Not really something that’s ever occurred to me before, and in most cases it’s probably not a deal breaker, but now that the question has flopped unceremoniously into my mind without really being invited, i feel honour bound to explore the issues that it’s decided to bring kicking and screaming out into the light.
What the heck am i talking about? Simply that following a recent, perfectly innocent and innocuous inworld conversation, it struck me that it’s incredibly easy to slip into a mindset within the virtual world that is at odds to one’s usual ethical or moral stance in the real world, simply by virtue of sl not being ‘real’. The slightly scary aspect of this is that you can do so without even being aware of it – the simple fact that our brains perceive sl as ‘not real’ can provoke in us an unconscious bias that skews our thought processes so subtly that we don’t even know it’s happened.
It was a completely innocent conversation with a friend about elephants, and i happened to mention that when i next get the urge to mess about with my plot of land i might consider creating a zoo of some sort. The idea was appealing, so much so that i’d started to plan out in my head just how i might go about it… and then i logged out and thought nothing more about it until today.
And then it hit me.
In rl, i have an uneasy relationship with zoos: on the positive side, many of them undertake vital research, education and captive breeding programmes; on the not so positive side, the vast majority are stuck with the legacy of poor quality animal environments, designed well before any real understanding of the needs of individual species was developed, and all are constrained by space and funding. No matter how enlightened we may have become since the first Victorian menageries wowed the crowds, in many ways zoos – and for that matter safari parks – are still soulless, inadequate constructs, housing animals in conditions that are barely sufficient and far removed from the natural environment, designed primarily for us to gawk at the poor creatures and throw peanuts at them. Much as i support the positive work that zoos achieve, the concept goes against my better judgement and, ethically and morally, i have difficulty endorsing them.
Not so in sl, it seems.
You will, of course, now be thinking i’ve finally flipped my lid… how on earth can i possibly equate a virtual zoo, containing pixellated animals with the rl equivalent, and you’d be right in many respects. None of the ethical or moral considerations that hold fast in the real world could possibly apply to the virtual world – it stands to reason – except, in some ways, i have to beg to differ. As with so many ethical dilemmas, it’s not just the tangible outcome that needs to be considered, there are underlying principles – fundamentally important to our world view – that are also at stake. If i was to open a zoo in sl, am i Communicating a subliminal message that zoos, per se, are a good thing?
Before you jump in and tell me i’m going just a little overboard, let’s consider a real world comparison – and there are many i could choose – there are those of us who elect not to open bank accounts with institutions that invest in what we might consider to be unethical or immoral securities. You can argue that my bank manager doesn’t personally trade in guns or contribute to economies that turn a blind eye to drugs or human trafficking, but i reserve the right to distance myself from such activities through my choice not to support a company that might indirectly endorse such things. Why should not the same be true for the virtual world?
Zoos are but an illustration of my point: there are many and varied examples to be found in sl – activities and viewpoints that we seem to have few qualms about tolerating, participating in or promoting, yet in the real world many of us would have strong moral and ethical reservations about: the objectification of women, (and men); unlawful pursuits; violence; slavery; intellectual property theft… the list could go on, and many of us would be absolutely horrified if our name were to be mentioned in connection with such things in rl, yet in sl it’s just fun and games, and light-hearted banter.
Or is it?
i’m certainly not one to judge or to presume to dictate what is morally and ethically right or wrong for the general populace, but i can do so when it comes to my own world view and actions and activities, and sometimes i guess you just have to ask yourself exactly how strongly do you feel about an issue and what message are you unconsciously giving out by virtue of the virtual choices you make?
All I want is the best for our lives my dear,
and you know my wishes are sincere.
What’s to save for the days I cannot bear
Beirut – A Sunday Smile