Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* Wizards, Toads, and Ethics, by Wes Cooper

The Libertarian Voice

The first voice to be heard in the controversy swirling around Mr. Bungle's behavior was, predictably enough, libertarian --surely the time-hallowed voice of the Net, if there is one. Mr. Bungle had a right to do whatever he cared to do, on this view, up to that point at which he violated the player's real-world rights. Although not usually explicit, these rights are taken to be Lockean rights, the rights defined by John Locke in the Second Treatise of Government in 1689: negative individual rights, specifying freedoms from certain sorts of intervention (You can't muzzle my attempt to speak) but not enabling the individual to make use of those freedoms. (You don't have to provide me with a soapbox, or vocal chords; these would be "positive rights," which the libertarian eschews.)

[ []Birsch and []Ess discusses positive freedom. ]

This appeal to Lockean real-world rights tends to translate, in the virtual world, into Thomas Hobbes's state of nature as described in Leviathan (1651). Virtual worlds constrained only by real-life rights, namely the rights of the person at the keyboard, tend to become places where anything goes, favoring the hacker and the hacker-bully, making life nasty, mean, and brutish--and short if an abused player decides "Enough is enough" and disconnects. The translation from real-world Lockean rights to virtual-world Hobbesianism is straightforward. Very rarely can an administrator or player in a virtual world do anything to you which violates your real-world rights. (As a rule of thumb for measuring the rarity, ask yourself whether you could take the other to court and win.) So anything goes. Lockean rights don't transfer to cyberspace like apples from Washington, nor do they grow there naturally. They must be planted. --

[ []Ess discusses negative freedom. ]

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