Archive for January, 2011

Do we need a virtual ‘nation’ (‘Wirtland’)?

There is on the internet, an effort going on that could be an interesting proving / testing ground for new and old ideas about governance.: some digital enthusiasts have founded a new ‘digital’ nation called “Wirtland”. It is not clear whether the name alludes to ‘virtual’ or to Wirt — German for ‘host’; and the ‘land’ part seems curiously inappropriate in that the nation pointedly does NOT have any land territory.

It claims to ahve, by now, over thousand ‘citizens’, and its founders are busy discussing nation trappings such as a national hymn, a flag, and — a draft constitution.

It is not clear to me whether this whole enterprise should be considered a serious attempt to provide something other nations do not or cannot offer, (due to their territorial boundaries, history, and traditions) or just an ambitious overreaching label for what at best might be an international association or club; or just a childish game. If the entity really attempts to provide things and services we’d need or want, these should be made clear. But to the extent these overlap with what nations also do, the legitimate question arises why such duplication is needed, don’t we have enough bureaucracy, paperwork, institutions already?

The draft of a ‘constitution’ for such an entity could be a supremely interesting arena for trying out and discussing problems of governance, which have become close to critical for almost all known forms of government given the accelerating globalization trends, the rise of superpowers, the legitimate concerns about governments being taken over by powerful forces such as the military, the security forces, the financial sector, or religious fundamentalists of various stripes. For all, the control of power, that is, providing a workable balance between giving the governance entities adequate means to provide the services they are supposed to deliver, but not fall victim to the corrupting temptations of power, is the overriding one. I guess others may consider other problems even more significant; in any case one would expect the discussion of such a new entity to address such issues.

The draft of the Wirtland Constitution is somewhat disappointing in this regard. Even to someone like me who is not at all a constitutional scholar and has never devoted much thought to such questions, It looks and sounds more like an amateurish, even naive takeoff on traditional ‘democratic’ constitutions. It does not address the obvious differences between territorial nations and a virtual / digital one; it ignores the fact that any member will likely already be a citizen of some existing nation, and subject to its laws and provisions of governance; the central question how any ‘laws’ that the legislature of Wirtland may vote into being relate and possibly conflict with those of the existing nations is not even acknowledged. There is a strange provision that members must be 13 years old before becoming Wirtland citizens. But there is no provision that identifies ‘citizens’ (for example, ensures that no virtual multiple names are submitted as members, or how to keep track of members who died and should no longer be ‘counted’.)

The provisions for ‘representation’ in the law-giving bodies (Parliament) with two ‘houses’ do not specify how groups that are entitled to elect representatives are distinguished (by nation of origin? or order of becoming citizens? or some other kind of grouping?); the entire question of representatives for arriving at ‘laws’ governing the interactions in such a virtual crowd would be one of the first I would assume could be dropped given the fact that every ‘citizen’ is by virtue of the medium of the internet, already equipped with the means for instantaneous participation by all citizens in governance.

As I said, it could be extremely interesting and significant to explore and discuss such questions. This should begin by looking at what the purpose (service, benefit) of such a new ‘nation’ would be, at the shortcomings of existing constitutions an forms of governance, at the issues of potential conflict between existing nations and their laws, and the new one, and how to resolve such conflicts — this one being the more interesting since the historically predominant possibility of conflict resolution by force is either pre-empted (since the existing nation has forces to do so while the virtual entity does not) or thrown entirely up for grabs, if adequate means can be found to resolve conflicts and respond to violations of laws and agreements entirely without forms of coercion and application of force.

The Wirtland case could be a useful forum for such discussion, If it does not (as it appears from looking at its draft constitution) entertain this challenge, other fora should be opened to carry out such explorations and discussions.