Mitch Kapor’s Level Playing Field

by Pixeleen Mistral on 28/05/07 at 7:01 pm

Philanthropy and Recursive Reality at Sheep Island

by Carl Metropolitan


MitchK Linden, avatar of Mitch Kapor–philanthropist, Lotus Development founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder, Linden Lab Board Chairman, and Man with Resume You Would Kill For–made a rare appearance in Second Life Thursday night. Kapor headlined a mixed reality event promoting his Level Playing Field Institute held in-world at Sheep Island Auditorium, and in the ethereal mists of that scary place called Real Life, at the East Palo Alto Four Seasons Hotel.

The evening began–in typical Second Life fashion–with lots of people chatting in world while Jane Calvert of the Electric Sheep Company beat the video stream into submission, and Rosedale and Kapor’s SL avatars appeared. As things were getting underway, the Second Life attendees were treated to the background chatter of the RL Palo Alto crowd on the video stream, providing an apt soundtrack to the SL text chat.

Philip Rosedale (not Linden–this is one of those mixed reality things, so please keep up) introduced the Level Playing Field Institute (, in an opening video. He compared the goals of LPFI, a non-profit founded by Kapor to promote a “level playing field” in education and the workplace, to those of Second Life, referencing his oft-cited vision of a young person in the third world making a Real Life living designing virtual clothes for Second Life.


Rosedale spoke with genuine affection of the influence Kapor had over his career and creation of Second Life, again drawing a parallel with the LPFI’s role in mentoring students of color at the high school and college level.

Another video followed, promoting the goals and projects of the LPFI, including SMASH (the Summer Math & Science Honors Academy) and the Initiative for Diversity in Education and Leadership (IDEAL) Scholars program. The LPFI video, full of the photogenic smiling faces of “under prepared high school students of color” and “underrepresented students of color” telling sad stories with happy endings, walked the edge between effective PR and evoking an uncomfortable “white man’s burden” impression.

But the Q&A phase of the event chipped away at even my Grinchesque cynicism. Aided by Philip Linden (sans traditional codpiece of many colors), Kapor proved himself to be a far more effective spokesman for his vision than the PR types who had created the LPFI video. Kapor took questions from the audience, via IMs to Brainy Aleixandre of the Levelers (the LPFI’s Second Life group), and responded via stream from Palo Alto while his avatar faced the audience at Sheep Island. Mixed Reality makes my head hurt.


Kapor’s passion for both the LPFI (and SL) was communicable; I went in to the Q&A somewhat jaded, and left thinking this guy may have something really cool going on. Other highlights of the Q&A session included
Kapor’s comments that voice in SL will be “transformative”, someone in a black (okay–dark gray) helicopter buzzing the building, and a perfect SL moment when Philip Linden’s avatar crashed right in middle of things.

He handled with good enough humor, telling the audience (again via stream) “I did just crash”.

So say we all, Philip. So say we all.

18 Responses to “Mitch Kapor’s Level Playing Field”

  1. Tenshi Vielle

    May 28th, 2007

    Please, let me be the first to say it, to beat the trolls off the bat (or with the bat): “ADMIT IT! You’re on the ESC payroll now!”

    *eye roll*

  2. Carl Metropolitan

    May 28th, 2007

    No. Still waiting on the job offer.

  3. Carl Metropolitan

    May 28th, 2007

    Do you think they lost the resume?

  4. Anonymous

    May 28th, 2007

    >> “ADMIT IT! You’re on the ESC payroll now!”

    While LPFI’s event was on Sheep Island, the sheep are not LPFI’s developer company.

  5. Economic Mip

    May 28th, 2007

    Well will be interesting to see where this goes (or doesn’t go).

  6. NegroThunder

    May 28th, 2007

    i have no idea what the hell this shit is about, but i wish i could have been there to grief it.

  7. Brent Recreant

    May 29th, 2007

    What is the Electric Sheep Company? Do they shear sheep?

  8. Brent Recreant > What is the Electric Sheep Company? Do they shear sheep?


  9. bluesaphire

    May 29th, 2007

    “referencing his oft-cited vision of a young person in the third world making a Real Life living designing virtual clothes for Second Life.”

    One of the most arrogance quotes of the year so far! This is a total relfection of our countries inability to understand and be relevant on the world stage.

    Can we all chant together:

    Let them eat cake!

    Who the hell do you think you are?!

  10. oobscure

    May 29th, 2007

    is there any transcript available ?

    FYI: here is another article about mitch kapor – quite interesting, i’d say

  11. Prokofy Neva

    May 29th, 2007

    Carl, I’m glad you wrote about this so that we could all think about it, I was sorry to miss it just so that I could try understand just what *is* Mitch Kapor’s philosophy of philanthropy and a Better World after all.

    But I’m afraid I missed the magic of SL/RL communion and remain unconvinced, mainly because I see all the signs of a tell-tale mediocre multi-culti sort of ideology here that I find troublesome.

    First, let’s contemplate — what does it mean, in a world of affirmative action, focus by Bill Gates and others on high school education in the U.S., which is in deep trouble in many cities, the equal-opportunity or affirmative admissions policies of colleges, etc. that there are still people blocked from succeeding? Does that mean those polices aren’t working as stated? Why?

    But leave that aside and try to focus on what this vision means. Let me see if I understand it correctly. There’s a playing field, which is dominated by white geek guys in Silicon Valley — does a playing field get more exulted than that? And these folks, definitely guilty with the white man’s burden (you were right to pick up on that Carl, because there’s little else that emerges as inspiration here) decide to cut in some people of colour to their field. That’s “levelling them up” as in a game, a quest — extending a helping hand to make sure they aren’t facing obstacles.

    So…they cut people in with direct grants, programs to create opportunity, philanthropic focus.

    And then, once “levelled up” to this “playing field,” what do the minority students say? They don’t say (and who could blame them?!), “I so appreciate white geek guy dominant success culture in California and I am so glad they cut me into their deal”. They don’t say, “White geek guy culture spells success, and I’m glad to extoll it.” See, that would be hilarious, right? And…we then have to wonder, well, what *is* the white geek guy culture? Is it come by honestly? Are all those people who are the philanthropists like Mitch and Philip and others (Eric Rice) at their present stations in life, on that big playing field, by merit, or merely because they’re white? Or did they have merit, and achieve by hard work or native intelligence, but got that extra start in life just by being white? Or how *does* the system work?

    So these students of colour who have become the scholarship winners or beneficiaries of this program then respond and tell you *their* understanding of the great game. Their bios are all filled with quotes like, “I hope to serve my community,” or “I hope to give back to my community,” speaking of Hispanic, or black, or Asian communities from whence they came. They don’t say, ‘I hope to serve a Better World” or “I hope to serve Science,” they say, “I’ve gotten mine, my community is now able to get ahead through me, and my job is to go on identifiying with my tribe.”

    Each and every one has a biography sprinkled not with “Science Club” or “Better World Club” but “Hispanic Students Club” or “African American Association” or “Asian Students Organization” type of affiliations. Each one identifies themselves with their community, their ethnicity, above all.

    Gone are any types of inspiring pan-ideologies like “Science for the Betterment of Mankind” or “Progress Through Science”. There isn’t a concept of “integration” or “unity” or “melting pot” or even “gorgeous mosaic,” but merely: “Each one of us must get their community a deal, get it cut into the white bread in the sky, then we can be equal — equality is achieved by promoting one’s community aggressively”.

    OK, so let’s fast-forward this exercise, and imagine a world where the advancement created by the levelling-up program or must plain “levelling” concept to get away from game analogies succeeds. Now you have wealthy people of colour. They now sit on the board of a philanthropy. And what is their goal now? What can it be? It can’t be some abstraction like “Science” or “The Betterment of all Humankind” — as those weren’t the abstractions through which they themselves came to their positions of achievement and wealth. Instead, their concept has to be “How can I help my individual ethnic group”.

    One could posit a situation where the field has been so unlevel for so long, that corrective measures in the form of special programs of incentive, or affirmative action, would need to be in place to address the wrongs of the past. At what point would you declare success? when income disparity ends? Or with what ideology would you then go forward, once you presumably created a more level field? What inspiring notion will drive the Philips and Mitches of the next decades? That’s where the multi-culti ideology leaves me behind, and many others, because it isn’t something higher, not a higher ideal, not accessible to anyone, not levelling all of us in its awesomeness as an ideal, but instead driving us to another, more petty and mediocre model where it’s every man for himself and his group, and each one races to try to get to a level that white geeks established — just because.

    I find trying to take apart something that is supposed to be knee-jerk do-good and feel-good like this will only get you blasted for being a curmudgeon, or worse, a racist.

    But I really want to understand what is this Better World we are supposed to be signing up for here. What’s Better? And why is Second Life, which is supposed to remove the visible barriers of race and ethnicity and language, supposed to help with this, especially when it is about to add voice, and is increasingly forcing a “realifization” on its residents?

  12. Inigo Chamerberlin

    May 29th, 2007

    ‘People of colour’? ‘students of colour’? Really?

    Must be a cultural thing. To me it actually sounds… dated, like something from the mid-20th century. I don’t like it at all. It makes me question the attitudes and motives of the person using that expression.

    And that’s as a black haired, brown eyed, white skinned decidedly non-liberal person.
    I don’t think I’d like it any better if my racial background were different either.

    White, black, asian, oriental – what’s wrong with those descriptions? All they are is descriptions. Like redhead, blonde, or saying someone has long dark hair and grey eyes.

    But ‘people of colour’? To me that’s awfully close to ‘non-white’, or, as an Apartheid-era South African might say, ‘nieblank’…

    Sorry, I think it’s a very questionable term. No axes to grind here – it just grates my ears.

  13. Prokofy Neva

    May 29th, 2007

    Let it grate all you like, Inigo. Maybe you don’t live in the United States? “People of colour” is the absolute politically-correct terminology that minorities now use. Of course it grates the ears. Of course it sounds like the awful “coloured people” of the 1950s or earlier, that made it seem as if some human beings were dipped in vats and “coloured”. Of course it’s awful — “people of colour” — sounds like a disgrace, eh?

    But this is exactly the official term in use now, the term of not only the politically correct but the minority groups themselves, and government, school, foundation, etc. offices. So while your indignation is understood, you just haven’t gotten with the program here.

    I think this term is an artifact of its age, and not destined for use beyond the decade, for one, some of these minorities won’t be minorities any more in some states, but majorities; in time there will be some more collective — and neutral description that someone has yet to think up.

  14. Inigo Chamerberlin

    May 29th, 2007

    Ummm, ‘people’?

  15. Tenshi Vielle

    May 29th, 2007

    We’re SL-journalists, not politicians here.

    Anyway, Carl, ask Jerry. He may have stuck it in file 13. O_O Bad Jerry! Bad!

  16. Nicholaz Beresford

    May 30th, 2007

    Leveling the playing field, giving the 3rd world or mom and pop access to the brave new world of virtual entrepreneurship.

    Oh yes, by creating a tool that requires high end hardware and eats more more memory with every new update.

    I’m soo impressed!

  17. Sean

    Jun 7th, 2007

    As co-creators of the video, it was not our intent nor did we portray our students as specifically struggling against someone or some group, i.e. white people. Rather, they were dealing with their personal situations and discussing what their life would be like if they didn’t have the opportunities that the programs provide. Some of them came up with real comparisons like friends and colleagues who aren’t in the program, and how they face more barriers to success.

    It’s interesting that the author of the article (and maybe others) saw the video and immediately thought of how that evokes in them an uncomfortable ‘white man’s burden.’ My immediate response is, ‘This is about the students, not about you.” The video, and our outlook in general, is about focusing on our students’ stories, revealing institutional inequalities, and removing barriers to opportunities, not assigning blame to any particular group of people. We are not trying to make white folks feel bad or guilty about privilege, but make people feel good and positive about our students, programs, and their impact. Our goal is a level playing field, not for anyone to feel either disadvantaged or burdened.

    Our goal was to move people to care and get involved, and if seeing the obstacles of others gives a viewer perspective on his/her life, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If that then evokes a burden, it is an outcome that while not specifically intended, is real. That said, at no point in the video do we imply that our students face barriers because of white people or that it’s solely white people’s responsibility to fix things. If people feel a burden in connection to these stories, we should think about why. If it sparks discussion on the topic, then we’ve succeeded in raising awareness and getting people to think about these important issues.

    I should also mention that none of us who worked on the project are ‘PR types’ or have any PR training (We don’t even have a PR person on staff :) ).

    If you want to watch the video we’re talking about, you can here

  18. Prokofy Neva

    Jun 7th, 2007

    >If people feel a burden in connection to these stories, we should think about why. If it sparks discussion on the topic, then we’ve succeeded in raising awareness and getting people to think about these important issues

    I don’t feel any burden whatsoever, and I think others were reacting to this somewhat phony presentation not out of a sense of “burden” but out of sense of hype. I’m also not one of the People of Privilege of Silicon Valley, so I have no qualms about asking what the overarching vision is for this concept, such that it can replicate beyond these view Valley entrepreneurs and those levelling up to get with them.

    I had hoped you would answer the challenging questions I ask, if you’re going to come into this thread.

    I fully understand that for you, “it’s about the students” and “telling their stories”. But I do wonder what you think about the impressions given to outsiders of this process, as I wrote — that the objective is for each person of colour in this story is tohelp his own community, his people, his tribe, and that there doesn’t seem to be some overarching integrative/internationalist vision, the kind of vision that sustained justice movements in the past.

    The new concept is all about identity politics, and getting what’s mine, for me and my people. Perhaps this is inevitable, as they had a model to follow for this — white people from Europe who immigrated to the United States.

    As for “PR”, it doesn’t matter. You have some message you want to get across; we’re trying to get it and see if it is something we’d support.

    Nicholas, I think you may have misunderstood something. These folks aren’t levelling up to go play in SL or do something with virtual worlds’ entrepreneurship, this is RL stuff unrelated to VWs except that Philip and Mitch happened to be in it.

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