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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Eugenics
Posted: May 15, 2020 at 7:53 am
On Feb. 23, a 25-year-old black man named Ahmaud Arbery left his home in Brunswick, Ga., to go for a Sunday afternoon run. As he entered a nearby subdivision, he was followed and later shot dead by a father and son while their neighbor recorded the incident on his phone.
Mr. Arberys crime of running while black speaks to a history of racial surveillance and containment enforced by the American state and supported by white people with the means and opportunity to cause great harm.
Lately, the coronavirus has got me thinking a lot about the racial dynamics of containment. Under the quarantine, much has been made of Americans regulated lack of mobility. But our cities have long kept their black residents contained and at the margins. Populations trapped in place are easier to price-gouge and police. Capitalism and immobility work hand in hand.
The American state has restricted black peoples mobility at least since the time of slavery. These regulations included convict leasing, Black Codes, loitering laws, redlining, racial zoning, redistricting (legal and illegal), the prison-industrial complex and increased surveillance. This history has given us entire cities built to shepherd black labor and presence.
One might even consider the black experience as a kind of never-ending quarantine and indeed Jim Crow laws that grew partly out of concerns that black people spread contagion, like tuberculosis and malaria, affirmed as much. The eugenics movement, popular in the early 20th century, led many doctors and scientists to attribute the precarious state of black health to physiological, biological and moral inferiority, instead of structural causes like poverty and racism.
Nearly a century ago, my grandparents fled the Jim Crow South, joining the millions of black families that moved north and west as part of the Great Migration. No matter how many thousands of miles they crossed, they met the same thing: not freedom, but constraint. Even in some of Americas most progressive cities like San Francisco, where my family ended up, black people were relegated to parts of town with limited housing, overcrowded schools and low-paying jobs. The police were everywhere.
So black folks have been educated in a kind of quarantine since Day 1.
Yet mobility remains a big part of Americas narrative about freedom. The tone and complexion of the anti-quarantine protests shouldnt surprise us when white people have been accustomed to boundless freedom of movement.
Consider the glaring contrasts between the architecture and development of the large-scale public housing units and suburban bedroom communities of the 1950s. Two very different outcomes one black, one white from one ostensibly shared aim of creating affordable housing.
Black people were trapped in poorly maintained towers, like the notorious Pruitt-Igoe homes in St. Louis, that kept them far away from the citys arteries and public transportation. The 33 buildings of the complex were so uninhabitable that they had to be destroyed after only two decades.
Meanwhile, all-white suburbs like Levittown, N.Y., which also received government subsidies, were designed expansively with front lawns, public parks and wide sidewalks.
The same freeways and boulevards that made it easy for suburbanites like those from Levittown to zoom in and out of cities destroyed black neighborhoods, either by cutting them off or by bulldozing them entirely.
Now many of these roads are being retooled in the spirit of new urbanism to make way for more bike lanes and wider sidewalks. But who will these benefit the most? A wealthier and whiter population that wants better access to a walkable, gentrified city.
When black people can move freely about the city, that movement is often controlled by housing location, surveilled by the police and private security measures and allowed only in the service of providing cheap labor.
Today cities are asking, demanding and even coercing black people to shoulder the burden of work that is fundamental to their functioning, but without protecting those people in return. Whatever mobility people have is largely for executing low-wage jobs, which are now recognized as essential because they directly benefit white infrastructures.
This, in addition to the crowding in black neighborhoods, is one reason we see an overrepresentation of black people among the Covid-19 dead in places like Detroit; Chicago; St. Louis; Richmond, Va.; and Washington, D.C. Another reason is racial disparities in testing and treatment. In Illinois, just under 10 percent of those tested for the coronavirus are black. But among those who test positive, 18 percent are black. And among those who die, a stunning 32 percent are black.
Furthering the problem, some hospitals have turned black residents away, only for them to die, despite their showing the same symptoms as white people who receive testing and treatment. This suggests that bias is playing a role. If cities were to test all residents, treatment would not depend on any preconceived notions about who is deserving of care and who is not.
The historian Nikhil Pal Singh recently observed that the pandemic will not create the social transformation we need, but it will set the terms for it. The history of black quarantine provides us with our plan in reverse. Colorblind responses only make the problems worse.
Rather than corporate bailouts, we need a public bailout, one that involves an increase in public spending to support equal access to education, affordable housing and transportation. One that provides paid sick leave and health insurance for all.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has declared a temporary moratorium on foreclosures of Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgages and evictions from public housing units. Several cities have offered similar solutions for their most vulnerable residents, and more should follow. Evictions disproportionately burden black people, especially black women, who experience homelessness at alarming rates.
Cities and the federal government should also come up with a plan for comprehensive debt forgiveness. This will make it easier for essential workers to pay for the increasing costs of education, food and transportation. Measures like these would actually contribute to the growth of our economy by freeing up capital for people to lead healthy lives.
We ask our cities to be smart, but are we asking them to be just? We talk about access in symbolic ways, but dont think about the core geographies of inequality that emerge in the making of a mobile, technologically driven city. The creative, progressive city with its fine dining, bike shares and crowded parks relies on the same workers of color that it relegates to the margins.
We can even take a lesson from the protesters demanding, wrongly, an end to the quarantine. We can fight for opening our cities politically, economically and racially with the same energy they are putting toward opening our streets. We must create solutions that benefit the masses, not a select few. A true end to quarantine demands ending the quarantining city. It may not be the best we can do, but its the least we can ask.
Brandi T. Summers, an assistant professor of geography and global metropolitan studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City.
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Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara
Posted: at 7:53 am
I am perplexed by the behavior of recent political figures. These figures are, in many instances, so rabidly pro-life that they try to confer upon fetuses the same rights to life that every American citizen enjoys. Yet these are the same people who are now so cavalier about American citizens dying from the coronavirus in order to restart the economy. Some have gone as far as to say there are more important things than living.
At first I found this to be contradictory. How can individuals who wail about the unborn be so callous about the safety of those who have made it to adulthood? The same people who resist including natural selection in school curriculums are now preaching the dark gospel of social Darwinism and eugenics.
A clue was offered by a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice when she made the comment that COVID-19 wasnt affecting regular folks. It seems that the people that are most vulnerable to the virus, older and poorer Americans are not regular folk and therefore not entitled to a rabid defense of their right to life.
It really makes sense when you consider that these individuals support a political party that has made it their mission to weaken Social Security and Medicaid. I guess if you cant limit the use of social programs through democratic means, it is acceptable to allow a disease to cull the numbers of people that use them. In order to avoid confusion, I would suggest that those defenders of life change their mantra to, we are pro-life unless the GDP drops 4%.
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ERIKA COHN’S ‘BELLY OF THE BEAST’ TO HAVE WORLD PREMIERE OPENING NIGHT FILM OF 2020 HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FESTIVAL NEW YORK DIGITAL EDITION -…
Posted: at 7:53 am
From the Emmy and Peabody award-winningdirector of The Judge and In Football We Trust comes a powerful new expose of human rights abuses of women in the criminal justice system
When an unlikely duo discovers a pattern of illegal sterilizations in womens prisons, they wage a near impossible battle against the Department of Corrections. Filmed over seven years with extraordinary access and intimate accounts from currently and formerly incarcerated people, BELLY OF THE BEAST exposes modern-day eugenics and reproductive injustice in California prisons.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents an Outstanding Slate of Cinematic Works in First Digital Edition, June 11-20, 2020
The pastoral farmlands surrounding the Central California Womens Facility, the worlds largest womens prison, help conceal the reproductive and human rights violations transpiring inside its walls. A courageous woman who was involuntarily sterilized at the facility, teams up with a radical lawyer to stop these violations. They spearhead investigations that uncover a series of statewide crimes, primarily targeting women of color, from inadequate access to healthcare to sexual assault to illegal sterilization. Together, with a team of tenacious heroines, both in and out of prison, they take to the courtroom to fight for reparations. But no one believes them.
As additional damning evidence is uncovered by the Center for Investigative Reporting, a media frenzy and series of hearings provide hope for some semblance of justice. Yet, doctors and prison officials contend that the procedures were in each persons best interest and of an overall social benefit. Invoking the weight of the historic stain and legacy of eugenics, BELLY OF THE BEAST presents a decade long, infuriating contemporary legal drama.
Director Erika Cohn
Erika Cohn is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning director/producer who Variety recognized as one of 2017s top documentary filmmakers to watch and was featured in DOC NYCs 2019 40 Under 40. Most recently, Erika completed THE JUDGE, a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy-nominated film about the first woman judge appointed to the Middle Easts Sharia courts, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS 2018 Independent Lens series. Erika co-directed/produced, IN FOOTBALL WE TRUST, an Emmy award-winning, feature documentary about young Pacific Islander men pursuing their dreams of playing professional football, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast on PBS 2016 Independent Lens series. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including a Directors Guild of America award for her fiction short, WHEN THE VOICES FADE, and has been a featured panelist/speaker at various film festivals and university conferences across the globe.
In 2013, Erika founded Idle Wild Films, Inc., which has released three feature documentaries and produced numerous branded content and commercial spots, including Gatorades Win from Within series, for which she received a 2016 Webby award nomination. Her work has been supported by IFP, the Sundance Institute, Chicken & Egg, Tribeca Institute, ITVS, Women in Film, Fork Films, BAVC and the CPB Producers Academy among others.
Producer Angela Tucker
Angela Tucker is a writer, director and Emmy nominated producer who works in narrative and documentary genres. Her directorial work includes All Skinfolk, Aint Kinfolk, a documentary short which aired PBS Reel South about a mayoral election in New Orleans; All Styles, a narrative feature currently available on Amazon; Black Folk Dont, a documentary web series that was featured in Time Magazines 10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life; and (A)sexual, a feature length documentary about people who experience no sexual attraction that streamed on Netflix and Hulu. She is in her ninth year on the PBS strand, AfroPoP, now as a Co-Executive Producer and is currently producing Belly of the Beast (dir. Erika Cohn) which will broadcast on PBS Independent Lens this fall. Her production company, TuckerGurl, is passionate about stories that highlight underrepresented communities in unconventional ways. A Visiting Professor at Tulane University, Tucker was a Sundance Institute Women Filmmakers Initiative Fellow. She received her MFA in Film from Columbia University.
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival Presents an Outstanding Slate of Cinematic Works in First Digital Edition, June 11-20, 2020
WHITEHALL ANALYTICA THE AI SUPERSTATE: Part 1 The Corporate Money Behind Health Surveillance – Byline Times
Posted: at 7:53 am
The first part of Nafeez Ahmeds major investigation into the money, men and motivation behind a massive move into medical data.
The COVID-19 public health crisis is enriching a murky nexus of technology surveillance firms linked to senior Government officials at the expense of peoples lives. The financial adventures of a former MI5 spymaster and the medical fantasies of Boris Johnsons top advisor point toward an unnerving endgame: an artificially intelligent (AI) corporate super-state, with a special focus on NHS genetic research inspired by eugenics.
The tale begins with Britains security services and ends with Dominic Cummings. It uncovers the extent to which democracy and public health are now under threat from a series of Government failures rooted in a bankrupt ideology, influenced by the modern relics of scientific racism.
On Sunday 12 April, the Government announced that the NHS would be launching a new COVID-19 contact tracing app. Since then, there has been a flurry of analysis and commentary on the urgent privacy questions posed by this development. But, missing from these questions, is a much wider context which throws light on why the Government failed so dramatically to avert an unprecedented public health catastrophe which has left the UK with the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world.
On the same day that the contact tracing app was announced, former MI5 Director-General Lord Jonathan Evans argued that existing technology used in counter-terrorism and organised crime probes could be used to augment the app being developed by NHSX, the NHS subsidiary focused on digital innovation.
Lord Evans, who headed up Britains domestic security service from 2007 to 2013, currently leads the Governments public standards watchdog and is thus a top advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on ethical standards in the public sector.
Tough surveillance powers are acceptable where there is equally tough oversight and accountability that ensures the powers are applied lawfully, proportionately and only where necessary, he wrote in the Sunday Times. This is now the case for anti-terrorism and the same must apply to health.
More than a week earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock had already granted GCHQ access to NHS data, specifically on the grounds of cybersecurity.
What the former spymaster didnt say is that, just last year, the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office (IPCO) found that MI5 had broken the law in relation to surveillance safeguards designed to limit the sharing and storage of intercepted data. The private data of millions of ordinary citizens could have been shared with foreign governments under opaque and unaccountable national security protocols.
Lord Evans is also connected to a burgeoning private cybersecurity industry which has long aimed to exploit the creeping privatisation of the NHS for profits. In fact, he is connected to three giant corporations which are presently profiting from major contracts with the NHS.
Lord Evans journey from MI5 Director-General to senior corporate advisor is not particularly unique when compared to the trajectories of his predecessors and successors in the same role. But it provides a window into how the UKs national security industry is profiting from the piecemeal privatisation of Britains public health infrastructure.
According to DeclassifiedUK, an investigative journalism platform focused on British national security issues, Britains former spy chiefs have regularly gone on to lobby government for the private sector. This has resulted in the Government investing millions of pounds of taxpayers money in national security private contractors which have weakened the states pandemic preparedness while prioritising far lesser threats.
The COVID-19 pandemic is now accelerating this process as the Government grants unprecedented power to private technology firms with little transparency.
During his 33 years in Britains domestic security service, Lord Evans played a key role in the agencys counter-espionage and counter-terrorism policies, heading up its counter-terrorism division for the duration of the post-9/11 War on Terror. In 2009, as deputy head of MI5, he distinguished himself by justifying the agencys ties to foreign regimes torturing terrorism suspects to provide intelligence to MI5 and MI6.
The same year that Lord Evans retired from MI5 in 2013, the UK Cabinet Offices National Risk Register warned that a pandemic was the most significant civil emergency risk a higher priority even than catastrophic terrorism or coastal flooding.
Following his MI5 career, Lord Evans became a lobbyist for a private national security industry that largely failed to protect Britain from this risk. He moved rapidly to take up lucrative positions in the financial services industry, including remunerated positions at Accenture, Deloitte and HSBC.
By September 2013, he went on to join the advisory board of Darktrace, a $1.65 billion AI-based cybersecurity firm which was founded by UK intelligence officials earlier that year, and the core technology of which was originally conceived by Britains version of the NSA the electronic surveillance agency GCHQ, which has just obtained unprecedented access to NHS information systems.
According to detailed analysis by DeclassifiedUK, Darktrace has an almost symbiotic relationship with the UK and US intelligence communities, with staff members coming from GCHQ, MI5, MI6, the UK Ministry of Defence, the UK military and special forces.
Documents from the Governments Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) which is supposed to regulate conflicts of interest for outgoing government officials confirm that, at the time of his departure in 2013, Lord Evans was granted approval by then Prime Minister David Cameron to become personally involved in lobbying the UK Government on behalf of his new employer namely Darktrace after two years of his last day of service.
Matt Hancock is a long-time fan of the GCHQ-seeded company advised by Lord Evans. In 2017, Darktrace was a lead member of a UK trade delegation to Singapore led by Hancock in his capacity as then Digital Minister. That year, it emerged that one of Darktraces new clients was an NHS agency, which was reportedly protected from the WannaCry malware attack by its Enterprise Immune System technology.
In July 2018, Hancock became Health and Social Care Secretary and Darktrace continued to follow him into the NHS. That month, the firm announced that it had signed a multi-million dollar contract with a Government department to deploy its technology to protect public services and citizens data, without identifying the department. A month later, the company confirmed that the NHS was scaling up its adoption of Darktrace technology to safeguard systems and patient information, including prescription and blood type data.
In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Darktrace has attempted to consolidate this work, declaring that it would offer its services to the NHS for free.
In the meantime, Lord Evans also acquired a new role as non-executive director to Ark Data Centers, a UK data storage company, in 2015. He replaced his predecessor, the former MI5 chief Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller. That same year, Ark won a 700 million four-year contract with the Cabinet Office to supply the Governments entire data centre estate, via its Crown Hosting contract.
By 2018 the same year that Darktrace began expanding its reach into the NHS Ark secured a 500 million four-year extension to the Crown Hosting framework, apparently bypassing the usual competitive tender process in the name of avoiding disruption from Brexit. Later that year, NHS trusts began taking up the Ark-backed data storage solution.
All the while, Lord Evans kept himself busy. Just the preceding year, he had taken up another non-executive directorship at the UK-based financial services firm KPMG, to sit on its Public Interest Committee. The latter is responsible for overseeing the public interest aspects of the decision-making for KPMG LLP (UK) and its related entities taking into account the legitimate interests of clients and government, among others.
Yet, KPMG has spearheaded the charge to privatise the NHS an endeavour in which Lord Evans board role implies significant oversight.
Back in October 2010, KPMGs global head of health Mark Britnell at the time a health advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron told the Apex Partners Global Healthcare Conference: In future, the NHS will be a state insurance provider not a state deliverer. The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.
An Apex Partners brochure further explained the gist of Britnells comments: In future any willing provider from the private sector will be able to sell goods and services to the system The monolithic arm of state control will be relaxed which will provide a huge opportunity for efficient private sector suppliers.
By 2015, KPMG was among several other financial services firms designated as approved suppliers to some two-thirds of the consortia bidding for the planning and supplying of care to GP commissioners in effect determining where and how the NHS budget would be spent.
During the COVID-19 crisis, KPMG secured a Government contract to oversee the management of the NHS Nightingale hospitals. The firm is also advising the Department for Work and Pensions on its response to the Coronavirus.
Many of the Nightingale hospitals have not been used and this has been hailed by some as a success in freeing up existing capacity. But, staffers at the new hospitals have said that the real bottlenecks have been the lack of appropriately-trained staff, a nationwide shortage of critical care nurses, and lack of kidney dialysis and cardiac support equipment at the hospitals for dealing with multiple organ failures meaning that they could not be used to treat the sickest patients.
Simultaneously with its influential role as a Government contractor, KPMG appears to be a key voice calling for a need to balance the economy with public health priorities.
In an April message to the firms 16,000 staff, KPMGs chairman Bill Michael wrote that at some point, we run the risk that the economic disaster will transcend the human one. But he reassured his staff that KPMG is well-placed to advise the Government on the difficult judgement to strike a balance between the health of our people and our economy.
Alongside these multiple business roles, the Government appointed Lord Evans as Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in October 2018, which advises the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the public sector. He had been approached for the post by No. 10 veteran Jonathan Hellewell, currently a special advisor to Boris Johnson on faith communities.
It would seem that Lord Evans was to be the Governments point-man in sanitising its plans for an AI revolution that would, in effect, privatise the public sector by stealth.
Earlier in 2018, Lord Evans had addressed his colleagues in the House of Lords. Noting that he was an advisor to the UK facial recognition start-up Facewatch, he extolled the benefits of scaling-up the technology comprehensively across society in transport, shops, entertainment, in public spaces, by police, Government and the private sector to enable pre-emptive action to be taken for intelligence purposes and even, eventually, evidential purposes with the right standards in place. It is also important that this should not become a bonanza for the lawyers, he added, alluding to the problem posed by privacy laws.
During his Facewatch stint, which started in 2014, the company had rapidly expanded its product, building up a database of alleged wrongdoers, whose images have been submitted by businesses who sign up to its service. Although, in theory, anyone who suspects that they have been incorrectly added to this database can appeal, as technology journalist Geoff White observes, to do that, you have to know or suspect that youre on the database, and since the company doesnt make it public, that creates a catch-22 situation your face is now being used to access stores of data about you, whos controlling those stores? How accurate are they? And how will you ever find out?
Facewatch runs a crime reporting and intelligence-sharing online platform endorsed by Secured by Design, an official UK police security initiative. It would appear that the system operates as an unaccountable, crowd-sourced blacklist which lacks any due process.
Lord Evans recused himself from his Facewatch position as he took up his new appointment at the UKs public standards watchdog. In that capacity, he oversaw a landmark report essentially urging the Government to speed ahead with a grand plan to roll-out artificial intelligence (AI) across British society, including in the NHS. While acknowledging that the Government was failing on the goal of openness in how AI is being used, the report did not advocate any major change in governance models for the public sector.
Our evidence showed that healthcare and policing currently have the most developed AI programmes, with technology being used, for example, to identify eye disease and to predict reoffending rates, though levels of system maturity differ across NHS trusts and police forces, the report stated.
The main obstacle to adoption, the report concluded, is data access: Public policy experts frequently told this review that access to the right quantity of clean, good-quality data is limited, and that trial systems are not yet ready to be put into operation. It is our impression that many public bodies are still focusing on early-stage digitalisation of services, rather than more ambitious AI projects.
Amidst some welcome recommendations for better regulatory guidance and ethics codes, the reports overall import was to clear the way for the gradual destruction of democratic process.
It dismissed the idea of an AI regulator and carefully avoided Lord Evans bugbear: new AI laws. The approach flew in the face of the recognition by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) architect Paul Nemitz, that not regulating these all pervasive and often decisive technologies by law would effectively amount to the end of democracy.
Lord Evans report was published in February 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly picking up steam. It received minimal scrutiny despite having just given the green light to a new AI era that will weaken Britains democratic checks and balances.
Though Lord Evans report acknowledged that some of the UKs most developed AI programmes are being activated in the NHS, it overlooked their wide-ranging ramifications.
In fact, the NHS has quietly been at the forefront of the Governments most ambitious AI drive yet. This is because the privatisation and transformation of the NHS is seen by the Governments top officials as the linchpin of a national biological strategy to out-compete rival economies. Sound bizarre? It is.
Two years before the public standards watchdog released its report, Matt Hancock set out his vision of preventative, predictive and personalised care, premised on a comprehensive digital transformation of the NHS in which patient data would be funnelled into the creation of new healthtech apps and services. One of the services he promoted was a smartphone app to facilitate video consultations with GPs created by start-up Babylon Health, which now sells the service to the NHS. Former Vote Leave architect Dominic Cummings was also previously a paid consultant to Babylon until July 2018, and continued to advise the company until September that year.
On 4 September 2019, No. 10 hosted a ministerial roundtable with Health Secretary Matt Hancock on life sciences and technology, inviting key private sector leaders. Attendees at the meeting included Babylon, Lord Evans Darktrace, NHS England and other firms such as Googles Deepmind, and Faculty.
Like Babylon, Faculty is intimately connected to Cummings, having serviced the Vote Leave campaigns electoral modelling work. The firms CEO, Mark Warner, is the brother of one of Cummings top technology aides in No. 10, Ben Warner. All three have sat in on meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE), which is set up to provide the Government with independent scientific advice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of responding as rapidly as possible based on public health best-practice to the novel Coronavirus, the Government has sped ahead with its ambitions for digital privatisation of the NHS.However, there is an extraordinarily dark vision behind these ambitions, which has not been fully understood.
On 13 March, the day after the Government abandoned contact tracing and as a spate of Government science advisors publicly confirmed that it was adopting a policy of herd immunity Faculty announced that it had partnered with NHSX to build its new AI lab to help drive digital transformation and the use of AI in the NHS Faculty will be helping NHSX to use and deploy cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques.
This was just a month after Lord Evans issued his committees report that largely rubber-stamped the ubiquitous spread of AI across British society.
Last year, both Faculty and Darktrace senior executives were part of a wider cohort of British AI luminaries feeding into Applied AI 1.0, a nationwide growth programme for start-ups supported by the Governments Office for Artificial Intelligence.
Faculty is the same firm which helped to configure the parameters for an Oxford University model that would form the basis for the NHSX contact tracing app. Faculty and Oxford University have denied that Faculty is working directly on the development of the app and would access the apps data. But, Faculty is simultaneously working with US big data giant Palantir on a massivedata-mining exerciseto process large volumes of confidential UK patient information in a centralised Government database.
According to a damning analysis by Dr Michael Veale, a data protection expert at University College London, under UK law, the NHSX app currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight does not preserve anonymity, can enable users to be personally identified, and is designed to systematically monitor publicly accessible spaces despite the Governments denials. Users can neither erase nor access their own data in the system.
Which all begs the question: what is this new push for mass health surveillance actually for?
Lord Jonathan Evans and Dominic Cummings were contacted for this article, but are yet to reply.
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Posted: May 13, 2020 at 7:42 pm
For many years, the eugenics mentality has been gaining ground all over the world. Currently, there are debates concerning medically assisted procreation, as well as all kinds of medical practices made possible by technical progress and technological innovation. FSSPX.News is offering a series of articles to take stock of eugenics.
What is hiding behind the eugenics term is often not well understood. Generally it has been used regarding a limited period of history, as if to imply that there is no reason to tackle this problem today. However, eugenic practices, in the most derogatory sense of the word, are very much present today and are spreading insidiously, under the pretexts of human development and freedom. To such a point that some personalities, however far removed from morality, or even foreign to all morality, are worried and are raising the alarm.
There are even men of the church, in different ways and to different degrees, to develop arguments in favor of eugenics or to justify it in certain cases. This is one of the painful chapters of the crisis that the Church has experienced for more than half a century.
The word eugenics is a recent one. According to the Etymology Dictionary it is a doctrine of progress in evolution of the human race, race-culture, from 1883, coined (along with adjectiveeugenic) by English scientist Francis Galton (1822-1911) on analogy ofethics,physics, etc. from Greekeugeneswell-born, of good stock, of noble race, fromeu-good and genosbirth (from PIE root*gene-give birth, beget).
The word indicates the discipline which studies the methods likely to improve the characteristic characters of the human populations, and the adjective which concerns or applies this discipline. () Similarly, EUGENIE n. (1930) is dated. EUGENISM n. (1887), is didactic, like EUGENIST n. (1935) and adj. (1941), borrowed from the English eugenist (n., 1908; adj., 1921); these terms are marked by their time and by their subsequent use relating to the politics of racist and dictatorial regimes. [Historical Dictionary of the French Language, Le Robert]
Larousse gives this definition: the theoretical and practical study of all the means capable ofprotecting, increasing and perfecting the most robust and best endowed elements of the human races, i.e., to safeguard the genetic quality of future generations.
The word therefore covers all the sciences and methods which seek the progress of the human race, and it is sometimes used in this very general sense. But in a more limited sense, it is above all about dealing with population problems:
1) problems concerning the quantity of the population (positive measures favorable to the increase in the number, from the prohibition of abortion and neo-Malthusian propaganda, to the institution of family benefits, tax-free family allowances, etc.; negative measures tending, on the contrary, to limit this number: contraceptive propaganda, legal abortions, sterilization, etc.);
2) problems concerning the quality of the population (measures relating to normal or pathological inheritance: positive and negative measures; and measures relating to the environment: positive prophylactic measures; or negative measures: fight against social ills, alcoholism, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases). [S. de Lestapis, Eugenique et Eugnisme in Catholicism.]
Note that these measures refer to a distinction that has become commonplace between positive eugenics which seeks to promote the reproduction of the fittest, and negative eugenics which seeks, on the contrary, to prevent the multiplication of the unfit.
Some eugenicists go so far as to promote, through appropriate methods, an artificial selection leading to the appearance of a superior race, under the guise of improving the human race. This concern, which might seem anachronistic at the start of the 21st century, when we know the repulsion it provoked as a result of its use by the Hitler regime, is present explicitly in many circles. Robert Edwards, Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2010, who carried out the first in vitro fertilization, nicknamed father of the first test-tube baby wrote: We have to improve the human race.
In order to distinguish among the different types of eugenics that exist, it is necessary to construct a historical panorama.
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Posted: at 7:42 pm
s coronavirus continues to rampage across the globe, it has become apparent that, while biologically the virus may not discriminate, it is having a much worse effect on people from ethnic minorities. As the researcher Omar Khan has noted, BAME Covid-19 deaths track existing social determinants of health such as overcrowding in homes, insecure work and lack of access to green spaces. In other words, the virus is hitting people harder not because it can see their race but because racialised people those who are categorised by societies as, say, black or brown are more vulnerable.
And this is not the only way that race is playing a role in the crisis. All around the world, minority communities are disproportionately targeted by ramped-up policing that has accompanied the enforcement of lockdown measures. Data from New South Wales in Australia reveals that, although the richer, whiter Sydney beach suburbs have the majority of Covid-19 infections, it is in the neighbourhoods with larger numbers of people of migrant origin and indigenous Australians that people have received the most fines for breaching social distancing directives. The US has seen a business-as-usual approach to police brutality targeting black people while, at the same time, groups of overwhelmingly white people in New Yorks West Village freely breached social distancing.
Some voices are uninterested in this connection between race and the virus or treat it with derision. Campaigners are twisting BAME Covid data to further their victimhood agenda, reads a commentator in the Daily Telegraph. An article in Quillette the online magazine of the so-called intellectual dark web asks the question Do Covid-19 racial disparities matter? before concluding: The fact is our culture is obsessed with race. These responses are the product of a discourse in the west that for decades has claimed that making it about race unnecessarily sensationalises an issue. But as BAME people die and suffer disproportionately from a virus, it is clear that race is about power which is very much contrary to the way that it is usually discussed.
The usual discussion of race in Britain is exemplified by conservative academics and political commentators who argue against what they see as an unhelpful leftwing moralism around issues of race and migration, which silences the concerns of a working class that they portray as uniquely white. In 2018, the online publication UnHerd organised a panel discussion originally titled Is rising ethnic diversity a threat to the west?, before this was changed following a backlash. In response to an open letter against the event signed by more than 230 academics, two of the organisers, Eric Kaufmann and Matthew Goodwin, wrote that large numbers of people across western democracies do feel under threat from immigration and rising ethnic diversity. There is no point shying away from it.
Through books, media appearances and social media, these commentators have created a climate where the conversation around race is defined by free-speech rationalists pitted against irrational antiracists. These antiracists see race everywhere, supposedly demonising and silencing everyone with concerns about migrants, Muslims or black people the same people who are now dying disproportionately of Covid-19. But race is not a category that antiracists impose on the world, or a debating point about individual morality: it is a factor that shapes the lives of the people who are racialised.
At its most extreme, this discourse has enabled a return of eugenics treating the pseudoscience as just another part of the marketplace of ideas. The seemingly benign term race realism is defended by a growing circle of pundits who argue for the spurious claims of behavioural genetics and differential IQ dividing the middle class from the poor; white and Asian from black people.
The British associate editor of Quillette magazine, Toby Young, epitomises the worrying nexus between free speech advocacy, eugenics cheerleading and now coronavirus scepticism. Young has advocated for genetically engineered intelligence to be offered to parents on low incomes with below-average IQs. He has now started Lockdown Sceptics, a website opposing measures to stem the spread of Covid-19 by staying home. It publishes links to articles by other sceptics whose past output has the common thread of opposing antiracism in the name of free speech.
Racial inequality is expressed in all dimensions of life. But given that it takes the form during the coronavirus pandemic of disproportionate deaths, the growing calls to relax social distancing measures across the global north further signal societies disregard for the lives of racialised people. This disregard was made possible in societies that declare themselves post-race by the treatment of racism as a matter of mere opinion, with commentators and activists given carte blanche to vilify migrants and Muslims, double down on anti-blackness and anti-Roma racism, and ramp up antisemitism in the interests of media balance.
The pandemic shows us that race is not a biological fact, as the race realists believe, since there is no meaningful biological explanation for the BAME experience of Covid-19. Instead it is a technology of governance that shapes the life chances of many racialised people and maintains white supremacy.
Alana Lentin is an associate professor in cultural and social analysis at Western Sydney University and author of Why Race Still Matters
Viewpoint: Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ is both deeply disturbing and more relevant than ever – Genetic Literacy Project
Posted: at 7:42 pm
Charles Darwins Descent of Man is full of unexpected delights such as the trio of hard drinking, chain-smoking koalas that appear within its first few pages to illustrate our affinity to animals.
Yet Darwins great treatise on human origins is also, in parts, deeply disturbing.
Published a century and a half ago as of February, 2021 many of the opinions expressed in this seminal text (koalas aside) are still pertinent today. Indeed, despite (or rather, because of) the recent revolution in our understanding of genetics, the Descent is more relevant than ever.
Darwins wider musings on mankind have had an immense and lasting influence on our beliefs about human nature and behavior, not just scientifically, but socially and politically as well. And while the more reprehensible later applications of evolutionary theory to human society were not truly Darwinian at all, many troubling arguments about race, class, eugenics and the like can nonetheless be discerned within his Descent of Man.
Darwins intellectual legacy is part of the DNA of modern genetics, within which still lurk like malignant metaphorical retroviruses liable to revival and resurgence many of the odious beliefs that plagued its past.
What follows, therefore, are a few brief illustrative examples of problematic passages in the Descent of Man. The point is not as is common with many of Darwins detractors to simply cherry-pick quotes to make Darwin look bad (although, unfortunately, this is easy to do); rather it is to highlight how Darwin himself struggled with the social implications of his theory and this despite the many decades he had to dwell on these questions. Indeed, the rapid, recent explosion in our knowledge of genetics has not made the situation clearer, but rather more confused.
But lets begin with the contrast of some of the more captivating aspects of the Descent those which provide a glimpse of Darwin as an actual human being. (The on-going fascination with Darwin and the impetus for the seemingly inexhaustible Darwin Industry is not just due to his ideas and his genius, but also because he was a fascinating individual.)
Within the first few pages of Chapter 1, for example, Darwin notes that [m]any kinds of monkeys have a strong taste for tea, coffee, and spirituous liquors: they will also, as I have seen, smoke tobacco with pleasure. Not content with this as a single amusing anecdote of animals addictive affinities to mankind, he proceeds to discuss the three koalas mentioned above ones that acquired a strong taste for rum, and for smoking tobacco and an American Ateles monkey that, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus was wiser than many men. He also delights in describing the consequences for a group of African baboons of over-indulgence in strong beer:
On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiful expression: when beer or wine was offered them, they turned away with disgust
Similar endearing animal anecdotes pepper the rest of the text, culminating after chapter upon chapter of detailed argument and speculation on the evolutionary origins of mankind (plus an extended interlude of the theory of sexual selection) with the rousing conclusion that we should not feel much shame, if forced to acknowledge that the blood of some more humble creature flows in [our] veins.
For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper; or from that old baboon, who, descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogsas from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions.
Darwin clearly liked animals better than people. Less facetiously, it is lurid passages such as these that make modern readers uncomfortable. Admittedly, this particular quotation does come straight after another glimpse of Darwin as an actual person; already in his sixties when he wrote these words, he evokes the memories of his 20-something self, aboard the Beagle, on first seeing a party of Fuegians on a wild and broken shore:
The astonishment which I felt will never be forgotten by me for the reflection at once rushed into my mindsuch were our ancestors. These men were absolutely naked and bedaubed with paint, their long hair was tangled, their mouths frothed with excitement, and their expression was wild, startled, and distrustful.
Given a modern appreciation of the manifold horrors of colonialism, it is a thorny question how we should deal with descriptions that clearly reflect the prejudices of their author. Does such obvious subjective opinion, for example, undermine the purportedly objective arguments that accompany it?
In this instance at least we can perhaps make allowances; after all, the first encounter between Darwin a wealthy young man from what was then the most technologically-advanced nation in the world and the Stone Age inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego must indeed have been astonishing. Moreover, unlike his cousin Francis Galton (who both coined and promoted the concept of eugenics), Darwin was not an explicit racist. (His loathing of slavery, for instance, comes across particularly strongly in the Journal of the Voyage of the Beagle.) Yet Darwin was also a product of a time when it seemed patently obvious that the English (and possibly the Scots) were the first among the civilized races. Further, the Descent also reflects the prevailing concept of a human hierarchy, descending from Europeans through the various barbarous, savage or lower races to mankinds closest living relatives amongst the anthropomorphous apes.
In a now-notorious passage, Darwin ranks the native inhabitants of Africa and Australia as just above the gorilla in the natural scale. At the same time, he callously concludes that the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.
Nor was Darwins chauvinism confined simply to other races the lower classes of his own society were equally a target for his blatant prejudice. Indeed, as he remarks, at least [w]ith savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.
We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.
And it is perhaps here that Darwins legacy even if distorted and exaggerated by the likes of Galton is most worrying in the modern age of embryonic screening, genetic manipulation and, potentially, genetically-enhanced designer babies. Today we are increasingly able to use genetic techniques to eliminate deleterious genes such as those for Huntingtons disease from future generations. But where is the line between an obviously harmful trait and an undesirable one? Is termination of fetuses with Down syndrome actually eugenics? Or what about those screened as having autism?
In Darwins pre-genetic age, these were questions that could not yet be asked, let alone answered. Of more relevance, however, was Darwins personal concern, having married his first cousin, Emma Wedgewood, with the possible inherited ill-effects of inbreeding on his own children. But even here, as he confidently asserts in the Descent, science would eventually come up with an answer:
When the principles of breeding and inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan for ascertaining whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to man.
Yet while science can certainly inform our moral (or, in this case, legal) decisions, it cannot decide them facts do not determine values. Darwin half-heartedly acknowledges this when he concedes we ought not check our sympathy [for the weak], even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.
In the concluding paragraph to the Descent of Man, he goes on to claim, we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason allows us to discover it. And while many of Darwins own hopes and fears appear inextricably tangled with his subjective version of the truth, it is his final closing description of humankinds noble qualities and exalted powers that perhaps shows the way beyond these ethical dilemmas: the sympathy which feels for the most debased, the benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, and our godlike intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system.
Modern genetics now allows us to penetrate into the very constitution of life itself. Informed by the history of what Darwin and his followers got right and what they got wrong, surely we can extend our sympathy, our benevolence and our godlike intellect to confront the moral demons that this new exalted power has conjured in our path.
Patrick Whittle has a PhD in philosophy and is a freelance writer with a particular interest in the social and political implications of modern biological science. Follow him on his website patrickmichaelwhittle.com or on Twitter @WhittlePM
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Posted: at 7:42 pm
Jewish ethicist Paul Root Wolpe will discuss Ethical Challenges of the COVID Pandemic in this years Tzedek Lecture on Thursday, May 14.
The Oregon Humanities Center talk will start at 4 p.m. on Zoom.Registration is required.
Wolpe will speak on emerging ethical issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Included will be questions about allocating scarce resources; inherent biases of age, class, race and disability; privacy; the ethics of social distancing; and the importance of leadership.
Wolpe is the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics and director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, where he is a professor in the departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Sociology.
Wolpes work focuses on the social, religious, ethical and ideological effects of medicine and technology on the human condition. His teaching and publications range across multiple fields of bioethics and sociology, including death and dying, genetics and eugenics, sexuality and gender, mental health and illness, alternative medicine, and bioethics in extreme environments such as space.
He also writes and talks about the Jewish contribution to thinking about the ethical aspects of medicine and technology.
Wolpe, a member of Atlantas Congregation Shearith Israel, participates in Scientists in Synagogues, a program that explores interesting and pressing questions surrounding Judaism and science. He is the son of the late Rabbi Gerald I. Wolpe, one of the great figures in American Jewish life, and brother of Rabbi David Wolpe, the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.
Wolpe spent 15 years as a senior bioethicist for NASA, where he still serves as a bioethical consultant. He is the editor in chief of theAmerican Journal of BioethicsNeuroscience. He is a past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, the current president of the Association of Bioethics Program Directors and served as the first national bioethics adviser to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Posted: at 7:42 pm
Image Description: Books on a shelf about eugenics.
Warning: this article refers to content which may be considered disturbing, including incitement to hatred, physical violence, racism, ableism, eugenics, and Nazis. It also discusses trigger warnings, triggering content, prejudice, discrimination, and hate crimes.
The most frustrating thing in the debate about the SU motion, and in the broader societal discourse it represents, is that so many people refuse to acknowledge that it is a matter of where to draw the line. Both sides agree that sometimes free speech should be curbed to prevent harm. Thats why incitement to hatred is illegal. And both sides agree that free speech should not be curbed by people being mildly irritated. Calling someone stupid is not very nice, but we should not ban the word.
The point is that there are two key qualities which are incompatible, and hence we must draw a line. Legally, in the UK, the line between freedom of expression and preventing harm has been represented by hate speech. Where we put the line depends on the context: the legal context is one of effectively banning speech by illegalising it. The debate about the SU motion? Also, at its core, about free speech and preventing harm. But we can have a slightly lower bar than the UKs legal bar because we are not banning speech. We are just making it non-mandatory and giving it trigger warnings.
But it would be helpful if people like Dawkins could recognise that the SU is sometimes right. Moreover, if the SU could recognise that Dawkins is sometimes right. Let me illustrate. Imagine a 20-minute long video portraying in graphic detail the physical violence involved in a warincluding gruesome shots of people being shot. I think Dawkins and everyone on the side of free speech shouting about snowflakes would agree that this should not be mandatory. They would probably agree that before being shown it, we would expect a warning of what is to come. If you are not convinced by this example, just make the content more and more graphicat some point, you will agree. There are some things people should not be forced to see, even for the sake of education. Butobviouslynot everything. Some things must be mandatory.
So, the simple question is this: where do we draw the line? How do we define which content counts, and which does not? It is worth really emphasising this: the definitions matter. Not only do they matter, but they are vital when discussing and resolving this debate. Because the real disagreement is about where we should locate the definition. The reason why there is so much debate and concern echoed by moral philosophers and commentators on Twitter alike is because they worry about the definition setting too low a barespecially when it is imprecise. So, if we really do want to introduce TWs and non-mandatory content, it is worth getting this right.
There are some things people should not be forced to see, even for the sake of education. Butobviouslynot everything. Some things must be mandatory.
And that is why the SU motion failed usbecause their motion was devoid of definitions, sloppy, and unclear. It is also why the debate around it is always so slippery and inconclusive. For where did they draw the line and thus what did the motion achieve? Those who are in favour of the general sentiment, or align themselves with the SU/liberally, interpret it as drawing the line where they feel it should be. No wonder, then, that they support it. Those shouting about free speech and snowflakes are also imagining up a line. Moreover, they are imagining it being so low as to genuinely threaten free speech. No wonder, then, that they are so vocally against it.
But no ones ever going to resolve the debate when we are at crossroads like this. We need to look not at where the SU might have drawn the line, or what they might have intended. Rather, we should look at what the SU did, and where they drew the line. I think we should interpret the SUs intentions charitably. Maybe they did have a clear line in mindmaybe they intended to draw a line which is well-motivated. But that is not what is on paper. That is not what the motion does.
Let us first consider the intention to make certain content non-mandatory. What definition did they use to define whether content should be mandatory rather than non-mandatory? Well, officially, the appendix defines this as content which would legally be considered criminal hate speech. Thats assuming that concept is applied to trans, non-binary, disabled, working-class, and women* groups, as well as those already protected. But in the Council Notes section 2, it suggests setting guidelines on non-mandatory content based on what is prejudicial towards these same groups.
So, which is it? Prejudicial content, or criminal hate speech? And it matters because they are completely different. When Boris Johnson wrote the disgusting phrase regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies, he was unequivocally being prejudicial. But it was not criminal hate speech. The SU draws two very different lines, and it is unclear why. This is sloppy, and as I will explore, it has extremely problematic consequences.
One worry is that this falsely equates prejudicial content with criminal hate speech. As I say, these are not the same. That is why they are dealt with separately in the law. The CPS notes that a hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property. Sure, these things might be done on the grounds of prejudicethen it would be a hate crime. But prejudicial content itself is not a hate crime.
And that is why the SU motion failed usbecause their motion was devoid of definitions, sloppy, and unclear. It is also why the debate around it is always so slippery and inconclusive. For where did they draw the line and thus what did the motion achieve?
Its clear that the SU doesnt really mean to make use of the criminal hate speech criterion because the *one* example it gives as the sort of content that ought to be non-mandatory wouldnt itself be considered criminal hate speech. Yes, the article entitled Why We Should Pick the Best Children is prejudiced. But it does not constitute verbal abuse, intimidation, threatening, harassment, assault/bullying or damage to property. And the protection of freedom of expression explicitly states that this does not prohibit or restrict discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule [or] insult.
Just to give an example, in 2009 Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were acquitted after insulting Ericka Tazi for wearing a hijab. If insulting someone for wearing a hijab does not count as criminal hate speech, it is unlikely insulting someone for their disability counts. Certainly, the items on the reading list would not.
Some may think that content which does not amount to criminal hate speech should be non-mandatoryin which case, the SU motion was insufficient. Others may think that this definition is about rightbut then, the SUs example and the intent was wrongin which case, the SU motion was insufficient. There is a common theme: the SU motion was insufficientand all because it was sloppy with definitions.
Either way, the fact that their example does not count as criminal hate speech leaves us with just prejudicial as a definitionwhich is far too low a bar. But before I explain why, note that the SU determines content should have a TW on the same basisif it is prejudicial. The phrase trigger warning is used just once in the entire motion and appendix; as it happens, in the last sentence of the appendix. There it proposes introducing TWs for prejudicial material. But content should not be made non-mandatory (or require a TW) just because it is prejudicial. Prejudicial is too low a bar to set.
Some may think that content which does not amount to criminal hate speech should be non-mandatory Others may think that this definition is about rightbut then, the SUs example and intent was wrong There is a common theme: the SU motion was insufficientand all because it was sloppy with definitions.
Lets start by showing how setting too low a bar for content to become non-mandatory is genuinely and seriously problematic. That is if we made all content which irritates people non-mandatory; or content we dislike, annoys us, or that we simply disagree with. All these stifle debate and stop people from engaging with rival or opposing views. And no matter what, you will have to come across such beliefs in the worldit is part of life to disagree and get a bit annoyed. And the benefit of engaging with irritating content is that we engage with other viewpoints. But also that we learn about other viewpoints: what they are, why people believe them, and how we might convince others to change their mind. These are key reasons we should engage with prejudicial content.
Consider content which discusses Nazi propaganda. Nazi propaganda is certainly prejudicial. But should such content be made non-mandatory? Absolutely not. How can one learn about what happened without understanding what the Nazis believed? How can one appreciate the dangers of something similar happening againand how to stop itwithout understanding what the Nazis were saying? And how can one convince the very few contemporary Nazi sympathisers they are wrong without engaging with their prejudiced views? One cannot. Engaging with prejudicial views is as essential to a university education as engaging with positions one dislikes or disagrees with.
But there are times when Nazi propaganda, or prejudicial content more generally, should be made non-mandatory. For instance, when it commonly evokes feelings of trauma or severe distress in people. But this content should not be made non-mandatory because it is prejudicial, but because it is triggering.
That is my proposal for how the SU should have gone about this. Content should be made non-mandatory if it is genuinely psychologically triggering. This goes neatly together with my other proposal: we should introduce trigger warnings for triggering content, not prejudicial content. And, bonus: this makes it super clear which content is/is not mandatory: the content with TWs is non-mandatory.
If we made all content which irritates people non-mandatory; or content we dislike, annoys us, or that we simply disagree with. All these stifle debate and stop people from engaging with rival or opposing views. And no matter what, you will have to come across such beliefs in the worldit is part of life to disagree and get a bit annoyed.
But that is not what the SU proposed. Their proposal only mentioned TWs once and did not attempt to define them. Sure, its really hard to define when trigger warnings should be introducedyou have to account for what counts as feelings of trauma. Moreover, you have to consider how commonly a stimulus must cause such feelings in people to require a trigger warning. But the SU didnt even try, nor did they outsource the definition to an appropriate body that has done the job for them. Guy Boysens article comes to mind.
(c.f. Evidence-based answers to questions about trigger warnings for clinically-based distress: A review for teachers).
Trigger warnings should be reserved for content, which is genuinely triggering, not just prejudicial. One could introduce content warnings (CWs) for that. But that is another debate. Equivocating prejudicial and triggering content trivialises TWs. So many people as it completely misunderstands the entire concept of triggers. Therefore, the last thing we should do is completely misrepresent and trivialise them.
And this trivialisation of TWs can be found in the SU motion, which was marked with a TW for misogyny. The only word in the entire motion (and its appendix) which could be considered misogynistically triggering is misogyny (or derivatives) itself. And this obviously cannot be triggering because the very word appears in the trigger warning itself! Where they find misogynistically triggering content in the Councils motion/appendix, I do not know. Similarly of the TWs for transphobia and classism. The only trigger warnings which arguably do apply are ableism and eugenics because of the mention of the FHS Medical Law and Ethics reading list titles.
A recent article eloquently explained that reading could be triggering because it questions someones existence based on their identityincluding, for example, a disability. This is an extremely valid discussion, and it is not an open-and-shut case. It is not clear whether such content is triggering or should amount to hate speechbut I agree with the author that such content hinders rather than helps students learning. In short, as Kate Manne wrote, trigger warnings are not about feelings being highly unpleasant or prejudiced but about them temporarily render[ing] people unable to focus, regardless of their desire or determination to do so.
Trivialisation of TWs can be found in the SU motion, which was marked with a TW for misogyny. The only word in the entire motion (and its appendix) which could be considered misogynistically triggering is misogyny (or derivatives) itself. And this obviously cannot be triggering because the very word appears in the trigger warning itself!
In response, I think it would be easy to slightly broaden our definition to make content that questions someones existence based on their identity non-mandatory and include content warnings for them. And we can do this without making the far more problematic, broad-sweeping, and vague definition about prejudicial content.
But that is not what the SU did. So, what does their proposal entail?
Firstly, by being so utterly unclear, future interpretations about what content should be non-mandatory/display TWs could range from any mildly upsetting content to only incitement to hatred. But the latter is far too high a bar and does not rule out enough content. Hence, the SU motions sloppiness might enable future commentators to completely undermine the intention of the motion.
Yet more worrying is the mildly upsetting interpretation, under which virtually all content would be non-mandatory, and feature TWs. By their own demonstration, any content including the word misogynistic should have a TW, which is ludicrous. The reason for this is that the motion entirely fails to distinguish directly prejudicial from indirectly prejudicial content. Consider the difference between contemporary content arguing in favour of the holocaust and historical studies of the holocaust that quote historical content arguing in favour of the holocaust. The former I call directly prejudicialand indeed, directly counts as hate speech. The latter is indirectly prejudicial: it is not itself prejudicial, or hate speech, but it features content that is.
I imagine that the motion primarily meant to make content non-mandatory if it directly counts as criminal hate speech or is directly prejudicial. But there is no real reason why the embedded hate speech in indirectly hateful content would be less triggering than the hate speech indirectly hateful content. Quotations of Nazi propaganda are as capable of render[ing] people unable to focus and triggering feelings of trauma as the Nazi propaganda itself.
So, the motion would not only rule out all content that is directly prejudicial but all content that is indirectly prejudicialwhich includes virtually any work of history or literature. And this is unbelievably problematic. Is it wrong to make a lecture mandatory which, in a discussion of Martin Luther King Jr., considers the prejudice levelled against him and other people based on race by looking at quotations which are prejudicial? As far as I am concerned, no one can engage with the issue of the Civil Rights movement without considering the prejudicial beliefs and statements faced at the time. That is why it should be mandatory.
Consider the difference between contemporary content arguing in favour of the holocaust, and historical studies of the holocaust that quote historical content arguing in favour of the holocaust. The former I call directly prejudicialand indeed, directly counts as hate speech. The latter is indirectly prejudicial: it is not itself prejudicial, or hate speech, but it features content that is.
And if such a low bar is adopted, it would not even help. If we start adding TWs to the majority of items, students avoiding these TWs will feel like theyre stuck with two rubbish options. Either they could risk reading content marked with a TW because theyre overwhelmingly commonwhich is unfair on them. Or, they could stick with reading an insufficient part of the reading listwhich is not only unfair on them academically but also undermines academic engagement with a variety of viewsthe whole point of university. Similarly to making most of the content non-mandatory. And, as noted, it would massively trivialise TWs.
Most worrying of all is the ominous last line of the appendix. This states that prejudicial content should require trigger warnings at a bare minimum. In combination with the fact that it fails to define what counts as prejudicial content, this predicts extremely oppressive future policies. Do we ban all prejudicial content? Even indirectly prejudicial content? Do we ostracise or even kick out people promoting or discussing it?
The SU may have not intended for the potential consequences I have discussed, where completely benign items are made non-mandatory. Or where virtually nothing on the history syllabus is mandatory, and where virtually everything requires a trigger warning. But the devil truly is in the details because intention doth butter no parsnips when it comes to subsequent interpretation and actual consequences. When looking back on what has been passed on paper (or rather, over the internet), the original intentions and the context in which it was written will be irrelevant and lost to the winds of time. The scarily broad applications I have highlighted could be enforced.
I can hear people saying that being pedantic like this is not good enough reason to quash the motion. But we should judge the motion not on what it may or may not have intended, but on what it does. Scrutinising keywords and definitions is vital to determining what a policy achieves. Imagine a political policy which intends to help the least well-off in society but does notit is in fact to the detriment of the least well-off. Should we cheer on the political policy because of its good intentions, or criticise its actual consequences and shortcomings? I know where I stand.
The devil truly is in the details because intention doth butter no parsnips when it comes to subsequent interpretation and actual consequences. When looking back on what has been passed on paper the original intentions and the context in which it was written will be irrelevant and lost to the winds of time. The scarily broad applications I have highlighted could be enforced.
So, criticisms of the SU motion are valid. The intention behind it may or may not have been right, but there is no point criticising or praising their intentions since they are so unclear. And anyway, criticising what a motion does is not the same as criticising its intention. And what it does is bad. The motion trivialises TWs. It hinders intellectual engagement. It enables restrictions on academic free speech. So, I suppose, Dawkins was right.
Mental health, trigger warnings and the rights of minority students are so important. And they do have a tough battle. So, we owe it to students to deal with them properly. And this SU motion completely fails to do so.
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As the racial, class and demographic implications of the coronavirus are in full view, eugenics dictates that the elderly, prisoners, people of color, immigrants and poor and working folks who are vulnerable and unable to work at home via Zoom are expendable.
Pandemics know no politics, and yet President Trump, Republican Party leaders and members of the GOP base have weaponized coronavirus for the culture wars, placing American capitalism over human lives and responding to this disease by presumably asserting a right to die without an oppressive lockdown, all for the sake of capital. It seems misplaced for these individuals, predominantly white conservatives, to demand that everyone return to work and reopen the economy, even as we have yet to reach the height of a deadly outbreak. White Christian nationalism is taking on the plague with potentially disastrous results.
Once again, white Christian nationalists prioritize profits over lives. This time, they worship an unholy triumvirate of the Golden Calf, White Jesus and Donald Trump.
As Democratic governors of the northeast, Midwest and West take COVID-19 seriously, take precautions and form consortia to protect their states in the absence of presidential leadership, the GOP has made coronavirus a political issue. Some Republican governors have taken a lax approach to the pandemic, and in some cases such as South Dakota have not only refused to issue a statewide lockdown despite the disease running rampant in meat processing plants and nursing home facilitiesbut have framed the resistance to stay at home orders as an issue of individual liberty. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested that elders would gladly die to save the American economy, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina are allowing businesses to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened the beaches, and even considered reopening schools based on the false belief the virus does not affect children.
Trump ally Jerry Falwell Jr. opened Liberty University after Spring Break, and unsurprisingly, students exhibited symptoms of coronavirus infection. Trump wanted to fill the church pews with worshippers on Easter Sunday, and conservative judges in Wisconsin forced voters to walk through a plague to vote, rather than postpone the state primary election. More recently, protestersincluding some sporting guns, waving Confederate flags, blocking ambulances and holding antisemitic signshave participated in anti-quarantine protests. These Astroturf actions to open the country are affiliated with the Koch Brothers, the Heritage Foundation and billionaire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoswho is also associated with the placement of kidnaped migrant children into Christian foster care. Trump adviser Stephen Moore compared the protestors engaged in acts of civil disobedienceapparently the right to infect others to Rosa Parks. This, as Vice President Pence defends Trumps tweets fanning the flames of dissent and encouraging acts of armed insurrection and terrorismby calling for the liberation of Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia from stay-at-home orders.
While it is possible to chalk up some of this reactionary, irrational and toxic behavior to the peculiarities of the death cult that comprises the Trumpian basewith their unhinged pronouncements of fake news and Democratic hoax conspiracy theoriesfar more is at play here.
Red stateswhich include the former states of the Confederacy, the ideological successors to the Dixiecratshave a long legacy of disregarding human rights and the well-being of people, a legacy of slavery, segregation and lynching. These states, for all their pro-life rhetoric, have high rates of poverty and other negative health and socioeconomic outcomes. Racism and fundamentalism breed phony science and science denial, whether climate change denial and the belief Jesus rode on dinosaurs, or pseudoscience to justify slavery by claiming Blacks were inferior to whites, or that slaves suffered from a mental illness that made them run away.
Remember that white supremacyof which the Trump administration is an adherentalways ends in death. White Christian nationalists do not follow the theology of a Palestinian Jewish refugee of color who healed the sick and cared for the least among us. Rather, theirs is the religion of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus of fiction, the religion of the slave masterreminiscent of the redacted Slave Bible that omitted 90 percent of the Old Testament and half of the New Testamentincluding passages related to the liberation of the Israelites, rebellion and equalityand taught enslaved Africans to obey their masters.
For centuries, get back to work! has been the clarion call of white Christian capitalists who cared little about the health and welfare of human beings, and were concerned foremost with amassing wealth for a small group of white men.
In the name of Jesus, white Christians committed genocide against indigenous people, and kidnaped millions of Africans in the Transatlantic slave tradewith 40 Africans dying in the Middle Passage of infectious disease, malnourishment and brutality for every 100 who made it to the New World. White Christian slave masters who murdered their slaves and worked them to death were concerned with profit, not the lives of black people, as death was baked into the cake and part of the business model. This, as hundreds of thousands of poor white Christian men died for the Confederacy to preserve an economic system that rendered their labor superfluous, and filled the coffers of the Southern aristocracy.
Similarly, there was no concern for the health of black prison laborers of the Jim Crow convict lease systemwho were imprisoned under the Black Codes for bogus offenses such as vagrancy and rented out to plantations, corporations, mines and railroadsand the forced laborers who toiled in Ford and General Motors plants in Nazi Germany.
David A. LoveBlackCommentator
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