Hey, Rube!

. . . .

Некултурний (nekulturny, pronounced “nyeh-kool-toor-nee”): literally “uncultured”, commonly used as an insult meaning “boob, hick, rube”. In the former Soviet Union, it was also used to publicly denounce dissidents, especially artists. It’s widely reported to be one of the worst insults one can use in Russian, even in the post-Soviet era.[1]

“Hey, Rube!” A call for “backup” to rally circus or carnival folk when patrons are behaving badly (or worse). I first heard it (and saw it in action) in the C.B. DeMille classic The Greatest Show on Earth, and then came across it again used as a sign of recognition between two old carnies in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. There’s an uncredited mention of its contemporary use at Renaissance Faires for the same purpose.

I stumbled across Dusan Writer’s latest blog the other day… Oy, veh! He was superficially polite, of course, but I could practically see him seething about his blog — and therefore, his well-founded opinion and years of work — being called “specious”. The rube who uttered that patronizing dismissal was no less than Tom Hale (a.k.a. T Linden, “chief product officer” of Linden Lab), and the gauntlet was thrown during a Metanomics interview conducted on March 31 — a day which already lives in infamy for some of us, as it ushered in the preemptive (and legally questionable) clickwrap of the new Terms of Service.

The interviewer was Robert Bloomfield, and here is what Mr. Hale said (full transcript available here):

ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Looking inside the Lab, Dusan Writer has a question. You had talked about big changes in the way that Linden Lab is approaching the technology and the business. So the question that he asks is, “What do you see being retained from the days of Philip Rosedale, the founder?”

TOM HALE: That’s such a broad and vague question, I’m not even sure how to answer it, but I’ll take a stab. I’m certainly familiar with some of what Dusan has written and said about the culture of Second Life. I’ll start by saying I actually think to say that there is “a” culture of Second Life is, forgive me, Dusan, specious. And that’s because there are as many cultures in Second Life as there are groups, and there are many hundreds of thousands of groups in Second Life. There are as many cultures as there are groups of people. You can, even at a high level, say something like there is a culture around architecture. There’s a culture around fashion. There’s a culture around dancing and music. And there’s a culture around role-play. There’s a culture around furry and gore. [sic – he meant Gor, I hope!] And there’s a culture around being an entrepreneur. There’s a culture around creation. All these cultures are actually, I think, central to Second Life, and I think are critical for us to carry forward.

And one of the baseline things is, we want it to be global because one of the fantastic truths of Second Life, [60?] percent of our usage and users is outside the United States, again, going back to the kind of monoculture. It’s not a monoculture. Sorry. It’s a global culture, and there are degrees where those cultures interact, but it’s not.
[emphasis added]

And he didn’t answer the question, either… but we’ve learned to lower our expectations, haven’t we.

A day later, Grace McDunnough took up the cause. She did so Gracefully — how else? — without direct reference to Dusan’s blog, but with reference to an outside source Dusan also relied upon: Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human by Tom Boellstorff. Grace then proceeded, in scholarly fashion, to suggest a framework for further discussion and to issue a challenge to the rest of us to explore the topic in writing.

And that’s what this is about.

The ways in which different groups organize their responses and respond to pressures are what we refer to as “culture” in ordinary conversation, but are in fact elaborate veneers and decorative structures added to the basic culture of the human species.[2]

Last month, in “Resistance is Not Futile”, I took a stab at defining what culture might be. Off the top of my head, I managed to come up with some of the categories Grace did:

Commonality: shared experience; shared symbology and language; shared worldview; shared purpose; shared philosophies of what is “right behavior”, and why, and how to coax it from people… in the case of Second Life, I’ll even borrow from archaeology and include a shared “tool kit”. The operative word, obviously, is shared.

The following week, in “The Persistence of Vision”, I added:

We have personal lifestreams, and we have shared ones; the latter are the foundation on which Culture is built. In my list of “what is culture” in the previous blog entry, I mistakenly omitted shared continuity.

The rubes go to the carnie or the circus and they see the freaks, the midway game runners, the hawkers, the acrobats, the clowns, and the animal trainers and think “They’re all so different, they couldn’t possibly share anything in common.” But they do: they share the life of the carnie, hauling it all from town to town, living on the economic edge, entertaining the townsfolk and dealing with the rubes. Rubes like T Linden see the analogous thing in Second Life and react the same way, “It’s all so fragmented and different — there couldn’t possibly be anything that unites them.”

Riven Homewood — not a rube! — commented in a Tweet: “I still think trying to find an overall ‘culture of Second Life’ is like trying to find a culture of planet Earth”, to which I replied:

Try this: all humans recognize written or spoken language, music, art, architecture, food whether or not they understand it.

And here’s my comment on Grace’s post, with a nod toward our shared interest in cosmology:

I propose a Strong Anthropic Principle: The overarching metaculture of Second Life (and, perhaps, of virtual worlds generally) exists — indeed, must exist — because intelligent life is in it.

As the laws of physics (with the resultant laws of chemistry) are shared throughout the Universe, so the mathematics which describe them have long been thought of as the lingua franca by which we might communicate with ETI — with whom we would, by definition, have nothing else in common. So, too, the “laws of physics” in Second Life — that is, the characteristics of our virtual universe, which we all live in and share — bind us together and form our lingua franca.

For example: “rez”, “tp”, “lm”, “chat”… and the three greatest of all: “avatar”, “prim” and “lag”.

No matter where I’ve been, or which (or how many) languages are being typed in Local Chat, those words and the concepts they stand for are — pun intended — universal. They frame the virtual part of our lives… and because we are intelligent life in the virtual universe, we talk about them. That conversation, shared across all subcultures and language groups, is the taproot and trunk of, if you will, the many-branched tree that is Second Life Culture.

The rubes don’t have that sense of perspective. They see thousands of languages, styles of music, ways of life, religions, you name it… but they don’t see what unites them all: All of what we usually call cultures are human responses to two things: the planet we live on, and the fact that we are human. Of course it’s not “monoculture”, Tom — we’re talking about humans, after all — but, as you yourself said, it is global, and it is held in common by every human on the planet capable of cogent thought.

Why should Second Life be different? There are, as I said above, aspects of life in SL that are shared — and talked about — by every Resident, whether they be Premium or NPIOF, creator or consumer, artist or griefer, “oldbie” or just teleported off the new Consumer Indoctrination Camps Discovery Islands. And the greatest of these are: being an avatar, creating prims out of nothing, and the perpetual struggle against lag. Culture is shared experience, and it arises from the very act of sharing.[3]

I think that, for us, one of the core things that people enjoy doing in Second Life is socializing, and I don’t mean that in any way other than meeting other people and talking to them and learning about them and the fundamental interactions that help people form relationships with other people. That is a phenomenon that I think is core and central to Second Life. The nature of Second Life is synchronous, which is that we’re in the same space, and we have a representation of ourselves to interact with, and we have all of these millions of years of evolution where we can read and interpret and have emotional responses to the things that we’re seeing, and that’s why Second Life is such a compelling and visceral experience.
[emphasis added]

Who said that??? Tom Hale, in the very same Metanomics interview! Right in front of his green froggy nose, and he either can’t recognize it for what it is, or refuses to for reasons of his own… or has been told to refuse to recognize it. If Tom were a real frog, and culture were a fly, he’d starve to death in the midst of plenty.

Why does the Lab (through their mouthpiece of the moment) deny that Second Life has an overarching culture? Is it the ignorance of the rube, who merely lacks perspective? Is it a deliberate divide-and-conquer strategy — “Keep them convinced that there is no commonality, so we don’t have to deal with a united front”? Is it, as Dusan surmises, another step toward an imminent sale? Is it, as Crap Mariner likes to say, more sweeping dirt under the megaprim rug?

Time will tell — but as long as this carnie’s still playing in this podunk town, I’m not hesitating to yell “Hey, Rube!” when needed.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] Fellow students of Ironics will appreciate that a society which proclaimed to be “classless”, in a Marxist way, considered the greatest put-down to be “you have no class.”

[2] Those words were uttered by my dearest and longest-enduring friend Daisy, with whom I was discussing this topic while beginning this blog. She has never been in a virtual world, let alone SL — “not her thing”, she says. But few people I’ve met in any life have her breadth and depth of generalist knowledge, and the instinctive ability to synthesize it.

[3] Jordyn Carnell wrote, in the comments to Grace’s blog: “After identity, culture seems to be the topic of highest interest for thinking people in SL.”

Yes — after “Who am I?” the next most important question is “Who are we?”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


5 responses to “Hey, Rube!

  1. Good post! I think the overriding culture in Second Life is pretty simple — a desire to do things virtually that we may not be able to do in real life for lack of time, connections, physical ability, social skills, etc. Or that we just enjoy it. Sometimes a hammer is just a hammer. :)

  2. My god… So many years ago I was told there are conspiracies in every thing, and I didn't believe that. Today I know there are conspiracies in every thing and we will likely never know exactly what Mr. Hale believes.
    I for one believe there is a culture to those of us that stay…
    that's why we stay.
    And… for what it's worth…you call, “Hey Rube”, and I'll be there.

  3. It's long been obvious to me that the word “we” in connection to SL users has a validity and therefore, logically, we have a culture.

    The SL subcultures are, possibly, what Tom Hale was referring too, possibly he doesn't know what culture is….who knows…mostly, it seems, that the Boys at LL have very little idea of what actually happens in SL. Like the technician that repairs TVs, but never watches…. interestingly I don't think TV viewers are a group who have a culture, just a shared habit.

  4. Pingback: Crisis? What crisis? | Telling: Like it Is

  5. Pingback: "Nothing but a pack of cards" | Telling: Like it Is

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s