Sunday 16 January 2011

Character (?)

or Who ARE these people? or even just Feet of clay.
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.

¡Ya Basta!This debate is on in Ottawa, Thurday 20th at 7pm: Green Growth or No Growth: Charting a sustainable economic future.

'Feet of clay,' comes from Daniel 2 in the King James here; more on the KJV after a while maybe ...

Here's my proposition: If you are smart enough to write a book and get it published ... then you are smart enough to know it is shite.

Sunday January 30: I think this all happened pretty much as I said - except that when the books I ordered came and I began to read The Spirit Level I found that I more-or-less agree with it - so far that is - I have now read all the prefaces and what-not and three chapters.

The first time I saw it I was definitely infuriated. I now have no idea why? I remember it clearly; but now, with the book in my hands I can find no clue? Upsetting as you may understand ...


Not funny eh? ... but funny as can be. :-)I am literally staggering. Maybe this joking around Alzheimer's is some kind of prescient psychological slip? Given what I know about Alzheimer's this seems unlikely.

My sincere apologies to Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett. No one reads this anyway I guess but that's no excuse. I am glad I decided to follow through and order the book.

More on this later ...

I tuned into this discussion last spring sometime, before any references to The Spirit Level Delusion were added. Eventually one of the Toronto Library copies came my way. I didn't read the whole thing; it was maddeningly obvious bullshit and lest I be tempted to hurl it against the wall once too often and wind up having to pay for it, I turned it back in to the library.

If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

Then last week I came upon the discussion at Rabble again ...

Sometimes I scan the offending bits of books for future reference - but in this case I hadn't; and I cannot remember exactly what infuriated me - except that it was a transparently fabricated tissue of 'tendentious statistics'. The only excerpt I have been able to find (below) has not refreshed my memory ... So I have now ordered cheap second-hand copies of both The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; and The Spirit Level Delusion by Christopher Snowdon.

Richard WilkinsonRichard Wilkinson & Kate PickettRichard Wilkinson & Kate PickettKate PickettKate PickettSo ... Who are these people? Impossible to say with certainty; except to say they are definitely not street-corner nutters (like myself).

Wilkinson is Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, and Honorary Professor at University College London. Pickett is a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York. The resumés of both are sprinkled liberally with the word 'scientist'. Christopher Snowdon (and here) is a writer; no particular pedigree.

All of them out there just trying to sell books I suppose ... and we always look better in older photographs don't we?

My interest here is really to somehow distinguish fakers & pretenders & snake-oil opportunists from 'the real meal deal'. I am critical of both Tim Jackson & Peter Victor for example, on minor points - but I believe them. Why?

That german philosopher socialist guy, wazizname? ... oh yeah, Axel Honneth, has a whole chapter in Pathologies of Reason on why personality is not the be-all.

Murky ... it is all as murky as fuck ...

Ezra LevantEzra LevantEzra LevantEzra LevantEzra LevantEzra LevantBut it is sort of important too. Dipshits like Larry Solomon and The Deniers, and worse lately; Ezra Levant and his Ethical Oil which is taken quite seriously in some quarters - except that the book is nothing but a half-baked rant, misinformation & rhetoric. Don't believe me? Get it and read it for yourself: here, at the Toronto Public Library.

And Levant's ridiculous construct is currency at the highest levels in the land. We see Stephen Harper & his jackanapes poppet Peter Kent parroting these nonsense notions. We have pure pundit poop driving what passes for a national Canadian environmental and energy policy? Unbelievable!

I have read both of these books. They are not worth the paper they are printed on. Look at this guy Levant - he has one expression, which he appears to me to have perfected for his Grade 8 school photograph. A poser hoser. The Globe calls him a 'muse' ... much as I dislike him and his kind I would have stopped short of questioning his sexuality.

Peter Kent & Stephen HarperThank you OED; maybe poupette expresses the essence of Peter Kent better than 'poppet' - though both are apt.

I tell you what: With people like this at or near the helm
We are well & truely FUCKED!

This January 6 interview with Evan Solomon is still on-line and still the best introduction to our Peter.

It's not as if these people will rule forever; and (don't be afraid) it won't take armed revolution to lose them. Sooner or later people will wake up; a well organized campaign, someone charismatic, the sounds of the second, third, fourth &etc. shoes dropping BIG time ... They may be gone within, say, five years - but by then there will be enough CO2e in the air to write climate history for the next 500 or 1,000 years and it will be all over but the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

I was going to say 'very Old Testament imagery' but a quick search finds all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth going on New Testament; go figgure?!
The fat lady is singing already.
Dig it.

Lancelot AndrewesLancelot AndrewesThe King James Version and the brothers Andrewes, Lancelot (1555-1626) & Roger. I can't find dates for Roger. I have a book coming: God's secretaries : the making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson which may have more information. Just curious if he is the younger or older brother ... no portrait of Roger either ... both of the images on the left are of Lancelot. There's a whole collection of portraits of Lancelot at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The OED gives me calumny: 1. False and malicious misrepresentation of the words or actions of others, calculated to injure their reputation; libellous detraction, slander. 2. A false charge or imputation, intended to damage another's reputation; a slanderous report. The preface to the KJV, The Translators to the Reader, makes it clear that calumny was right up there in their list of concerns.

From the little I can glean about them here and there on the Internet; their characters too are murky at best.

A big TS Eliot connection here that I was not aware of ... Eliot's For Lancelot Andrewes: essays on style and order is coming from the library after a while, maybe I will find more to say about this all later.

Jackson PollockJackson PollockYou have to laugh. Reaching back in time, airbrush in hand, the baffled bureaucrats are afoot.

NO SMOKING! Not now nor never ...

Burnley Allan 'Rocky' JonesNO SAYING 'FAGGOT'! Nevermind who you are, nevermind what your bona fides may be, nevermind the context. The complainant is a woman apparently (at least for now) of the LGBT 'community' - Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. She got the ear of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) who did their homework. The man pictured at the right, Burnley Allan "Rocky" Jones, being the Vice Chair of the Atlantic Regional Panel, must have helped them concoct this decision. Two questions:
Is this a fit occupation for a man of his stature?
and; Why on earth would he lend his good name to this shite?

These are what you call 'rhetorical' questions. It's best not to try imagining answers for them. He is not likely to confirm any of your guesses; and no matter how you proceed - your estimation of the man is bound to slide.

Alan GribbenGable cartoon 11-01-14NO SAYING 'NIGGER'! Not now and not 100 years (and more) ago! There is a rationale (naturally); here's an excerpt.

Even the Globe is wringing its little hands.

Well, I'm from the PFAYMMB community; that's Please Fcof All You Meddling Mindless Bureaucrats; and I'm offended at how you waste your time & energies. Is this the best you can do with the education and consciousness your culture has invested in you?

When you can fall for chains of silver you can fall for chains of gold;
You can fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold.
You promised me everything; you promised me thick and thin.
Now you just says, "Oh Romeo, yeah you know I used to have a scene with him."

          Mark Knopfler, Romeo and Juliet.

In comes Romeo, he’s moaning, “You belong to me I believe,” and someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend, you better leave.”
          Bob Dylan, Desolation Row.

Sleeping GiantSleeping GiantYou have your Coyote trickster and your trickster Fox (Foxy Loxy as it were, bringing this whole rambling Chicken Little fable full circle) ... and here you have Rabbit trickster, Nanabijou, the sleeping giant up on the north shore of Lake Superior. He wakes up eventually; she, it wakes up, whatever ... Nanabijou wakes up one day and (no slouching this time) banishes the psychotic pundits & politicians and their petty bureaucrats ... to wash dishes in all-night restauraunts somewhere.

Décroissance Anishinaabe style. :-)But it's too late. Sure enough the feet of clay are washed away; and like Daniel says, "... it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." Good story, except, as it turns out ... it's all a kingdom of blue-green algae & cockroaches by that time (God bless 'em).

Cyanophyta (maybe)Cyanophyta (maybe)Cyanophyta baby!

Be well.


Stupid old fart! :-)Ballard Street: Lowell has no idea his dog was once trained to sniff out questionable characters.Oops! That pesky Alzheimer's is at it again! I forgot to define 'character'. In this case the OED is not quite 'on', not quite up to the mark (it seems to me). More than a dozen definitions before you get to, "The sum of the moral and mental qualities which distinguish an individual or a race, viewed as a homogeneous whole; the individuality impressed by nature and habit on man or nation; mental or moral constitution." And the nut of it (for me) is only hinted at with the use of 'habit'.

I was well more than 20 years old when a hippie friend, surprised to find that I did not know already, told me, "Character is the sum of qualities proven over time."

So, there you go.

Ai ai ai! Forgot the music too! OK, here's Brook Benton with The Boll Weevil Song.


1. The Spirit Level, 2010, excerpt from the introduction.
2. Review of The Spirit Level, Boyd Tonkin, January 29 2010.

The Spirit Level, 2010, excerpt from the introduction.

It seems likely that environmental constraints on economic growth will dominate world politics for the foreseeable future. A pessimistic view would be that this is the beginning of the end of the most prosperous chapter in human history, and that business activity will be submerged – if not by storms and rising sea levels – then by a rising tide of government restrictions. A more optimistic response is to view the necessary constraints on economic growth as an opportunity to create a new and better post-consumerist society.

As the quality of life is so often defined in terms of material living standards and national income per person, it might seem paradoxical to claim that environmental restrictions on economic growth need not involve sacrificing our quality of life. But if instead we define the ‘quality of life’ in terms of life expectancy, happiness and well-being, then the data clearly shows that we, in the rich market democracies, no longer benefit from increasing affluence.

Although economic growth has been the most important driver of human progress in the past and still has a crucial role to play in improving lives in developing countries, we in the developed world must now look elsewhere for further improvements in the real quality of life.

We are social epidemiologists; people who usually spend their time trying to understand how social factors affect population health. Our work has focused on different aspects of wellbeing in rich market democracies. Rather than looking at subjective measures, such as happiness, we have looked at objective measures, such as life expectancy, homicide rates, drug abuse, child well-being, levels of trust, involvement in community life, mental illness, teenage birth rates, children’s math and literacy scores, and the proportion of the population in prison.

Instead of finding that each society does well on some of these outcomes and badly on others, we found that countries tend to be consistently good or bad performers, across the board. If a country has high life expectancy, it also tends to have stronger community life, a smaller proportion of its population behind bars, better mental health, fewer drug problems and children doing better in school.

The differences in the performance of more and less equal countries are very large. Rather than things being just a bit worse in more unequal countries, they are very much worse. More unequal countries have three times the rates of violence, of infant mortality and of mental illness. Their teenage birth rates are six times as high, and rates of imprisonment are eight times higher.

What could account for such huge differences in performance, spread across so many outcomes?

The answer turned out to be surprisingly simple – inequality. The bigger the income differences between the rich and poor in a country, the worse it does. The relationship could not have been clearer: the greater the inequality the more socially dysfunctional societies become – regardless of their overall economic performance. Whether a country is as rich as the USA or, like Greece, only half as wealthy, seems to have no bearing on levels of health and social problems.

The measure of inequality we used was the ratio of the incomes of the top 20 percent compared to the incomes of the bottom 20 percent in each country. In the less unequal countries (such as Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden) the top 20 percent have 3.4 to 4.0 times as much. In the more unequal countries (USA, Portugal, UK) they have between 7 and 8.5 times as much. By this measure they are twice as unequal as the more equal countries.

In case people thought that our findings – despite very high levels of statistical significance – reflected nothing more than the vagaries of national culture and political history, we decided to use the 50 US states as a separate test bed, and look to see whether more unequal states also perform less well. We found that for the US states, as for countries, the greater the income differences the greater a society’s burden of health and social problems. And again, average incomes were unimportant.

Aware of some of the political sensitivities round inequality, we thought we should also check our results against someone else’s measure of wellbeing. The UNICEF Index of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, which combines data on 40 different aspects of children’s lives, seemed like a good alternative yardstick. It includes everything from whether children feel they can talk to their parents, to immunization rates, to measures of bullying at school. We found that child wellbeing too, was strongly associated with the size of the gap between rich and poor, but unrelated to national levels of average income per person.

This research, outlined in our book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Bloomsbury, 2009), brings together many years of our own and other people’s research devoted to trying to understand why some rich countries are healthier than others. There are now over 200 studies of income inequality and health. A recent study covering 60 million people concluded that inequality affects population health, even after adjusting for individual incomes in each society. There are also many studies showing that homicide rates are lower in more equal countries.

Throughout the centuries, there have always been those who have believed that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive. That intuition seems to be borne out by our data. In the more unequal countries and US states, only about 15 or 20 percent of the population feel they can trust others, compared to around two-thirds in the more equal ones. More equal societies are also more cohesive, with stronger community life. Coupled with the evidence on violence, this confirms that inequality damages the social fabric of society. If you have to walk home alone late at night, you’d feel easier about it in a more equal society.

Our interpretation of these findings is that bigger income differences lead to bigger social distances across the status hierarchy, increasing feelings of superiority and inferiority, and adding to status competition and status insecurity. Some of the causal links between greater inequality and adverse outcomes are well known: the physiological effects of low social status, lack of social support and of stress in early childhood are now understood: chronic stress has profound effects on all biological systems. Similarly, the reason why violence is more common in more unequal societies is because high levels of inequality make status even more important, and the most common triggers to violence are, of course, disrespect, loss of face and humiliation.

But there is a more fundamental explanation of why we are so sensitive to inequality. Because individuals within any species have the same needs, the greatest potential for conflict is almost always between members of the same species. The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes regarded this as the central problem of politics. Because we all have the same needs, the competition “of each against all” would, in the absence of a sovereign power to keep the peace, make life “nasty, brutish and short”. But, of course, unlike other species, human beings also have the potential to be each other’s best source of cooperation, assistance, love and learning.

This is why other people can be heaven or hell – our best sources of security and support, or our most feared rivals. Everything depends on the quality of the social relationships between us. Sharing food is deeply symbolic because of the stark opposition between reciprocity and competition over access to necessities. Throughout both human history and pre-history, gifts have been symbols of friendship and in some societies refusing a gift is close to a declaration of war. Because gifts assert that giver and receiver recognize each others needs and will not compete over access to scarce resources, the exchange of gifts affirms friendship, sharing and reciprocity.

It is because our long evolution as social animals has sensitized us so acutely to the quality of social relations that studies now find social status and friendship are such powerful psychosocial protectors of health and wellbeing, while inequality and social exclusion are so damaging.

The powerful effects of inequality are also transmitted from parents to children. Different parenting styles can be understood as expressions of a social structure in which an adult’s lifelong experience of adversity, inequality and low status, is passed on to children and serves to prepare them for the kind of social reality they are likely to have to cope with. Growing up in a society in which you must fight for what you can get and cannot trust others, requires a very different emotional and cognitive development from what would be needed if you were growing up in a world in which you depended on cooperation and mutuality, in which your security depended on the goodness of your relations with others.

People often assume that the benefits of greater equality are confined to the poor. Not so. The differences in the performance of more and less equal societies is so large because the vast majority of the population benefit from greater equality. Our research shows that even the well-off, well-educated, middle classes benefit from living in more equal societies. Whilst the benefits of greater equality are largest lower down the social ladder, even at the top of society people live longer and do better in more equal societies.

The reason why the benefits of greater equality are not confined to the poor is, of course, because we are all caught up in status competition. We all worry about keeping up appearances, about what others think of us, and how we are judged.

So whatever the political and moral arguments, the evidence shows that inequality damages us all and imposes huge costs on our societies, as they struggle to cope with the fall out.

But what about the transition to sustainability? Greater equality contributes to the ability of societies to reduce carbon emissions in two different, but important, ways. First, coping with climate change is a major test of people’s willingness to accept policies for the sake of the common good – for humanity at large. Greater equality is a crucial determinant of how societies measure up to this test. Because people in more equal societies feel they can trust others, are more involved in community life, and less out for themselves, those societies are also able to be more public spirited: they spend more on overseas development aid; they recycle a larger proportion of waste materials; they score higher on the Global Peace Index, and their business leaders think it more important that their governments abide by international environmental agreements.

One of the most important obstacles to reducing carbon emissions is consumerism. Here too greater equality has an important role to play. The pressure to consume is driven substantially by status competition, which is in turn increased by inequality. People in more unequal societies work much longer hours and are more likely to get into debt -because money and status are even more important. But what people wish for, and consistently express in national surveys, is more time with family and friends, and less ‘materialism’. Greater equality reduces the need to strive – against our better judgment – for material wealth to the detriment of our relationships with one another.

And finally, our research shows that there are quite different roads to greater equality. Not only are there ‘big government’ solutions, involving redistributive taxes and benefits, but there are also ‘small government’ solutions, involving smaller earnings differences even before taxes. Sweden is an example of the ‘big government’ approach. It has large differences in earnings but then redistributes income through taxes and benefits. In contrast, Japan has smaller earnings differences to start with, does less redistribution and has a much smaller welfare regime. We find rather the same contrast among US states. Compared to many states, Vermont has high taxes and social expenditure, but its next-door neighbor, New Hampshire, has amongst the lowest. But, in their different ways, both are among the more equal states and, like Sweden and Japan, they enjoy better health and fewer social problems. The implication is that it doesn’t matter how you get your greater equality, as long as you get there somehow. Societies, politicians and policy makers can follow a range of pathways to lower inequality – but reduce it they must. Our future quality of life, and our ability to live within the environmental constraints, depend upon it.

Review of The Spirit Level, Boyd Tonkin, January 29 2010.

The Spirit Level, By Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett reviewed by Boyd Tonkin.

An intellectual flagship of post-crisis compassion, this reader-friendly fusion of number-crunching and moral uplift has helped steer a debate about the route to a kinder, fairer nation. To the authors, "more equal societies almost always do better" for all.

Flatter incomes, stronger communities and a more level playing-field of life-chances help every citizen, rich and poor alike, since our species "enjoys co-operation and trust".

As Wilkinson and Pickett roll out graph after graph to prove that the ultra-competitive Anglo-sphere wallows in misery and crime while Scandinavia and Japan enjoy egalitarian bliss, some sceptics might worry about an overload of tendentious statistics.

Purely as an ethical manifesto, the book hits far harder. Yet in Britain it still seems as hard as ever for politicians to stand up to "the tiny minority of the rich".


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