Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Hands on Hands

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I recently came across a link to The Architecture of Opensource Applications (Slashdot?). I particularly liked the following sections:

  • bash - It's old and interesting and critical to modern Unix. I also have occasionally written little Unix shells and might eventually write one for daily use.
  • llvm - I really like compilers (and programming language design) but I don't have enough time to keep up with them.
  • continuous integration - It's just a survey of a few tools of this sort (and ignores my current favourite tool, tinderbox), but it convers the design constraints well.
  • Mercurial - Another tool I don't use much, but it has a neat discussion of reasonable approaches to the problem domain
  • Graphite - I didn't know about this piece of software. Now that I am, I might use it for something someday.
  • Sendmail/Syslog - Frank and wise discussion of historical and current design constraints for mail systems, and good/bad decisions made to meet them
I mentioned recently that I've been volunteering as a caretaker for an MMORPG I very occasionally play. This involves keeping people's behaviour decent, preventing scams and abuse, and otherwise enforcing the rules. It's a lonely, selfless job, although there's camaraderie between the small, anonymous set of people who do it and on the rare occasion we make our presence known in the game (normally we're not visible and we move around the world much more freely than players do), players usually really appreciate it. I sometimes imagine that reality could have caretakers that we don't know about, as invisible as I am in the game. Then I wonder why we need caretakers. A few days ago I followed an LJ link to this story of online/virtual rape in LambdaMOO, and how the community (reluctantly) evolved governance as a response. The debates over jurisprudence (and commitments to anarchism, legalism, and the like) were real and have been recreated in many MMOs I've visited (in one of them, I have a template of a house I designed, something I should commit to paper someday in case that world goes away or I forget entirely what I made). Just as some people are curious about the growth of economies in virtual worlds (minor interest of mine, major interest of others), I'm really interested in the growth of jurisprudence on fresh ground. The Arab Spring is one of the best real-world laboratories I could hope for; we see orderly transitions (like in Egypt, where the military is running a caretaker regime until the September elections, and we see ad-hoc and local government in rebel areas of Libya. These still happen in the familiar context of human beings with human bodies, and scarce resources. There is also access to centuries worth of legal codes to consider or imitate. MMOs lack many of these useful restraints (can we lock people up who misbehave? Can we inculturate people?) and don't tend to (AFAIK) attract a body of jurists that would hold together a legal system.

How could we design virtual worlds to make the growth of non-superuser-type justice possible? By this I mean justice that is organic like police and laws are today in the real world? Would it take that long to design suitable institutions? One challenge is that in the real world, the punishment aspect of law depends on our vulnerability; while we are raised to (hopefully) respect the public good and treat each other well, we know that if we succumb to anger or greed and hurt another in certain ways, we may be injured, fined, confined, or killed. Can/should this be replicated online? Would the lack of biological cues for empathy in online environments make us all a few steps closer to sociopathy?

In the virtual world, like the physical one, I remain highly skeptical of community justice as the only form of justice; I don't think it can reach the level of general impartiality that we expect from modern systems of jurisprudence, although I think community justice can be a good supplement to legal justice. I regard the anarchist tradition as a bad bet on human nature.

As to the notion of virtual rape, it's an interesting problem. The author linked above wrote: 「Sometimes, for instance, it was hard for me to understand why RL society classifies RL rape alongside crimes against person or property. Since rape can occur without any physical pain or damage, I found myself reasoning, then it must be classed as a crime against the mind -- more intimately and deeply hurtful, to be sure, than cross burnings, wolf whistles, and virtual rape, but undeniably located on the same conceptual continuum.」. I don't think that's quite it; the core of the wrong of rape is the treatment of another's body as an object, manipulating their body without their consent. This manipulation is both very specific (differentiating it from kidnapping) and sexual in nature, both of which make it more wrong. It is most easily classified as being related to kidnapping or false imprisonment, although we can also consider it to be intensified by having aspects of threats (usually), violence (maybe? by the argument that because protections against assault should be waivable at-the-moment and thus physical damage is not synonymous to assault), and identity-shifting/primal in a way that deserves special protection. Focusing on the latter, we recognise that sex is a special, socially meaningful act in our society; people have a strong perogative to control what sex means to them. They *may* be sex-positive, which is fine, but they may also decide that sex is a big deal and a life event for them. We choose as a society to respect the meaning they choose for sex in their life, with violation of that choice being treated very severely. Some of this primality is not just theory; it's a recognition that in many kinds of relationships, people are inclined to violence to protect the monogamy of their relationship. Provided that expectation is mutual, we practically choose to recognise that instinct through marking rape as a big deal.

It would be oversimplistic to simply remark that those raped often have difficulties with self-image and sexuality for the rest of their lives; this is not sufficient without the reasoning above. Psychological harm must not merely be present, it must also be reasonable. Otherwise, concerns for uniquely fragile people would make a mess of any legal system we would make.

I got a good chuckle out of this entry of Wasted Talent.


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