Just Me

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Prejudice or Not? [Furry Boundaries]

I stumbled across a thread the other day in the forums, where a furry [someone with an “animal” avatar rather than a human-looking one] was complaining about how they had been kicked off Gorean [those who are committed to recreating the society of John Norman’s “Gor,” which can be controversial since it involves certain types of slavery] land for failing to comply with their stipulations.

Basically, communities who own their own land (and sometimes island) can bounce or punish those who fail to follow the rules – in other words, a self-enforcing community not under the direct control of Linden Labs, the creators of Second Life®.

It’s a complex issue. The OP felt discriminated against because she was being judged and punished for her appearance, just as someone might suffer prejudice because of the color of their skin or national heritage. She also felt that, in the past, she had been permitted on the land as a furry but now they were “cracking down” because they were being mistreated by others.

I can empathize and feel bad for her, because it was obvious how much hurt she was experiencing over what happened. But the problem really raises questions about the essence of the “Second Life” – what is actually is, versus what it looks like and tries to emulate.

Second Life obviously seeks to imitate Real Life and in some ways succeeds admirably. But it is not Real Life and is not under the same stipulations as Real Life. What looks like prejudice on one hand, I think, is not necessarily prejudice at all.

In the end, Second Life is less a “real society” and more of a virtual playground where portions have been purchased by those who wish to create a reality of their own choosing. We all have agreed to “play in the same sandbox” (so to speak) but have staked out our little turfs just as artists occupy different areas of a museum and yet are all under the umbrella of that museum.

The situation could also be compared to someone inviting you into their home, or to help write a novel they are creating, or to help paint a portrait they are painting.

By any standard I can imagine, an artist is not obligated to allow just anyone who “wants in” to be part of her creative canvas. It’s a nice gesture and an honor to be allowed to participate in someone’s creative work, but it’s not prejudice for the artist to say, “This is the general tone of my piece; and if you don’t want to take it in that direction, then maybe you’d best not participate – no harm or offense meant at all. But this is my work.”

While Second Life models very well many aspects of First Life and can even be mistaken for it, I think it is still really just an unfolding, interactive creative work rather than “reality.”

Prejudice is not involved when people put limitations on others’ contributions to their own work. It IS involved when people are not given fair opportunity to create their own work in SL. But in this case, it seems very clear that the OP and the Goreans have been given equal opportunity to carve out their own little niches in the virtual social canvas that is Second Life.

I can’t see that there is any prejudice happening here – at least on the surface, from a furry being bumped from Gorean land because furries are not part of the creative story they are telling. The Gorean's goal was not to "exclude" people who were different but to "preserve" the integrity of their culture so that visitors could experience it authentically.

Returning to the museum analogy, visitors are usually given free reign of the museum in order to experience the art of different people. But what if the exhibit is not static but environmental – i.e., you are actually entering a room or location where the visitors become part of the experience of the art itself? In this case, to preserve the integrity of the art, it is acceptable and even necessary to ask the visitors to fit a certain standard that will not ruin the expression of the artist’s intent.

Probably the closest real comparison would be to the Amish people in the United States. If you visit the Amish country, you would do well to respect their culture and act/dress appropriately (simply as an act of courtesy for who they are) rather than trying to disrupt it.

You would not bring boomboxes and blast them, even if you like that sort of music. You would not wear inappropriate clothes (although you might not be obligated to dress “Amish” either – just conservatively). You would refrain from taking pictures because you know how much they dislike it and even feel it to be morally wrong.

The problem is that Second Life looks so much like Real Life. The thing to remember is that appearances are deceiving, and in this case the two lives are NOT the same thing at all.

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