Right and Wrong

August 20, 2007

Last week, my friend Dirk and I got into a discussion about the concept of right and wrong and whether they actually exist in the natural world or if they are purely the fabrication of humankind. Yeah, we’ve been having some rather serious discussions as of late, but that’s beside the point.

Dirk and me, unfortunately *not* from the night of the discussion.

Dirk asked me whether I believed in right and wrong, and though I said that most things are relative to the situation and people involved, I did respond that I believe that there are certain things that are definitely right and some that are definitely wrong. Of course, Dirk had to put me to the test and ask for examples.

I agonized over claiming something to be definitely right, and I finally settled on the Golden Rule, though I wasn’t entirely happy with that answer. Dirk then asked me for a definite wrong, to which I responded with rape and murder. I immediately devalued my murder answer, though, by stating that there is always the “would you murder Hitler” question, which makes the inherent wrongness (God, I’m word dead tonight) of murder questionable. I stuck by rape, though, as I can’t conceive of any scenario in which anything beneficial would come from rape. It is a totally self-centered act which can have incredibly detrimental and lasting effects on the victim.

I won’t go into detail into the debate that ensued. We finally concluded that we both saw the issue similarly (if not identically). The concept of right and wrong is one that really does not crop up in the natural world; instead, it is a reflection of the mores of a society and a tool used to control behavior. Saying that someone is wrong or doing something wrong can become a powerful deterrent, given the right conditioning. We end up internalizing the concept of right and wrong so much that we oftentimes do not question it (in my opinion, one of the reasons why people are so opposed to certain social changes). We base our world views on what we believe to be right and wrong and work within that construct.

So, if we accept that right and wrong are not explicit rules set forth naturally, they become much more malleable and dependent upon the beliefs of a particular society. In Second Life (yes, I’m finally bringing it back to our little metaverse), we see the interaction of multiple societies from across the globe. What does this mean, then, for the conceptualization of right and wrong in world? Are there actions that we would consider definitely right and wrong in SL?

I think this is a difficult question, and it seems to be one that the Lindens have problems with as well. I’ve only been in SL slightly over six months, and I’ve already seen changes in SL due to a particular group’s or culture’s beliefs about right and wrong. Likely the most notable recent controversy has been sexual roleplay using child avies. Is it intrinsically wrong to engage in sexual acts with an child-like avie controlled by an adult? I’m sure we all have opinions about this, but what are we basing them on? What about gambling? Is it wrong to gamble? Has there been real harm done by SL gambling?

SL is a virtual world. It is a world that promises possibilities unattainable in RL. It is a world that allows us to do so much without the risks we would face in the real world. No one can ever physically harm you in SL. No one can force you to do something without your consent. In the event that you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, escape is just a click away. The only ways I can conceive of anyone actually being harmed in world are emotionally or financially. The former is a risk any time you form relationships with others and can only be defended against by the individual. The latter is something that, to my knowledge, LL isn’t all that concerned with guarding residents against.

Coming back to the question, do right and wrong exist in SL? Yes, I believe so, but more on an individual level, and I think that the trend towards outlawing certain actions in SL should turn. Some people on the grid act very much in ways that I don’t like, but I think creating rules against these actions is not a solution I’m looking for. I would like to be able to enter a sim without being immediately asked for sex. I think it’s rude and wrong to accost a woman (or man) like that. That certainly doesn’t mean that I want LL to start enforcing a sexual harrassment policy with an iron fist, though. I have tools at my disposal to ignore such people, just as others have to ignore the things that bother them.

Personally, I think it’s *wrong* that LL has succumbed to outside pressure. They need to set things *right* again by returning the freedom the platform promises.

But then again, this is all just one avie’s opinion . . .


  1. Concerning your search for a thing that is always right, at the first thought my answer to that was quite obvious: Love. But thinking about it, even love can have a negative aspect about it if you for example think about (physical) love between siblings, which is in most cultures considered to be wrong. So it seems to be easier to find something that is considered as ultimately wrong (e.g. rape) than the opposite … strange, isn’t it?

  2. Brilliant post Chloe! Got me thinking so much I abandoned trying to respond in a comment here and wrote my own post in response instead ;o)

    It’s over here if you fancy a read :o)

    Thanks so much for getting me thinking on this. It helped clarify a lot of stuff ticking over in my head and will likely fuel a few more posts in future.

  3. Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things that are pretty much universally wrong in SL:

    Griefing and fraud

    By griefing, I mean an individual or a group performing malicious acts simply for their own pleasure. Some may see griefing as a form of protest, but even then, it’s an extremely selfish form of protest with little positive effect, if any at all.

  4. Your blogs are a pleasure to read, you always come up with some thought provoking topics.

    I think there is such a thing as right and wrong. As humans we all engage in right and wrong acts. To some extent I find it next to impossible to judge something as right or wrong because it is impossible to know all the factors, we are not all knowing. If all factors were known, then perhaps some action could be viewed as right or wrong. But… It is impossible to know all the factors, an action usually has many layers to it, some even hidden to the person actually doing it. A person can even do a good act, but have the wrong motive, so does it make that action wrong?

    How does one live? Do they try to do right or do they not even think about it? In many cases in history, people have tried to do what they thought was right, but it was horribly wrong and had a negative effect on a large group of people. But then there are those in our history that we have seen having a huge positive effect on humanity, what made there actions result positively upon others?

    There is a black and white, but human’s actions, views, and understanding are made up of too many grays, we can only hope what we think is good is right.

  5. The perception of Right or Wrong changes; there is no fixed answer. What’s right in certain societies is wrong in others.
    Ultimately, the Golden Rule is a very nice starting point in determining what’s right. There are not enough considerate people in the world…

  6. Wow, let me start off by saying thank you all for such thoughtful responses!

    Timothy: It is weird that it’s easier to come up with wrongs than rights. I wonder what that says about our psychology. May be fodder for a future post 🙂

    Wolf: I just read your post and commented on it. Great read 🙂 I recommend everyone go take a look!

    Tobie: While I’ll never be one to support griefing, it is the protest part of the argument that prevents me from considering it completely wrong. Sometimes, it takes something a little more in-your-face to combat complacency (V for Vendetta keeps coming to mind). Personally, I don’t think many (if any) SL griefers have noble intentions.

    As for fraud, I think I agree, yet there are acceptable frauds we’re exposed to daily. Think of all the advertisements that purposefully promote products in a misleading way. Technically, it may not be fraud, but the intention is certainly to mislead.

    Ginseng: First off, thank you! I think maybe you touched on something important when you said, “human’s actions, views, and understanding are made up of too many grays.” Maybe it’s just the human element that prevents the existence of things that are ultimately right or wrong. If you believe that we have free will and are not programmed to act in a certain way, then I think there are too many variables that can impact any given scenario. Because our experiences vary so widely and we’re not of an identical make-up, we can’t help but need some flexibility in what is right and wrong.

    Seraphine: Yeah, I thought the Golden Rule was a good starting point too, but it’s not without its flaws (some pointed out by Wolf on his blog). I think it really comes down to creating guidelines for success in a particular society/culture.

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