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stress, status, politics and the human condition

On monkeys and men:
Two books by colleagues have recently been published summarising the relationships between status and health.

The Status Syndrome : How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity by Michael Marmot

The Status Syndrome : How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity
by Michael Marmot

  • 2004, hbk, Times Books, 0805073701,
    $16.38 [amazon.com]
  • September 2005, pbk, Owl Books (NY), 0805078541,
    £8.04 [amazon.co.uk]

Reviews at amazon.com.

You can access the book above for partial examination. I am not attracted by Marmot’s writing style, so I will concentrate on the reviews of the second of these two books.

 

The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier by Richard Wilkinson The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier
by Richard Wilkinson, hbk, The New Press, 1565849256, 30 January 2005,
$18.45 [amazon.com] / £14.05 [amazon.co.uk]
The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier by Richard Wilkinson - pbk

Routledge, pbk, 0415372690, 1 February 2005
£19.99 [amazon.co.uk]

The reviews of the above book make clear that what should be in the book is in the book.

“Surveying Whitehall civil servants, they found that the lowest grades were about four times more likely to die during a given period than the highest. They were not impoverished, though, and they were not an underclass distinct from the rest. There was a steady gradient in death rates down the hierarchy of rank. Professional and executive grades were twice as likely to die as their bosses. Though the price of inequality is not paid equally, it is paid by almost all.”

“ The underlying processes, however, are likely to be primordial. They can be seen in other primates, whose health and well-being also depend upon their relations with each other. The higher a rhesus monkey ranks in the hierarchy it occupies, the less likely it is to develop atherosclerosis, the furring of the arteries that underlies heart disease. Take the highest ranking monkeys from a number of groups and put them together in a new group: they will sort themselves out into a new order, and each monkey's chance of developing atherosclerosis depends on where it ends up in the new hierarchy.

“Subordination is a condition of permanent threat. Animals respond to threat by going into fight-or-flight mode, in which non-essential bodily activities are minimised. If this condition is prolonged, the animal's body will not be properly maintained, its immune system will be inhibited, and it will suffer the corrosive effects of prolonged exposure to stress hormones.”

“ Richard Wilkinson quotes forceful examples from prisons and the increasingly hostile culture of what used to be neighbourhoods. He also writes with unashamed candour about the everyday inner fear of humiliation, the constant anxiety that others regard us as ugly or stupid
or boring. In wealthy countries, where nobody starves any longer, the approval of others is the currency that really matters.” [Quoted from review by Marek Kohn]

marker at abelard.org

“Homicide rates (and other crimes) track a country's level of inequality, not its overall wealth. The fairest countries have the highest levels of trust and social capital. The American states that have the more equal income distribution also have most social trust: New Hampshire, the most equal, is least likely to agree that "most people would try to take advantage of you if they got the chance".

Wilkinson's message is that social environment can be more toxic than any pollutant. Low status and lack of control over one's life is a destroyer of human health and happiness. The wealth gap causes few to vote or participate in anything in a world of fear, conflict and hostility.” [Quoted from books.guardian.co.uk]

marker at abelard.org

A sketchy report from an apparently lightweight quiz method on perceived “self-esteem” attempting to compare countries. The idea that Japan is rated lowest, despite having one of the longest life-spans world-wide and having an unusually peaceable society is hard to correlate with the stress problems discussed above. Japan is also a collectively-oriented society where conformity is at a premium. Obviously, this will produce forms of stress which are widely reported.

You will also notice the individualistic USA is rated relatively highly, despite the tendency for writers like the apparently left-leaning Wilkinson (as reported in the extreme left-leaning Groaniad) to seek shortcomings in the American dream.

It should be noted, for example, that the average lifespan of ‘blacks’ in the USA is approximately six years less than that of ‘whites’, obviously bringing the overall average down. In fact, the effects of poverty (say an individual income of less than $13,000 p.a. - 2003) is a factor in ill-health and lifespan. This is an absolute effect unrelated to status.

Of course, both Japan and the USA are among the richest countries on the planet. Perhaps the individualism leads to a more ‘exciting’ and ‘fulfilling’ life, at least for some, at the cost of few some years of life. This seems to be a ‘calculation’ widespread among smokers and fatties.

It seems likely that, as ever, people vary in the cost/benefit calculations they make. Some active people seek stress. It is not the place of government to legislate the way individuals live.

Further, those most avowedly dedicated to ‘equality’ have generated extreme death rates in their pursuit of some people’s paradise on earth. It has certainly not always led to extended average lifespan, just the reverse!

A too shallow analysis is, as usual, a road to perdition.

related material

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#stress_status_091005

 

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review of book on ‘family’

This book looks like a useful source and resource, but also appears weak on details or analysis, according to both the reviewer from the linked site and from my own knowledge.

Both the author and reviewer seem to have heavy axes to grind. This is unsurprising in this area. Perhaps I should seek out other reviews before deciding whether I ‘must’ look at this tome.

Example:

“ [...] How many people knew, for example, that up to the middle of the 20th century by far the highest rate of divorce ever recorded - up to 50 per cent - was to be found among nominally Muslim Malays[?] ”

In fact, in some Malay states this went above 90% due to the ‘tiga taluk’[sometimes spelt taluq] system of divorce [tiga = three, taluk = divorce]. All that was required was for a husband to say “I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee”.

What the reviewer does not note is that the remarriage rate was also over 90%!

It is also strange that the review does not mention the radical changes instigated by effective birth control.

Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-2000 by Gran Therborn

Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-2000 by Gšran Therborn, Routledge, 2004, 0415300789, pbk

$47.95 [amazon.com]

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#family_210805

“nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

“To a certain extent the first stages of brain formation for a human being will have to recapitulate the evolutionary progress: it would be absurd to postulate two different ways of achieving the same structure. But much else besides will contribute to the manufacture of a single body with a brain from virtually nothing. Rose is fully content to say that a newborn is not quite human (which has nothing to do with rights to life and care). It is born half-hatched, at a developmental stage midway between that of mice and that of guinea pigs. The latter have fur and run after their mother the moment they leave the womb, while newborn mice are roughly as developed as premature babies born early in the third trimester. Rose's attitude is clear: to be fully human does not mean merely possessing a brain that weighs at least 1300 grammes. The brain also has to become part of a social person.

“Rose is a biologist, but not a molecular one and not just a biologist of organs. He is a biologist of the whole living being. All creatures are in their own ways social creatures, be they wood ants, turtles or politicians. He is the kind of biologist - the most common kind - who emphasises complexity, and he does not want to reduce the complex to simpler structures or formulae. Next to Dobzhansky's mantra, perhaps the most common line in the book is 'We just don't know.' ”

“[...] But start to think of it as a design problem - how to fit all those functions into a fairly rigid container that also communicates with the rest of a body? which successive stages of evolution would lead to the various solutions we find in different species of animal? - and the structure of the brain begins to make sense.”

The 21st Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind  by Steven Rose

The 21st Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind by Steven Rose, 2005, Jonathan Cape, 0224062549, hbk

£14.00 [amazon.co.uk]

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#evolution_190805

new biography of the genius - norbert wiener

“He found the ideology of Marxism as destructive of human values as the ideology of free-market capitalism.”

“For the last decade of his life, Wiener was a prophet who spoke and wrote eloquently about the displacement of human beings by automatic machinery. He saw this displacement as a likely consequence of his own inventions. But he spoke and wrote with equal eloquence of the good that automatic machinery could do, if it were used intelligently to make poor societies rich, to enable poor countries to jump from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy without enduring the horrors of nineteenth-century industrialization. He published two books that became best sellers, Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, in 1948,[3] and The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, in 1950.[4] Before modern electronic computers existed, these books predicted with some degree of accuracy the economic and political effects of computer technology on human societies. "We were here," he wrote, in the presence of another social potentiality of unheard-of importance for good and for evil.... It gives the human race a new and most effective collection of mechanical slaves to perform its labor.... However, any labor that accepts the conditions of competition with slave labor accepts the conditions of slave labor, and is essentially slave labor.... The answer, of course, is to have a society based on human values other than buying or selling." ”

I think you may well learn more of relevance and importance from reading Wiener’s central work:

Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener

Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine by Norbert Wiener
(1st ed: 1948), 2nd ed: 1965 The MIT Press, 026273009X,
$25.00 [amazon.com] £14.95 [amazon.co.uk]

“Wiener defined cybernetics to be "the entire field of control and communication theory, whether in the machine or in the animal." The languages of communication theory are mathematical. To understand the history of cybernetics, it is important to understand that mathematical communication has two languages, which we call analog and digital. Analog communication describes the world in terms of continuously variable quantities such as electrical voltages and currents that can be directly measured. Digital communication describes the world in terms of zeros and ones, each zero or one representing a logical choice between two discrete alternatives [...]. ”

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#norbert_weiner_050705

the world’s best violinmaker: jin chan hyun
a review by the auroran sunset

a three hundred and forty page autobiography of the world’s best violinmaker. in fact, he is probably the best violinmaker in the last three hundred or so years; he may even be the best ever. despite this, it is unlikely that any of you have heard of jin chan hyun unless you are a violinist, or otherwise involved in that world.

this is a man who has lived. a man with a attitude to living that many would do well to learn from. a man with a mission, neither afraid to take risks, nor unwilling to work hard. a man who, at the age of twenty-five, bet his life on his ability to solve a problem the world’s best minds described as “impossible”, and won.

this is a man whose single-minded quest to rediscover the lost arts of stradivarius, and the other great violinmakers of eighteenth century cremona, has taken him to a hundred and nineteen countries in search of raw materials, sounds and ideas.

a man who grew up in japanese-ruled korea; moved to japan on his own at age twelve; lived through world war two working the coal industry for his daily bread, while going through night school. a man whose hard work and willingness to learn english allowed him to quickly and repeatedly get to earn ten or more times his peers’ salaries, whether working reconstructing japan after war, ferrying american soldiers on rickshaws around tokyo, in the forestry industry, carting gravel from a dam or, in the end, by making violins, a single one of which now goes for three or four times my annual salary.

this is a korean who has prospered in japan, despite the still extant racism and discrimination, although not without long years of serious hardship. a racism that forced him to learn step by bloody step on his own, via long experimentation and going to see (and lick!) every great violin brought to japan on tour.

a man with stories of a worlds all but gone, in both japan and korea. stories of korea under japanese rule, corrupt local realities of the korea war and both communist dictatorship and pak dictatorship. a man whose own brother got him tortured by the south korean secret police with barefaced lies, and survived to tell the tale.

it is a book packed with story after story from a man whose hard work, obsession, humour, curiousity and zest shines through every page. it is a book that will make you laugh, inspire you, and inform you on some pretty esoteric subjects, like the call of the earthworm! it even has a very sweet love story in the middle.

the only thing stopping me giving this book a wholehearted recommendation is that it is not in english - for that you will have to wait until i get a translation published.

The violin which crosses the strait, Jin Chan Hyan The violin which crosses the strait by Jin Chan Hyun

in Japanese, 1890 yen [amazon.jp]

[Note: linked page is a Google Japanese to English BETA translation.
The book title is taken from that linked page.]

 

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#jin_chan_hyun_270605

abortion and crime

“One of his best-known, and in some quarters notorious, findings concerns America's falling crime-rate during the 1990s. Towards the end of that decade, confounding the expectations of most analysts, the teenage murder rate fell by more than 50% in the space of five years; by 2000, the book notes, the overall murder rate was at its lowest for 35 years. Other kinds of crime fell too. Why?” [Quoted from economist.com]

marker at abelard.org

“What was the significance of the year 1990, Levitt asks? That was about 16 years after Roe v. Wade. Studies consistently show that a disproportionate number of crimes are committed by those raised in broken homes or who were unwanted as children. When abortion became legal nationally, Levitt theorizes, births of unwanted children declined; 16 years later crime began to decline, as around age 16 is the point at which many once-innocent boys start their descent into the criminal life.

“Levitt's clincher point is that the crime drop commenced approximately five years sooner in Alaska, California, Hawaii, New York and Washington state than it did in the nation as a whole. What do these states have in common? All legalized abortion about five years before Roe.” [Quoted from chron.com]

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner, hbk, 2005, publisher: William Morrow, 006073132X, $17.31 [amazon.com] / from 12.54 [amazon.co.uk]
e-book - Adobe download: B00096RZWG, $13.51 [amazon.com]
e-book - Microsoft download: B00096RZW6, $13.57 [amazon.com]
audio cd: 0060776137, $19.77 [amazon.com]

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#abortion_crime_270505

three books on the socialist madhouse in north korea

A shame there are some typical fashionable, foolish leftist ‘academic’ cracks at George Bush, but none the less an interesting generalised review of several books on the subject.

“Moreover, there's another, even more important, reason for engaging in relations with North Korea - the leaders themselves may gradually change. In China, for example, American dealings with the Maoists beginning in the 1970s gradually encouraged the leaders to abandon communism except as an instrument of dictatorship, and the population benefited hugely. During the same period, many Americans opposed any engagement with the brutal South Korean regime of Park Chung Hee, but persistent economic and political relations with his regime ultimately led to the emergence of a skeptical middle class and reformist military that allowed the emergence of South Korean democracy. If we want to change North Korea, we should not be sanctioning it but sending in Western investors.”

related material
‘living’ in north korea

the web address for this article is
http://www.abelard.org/news/review2005.php#north_korea_040205


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