Posts Tagged ‘value’

While reading the comments on a friend’s blog post about Freebies, I came across the standard comment (and from a Second Life resident no less), which goes along the lines of “it’s all just play clothes on virtual dolls, why do you all give a crap?”. I was going to reply to it but realised what I had to say had wider application and goes to the heart of trying to understand why people bother with a virtual world at all. So it’s getting its very own blog post over here instead 🙂 .

The first thing to realise is that that style of argument can apply to every single element of Second Life, “it’s just pixel pieces, why do you care that this sim is being destroyed..” “it’s just fake water, why does a view of it matter”, “it’s just toy bodies, why do you care who they have virtual sex with”, etc. So as Second Life residents we should always be suspect of this argument from anyone else who is a resident too – surely we know better than that by now. We might find it easier to defend why we value whichever part of Second Life we take part in, but struggle to appreciate someone else’s interest in something like Second Life fashion.

It doesn’t take a lot of reflection to put together the arguments though – the way we dress our avatars expresses our own style; some people write poems, some sing songs, some do pictures, others dress up. They are just all ways to say “this is me, this is what I am, this is how I feel”. Then there’s all the arguments about the fact that people make real money from virtual clothes, and spend real money on virtual clothes, there is livelihood at stake here and that is always going to be important to the people involved in it. Throw in the points about the art-form itself of creating virtual clothes – the precision and expertise involved – and all up it’s really not that hard to understand why some people care so damn much about it.

However, you don’t have to go through those sorts of in-depth or reasoned arguments if you don’t want to – because this whole discussion just emulates the exact same arguments we throw at each other in real life about real life activities. For example, I have no idea why so many of the men I know spend money and time following and caring about sports. I’ve heard their arguments and none have convinced me I should suddenly take an interest in it myself. You can push the examples to the edge of reason as well and try to appreciate the money and time people like MTG players put into a small pieces of cardboard that the rest of us would just throw out as rubbish, or stamps, or whatever – the examples are unlimited. All that matters though is that they do value those things – whether they can make you value them too or not is going to be irrelevant to their own desire and possible obsession over them.

To the same extent it becomes pointless to constantly ridicule people about the things they value – in any world. We all take joy from different things, it’s part of the beauty of the diversity of humanity, why would anyone want to destroy that, and make us all like the same things? What an incredibly boring world that would be.

There is a line to be drawn of course: If someone is spending time or money on something to an extent that they are endangering their own or their family’s lives, then we say enough is enough. But we call that an obsession, or an addiction, and we generally understand that just about any imaginable (legal) activity becomes dangerous at those extremes. However most people don’t live at the extremes of addiction and obsession, and the chances of you being able to figure out if they do or not from some brief blog comments they make, seems very low. So even with this line of concern there is little ground to dismiss what someone else values as “stupid” or “unreasonable”.

What is considered “valuable” changes from individual to individual. And even when two individuals value something equally, the reasons for them ascribing it that value are likely to vastly differ – whether those reasons are monetary gain from on-selling the item later, emotional ties, rarity, beauty, or historical connections. Some people will mount arguments for “objective value” – but that’s usually at the fringes of philosophical debate, where we try to make the argument that everyone should value life, or happiness or other things which are rarely on the market anyway. The ways in which we achieve happiness or our versions of the good life are reflected in the rest of the items and activities we try to surround ourselves with; trying to tell someone they are “wrong” for valuing stamps or sports or pixels when in fact they help that person achieve one of these higher goals (of lets say, happiness), is to miss the point entirely.

Within certain communites we can have meaningful discussions about value. For example in the Second Life fashion community there can be meaningful discussions about the value of a well-made dress with fantastic unique textures. But if you don’t value Second Life fashion at all, trying to jump into that discussion and tell them they’re all morons for thinking it matters who designed a dress or the details of the texture, is a waste of your time and a waste of theirs; go get involved with discussions about things you do actually care about, instead of focusing so much effort on bringing down what makes other people happy.

There are a lot of thoughts I’m trying to get out here, that require more space than a single post rightly allows. But the point is an important one: Why we value Second Life at all – why we value what we do there, why one person values clothes and the other values snail races – is as much a discussion as to why one person values collectible playing cards and another spends their time drooling over Ferraris. Just accept that what makes you happy might not make your neighbour happy, but that as long as you’re not addicted or obsessed to the point of destroying lives, just live and let live. You’re not going to convince me to stop valuing everything Joss Whedon creates, and I’m not going to convince you that following sport is pointless (even though it is :p ).

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As Michael Jackson returns to the spotlight, so does that old controversy: Does it matter who creates the art, or is the art an independent entity that should be judged purely on its own merits? I think the answer comes in two parts.

The first part is recognition that great art can come from horrific people, and to deny it is great art is to distort the process of assessing art and is quite deceitful. It would be artificial to insist on seeing a biography of the artist before passing judgement on the art itself. There is no doubt that how much you enjoy or appreciate a piece can be effected by your opinion of its maker, but it’s far more common to hear people say “that’s amazing despite the person who made it” than “that would have been amazing but for the person who made it”.

However this distinction between supporting the art and supporting the artist appears to weaken or arguably break-down when it comes to them profiting from it: It is one thing to acknowledge something is great art despite the artist, it is another to buy it and thereby provide income to someone you think is a bad person.

I don’t expect these two intuitions to be the same as everyone else’s; I can easily conceive of reasons that people diverge from them. For example it could be argued that the first part of the separation of the art’s value from the artist who made it is ignoring some important ideas that art is always part of or an expression of the person who made it. The second part of my stance can also be attacked, and perhaps more convincingly than the first because is arguably goes against the recognition of the inherent value of art independent of the artist.

I am not unwavering in my dedication to this two part approach to the relationship between art and the artist, and I would be quite interested in hearing what you think of my approach, and how you view the issue yourself.

[And, to all you Michael Jackson fans who jump to defend him at the slightest hint of impropriety, this post does not assume he is guilty or innocent, it is just the recent catalyst which got me thinking about my stance on the issue.]

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