Friday, December 12, 2014

Whales: An quick example of supporting the things we depend on

One of my major goals is to live in such a way that:
  1. I am aware of the things I depend on, and
  2. I live in a way that supports those dependencies, living or not
I found a example of non-humans doing this. Below is a short video explaining how whales sustain the lives of the animals they eat - so much so, that as whales became heavily hunted, the populations of fish they ate actually decreased, even with fewer predators to eat them!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rethinking childrearing and adult relationships

A friend and I were recently debating what the ideal marriage relationship is. He sent me this article as representative of his beliefs, and my response is below:

Thanks for sending the article. It was an interesting read and definitely reflects my attitude towards marriage 5 years ago, as well as what my parents imbued in me.

If you're going to have a conventional marriage - life-long, single-partner, shared property ownership, high cost (financial, emotional, and on the children) of separation, no other sexual partners, no or few other partners with emotional connections as deep as your married partner, home life dominating your non-work/social life, kids only raised by you and your partner and possibly a parent occasionally, etc - then I agree, the third marriage type is the best you can probably hope for.

Still, as the author says, "The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close." Why settle for something that's still not even close to perfect? I believe that in order to do substantially better, we can't just hope to find a better partner - we have to rethink the cultural norms around partnership and child rearing.

The author doesn't say this, but the reason that being a 'loser' is so important is that the cost of break-up is so high, and that there's only one kind of break-up: permanent (excluding long-term separation I suppose), and it has huge impacts on both partners and the children.

Change a few cultural norms and see how this changes: what if we had....

a) multiple men and women who fully identify as parents? or a whole extended 'tribe' (30-50+ people) identify as parents?
  • the change in relationship between one pair wouldn't affect the children much, since even if it got so bad that a pair no longer interacted and one parent totally left the community, the children would only have n-1 parents, not '1' parent
  • without this fear of hurting the children by breaking up, healthy and needed break-ups might be more common: I know one woman especially who would have broken up with her abusive husband 10 years earlier but wanted to wait 'til her kids were out of school; if her kids' well-being hadn't depended on just one man and woman, she could have felt comfortable leaving much earlier.
b) shared extended family or community property
  • the cost of splitting up would not involve 'financial' or resource losses since the partners would have nothing or little to divide up
c) non-jealous or non-exclusive relationships
  • imagine you can relate in a healthy way to multiple lovers simultaneously. You're less likely to get tired or bored of your spouse after 20 years. And if the one with your primary partner does grows stale, you don't feel the need to seek out hidden sexual or emotional relationships with others: you just have relationships as they feel right to you
  • since your marriage relationship doesn't dominate your life as much, the prospect of being without your 'primary' partner doesn't seem as lonely - you know you've got many other rich relationships that could take its place.
d) the child is raised by the mother's family
  • in one culture in China, women from 12-13 on can have any relationships they want. Any child is considered part of the woman's family and is raised by her, her parents, and her siblings (brothers and sisters). Thus, men don't feel attached to the child they produce, they feel attached to the children their sisters produce. In this culture, the women only stay with men for as long as they feel comfortable, knowing their own and their children's well-being isn't dependent on picking THE RIGHT MAN and sticking with him forever come hell or high water. Men likewise don't feel trapped in bad relationships.This is just one example of a specific alternative cultural arrangement that doesn't make having a baby with someone so damn risky! There are many other possible arrangements.
e) there are a lot more possibilities, but you get the idea

In general, marriage as commonly practiced in the US really does feel like a straight jacket to me - the set of legal and cultural norms surrounding it make it very risky and extremely expensive to change your legal relationship as your actual relationship changes. I would prefer a culture that makes it easy to change your relationship as your feelings change, so that at every point, you're with the woman or man (or multiple) that most fulfills you, knowing your well-being and your children's doesn't depend on sticking with someone that doesn't fulfill you for the rest of your life.

Of course, you'd also need a culture with more emotionally mature people like the ones in 'marriage 3' in the article - humble, connected, emotionally open, loving, so that relationships don't just start and stop all the time, but grow in richness and love for as long as both partners desire.

 And to make this a little more personal, some anecdotes:
  • I know a woman who stayed with her abusive husband for 10+ years after he started being abusive because she wanted to provide a stable home for her kids while they were in school. What if she could have provided that stability and removed him from her life?
  • I know another woman who began to question war in the early 1990s, eventually becoming very stressed about it. She couldn't have reasonable discussions about it with her friends, family, or her husband, and as her stress built up, they started talking about divorce. Afraid that her career, stable family with children, and relationship with a man she otherwise deeply loved may be at risk, she chose not to go through divorce. She's been on anti-depressants since then, about 20 years now. This means her life has been clinically depressing for 20 years, and she's managed to remain functional only with drug-enabled denial and distraction.
  •  I've known many people who grew up feeling very lonely, and so became very clingy - multiple cases, with both guys and girls, where the person chose to stay with one partner all through high school or through college. When they marry, they'll try to navigate that 'final' relationship after having very little relationship experience, or experience with very few people.
  • I've been told many times, including recently by married friends my own age, that the 'fire' in a marriage changes after 1-2 years. It may still very much be a 'relationship worth having', but don't expect it to be the same.
And lets get a big-picture view to generalize:
  • 43% of American women and 31% of American men have some sort of diagnosable sexual dysfunction as found by The National Health and Social Life Survey and cited at the Cleveland Clinic.
  • If you want to know where our culture is, know where we came from:
[..]Until the 20th century, American and European men—including physicians—believed that women did not experience sexual desire or pleasure. They believed that women were simply fleshy receptacles for male lust and that intercourse culminating in male ejaculation fulfilled women's erotic needs. Women were socialized to believe that “ladies” had no sex drive, and that duty required them to put up with sex in order to keep their husbands happy and have children.
Not surprisingly, these beliefs left an enormous number of women sexually frustrated. They complained to doctors of anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, feelings of heaviness in the lower abdomen, and wetness between the leg. This syndrome became known as “hysteria,” from the Greek for uterus.
Documented complaints of female hysteria date back to the 13th century.[...]
I used to find this hard to believe, but I've met women in the generation before me who still believe it's the "woman's job" to serve her man sexually. It also reinforces how terrible women had it back when they were, financially, essentially the property of men a century ago.
  • Pornography brings in $100,000,000,000 in revenue per year worldwide. This was confirmed by the LA Times. And given the amount of porn available free online, if all users paid for what they used, this figure would be much higher.
  • According to the National Center for Health Statistics cited here, 1/10 Americans is using anti-depressants, in many cases more than 1 simultaneously.
Humans didn't evolve to be so sexually dysfunctional. We didn't evolve to get off to sex on paper and screens, or to try to counter chronic emotional trauma with drugs, or abuse our spouses or children, or raise children in single-parent homes, or leave children in day-care with strangers for 8 hours/day during very formative years, or any other problems that seem common in the US and around the world. Without changing the culture, or 'moving' to a different one, even if individual relationships can avoid the worst of the problems or misunderstandings noted above, it seems like the "still not even close to perfect" relationship is the best I could hope to end up with.

Books that helped shape my thinking on this:
  • Black Elk Speaks
  • The Enlightened Sex Manual
  • Sex at Dawn
  • The Continuum Concept
All 4 pretty much rocked my world actually.===

P.S. Interesting side note: the way we think of marriage reflects a cultural preference for making important life decisions once and relatively young: go into debt to select your profession at 18 and stick with it for 30 years; get a 30 year loan on a house, meet the one and only true love of your life and get married at 22 right after college, etc: the cultural and legal norms really don't support flexibility as a rule, especially if you don't have money to throw around.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lots of precedents for joining indigenous groups

When I explain that I'm seeking out an indigenous or neo-indigenous tribe to live and learn with, I get a few standard responses: "Will they accept you?", "Isn't it dangerous?" etc.

I obviously can't give one answer for all groups at all times, but historically the correct answers have often been 'yes' and 'no'.

In the 1600s and 1700s, there was a significant tendency for white people to escape the colonies and join indigenous groups. According to "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by Loewen, some colonies or forts set up guards not to keep the natives out but to keep the white people from escaping to them.

Side note: I highly recommend "Lies My Teacher Told Me", which goes through 5-10 of the most common grade school history text books topic by topic and analyzes their propaganda value: what omissions, errors, unspoken assumptions, etc create the narratives they describe in different parts of American and European history which give our kids a false understanding of their heritage? It was unbelievably enlightening.

For an online reading about this 'white flight' phenomenon, here's a quote from "Forgotten Founders"; "Franklin" is actually Ben Franklin writing about the indigenous in the colonies:
   As they sought a middle ground between the corrupting overcivilization of Europe and the simplicity of the state of nature in which they believed that many Indians lived, Franklin and other Deists paid abundant attention to the political organization of the Indians, especially the Iroquois, who were not only the best organized Indian polity with which British Americans had contact, but who were also allied with them. "Franklin had the conception of an original, pre-political state of nature in which men were absolutely free and equal -- a condition he thought admirably illustrated among the American Indians," Eiselen wrote in Franklin's Political Theories (1928). Franklin himself wrote: "Their wants . . . [are] supplied by the spontaneous Productions of Nature" and that they did not at all want to be "civilized."
          This state of nature was eagerly sought by many eighteenth-century Euro-Americans. To understand how many Europeans left their own cultures to live with the Indians is to realize just how permeable the frontier was. To those who remained behind, it was often rumored that those who had gone over to the Indians had been "captured." While some captives were taken, more often the whites took up Indian life without compulsion. As Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson May 9, 1753:
The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appear strongly in the heretofore little success that has attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians. . . . They visit us frequently and see the advantages that Arts, Science and compact Society procure us; they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never strewn any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts.
While Indians did not seem to have much inclination to exchange their culture for the Euro-American, many Euro-Americans appeared more than willing to become Indians at this time:
When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho' ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been "reclaimed" from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, "took his way again to the Wilderness." Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that "No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:
The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress'd for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Some fascinating examples of framing

I recently came across two examples of framing that speak strongly to the need to learn to protect ourselves which I described in my last post. "Framing" is how a writer presents the information in a writing: which facts does he include and which does he leave out? What assumptions and implications does he make? What does he value and what does he not value?

Here's a short memo signed by Lawrence Summers when he was Chief Economist at the World Bank in 1991. After this position, he became US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, US Secretary of the Treasury, and then President of Harvard University.

From the record of a congressional hearing at (h/t Wikipedia):
DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

'Dirty' Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:
1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.
2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.
3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.
The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

—Lawrence Summers,
So the head economist of the World Bank and future US Secretary of the Treasury thinks it's ok to send America's toxic waste to poorer countries, many the victims of past and present US wars or coups, because their resulting sickness, disability, and death costs less than it does in the US, where the waste was produced and where the people enjoyed the benefit of whatever process resulted in the waste.

When people talk about the banality of evil, this is pretty much what it looks like - Summers is no storybook villain, obviously obsessed with evil for evil's sake or for suffering's sake. He simply operates in a paradigm that values money over life, and he and others like him manage international affairs. Even if you don't care about the Africans or South Americans that received all those toxins, understand that this process happens inside the US too, and explains why poor neighborhoods are often more polluted than wealthier ones, and why even well-off neighborhoods are seeing terrible costs from i.e. fracking. And Summers was Secretary of the Treasury under the Democratic Clinton, supposedly the party that cares more about the environment, human rights, etc.

Another example of framing, this time from an article in the Guardian: Toiletry chemicals linked to testicular cancer and male infertility cost EU millions, report says: (h/t NakedCapitalism):

The hormone-mimicking chemicals used routinely in toiletries, cosmetics, medicines, plastics and pesticides cause hundreds of millions of euros of damage to EU citizens every year, according to the first estimate of their economic impact.
The endocrine disruptor compounds (EDCs) are thought to be particularly harmful to male reproductive health and can cause testicular cancer, infertility, deformation of the penis and undescended testicles.
The new report, from the Nordic Council of Ministers, focuses on the costs of these on health and the ability to work but warns that they “only represent a fraction of the endocrine-related diseases” and does not consider damage to wildlife. Another new study, published in a medical journal, showed an EDC found in anti-perspirants reduced male fertility by 30%.
The Nordic Council, representing the governments of governments of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, is demanding the European Union speeds up its plan to identify, assess and ban harmful EDCs. Sweden is already taking legal action against the EU over its missed deadlines, which it blamed on lobbying by the European chemical industry.
“I am not happy that taxpayers have to pay for the damage caused by EDCs, while industry saves money by not investigating their chemicals properly,” said Danish environment minister Kirsten Brosbøl on publication of the new report.
Michael Warhurst, of campaign group Chem Trust, said: “Companies should focus on developing and producing products that don’t contain hormone disruptors and other problem chemicals. This will give them a competitive advantage as controls on these chemicals become stricter around the world – and as consumers become more aware of this issue.”
The report, called The Cost of Inaction, uses the extensive health records collected by the Nordic countries to determine the incidence of the male reproductive health problems linked to EDCs and then uses Swedish data to estimate costs. These are extrapolated to the population of the EU’s 28 nations.
The report also assesses the proportion of the health problems attributable to EDCs, with a central estimate of 20%, leading to a conclusion that the male reproductive health problems cost the EU €592m (£470m) a year. The report states: “Minimising exposure to endocrine disruptors will not only remove distress and pain for the persons (and the wildlife) affected, it will also save the society from considerable economic costs.”
The EU, which would be the first authority in the world to regulate EDCs, is currently conducting a public consultation on a scientific method to identify the chemicals, which ends on 16 January. In 2011, the UK and German governments lobbied to EU to restrict the definition of EDCs to only the most potent chemicals, a proposal described as a “loophole” by critics.
Peter Smith, executive director for product stewardship at CEFIC, which represents the European chemical industry, said the Nordic report attribution of health problems to EDCs was “arbitrary”. He said: “The link between exposure to a chemical and an illness has not been shown in many cases. The authors themselves say they have some trouble with causality.”
Smith said the delays to EDC regulation in the EU did not suit the industry. “Nobody is happy with the delays. But we would prefer it to be permanent and right rather than temporary and wrong.” He said case-by-case rigorous assessment was needed and that any precautionary action had to be proportional to the evidence of harm.
However, Professor Andreas Kortenkamp, a human toxicologist at Brunel University London in the UK, said the epidemiological work needed to prove causation is very difficult. For example, he said, analysing links to birth defects would having taken tissue samples from mothers before they gave birth.
“Hard evidence for effects in humans is difficult to demonstrate, though there are some exceptions,” he said. “But there is very good, strong evidence from animal and cell line test systems. The chemical industry only likes to emphasis the first part of that.” He said precaution was the only safe approach and said the Nordic report was good work.
“Industry lobbying has put regulation back by 3-5 years, which was entirely the intention,” said Kortenkamp, who led a 2012 review of EDCs for the EU which found new regulations were needed. “Every year of no regulation means millions of euros to the industry. That is what it is all about.”
In 2012, the World Health Organiation and the UN environment programme published a major report on the state of EDC science, which concluded that communities across the globe were being exposed to EDCs and their associated risks and that urgent research on the health and environmental impacts was needed. Dr Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for public health and environment said at the time: “We all have a responsibility to protect future generations.” Another review in 2012 by the European Environment Agency advised “a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood.”
As many have said before me, we're collectively turning our society into one big chemistry experiment. Do these chemicals cause Penile dysfunction? Mental retardation? Early puberty? I don't know, but a sure way to find out is to allow companies to include them in commonly-used products for decades, and make it ok for their lobbyists to prevent their removal until so many people are hurt that the PR is simply too bad.

What about the framing of the article is interesting?
1) The focus is not on all the men with broken penises. It's not on the couples who can't conceive or the children who grow up with broken bodies. It's on the economic cost. Review this quote:
The report states: “Minimising exposure to endocrine disruptors will not only remove distress and pain for the persons (and the wildlife) affected, it will also save the society from considerable economic costs.”
Same with this quote:
“I am not happy that taxpayers have to pay for the damage caused by EDCs, while industry saves money by not investigating their chemicals properly,” said Danish environment minister Kirsten Brosbøl on publication of the new report.
I would rather have a minister that cared about the health of my families than the millions in financial costs to 'treat' the problem. And maybe he does but it's not how he's presented in the article. The author totally removes the human aspect of the problem, drenching us in financial bullshit as we continue to live in more and more toxic environments.

2) The author doesn't note that endocrine disruptors have been known problems at least since the 1990s.

3) The author doesn't note how sociopathically evil the chemical industry lobbyist's position is:
He said: “The link between exposure to a chemical and an illness has not been shown in many cases. The authors themselves say they have some trouble with causality.”
Smith said the delays to EDC regulation in the EU did not suit the industry. “Nobody is happy with the delays. But we would prefer it to be permanent and right rather than temporary and wrong.” He said case-by-case rigorous assessment was needed and that any precautionary action had to be proportional to the evidence of harm.
 To summarize both the points expressed and the framing that's evident here:
  • The chemical industry needs ironclad proof that they're poisoning millions of people before they're willing to stop profiting from it.
  • The chemical industry doesn't need to pay for that research itself; others need to do it at great expense
  • The chemical industry doesn't share the burden of proof that their products do no harm: instead, outside researchers must prove that their products are toxic.
  • The chemical industry doesn't know or deliberately obfuscates what the precautionary principle is: "any precautionary action [has] to be proportional to the evidence of harm": if there's evidence of harm, it's not precautionary action, it's responsive action! Precautionary action would be blocking the use of chemicals until they'd be demonstrated to be safe for you and your family. 
  • The chemical industry gets to pretend they care about people's health by verbally acknowledging they want regulation, and they're only being reasonable by only wanting 'evidence of harm', when constantly act to delay regulations of any nature and lie about the real effects of their chemicals both with fake scientific studies and PR/lobbying.

4) The author fails to cite past industry efforts at lying about the harm their products cause which would show that they do not speak or act in good faith. For examples, see my post "Useful Resources for Seeing the World as It Is", and skip to the section "Long Term Corporate Disinforation Campaigns" (click the blue box to expand it and see the analyses of these campaigns).

5) The author presents an underlying assumption that all these problems I pointed out above are normal; the author doesn't note anything strange about this debate. It's as if it's perfectly normal for an industry to poison millions for profit until some 3rd party researchers conclusively show that that is indeed what's happening. Note how this framing leaves it to the reader to get upset.

6) There's a sense of 'progress' presented in the article, including the citation of a few recent reports that give the impression that as new information comes to light, it is being actively debated and acted upon. The author ignores the research from 20 years earlier, since he'd have to explain why it has been ignored for so long.

7) The author only notes one defense for the people polluted by the chemical industry. The only 'defense' mechanism cited in the article was for researchers and some elected representatives to complain loudly to regulatory bodies... while people are actively and knowingly being poisoned. We loudly debate whether Zimmerman had the right to kill Treyvon Martin in "proactive self-defense", but we don't loudly debate how we can proactively (or even reactively) protect ourselves from sociopathic corporate leaders.

8) The author only cites researchers, politicians, and lobbyists, not social activists who could give a much more comprehensive and meaningful understanding of past and present chemical industry behavior and research into endocrine disruptors.

9) The author does not give the reader any meaningful ideas as to how to combat the chemical industry: it doesn't link to any social organizations that foster local efforts to ban chemicals or organize meetings other interested locals so that they can link up and strategize face-to-face instead of merely hoping that these remote and unknown institutions magically act in their best interest.

The list could go on, but you get the idea - both the Guardian article and Summer's memo have the unstated but underlying assumption that finance is paramount, and human health matters only insomuch as maintaining it enables increased financial production. The Guardian article is pretty boiler-plate for a regulatory battle. Sadly, such sterile public debates have happened a lot in the last century+, and so this one is quite normal, but that doesn't mean it's not disgustingly unethical and representative of a heavily-suffering human society.

I believe a major source of America's mental health problems are actually due to articles like the Guardian's: we're constantly presented with myriad problems but, at least in the mainstream media, we're not empowered to work with others to truly understand our challenges and respond effectively. Instead, we're constantly made to worry and then hope that others fix things alright. "Lies" are a problem, but the 'framing' like the Guardian's is much more effective at shaping how people act and behave. Being constantly worried and feeling totally helpless would make anyone a nervous wreck after a long enough time.

All writings have framing: we need to ensure we only follow the authors and institutions which  present reality in a reasonable, ethical, and empowering manner.

EDIT: For another example of running chemistry experiments on whole populations, here's an example: Study Shows Dramatic Correlation Between GMOs and 22 Diseases.