Cleaning up

We’ve received three emails over the last couple of weeks from Barbara Dunn at, encouraging us to share the following message with you, our esteemed readers:

As you may be aware, hospitals still have a lot of work to do to put an end to the ongoing – but solvable – problem of Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs). To help achieve this goal,  Kimberly-Clark Health Care launched “Not on My Watch” (, a website that provides tools and information to help facilities eliminate HAIs.

Ms Dunn is evidently labouring under the misapprehension that we are running some sort of serious health-related website here, but since she’s right about the problem of hospital-acquired infection I feel we should do our part to support this campaign, which I’m sure Kimberly-Clark are backing for purely altruistic reasons, with no commercial agenda at all.

So I’ll encourage anyone who is curious about HAIs, or just wants to know how to wash their hands properly, to head over to the HAI Watch News site, for up-to-the-minute information.

That’s the end of the Public Service Announcement, we’ll return to our normal programming soon…

Reoccurring Dreams

There was a lively debate amongst the commenters at Botgirl’s blog over the last week or so, concerning that perennial preoccupation of the SL intellectual elite, the question of identity in virtual environments.

I must have listened (and occasionally contributed) to this discussion dozens of times in the last three years, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever read anything that was a significant advance on what Sherry Turkle was writing about fifteen years ago.

The particular facet of the issue that we (for of course I couldn’t resist chipping in with my two cents’ worth) focussed on this time around was the significance of choosing to represent oneself in Second Life with an avatar that differs substantially from one’s corporeal incarnation, especially with regard to gender.

How dishonest is this? Moral relativist that I am, my answer to that question is “it depends”; upon a lot of things, but mainly the expectations of the parties to the interaction. In the discussion parallels were drawn with other media, such as written fiction or cinema, with the point being made that no one feels deceived when they discover that, say, Robert De Niro isn’t really a taxi driver. This is true to a degree; for books, plays and movies there are commonly accepted cultural norms that define when it’s OK to make stuff up and when it’s not, and people do feel cheated when the rules are broken.

There is much less consensus regarding online interaction though, and, crucially, in a space like Second Life there is no easy way to communicate the extent to which one is using the platform as a vehicle for personal reinvention, as opposed to expressing one’s everyday self (which of course opens up the question of where one’s “true” identity really lies, or if such a thing even exists).

I’ve noted before that the research evidence suggests that it’s harder than one might think to create a new personality in a virtual world (certainly my avatar is boringly similar to my mortal form, in appearance and character), so in theory it should be possible to get to “know” someone just by interacting with their SL alter-ego. I suspect that there are not many people who could be bothered to put in the work required for this though, and there is always the (mostly unconscious) drive to project one’s internal object-relations on to the virtual relationships, which further muddies the waters.

With all this going on it’s hardly surprising that miscommunication and unhappiness can occur from time to time. I don’t think that there’s much to be done about it; it’s the price we pay for access to the creative possibilities of the medium,  like Cézanne being poisoned by Emerald Green.

Like I said though, none of this is new, or particularly profound, except insofar as it sheds some light on that other topic that has launched a thousand SL blog posts; “Why blog about Second Life?” Why make the same points about the same issues over and over, when we could be turning our minds to something more productive? I can only answer for myself of course, but I think (as, unsurprisingly, I’ve said before) that SL blogging is essentially just another form of role-play, a chance to imagine oneself as a heavyweight intellectual commentator, without all the tiresome business of actually having to think too much about what one writes.

It keeps me amused anyhow. And I get to link to some cool music.

Zombie Bites

Further to the mathematical analysis of zombie infestation, here’s some more undead-themed academic enquiry:

Dr. Steven C. Schlozman, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written a paper on zombie neurobiology. It turns out that zombies have exactly the brain lesions one would expect in an ataxic, insatiable cannibal with impulse-control problems and poor social skills – underactive frontal lobes, a dysfunctional anterior cingulate cortex, cerebellar/basal ganglia problems and a misfiring hypothalamus.

Some time ago I offered a brief psychoanalytic interpretation of zombie-phobia; for more in this vein read “Saving Ourselves: Psychoanalytic Investigation of Resident Evil and Silent Hill by Marc C. Santos and Sarah White. Through a Lacanian deconstruction of the games’ dynamic the paper analyses the role of the player/avatar in maintaining symbolic order in the face of the “impossible, cataclysmic infinity of existence”, represented by the zombies, with their “near-sexual drive for consumption a constant reminder of the discursive construction of our own desire”. The authors conclude that “Resident Evil establishes a more conservative (Freudian) position that Silent Hill playfully (Lacanian-ly) problematizes”

There is more psychoanalytically-informed zombie literature around than you might think – “Zombie Trouble: A Propaedeutic On Ideological Subjectification and the Unconscious”, for example, or “Legacies of Plague in Literature, Theory and Film”. If you like all this undead-psychoanalysis stuff, why not make your own Zombie Freud?

Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis wrote about his experiences with the Vodou practitioners of Haiti in his 1985 book The Serpent and the Rainbow. Davis’ theory that zombies are created using a powder containing, among other things, tetrodotoxin is not widely accepted, but his account of the hidden power structures of the Vodoun secret societies is certainly fascinating.

Columbia College in Chicago runs a course on “Zombies in Popular Media“; the reading/screening list is a good starting point for further zombie study.

And finally – Let me tell you ’bout the way she looked…

Paging Dr Galt

I’ve worked for the National Health Service in various parts of the country for just about all my adult life, and the whole time I’ve felt that I was doing a good thing, helping troubled people get better without worrying about whether or not they could pay me.

Now it turns out that all these years I have in fact been in the employ of an evil state-sponsored killing machine. Who knew? All those patients who tell me “Thanks Doctor, I feel much better now” are just spouting Orwellian Newspeak – what they really mean is “Curse you, you enervating quack! Ayn Rand was right! Your concern for my welfare is sapping the essence of my humanity!”

Well, now that I’ve been enlightened, I’m going to change my ways. No more ensnaring the unsuspecting poor in the corrupt web of socialised medicine. Only Objectivists who can pay on the nail will be getting my attention from now on.


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