Second Life as Prison Life

by Alphaville Herald on 26/11/07 at 10:58 pm

Podgorecki and the original Second Life

by Urizenus Sklar, post-Prokofy FIC watch bureau


You may have thought that Philip pulled the name “Second Life” out of the aether, and maybe he did, but he wasn’t the first. Today I was reading about a Polish sociologist named Adam Podgorecki, and the Prok bells in my head went off. Here is why. Podgorecki, banished to Canada (can it get any worse!) by the Polish communists, did a study of Polish prison life, and he referred to the emerging prison culture as “Second Life.” So you see, Second Life was really prison life. But surely that Second Life was different from *our* second life! Well…

Podgorecki’s study noted a strong caste system with special coded languages that only elite members were allowed to use. Here is a little summary that I pulled from Prisoners in Prison Societies by Ulla Bondeson, p. 30.

Under the leadership of Podgorecki, several studies were made of Polish institutions from 1969-1971, revealing a similar picture of the inmate subculture.

“…they could delineate a very sharp division of inmates into two clearly dichotomized basic categories, which in juvenile argot and local terminology are called “ludzic” (people) in plural form (cztowick, “man,” is singular) as the dominant “caste,” and “frajerzy” (“cad,” slaves, or clumsy) referring to the subordinate “caste”. The people [ludzic] were found to have their special language and a highly indigenous set of magic, customs, and taboos. Slaves are not permitted to communicate with people in the normal course of daily events, and they are never supposed to use the code of the people [ludzic] in communication with each other.”

Of course the Prok bells went off because of Prok’s claims about an elite class of users in Second Life and their elitism driven in part by their having access to and knowledge of “the code” — in this case computer code. So I got to thinking. In prison ,the code had to be invented by the elites (Progorecki called it an “anti-language”). No doubt the “magic, customs, and taboos” were invented too. My question is this: could Second Life and the interwebs be the ideal enabling mechanism for the creation and establishment of elite classes? — Digeratti or FIC or whatever we wish to call them? More to the point, is it the case that far from being a leveling mechanism new technologies (magic to the outsiders) are enabling a new kind of class distinction and enslavement? More pointedly, instead of witnessing the birth of the metaverse are we really witnessing the birth of a vast computer mediated prison culture? – a Second Life not in Philip’s sense, but in Podgorecki’s?

14 Responses to “Second Life as Prison Life”

  1. Tateru Nino

    Nov 26th, 2007

    Interesting point. I attended a talk (“Obfuscation or Necessity – Prodgorecki’s anti-language in the workplace”) not so long ago where Podgorecki’s anti-language observations were used to explain the functioning of corporate executive branches and soft/hard corporate departments.

    The speaker made a specific distinction between soft (eg: Marketing/Management) and hard (engineering/technical) departments in their use of language, where she stated that soft departments caused language deviation to conceal and obfuscate, where hard departments used it to specify and describe.

    To me, that seems something of a polarized view, but I could see her point. If something requires specialist, precision language and cannot be completely or accurately described in other layman’s languages is it obfuscation or necessity?

  2. Angel

    Nov 26th, 2007

    Paranoid ramblings of an unwell mind. No, Not Pork but Uri.

    Knowing your style now Uri I would have to ask… Has Pork done something bad to you to make you want to bite back at them? You normally bite at them each time they do something to you personally.

    Can you spell Vendetta?

  3. Buckaroo Mu

    Nov 27th, 2007

    In almost any online situation, those who have computer skills, or are willing to learn them, will always have a leg up over those that don’t. It’s not a social caste thing, it’s simply those that understand the internals having a better chance of taking advantage of the quirks – or finding a way not to be affected by the harmful ones. For instance, way back when the First Look Render Pipeline Improvements were just coming out, various people on the blogs discovered that real-time antivirus scanning can cause serious rez slowdowns for the new cache mechanism. One simple change to your AV program fixes it – and there’s an article about it in either the wiki or the KB, I forget which – but your average non-techie person will say “That’s too much work”, or “That’s too complex” when it’s really not. So they complain, when there’s an easy fix. Ditto for checking out Nicholaz’ viewers. Dead simple to install, and tons of benefits – but “it’s too much work” or “I’m not a techie nerd like you” – even if I offer to lend a hand, walk them through.

    Frankly, I call bullshit on that. If there are instructions available that anyone could follow (and there are), then you have no excuse – it’s willful ignorance, and that’s the worst sin imaginable (to me) in a modern, technical society.

  4. urizenus

    Nov 27th, 2007

    Tateru, do you have any sort of link to that talk (or an email for the speaker?).

  5. not a techie

    Nov 27th, 2007

    Difference is that in prison, if you’re not part of the elite, you cannot become part of it either.

    Or you’d have to kill someone the elite really hated or something like that.

    In Second Life, anyone can learn the programming skills of the e-lite, and once you know how a computer works, you’re already in. don’t have to kill anyone for that.
    Even Prok can learn to become a tekkie, it’s not something bad, scary or like the KGB, it’s simple how-does-a-computer-work.

    I’m far from a tekkie, in the way that my field is electronics, which doesnt help an awful lot with LSL. But, I’m learning. Soon, I’ll be a member of the e-lite.


  6. Melissa Yeuxdoux

    Nov 27th, 2007

    Darn it, Buckaroo, it’s hard to type after applauding until your hands bleed. Well and succinctly put, and I hope the message gets through.

  7. otakup0pe Neumann

    Nov 27th, 2007

    Everyone has access to the code that the game-gods at Linden Lab have made available. Knowledge is something else.

    And c’mon Canada isn’t that bad. You best not be dissing my igloo.

  8. DaveOner

    Nov 27th, 2007

    What’s interesting about this article and it’s subject is that I never new there was an elite class in SL until I read my first comedy bit by Prock. I, a non-techie by no stretch of the imagination, have conversed with some of the very people that were considered in the “FIC” and had a couple on my friends list for a while. I only took them off because I keep my friends list down to people I actually actively talk to.

    I think this is a situation where classes or castes or whatever we want to call them come into existence because certain people say they’re there and say it loud enough and repeatedly to where we look for it or see it whether it’s there or not. This goes for almost all aspects of life, though.

    There wouldn’t be racism if we had the perception of bats!

  9. Bladen

    Nov 27th, 2007

    Like we’ve been saying and all of you SL fags have been ignoring, the furfags are trying to take over the world, one game, MMO, website, and forum at a time.

    This is why we fight. Besides, if you really want to stop the “elitist superstructure derp derp derp”, start by destroying the furfags.

  10. shockwave yareach

    Nov 27th, 2007

    How absurd. Class society in a video game. I suppose we’ll see Bourgeouis Crispys and Revolution Flakes for breakfast next?

    It is simple; I’m here because it’s a fun game and I get to play and socialize with friends, old and new alike. No, I don’t have the inner code to the servers or what not. But I don’t have the code to my DVD player, Windows, coffee pot or the engine controller of my Civic either. That doesn’t make me a thrall to these companies and I still enjoy the benefits their products provide. SL is no different. This is probably the case for most of people – we don’t care about our not having the firmware to the thermostat so long as the heat turns on properly.

  11. Prokofy Neva

    Nov 28th, 2007

    Um, I don’t understand why this is “post-Prokofy”. It isn’t. It’s pure real-time Prokofy.

    “My question is this: could Second Life and the interwebs be the ideal enabling mechanism for the creation and establishment of elite classes? — Digeratti or FIC or whatever we wish to call them?”

    Absolutely. Of course they are, that’s the horror. And that’s what I’m doing here, fighting that, duh. You would be, too, if you cared more, but instead, you think it will pass you by and you can just poke fun at it.

    I’ve long noted the other similarities between prison life and Second Life (I happen to have absorbed an awful lot about prison life from my years of study of the Soviet Union and my ex who was in the Gulag for 9 years).

    o arbitrary rule and punishment
    o BDSM culture — that’s an easy analogy
    o culture of altruism and loyalty among thieves (vor v zakone)
    o use of trusties or trusted inmates who suck up to the wardens who savage the other prisoners brutally, gives the wardens plausible deniability
    o spiteful and malicious griefing
    o KGB informers’ networks
    o system of special favours for those who are loyal
    o difficult, pointless, meaningless work for which you are paid kopecks, or not even that
    o formation by prisoners of “families,” sometimes very elaborate, with hiearchies, privileges etc
    o self-cutting and self-mutiliation, histrionics to gain sympathy, time in the dispensary
    o unwillingness to leave the closed walls of the safe prison when time is up (“Bird Man of Alcatraz Syndrome”)
    o intensive, elaborate creations of sometimes amazing beauty, made out of ridiculously hard-to-work with things, like little threads pulled from mattresses
    o executions at dawn, burial in unmarked graves

    Second Life, with its external promises of freedom and creativity, is in many places a confined, closed space that incentivizes people to make sub-cultures acting out these dysfunctions.

  12. Prokofy Neva

    Nov 28th, 2007

    >The speaker made a specific distinction between soft (eg: Marketing/Management) and hard (engineering/technical) departments in their use of language, where she stated that soft departments caused language deviation to conceal and obfuscate, where hard departments used it to specify and describe.

    This is total, unadulterated bullshit, Tateru. As any cursory reader of the JIRA knows, the tekkies use language to confuse, conceal, and obfuscate. One has only to study their use of the word RESOLVED to see what a farce it is.

  13. Maria Leveaux

    Nov 28th, 2007

    In china up until recently there was a language spoken exclusivly by Women. The last woman formally brought up in this language passed away three or four years ago, Now the only one speaking it Fluently, and teaching it to a new generation of women (ironicly) is her son. This language arose because Women of a particular region were Not allowed to speak to ANYONE but their closest male relatives. The language as i Understand it, was composed more as Song, and Obscure lyrical poetry. Women could keep up with all the goings on in the Community all under the Noses of the Male heirarchey who didn’t recognize the Songs as a seperate language (At least not until the restrictions on feminine communications were relaxed). One of the accepted Customs (One could call it a law) among speakers of the feminine tongue was that under NO circumstance should it EVER be taught to a male. Secrecy was far to important to the Womens Continued freedom to Communicate to Risk men catching on that the language existed.

    Languages develope, and Dialects develope for a huge number of Social, Political, Economic, Technical, or Religious Reasons. By far the vast Majority of those New languages develope to Express Concepts, and Ideas That the central language simply cannot Express.

    In the 1960′s one would hear young people talking about “My Thing” (Still in use today) and “My Bag” and to the Outside Listener they appeared to represent the same Concept, But the Subtle Difference was once explained by a Hippie Florist (I forget the exact place where i heard/Read the explanation) The Florist explained “Flowers are my Thing, SELLING Flowers is my Bag”. We have different ways of Expressing that idea now, But Illustrating the activity associated with the Interest as a Burden (Light or heavy based on the persons attitudes) was something Not Easy for the Young people of the 60′s to ennunciate in the language of their parents. They weren’t TRYING to Obfuscate, On the contrary they were Attempting to Express an idea that perhaps (At least as far as they Understood) their parents never thought of before.

    Parlance among the Intelligence Community Often Hides Sinister intent with more palatable Euphamisms. “Sanction” looks so much better in print than “Assassinate”. The criminal Element has developed an ever changing Slang Language that allows them to communicate criminal intent among conspirators while being almost incomprehensible to the casual listener.

    I would venture that the Stratification of language and custom in the polish prison system probably Reflects a similar Stratification among the criminal Element on the Streets. That there is an Upper Eschelon, and the More Thuggish and Uncouth “Foot Soldiers” The Upper level Criminal Elements may make use of the foot Soldiers, But they also Disassociate themselves from the Nastier aspects of crime by treating them as an Untouchable Class.
    In More familiar terms, a Mafia Don won’t want to have as a Guest in his home some Punk he’s Hired to Extort money at Street level. The high ranking Mafioso, (Made men i believe the term is) Form a Society all their own, with customs, and Traditions, and It’s a Very unfortunate end waiting for anyone NOT in that circle to represent themselves by word or Deed as belonging to that “Brotherhood”. This Stratification Does Carry over into the prison system when members of either Strata find themselves Incarcerated.

    Already in Second life we ALL use a Number of words and Phrases that, If spoken in the real world, Will serve to identify us as belonging to this Alternate Reality. It’s New, it’s different and those NOT in SL won’t Understand what we are talking about, But out intent (Well, Most of us anyway) isn’t Insidious. We are just Expressing new ideas in the language DESIGNED to express them.


  14. Random fact

    Nov 28th, 2007

    the term “second life” was coined by Tad Williams in his otherland series which was published around 97 I belive. Also to those who dont know what otherland is and still play SL you should be ashamed and pick up the first book

Leave a Reply