When Government does some measures that the citizens dislike, and appealing to other branches of Government is faced with indifference, what do citizens do? They protest. First, in public forums. And then they come to the streets.
What could be most important to protest for in a democracy? Well, most people in the West are currently worried about the financial crisis and its effects. But much more serious — as we have seen this Spring — is the right to vote and the right to select a Government elected by the people. Into other words: it’s all about voting and getting elected. When that right was never granted, or once granted is threatened to be removed, then people get angry, and, if they’re pacifists, they just go out on the streets and protest their indignation.
This happens not only in the real world; it also applies to the virtual world as well.
There are few democratically-run communities in Second Life, but some of them (like Chilbo) are among the oldest in this virtual world of ours. Democracy is very unpopular in Second Life, and I wish I had more time and the qualifications to do some sociological about that. After all, pretty much every resident of SL lives in a democracy, with some exceptions. Why doesn’t democracy catch on after so many years? Why are we still stuck with “benevolent dictatorships”?
My feeling is that most (not all) residents have become disillusioned with democracy. And if we listen to the talks in coffee shops and bars in Europe, there is certainly a lot of grumbling. Democracy is equated with political corruption and a “tyranny of the majority” — a majority that never includes you, and is poised to take your rights away to benefit the status quo of a ruling class that has always been in power, no matter what the system is, and doesn’t want to leave, even tough they might only remain in power if elected. This feeling has never grown so strong as in the past few years, where a financial crisis is artificially created by banks, and governments bleed their citizens for money to cover up the bank losses. Governments fall, new governments get elected, but the bleeding continues. Of course we need a working banking system — that goes beyond question — but it’s rather noticeable that each successive elected government will do precisely what the previous one has done, only more aggressively so. Lacking options — “all governments are the same”, or, as we say in Portugal, “the shit is the same, only the flies change” — people can only protest in the streets.
I’m not saying that people can make a difference, or that it might be crazy to believe that we, the people, could overthrow the current governments, remove the status quo of the ruling class, and start fairly distributing the money we have among the people that need it — i.e. we, the citizens, who comprise 99% of the population that doesn’t live from the income stored in banks, but from our everyday work. We can certainly make that difference. If the result is something worthy or not, well, I leave that for the political analysts. My skepticism makes me think otherwise: radical solutions tend to be short-lived, or they are simply political opportunities to create a new status quo, which will rule instead of the previous one, but behave pretty much the same way — we should look at Russia and the Soviet Union as a typical example.
Virtual worlds and virtual communities are made of the very same kind of people. There is no “magic” that turns us suddenly into better human beings just because we log in to Second Life. Power, be it expressed in billions of dollars and manipulating millions of humans, or just a handful of L$ and manipulating a few dozens of residents, is always a goal strongly in our minds. Even in a democracy in a virtual world it’s very hard to relinquish power and give it away to somebody else; at the very least, we try to keep in touch, and wait for an opportunity to get back in power again, even if just switching functions, just like Putin, who is always either the President or the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and will very likely remain that way for many decades. Breaking the loop is hard!
In the Confederation of Democratic Simulators, things are not different. There are three branches of Government and it’s usual to swap places when people are elected out of the office. I should know; I did that a lot of times, during the initial years of the community, and during the “years of indifference” — the golden age of every democracy, which is when everything is running so smoothly as planned that nobody wants to get politically involved and seats at governmental offices are left vacant 🙂 On those occasions, a small group, against their own will, had to remain as candidates to at least give voters some options.
But this period of indifference goes away, and with it, a few of the oldest citizens of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators did the same — now that democracy is a well-oiled machine, we can just watch from afar, come to the official events now and then, post a picture here and there on the Flickr group, and generally enjoy the community but with detachment. When things are mature, democracy has the mechanism to be self-perpetuating and self-supporting, through regular elections that smoothly gives everybody the opportunity to vote and get elected. And after 15 terms with successful elections, I was happy to believe that things couldn’t run much more smoother.
Recently, however, the elections for the 16th term caused an upheaval. While there is still no result of public enquiries, it seems that a silly sequence of stupid mistakes disenfrachised first a part of the resident citizens, and later all of them, by cancelling the elections for the 16th term and postponing them for (hopefully) a week afterwards. It’s a bit irrelevant who made a mistake or how that mistake was not corrected in time; there is no need to point fingers, find scapegoats, or do public flogging — what is important is to fix what’s broken and make sure it never happens again.
However, this sequence of mistakes had a terrible consequence. Instead of promptly dealing with the issue, the three branches of Government, although they never officially posted anything, “decided” (even if it was a decision by inaction) not to put the voting booths out at the Constitutionally-mandated time, and just give a vague explanation that the date had to be postponed until the mistakes were corrected. Now we all know this is a virtual world, and that we’re all volunteers (or very low-paid Government officials; the Civil Service in the CDS just gets L$1000/month), so we “expect” people to do their best within their free time.
But is that so? In my country, there are villages with less residents than the Confederation of Democratic Simulators. Their local representatives are also volunteers. If by a silly “mistake” they “forgot” to put out the voting booths, and would give no plausible reason for doing so — “plausible” meaning a legitimate reason that is foreseen in the Constitution and the legislation to postpone the elections — then I’m sure the whole village would raise their torches and pitchforks and walk towards the Town Hall, demanding an explanation of why their unalienable right of voting in the elections was removed.
Well, in the Confederation of the Democratic Simulators, we are even more peaceful. There were no torches and no pitchforks, just a few signs, and lots of yelling around the sims, as the march slowly went from sim to sim (slowly, because yours truly kept mixing up the roads and missing the landmarks and the turns up in the mountains — heh!). Symbolically, we visited all Election Points — a special, public area designated in each sim for candidates to post their signs, and where the voting booth for each sim is placed. The signs were there; the booths were not — except for a “demo” booth which was used on an exhibition in SL8B and didn’t work.
Also symbolically, the march started on the oldest region of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators — Neufreistadt — at the oldest spot, the one that was first built: the Marktplatz. Some of the prims there are still from 2004 🙂 And the march finished in front of the Praetorium, the seat of the Representative Assembly, where some participants debated a bit. Some 20 or so citizens and visitors participated on the two-hour events — not exactly a huge march, but taken into consideration that it was just called 24 hours before, it wasn’t too bad, either.
Will this change anything? Not really for the current elections, assuming there will be any. But, like in real life, they might influence future policies. And this is the lesson to be taken for real world protest marches as well. We might not be able to change the status quo and continue to endure the effects of a “financial crisis” for as long as the ruling class is able to derive a benefit from it. But the many marches, strikes, and formal protests that are shown on the TV every day around Europe are not worthless. They will, at least, allow future politicians to consider if what they’re doing is really in the interest of the people who elect them. It’s not that they all have qualms — most are indifferent to the needs of their citizens — but I always liked the concept of “intelligent egoism”: benefit others the most you can, so that you can get the most benefits from them 🙂 While the motivation might not be the best, it’s a strategy that actually works. A politician that gets his voters happy might be the biggest crook of the world, but at least, well, he’s making people happy, and that’s not so bad 🙂
We need more crooks making people happy 🙂