(I’m still working on Part Two of my response to critics — specifically a defence of polyamorism as an essential component of effective Model Intentional Communities. Coming soon, I promise — Dave)
I want to confess two things I’ve learned about myself — things I’m not particularly proud of — from my time in Second Life. I suspect I’m not alone in these two sad admissions, and I even wonder if they are precisely what makes Second Life so appealing, and keeps so many addicted to it:
1. We judge people, and assess their ‘lovability’, by their appearance: “In Second Life, everyone is young and beautiful.” Those of us who are neither of these things in ‘Real’ Life have the opportunity in Second Life to:
No matter if it’s a two-way illusion.
Or maybe it isn’t an illusion at all. Stephen Downes has argued that ‘Real’ Life is no more real, no less an illusion, no less a construct of our minds and imaginations, no less an invention, than any dream, any Second or Third Life we may choose to ‘live’ in. Whether or not you buy Stephen’s argument, the sad reality is that we do assess and ‘value’ people on their looks. ‘We’ want to love who we want to love, and ‘we’ want to fuck who we want to fuck. Our bodies decide this, and fairness and rationality have nothing to do with it.
It’s insane that we should want to spend time with, and love, shallow young pretty airheads, instead of brilliant, sensitive, wise, articulate, informed, self-knowledgeable people, but we can’t help ourselves.
In Second Life we can have both. Everyone in Second Life appears lovable, aesthetically and erotically. So from the safety of our lovely avatars we can afford, and have a platform, to put our hearts and minds out there, completely, nakedly, and be accepted for who ‘we’ truly ‘are’.
2. We are attracted to those who offer mystery, passion, attention and appreciation, even when that is unhealthy, insincere, needy or manipulative:
These qualities feed our curiosity, or desire to ‘fill in’ and complete, our egos and self-doubts, and our need to love and be loved and wanted and needed. It’s the chase, the Game. In Second Life everyone is enigmatic.
We are all looking for people who complement us, who offer us what we want and lack and who let us offer what they want and lack. That is our social nature. When people give us attention and appreciation they are almost impossible to resist. No matter if that is mature and genuine, or childish, greedy and needy. Or false and cynical or psychopathically contrived to seduce us.
When it’s needy or manipulative it can get really ugly. It can lead to bizarre and co-dependent relationships that are sick, depraved, horrifically and endlessly painful. It can exhaust us, consume us and all our time.
We also love to be charmed. People who burn bright, who entertain and tease and lure us with their cleverness or brashness are irresistible. But often like magicians what they offer is illusion, and illusion is hard to sustain. Once you know the tricks they become tedious, the magic wears off, and the magician must, for their sake and ours, find new people to seduce with their sleight.
And, equally, we love mystery. One of the astonishing qualities of Second Life is its ability to make perfectly ordinary people who live mundane and (yes I know I’m being harsh and judgemental) rather superficial lives appear mysterious, profound and enigmatic.
It does this through the use of text rather than voice-to-voice communications (in Second Life you can use either though most people prefer to stick to text, with the excuse of conserving bandwidth, but in most cases I think really to create this mystery, and to allow more time to think and be clever). We all love to ‘fill in’ spaces, and it has astonished me when I’ve read and reread the ‘scripts’ of Second Life conversations (you can choose to save all your conversations automatically) how much I have ‘filled in’ those spaces to make the person I am speaking with exactly as I would want them to be, rather than who they really are.
And I am sure they are doing precisely the same thing, ‘inventing’ me to be exactly who they want me to be.
As long as this is done as a form of creative entertainment, as exercise for the imagination, it’s wonderful (and totally addictive). But I suspect in many cases we are creating in these other people impossible fictions, making them out to be what no human could ever possibly be, and then loving them, these creations of our own imaginations, hopelessly, unreasonably, dangerously.
We do this in ‘Real’ Life too, I think. We never really know the people we think we know and love (and until Vulcan mind melds become possible, we never will). We love who we imagine people to be, and that can create terrible problems when, as the relationship matures, they are revealed to be something very different from who we imagined.
That’s enough from me on this. These are half-formed, scary thoughts, and I just wanted to get them out there. What do you think?
Category: Human Nature
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