estates, like Russian estates, are a form of corporativism, and that leads to German fascism and French and Russian Bolshevism. No thank you. No chattering classes, please. People who pay.

Renters can opt to form blocs with their landlords, or lobby against them, but maybe risk losing their rent.

I'm not for creator blocs. Anshe tried this stunt before, first bussing in all her tenants as her "voting bloc" and then trying to buy out some of the content creators to vote for her in the Metaverse Justice Watch, which was the first attempt at a civic movement and rudimentary elections. I'm not for tenants being automatically bussed (signed up) to the polls. So there really is a problem of saying renters are voters. Renters are bussed landlord PACs.

Look, you folks on these silly government sims spend years what people already found out in SL with a few meetings among land barons 2 years ago. It cannot be done because people don't care enough to put in the time, or they are essentially beholden/loyal to the Lindens. Anyone attempting democracy would be screeched down in the forums or on blogs now as a populist, a Hitler, blah blah. That leaves the vacuum to unhinged types like Duranske or worse, Ashcroft, who is a horror.

Having land OWNERS is clean, simple, normal. Let it make a senate, and let it not come up with Ashcroftian schemes like "give me all your land and I'll provide justice". It will be about cooperation and collaboration, not dependency. And I'm not for putting in renters/deeded island parcel holders because they will be bussed. Have a constituent assembly, have that debate, and people will conclude the same thing: land owners only, because others will be bussed.

I really don't care about people screaming. You can't. People will always scream. Let them form their own party/parliament/whatever. The point is to get started with a rudimentary assembly that takes up one or three key issues to address to the Lindens to wrest power from them, and one or three issues to make life on the grid more orderly (pacts, agreements, whatever -- a symbol that signifies that all landowners abide by some basic agreement: no ad farms, no spinning signs, no clubs or whatever is of value in reality to people.

The problem with things like the CDS is that they become horribly bogged down in abstractions mixing RL and SL and posturing for political office and playing at the trappings of democracy. One grid-wide agreement among land-owners not to ad farm is worth a million CDS experiments in terms of people power, value, forming a hedge against the Lindens.


Danton Sideways:

Prokofy - Okay, you think that we should set up one single assembly, with voting rights for land owners only, and deny voting rights to those who only rent, as well as to all the "nomads." Then let them scream murder and disrupt the assembly with their protests.

I personally can accept restricting the vote to landowners. But for this Parliament really to happen, compromises would be appropriate. I see good arguments for a three-chambered parliament, as follows:

* house of the big landowners (having the equivalent of one sim or more) - they have special needs and deserve to sit in their own separate assembly
* house of the small landowners - this is like the house of commons
* house of the non landowners - this is a political concession to "everybody else," giving them some sort of representation to buy them off, but maintaining them in a sort of "quarantine" so they cannot disrupt the serious work of the other two houses

What about that? - Danton

Prokofy Neva:

No, I don't like your houses idea, it's unnecessary. And stop worrying about screamers. Ban them, you are landowners. The first constituent assembly and parliament has to sort out landowners, and after that decide if they wish others who don't own land to have a say in its disposition. It's pretty easy stuff. The screechy sandboxers can make their own parliament and rule over, oh, autoreturn times in sandboxes and put it on the JIRA.

Seriously, I don't have much time for screaming, and that's why I don't play government in SL.

You should put all of this conversation on a public blog and let people scream there, you'll see, few will. Most won't bother.



Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

Very interesting discussion with Prokofy, Danton. Although I might (as usual :) ) disagree with the tone of Prokofy's emails, I happen to agree with the content. Putting into other words, what Prokofy is proposing is exactly what the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS) found out and has been doing for over three years now: landowners are the only kind of stakeowners in Second Life that should get a vote and representation (the old motto "no taxation without representation", turned upside down: "no representation without taxation"!). Yes, I know that Prokofy claims otherwise, but the CDS is actually pretty much aligned to his view, too.

Doing it any other way (ie. giving non-landowners any 'special rights' of representation of some sort) — specially when 99% of all registered user couldn't care less about putting their money in Second Life — is rather impossible, for the simple reason that you cannot "enforce" any sort of legislation or regulation if you have no way to use a person's land as an escrow of their willingness to adhere to a "Parliament" (also see the the Metaverse Republic's own method to deal with the same issue).

Of course, to be fair, representation should be given to all landowners, small and big. The usual argument that "some people cannot afford to pay tier" is really moot... if you're wealthy enough to afford a computer and an Internet connection, wherever in the world you are, you certainly can afford paying US$7-9 per month (depending on the payment plan) to sustain a lowly 512 m2 plot. I don't believe that anyone in SL can claim the "poor" argument to save on those low tier costs — and, truly, if you work just a little in SL, you can earn enough to pay that.

So someone that is not willing to pay $7-9 to own land in SL — not even willing to commit so little! — will be very unlikely committing to a long-term Parliament or any form of democratic structure.

I also dislike your "three-House system", but perhaps for slightly different reasons than Prokofy: it seems that they will a) either have too much "power" from the non-landowners, and in that case, it seems unfair that they should mandate what paying customers ought to do; or b) they have little "power" and are just a forum for discussion of common issues — in that case, they should be the equivalent of a NGO, a civil rights association, a lobby/pressure group, and not more.

Also notice that the issue of what to do about the very creative and talented people in SL — should they be excluded, because many don't own land? Well, honestly, the number of talented, creative, and, above all, successful artists all own land — several sims in many cases (for their shops!). It's very very rare to see a talented creator that does not own some land — even if it's just a 512 m2 plot!

So, in spite of Prokofy's tone on his emails, I actually fully agree with his assessment on how anything like this should be implemented.

The next step, of course, is what Prokofy colourfully describes as "The first task is to overthrow the Lindens, or co-opt them" — I find that amusing, since LL will definitely not agree with that. "Co-opting", well, that might work — in the sense that they might allow, say, the mainland to be "ruled" by a Parliament of the mainland landowners (and handle tech support requests, abuse reports, etc. in the mainland, as it is possible now on private estates). This would not be exactly a "take-over" but more a delegation of certain administrative and regulatory issues to a democratically elected body. It might happen. Think of "home rule" — most things will still be in the Linden's hands, but a certain measure of self-organisation will be provided by the Mainland Parliament.

Last but not least, Prokofy is right. Nobody is willing/caring to discuss the issue publicly. I appreciate your efforts, though, but... how many people will, indeed, post here? :) And, out of those, how many won't be part of the CDS or the Metaverse Republic? :)

Very likely, none.

Anonymous said...

Everyone in this discussion so far seems to assume that landowners are basically a monolithic voting bloc with a strong consensus about what such a Parliament should do. You know better. And that's what makes the Parliament idea a non-starter, not the organization of Houses or the role (or lack thereof) of non-landowners.

If the Parliament passes an ordinance that I object to -- perhaps because I'm one of the miscreants the ordinance targets, or perhaps because the Parliament is just being too bossy -- will it have the ability to enforce it upon my land? Is there anything to keep me from simply seceding from the Parliament, or just not bothering to comply?

The things the Parliament would rule against (e.g., ad farming) are the work of a few bad actors; what mechanism is there for making them go along with a Parliamentary ban? And if there is no such mechanism -- and thus every resolution is by definition non-binding -- what's the point of the exercise?

Danton Sideways said...

Gwyneth –

Thank you very much for your comments. I'm rather new to Second Life, and it is a privilege to obtain the opinions of experts such as yourself and Prokofy Neva.

In previous posts on this blog I've made a quick study of Second Life politics, and I've been participating for a few months in self-governed CDS. Thus I have some idea of the difficulties involved in setting up representative democracy within SL. One of your blog posts from 2004 explains that residents massively rejected Robin's suggestion to set up resident self-government because they were afraid it might limit their in-world freedom. I've also studied both Prokofy's long struggle to get the Lindens under "King Philip" to exercise more effective government, and Ashcroft's laborious efforts to set up an in-world legal system.

What strikes me is that most people seem to start with concepts of structure: a set of laws, a governmental organisation, and so on. But the basis of democracy is *process*: people or their representatives talking to each other. A "parliament" is a big "talking" (from the French "parler"). What comes out of any representative assembly depends on the discussions among the representative themselves, and may be very different from whatever is predicted by armchair philosophers.

Thus everyone has been focusing on these thorny questions of structure and law, which immediately grow into a barrier of brambles. But Prokofy's idea about asking King Philip for a Magna Carta leads instead to the idea of a Parliament, which is a process. All we need to do is establish a suitable process for electing representatives (note that CDS has practical experience with in-world voting machines), and then let the representative assembly itself decide what next steps – if any – would be appropriate.

@Libby - The above is also relevant to your questions about Parliamentary laws. The Parliament itself should discuss whether and to what it extent it could make any in-world "laws." The key is just to get representatives together to discuss such things.

Michel Manen said...

I strongly disagree with you Gwyn. Land ownership is not the only kind of meaningful participation an individual can have in SL, and there are many other ways to enforce legislation beyond using a persons land as escrow.

I am afraid CDS is not much of a model, since after four years of existence it still only has some 35 long-term citizens and another 35 who come and go - and whose government and institutions are turning more and more into a caricature of all thats wrong with current RL systems based on 18th and 19th century party systems.

In Al-Andalus, we are in the process of developing a much more creative, innovative, open and inclusive definition of membership:

Citizens will include:
-landed citizens, who pay a citizenship fee and own land;
-landless citizens who dont own land but still pay a citizenship fee;
-merchant citizens who sell their wares in our markets (no citizenship fee);
-artist citizens who contribute
their talents to our community life (no citizenship fee); and
-volunteer citizens who put in time and effort into developing our community (no citizenship fee).

All will have a say and a vote in how our community is governed.

In addition, we have an extensive group of residents, who are welcome to use the facilities of Al-Andalus, participate in our cultural and entertainment events, and speak up during our meetings, but who get no vote in our sim-wide institutions. However, they may well be members of groups active in Al-Andalus, such as the Muslim mosque group.

As you can see, our notion of citizenship and participation is much more extensive, flexible and inclusive that the limited, restrictive and exclusive one developed irl over the past centuries, which CDS copied and limited even more to only land-owning agents witch such poor results, and which you, unfortunately, continue to support.

This approach to citizenship and community building is, in my opinion, the main reason for the failure of CDS to develop beyond 70 odd citizens and 3 sims after 4 years of existence, and is the main reason I left CDS. As long as such a definition of citizenship will be maintained the future of CDS will remain, in my opinion, rather bleak.

Danton Sideways said...

Michel –

Welcome to the discussion! After Prokofy, Gwyneth and now yourself, we still need to hear from Desmond Shang, Ashcroft Burnham and Benjamin Duranske…

The problem with CDS is that it is an experiment in both political democracy and economic democracy, and these two aspects interfere heavily with each other. CDS is an "economic democracy" in that all CDS property is in reality collective property, rather than private property, as I explain in the following thread on the CDS forum:


Even though residents "purchase" their plots, it can be shown that this purchase is a fiction (as it is on most islands), because it gives the individual no real claim to a defined share of the accumulated collective wealth. I therefore propose that a large part of the collective wealth in CDS should be privatised, so that the political democracy can develop without being hindered by battles for control of the accumulated collective wealth.

Smoke said...

As long as Linden Lab remains to have absolute power over anyone and anything within the Second Life world, these inworld experiments to form a global parliamentary structure are good ways to investigate if and how representative democracy would work inside a synthetic world, but are not real options to gain democratic control and influence in/on Linden Lab that the community asks for.

As Prokofy said as task 1, we first need to “to overthrow the Lindens, or co-opt them”. A structure needs to be thought of such that the community as a whole has influence on Linden Lab and through that on Second Life, the world. In my opinion, but I am not an economist, this is conceivable and possible through having the community as a whole be a large shareholder or stakeholder, where the shares are held by a public organisation, founded for the purpose of creating the ability for the SL community to exert influence as a bloc.

The community as a whole, yes.

The focus on landowners is misrepresenting the many different forms of investments that people make in this world.
It seems that Prokofy and others are focussing on residents that pay tier directly to LL. People that rent their land from land barons do not seem to be counted in this. But if you take a step back, there is not a clear difference between those renting land from a land baron or the land baron renting it from LL, besides being a direct customer of LL. But the land baron paying the amount of tier to LL is only possible because of the others paying “tier” to the land baron. In essence, no one, but LL, owns the “land”.
Further, being a paying customer of LL, a payment info used-account, does not mean you are also a landowner. Nor does not being a payment info used-account mean, you do not invest money into the Second Life world.
And with a lot of topics that residents feel they are not heard or their investments not acknowledged, the focus on landownership (by paying tier to LL) is arbitrary to say the least. Take the latest sudden policy change in the ToS regarding LL’s trademark policy. Or even the ad farm issue; ad farmers are landowners too after all.

The structure inworld to accommodate the voice(s) of the community should be debated and tried and that is where the experiments of democratic sims and global parliamentary systems come in. I do not think that a representative structure is the way to go, though. Especially not when the ones being representatives are only landowners, because as said many issues do not pertain to landownership or are able to be enforced through land.
I’ve always thought that a decentralised direct democracy is the structure we need to be looking towards (even in RL). Also because of the fact that that what and those who make the Second Life world what it is, cannot be demarcated such as to be a working definition for structuring the power and at the same time acknowledge the different forms of investments made by individual residents.
The argument that most people don’t care and thus that direct democracy wont work is flawed in my opinion and conditioned by current power structures, both in RL and SL.
But as said, whatever inworld structure for democracy comes up, they are meaningless (in the sense of having real power on the Second Life world) as long as all power is still with LL. The overall unilateral decision making and implementation of LL, no accountability of LL in any of its actions, the lack of transparency in the justice system and development, ToS articles like 2.6 (“2.6 Linden Lab may suspend or terminate your account at any time, without refund or obligation to you. Linden Lab has the right at any time for any reason or no reason to suspend or terminate your Account, terminate this Agreement, and/or refuse any and all current or future use of the Service without notice or liability to you.”) all frustrate and in effect render meaningless, the experiments with inworld democratic structures.

I am getting a bit longwinded here, will keep it to this for now, but what is clear in my opinion is that we first need to balance the power, between LL and the “ SL community”. The fact that Second Life is build by its residents needs to be acknowledged and imposed through a structure that hands part of the decision making power to them. We first need to step up, or rise up, together as a bloc, against LL and claim our rights and get them established in the ToS.

Kind regards,

Smoke Wijaya

Danton Sideways said...

Smoke –

Great, you've provided just the point of view that Prokofy is worried about, so we've got a truly wide spectrum of opinions now. Not only do you feel that it would be wrong to limit representation to landowners, but you even reject *representative* democracy as a system, and would prefer to see *direct* democracy exercised throughout Second Life! Not only do you want the entire community to be able to voice its grievances to Linden Lab, but you'd like to see the community of residents form a public organisation to become a major shareholder of the company. Going still further in this direction would take us to the general strike in-world, and to the transformation of Linden Lab into a cooperative company.

But the practical implementation of a grid-wide democratic system will require making all sorts of compromises in order to reach consensus. Real life democratic nations are all representative democracies. And in order to satisfy both the Prokofys and the Smokes, it might be best to set up separate houses, one for the landowners, and one for all the others, as in England for example with the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Everyone stands to gain from setting up some sort of moderate, consensual in-world democratic system, including the Lindens themselves. A representative democracy would give minority groups such as yours a public platform from which they could be heard – along with all of the other legitimate tendencies.

- Danton