Friday, January 16, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Serious.....

Dear Readers:

In my previous post I indicated that I wouldn't be around for a week or so, in-world, on Plurk, blogging, what have you. Then, yesterday on Plurk, I read about a friend who is having some serious medical problems, and when I say serious, I mean life or death. I'm not going to outline them here, but please read this blog post, which gives the broad outlines of the issue, and this post which provides more details.

Shir Dryke is one of the most self-effacing and charming people I've met in SL, makes beautiful lingerie for sale at her Ornamental Life store, and is one of those people who enriches my SL experience. I say this because in this day and age we're gun shy when it comes to calls for help, especially through an anonymous medium. It's so easy to say "that can't possibly be real, that story seems flawed to me". It's almost as if people look for reasons not to help, that they need to convince themselves that a call for help might not be genuine to justify inaction. We need to understand that despite evidence to the contrary, people are basically good.

What can you do? First, and easiest, is to go take a little shopping trip to Ornamental Life. If you haven't shopped there before, you're in for a treat (you can see me wearing some Ornamental Life here). Second, a number of designers are making items specifically as a fundraiser for Shir. I will be blogging them as the appear. Third, you can make a straight cash donation through the heart collection box at Shir's store.

So here comes the hard sell: we've all gone through the pain of someone disappearing from SL and not knowing what happened to them. What would be the pain of someone disappearing from RL, knowing exactly what happened, and not helping?

Not long ago I read an essay from 1985 by the historian Thomas Haskell, "Capitalism and the Origins of the Humantiarian Sensiblity". Follow that link, go to page 354, and read about "the case of the starving stranger". Haskell writes, "As I sit at my desk writing this essay, and as you, the reader, now sit reading it, both of us are aware that some people in Phnom Penh, Bombay, Rangoon, the Sahel, and elsewhere will die next week of starvation. They are strangers; all we know about them is that they will die. We also know that it would be possible for any one of us to sell a car or a house, buy and airline ticket, fly to Bombay or wherever, seek out at least one of those starving strangers, and save his life, or at the very least extend it. We could be there tomorrow, and we really could save him. Now to admit that we have it in our power to prevent this person's death by starvation is to admit that our inaction--our preference for sitting here, reading and writing about moral responsibility, going on with our daily routine--is a necessary condition for the stranger's death. But for our refusal to go to his aid, he would live." Of course, there are myriad reasons why we are unable to go save the starving stranger, and how much causation would be assigned to us by our inaction. Haskell observes, and rightly so, that "the limits of moral responsibility have to be drawn somewhere and that the 'somewhere' will always fall far short of the much pain and suffering that we could do something to alleviate."

But what really struck me about Haskell's analysis is his comment on what the future holds. After noting that the invention of the airplane has likely altered what we think of as being possible in aiding others around the world because of changing notions of time and distance, Haskell argues "This suggests that new technology--using that word broadly to refer to all means of accomplishing our ends, including new institutions and political organizations that enable us to attain ends otherwise out of reach--can change the moral universe in which we live. Technological innovation can perform this startling feat, because it supplies us with new ways of acting at a distance and new ways of influencing future events and thereby imposes on us new occasions for the attribution of responsibility and guilt. In short, new techniques, or ways of intervening in the course of events, can change the conventional limits within which we feel responsible enough to act. Imagine that we have at our disposal an as yet uninvented technology, more advanced than the airplane, that will enable us to save the starving stranger with minimal expenditure of time and energy, no disruption of our ordinary routine. If we could save him by just reaching out to press a button, then a failure to act would become indefensible."

I pressed a button and donated 10,000L to the cause yesterday. That's a pretty small down payment on hope.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

No Fun

I'm on hiatus until the 2oth of January, at least.