Monday, February 25, 2008

Second Life to Second Strife or Life As We Know It Continues (JM)

Sometimes in life we come across a story so amazing that we know our world will never be the same. However this is a story that makes me fundamentally sure that, as we move along in to the digital age, life as we know it will continue. It lies at the nexus of two special brands of people: supporters of the Front National and people who use Second Life. You see, Jean-Marie Le Pen rightist, nativist leader of the Front National has opened a political party office within one of the worlds within Second Life. Immediately after this happened massive digital protests formed outside his virtual office. Apparently some of the virtual protesters threw exploding pigs at Le Pen and his office.

A few thoughts on this. First of all, as Second Life protects digital private property and institutions it is quickly becoming clear that the digital simulacrum is actually not really that much different than the world in which we live. To be sure, it was initially an artificially even playing surface, which is nice, but slowly but surely it will turn in to the uneven economic realm we have come to know. Secondly, it's great to know that political contention will not change one bit; albeit with a slight more cartoonish quality. I actually think this presents a distinct advantage to the digital realm, in that cathartic violent forms of political contention can be enacted, without any physical harm accruing. But it cuts another way, at the point digital institutions replace real institutions the lines of contention become less real. In other words, institutions are already quite unreal, quite inhuman, can you imagine what Marx would have had to say about alienation from digital labor? Now, we have alienation from political life and social life as well.

One just cannot help but wonder if this changes the rules of the game or if it's just the same old song. But the other totally interesting part of this is that it's blatant nationalists that are taking up the political cause in the digital realm. Take a look at the at FN's press release regarding their entry in to Second Life. They are there for the discrete purpose of promoting French language and French institutions. This is fascinating, because if there is any political alignment that faces a real threat from international digital universes, it is nationalist/nativists. As the digital universe tears down borders and identity groups, groups that play politics with this kind of identity have become incredibly fearful. The real question is what assumed boundaries will be preexistent in the digital world. Second Life has already made its choice; corporatism and capitalistic identities are preserved, while national and cultural identities are quashed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out on both ends, and whether this is truly the revolutionary new change for which we've been waiting.

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