Second Life as Temporary Autonomous Zone

by Alphaville Herald on 03/09/07 at 2:50 am

By Urizenus Sklar

TazComing on the heels of the Linden’s recent excessively broad and vague definition of the “broadly offensive”, the hand wringing about the Leather and Lace Ball at the Second Life Community Convention got me thinking about Hakim Bey’s fringe culture classic, Temporary Autonomous Zones. Bey’s headline idea was how Temporary Autonomous Zones are liberated places where people can carry on festal activities so long as they occupy hidden cracks in the net. If they become too visible they are squashed out of existence by the State. To survive, the residents must, like nomads, fold up their tents and move on. The question is, has the Second Life Subculture become too visible? Will it be squashed out of existence? Will Second Lifers, like 21st century nomads, soon have to fold up their tents and move on to hidden corners of the metaverse?

For Bey, Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs) can only survive if they avoid head-on encounters with entrenched powers — encounters that lead to martyrdom at best:

The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it. Because the State is concerned primarily with Simulation rather than substance, the TAZ can “occupy” these areas clandestinely and carry on its festal purposes for quite a while in relative peace. Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed, like hillbilly enclaves–because they never intersected with the Spectacle, never appeared outside that real life which is invisible to the agents of Simulation.

Bey draws an analogy to what he calls the “pirate utopias” of the 18th century:

The sea-rovers and corsairs of the 18th century created an “information network” that spanned the globe: primitive and devoted primarily to grim business, the net nevertheless functioned admirably. Scattered throughout the net were islands, remote hideouts where ships could be watered and provisioned, booty traded for luxuries and necessities. Some of these islands supported “intentional communities,” whole mini-societies living consciously outside the law and determined to keep it up, even if only for a short but merry life.

In Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, I speculated that there could be places — “islands in the Net”, to borrow a phrase from Bruce Sterling – in which we can form better worlds, if only for brief periods. Perhaps these islands would be made possible by encryption technology or perhaps they would simply be out-of-the-way virtual communities that the State would not concern itself with. Within these spaces experimentation with governance structures would be possible and some of them would lead to communities that seem utopian to their denizens. These communities would be temporary and might even dissolve from within, but that would not diminish their value. Indeed, their transience and permeability would be important, for they should not be locations for escape from the world, but rather places where we could rest, have fun, educate ourselves, yet never lose sight of the business of helping each other (on this last point there is an apparent departure from the original pirate utopias).

The part about having fun should not be overlooked. It is, I think, one of the root concerns of Hakim Bey, and why shouldn’t it be? Bey’s language is audacious, of course; some would say it’s over the top. But his talk of insurrection and hillbillies and pirate enclaves is at bottom designed to free the imagination and to allow us to have some fun. And perhaps the over the top imagery will inspire us to resist the relentless attempts by to turn virtual worlds into simulacra of 20th century corporate office parks.

Am I serious when I talk about Second Life as a virtual community? Would such a community be “really real”? Questions like this strike me as poorly motivated. Why do we suppose that because there is play and fun involved that “reality” cannot be part of the equation? On this point, the concluding paragraph from Hakim Bey is apt:

Let us admit that we have attended parties where for one brief night a republic of gratified desires was attained. Shall we not confess that the politics of that night have more reality and force for us than those of, say, the entire U.S. Government? Some of the “parties” we’ve mentioned lasted for two or three years. Is this something worth imagining, worth fighting for? Let us study invisibility, webworking, psychic nomadism–and who knows what we might attain?

Indeed. Who knows?

[This essay was based on ideas developed in my introduction to Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, which was written in the days of MUDs and MOOs. --Uri]

11 Responses to “Second Life as Temporary Autonomous Zone”

  1. Corona

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    it is perhaps getting that way
    the thing to remenber is that 12000 sims is far more than the few linden company employees can ever police fully – even if the were to spend 100% of their time doing so – ( and they have far more than just that to do im sure)
    SO they are relying on us to be police informers for them
    this will only work if we go along with it

    the answer lies if learning the names of those likely to complain and inform on ‘broadly offensive and potentially illegal’
    and compile a list for selective banning
    if they cant get access to material they might denounce then they cant report it

  2. mootykips

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    I don’t think people are going to run out of places to have sex on the internet any time soon.

  3. Nicholaz Beresford

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    I think SL was such a crack, as are many forums or spaces on the internet which you don’t hear politicians talk about. When I arrived at SL it was this “oh what sweet freedom” feeling, like I never had it before (it was before governance and ageplay/gaming ban).

    The odd thing with SL was that it was not squashed by the state but it killed (or is about to kill) itself in some act of preemptive obedience because it (turning from a cult to a company) wants to last.

    On the other hand, I am sure that inside SL those TAZes already exist. Gambling places who stay up until they are found, places like those you recently found (bukkake, dolcett, whatever) who just escape public attention and who are lasting or will last as long as someone stomps them out and will then spring up somewhere else (in SL or in another medium).

    And with privately held sim servers (running outside the Linden Lab farms) I believe there will be ample opportunity to create social spaces below the radar of the public.

  4. dandellion Kimban

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    Second life is not a TAZ for a long time now, if it has ever been.
    We can speak about SL as a TAZ if we speak about independent, open-sourced sims . Even then, we’ll have to move our tents every now and then. And more important, even then we’ll have problems organizing our money and inventory assets . It will be hard to be autonomus if somebody is regulating the money flow.

  5. Second Lulz Vigilante

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    Another problem internet subcultures face is losing their exclusivity and having people who don’t “get it” flooding in and fagging up the whole scene. The chans have had to deal with “newfags”. SL has had to deal with the horny noobs. The trolling culture has had to worry about it’s own pretenders. The Party Viking vigilante clique I’m part of on SL is starting to have a small problem with this as well(we kicked a new guy out because he always wanted us to go on “patrols” and “stakeouts” with him).

    Sooner or later everything jumps the shark.

  6. Reg Baxter

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    Corona you say “( and they have far more than just that to do im sure)”

    I’m not so sure about that, they are fixing a few bugs on SL but as was show before have only assigned 1% of all bug reports to anybody.

    Those they have working on second light crapola are probably indeed taking courses in how pry and spy to make sure that LL is free of any possible legal action.

    They are running scared and even though I own land on here I consider it a lost investment, (just for gaming now)cause at some point they will be closing the doors for sure. Remember even enron & others were talking about future developments and moving forward on all sorts of things right up till the moment they collapsed. Philip probably already has his place picked out in Bermuda for quick get away once he sells out out and slams the door on the whole fiasco that SL has become.

    Sorry for going off topic but whether SL is or becomes a TAZ is irrelevant once it is gone.

  7. Nacon

    Sep 3rd, 2007

    So bunch of idiots and sex-life-hopeless people gather up in one place under TAZ can be “legalized?”

    ….sure, I think I can sit back and let it roll. Not that I support or against it, it’s just retarded enough that it’s going to fail on itself. Like Prok for one.

    OH and uhh…. nice knowing you, Urizenus, AKA “the-brand-new-loser-breed”. ;)

  8. SqueezeOne Pow

    Sep 4th, 2007

    Good article!!!

    I would have to say that I’ve seen this many times within SL. I think SL has gotten too big to be considered one community because these days. There are people in the Gorean corner of SL that will never talk to the SL “Businessman” and people in the furry corner that will never talk to the Christians in SL (indeed there are many!).

    At this point I think there are multiple communities within SL that form around specific sims and/or people in the way you speak of above. LL might ban sexual ageplay but how long was it before they even noticed? And how much did that ban actually affect people like me with no sexual interest in SL whatsoever? I never saw it happen and the only way the ban has affected me has been in the fact that I hear about it more now than back when it was legal!

    My point is that I think this TAZ thing can’t be applied to SL as a whole because it’s already gotten to be a sort of mini-continent unto itself. It’s more realistic to say there will be, are and have been many TAZs in SL.

    …and I love it!

  9. Maria Leveaux

    Sep 4th, 2007

    The thing that has always made me smile is the idea that this sort of thing can be Stamped out. It exists in SL because it exists in RL, But SL is the fantasy world where any particular kink that turns one on can be acted out. If you Really want to Know who these people are, look around your neighborhood. That’s where we come from, and the fact of the matter is, you will Never know what your neighbors are In To Unless you get in to it yourself. The Idea that there is a Normal way of Life really is a fallacy. “Normal” is the mask people wear to Hide what goes on Behind their eyes, and in the privacy of their bedrooms, and dens. Take a simple thing like Surfing Nudie sites on the net. Only a Small percentage of those doing it will openly admit to it. Then you have to open the Question of What Sort of Nudie sites are they Viewing.
    I remember how Shocked one of my dear On line Friends was when she Discovered that her Mother was a Slave in a D/s community (Unfortunately, she Discovered us After her mother had passed away). It never occurred to her that her mother had sexual thoughts, let alone ones that ran to those tastes. In a way it Saddened her, because She herself had similar fantasies, But was never able to Share them with her Mother for fear of Disapproval.
    When you talk about Living the Various kinks and Alternative Lifestyles in RL, The percentages of people doing so Seem low (10, 15, 20% depending upon which one you look at) but the numbers of people who Fantasizes about them are Much Much larger.
    SL is Your World, Your Imagination, IF there seems to be a Very large proportion of people who Live Very sexual Second lives, it’s because That IS their Imagination. Might even be Yours if you could overcome your fears, and admit to your fantasies, Instead of Burying them. Everybody fantasizes, it’s Nothing to be Ashamed of.


  10. Onder Skall

    Sep 5th, 2007

    Thank you Uri.

    By the way, I always did like that book.

    Yeah, it is a TAZ. Heavy on the T. I expect the new TAZ will be up and rolling within the next year the way things are going.

  11. Verena Vuckovic

    Sep 20th, 2007

    It is already way too late to ban many of the naughtier activities on SL. Sure, sites that publicly promote such activities may be closed, but much of the necessary equipment ( e.g for Dolcett ) is already privately owned by many SL residents, having been available for years in various shops.

    It is impossible to prevent people who are interested in such activities from finding and meeting each other, and simply doing their stuff in private….out of sight of the thought police. I would say that this private activity is already the case anyway for a lot of BDSM type stuff, and that the public sites are really only the tip of the iceberg. So if we are to talk about any TAZ, it is something that already exists rather than something that may or may not come about in the event of any ‘ban’.

    Thus, as is invariably the case even in RL, a ‘ban’ on an activity only really serves to make those in power feel that they are doing something….while the activity simply carries on regardless.

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