Inequality still costing lives in Cancer services

An in-depth survey of GPs finds that public patients may have to wait up to 25 times as long as private patients for tests to diagnose cancer. This two-tier system kills. This adds to the existing inequalities in cancer already made visible by previous research here and here. While it is good this stuff comes to light it is unfortunate that the continuous nature of this problem will all too easily be lost again in episodic media reporting and campaigners will continue to be obsessed with the biological existence of the disease while overlooking the additional crucial and deadly social elements.

Other findings point to potential inequality of access based on social networks, which 1 in 5 GPs believe exists. They perceive certain doctors as having greater pull for getting their patients bumped up on waiting lists for CT scans and MRIs through their established connections elsewhere in the health service. This sort of pull reminds me of the penalty points scandals and the clientelism and brokerage that has(possibly still does) existed in Irish politics. If the GPs’ suspicions are correct it serves as a reminder of how inequality isn’t just economic but – as Bourdieu has demonstrated– social, cultural and status-based as well as deadly.

Hiding the Social beneath Climate Change’s Rule of Thumb

The cognitive heuristic behaviour model has become very prevalent in the social science of public responses to climate change (Weber, 2006; Mooney, 2011: Biegler, 2012). This model has been inspired by the ideas of Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist much lauded in the sphere of social science (Burkeman, 2011). His research has been based on identifying various reaction tendencies in how humans judge or problem-solve through the application of practical shortcuts or rules of thumb referred to as heuristics. These heuristics draw upon a variety of cognitive biases. Weber (2006) describes the heuristic of the “finite pool of worry” bias where people are deemed to limit their worries to a minimum amount of threats (p: 116). The model argues that when other threats, such as terrorism, become more salient people tend to neglect their fears concerning climate change (ibid).

Some of these cognitive biases offer useful descriptions of decision-making and judgement: most notably “confirmation bias” wherein people exhibit the “tendency to overemphasise anything that confirms what [they] already believe” (Douglas, 2011). Regarding climate change, the confirmation bias is exhibited when contrarians visit websites that only support the contrarian position or by “cherry-picking” supportive data such as viewing temperature declines during short time-periods as proof against global warming (Mooney, 2011).

Although heuristic models step beyond the ideas of the rational calculating person, they  often reproduce a similar uncritical biological determinism that overlooks the role of society. While the literature recognises that such heuristics can develop out of experience through “trial and error” (Douglas, 2011) advocates of the model often neglect this more socially sensitive genesis in favour of an evolutionary biological origin. Many view human biases as having been hard-wired in the brain as a result of evolutionary development (Winter and Koger, 2004: 5) and often as part of “fight-or-flight reflexes” (Gardner, 2008; Biegler, 2012). They generally support this explanation through the logical fallacy of circular reasoning. Starting with the premise of hunter-gatherer genetic leftovers or hard-wiring as explanation for responsiveness, they then invent or generalise some ancient hunter-gatherer recurrence to support specific claims about how we operate (Biegler, 2012; Camakaris, 2012). For some it seems the miniscule nature of civilisation’s 12,000 years on earth in comparison to the vast period spent in the Stone Age is treated as concrete proof that evolution has anachronistically locked the reflexes of our brain (Gardner, 2008; Camakaris, 2012). This evolutionary hard-wiring emphasis neglects how these reflexes might be influenced by socially and culturally induced dispositions (Bourdieu, 2005: 247).

Essentially the inherent weakness in this approach is the rendering of society as the ‘forgotten other’. The evolutionary psychology explanations and heuristic models often obliterate the role of societal contexts by standardising individual psychologies; over-emphasising ancient pre-civilisation legacies and selfish gene survival strategies. This nullifies the roles of class, institutions, infrastructure, social structure and community and thereby rendering invisible options for societal change. Therefore it is little wonder that the rigid views on human behaviour promoted by heuristic models and evolutionary psychology seem at least partially responsible for the sense of hopelessness found in the writings of some advocates, scientists and academics (e.g. Hagens, 2010). Gibbons (2011) views behavioural change as largely trapped by the supposedly self-interested survival predispositions of our “reptilian brain” (Rees, 2010).(1) The scientist Lovelock (2009) harbours obvious views on a human nature evolving too slowly for to respond sufficiently to the ecological crisis (p: 80), adding to the overwhelming bleakness of his future climate change imaginary (Vince, 2009b).

Potentially the rigid views on human behaviour promoted by heuristic models and evolutionary psychology will play a potent role in influencing climate change debates in the years to come. This is especially so now that rational choice or conscious calculation explanations are so easily exposed. Bourdieu recognised how the dominance of a particular vision of the world is supported by the close fit between objective structures and cognitive structures in order to conceal its arbitrariness: e.g., gender domination is aided by the distinctions between male/female. There is much in these heuristics and evolutionary psychology theories that is likely to be a close fit to the objective and cognitive structures of elite players in decarbonisation. High-ranking environmentalists, policy-makers, and especially the array of geoscientists schooled in the art of studying the material world will likely see legitimacy in the scientificity (apparent rather than actual science) of the Darwinian-backed hard materiality of reptilian brain, hardwiring and dopamine receptor type explanations.

 

1. Although Rees describes a co-evolutionary relationship between culture and biologically determined behaviour – calling for a rewriting of the cultural narrative away from destructive economic growth and towards sustainable equality – the meme effect of reptilian brain itself is potential fodder for promoting ideas of an immutable humanity.

Bibliography

Biegler P (2012) How we evolved to reject climate science. The Conversation [Online]. Available at: https://theconversation.edu.au/how-we-evolved-to-reject-climate-science-10711 [Accessed 21/04/2013].
Bourdieu P (2005) The Social Structures of the Economy. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Burkeman O (2011) Daniel Kahneman: ‘We’re beautiful devices’. The Guardian [Online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/nov/14/daniel-kahneman-psychologist [Accessed 12/03/2012].
Camakaris H (2012) Don’t trust your Stone Age brain: it’s unsustainable The Conversation [Online]. Available at: https://theconversation.com/dont-trust-your-stone-age-brain-its-unsustainable-9075 [Accessed 21/04/2013].
Douglas K (2011) Decision time: How subtle forces shape your choices New Scientist, 2838.
Gardner D (2008) Risk. London: Virgin Books Limited.
Gibbons J (2011) The decline and fall of the Human Empire. ThinkorSwim.ie [Online]. Available at: http://www.thinkorswim.ie/index.php/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-human-empire/.
Hagens N (2010) The Psychological Roots of Resource Overconsumption. In: Douthwaite R & Fallon G (eds.) Fleeing Vesuvius: Overcoming the risks of economic collapse Dublin: Feasta,
Lovelock J (2009) The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning. New York: Basic Books.
Mooney C (2011) The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science. Mother Jones, May/June
Rees W (2010) Whats blocking sustainability? Human nature, cognition, and denial. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy [Online], 6. Available at: http://sspp.proquest.com/archives/vol6iss2/1001-012.rees.html [Accessed 02/02/2014].
Vince G (2009) One last chance to save mankind New Scientist (2692).
Weber E U (2006) Experience-based and description-based perceptions of long-term risk: why global warming does not scare us (yet) Climatic Change 77: 103-120.
Winter D D N, Koger S M (2004) The Psychology of Environmental Problems. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

 

Irish General Election 2016: What Party Manifestos say about Migrant, Asylum & Refugee Issues

Someone over at Doras Luimni has done some nice work collating what party manifestos say about ‘migrant, asylum & refugee issues’. I wonder if similar work has been done by somebody with regard to content on environmental issues. Of course from past experience we cannot simply take their manifestos at face-value. Instead a deeper analysis is required such as comparing manifesto content to previous party (non)implementation of manifestos and voting records. That said it does show where the emphasis lies in party concerns or at least where it is they feel a need to appear concerned.

I have uploaded the four images of the manifesto collation here so that they can be got at via the one link. Again nice work to the person behind it and thanks.

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Piketty’s Praise for Social Science in his Criticism of US Economists

His comment on the self-deluding properties of the prestige (symbolic capital) of the US economists and the mention of ‘scientificity’ reminds me so much of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

From page 32 of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century:

To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences. Economists are all too often preoccupied with petty mathematical problems of interest only to themselves. This obsession with mathematics is an easy way of acquiring the appearance of scientificity without having to answer the far more complex questions posed by the world we live in. There is one great advantage to being an academic economist in France: here, economists are not highly respected in the academic and intellectual world or by political and financial elites. Hence they must set aside their contempt for other disciplines and their absurd claim to greater scientific legitimacy, despite the fact that they know almost nothing about anything. This, in any case, is the charm of the discipline and of the social sciences in general: one starts from square one, so that there is some hope of making major progress. In France, I believe, economists are slightly more interested in persuading historians and sociologists, as well as people outside the academic world, that what they are doing is interesting (although they are not always successful). My dream when I was teaching in Boston was to teach at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, whose faculty has included such leading lights as Lucien Febvre, Fernand Braudel, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Pierre Bourdieu, Françoise Héritier, and Maurice Godelier, to name a few. Dare I admit this, at the risk of seeming chauvinistic in my view of the social sciences? I probably admire these scholars more than Robert Solow or even Simon Kuznets, even though I regret the fact that the social sciences have largely lost interest in the distribution of wealth and questions of social class since the 1970s. Before that, statistics about income, wages, prices, and wealth played an important part in historical and sociological research. In any case, I hope that both professional social scientists and amateurs of all fields will find something of interest in this book, starting with those who claim to “know nothing about economics” but who nevertheless have very strong opinions about in equality of income and wealth, as is only natural.

Note the nod to Bourdieu

Climate Change Mitigation Needs more than Technological Fixes: Examples from Aviation and Shipping

Even though globally, flying remains a very privileged practice (only 3% of world’s population fly internationally in any given year) it adds over 3% to global carbon emissions. Shipping is just under 3% and both are rising rapidly. They are significant contributors to the problem of climate change. Long-haul flying is one of the most carbon heavy acts that a person can do. One return flight between Australia and Europe has the equivalent of 4.5 tonnes of CO2. That is equal to average global per capita emissions per year. It is the reason why past estimates attribute as much as 47% of the EU15’s carbon emissions from aviation to just 6% of the trips and 43% of France’s aviation emissions to 2% (1). Cruising typically requires even more energy than long-haul flying (2, 3). Also while many cruise products on offer draw people to Europe, plenty of other products are to destinations beyond Europe such as to the Caribbean, Australia or Dubai, and indeed some of the products themselves incorporate long-haul flights.

However, as with dealing with climate change in general, a purely technological deus-ex-machina fix is not going to be the answer. A look at the aviation and leisure cruise industries will give you some sign of the flaws in going solely down that path. “Boeing’s order book” already contains orders for the 747 (first made in 1968) which ensure that more will be built and sold up to year 2030 at least. Similarly cruise ships, with an approximate lifespan of 30 years (4), have just undergone a record order year that will add a combined berth capacity equivalent to 25% of the current global fleet (5). With the supposed biofuel solution for aviation and shipping fuel already causing more problems than it solves future carbon-heavy supply is therefore already set in motion.

Clearly dealing with the social components of demand is an essential part of any realistic response. For example Ceron and Dubois (2005)(6) list multiple broad social factors that are influencing international leisure travel demand: “economic growth and inequalities, demography (including family patterns), conditions of travel (safety…),… tourism and leisure supply (how far will liberalisation go and the market sector penetrate the activity), marketing strategies, … the way society values amenities linked to tourism (sunshine, sport, etc.) and of course two fundamental variables: time resources and disposable income.” Many of these are going to have to be addressed by Governments and organizations seeking to lower emissions in this sector.

Some serious changes are going to have to be made to aviation and shipping taxes and subsidies. For example flying is exempt from VAT in the UK and amazingly no tax is charged anywhere in the world on fuel for passenger jets or on shipping. These added costs would be more punitive towards long-haul due to a higher ticket price. Additionally the aviation industry receives massive subsidies from Governments – £600 million for Ryanair alone between 2008 and 2010 – largely to encourage them to start new routes.

None of this of course is helped by the UNFCCC excluding international shipping and flights from national inventories and that the recent Paris agreement fails to mention either of them. In addition the EU has only focused on intra-European flights and carbon-neutral growth – as opposed to reduction – from 2020.

 

Bibliography:

  1. HALL, C. M., GOSSLING, S., PROFESSOR, HEAD OF THE CENTRE FOR TOURISM C MICHAEL HALL, P. & SCOTT, D. 2015. The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and Sustainability, Taylor & Francis.
  2. HOWITT, O. R., V. SMITH, I. J. RODGER, C. J 2010. Carbon emissions from international cruise ship passengers travel to and from New Zealand Energy Policy, 38, 2552-2560.
  3. WALNUM, H. J. 2011. Energy use and CO2 emissions from cruise ships — A discussion of methodological issues. Western Norway Research Institute: Vestlandsforsking.
  4. WARD, D. 2015. Berlitz Cruising & Cruise Ships 2016, APA.
  5. CLARKSONS. 2015. Cruise Orders full of Eastern Promises? Clarksons Research [Online]. Available: https://clarksonsresearch.wordpress.com/category/orderbook-2/ [Accessed 09/11/2015].
  6. CERON, J.-P. & DUBOIS, G. 2005. More mobility means more impact on climate change: prospects for household leisure mobility in France. Belgeo, 1-2 103-120.
  7. UNFCCC. 2013. Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport (international bunker fuels) [Online]. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Available: http://unfccc.int/methods_and_science/emissions_from_intl_transport/items/1057.php [Accessed 23/03 2013].

 

 

Bourdieu on Sex and Domination

A political sociology of the sexual act would show that, as is always the case in a relation of domination, the practices and representations of the two sexes are in no way symmetrical. Not only because, even in contemporary European and American societies, young men and women have very different points of view on the love relation, which men most often conceive in terms of conquest (especially in conversations between friends, which give a prominent place to boasting about female conquests), but also because the sexual act itself is seen by men as a form of domination, appropriation, ‘possession’. Hence the discrepancy between the probable expectations of men and women as regards sexuality -and the misunderstandings, linked to misinterpretation of sometimes deliberately ambiguous or deceptive ‘signals’, which result from this. In contrast to women, who are socially prepared to see sexuality as an intimate and emotionally highly charged experience which does not necessarily include penetration but which can contain a wide range of activities (talking, touching, caressing, embracing, etc.), men are inclined to compartmentalize sexuality, which is conceived as an aggressive and essentially physical act of conquest oriented towards penetration and orgasm. And although, on this point like all the others, there are of course very great variations according to social position, age -and previous experience -it can be inferred from a series of interviews that apparently symmetrical practices (such as fellatio and cunnilingus) tend to have very different significance for men (who are inclined to see them as acts of domination, through the submission and pleasure obtained) and for women. Male pleasure is, in part, enjoyment of female pleasure, of the power to give pleasure; and so Catherine MacKinnon is no doubt right to see the faking of orgasm as a perfect example of the male power to make the interaction between the sexes conform to the view of it held by men, who expect the female orgasm to provide a proof of their virility and the pleasure derived from this extreme form of submission. Similarly, sexual harassment does not always aim at the sexual possession that seems to be its exclusive goal: in some cases it may aim at sheer possession, the pure affirmation of domination in its pure state…
…If the sexual relation appears as a social relation of domination, this is because it is constructed through the fundamental principle of division between the active male and the passive female and because this principle creates, organizes, expresses and directs desire -male desire as the desire for possession, eroticized domination, and female desire as the desire for masculine domination, as eroticized subordination or even, in the limiting case, as the eroticized recognition of domination” (Bourdieu, 2001: 20-1)

BOURDIEU, P. 2001. Masculine Domination, Stanford University Press.

 

How Creative Accounting Hides the Environmental Impact of Countries

State accounting practices are quite flimsy when it comes to measuring a country’s impact on the environment. The national figures on greenhouse gas emissions that we often hear bandied about exclude emissions from imported goods and international shipping and flights – known as “international bunker fuel emissions” – which are reported separately (UNFCCC, 2013).

 
Claims towards more efficient use of natural resources or ‘resource productivity’, which are used to support important claims of ‘decoupling’ resource use from economic growth, are similarly inept. In calculating how much material is used up in an economy state economists:

“take[] the raw materials we extract in our own countries, add[] them to our imports of stuff from other countries, then subtract[] our exports, to end up with something called ‘domestic material consumption’” (Monbiot)

What’s missing from this are the raw materials in other countries used to manufacture the imports. When these are included rich country claims to recent improvements in “resource productivity” prove false. In fact a country such as the UK is shown to have been “becoming less efficient in its use of resources”prior to the financial crisis (Monbiot).

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