Virtually Level

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Does a book (new out in the US) point to a happy, healthy, virtual future – just like a certain TN’er told us?

 

Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone is getting a bunch of publicity in the US right now. Tom Ashbrook did a great interview with the authors on WBUR’s On Point last week (top tip: an updated edition of the work is available in the UK which includes a response to the books critics).

The thesis of the book is pretty simple: social inequality leads to negative outcomes for the whole of society – primarily this relates to health but includes other things like violence, teen pregnancy etc etc. An note, this is about inequality, not absolute wealth, so the poor in society A can have more money than the poor in society B, but if the gap between rich and poor in A is greater than B, then health outcomes will tend to be lower in A.

Wilkinson and Pickett go further than merely observing this correlation – they argue that the outcomes are a result of psychological impact of inequality increasing things such as ‘evaluation anxiety’; relying on less people for more and more people for nothing, and other elements of a sense of self.

Well, you can see where this is going. After On Point I skimmed back through the last chapters of Exodus to the Virtual World by Dr Castronova (of this parish). The ability of VW’s to provide accomplishment, hierarchy, and social groups is exactly what Catronova was arguing. The Spirit Level seems to add meat to the argument.

Wherein we spin into old arguments – if VW’s can have positive impacts on health outcomes, why are they not actively promoted a part of public policy. Indeed for VW’s to have anything more than a marginal impact on a few that happen to be invested heavily in them they might have to be promoted by the state. What’s more, if we follow the argument, they are preventative and prevention is cheaper than cure.

The rebuttal might be the usual ‘not real’ argument – things there are not real, achievements are not real. But of course we in many ways talking about symbolic achievement on both sides of the argument, it’s not what you have it’s what you feel about what you have in respect of others, it’s all relative semiotics.

So, state sanctioned VW’s and XP for all !?


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