Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blaming Culture

What happens when you blame culture for problems in society today? You get labeled as a moron, as missing the big picture. You've obviously missed the actual reason, haven't you? Blaming culture is just too broad a brush! Blame the individual! Are you trying to shirk responsibility and pass it off on society at large? Ridiculous! Go back down your hole and don't come out until us adults solve the problem.

I take offense to this, because sometimes culture really is the problem.

First, however, I will explain why I believe 'blaming culture' today has a bad rap. The first reason is that often, having identified the problem, no one follows through. Ok, we see the problem here... and no one does anything. It's just acknowledged.

Whereas, if I blame the individual directly, action is taken immediately. He's sent to jail. Or punished somehow. What happens after you blame society for the way things are? Nothing. It's empty talk (although it shouldn't be). Since there's no follow-up, to most people the exercise itself is pointless. We want action, not words.

We forget that there are two steps here: identifying the problem and then implementing a solution. Imagine if Martin Luther King just talked about racism and never did or organized actions against it. People had been doing that for years before King and you can see where it got them. Nowhere. We need to take action afterward, or else we're just empty talk and we justify the assertion that blaming culture and society leads nowhere.

The second reason is that it's scary to think about. If I blame the individual, I can separate myself from him or her. To suggest that the problem is the society as a whole, a society of which I am part, means that I am part of the problem. And we can't have that, can we? Change is scary and frightening. Change means I was doing something wrong and which needs to be corrected.

It is easier to just go with the flow. Things seem to be working so far, why bother making waves? Except that is no different than absolving the individual of blame writ large. We would find it offensive to let a burglar off on the claim that he didn't know it was wrong, yet on a societal scale we easily accept it.

Why should we blame culture?

Culture is by definition something we all do and comply without thinking or noticing it. In American culture, for instance, it's taken for granted that I will buy a turkey for Thanksgiving. We find 'Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving' funny in part because Snoopy prepares snacks and junk food as a Thanksgiving feast when we know it should be turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce.

We take it for granted that if someone intrudes upon your property with the intent of harm that it is within our right to shoot them in defense. Thus, we find it extremely offensive when laws are enacted to limit this 'right' or when the family of the criminal sue the victims for unnecessary force (or something). We praise the shooter for defending his or her home, property, and family.

There are just a few aspects of American culture and in my opinion are fairly obvious. What about those aspects we would rather not think about? Or are a tad more hidden?

Take, for example, our allergy to government backed health care. No one seriously believes that people should be forced to go broke due to an inability to pay health care costs which may be necessary for an enjoyable and healthy life. No one seriously says, "Well, they deserve to die because they obviously did not work hard enough to earn proper health care." And yet we argue why it should not be enacted, and most of the reasons involve not raising taxes and not wasting government money and why mess with private enterprise?

Does that seem contradictory? That we can feel compassion for those stuck in the limbo of being unqualified for current welfare programs and not earning enough (or even being dropped due to increasing burdens on the insurance company) to pay for the necessary medical treatment, and yet in the same breath more or less condemn them for our own personal gain (I don't want my taxes raised or government messing with my healthcare or destroying capitalism!).

How can we claim that the United States is a good Christian country, believers in Jesus who advocated helping the sick, lame, and dying to the point that true disciples should shed all worldly possessions, and in the same turn, donate a few dollars to the Salvation Army and call it a day. Universal Health Care? Not in America!

Why? As long as we refuse to look inward, we will never see why.

There are two parts to everyone. There's me, myself, an individual. And then there's society, the other self. People who say the social is not important need to wonder why solitary confinement is considered punishment. If we were truly independent beings, and society only a construct to keep us on the straight and narrow and only a loose structure, why is it mind shattering to an individual kept in solitary? Why would we go crazy? Why would we strike up conversations with volley balls?

We need to look at ourselves.

Second Life?

Second Life is no exception.

We see repeated shrill comments, general hysteria about copybot, and in world the constant suspicion to the point of alienation that an avatar teleporting onto your land might be stealing all of your content. And we have Linden Lab who acts in mysterious ways. And the evil copybotters (and how many of those are running around, anyway?). So many personalities clashing! And why?

The most common point of examination is technological. People turn to the short comings and back doors and other assorted technological issues with the Second Life servers and viewers with related demands such as clamping everything down into proprietary software or ID coding or something. I'm not a programmer.

But why do they keep banging on Linden Lab for some techno lockdown? Continually they are told it is impossible and all efforts are futile (your mileage on this may vary). In which case, we should turn around and ask ourselves, why do they rip? And what can we do as a society to place such a negative connotation on it? What can we do to enforce the idea that stealing is bad to the point that we need not worry about the proliferation of copybot viewers? What message can we send? What can we do?

Then again, that isn't what we want, is it? We search for tech reasons to lock out copybot because, and let's admit it, we steal things ourselves. How many fashion designers have watched the fashion network and were 'inspired'? I've seen Disney designs and characters all over the age player market. I do not pretend to be an expert in copyright law, but I doubt a few Japanese animation studios are pleased with the anime market in Second Life. Or that guy who writes the Gor books. Ned something? I can never remember the name, but I seen his books copied into notebooks and distributed all over.

All of that isn't stealing? Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and say, "I have never stolen anything?" Or "I have given proper royalties to the parties whose work I have used?" Probably not. This gives a mixed message: Stealing is wrong, unless it's me, then it's ok.

The message we are giving to newcomers is that as long as you steal little things (i.e. nothing that belongs to me or my friends) then it is perfectly fine. And I am not even going to even touch the hilarious irony which developed when Linden Lab went and attempted to trademark their logos and mottos and other symbols (and here I will drop on my own sword: I too bought into that mass attack upon the Lab, although I was of the opinion that it was too late to bother as people carelessly used their symbols to the point that Jello would have an easier time enforcing trademark over its name).

Guys, we cannot have this double standard! We cannot be righteous and indignant over one issue if on a similar one we display flexibility.

What can we do? We can try to encourage originality and punish derivative works. If there is an incentive for content creators to stop using 'soft' copyright theft, then it will stop whether this is due to positive (people buying more of the good stuff) or negative (people boycotting a producer) reinforcement. We can encourage an environment where products are not defined as 'Disney in Second Life' or 'Second Life copy of a Lexus' but objects and products which define Second Life. Things created in the fabric of the Grid itself.

We need to agree upon a reasonable standard. Right now, as I mentioned above, definitions are fast and loose. 'Copybot' is coming to cover almost all aspects of Second Life with which we disagree. It's becoming something like the word 'communist' or 'atheist' or 'republican'. This muddies the water and causes confusion. We need to sit down and examine and define what is and is not acceptable. Then we can avoid such drivel as lashing at Linden Lab for trying to insert a TM after their name while in the same topic wallow in confusion as to why people aren't respecting their copyright and trademarks.

Or the random accusations of Copybotting which too frequently completely shut down a debate. Think of the last time you attempted to discuss this, and remember how often you hit brick walls with people as they accuse you of condoning Copybot or using it or saying it's acceptable. It's become the end-all be-all and this has got to stop. Until we define the terms, we can't really set the lines. This is the problem in real life with political parties: the words 'liberal' and 'conservative' have lost all meaning and are little more than circular arguments of themselves ("You're a liberal and therefore you're wrong" or "You're just another evil conservative!"). We use those labels rather than looking at the issues. In Second Life, which is supposed to be 'better' and an escape from the baggage of real life, this is both sad and unacceptable. We, as a Grid and group of people, deserve better than to be reduced down to the simple political nonsense of real life.

Naming and Shaming as Prokofy Neva suggests works to the extant that if you name them, people WILL avoid them. It would easily stop copybotters and content theft in general if the knowledge that someone can easily rat them out and induce a boycott could occur at any time. I personally think of something like the Better Business Bureau. Go ahead and be a thief, but don't expect rave reviews. The only issue I can see is mistaken accusations and the harm to reputations which could occur from a false positive. But if an organized society sat down and processed complaints and warnings, and culled the cruft from the good, I think it could work effectively.

See how much more sweeping that is, rather than attempting to implement tools to ban each individual on a case-by-case basis? Or attempting to win an Arms Race with kopybot kiddies?

Which is why it would never be put in place. I'm sitting here, and more or less placing a finger of blame on the content creator society itself for complaining rather than cleaning its own house and taking steps on their own (rather than waiting for Linden Lab and its technological tools). But that's too hard and complicated! And we don't steal, honest! I swear to Nunchuck, upon the Femur! And no one would listen to us! And they'll copy and steal anyway! Why bother?

Why bother, indeed. Go ahead and continue not bothering. Later, you can blame me for looking at SL itself rather than blaming and attacking the individuals responsible. After all, your methods have worked so stunningly thus far, hasn't it?

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