Thursday, September 20, 2007


Some one writes almost as badly as she thinks.

She doesn't like what I think I said, but then proceeds to show that she has no idea what I said, or what she is talking about. I might be sympathetic to some of her viewpoints, in that she clearly seems to be against exploitation of individuals by those who have economic power, which is something I believe too, but it is very hard to get at what.

There are issues of thought, for example declaring that all dichotomies are wrong, which is a statement that lacks soundness, when I made an assertion which is not pulled from the air, but backed by our growing experience as to how Second Life is being restructured, and what the results are.

I'd urge this author to drop many of her ideological blinders and hatreds, and look. Second Life must make the transition for people fiddling with prims by hand, and to a system where people can specialize and improve their quality and productivity. Now this can be imposed from the top, by people who have money and advantage, or it can grow from the people who have mastered some level of second life skills and spread outwards. There are no other groups of people who can do this, and therefore, the only models for second life involve these two classes of people. I'm sorry if that isn't a palatable assertion, but it is also difficult to avoid. That is, capital must come from groups that can produce it. I know that is a very Marxian statement, but it grows out of traditional ideas as well.

From this a number of things follow. The traditional Marxian, say the average sociology professor, would then argue that because only two classes have what could be called the "objective" means of production, the question is one of consciousness. The holders of out-world capital and funds are conscious of themselves as a class, and the in-worlders are, largely, not. From this he, and we are talking he's here by and a large, would predict the out-worlders overwhelming the in worlders based on the out-worlder's superior capital position and consciousness.

My argument is that there is another kind of capital in play in second life: that is social capital. Social capital is the quality which neither Linden Labs, nor the out-world establishments have: the ability to create the vibrant social networks which are the engine of activity and connection. People come to SL for people, and that is the great advantage that in world has.

I know I am not being original here, but over and over again, when small, underfunded groups of people have turned back large well funded groups, it is this social advantage, this authenticity, to use an over-used word, which provides, in the end, the dynamism and force. Some authors have estimated that royalist sentiment in America was almost equal to independence sentiment at the eve of the American Revolution. But it was the revolutionaries who created not just a political, but a social movement. Jameson's pioneering study on how social change from aristocratic to egalitarian norms was more powerful than even the event of the Revolution itself.

In this context the creation of anti-slavery as a revolutionary ideal is found, in among other places, the paragraphs struck from Jefferson's declaration by the Continental Congress, and in the writings of James Otis in 1764, as cited by Bradley in her 1998 work on the rhetoric of slavery as a social movement in Revolutionary America.

What is rattling around second life is the realization that hobbyist labor is being used and abused to extract value by people who do not have the ability to create organic social movement themselves. The result is often seen by the failure of their business. However, the ultimate maw for hobby labor, is LL itself, which charges people a good deal to participate in Second Life at a high level,and burns through their labor rather freely.

If there is to be a non-corporate model of second life, then, it must harness this social movement aspect to second life, and create a structure where the people who are key to it can earn their livelihoods through it, or ultimately we will have a world of rotating for sale signs, and corporate builds.

Second Life is a pre-capitalist society, arising out of a Late Capitalist or even post-capitalist society. One has to be wary of this, because capitalism, like the theater, is always on its last legs, always in danger, and always being eaten by those who would substitute barriers to entry, natural monopoly, network position, legal advantage ad money for innovation, specialization and competition.

Right now Second Life's economy is a virtual guild system, with those who ahve wrested certain techniques from the world eager to use these barriers to make money from thse who come after. While this is often celebrated as "capitalism" by the people who are on the other side of those barriers, it really is not. There has been buying and selling, and using trade secrets to gains and keep wealth since we have impressions on the sides of clay pots. If that were capitalism, then the Code of Hammurabi would be capitalist.

No, it is the specialization and dependency of labor on capital which defines capitalism, as opposed to other systems where there isbuying and sellling, However right now it is the dependency on existing knowledge or traffic, that is rent, not capital, which defines Second Life. This barrier to entry is driving away new people, and therefore it will end one way or another. One way is by the collapse of SL, but the more likely is the collapse of our present way of trying to annoy people no end, and make them pay to make annoyances go away. This worked when people came here because of their sexual fantasies and needs, it works less well with ordinary people who may have these, but don't need to be here for them.

So what we are facing is a transition from feudalism, with its personal loyalties and rents, to an eventual capitalism. However, intermediate to this is a system where those who have the power of feudal relationships attempt to use them to bludgeon competition. They are capitalist in the sense that they seek to acquire capital advantages, but primarily anti-capitalist in that they want to ban forms of capital that undermine their rents.

In the modern world this was the period from roughly 1400-1800, when the feudal system was increasingly incapable fo coping with the changes wrought by the transition from a muscle economy, to one that could use mechanical energy: clocks, water wheels and sails, to good effect.

In world history sails lead to new agricultural products: potatoes, tobacco, cocoa and so on, as well as cheapening existing trade goods such as spices. Gunpowder lead to conquest of the Americas and influxes of gold and other valued items. Both together opened trade in china, tea and other manufactured goods.

The surplus brought on by the improvements in agriculture, the opportunities brought on by the need for a mechanical economy, and the challenges of the luxury goods created the conditions for factories, which are named for factotum, or people who carried pieces into place and for mills, which ground grain, grist and other items into usable form.

In our world the industrialism of scripting and prims is this kind, but it will give way in front of what is the steam engine of SL technology: libsl, which allows for things such as zombie pods, land bots, copy bot, and direct input into second life. This reality, of the power of direct input by program into Second Life, has overwhelmed every area of activity it has touched. Land bots have driven land buying and selling into automated mode, copy bot threatened to wreck SL's economy, and zombie pods are replacing camping pods as the way to puff up traffic.

But the real power of libsl will be the ability to replace the heavyweight front end of the client with more specific front ends. For example, an interface for building which is efficient and clean, and allows for rezzing of prims in groups and batches quickly, and client side design that includes scripts, mega and nano prims, as well as ordinary prims.

This transition can be in the hands of a few big players, or in the hands of many. But without the, excuse the academic expression, consciousness of being a productive class, and the, excuse the metaphysical one, presence of such a group in the minds of Linden Labs and others, it will be withheld from the large body of residents, and used to flatten the economy.

The merchant class is not, by itself, capitalist. It engages in buying and selling, but is more dependent upon political position and natural monopoly, rather than the capital itself. They may be consumers of capital advantage, but they do not increase the capital advantage in the society as a whole.

However, their dependence on capital to trade, and the pressure that capital inequalities create at both ends, mean that the societies at both ends must develop capitalized forms of production, and eventually capitalism, to withstand the pressures of previously stable monopoly production. Those who make clay cups in an era where china can be imported, have some catching up to do.

The need from SL then is the creation of an economic hub, one which will put the best producers directly against each other visibly, but also create a visible counterweight to those who advertise heavily outworld about their capabilities, and attempt to prevent an honest comparison of capabilities and results in world. This need, for an SL-metropolis, or metatropolis if you will, is the one which my proposal addresses, and which dozens of small, disjointed groups are now pursuing.


Bradley,Patricia Slavery, Propaganda and the American Revolution 1998
Crichley, JS Feudalism 1978
Dobb,Maurice Studies in the Development of Capitalism 1946
Jameson, Fredric "Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" 1991
Jameson, John Franklin American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement 1925
Brenner Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 1993

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