The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'poverty'
Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Nettle claims that a lot of the social problems associated with socioeconomic deprivation are actually evolutionarily adaptive strategies for maximising opportunities when faced with uncertain prospects. To wit: risk-taking behaviour such as gambling and crime make sense when, ordinarily, individuals' prospects look bleak, unhealthy diets make sense when there isn't much of a future to plan for (junk food, after all, is a far more economical source of energy in the short term than eating healthily), and, as for teenage pregnancy, that's what's known as a fast reproductive strategy (i.e., have as many offspring as quickly as possible and hope that some do OK rather than putting all your proverbial eggs in one basket):
At a meeting last year, Sarah Johns at the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, reported that in her study of young women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds in Gloucestershire, UK, those who perceived their environment as risky or dangerous, and those that thought they might die at a relatively young age, were more likely to become mothers while they were in their teens. "If your dad died of a heart attack at 45, your 40-year-old mum has got chronic diabetes and you've had one boyfriend who has been stabbed, you know you've got to get on with it," she says.
Fathers in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to be absent, which could be because they are following "fast" strategies of their own. These include risky activities designed to increase their wealth, prestige and dominance, allowing them to compete more successfully with other men for sexual opportunities. These needn't necessarily be antisocial, but often they are. "I'm thinking about crime here, I'm thinking about gambling," says Nettle, and other risky or violent behaviours that we know are typical of men in rough environments. A fast strategy also means a father is less likely to stick with one woman for the long term, reducing his involvement with his children.
Once you are in a situation where the expected healthy lifetime is short whatever you do, then there is less incentive to look after yourself. Investing a lot in your health in a bad environment is like spending a fortune on maintaining a car in a place where most cars get stolen anyway, says Nettle. It makes more sense to live in the moment and put your energies into reproduction now.These fast strategies, unfortunately, form a feedback loop: children brought up with minimal investment by fast-strategy parents are more likely to perceive their prospects as bleak and engage in similar strategies (studies have shown daughters of absentee fathers being more likely to become pregnant in their teens, for example). Meanwhile, junk-food diets stunt cognitive development, further sabotaging attempts to break the cycle.
The upshot of all this is that, if Nettle's theory holds, campaigns against unhealthy or antisocial behaviours are merely treating the symptoms, and real improvements can only come from addressing the underlying causes of such insecurity, i.e., poverty and uncertainty. Of course, actually doing so is a lot more expensive and could prove electorally unpopular, especially when opportunistic politicians are willing to promise cheaper solutions and voters are eager to believe that they will work.
Not long after Saint Bono started lauding the humanitarian credentials of George W. Bush and Pope
Sidious Benedict XVI, his partner in virtue, the Rock'n'Roll Mother Teresa that is Bob Geldof is joining forces with the Conservative Party, to "help it shape its anti-poverty strategy". It'll be interesting to see what happens: whether:
- Saint Bob will start singing the praises of neo-liberal free-trade policies as the answer to poverty,
- the Tories will move towards supporting protectionism ("fair trade"), debt cancellation and aid, reasoning that however pissed-off their hard-line Randroid base get, they have nowhere else to go, or alternately,
- the talks will take place fruitlessly, both parties sticking to their tenets, politely agreeing to disagree and papering over the cracks with content-free language about non-specific consensus about poverty being bad and needing to be solved and stuff, with the Tories hoping that the public's attention span is short enough for this to boost their image, at least enough so that fewer people think of them as "the Nasty Party™".
Reports from the UN Summit. It looks like Make Poverty History is history, with plans for poverty reduction having been blocked. Meanwhile, the UN passed a resolution calling on member states to outlaw incitement to terrorism. The exact definitions of "incitement", and indeed, "terrorism", are left for individual states to interpret, which makes it somewhat less than the sweeping victory it was painted at. Nations would be free to exempt pet groups of ideologically-allied "freedom fighters" from being classified as terrorists, whilst using the laws to crack down on all sorts of dissent; for example, it is conceivable that China would declare Falun Gong and Tibetan independence movements "terrorist" under these laws, or that Australia would classify, say, anti-war, anti-logging and refugee-rights movements as terrorist and reserve the ability to bring the full brunt of anti-terrorist laws against anyone with a copy of No Logo (incitement to protest, which in John
Bjelke-Howard's Australia is seen as a national security issue), should they sufficiently annoy the right interests.
A list of some of the more unusual holiday options advertised, from bog snorkelling in Wales to seal hunting in Norway, and from the oft-mentioned Chernobyl tours to spending time homeless on the streets:
After paying a registration fee - which has to be raised by begging - participants are sent out to live on the streets, beg for sustenance and learn the workings of the inner-city. It is an initiation into the life of a street dweller. Participants are asked not to shave or wash their hair for 10 days before the retreat starts. They should come with one piece of ID, an empty plastic bag and wear old clothes (definitely no change of outfit necessary). Organisers promise to provide a list of soup kitchens and shelters.
A recent study at the John F. Kennedy School of Government claims to disprove the often cited anecdotal connection between poverty and terrorism. According to the report, a nation's poverty has little effect on the occurrence of terrorism in that nation; however, levels of political freedom strongly influence terrorism. Countries with high levels of freedom and strictly controlled autocracies are both less susceptible to terrorism than countries with intermediate levels of freedom (this can be seen in Iraq and Russia). Perhaps it has to do with the intermediate countries not having cultural institutions which evolved with their recently gained freedom, or having insufficient freedom to provide peaceful outlets for grievances whilst insufficient control to effectively clamp down on violent ones.
Another factor which increases a country's frequency of terrorism is apparently geography, with mountainous terrain, jungle and similar features offering safe havens to rogue groups, as well as sources of narcotics-related income. (via bOING bOING)
According to Paul Krugman, the American Dream of social mobility and the possibility of anybody becoming successful and transcending their humble roots through hard work is stone cold dead:
The other day I found myself reading a leftist rag that made outrageous claims about America. It said that we are becoming a society in which the poor tend to stay poor, no matter how hard they work; in which sons are much more likely to inherit the socioeconomic status of their father than they were a generation ago. The name of the leftist rag? Business Week, which published an article titled "Waking Up From the American Dream."
Social mobility has declined over the past two decades, with the gains of the New Deal being wiped out; these days, not only do people on low incomes stay on low incomes, but so do their children. Furthermore, politicians are doing their best to reinforce this, and accusing anyone who objects of "class warfare".
Australia isn't quite there but is probably following (the GST and the gradual phasing out of government-subsidised university places in favour of US-style upfront fees are two Howard policies which are pushing us that way); we may see a state funeral for the Fair Go sometime soon. (Though, in reality, we won't; the Fair Go will live on as a piece of meaningless cant, much like the word "liberty" in Ashcroft's America; the expertly stuffed carcase of a long-extinct national mascot, still paraded about in televised pep talks to boost the morale of worker-drones.)
Arch-contrarian Christopher Hitchens gets mediæval on Mother Teresa, best known as the world's leading brand of goodness. According to him, her works served to increase poverty and suffering whilst boosting her personality cult, raking in lots of money from the guilt-assuagement industry, and the Pope (himself a reactionary) has improperly cut corners in the usually rigorous beatification process, eliminating procedures designed to guard against fashionable superstition, in order to make her a saint before he dies. Oh, and the "miracle" "she" performed was a fraud too.
A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn't have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican's investigators? No.
I wonder what would happen if one could look more closely, using primary evidence, at the miracles for which most historical saints got their haloes; how many of them would turn out to be polite fictions, well-meaning conspiracies of true believers cooking the books for the greater good of giving the faith (and the local community) a new saint. Faith can make people do intellectually inconsistent things; for example, Creationists who truly believed that the world was created in six days 6,000 years ago have been caught doctoring evidence and knowingly lying about verifiable facts that supported unfavourable hypotheses; who's to say that the vast majority of beatifications aren't the product of conspiracies of consensual deceit? I'll lie if you look the other way, and a hundred years from now, nobody will know the difference.
MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had beenshe preferred California clinics when she got sick herselfand her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?
Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.