This week's Statement From Squad S actually has little to do with current events and is instead a response to some other posts regarding the meta-theory of the morality of war. It is not in any way specific to the current conflict, so I'd like to keep responses non-partisan.
There's a little bit of required reading for this post: You Doing It Right? and The Logic of War in CN, from eyriq's recent blog.
In his post, eyriq makes important claims about interactions between players in the controlled environment of the CyberNations rule-set. The variations of interactions between "I", "We", "You", and "They" actors that eyriq outlines do in fact seem to be the primary figures in the multiplayer context of the game. Make no mistake, these interactions are not just explanations of things that sometimes get done, but the root of the playability of the game entirely; no one would be here if our sole purpose was to wait 20 days, build stuff, then collect taxes and repeat. This game's entire purpose and attraction lies in the interactions between players, the free ability to converse and make alliances, and the social role that these conversations play in determining how we as players use the five interactive options available in the game (that eyriq outlines in his newest post this week): Trade, Aid, Spy, War, and Donation. Through only these five options and their sub-trees, over five years of passionate game play, diplomacy, and bitter warfare have ensued through Digiterra. I will, for the rest of this post, more or less accept these terms as defined as accurate, although I add a "They" structure in the social structures to better explain inter-alliance warfare.
The conclusion that eyriq reaches by analyzing these terms is that there is an objective morality that can be acquired for interactions in Digiterra based on the combination of knowing the exact terms of the rules of the digital world and knowing the nature of all players' humanity through empathy. More importantly, he further makes a statement in "The Logic of War" that this morality of "We" as he defines it sets a further claim about wars, namely that when taken to excess they hurt the game by undermining the inherently constructive nature of the community. However, the conclusions that eyriq reaches from his first argument about objective morality in "You Doing It Right?" are not correct, and the reason for this is that some of the premises that are implied through subtext, while they do lead to their conclusion more or less cogently, are themselves not true, making the argument unsound. Furthermore, a second conclusion in YDIR that is used as a premise in TLoW also seems to be false, and I will show that the morality of "We" is not sufficient to logically deter wars of malice. Analyzing these assumed premises and alternative premises will then lead to the conclusion that the purposes of war are in fact multi-faceted and because of the nature of the "We" mentality actually defensible from a multitude of perspectives.
A summary of eyriq's argument for the Morality of We is based on three premises: One, that the meta-rules of Digiterra are clearly laid out and everyone abides by the hard rules enforced by admin and his merry band1; two, that by sharing in the human condition as nation rulers, we each fully understand the desires, needs, and goals of our fellow rulers by means of empathy and mutual understanding. Three, by conclusion from one and two, that this understanding of both the nature of the world we play in and the nature of our fellow players allows us to construct universal objective social norms and international laws. Therefore, he says that from two and three, these laws outline a list of possible ways by which we achieve these desires, needs, and goals, and which ones are acceptable, concluding that
The "I" or "We" interaction with "You" is none other than war, in the subtext. One party loses, the other party wins in the best case. At the very least, yes, it is engaged in because one side believes they can be the winning side and make the other side the losing side, even if sometimes both sides lose. This statement is observed; we witness war in Digiterra and can explain it in the preceding manner. There's an assumed argument here. That argument is that by virtue of our common goal, nation-building, within the constraints of the physical rule system, we participate in these three levels of interaction to further our individual yet identical goals of nation-building. War then occurs when the "I" or "We" sees an opportunity for the furthering of the nation-building goal at the expense of "You". The need to rein in and prevent war, then, is because of the need to preserve a system where it is still possible for nation-building to occur. We infer from observation that the lose side of the win-lose interaction is greater in quantity than the win in the successful exchange. Left unchecked, the short-term gain of the win-lose "I" against "You" interaction multiplies exponentially in the long-term, where everyone becomes a “lose” and nation-building cannot occur.
The first problem, which leads to deeper problems, is explaining our diplomatic realities with this theory. If we understand by our mutual human nature the cause of war as the purely formulaic calculation between the two factors of the win-lose nation-building self goal and not surpassing the amount of war that crosses the line to harming the ability of the community to grow as a whole, then any war that meets these two criteria is automatically a just and proper war. In addition to posing a problem of an arbitrary line-drawing decision about how much war is "too much war", this violates common conceptions about war for many Alliances that currently exist, and I am also inferring that it is not the intended conclusion that the author had in mind.
This problem exists because of a disparity between the idea that our mutual human nature gives us common goals and ideas of morality, and the reality that there is a considerable amount of conflict between nations and alliances precisely because their goals and ideas of morality are completely different. The author even points out in TLoW precisely why this is: There are multiple reasons that people go to war. Self-fulfillment, behavior modification, and alliance advancement are the three categories that I believe all of these reasons can be reduced to. The idea that war must be controlled in order to allow the primary universal goal of nation-building to occur is flawed because nation-building is not in fact the inherent primary universal goal. This original stated premise of a universal connection between all players and being able to come to a common set of social, international norms because of it is inherently flawed to think that each ruler participates because of the same individual reason; in fact, it is common-sense to believe that our individual goals to accomplish in this sandbox game are radically different. This, then, leads us finally to repeal the conclusion that controlling war is necessary to allow people to reach their goals, because wars of net loss may be within the goals of those who pursue them. It is only within the interest of the goals of a certain subset of nations to idealize nation-building as the primary goal of participation.
In this context, the Morality of We is insufficient. It requires a universal solidarity that does not exist. This can be rectified through a correction in the perception of solidarity within groups that have similar roles. To do this, I assert that a new actor has to be introduced. While "You" can be used in the plural, in the "I" or "We" versus "You" concept, I think it is more important to specify that on the micro-scale as eyriq defines it, there exists the "I versus You" mechanic, and on the macro-scale we must introduce a "They" for the "We versus They" mechanic of CyberNations interactions. This distinction is necessary to explain the similarities between and differences of scale between wars between individual nations and wars between Alliances or Blocs. What follows from the introduction of these multiple groups of "We" combined with our previous conclusion that the goal of the game and in particular the goal of war differs among subsets of nations is an inference to the best explanation between these two facts: there is a correlation between these groups of We and the common goals of a subset of nations. In other words, each group of We is a group connected by a set of common goals, and these groups are Alliances. This means that in order to explain an objective morality within CyberNations, we must revise our "Morality of We", to a "Morality of We and They".
This is not a controversial conclusion at all. In succinct terminology, I'm merely deriving a commonly held belief that alliances form around a common ideology about the goals that the members hold in common about how to interact with the CyberNations community. For some, as eyriq inadvertently points out, the primary goal is nation-building--grouping by this common goal provides the benefit of access to the trade, aid, and (in rare cases) donation functions for mutual assistance towards this goal. For others, a diplomatic victory is the goal, the desire to be exceptionally famous (or infamous) among the community, and the resources for this are all of the game functions as well as the community forums. Still others want to test their ability at waging war, whether individually or in small or large groups. In reality, all alliances seem to have all of these goals in certain amounts. I'll avoid the debate of which alliances favor which goals. The closer alliances are to one another on these scales, the easier it is for them to be friendly to one another. The farther apart they are on these scales, the more tension there will be between them, typically resulting in a diplomatic clash of some sort, or even war.
War is an inevitability. The question that remains is what actions for war are permissible and which ones are impermissible within the realm of CyberNations. If the ultimate desire of each player is the achievement of their goal of playing (or more casually speaking, the desire of each player is to do what they want to do and have fun), and the goals for alliances differ wildly, then morality must have something to do with which of these groups get to complete their goals in which amounts. This, I believe, is the ultimate conclusion of my arguments.
I believe a discussion on what theory will best explain what each group has the right to do is outside of the scope of this post, but a few implications I do believe are in order. One, as I've stated off-hand before, I do not believe that Just War Theory can possibly apply because of the sheer difference in stakes between real-life war and CyberNations war. Because of this, the conclusion that war must be a last result when all diplomatic approaches fail absolutely will not hold. If the base of morality in CyberNations is the idea that war is never justified is just as unfair to those who play for the sake of war if even in part, as it is possible unfair to claim that an entirely neutral alliance must participate in war against their wishes. Yet we will likely want to claim that there is an upper boundary on what it is moral for a group to do, even if it is what their goal in playing the game actually is. Theories like utilitarianism or Kantian deontology probably can be adapted to fit the realm of Digiterran politics, but whether or not they should is a subject for massive debate.
In other words, how these theories and conclusions apply to current politics, diplomacy, and conflicts is up to us to decide.
1It is undeniable and also relevant that the first premise is true. All of our possible actions are rigidly determined by one, the software code of the system, and two, the conduct guidelines enforced by the moderators. This is indeed a valid differentiation from real life, where our limitations in action are as of yet undiscovered as we continue to create new things and explore new places and perform actions we had not previously anticipated as physically possible. This premise is self-evident and important for future meta-theory, but I will not explore it for this post.