The Two Liberties

In 1958 the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin gave a lecture which introduced an influential concept into political analysis: the two types of liberty. According to Berlin, liberty can be interpreted as the freedom to do whatever one wants, without rulership and constraints. He called that negative liberty. The opposing concept of positive liberty revolves around the idea that self-discipline and self-governance could be used to improve an individual’s development, to increase their freedom. In EVE Online, we are initially released into an environment mostly characterized by negative liberty. In the sandbox each player is free to choose their path, theoretically with nothing but game mechanics and in-game material constraints standing in their way. The further one moves from the starter systems, the more one would expect negative liberty to be the dominant aspect of the environment. After all, the rules of the game become less restrictive outside highsec. Interestingly enough though, it is positive liberty that plays a major role in the regions beyond CONCORD control and crime mechanics.

The Citizens Of The Void

One of the central precepts of positive liberty is the freedom of individuals to choose their form of self-governance. This can be traced back all the way to the early democracies of ancient Greece and their concept of citizenship. In EVE the agency of the individual in a group also plays a significant role because there is a strong incentive for people to band together into larger groups. Efforts like gaining and holding sovereignty, settling a wormhole system or controlling a lowsec warzone are too massive to be undertaken by individuals. In addition to that, the multitude of features in the game are too complex to be easily and quickly understood by everyone. It is almost inevitable that a player will have to look for information from third parties to learn how they can improve and develop their gaming experience. Joining a group of more experienced players who have built a structure and strategy for their playstyle is arguably one of the best ways to learn how to play. A player can choose to align their interests with such a group and effectively become citizens of an in-game community. To establish a system of governance, such a community needs to develop a set of principles which are tied together by a narrative. That narrative forms the basis for an individual player’s choice to become member of one group or another. It constitutes the in-game citizenship and the principles of self-governance for every member of the group. This mechanism of social organisation is strongly rooted in the concepts of positive liberty. We can observe, that despite an environment initially offering the full potential of negative liberty, players choose to create systems of governance in lowsec and beyond. servicecitizenshipdribbble Isaiah Berlin himself recognized the potential within positive liberty to become the justification for totalitarianism. When an individual delegates self-governance to a higher authority, they can become subject to those who hold positions of power and control the narrative which defines the precepts of citizenship. Influential and charismatic personalities can appropriate the principles of self-governance and claim that it is them who know best which path leads to success and prosperity. In EVE, great fleet commanders and alliance leaders are in the perfect position to conflate the prosperity of the community with their personal value judgements. Isaiah Berlin stated quite clearly that such paternalism is not an actual realization of positive liberty. His idea was, that constraints on individual freedom can only come from those individuals themselves as a result of their social agency, not because someone else decided what is best for them. Despite the fact that he was very much in favour of positive liberty and saw it as the only reasonable basis for a functioning democratic society, he struggled with the fact that it can become a tool in the hands of dictators. That dilemma has been at the centre of political discourse throughout the 20th century up until today. In the political landscape of EVE Online we can see a reflection of those developments.

Doomed To Fail?

In EVE Online, democracy is considered as an ineffective framework for organisations. Usually this is stated by rulers of major powers who underscore the merits of their own interpretation of positive liberty instead. Not surprisingly, the very same line of argumentation has been applied by totalitarian rulers in real-life politics as well. The most fundamental charge levelled at the idea of democratic self-governance is based on the very nature of the environment of EVE and its propensity to favour negative liberty. Considering that players are effectively immortal in-game and face very few constraints, it is argued that the lack of strong leadership would result in chaos. Another common argument against democratic organisations is, that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to war. Again it is stated that only a strict hierarchy of command can be effective in leading people during such times. Democracies would supposedly be paralysed by the social agency of their individual members who seek only personal advantage and refuse to follow. Since conflict is virtually perpetual in EVE, that may seem like a very strong argument. Tomorrowadream The proponents of the totalitarian interpretation of positive liberty – just like their real-life counterparts – fail to address a few basic principles of democratic self-governance though. Concerning the military side, it is fundamentally wrong to assume that democracies do not make use of organisational hierarchies in battle. Even the Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War appointed commanders and officers in their militias and had great successes until outside support for their fascist opponents and destabilizing Soviet intervention on the Republican side broke their momentum. Those who argue the case for totalitarianism make it seem like every decision would have to be discussed in a democratic forum and voted on, but it is a fallacy to claim that democratic organisations will necessarily descend into ineffectual bickering and are unable to come to quick decisions. What democratic self-governance based on the principle of positive liberty actually means is that the constituency of a community get to decide on the rules and the framework that will guide them in their decisions. In our Western societies this is given form as the rule of law. The major difference between that and the totalitarian form of governance is that every person in society is subject to the constraints laid down in the law. In totalitarian systems, the leadership is exempt from such rules. Following the understanding of positive liberty that Isaiah Berlin intended, those legal constraints are determined by all the agents within the body politic through popular vote. Detractors of democracy in EVE will point at failed examples from in-game history, but none of those organisations were true democracies with a rule of law in place. They were at best republics with ruling councils who would vote on decisions. As The Mittani correctly states in an old article, leaders should not be tied down in meetings during wartime. This is why democratic systems supplement themselves with executive bodies and hierarchies which facilitate quick decision making. That is not in contradiction with the principles of positive liberty as long as the constituency decides to create those institutions as expression of their social agency. True democracy might be difficult to organise in a game like EVE, but as far as its effectiveness is concerned, the jury is still out. If the great real-world conflicts of the 20th century can be any indicator of organising military success, then it appears that democracies are not as ineffective as detractors might claim. The organisational complexity of a democratic system likely plays a bigger role. The level of integration necessary for a working democracy has only been reached by in-game organisations very recently. Democracies do not tend to spring out of nowhere or are installed, history has shown us that they need to evolve. Their time in EVE might not have come yet. Big-Fish_940x

The Liberties In Balance

The popular discussion topics in EVE often gravitate towards the great powers of nullsec, but when it comes to this particular topic, many smaller groups figure prominently because they often embody a special case. Pirate gangs, small wormhole corporations, groups of small-gang PVPers in nullsec and lowsec commonly operate on a balanced application of both liberties. At the centre of their self-image lies the full embrace of EVE’s negative liberty and they choose to be subject to no-one. The narratives which hold them together will have that notion at their centre. On the other hand, they apply the purest form of positive liberty by taking full responsibility for the group as individuals. They are not democratic per-se, but in many cases they do not even have a formal structure of leadership at all. There may be FCs who are more prominent than others, but each individual in a fleet is supposed to take over operations or at least handle themselves properly in a fight without being told what to do. When it comes to logistics and the daily chores of EVE, members of such groups will also take it on themselves to serve the common interest. They will scan routes through wormhole space, make tactical bookmarks, produce or transport goods which are needed and gather intelligence on potential targets. Effectively many small and successful corporations of that sort operate like an anarchist meritocracy. ย They do so because of a very strong interdependence between individual members and at the same time the need to stay flexible and promote high skill.

Parallels And Tangents

EVE-Online is often considered by researchers as a petri-dish of sorts for social and political dynamics. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Berlin died before he could witness its emergence. Since his lecture in 1958 he pondered and struggled with the ideas he had on the two kinds of liberties. I am sure he would have found much food for thought in EVE. For example, how it happens that some of the most lawless areas of the game environment become the most organised and well governed. On the flipside, highsec space – which is subject to most mechanical constraints facing the individual pilot – has become home to those who revel in negative liberty: gankers, scammers, mercenaries, market traders, unbound fighters like Red vs. Blue and the many players just mining and running missions without much care about anything or anyone. They all just do whatever they feel like doing and choose not to subject themselves to any significant form of self-governance. The further outward one moves in observation of the EVE playerbase, the more codes and regulations play a role. From the rigorous self-discipline of the PVP elite and wormhole settlers to the totalitarian states of sov nullsec with their feudal empires, oligarchies, military dictatorships and bolshevik-style cadre-led communism. It is certainly an interesting subject for anyone who likes to think about socio-political developments. So far, the discourse has been dominated by the totalitarian rulers of major groups in their ideological publications and statements. To answer the question why we have indeed not seen the development of large-scale democracies in EVE, it will not be sufficient to have only one side providing an explanation.
Tags: democracy, leadership, politics, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.

  • Messiah Complex

    Not sure what “true democracy” is, but if your point is that a vote-driven governance structure might work in EVE, the question is why anyone would bet the future of his house on an experiment in “social agency.” The most persistent and dominant player entities in the game tend to be oligarchic and ruthlessly technocratic. There’s no practical reason to romanticize democracy.

    • Kamar Raimo

      It’s not about romanticism. Democracies are demonstrably better at providing common prosperity and achieve progress. They are also much more sustainable and less dependent on the presence and skill of specific capable leaders.

      That being said, of course none of the leaders that exist now will voluntarily step down in favour of a democratic system. I do think, though, that the CFC would be quite well poised to develop into one.

      • Messiah Complex

        “Democracies are demonstrably better at providing common prosperity and achieve progress.”

        Real world democracies, perhaps. EVE is an altogether different beast. Just one example: the amount of pain “citizens” can suffer as the result of bad governance in-game is extremely limited compared to a world that isn’t populated by immortals.

        • Niden

          There’s a discussion to be had why this would differ however. Albeit a microcosm, people are still investing a considerable amount of their RL time plugged into EVE, so the stakes may not be as high, but they’re there. Their lives may not be at stake, but nor are they in most of the western world when it comes to politics, it’s mostly about money and who gets how much and why. Hell, I care more about my time spent in EVE then I do about a great deal of things in RL, not because I think EVE>RL, but because EVE simply interests me a lot more than some aspects of RL. Thus, I am investing something that is of value to me, meaning I also care about what kind of political environment I’m in in EVE. So why then does the model change if the fundamental principles are the same? Democracy is messy and must be cultivated, if RL is any indication, so I guess I’d say that democracy may not work in larger groups today, but it probably could, given time and development.

          • Messiah Complex

            The “fundamental principles” of the two political environments (RL and EVE) are not the same. The choice as to a form of government is not made based on what form of government we like in principle, but rather on what the goals of our (pre-existing) society are.

            Democracy may fit the bill when a peaceful existence is the goal, but peace is not the goal in EVE. Surely, corporations, alliances, and coalitions want peace internally, but most also want also want a regular diet of conflict with external groups. The model for a society IRL and the model for a society in EVE are fundamentally different, because war is almost universally a form of entertainment in the latter, but not the former.

          • Kamar Raimo

            If it were true what you say, then we would not see renter empires, we would not see alliances with the guaranteed possibility to opt out of PVP, we would not have rulers discussing the merits of “protecting their space tribe”.
            In a nutshell, we would not see a nullsec political structure as we see it today.

            I do not think that war is an almost universal form of entertainment for many EVE players. It may be for you, or me, or Niden, but it is not for the many who prefer to do mostly PVE, enjoy their ships and their social interaction and live in peace and under protection.

            It is not for nothing that I said the CFC could be poised to potentially evolve into a democracy.

          • Messiah Complex

            I did oversell the “EVE is war” argument, but I’m thinking mostly about the few major players in the coalition sovereignty game. In that context, how renters organize themselves is largely irrelevant, inasmuch as they’re utterly beholden to some Great Power.

            And I disagree completely with your comment that “we would not have rulers discussing the merits of ‘protecting their space tribe’.” The Mittani uses rhetoric to that effect all the time, and he certainly does not preside over a space democracy. You’d have a lot of work convincing me that the CFC will ever evolve in that direction.

          • Kamar Raimo

            I was indeed referring to the stated goal of the CFC leader. I do not want to convince you that they will evolve into a democracy. All I’m saying is, they have the level of organisation and the openly expressed desire to provide peace and prosperity for the players under their protection. In no other in-game entity are there so many players who want just that. Sure they want some light entertainment like Burn Jita, but for the rest many would rather not have a war or even regular PVP.

            Like I said, I do not expect the current leaders to give up their position, but imagine what could happen if those leaders abdicate, burn out or just grow tired of doing what they do. I am not saying it is a certainty, but I am saying it is a possibility.

            For the record. I very much enjoy that exchange. Whenever I write a piece like this one here, I am hoping for someone to argue against it in a compelling way. You sure are delivering.

          • Messiah Complex

            “Like I said, I do not expect the current leaders to give up their position, but imagine what could happen if those leaders abdicate, burn out or just grow tired of doing what they do.”

            This is a tangent, but I worry about what you described there. They’re the proverbial 1%: the people who know how to herd thousands of cats, organize massive logistics operations, prosecute a massive sov war. I often wonder if they might be irreplaceable, and how close they are to burnout.

            I’ve enjoyed the discussion, too. I didn’t say it before, but I responded because the piece was thoughtful. Good on you.

          • Kamar Raimo

            I actually like that tangent.

            That worry you have there is exactly where democracy comes in handy.

            Look at WW2 and it’s aftermath if you will. President Roosevelt was an ailing man by the end of the war and he died shortly after.

            As we all know, the defeat of Nazi Germany was not the end of the conflict for the United States. If the US had been a dictatorship, chances are that the next crony to take over from Roosevelt might have failed to keep the US as a major player in world politics.

            On the other side, the power of the Soviet Union was on a steady decline over the thirty-odd years between Stalin’s death and the collapse of the regime

            To come back to EVE, I see a bit of a parallel there. The RedSwarm Alliance and later Goonswarm itself collapsed shortly after the war against BoB was won. The old model of the single warlord leader could not sustain them any more. Their resurgence brought us a new and evolved form of leadership comprised of an advanced political oligarchy with its own officials and bureaucrats way beyond what other alliances have.

            That evolved structure which could guarantee a previously unknown level of stability became the most successful model of nullsec organisation.

            The question remains what comes after. Empires built on the success of warlords inevitably collapse with their death or failure. The political cadre of a one-party dictatorship (which is what I’d say the CFC is ruled by) is a more sustainable entity.

            A democracy is even more sustainable I would argue.

            Of course now we can start arguing whether that would be “good for the game” or just make the so-called “stagnation of nullsec” even worse.

            Personally I do not see a stagnation. I see a slow evolution. Positive liberty has long become a staple of nullsec. We shall see whether that remains so.

          • Messiah Complex

            “That worry you have there is exactly where democracy comes in handy.”

            I see it differently. Democracy doesn’t guarantee competence in leadership. The ruthless technocracy I mentioned before makes competence at any given level of the bureaucracy more likely, but ruthless technocracy can’t exist in a democracy.

          • Messiah Complex

            BTW: by “ruthless,” I mean that the technocratic principle is hard-coded in the DNA of the organization/government.

          • Kamar Raimo

            Hmm, that’s a thing. I have a bit of a soft spot for technocratic thinking. I am not so sure whether there actually are ruthless technocracies ruling. There is too much cronyism going on for that.

            Maybe PL is the closest to a technocracy, at least as someone from that organisation recently explained it.

          • Messiah Complex

            When I was in the CFC, I saw some pretty strong hints of technocratic organization from both the CFC and N3/PL. As I was a grunt, my opportunities to observe were pretty limited, but you can’t help noticing, for example, that both sides were moving large numbers over large distances in astonishingly short time frames. The stuff that has to go on in the background for that sort of logistical efficiency to occur suggests a high degree of competence in key positions.

          • Kamar Raimo

            I certainly agree that there are organisational structures at work that can work very efficiently. I have been in nullsec myself for years and experienced that in different alliances. However, the general egotripping of leaders and obsession of line members is simply not sober and pragmatic enough for me to qualify them as a purely technocratic structure.

            The reason why I mention PL is mostly based on exchanges with our contributor Oh Takashawa. I never was part of PL. On our most recent CZ minutes he delivers a scathing rejection of the concept of narrative for example. The way he explained himself there and in conversations we had did indeed make PL sound like a rather pure technocracy.

            I also didn’t quite buy it ๐Ÿ˜‰

          • Messiah Complex

            Two short responses.

            As to egotripping and obsession: plagues every human endeavor, ever.

            As to narrative: couldn’t agree more with Oh Takashawa. I see 99% of the *Grand Narratives* of 0.0 as trolling the people who love to hate you for the entertainment of your friends.

          • Ranamar

            Personally, I think that Brave Newbies was closer to a democracy than the CFC will ever get with The Mittani at the helm, with its Council of Newbie Management. I’m not sure entirely what they did, but I got the impression that they set the broad strategic and political direction.

            As an outsider looking in, somewhere it seems it got lost in micromanaging details and subsequently got rearranged to be mostly populated by the chief bureaucrats, with a small helping of line member representatives. Unfortunately, I can’t make much more sense of it than that, because Draleth’s spectacular flame-out eclipsed any actual issues behind the reorganization.

            A remarkable number of fledgling IRL democracies seem to have towards being usurped by ambitious and charismatic leaders. Given that and EVE’s “spies are rampant” nullsec society, I have difficulty believing we are ever going to have functional governments that are not either some variety of one-party rule or else being run by a popular tyrant. I’d love to be proven wrong. Maybe the EVE history book scheduled to come out next year (which I put in for on kickstarter) will prove me already wrong.

          • Kamar Raimo

            Yeah, only time will tell.

        • Kamar Raimo

          You are of course correct and people are not invested with life and limb. Still, they are invested in different ways as Niden says. Mostly in emotional ways. The amount of drama, grudges and failcascades happening in the game are testimony to the effect that (bad) leadership can have.

          On the other hand, to reverse your argument, if there is indeed so little at stake, why not experiment with other forms of governance because it might be interesting or fun or even successful?

          • Messiah Complex

            “On the other hand, to reverse your argument, if there is indeed so little at stake, why not experiment with other forms of governance because it might be interesting or fun or even successful?”

            Just because life and limb aren’t at stake, doesn’t mean that nothing is at stake. There are people that invest an absurd amount of time and effort in EVE for various reasons.

            That said, experimenting with democracy might be fun for somebody, of course, and if “seeing if I can make it work” is the goal, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with democracy building for its own sake.

            It’s a different thing, though, if you have a more game-driven goal, and you’re trying to choose the best form of government to achieve that goal.

      • Ranamar

        The big difference I see, and I unfortunately need to credit The Mittani for saying this in his “master class lecture” to Brave Newbies, is that it is easier to vote with your feet in EVE, either by unsubscribing altogether or by either shipping your stuff out or liquidating it and repurchasing it elsewhere. Access to income sources is (relatively) guaranteed, if nothing else because of highsec’s negative liberties, and housing is similarly more or less taken care of. Thus, the biggest hindrance to voting with your feet is knowing that there’s something better out there if you don’t want to unsubscribe for some reason. For contrast, moving to another country because you don’t like how your current home is governed takes a lot of effort, employment is not guaranteed, and naturalization to become a citizen of your new home takes many years. This puts a premium on governments built towards allowing people who don’t like each other to get along, rather than the question being whether people who don’t like the system will leave before they get ejected.

        Speaking personally, I flew with the HBC for 6 months and moved with my alliance to the CFC because leaders cut a deal with them… and then jumped ship, including spending two days moving all my shit out when I found somewhere with a better culture than the average sovnull alliance. The hard part was finding a place that I liked better, because it’s not like they’re well advertised. The weekend of moving my ships out, on the other hand, took less time than the last time I had to move apartments. Voting with your feet is easy in EVE. It’s harder IRL.

        • Kamar Raimo

          I listened to that master class as well and I disagree neither with his statements nor do I disagree with you. This is a very valid point.

          The question that I would ask at this point is, what other home did you find? Is it a place where you feel you matter more than you did when “your leaders cut a deal”?

          What if you had mattered more in the way how that deal was made?

          Certainly, it costs us less to vote with our feet in EVE. It is not like having to leave your home, your parents and your old friends behind IRL and face an uncertain future in another place that probably wants to keep people like you – refugees – out rather than accommodate them. But this is – after all – a game. The fact that we have to potentially face such hardships, even in their watered-down form, says something about the nature of this game.

          Niden talked about the investment we have in the group we are with. It is not easy to leave a group you felt at home with, even if there are no life-threatening consequences as such. Feeling betrayed by a leadership and being forced to find new friends because that betrayal cuts too deep is still a real feeling.

          “EVE is real” may seem like a marketing slogan, but in this particular respect it actually is.

          One of the shorthand comparisons between negative and positive liberty is “Freedom from being told what to do.” and “Freedom to choose what I want to do.”

          At the point where you felt like you had to leave, you were no longer free to choose what you wanted because that decision had been taken away from you. You saw no other choice than leaving.

          Now what if that had worked in a different way?

          • Ranamar

            It really does all come down to group investment. With my experiences, I would come at it from a different direction that didn’t come through in my previous comment. I was dealing with waning investment in the group for social reasons, rather than leadership reasons, as it happened. While I was delighted that the CFC actually had their shit together, comms culture was something I would not infrequently be ashamed to be a part of, something which was not much of an improvement over the HBC. It takes a village to make a culture, and if you’re swimming against the stream in your opinions of acceptability, there’s not much you can do.

            I actually got incredibly lucky in the way I moved, because I got recruited by an IRL friend, and the offer was to fly with people I actively liked, rather than a rotating cast of faceless extras. In that respect, I had it easy: instead of having to find new friends,
            my friends found me, and I deemed them greater friends than my erstwhile
            allies, so I jumped ship.

            I’ll admit this likely weakens my argument, as I had the new job available before I left the old one. Finding a job to switch to from your current one is harder IRL, even when recruiters do call, as I have experienced recently, and I’m (similarly) trying to move *closer* to old friends, rather than moving to a place where I don’t know anyone.

            “What if it had worked in a different way?” is the hard question, of course. I’m not sure what the answer is. The odds seem good that I would have ended up feeling alone and frustrated and I would have eventually unsubscribed. You can’t unsubscribe from life and go do something else, on the other hand, a fact which is part of the mass tragedy that surrounds refugees, as you noted.

  • Saint Mick

    Bloody hell, I think you’ve just upped the bar for articles on CZ. Insightful, intelligent and observant. Good job.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Thanks. I do my best to fulfill my assigned role as in-house pseudo-intellectual ๐Ÿ˜€

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