Whither polite Victorian Steampunk society?

Both the Independent State of Caledon group IM and the Caledon blogosphere are bubbling with conflicting opinions about whether something is going wrong in Caledon, and if so, what to do about it. If you somehow read this blog but don’t already know about it (how could that be possible?), the Duke of Argylle has links to several posts as well as sharing his own thoughts. There is an active comment thread on Miss Orr’s most recent blog post, including a long response from Guvnah Desmond Shang. Meanwhile, Miss Callisto reminds us that things change (while also cleverly pointing out several old-timers who are still around and may be feeling dissed), and says she intends “to ignore you and your whole petty squabble, which I might venture to suggest has very little to really do with the Caledon chat, entirely.”

I quite agree with Miss Callisto on a number of her points, especially about Caledon chat not being the real point. (I must say that I doubt it is all attributable to fallout over a land squabble, however, nor that it is a petty squabble, as I believe the rest of my post will make clear.)

Here’s a Venn diagram for your amusement:

[unremembered diagram, image lost to data corruption long after the event]

This diagram is obviously not drawn to any scale—indeed, the actual and ideal relative sizes of each portion are part of what is at issue. The diagram helps to clarify for me that focusing on Des, Caledon, or Caledon chat is missing a major piece of the picture: We (those reading this blog, those who live in Caledon, those who visit Caledon, those who think something is wrong, those who don’t think anything is wrong, those who think the only thing wrong is that some people think something’s wrong) belong to and create a human community (a real community, not a virtual one, even if virtual worlds and electronic communications make possible the vast majority of our interactions), which is not synonymous with Caledon.

This community long ago ceased to be a single village, or a single conversation—and let us give thanks for that! Des, as a visionary small businessman, has nurtured a number of other fledgling estates as well as creating a community against which others can sharpen their own visions, creating their own attempts at Steampunk, Victorian, or “historical re-imaginist” and fantasy estates in Second Life. What an amazing eruption of creativity in just a few short months, relatively speaking, since Caledon began with a single sim on February 26, 2006. (Perhaps we are just experiencing the last bit of the Terrible Twos?) Anyone who looks only to ISC chat, or to the ISC membership, or to who rents land in Caledon, will inevitably miss a much broader context. And that larger context is one of change, growth, and the conflict that often accompanies (or even creates) both.

I would be remiss were I not to mention something that I don’t believe has been directly addressed elsewhere thus far: We don’t all like one another. Of course, you might say, of course we don’t. But it bears repeating, and really let it sink in: We do not all like one another. We are a real community: There is everything from simple lack of friendship to dislike to enmity to broken hearts to feuds. There is rivalry and competition, in business and socially. Most of us have learned to navigate these realities of the human condition in our daily lives. There are limitations imposed by the technology that makes possible our particular community, however, which make these realities more difficult to deal with. But deal with them we must, and shall.

I confess that I had been of the opinion that “Des should do something.” And there are times I still feel that way. Residents of Caledon are Des’s customers (whatever else we may be), and as a customer I have on occasion complaints about the way his other customers behave, or wish that he would take Caledon in a different direction than he does. In some ways, Des and Caledon are frighteningly parallel to Linden Research and Second Life. (If you have not done so, please go read the Guvnah’s comment on Miss Orr’s blog. This is a long post; it will be here when you get back.) Not only is Des disinclined to become a tyrant (or even an enlightened moderator), I’ve come to realize that it would be impossible for him to do so. The Guvnah did not create a community, and he cannot control it. He did create a wonderful seed-bed for community, and I have to trust his good business sense as a steward of that seed-bed.

Here are my woefully inadequate and incomplete thoughts about what has made us a community (with another nod to Miss Callisto for pointing out many of the talented people who have lived and live still in Caledon):

  • Gathering places: Where would we be without CrystalShard Foo’s dance machines, the venues provided by any number of generous landowners, and DJs of every stripe? Or the pubs and bars with their storytelling and poetry sessions?
  • Places of learning: The Caledon Library, now the Alexandrian Free Library (libraries of Caledon, Steelhead, Winterfell, New Toulouse, New Babbage, Amatsu Shima, & West of Ireland), with its ethos of service and a commitment to deepening our understanding of history, literature, the arts, and all fields of knowledge that might inform our Second Life communities.
  • The web, specifically Excalibur Longstaff’s forums and wiki, Gabrielle Riel’s Google calendar, and the many blogs and journals: Imagine being limited to the group communications channels provided in Second Life. (And there I reveal a bias; there are dozens if not hundreds of Second Life residents who are part of our community who do not extend that community beyond Second Life itself. They, of course, are limited to the group communications provided by Linden Research, most, I must assume, by choice.)
  • Who created your skin? Your clothing? Your hair? Your AO? Your house? Your gardens? Your armaments? Your sailing ships, riding horses, buggies, and flying machines?
  • Events: Relay for Life; Caledon anniversary events; balls; the Grand Tour; races; dogfights; regattas; duels; banquets; CaleCon; informal RL meetups.
  • Friendships: Let’s keep them strong.

These elements of being a community were and are created by us, by our friends—and by strangers, and by those we may dislike. (Notice that few of these elements of being a community were created by Des, although without him any number of them might not have happened.) In order to continue to enjoy these fruits of community, do we have the will to find our way through disagreements and conflict? Can we become better at building what excites and nourishes us now and letting go of that which does not, no matter how affectionately we may once have regarded it?

I hope that this very long post has more in it than “Can’t we all just get along?” But in the end, perhaps, that is exactly the greatest challenge for us as a community—the human community.

Tolerans, Civilis, Innovus, Laganum

So—is there anything I’m actually going to do? At this moment, I’m tending towards these things (not a prescription for anyone else, simply my thoughts on what might be best for me to do):

  • I’d like to be kind and to personally act with decorum. I will attempt to address people as they wish to be addressed, except when strangers ask me to use their first name in Caledon (because I do value that in Caledon; in Steelhead and Winterfell, not as much).
  • I will not put any effort into ISC chat. If it annoys or bores me, I’ll simply close it. My “communications” time and energy will continue to go to the Caledon Forums, Caledon Wiki, and the Aether Chrononauts Google calendar (which has a handy mnemonic: http://tinyurl.com/aetherchrononauts).
  • The Guvnah and I have had conversations about coordinated events within what I will call the “Aether Chrononauts” world, or perhaps the “themed” estates, if one includes Raglanshire. I want to encourage distinct communities in Second Life and within Caledon to recognize and develop their distinctiveness, while also serving as I can to encourage cooperation and creative co-existence.
  • Last year’s Caledon Social Season was an uneasy marriage of role-play and community education. Like the Duke of Argylle and the Marchioness of Giggleford, I am interested in creating opportunities for non-RP but themed education, which might serve as one form of introduction to Caledon and its related communities.

9 Replies to “Whither polite Victorian Steampunk society?”

  1. Thank you very much for this post. I think your points are most valid and express many of my thoughts as well. I shall be linking your post from my blog.


  2. I will admit to still being more perturbed by the name-calling in ISC chat and in (at least one) other blog, but I am trying to be part of the solution, and not the problem, and realize that’s all I really want–for people to behave as if they’re adults, with good manners, good senses of humor, wit and virtue and aplomb.

    Does that mean everyone needs to kowtow to artificial standards and react only in PG ways? No. I never said that, I never meant that. But I do enthusiastically agree with the Lyonesse in her comment on my blog: it makes for an excellent filter system if–at least most of the time–I pause to consider “Would I shout this into a megaphone whilst standing in the town square?” Because that’s what ISC chat truly is–the gathering place for every member of the Independent State.

  3. Otenth, you’ve nailed it. This is exactly it.

    * * * * *

    I would like to add a few words. Nearly two years ago, an ‘avatar rights’ list was added to Caledon’s covenant. Few really paid much attention to it at the time, quite frankly.

    On many estates, dressing wrong or not being part of the ‘in crowd’ means you are going to walk a tough road. Not just with a clique, but with the estate owner himself. In some places, even appearance can get you expelled within seconds. Alright, that’s fine, people can choose to be that way in their lands.

    But for Caledon I chose a very different course.

    Politeness isn’t the issue. It’s perfectly possible to be a complete ass while being polite – I see people do it to each other constantly. The issue is being decent, genuine, compassionate, forgiving.

    – That includes not being a jerk on the chat in the first place.

    – It also includes tolerance of other’s social mistakes.

    * * * * *

    A number of people have recalled incidents, chatlogs, you-name-it where such-and-such did so-and-so, or cussed or acted in a manner on ISC chat that is exactly opposite of positions currently taken. Just about everybody has something on everybody. I shall have none of it, please don’t bother to send it to me.

    “Why won’t I respond?” Because it’s just not classy. Des doing petty drama… that would speak volumes more than anything else.

    Everyone has their moments of revelry, everyone mis-steps sometimes. Everyone. I’m not going to dissect it later. That breaks a code of civility beyond words.

    If someone’s hitting the chardonnay a bit too hard, or distraught and tetchy due to a close RL death, have compassion and a little understanding. It’s important. Later on you might find out that so-and-so experienced the death of a close loved one. That someone is transgendered and terrified of rejection if found out. That someone else is about to go through chemotherapy. That someone else just lost their job, and is in tears.

    If there is any common denominator across the people of Caledon – most of you are going through some pretty tough times right now. The last thing any of you need is reprisal from an estate owner, or ostracism from a group.

    I’m far from perfect, but I shall do my best. It’s all I can do.

    I’m actually listening to everyone, believe it or not – and am actively seeking ways to make the community happier overall without dishing out reprisal or using other ‘negative’ means. I am not eager to mete out social justice – because in the end, I stand to be judged too.

    Desmond Shang, Guvnah
    Independent State of Caledon

  4. Guvnah,

    Well, it seems I have missed much while abroad.

    You speak like a true gentleman here; this is no surprise.

    I do not know precisely what is going on in Caledon, and I do not know if the new tensions are qualitatively different from the old tensions. But since polity, Victorian manners, seem to be under discussion, may I say this: polity, at its Caledon essence, is not restraint or grim formality. It provides a gentle atmosphere, a safe and elegant ground for human interaction and furthered intimacy. It dulls the sharp edges we all wear by nature.

    In Caledon one cannot merely go “by the books” because the source texts for the culture are so diverse. Yet I do not think Caledon, even at its most Victorian, was or should ever be a full and accurate mirror of Victorian culture, a culture with its full share of sexism, homophobia, colonial nationalism, and racism (“exterminate all the brutes” etc.) But what Caledon did, and I am sure still does at its best, is take the sweetest parts of Victorian formality and poeticize them into something quite immersive and lovely. It allowed a middle class American like myself to feel the noblesse oblige, to mentor and protect others in ways I never could in rl, to interact with masculine style. If all polity is lost, if the Victorian-esque articulate restraint is utterly ditched, Caledon will be nothing but nice clothing and builds. Manners and decorum may take effort, but they are worth the pains. For me that includes the Chat.

    Perhaps it is too bad we backed off an official code duello for Caledon. Such a thing often forces formal reconciliation and recognizes hurtful speech for what it is. But now I ramble.

    All this said, I cannot echo enough what you say above, Desmond. Forgiveness, tolerance, empathy…these are very high virtues indeed; these matter above all things. In my best experiences in Caledon, and they were countless, it was central to the magic that these virtues were blended with sweet societal manner. The best role players knew how to do both across diverse situations. It should always be so, in my view.

    In your service always, (and I think this is the last time I can sign my name this way, sadly)

    Sir Telemachus Dean, ORR

  5. My thanks to you for helping me clarify my rather chaotic thougts on all this. And I had to laugh at Des since his “little noticed” avatar rights addition is what attracted me here in the first place – along with his committment to treating everyone equally, with respect, and as adults. Frankly, I would be quite put out to be made to feel that someone was going to censor and moderate what I have to say in any life. Yes, I talk far too much….a personal fault in both lives. I am a natural storyteller and do tend to ramble on. I am also probably guilty of several of the other very hurtful labels that have been bandied about on blogs. What I try to do (not always successfully) is to ask “how will this be helpful?” before speaking or posting anything. Sometimes the help is advisory, sometimes supportive, sometimes to lighten the mood with some silliness. But I have come to the conclusion in my life that kindness and respectful compassion is far more important than polity or propriety.

  6. Thank you so much, Your Grace, for this post, and indeed to everyone who has so graciously responded. I love the Venn diagram.

    I would urge everyone to right-click on Caledon ground and read the Covenant found under the About Land… section. Mr. Shang solicited comments from a wide variety of Caledon residents, and I am pleased to see that the rights and responsibilities sections have stood the test of time.

    On those occasions when I feel the need to snark, I will endeavour mightily to first say, “Is what I’m about to say or do going to make Mr. Shang’s, Mr. Drinkwater’s, or the other Duchess’ lives easier or harder?”

    I will strive to become a more educated, refined, and polite rabbit.

    -CAD, Baroness Lovelace

  7. When I became a sim owner and copied shamelessly from the collected wisdom of others in drafting a covenant, I used the covenant of Caledon for inspiration far more than any other source — including especially its commitment to avatar rights. I would not call it little-noticed, at least among the discerning sort that so often find their way to that land.


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