Introducing the SLSBPI

There was an interesting post in the WordPress blog yesterday; you can follow the link if you want the details, but the essence of it is that Fortune has smiled upon one of our blogger brethren.

I reckon that this could be used as the basis of a one-item personality schedule for bloggers. Here’s the procedure:

  1. Ask the subject to carefully read the WordPress post, then study the blog to which it refers.
  2. Present them with this visual analogue scale:
    What is your predominant emotion at the present time?

    Vicariously Thrilled ————————— Bitterly Raging

  3. Score from -100 to 100, with 0 being the midpoint.

I scored +95. How about you?

Now we are three

On a slightly less gloomy note, today is our third birthday. I can honestly say that when I started this blog I never imagined that I would keep it going this long. I’m not entirely sure why I have; a combination of escapism and vanity I suppose. I’m sure that there’s some unconscious dread of mortality in there too, driving me to leave a trace of my existence, even if I am just one more pseudonymous scribbler in the vast ocean of irrelevance that is the blogosphere.

Anyway, to celebrate this auspicious date, I’ve decided to retire the rather dull blog theme (Andreas09) that I picked more or less at random back in 2007, and have been too lazy to change ever since, and go for something a little brighter.

Digital Death Day

Last Thursday was Digital Death Day, marked by a conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The event was a spin-off from the biannual Internet Identity Workshop, which is generally concerned with the technical and commercial aspects of online identity, rather than philosophical issues, and the DDD meeting was explicitly aimed at “Death Care Professionals … Estate Planners … [&} Death Attorneys” which would seem to indicate that the participants were inclined to grapple with practical matters rather than existential themes.

Nevertheless, even consideration of strictly material questions like the heritability of virtual assets and the ownership of online identity cannot help but make one think about the way that social media have influenced the experience of bereavement and grieving in the modern world. News reports of the death of a young person almost invariably mention friends and family paying virtual tribute to the deceased via Facebook or Twitter, and the concept of the social network page as a persistent memorial is well established. There is no doubt that this phenomenon can have a powerful emotional effect, as these personal accounts show.

Is this a healthy development? The persistent nature of an online presence can give mourners a chance to bid their farewells to the dead in their own time, reducing the trauma of a sudden departure. It also maintains the focus on the whole of the life that has been lived, rather than just on the death itself. All this can help give meaning to what might otherwise seem like a senseless tragedy, which in turn may aid the grieving process for those left behind.

This is perhaps not as new as we might think. In many ways it is a return a concept of death that our ancestors might have recognised, a communal experience, rather than a private matter for the immediate relatives of the deceased, after a century in which the end of life had been increasingly hidden away.

Of course it can also be argued that this process trivialises death and loss, that it is impossible to pay respectful tribute to the dead in 140 characters, that death has become just another commodified experience to be vicariously consumed. There is some truth in this – one can hardly deny that one’s reaction to the passing of someone that one has no real connection to will be driven more by one’s own internal dynamics than any genuine feeling for the deceased. (We explored this phenomenon in relation to Second Life in a previous post). On the other hand, expressions of sympathy from complete strangers, whatever their motivation, can be immensely comforting to the bereaved. At the most basic level they are an affirmation of our common humanity, a recognition that we are all bound together by our inevitable mortality, and it is that sense of solidarity that can carry us through our darkest hours.

Reality is overrated

Well, my sojourn in the real world turned out to be pretty depressing, sending me scurrying back to the synthetic succour of Second Life, to the comforting predictability of the rampant paranoia and gripes about the Lindens.

I guess that the new political situation will be taking up more of my real-life attention in the immediate future, but I’m going to try to keep it out of this blog, in favour of more inconsequential musings on SL culture and the like. I need to preserve a little oasis of fantasy in a world that looks set to become increasingly unforgiving.

Liberal betrayal

After six days of haggling we finally have a new Prime Minister. To no one’s great surprise it’s David Cameron, though at the head of a Conservative-Liberal coalition rather than a minority government. The Lib Dems evidently found the lure of high office irresistible, though they will no doubt talk nobly about “The National Interest” as they try to explain their sorry sell-out. I guess they must be confident that the concession they have extracted from the Tories on reforming the voting system – the promise of a referendum on AV – can be converted into some sort of concrete change before we all go to the polls again. In my view this is very optimistic – the Tory party (and a large part of the Labour party) are implacably opposed to PR in any form, and will surely work hard, along with their allies in the media, to ensure there is a “No” vote in any plebiscite on the issue.

In exchange for this vague nod towards reform, and perhaps other compromises on some details of economic policy that will emerge in time, the Lib Dems are identifying themselves with an administration that seems likely to embark on the most savage attack on working-class living standards in at least 30 years. The Tories may have made promises about protecting vital services, but now they are in power they will be able to claim that the public finances are in much worse state than they had thought, and push though cuts on a scale that no one has imagined. The Lib Dems may hope that their presence in government may put a brake on the worst of the Tory excesses, but in reality they will have no leverage other than threatening to quit the coalition and bring the government down, probably precipitating fresh elections in which they would risk being wiped out as disillusioned voters punished them for their perfidy.

Labour, in my opinion, has taken the sensible option of a spell in opposition, gathering strength for the next election, which may well be sooner rather than later. This of course does leave the population exposed to the depredations of the Tories, but the alternative – trying to hang on to power as part of an unstable “rainbow coalition” – would probably have ended with an early election and a Tory majority. The risk is of course that some external event will help the Tories get re-elected, in the way the Falklands war saved Thatcher from probable defeat in 1983, and condemn us to decades of misery.

There’s nothing else to be done now though, except to agitate and organise, and try to make the new government’s life as short and difficult as possible.

Election reaction

I stayed up until about 1 am this morning, when the early results seemed to be suggesting that the swing to the Tories would be enough to give them a slim majority, sending me to my bed in despair. I avoided listening to the radio first thing this morning, to put off the bad news, but when I did eventually tune in I found that my less gloomy predictions had in fact been more or less right as far as the national results go, apart from the Lib Dems only improving on their 2005 share of the vote by 1.0%, which, thanks to the vagaries of our electoral system, meant they actually ended up losing 5 seats rather than gaining the 20 to 30 they had hoped for. Labour were down 6.2% and the Tories up 3.8%, leaving them 20 seats short of a majority.

Up here in Scotland the Labour vote bucked the national trend by rising 2.5%, as their warnings of the threat of a Tory government resonated with an electorate that still remembers the horrors of the Thatcher years. The Tories stumbled to a single seat and 16.7% of the vote north of the border, compared to their national result of 36.1%, raising the question of whether a London Tory government has a mandate to rule Scotland, an issue that will undoubtedly have a major impact in the Scottish Parliament elections next year. That said, the SNP had a disappointing night, their rise of 2.3% less than they had hoped for, and overall the result in terms of seats was exactly what it had been in 2005.

There wasn’t much to cheer those to the left of Labour; the various organisations which stood candidates mostly polled under 2.0%, with Respect losing their only seat. Even the Greens only managed 1.0% nationally, though they did pull off the coup of winning their first seat, in Brighton. The far-right did a little better, with the BNP on 1.9% and UKIP on 3.1%, though they made no major breakthroughs.

Now the horse-trading has started, I’m still expecting the outcome to be a Tory minority government. The Lib Dems may turn out be a bit less attached to their principles once they get a sniff of actual power, but I think they would be reluctant to enter a formal Con-Lib coalition, if for no other reason than wanting to avoid being too closely associated with the Tories’ cuts agenda, which is bound to be enormously unpopular, when we might be returning to the polls in the not-too-distant future. Labour are going through the motions of tempting the Lib Dems with offers of electoral reform, but I wonder if their real strategy is to regroup in opposition in preparation for an election in 18 months or so. I expect Brown will have to resign, but I’m sure that reports of the death of the Labour as a party of government are very premature.

The Tories’ austerity measures, when they come, will surely generate a lot of opposition in working-class communities, so there will be opportunities for growing the left, though we clearly have our work cut out, not least because the fascists are waiting in the wings. The next couple of years could be one of those periods, like the early 80’s, where the political life of this country changes dramatically, and we have to do our best to make sure that this time round it’s for the better.

Trepidation

Well that’s my ballot cast (for the Communist Party, natch), so there’s nothing to do now but wait for the results. The exit polls will be out in less than an hour, and I’m pretty convinced that we’ll be looking at a Conservative victory.

I have no great love for the Labour Party, what with them invading Iraq, eroding civil liberties, letting the bankers destroy the economy and generally selling out every vaguely socialist principle they ever had, but I can’t help feeling a gnawing sense of dread at the prospect of a Tory government.

I’m old enough to remember how terrible the Thatcher years were, and with the economic situation the way it is, not to mention the decline of the left in the intervening years, we may be in for an even rougher ride this time round.

Cinco de Mayo

I first became aware of the significance of this date for the Latino community in the US nearly 20 years ago now, when I found myself in San Antonio, and came across an impromptu fiesta at a traditional icehouse on one of the dusty streets in the insalubrious part of town where I was staying. Twenty-four hours, many new friends, numerous beers and a lot of good weed later I was a convert. Good times.

Election prediction

For the first time in over 30 years it looks like there will be no clear winner of a UK general election. The polls seem to be showing a late recovery in Labour support at the expense of the Lib Dems, though the Tories are still out in front, in terms of the popular vote at least. How this will translate into seats is unclear; though a consensus seems to be forming that the Tories will be the biggest single party. The Lib Dems may theoretically hold the balance of power, though if either of the big parties are only just short of a majority the minor parties might come into play. The Ulster Unionist Party has a formal alliance with the Tories, who could also probably count on the support of the Democratic Unionists. The Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists have ruled out entering into coalitions, but would most likely vote with Labour to keep the Tories out.

In these circumstances any prediction I make about what will happen after the votes are counted will almost certainly be wrong, but I’ll have a go anyway:

  • The Tories will be the biggest single party, in the popular vote and in seats, but will be short of a majority, even with Unionist support.
  • Labour will come second in share of the vote, but only just ahead of the Lib Dems, though with many more seats.
  • The Lib Dems will substantially increase their overall vote, but this will bring only a modest rise in their seats.
  • The Scottish and Welsh Nationalists will gain two or three seats, at the expense of Labour.
  • The far-right UKIP and BNP will poll well in certain areas, but won’t win any seats.
  • Parties to the left of Labour will see a modest rise in total vote, but the fragmented nature of the left will prevent any serious gains.

If the polls do work out this way then:

  • David Cameron will become Prime Minister at the head of a minority government.
  • The Lib Dems will not enter a formal coalition with the Tories, but will not bring the government down, as long as Cameron makes some sort of commitment to voting reform.
  • Gordon Brown will resign as Labour leader, resulting in a period of party infighting.

And in the medium term:

  • The Tories will embark on a round of public spending cuts deeper than people had imagined, leading to significant social unrest.
  • Labour will unite behind a new leader, at least temporarily.
  • The Lib Dems will find it harder to continue propping up an increasingly unpopular government.
  • There will be another election within 18 months.

Beyond that? I don’t know. I’m hoping the reaction against a Tory administration will give a boost to the left, but one can never be sure of these things, and there may be a swing to the right instead. The only certainty is that things will be uncertain.