In late July, a cadre of outraged Lifers began agitating against the Linden tax system, which they see as unjustly penalizing ambitious builders, who contribute so much value to the world. By August 2nd, their cause had broken out into open protest. The first blow was leveled on Americana, the user-driven project to recreate famous US icons in a city space. Dissent appropriately took a very American form: the project's Washington monument had been replaced by a giant tower of tea crates; the baseball stadium rendered unusable by similar stacks; the Route 66 gas station set ablaze by an insurrectionist midget shooting off seditious fireworks. Crates and signs were festooned everywhere -- there, and throughout the world. Contacted by New World Notes, Fleabite Beach -- the iconoclastic kitty who leads this revolt -- here pleads their case to the general public:
WHAT IS YOUR GROUP CALLED, OF WHO IS IT COMPOSED, AND WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE?
We are PATRIOTS to the man, woman and cat, as are all loyal subjects to the King who watch from afar as common sense and conscience are compromised, until liberty wells up in their hearts and they are forced to action. King Linden's laws have no power to make a man more just; and commonly, by means of their respect for it, even the well-intentioned are daily made the agents of injustice. Our purpose here today, as should be daily and everywhere, is one of a well-reasoned Justice and nothing more.
WHAT ARE THE PARTICULAR CAUSES OF YOUR GRIEVANCES?
The subjects of King George Linden serve the King, not as subjects and taxpayers and pay-to-players merely, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the Builders, the Scripters, the Texture Makers, the Events Coordinators, the Tour Givers, The Mentors, the Resident Instructors, etc. In most cases they are treated akin to horses or dogs, expected to serve and to work, not by conscience, but by din of a much heralded way and an unreasoned loyalty to a Mad King. A wise man will only be useful as a man and will not be submitted to the realm of beasts of burden.
WHAT DEMANDS DO YOU MAKE OF "MAD KING GEORGE LINDEN"?
The thoughtful consideration and realization of a means by which all Loyal Subjects can work toward the greater goods of community, god and country without the abdication of their moral relevance. We cast our voices upwards, as we think is right, but we should not be vitally concerned that right should come of it, only that our voices are heard and respected. Without true Representation there is nothing in SL but pixels that labor to arrange other pixels for the glory and prosperity of Kings.
WHAT ACTIONS DO YOU THREATEN, IF THE KING MEETS NOT YOUR DEMANDS?
Regarding future consideration by the Callous and Cavalier King George, we expect that our demands will fall on deaf or uncaring ear. Should this be the case, we shall make of ourselves soldiers of the heart, embracing Liberty and Justice for all; and rejecting law and dictate made in haste to the detriment of just and free-thinking men, women and cats everywhere. To the Mad Mad King George we shall say, "You and your kind will rue the day. To you, sirs, Tea Crates in the Bay."
IF YOUR DEMANDS ARE STILL NOT MET, WHAT SHALL YOUR NEXT RECOURSE BE?
There is naught to be done but act upon the heart. What man is given a conscience specifically to abdicate to Kings? Why have a conscience at all I say? When the time comes to stay the heart, none shall stop beating. When the time comes to lay down honor, none shall lay before the King's carriage, to be crushed beneath the hooves of those unable to do more. When the time comes, there is in the minds of all good men, only action.
-- and so the die is cast. But even now, a Linden loyalist movement has sprung up in opposition to the revolutionaries. Who shall ultimately prevail?
The revolutionary council was in full, vehement swing, by the time I crashed it. This was August 3, if my mental recollection's not too jiggy, and they were holding it in a tall building in the heart of Americana, where the protest of giant tea crates and angry midgets (August 12 entry) had already taken to the streets beneath them. They were actually talking about me, when I arrived, wondering how my articles in NWN would influence the way residents and the Lindens themselves would perceive them. So like any journalist who covers a public protest, in other words, my coverage had become an integral part of the protesters' larger strategy. And like any journalist in that situation, I had to proceed on the assumption that my very coverage was, Heisenberg-like, influencing my own story.
The more radical members of the council had other ideas, however, when I came through the door.
"Redcoat spy!" Bosozoku Kato shouted.
"Please please please," Ryen Jade interjected, "let me shoot him!"
"I say we kidnap Hamlet and hold him for ransom," suggested CrowCatcher Valen, a statuesque woman from the professional wrestling school of va-va-voom.
After they settled down, the debate continued. In essence, the revolutionaries were wondering about achieving the right balance, between protest-as-ironic-entertainment, and protest-as-serious-statement:
"We want people to take it very seriously for a little while," said Fleabite Beach, the revolution's catlike leader.
"Things have taken a really negative tone on the [Second Life] forums," Bonecrusher Slate warned. "We're starting to get a backlash for this. Somehow this is being interpreted as an anti-Linden statement by some..."
"Well yes," Beach interrupted, "they SHOULD think that."
"...and that is very far from the truth," Slate finished.
"People are starting to bitch about the tea crates popping up everywhere," ramon Kothari complained.
And so the discussion went on, with some worried that their cause would be considered too radical, or not radical enough, and how they could carry it forward without totally alienating the public, or the authorities who'd ultimately hear them out (or not). Meanwhile, the hardcore radicals in the group kept jumping in with their own anarchic plans to get even wilder and even more provocative; backlash or not, bring the madness on.
Not too different, that is to say, from any other meeting of protesters in the larger world outside.
THE TAXMAN COMETH!
September 12, 2003
At this point, the tax revolt has reached a peaceful conclusion, cumulating in a series of thematic events, early in September, from debates on taxation to musket building to Burr-versus-Hamilton-style dueling -- all announced on an era-appropriate board. Bluecoat and Redcoat costumes were fashioned for the Revolutionaries and the Linden loyalists, while Nephilaine Protagonist even designed an Enlightenment-era scribe's costume for me, so I could cover the story in proper attire.
While the revolt has evolved from protest to party, much of the original anger over the high tax rates was genuine. So as it winds down, I asked Second Life community director Peter Linden to provide an official response to those concerns, and the dissent that followed.
"Virtual economies are really hard to do right," he says. "We've analyzed the economies of several online worlds, read Ed Castronovas' analyses over and over, and had various economic professionals examine our economic system.
"We just made some announcements about the enhancements to the economic system, and we can promise that these won't be the only enhancements. The large issue with economies is that they must have both a faucet and a drain. Otherwise they stagnate, and everyone gets bored very quickly."
The challenge, says Peter, is to find that balance, while doing it in a way that keeps the level of object-building at a rate that doesn't bog down the servers. "We are looking at the economy daily," he says, "and mostly, we are trying to find a long-term solution that will help alleviate the problem while still addressing the 'real life' issue of server resource limitation."
As to the Linden view of the protest itself, far as the tea crates and insurrectionist midgets and so on, Peter says, "We love the protests! Since Linden Lab is located in San Francisco, we have seen our fair share of protests, civil disobedience, and some of us are huge believers in Critical Mass. Protests are not only a good way of getting the attention of lots of people, but they also inspire a level of creativity that is rarely seen, and easily shelved by people once the protests are over.
"In Second Life, protests tend to be much more interesting as people can dress as they wish. One day we hope to see a pack of monkeys protesting the banana tax. (What color do we want it? Yellow! When do we want it? NOW!)"