Supporting info (7) – morality in the online world

by dave0searby0mason

The practice of Constancy will cause many complex issues to arise. Whichever way it happens, thoughts about morality will arise sooner or later. These are some of my thoughts that came up concerning our vastly expanding online world . . . .

If you pretend to be bad in a virtual world, does it make you a bad person?

There are things we consider bad in the “real world”, murder, genocide, kidnapping, enforced incarceration, slavery, rape, paedophilia, theft – but if these things happen in a “virtual world”, between consenting adults – are they still bad? The vast majority of people would not think that an actor, playing the part of Hitler in a play or film, was a bad person. The film may show scenes of brutality but people understand it is a drama, it shows bad things that we all may look and learn about our darker nature as well as being entertained. Dramatic reconstruction of acts of cruelty is central to building a story and ensuring a strong emotional effect. Children have to be taught it is not real and even some adults confuse the actor with the character he or she portrays. As humans we take pleasure from the suffering of others and this must have some deep primal function as it is endemic from slap-stick comedy to young animals torturing each other in cartoons. If we see an old person hobbling along with his walking stick towards a banana skin he cannot see, our reaction to this can be entirely governed by the music. If the music is light and comical, then we anticipate humour and will laugh when he falls. If the music is dramatic and if it is intercut with scenes of anxious relatives rushing to save him, we feel anxiety and empathy. These kinds of feelings over what is essential the same situation seem to be universal for people so are likely to be biologically based no matter what cultural expression they take. We are on safe ground then to say that the dramatic representation of cruelty and all forms of misfortune are functional and necessary to some extent and their entertainment factor reinforces this function.

The drama can be more than just passively received. Role Playing (RP) began in the real world in primarily in two areas. The first and oldest area was in sexual encounters of which commonly sadistic and masochistic encounters are acted out. Safety factors are agreed upon beforehand and usually no significant physical harm is sustained. Sexual violence as a fantasy is not only found in industrial western cultures but does seem to be more prevalent where leisure is more of a marketed commodity. The second area of RP development concerns gaming. It began with card games where people took on the characters they ‘held’ and it developed to include dressing up and evocative locations. This kind of RP has taken off significantly in virtual worlds, where on line networking enables larger numbers to take part and computer graphics can enhance all manner of possibilities. This kind of RP has been combined online with the sexual fantasy RP of the first origins.

There are two important factors to consider before going deeper into the moral and ethical aspects. In the real world, you can go to a club already wearing a mask and remain anonymous throughout all encounters – those before any RP begins (out-of-character or “ooc”) and during the encounter (in-character “ic”). However, if you cross a line and endanger anyone and/or commit a crime, usually there are consequences, from other “players”, from the club security or even the police and later the courts. In the virtual world, the consequences are much milder. You might be banned but more significantly, you redefine where the lines are in the first place. Redefining the lines happens in the real world but the ease with which it can be done online is far greater. This is not just to do with RP. There are forms of behaviour online that would not be tolerated in the real world, from mild breaches of etiquette to extremely insulting behaviour, from simple intolerant hectoring to attempts to hack in and crash the whole local environment. In the real world there are laws against vandalism and hooliganism but the virtual world is still developing its enforcement parameters.

In a paragraph above I use the phrase “cross the line”. It is a concept that is widely understood in western culture and can be very easily explained to those who come across it the first time. One side of the line is ok, the other side is not. There may be “grey areas”, the line may be redefined if new factors emerge but the principle is very simple. Some things are just not ok. I will use this term as it is so widely understood and also because it implies an act of “line drawing”. Line drawing may be based on two main areas, from actual laws and unwritten codes of conduct, both of which can vary from locality to locality. Some things have been illegal for centuries (murder, rape, kidnapping), some are relatively recent, (racial intolerance, health and safety); unwritten codes of conduct can be similarly very old (being physically too close to someone) or recent, (“political correctness”). Both kinds of “line crossing” are harder to manage on line where anonymity is easier. Eventually we will require heavily encrypted and secure core identities for online voting, financial stability and a real basis for meaningful online trust because the real world and the online world will continue to merge. This has been much in the news recently (and is also dealt with in another article here .) For this article I want to now draw some lines.

Is it ok for a man to rape a woman in the real world? – no.

Is it ok for a man on-line to watch another man rape a woman in the real world? – no.

Is it ok for someone to create some images of what could be a real rape and place them where others may find them inadvertently? – no.

Is it ok for consenting adults to ‘pretend’ a rape encounter in the real world (RP)? – yes.

Is it ok for consenting adults to ‘pretend’ a rape encounter in the on line world (RP)? – yes.

Is it ok for anonymous consenting adults to ‘pretend’ a rape encounter on line where both or one are not actually accountable – ???

Now we are straying into grey areas . . . .

Is it ok for a person to rape a child in RP on-line??? (No)

Is it ok for a person to commit genocide and racial intolerance in RP on line??? (No)

This movement from clear areas to increasingly less clear areas, as interesting as it may be, is not primarily the one I want to explore but rather the act of line drawing itself. The issue of rape may be the best example to explore here. There are huge areas of gender and personal preference at work but I want to try and narrow it down to make a point. If a man is sexually excited by the thought of rape – is he a bad man, (has he crossed a line)? If the biological response comes first and the moral anxiety comes a close second, has he still crossed a line? This comes down to choice. We are good or bad, not because of the thoughts in our heads or the impulse in our bodies or the complex interplay between the two but because of what we choose to do. (There is another article that could spring from this place about how much choice some actually have, for example, the mentally ill – but that topic is not in scope here). Choice is crucial and where there is little choice, there is plenty of evidence to show that western culture moves towards creating more and more, be it for marketing reasons if no other.

Choice then is central to what follows. Why would a man choose to RP raping a woman (even if both are consenting and even if both are not anonymous?) Opening this up more generally – why would anyone pretend to be bad? On line RP has shown me that there is distinction between a dramatic situation that requires actors to act at being bad and an RP where people are choosing to be bad for reasons of personal excitement. This is a crucial distinction that has, at its heart, a very simple observation. It is not ok to pretend to be bad. An actor, in a structured drama, that mirrors back to us the often complex lives we lead, is helping all of us draw a line. A person, who anonymously experiments in being bad because it is exciting, has crossed a line, they are not helping to draw a line, for themselves or others, they blur it for themselves and others. This is not going to be easy but it is up to all of us to make this issue as clear as we can.

It follows then, that some form of censorship is morally acceptable and probably socially necessary, not just to protect children and vulnerable adults – but to help us understand ourselves and each other. In Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, the society was in a mess, despite laws, despite centuries of moral common sense, the Nazis came to power anyway and 12 million men, women and children died. They died horrible pointless deaths not because a few fanatics redrew the line for everyone, they died because a critical mass of the population did not draw the line for themselves individually. The on-line world offers us undreamt of possibilities for networking and sharing. The real world and the online world are merging rapidly. The very phrase “real world” will become redundant. We still, more than ever, have to draw the line. If enough of us agree where that line is, then our sons and daughters have a future.

Definitions :
cross the line
1. to change from being acceptable to being unacceptable I thought the jokes crossed the line and were basically embarrassing.
2. to do something wrong If you steal someone’s idea, you have absolutely crossed the line.
( http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cross+the+line )
• Virtual World : A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects.[1] The term has become largely synonymous with interactive 3D virtual environments, where the users take the form of avatars visible to others.[2] These avatars usually appear as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example).[3][4] In general, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.
• Augmented Reality : Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality. By contrast, virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulated one. Augmentation is conventionally in real-time and in semantic context with environmental elements, such as sports scores on TV during a match. With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulable. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world.
• The Internet of Things : refers to uniquely identifiable objects (things) and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure. The term Internet of Things was first used by Kevin Ashton in 1999.[1] The concept of the Internet of Things first became popular through the Auto-ID Center and related market analysts publications.[2] Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is often seen as a prerequisite for the Internet of Things. If all objects of daily life were equipped with radio tags, they could be identified and inventoried by computers.[3][4] However, unique identification of things may be achieved through other means such as barcodesor 2D-codes as well. With all objects in the world equipped with minuscule identifying devices, daily life on Earth would undergo a transformation.[5][6] Companies would not run out of stock or waste products, as involved parties would know which products are required and consumed.[6] Mislaid and stolen items would be easily tracked and located, as would the people who use them. Your ability to interact with objects could be altered remotely based on your current status and existing user agreements.[3]

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