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.

6 Responses to “Do we need a virtual ‘nation’ (‘Wirtland’)?”

  1. 2 Jonathan Pinkerton January 11, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    This has caught our attention over at Wirtland, and thank you for the post!

    My name is Jonathan, and I am largely responsible for the draft Constitution. I’d like to respond to several of your points.

    As to your question about what exactly it is, well, I don’t know myself. The national anthem is currently a bossa version of “Watch What Happens,” presumably enticing others to join and see what happens. My opinion is that if a large number of citizens of traditional nations join up, it may actually become supranational entity, able to exert pressure on traditional nations to treat their own constituents more fairly.

    The constitution does not address many things that you talked about: mostly because it is, as you mentioned, still a draft. However, most nations of the world do not consider other citizenships of their citizens. Perhaps this may be more meaningful for a nation that does not own any sovereign lands. Where laws conflict with the laws of sovereign nations, those nations’ laws will, of course, prevail. For example: If Wirtland were to pass a law that stealing were acceptable, it of course could not prevent anyone from prosecution under another country’s laws, even if they produced a recognized Wirtland passport.

    Also, verifying identities is not a matter for a Constitution; it is a matter for law.

    For the time being, the two houses are as follows: a lesser and a greater house. All Witizens are members of the lesser house, the greater house serving as a legislative body representative of the whole of the Witizenry. That is on purpose, to prevent parties and national origins from influencing favor for one group or another. All Witizens would currently vote for all representatives. This may change, if and when this becomes unsustainable.

    The interesting question of “what” and “why” is precisely why several of us are here.

    It’s what got me involved.

  2. 3 abbeboulah January 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    I have looked at the Wirtland project myself and had planned to post this on the Wirtland forum but put it on my blog (and another forum on Ryze where similar issues are discussed) and then got distracted. I have thought about similar problems — ref. the chapter on ‘Rigatopia’, a hypothetical community for refugees on an abandoned oil rig in the ocean, in one of my books. (Didn’t I send that file to Wirtland some time ago? Of course, it was written in my irreverent manner of a discussion among some weirdos in a tavern…) I was hoping to see a discussion of those problems — a different way of dealing with power in society, a more bubble-bursting-resistant economic system, and a different way of citizen involvement in the public policy-making discourse (one of my pet ideas being the systematic and transparent evaluation — by the public — of the various ‘pros and cons’ of proposed plans that politicians piously claim to ‘carefully weigh’ but can’t explain how they do it.) It all amounts to, yes, the problem of sketching a kind of new constitution. This is why I was so disappointed seeing the Wirtland constitution draft, that to my impression seemed to just copy constitutions with all their current problems, from patterns of current territory-nations. I realize that if would be a challenging task, especially if it really were to acknowledge and tackle the problems I mentioned: what could such a ‘non-territory’ entity offer that current nations can’t or won’t? etc. The issues like the anthem etc. had begun to convince me that Wirtland was really more of a ‘playground’ project in which I did not have much interest.
    To meaningfully deal with the constitution issue really requires clarification of the first question: what does a ‘virtual nation’ try to offer that isn’t duplicating other nations?

  3. 4 Wirtland February 1, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Most countries of the world did not start from a constitution or other concept. People just come to new land, if the land is attractive for some reason. People live, work, organize themselves in a natural manner, very gradually. At some point they adopt rules.

    That’s why we started Wirtland as an ongoing experiment (and yes, you are right, that’s why the anthem is “See what happens”), with almost non-existent initial set of rules. If the founders started with Constitution, the whole thing would look more like a political movement, or religion – because new members would be obliged to follow those rules.

    What we have now is a platform, a “terrotory”. Everyone is welcome, but each person’s interest is different. Some want to play, some want to draft a Constitution, some want to make money. We think this is a natural situation.

    The Constitution will definitely emerge, but we think it should follow the actual people’s needs, serve them – not vice versa. The founders see their main task in maintaining the platform (and improving it technically), and raising global awareness about this project.

  4. 5 Thorbjoern Mann February 2, 2011 at 4:29 am

    I agree with the ‘see what happens’ attitude, and any of the motivations you mention are ‘legitimate’ since people pursue them; even if they are not my own primary interests, and I wish you luck with them. I am very much interested in (among various other things) the problem of ‘rules’ or guidelines — I personally prefer to look at them as necessary agreements — for constructive discussion and negotiation of plans that affect several or many people. Some of my books and articles address these issues. It so happens that I also feel the very concept of ‘nation’ itself has become obsolete, not to say hopelessly overtaken by developments such as international cross-border entities of various kinds — and like national constitutions and associated trappings get in the way of fresh, creative thinking about needed new approaches. I do think there are concerns and needs — refugees among the most pressing — that are not currently being served well enough by the nation-state arrangements of the world, that should be studied and new solutions for them found. Perhaps a different name would focus people on those tasks?

  5. 6 Wirtland February 2, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    To address the concepts and other theoretical issues, Wirtland opened its own “think-tank”. It’s called Wirtland Institute ( Submissions and comments from conceptual thinkers are very welcome. You don’t need to be necessarily a citizen of Wirtland to use this resource. We would like to encourage public discussion on the issues you outlined.

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