Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Replies to my recent post about Virtual Illegalities, and reading this very entertaining item (“Vaginas with teeth and other sexual myths“), got me thinking about what we can learn from Second Life about sexual “perversions” and “deviance”. This post brings together a lot of thoughts I’ve expressed over previous blog entries, specifically as they relate to sexualities and adult freedoms in a virtual world. I find the more you write and get feedback on such topics, the more it helps you understand both the reality, and your own view of that reality, so as usual I’d love to get your feedback on what follows.

In Second Life adults find a safe outlet for experimenting with sexual acts and preferences they may have never followed through with in real life. In turn, it also provides a way to live out sexual preferences that you may have always had in real life but not been able to take part in due to your own or others fears and prejudices. Those may include acts which are still deemed illegal or immoral in the real world – the extremes being bestiality, paedophilia, and rape. What makes those the taboo extremes is the lack of meaningful consent by all parties involved. And that seems like a very reasonable and logical line to draw.

A world like Second Life though provides a way to overcome that moral and legal restriction, because the consent of the other party is either irrelevant (because it isn’t a sentient being playing the role of the dog etc), or because it is a consenting adult after-all who is going along with the act (the rape, for example).

The consideration that always feeds into this debate is whether allowing such things either encourages it in the real world, or stops the act being followed through in the real world. Beyond those interesting questions though, you have to be ready to ask if the answers even matters, since the virtual act itself is just that: virtual. And between consenting adults.

There are plenty of other sexual “perversions” though that people find sick and disturbing for reasons apart from missing consent – usually because they deem the act as degrading or mentally harmful. For example, the sub and dom culture that thrives in Second Life, is seen by many as a distasteful and disturbing pass-time that reveals either cruelty or deficient weakness in the participants. It is not surprising that those sexual cultures defend their activities, but at the end of the day it’s nothing to do with everyone else anyway since they are, after-all, consenting adults.

Another piece of the puzzle when trying to work out how we feel about and respond to such “deviances” is whether the people involved “chose” the preference. For example, the fact that many homosexuals didn’t choose to be attracted to their own sex, is seen by some as the “redeeming” feature that means we must learn to accept it. However this strikes me as completely the wrong focus. I have discussed in a previous post that whether you choose your sexuality is irrelevant – as long as the act is between consenting adults, everything else is people getting their sticky-beaks where they don’t belong. It is not up to us to criminalise or condemn people for doing what they want with their own bodies.

Which brings us to the question of harm. Most liberals ascribe to a theory of paternalism – trying to protect people from themselves. They either claim to know what is best for you and therefore deny you the right to choose it yourself (and that hardly requires me to point out how flawed it is, I hope!). Or they claim that the very fact you choose to do an act with is harmful (physically or mentally) means your consent is vitiated and deemed flawed in some essential way; that you have thereby already provided proof that you are not mentally sound or competent to make such decisions for yourself.

The beauty of Second Life is it degrades at least some of these paternalistic complaints – particularly in regards to physically hurting yourself (say through bondage). People will still try to tell you you are mentally damaging yourself but at least in-world  they can not stop you by physical force or by threatening your real world reputation. Second Life provides a haven from the do-goody paternalism which deems free consenting acts between adults as morally repugnant, which forces people in the real-world to live in denial and have unfulfilled sex-lives.

My hope is that through Second Life we can come to accept the huge variety of sexual acts and preferences, and realise that what matters is the consent between adults. That we can reflect on the really very large numbers of people who do what we have labeled perverse or deviant in the past (be it masturbation, sub-dom, scat-love, etc), and start to realise that it is too wide-spread to be given such labels, that in fact it is just part of our repertoire of sexual experiences that help us explore and enjoy our own and others bodies.

We’ve come a long way from seeing sex as something dirty, and masturbation as something that will make your palms hairy and make you go blind. The anonymity from our real world selves that we find in virtual worlds, helps us explore and discover not just our true selves, but others too. We don’t have to personally like and partake in the huge varieties of sexual acts out there – allowing such acts doesn’t mean anyone’s going to force you or your child to become or do something they don’t want to. Taking part in what we currently may still view and label as deviant acts, doesn’t make you different or evil or stupid, and as we interact and talk openly with such people who have different tastes than us, in the international adult universe of Second Life, that becomes clearer. One hopes.

Issues such as how we feel about Linden Labs cleaning up the adult world in Second Life – sanitising it to accord more with our dominant real world morals and laws – forces us to think about where we stand on these issues. So what about you, where do you stand on such issues, and how has Second Life changed your attitudes towards sexual perversions and deviances..? Has it perhaps cemented your hatred and intolerance of such deviance and perversion? And either way, why has that change in attitude happened..?

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A while ago I said I would be posting about Intellectual Property as it applies to Second Life, drawing from both my Philosophical and Legal background, as well as my experiences. Numerous fun things like my Twilight Gallery showing and my wisdom teeth being yanked have managed to postpone the series, but it has been a constant thought in the back of my mind and this is the first proper return to my intentions.

I want to start off where I think a lot of arguments get lost. You’ll find a lot of people talking about “this is the way of the future, no more property restrictions!” or “only the big companies are being harmed so no foul” or “if you can get away with it, you should”.  When these justifications / excuses / explanations for breaches of intellectual property rights are made, you have to realise where such people are coming from, otherwise you will end up both talking completely past each other, with neither party making any headway towards persuading or altering the behaviour of the other. So I want to start slowly with the foundations of Intellectual Property, which will help untangle such messes.

As remedial and annoying as it may sound, you have to know why you have Intellectual Property laws in the first place. Is it your opinion that they are rules merely to protect the interests of the ruling class as all laws are (such as the Critical Legal Studies movement will espouse)? Are they laws without any basis in reality – able to be changed at the law makers whim, reflecting nothing more meaningful than driving on the left instead of the right hand side of the road? Are they economic rules, aimed at protecting commercial transactions? Perhaps they are purely consequentialist rules in your opinion, only useful and justifiable if following them leads to a better life for the majority of people?

The problem is, most people don’t think from the starting point, and if you don’t know what the starting point is, then how can you mount a coherent and meaningful discussion when people from those sorts of backgrounds I’ve just listed above, come to your table with such statements? You are unarmed, and they will win on emotion and rhetoric. As it’s put in some far too oft read philosophy texts “Is morality merely banging on the table?” – is it just a matter of saying louder than the person next to you that this matters and you want to protect it?

Well it is more than that. Intellectual Property is more than table-banging, it is more than about fat cats getting fatter. It is about the foundations of a functioning society, it is about humanity living within a scheme of coherent and meaningful laws that protect the efforts of their bodies and minds. And if you like, you can turn that into a consequentialist discussion about what sort of world we would live in without such rules – for me it will effectively come down to the same conclusion. But the route I choose to tread is to do with the philosophical underpinnings of property, and that is my next intended post on this topic. This has just been an introductory set-up to my next piece, to help you understand the importance and differences between the origins for our reasoning. I will be working up to some quite specific Second Life topics based in Intellectual Property that bug the hell outta me very regularly. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t start at the beginning, the way that I wish more people would.

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I should warn you: This post is long, it is complicated, and for some it will be offensive. It’s one of those things I don’t expect many people to read, and even less to understand. But I’m writing it anyway cause hey, it’s my blog.

I have a firm set of principles by which I live. The fundamentals never change. They are based on almost a solid decade of full-time university study of both law and philosophy, backed up by over 7 years of tutoring and lecturing in the same, and of course my lifetime of experiences and observations. At all times – all times – I am measuring the truth and success of my principles. All life is my data. And SL drives me nuts.

SL is full of people judging and condemning other people for minor happenings – for social interactions that disturb them, or someone using one too many swear words – so much that means so little. These things, they may bother us, upset us, but they are only reasons for or against continuing to have the individual in question, in our lives. We must collect and examine such data when it appears, and act upon it, analyse consequences, etc. And SL drives me nuts:

Because the things that really matter, the real things that offend directly the principles that inform and shape my life, are the nothings to so many people in SL. If you understand the right to life, then you are half way to understanding property rights as the necessary corollary to the right to life. So fundamental, so absolutely essential, and yet. In SL, theft, of people’s creations – their software, their music, their art, it’s everywhere. It is constant. Thieving the product of others’ effort, of others’ genius. And people laugh it off, they make excuses, and they keep on doing it. I listen to people complain about stolen art and in the next breath joke about ripping off music and software. Integrity.

Someone cheating on an SL partner or telling lies or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, these might be character flaws or something to be worked upon; they are never things you should simply “judge” though because human relationships and communications are infinitely complex and require as much information as possible to reach any meaningful conclusion on. And with people, with their emotions and history, you will never have all the information you need to out-right condemn people for such things. This is part of why I give intense loyalty to certain people in my life – because at some point you just have to say “you know what, this is someone I like and want around and I’m going to stand by no matter what, cause no one is perfect and I’ll never have the full story, but this person I shall choose to believe and support when it comes to the crunch.”

So despite all the relationship and communication ups and downs, I get on with life – I forgive, or I don’t, and that’s just a choice we have to make sometimes. But theft? Theft shocks and upsets me, it damages my opinion of someone more than them cheating on an SL partner ever would. It taints my image of that person until they openly say “you know what, I was wrong, and I’m not going to steal anymore”. Even at that point I want to tell them to pay the person who’s music they’d stolen up to that point, pay the software developer they ripped off – buy the item they’ve been enjoying for free for so long before they realised what they’d been doing. But they don’t, and I’m just happy for the fact they reached that understanding of the immorality of theft; happy for that small blessing.

I think such attitudes are a reflection of not having thought about the consequences of their actions, of the “everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t I”, and of – most fundamentally – not having reflected on the basic rights that all humans beings are entitled to by virtue of their humanity, and the rules of property which it necessitates.

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