When Will We Have A Virtual Nation? (And When Can I Sign Up)

Nicole Matos
I. M. H. O.
4 min readJul 19, 2013

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“Examples of Virtual Nations include: Al Qaeda, Virtual Nation, and Second Life.” This Urban Dictionary definition of a virtual nation--pithy, sadly tongue-in-cheek--rivals, at least for me in this mood, any other. Sure, I read Benedict Anderson (I still struggle not to type, unfairly but thematically, “Benedict Arnold”). Blah, blah, paraphrasing slightly: “the virtuality of the nation is such that most citizens will never know their fellow members, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of community.”

But am I the only one that looks at Urban Dictionary’s 3 examples and Anderson’s implied examples (which would include the United States), and thinks: gosh. Why is the virtual nation that stands out here as 1. the most sufficiently intentional as a legitimate opt-in affinity group and 2. actually effectual at accomplishing missions of shared intentions….Al Qaeda?!?

I realize I’m playing fast and loose with these very serious ideas--but bear with this thought-experiment. Say that the bottom line is that the United States--the federal government, the particular state that I live in, the particular county/city--is not currently meeting my needs. I vote, I sign petitions, I’ve been involved in politics in small ways that may or may not be “enough”--but anyway, the needs that I want my nation to help me fulfill, are not getting met.

I ended up here because my parents had sex here. I’m assuming that’s true for a lot of us. Does that aleatoric, random fact really constitute a community?

I would pay--I would pay out the teeth, to be honest with you--to join a new,virtual nation that 1. actually matched my personal affinities, needs, and values and 2. offered services that met traditional nation-state functions, but that 3. was designed by intelligent 21st century people, and not by 18th century yellow fever-infected drunkards.

In this time of virtual everything, I really find it hard to believe that it would be impossible to divorce traditional nation-state-local services (from defense to public safety to education to anything else you want) at least partially from the limits of geography. To make a horrendous mess of Groucho Marx’s famous quote, I want no part in any club that would have me as a member under forced circumstances alone.

Picture true virtual nations, instead, like choosing membership in a health club. You compare prices (aka taxes--or whatever each system uses to pay for its services: there could be many options, and they need not inevitably be anti-progressive) with the amenities offered. If you want to live in a semi-socialist virtual nation of high taxes for many provided services: awesome! Join up! If you are a libertarian sort, you want to pay as you go,and not ever give or ever get much from any collective pool: Ok, your prerogative. Too risky for my blood, against my personal values, but hell, we can even still live next door!

Yes, there would need to be major complicated safeguards to ensure the system didn’t get gamed--that gambles taken would have to be lived with, that people would be given the tools to choose at least somewhat wisely. But who the heck can claim that the current, no-opt-in, no-opt-out nation-state system isn’t already being gamed to smithereens? Wouldn’t ANY level of choice be better than being dropped into one country’s citizenship, stuck, by the proverbial stork?

I don’t want (a) Second Life. And god knows (!) I don’t want Al Qaeda. I want a first life--I want a nation transparent, intentional, untethered from clearly irrelevant lockjaws of the past. I’m willing to pay for it, work for it, take my likes and lumps within it. If I can, in some meaningful, effectual sense, choose it. Will this ever happen? Can it happen? Can virtuality--the gradual unpinning of day-to-day life from the arbitrariness of geography--help it happen, now or ever?

I have no idea. I guess I’m hoping you Medium-ers (many of you a thousand times more qualified than me to speak on this subject), might have thoughts. Because all I can say is, my PDF signature (you didn’t think I was going to say,“fountain pen John Hancock,” right?) and my sad old analog passport might just be yours for the taking.

(To see Greg Lexiphanic’s brilliant expansion of these initial ideas continue on to “On Virtual Nations”)

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Nicole Matos
I. M. H. O.

Writer, professor, special needs mom + retired roller derby skater. Content non-strategist. Literary magpie. Follow me at https://twitter.com/nicole_matos2