The Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS) is an all-encompassing government running sims based on its citizens' participation in this government, and on the fundaments that worked for the Anzere sim (later Neualtenburg and currently Neufreistadt). Under this model, the government of the several regions/areas has a specific name (ie. the CDS), and each region/area/private island that is governed by the same superstructure has its own regional name.Al Andaluz, the CDS grew to eleven sims, adding to the previous five the sims of Al Garnata, Al Andaluz Almunecar, Al Andaluz Alhambra, Al Andaluz Generalife, Al Andaluz Albaycin and Al Andaluz Sacromonte. With the huge increase of landmass, the CDS also increased to twice the population.
While citizens can participate in each branch of government, their most obvious way of influencing the future of their sims is through the general elections for the Representative Assembly (held each six months) where they can vote on factions (the parties) by ranking them.
Among the goals for this project are: to enable ownership of high-quality public, private, and open-space land; create a themed yet expressive community of public and private builds; and implement novel democratic forms of self government within Second Life.
The government in the CDS sims is not role play, as some people's first impression might be. It should be seen as a residents co-op, not unlike the way apartment buildings are managed in real life, where every landowner is a "citizen" and is granted the right to vote and be elected to manage the overall space.
Change is the major aspect of Second Life, and groups and projects in Second Life have struggled with a difficult concept: how to make them long-lasting? There seems to be an easy answer: make the land owned by the group a "corporation" and all participants "members of a company" or "employees". This seems to be the best strategy. The alternative is always dependent on a group leader. As soon as the group leader leaves the group, there is the "succession" problem: how do you figure out who will run the group next? At this point, the group very likely will break apart, and each member will form their own groups according to their interests.
A third alternative, very hard to implement using the current tool set, is having a self-elected government, which "owns" the land, and a group of people willing to abide by a set of laws (that can be changed by the residents). When a critical member of the group leaves — group founder or sim owner, or any other member of government — you simply elect a new one. In this way, the community of the people and their code of laws are the self-perpetuating core of the group — not an "elite", not an autocratic "ruler", not a "sim owner".
This method also has a further advantage: adapting to change. So, if for some reason, a new trend settles in — say, tinies, like it happened in mid-2005 — the government may vote to change things to adapt to the new trends. Unlike groups that are static in nature — refusing to change, unless something dramatic occurs (like a crucial member leaving) — self-governed structures can simply vote on adapting to change.
Over time, this means that the group composition is quite dynamic, as old members leave and new come in, laws get changed and adapted, the overall layout is influenced by fashion and trends, new people get more comfortable with the changes while others leave — but the project can go on, undisturbed in its essence.
- Group tools in Second Life were never planned to support self-governed sims. The concept that a government owns a sim, and not an individual user, is simply not embodied into the way Second Life works; there has to be always a sim owner (this might change in the future). Although the estate tools now allow delegation of certain tasks, the Neualtenburg/Neufreistadt sim managed to survive for over a year and a half by not having this feature.
- To have an effective government, you need to have two key concepts: one is people willingly delegate their absolute freedom in exchange for protection; and the other is the power of the government to make enforcements. In Second Life, the first concept depends on the people; the second one doesn't exist. Linden Lab does not formally recognize "governments"; also, the only "enforcement" a virtual government has is claiming the deeded land, expelling a citizen (ban), and preventing a resident to become a citizen. Fines can be applied, but only if people are willing to continue their participation in the governed land (they might simply pack and go).
- For most residents in Second Life, virtual governments is associated with bureaucracy and corruption. Bureaucracy is important to the level it allows for transparency and accountability (Neufreistadt, for instance, had SL's first notary, almost a year before a much better, professional system was developed by Zarf Vantongerloo, but it was not so cool, and had no security — it relied on LL's built-in permission system to work), but sometimes it hampers growth. Corruption is dealt by giving all branches of government an equal amount of power to keep each other in check.
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators, CDS in short, is the latest phase in the project that started as the city of Neualtenburg in the mainland sim Anzere, then moved to the private island "Neualtenburg" and after a split-up of the two founders with the rest of the population, the citizens continued under the name "Neufreistadt". When the project became more than just a single simulator, the name Confederation of Democratic Simulators was adopted for the government and the project in general.
Since its inception as a group-owned tiered mainland sim in Anzere, the government model followed a rather long discussion period held mostly on the Linden Lab forums, for a period of about 10 weeks and involving around 20 people interested in jointly presenting a project to Haney Linden, who raised a challenge on Aug 31st, 2004, for projects to "preserve the snow sims". A proposal based on the forum discussions was elaborated by Ulrika Zugzwang and presented by her and Kendra Bancroft for appreciation; after Haney approved it, the forum discussion moved towards establishing a constitution, a provisional government, and a layout of the city to be built, inspired on the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, and adhering to the "theme" of a medieval Bavarian setting.
Haney's proposal allowed the group to establish themselves on an area in Anzere of about 1/3 of the sim, but getting access to the total available number of prims, and the land was leased to the group for four months, assuming that tier was paid for it over that period (the land could not be resold). Most of the work during those first four months concentrated on finding people to get all the buildings done, get event hosters, attract artists, and (naturally!) politicians, setting up some shops for selling souvenirs, and preparing things for the first elections in Second Life. Membership was loosely based on "willingness to help" (and be part of the group).
After the lease was renewed for a further four months, there was now the first elected government in place, regularly meeting and establishing their first laws. Most of the discussion during that first term was mostly to raise funds to continue to pay for the lease after its second term. After abolishing taxes (in order to attract more merchants), an attempt was made to establish a casino as a regular source of income, but it quickly became obvious that no model at the time allowed the financial safety necessary to keep the project going.
Linden Lab removed the support to any similar projects after much public claims of favoritism, and a decision was made to move the whole city into a private island, called "Neualtenburg". At this time, the whole model of financing the costs of a private island was changed. Citizens were (re)defined as owning deeded land in the city, and they paid a monthly fee that would contribute towards paying the private land to LL. In order to raise some initial cash until a reasonable amount of plots were sold, the city emitted a series of bonds (that were redeemed after a year), but after a few months (taking into account that now the whole land outside the city walls was available for sale), it was pretty clear that this model would work rather well.
In the beginning of 2006, when the project still consisted of just one sim, the workings of the judicial system of Neufreistadt were put to a test after being threatened to its integrity by Ulrika Zugzwang, one of the founders, who launched all types of attacks to the city in order to destroy it — physically, by deleting buildings on the common ground, and other people's objects; psychologically, through a well-elaborated campaign of misinformation, public defamation on all public channels (SL forums, emails, in-world meetings, wikis, blogs, interviews to the SL media), and pseudo-legalistic threats. Public hearings on the issue were discredited and even used as further tools to break the community apart.
By mid-June 2006, the citizens, more united than ever, once and for all broke free by replacing all structures with better content, and finally changing the name of the city to Neufreistadt. The lesson learned in this process is that there is no place in this self-governed community for "unwritten agreements", no matter how old and respected a citizen might be. Besides a new name for the city, a name for the over-arching government was also chosen: "Confederation of Democratic Simulators"; the second sim, Colonia Nova, would be brought online soon after this, in October 2006.
In that same month (October), a new Judicial Branch was formally created. But the implementation of it caused continued concern by a significant group of people. Finally, in December and early January 2007, nearly all of these laws, the constitutional amendment and the Code of Procedure were repealed or replaced, and judicial powers were given back to the Scientific Council. As of mid-2007, the entire episode remains controversial. (See Former Branches of Government)
The CDS Model of Government
The branches of government might surprise some, since only one of them is absolutely democratic. This design is unique among constitutional republics, and has suited the government rather well for more than two and a half years, making Anzere/Neualtenburg/Neufreistadt/CDS one of the oldest ongoing projects in Second Life (that is not a "company"), although it grows at a much, much slower pace than, say, Anshe Chung's Dreamland. Democratic self-government is thus slow in growing.
The overall philosophy relies upon a system of bounds and checks between the different branches, each one having a different way of getting new members. The form of government is of a democratic republic, with elected representatives for the legislative branch, who make the laws and amend the constitution as they see fit. There is no executive power in a single branch (ie. no cabinet or similar structure); instead, executive power is distributed among the three branches. That way, one avoids the concept that there is a "fearless leader" somehow having ultimate power (even if a rotating one).
The Branches of Government
The Representative Assembly
The Representative Assembly, or RA for short, is the legislative branch of government which serves for a term of six months. It gets elected through a system of factions (people intending to run for office at the RA have to create a faction with at least 3 elegible members), and seats at the RA (currently 5; the number of seats is a percentage of overall population) are assigned according to the Sainte-Laguë method. Faction members are also ranked by a second vote (done on election day as well) among the faction members as well; the highest ranking member per each faction is named the "faction leader" for the purposes of the current term. The head of the faction with the highest score becomes the Leader of the Representative Assembly, a title that doesn't have much power, except for administrative duties (setting the agenda and the date/time for the next session).
Any citizen (and not only the RA members!) can submit a bill for approval, although the bills only become laws if they're voted by simple majority of the members (there is a minimum quorum). At some times, it's impossible to reach a decision during a session, which might take an hour or two, and it is not always easy to get all RA meetings with full attendance; in that case, the RA can opt to vote during a 7-day period. Bills are very often discussed publicly in advance.
If a bill violates the constitution, the Scientific Council can veto it (and only in that case). Financial bills, also called budget, can be vetoed by the Scientific Council too.
The Scientific Council
The Philosophic Branch or Scientific Council (SC) is the branch that interprets and enforces the Constitution and also acts as a judiciary and court of appeal. It has no legislative or executive duties, but it can veto a bill on the ground of unconstitutionality, a constitution amendment if it is deemed to be against the Founding Documents (which include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and also revenue bills if they are deemed unsound.
One of the constitutionally-defined roles of the Scientific Council is the moderation of the official CDS forums, as well as providing a means of arbitration and moderation. Since the Linden Lab forums do not allow a good degree of enforcement — the moderation tools given to residents on the LL forums are too limited, and completely out of sync with the requirements of the Constitution and Code of Laws of the CDS — the government opted for hosting their own forums elsewhere.
It is composed of up an unspecified number of Professors and up to 9 Chairs, who in turn elect a Dean. New members are selected on the basis of merit, proposed by the Dean or by a citizens' petition, and subject to a vote of confidence by the Representative Assembly before they can serve.
Its decisions on regards of constitutionality, or the validation of judicial acts, requires a simple majority; some acts can be delegated to individual Chairs (like pronouncing judgements on court) or can be done collectively as a body. Traditionally, the more responsibility and precedent a certain action has, the more likely it is for the SC to act as a whole.
Meetings of the Scientific Council tend to be rather long, since most of its discussions are ethical, philosophical, and of an interpretative quality, which very often can be subjective. Interpretations can vary with time, but the SC is viewed as being the most conservative branch of government, although, when working in concert with the Representative Assembly, it can approve a complete change very quickly and effectively. The more radical a bill, the more likely there will be a compromise between both branches.
Although traditionally viewed as being a branch with an extraordinary amount of power due to its veto on legislation and constitutional amendments, it's also the most vulnerable to impeachment, which can be brought upon any member of the SC without any further justification.
In late 2006, many judicial powers of the Scientific Council were briefly transferred to a new but short lived Judiciary (see Judiciary paragraph) but were subsequently returned to the SC.
The Executive Branch
While the project started with the strong conviction that an Executive Branch was not needed, after a year and a half, this position has been re-evaluated. The major limitations of a government where the executive powers are "scattered" among several branches is that no one really has the power to put decisions into practice. Also, the Representative Assembly needed to meet often to make very small decisions which are really "city ordinance acts" and not truly laws. This required too much effort for the members of the Representative Branch to meet frequently with a very full agenda.
During the term of July-December 2006, an amendment was created to include an Executive Branch, header by a Chancellor, under the Representative Branch. Similar to many European countries, the Executive is elected by the Representative Assembly through a majority vote.
The Executive Branch has a relative freedom of decision power regarding most administrative and non-legislative acts. However, it is also checked by the Representative Assembly through several mechanisms. Many of the powers formerly held by the Artisanal Collective are now in the hands of the Executive Branch, and the ordinary tasks are performed by a group of civil servants (see below).
The Civil Service
While there is not a proper "administrative branch" which would be referred as the "civil service", there are indeed officers that draw a salary from the government's treasury, and work for the State — thus being effectively civil servants. As the CDS grows, and more people are required to participate in the bureaucratic tasks that are required to allow transparency and accountancy of all governmental acts, the civil service is expected to grow.
At the moment, the Archivists of the RA and SC, the sim Caretakers ('janitors'), the Head of the Chamber of Commerce, the Public Information Officer and the Treasurer are collectively the CDS's civil service.
Former Branches of Government
The Artisanal Collective
From the very start of the project, the Artisanal Collective (AC, also known as Die Gilde or the Guild) was the workforce of Neufreistadt (the only sim at that time): builders, texturers, scripters, animators and event hosters. It had multiple purposes such as: acting as a building authority (including covenants), controlling all the financial aspects of Neufreistadt, running the Treasury and the Neufreistadt Bank (the national bank), emitting City Bonds, overseeing the Chamber of Commerce (see Incorporation), and immigration and land transfer related duties. Originally it was the branch closest to a civil service. It worked with a not very democratic Master - Apprentice hierarchy. In August 2006 a constitutional amendment was put into place to phase out the Artisanal Collective and to assign most of its powers to the new Executive Branch. In March 2007, this was made final and with that action the AC was abolished. At the same time, a new NGO was created, the New Guild, for SL content creation and education, and as a government advising building authority.
Previously, all judicial powers were in the hands of the Scientific Council, but proper procedures for hearings and trials were never formalised. The history of the short-lived CDS Judiciary began in the summer of 2006, when Ashcroft Burnham proposed the creation of a formal entity that would be responsible for all judicial matters within the CDS, including amongst citizens and visitors alike. This entity would feature a professional judiciary and was to espouse the ideals of impartiality and justice through codified procedures. A solid and independent legal system could also strengthen the CDS's democracy. Burnham suggested a complex system with an independent Judiciary, outside the governmental branches, with its own body of Judges (appointed for life), its own administrative sub-branch (the Judiciary commission). The plan included a panel of universally elected members to act as a regulatory body reviewing the acts of the Judges, but that panel was granted no power to overturn or modify judicial decisions. On the other hand, judges could overturn or modify any law passed by the legislature or ban CDS citizens.
After several months of extensive discussions on both in world and on the CDS forums, the Judiciary Act was formally proposed to the Representative Assembly. This omnibus bill was to amend the CDS constitution to: create the judiciary; transfer many of the Scientific Council's judicial powers to the new Judiciary; and outline the initial organization of the Judiciary. It was passed that October. There were rather strong requirements for becoming a Judge - most candidates for the position, evaluated and approved by the Judges themselves, would have real life experience as lawyers or legal advisers. This change made the Scientific Council less powerful, since it was feared that it still held too many powers under a meritocratic structure. Also, it created a branch of legal professionals, which would be able, through their RL experience, to handle professionally the cases brought to judgement. However, people continued expressing their concerns about this new justice system, regarding things like: its lack of checks and limits on its power, its complexity, its relation to other governmental branches, the selection of judges and financial issues.
While the subject became controversial for most citizens, the process of qualifying the judges continued. While Ashcroft Burnham had been appointed Chief Judge shortly after the Judicial bill's passage, other members of the judiciary were still under consideration. A special commission was appointed to seek more public input regarding the issues with this polarizing new justice system, but, even after long, in-depth discussions, they had no consensus to report to the Representative Assembly.
Finally, in December and early January 2007 the decision was made to replace the complex (100+ page) Code of Procedures with more manageable document, repeal the large constitutional amendment, in order to (quote:) protect citizen's rights and the balance of power, to assign the judicial powers (back) to the Scientific Council again. (Ed. note: in no particular order:) The policy reversal of the RA (as some say), the justice system itself and the way the debates were conducted make this subject, even as of mid-2007, still controversial.
Citizenship in Anzere
When Neufreistadt (then known as Neualtenburg) was still the only territory in the project, and when it was on the mainland in Anzere, "citizenship" was loosely defined as anyone belonging to a SL group and willing to contribute towards the city. Most simply donated tier to pay for the city's leased land; others did not donate any tier, but gave their work for free instead. The sole requirement for citizenship was to be in good standing with the group, get recommendations from two other citizens, and promise to uphold the law and constitution of the city.
Under this model, it was not always clear who was and who wasn't a citizen, since many were part of the group but never visited the city; others were great builders but not true citizens, since they weren't interested in living inside the places they built.
Citizenship on private islands
With the move towards a private island, citizenship was redefined. First, there were limits set to the largest size a citizen could hold; also, all citizens became landowners. To become a citizen, one has to buy a parcel of land, dutifully pay the monthly fee for that land, and, naturally, agree to uphold all laws, rules, covenants and the Constitution.
Unlike what happened in Anzere, there are no citizens that don't own at least a 16 m2 plot. If someone is totally unable to pay for the handful of L$ for such a plot and wishes to offer their services in return of full citizenship, this is not possible. Instead, they could apply for a loan from one of the private banking institutions, buy a plot, and work for the government, thus paying their loans and the recurring monthly fees through their work.
This philosophical concept of "citizenship" also addresses the limitation of "enforcement" — a pre-requisite for government to work. By limiting access to parcels, imposing fines, or even reclaiming the land (with or without compensation) and banning people from the sim, these are the only tools in Second Life that allow sanctions to be effectively deployed. All other types of sanctions need willingness to comply with (and people can always leave and ignore them).
In May 2007 a Citizenship Commission was instituted to consult the citizens on what kind of citizenship definition they desired (SL allows many, each with different merits, pro's and cons), and to report back to the Representative Assembly in June.
Incorporation in the CDS
With the establishment of a Chamber of Commerce (allowing the disclosure and overseeing of "best business" practice), as well as with the judicial function of the SC, there is a way to file claims and suits against companies that are incorporated in the CDS, either by citizens, or by other non-citizen residents. Companies can get registered — ie. they get a charter notarised in the CDS, but no guarantees are given by the government regarding that company — or truly "incorporated". In the latter case, an escrow has to be deposited at the Neufreistadt Bank, which allows limited responsibility towards fulfilling agreements and contracts. If the company defaults on any of its obligations on a contract, it can be subjected to a suit on the CDS's Commercial Court, and even if the owner of the company terminates all agreements and disappears from SL, the money held in escrow will be used to pay reparations or debts. This model allows for a higher level of trust regarding an incorporated company — the only one working in SL where judicial decisions are independent of a "group" willing to abide by a set of rules.
Culture, Arts and Education
A cooperative aspect of the CDS is the ability to pool together resources (human resources and money), drawn from any surplus generated by the government, and invest them into public infrastructure, as well as promoting the arts and education.
Several groups do the same in Second Life — generating income from some activity (say, shops, casinos, or land rentals) in order to subsidise cultural or educational projects. The difference in the CDS is that the citizens themselves can suggest where the investment should go. Most political factions will add to their campaigns an item or two related to public spending on education or culture.
CDS- or sim-wide events can also get supported using the budget. The whole idea is through citizen participation in the government processes, people can indeed make decisions about on what they want to spend the funds.
The New Guild
The New Guild (not to be confused with the former branch of government), is a truly CDS-wide organisation. While being a NGO, close cooperation with the government is expected since its goals are: to organise and implement the entire process of constructing new simulator regions, to provide education in all SL content (free to all citizens willing to work on CDS sponsored projects), to provide technical advice and services to the government and to acquire and manage its own needed resources. This new organisation (early 2007) embodies a great deal of creative and educational potential. While it doesn't have the governmental powers (etc) of its predecessor the Artisanal Collective, it has all the other aspects and was designed to be more effective in regard to this.
The Neufreistadt Museum of Contemporary Art
The MoCA is a non profit NGO with a CDS government approved charter which focusses on cultural aims within the CDS and Neufreistadt in particular, and allowing it to draw on resources from public land (prims and display space). See the Neufreistadt wiki page or the Official Forums for more information.
- July 31 2004 Haney Linden launches project for communities wishing to preserve the snow sims
- September 12 2004 Proposal Approved
- September 20 2004 Land in Anzere
- November 14 2004 Provisional Government
- January 15-16 2005 First Elections
- January 30 2005 First RA Meeting
- April 21 2005 Private sim online
- August 7 2005 Guild Master Kendra Bancroft calls Guild general strike
- June 18 2006 Name Change to Neufreistadt
- October 15 2006 Second Sim, Colonia Nova, opens
- November 22 2007 Third Sim, Alpine Meadow, online
- August 2 2008 Fourth Sim, Locus Amoenus, online
- July 22 2009 Merger with Al Andaluz complete. Landmass now includes eleven sims
- Official Site of the Confederation of Democratic Simulators
- Official Forums of the CDS
- Wiki of the CDS (with legislation, transcripts of meetings, etc) — outdated
- Photos from the CDS sims on Flickr
- Blog article: Some thoughts on why governments in SL are so hard to implement
- Blog article: SL's most hated project