Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Discussion: The Seamy Side of Second Life

One member of the circle emailed me some of the problems he is facing getting around in Second Life, and one of those problems hit a sensitive nerve, and I wanted to share these thoughts with everyone, and invite further discussion.

I am particularly sorry about the "red light district" effect. I feel a responsibility and even guilt for not warning more clearly that ubiquitous pornography and acting out is a well-known and very distasteful problem for the unwary on Second Life. I should have posted more and clearer warnings about this aspect of the virtual world.

It boils down to (1) adults are basically free to do whatever they choose in SL, and (2) not everyone is more interested in philosophy than sex. This was such a worry for me, because I had previously encountered it, that I looked around for alternatives - alas, the main competitors, if anything, are less family friendly.

The fact is, notwithstanding these glaring problems, Second Life remains the most accessible, well-tested, free virtual reality forum available to us, and many sincere teachers around the world are trying to use it for educational purposes.

Not that this is a justification, but I felt that anyone deep enough into philosophy at the level Dreyfus teaches it would be able to "walk past the red lights to get to the academy" and understand how this bizarre voyeurism is our culture commenting on its own lack of direction. The trend to drop societal boundaries and elevate the individual "I will it" to an unquestioned right (which I think is part of why internet proponents are so adamant that no restrictions be placed on it) must have some root in Nietzsche, who is central to our entire existentialist study. Understanding the philosophical implications of establishing the proper limits of self-expression is a course in itself.

But if this follow-up question is posed: "if you accept existentialism, why not accept Nietzsche?" then I believe Dreyfus offers us an amazing suite of alternatives: commitment and disclosure and skillfulness and shared social experiences, and more. Interestingly, none of these explicitly denies the importance of a religious level of existential grappling, which, honestly, appeals greatly to me, having worked through all the alternatives myself.

Please accept my apologies, as well as the challenge to take this subject under discussion right along with all the other deep, culturally-embedded subjects this blog is meant to open a clearing for.


Demographer said...

!! That there is red light district in Second Life might be an interesting jumping off point for a discussion of embodiment.

(It is also why I am sticking to the Blog -- Nietzsche actually said that an incipient philosopher should avoid the cities and their temptations, though not for any moral reason, just because of a stronger will to power.)

Anonymous said...

A few notes:

1) Pornographic content is actually a very small part of content available in Second Life, and is entirely avoidable. To avoid it, on completing orientation (which liberates your avatar to explore the wider grid), just press Search at the bottom of the screen, and search for events by topics of interest, then teleport there directly. Legitimate events (academic, commercial, etc.) will be obvious in the listings -- avoiding the links to peculiar events and places is no harder than avoiding odd links in Google search results.

2) At least some of what might appear pornographic to new users is merely commercial: e.g., ads for custom avatar skins (often depicting the skin -- i.e., the product being sold -- in toto). And standards of dress (or relative undress) are fairly liberal. So one must try to distinguish mere statements of style from those more deliberately provocative.

At CMP's islands ( www.life20.net ), though we normally concentrate on metaverse technology and commerce, we frequently produce events that are philosophical in nature, e.g., our upcoming conference on the nature of Identity, mid-February, where I was actually hoping to get Professor Dreyfus as a speaker.

In short: SL is not nearly as seamy as it seems. There are a great number of professionals and academics now using the platform to achieve real goals of community and communication.

John Jainschigg, CMP Metaverse, jjainschigg AT life20 DoT net

Taran Rampersad said...

I'll follow the 'SL is not nearly as seamy as it seems' with 'SL *is* as seamy as it seems'. How can it be less than it seems to someone's viewpoint?

It is a matter of perspectives, of course, and that Nietzsche entered the conversation is par for a philosophy course. That an apology was given implies that at least one was repulsed - understandably so. It is one thing to hear about these things happening in 2 dimensional chatrooms on the internet, it is quite another to see them being enacted in 3d. Still, the world is imperfect - that a synthetic world reflects the imperfection seems reasonable even without causality.

The root of 'avatar', being from the Sanskrit 'avatāra', is a manifestation of a being, describes this quite well. It is a manifestation. But what is the manifestation of? That can be a good question that has many answers, equally true but equally false when applied alone.

Philosophy cannot incorporate everything without viewing everything. Where an apology is given, I offer that questions should be asked to fit the apparent answers.

Karl Tyson said...

Taran - thanks for your comment.

To clarify: the apology was made for not warning blog readers strongly enough about content readily seen as immoral and distasteful that they might encounter if they choose to meet in Second Life.

It was not an apology for that content, or even for the philosophy that resonates with it, which I am certainly not accountable for, and therefore cannot apologize for.

It is my belief that blogs like this do their best "thinging" when they openly discuss these cultural issues, which often takes a mature approach - a doctor's detached approach, if you will - to the question of why humans are so very motivated by sexuality. The question you really allude to, is why our sexuality and our tendency to mis-apply its overflow and by-products, can or should impinge upon our moral overcoat - religion. Given that part of the task of any religion seems to be to make a culture's expressions of sexuality better ordered, and less harmful to innocents, the question is a good one.

Is that the question you were refering to?

Karl Tyson said...

More to Taran:

Let us go then, you and I
when the evening is laid out
against the sky
like a patient
etherized upon a table

Yes, of course I have viewed everything. The virtual restraints, the poseballs in action, the generative organs that will never really generate life or love. But that is not at all what I apologized about, and if that is the question that answers like mine imply, I can't make it much clearer, can I?

Do I dare to eat a peach? No doubt, or an apple. This is not some Second Life cryptocracy, and we are not made to spit on any crosses. This particular fruit tastes rotten, and that will be the reflection coming back to Second Life from any sane shared reality outside of it.

So, I dare much, but I do not dare lead innocents astray. It is in the treatment of others that Nietzsche departs most recklessly.

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