Short-termism

the zeitgeist of now

See too: “Mask Wars” by J.H.K.

Abstract

The essay considers the prospect of large-scale, ethically motivated (individualistic) short-term sacrifice taking place for the assumed longer-term (collective) common good. Put differently, it considers the likelihood of the deferral of immediate gratification occurring; the not eating of one’s cake today so that one (or indeed, one’s offspring) can have it tomorrow. Put specifically, this essay will ask why it seems possible for world governments and international institutions to act quickly and decisively when met with a crisis like Coronavirus (Covid-19) yet seemingly be incapable of acting in such a way when it comes to tackling the longstanding issues of desertification, overfishing and rainforest destruction (i.e., the catchall: ‘environmental crisis’).[1]  In sum, I will argue that the reason is simple: today’s humankind have been conditioned to act and think in the short-term, to take pleasures today and bury their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with the consequences. This is exemplified in activities such as binging on Netflix (resulting in overtiredness and the propensity to eat junk food the following day); spending on credit cards (whereby the hard graft of actually earning is deferred to a future date); overconsumption (that is causing unsustainable natural resource depletion) and, indulging in meat eating (which directly leads to yet more natural resource depletion and, greater likelihood of more zoonotic diseases, resultant from the homogenisation of animals and factory farming).[2]  I will argue that because Covid-19 is an immediate problem, government and citizenry seem able to forfeit a lot in an attempt to tackle it ‘now’; however, because the global environmental crisis is seen as a longer-term, abstract and theoretical problem, the political will to make big sacrifices—policies that enforce radical lifestyle changes—is lacking and are, it seems. easy to defer to a non-binding ‘future’ point in time.

Introduction

It has been argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an impressive level of large-scale inter-governmental coordinated action. However, the extent to which the action is coordinated or unilateral is not yet an established fact.[3]  Nonetheless, there clearly has been a great deal of collaboration (be it helping to repatriate citizens, the sharing of research for an inoculation etc.). So, if such collaboration on global issues has now been proven possible, would it not be possible to believe that something similar could happen with respect to the environmental crisis? To answer this question, we would first need to consider if the Covid-19 pandemic is in any way analogous with the environmental crisis? Incidentally, a strong case for directly linking this pandemic to the environmental crisis can be made (consider, e.g., factory farming, overpopulation, and rapid unregulated urbanisation). There are indeed many interconnected questions. What possible lessons might be got from the globe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for addressing the environmental crisis? What role may international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) play in bringing about such transformative measures? As Weizsäcker and Wijkman (2017) point out, while leading governments now, “claim to recognise the need to change our way of life, “if we are to survive as a species,” it is far from clear if they actually appreciate, “just how radical that change needs to be.” Lastly, what can concerned individuals do in relation to self-sacrifice for the greater good—not eating the honey to ensure generations to come can have some on their tongues? Does the adage, “think globally, act locally,” still suffice?[4]

This essay will consider the role of ethical sacrifice in effective action on the current pandemic and how that might be extended to effective action on the environment. It will proceed as follows. Firstly, it will consider the issue at hand, the quarantine we in the Arabian Gulf and those in many other parts of the globe are placed under because of Covid-19 (“The issue at stake”). It then considers possible ways of addressing the environmental crisis in light of responses to the current pandemic from the theoretical standpoints of utilitarianism and deontology (“Hypothetical speaking”). The essay then moves on to look at how we tend to opt for immediate gratification even if we half think we would get greater gratification by delaying it, this is made into a honey today allegory throughout this text (“Short-termism”). The next section considers the mechanisms by which such acts of short-term self-sacrifice may actually take place in an ethically sound and non-coercive way (“Implications of large-scale coordinated action”). In the essay’s final part (“Concluding remarks”) research is referred to that implies there are ways to overcome humankind’s propensity to opt for a teaspoon of honey today as opposed to a very likely—but not guaranteed—tablespoon tomorrow.

The issue at stake

As I write all university students in the Arabian Gulf are in self-quarantine (as are many other categories of people; international travel has essentially stopped and most forms of social gatherings have been halted). This period of self-quarantine is in most countries mandatory, varying degrees of punishment are given for those not obeying these orders. The question this essay considers is more focused on the justification for the quarantine than the right of authorities to impose it upon us. Specifically, how can policymakers and think-tanks concerned with the environmental crisis learn from the measures and restrictions rapidly imposed by governments the world over and the general acceptance of citizens to accept these.

Environmentalists have a hard task (not least because overconsumption and going to shopping malls to buy things whether we need them or not seem to now be the pastime of all those in the world who can afford to or have credit cards). As O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 233) put it, “people have self-control problems.” Environmentalists have to somehow tackle the extent to which the idea of Social Darwinism has become the norm in schools, welfare systems and society at large. As Von Weizsäcker & Wijkman (2017, pp. 6–7) explain the way that Social Darwinism has become blindly accept as the way of things, “right and proper” and even “an iron law of nature” in which “only the most competitive should survive” poses a huge challenge. The notion of survival of the fittest, in my view, does not apply to all species and especially not social ones like us. However, it is easy to see why those wanting to maximise their profits and retain all of their wealth for themselves would propagate Social Darwinism as an immutable truism. Secondly, and in a not unconnected way, environmentalists need to tackle the de facto way in which businesses now operate today, a culture in which the free market doctrine of Milton Friedman is seen as gospel in public management systems worldwide (see, e.g., Klein, 2007).

If we take the point of view that this current quarantine is for the greater good, what arguments could we make to convince sceptics of the merit of self-sacrifice in relation to addressing the root causes of global warming? (i.e., what are the key points to make in order to encourage the public to accept and lawmakers enact self-quarantine legislation). We will also need to ask what a proper ethical framework for understanding the role of sacrifice and large-scale coordinated action with respect to such events ought to be. Such understandings will help give insights in how to better deal with the environmental crisis. Any such insight would need to articulate clear roles for international organisations—e.g., WHO, the World Trade Organisation and other UN bodies—governments and citizens to play. Such roles will need to be conveyed in a consensual way in order to be affective. The truth is most people would prefer a future of uncontrolled chaos than a future where everything is clean and green if the price to pay for the latter is to be bossed around and always told what to do.

Hypothetically speaking

Philosophically speaking we could adopt a utilitarian or a deontological perspective in order to justify self-quarantine as the ethically and morally appropriate thing to do. We may then extend the same logic to further acts of individualistic self sacrifice in order to tackle the environmental crisis. To be clear, in the theoretical sense, “utilitarianism” places the focus on the pros and cons of the consequences of any given set of government policies or personal lifestyle choices; it looks beyond self-interest in the here and now and focuses on the common or collective interests of others at a later point in time. The “deontological” differs in that it focuses on the ethical implications (rights and wrongs) of the actions now and not the consequences of those actions at a future point in time.

As we know, democracy is compromise and as we know too, being too dogmatic in one’s views is neither progressive or likely to result in new inventions and forms of creative art. Therefore, it seems to me that in the real world, thinkers and philosophers should not advocate exclusively utilitarian or deontological arguments for dealing with the environmental crisis (and/or the current Covid-19 pandemic). It might help to think of the “carrot or the stick” analogy. As opposed to it being a binary choice, a one or the other, it should be a combination of the two: a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. The question then becomes how much carrot and how much stick?

As Fisher (2019) points out, the discounting of the needs of future generations is analogous to “burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.” The logic is as follows: if a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today (‘now’) then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on that same piece of glass in a millennia or so from now (in the ‘future’) but basically and ‘ethically’, “there is no difference between the two.” Giving in to temptation (e.g., scrolling through an infinite number of Instagram posts as opposed to finishing the research essay) leads to immediate gratification (e.g., happiness from effortlessly looking at satisfying things), but also to delayed negative outcomes (e.g., anxiety and a lower score for a essay submitted after the deadline date). On the other hand, resisting temptation (e.g., drafting and redrafting the research essay) does not make one feel good in the here and now but should result in delayed positive outcomes (e.g., a well received essay with a high grade awarded to it)—see the research of Magen and Gross (2007) on ‘temptation’; a key human tendency.

If we watch TED talks or listen to Big Think or Intelligence Squared debates it seems to be so that the longevity of humankind depends on us reducing our honey consumption rather radically to enable (in theory) our grand and great grandchildren to partake in this heavenly delight too. They key questions seem to be (1) is it, or can it become, part of human nature to be altruistic enough to care about people we will not even be alive to walk and talk with? And if so, (2) what will it take to break free from the short-termist ways so many of today’s humans seem to have adopted?

Short-termism

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding argued in the mid 1970s; “if one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” Just imagine, Fisher (2019) ponders, how would Boulding react to today’s “relentless, Twitter-fuelled politics” and the non-stop fashion advice etc. that we are bombarded with on a daily basis as a consequence of the internet of things and our love/hate affair with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. As Fisher (2019) states, it is little wonder that “problems like climate change feel so hard to tackle right now.” He asks, “how often do we contemplate the impact of our decisions as they ripple into the decades and centuries ahead?” (see Appendix B). As Magen and Gross (2007 p. 415) put it, today temptations surround us—“sugar-coated donuts [and] distracting TV shows—critically these things all have one thing in common, the “promise [of] immediate pleasure and delayed suffering.” They go on to articulate how less obvious forms of temptations are also potential sources of harm to us and others—e.g., “driving too fast, speaking angrily, and procrastinating”—and caution that the struggle against temptations is “constant, and success is far from assured.”

In a seminal study that sought to investigate the antecedents and correlates of choice behaviour with respect to the delaying of gratification, Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 411) observed that

Yielding to temptation—in a situation in which attainment of achievement rewards is contingent upon deviant (cheating) behaviour—was conceptualised to be a function of (a) the strength of the motivation to attain the prohibited gratification, and (b) the inability to delay immediate gratification.

Some psychologists have used the metaphor of a “horse and rider” to describe this tension between our rationality and urges, “the rider knows it is smart to think longer-term, but the horse has its own ideas” (Fisher, 2019). This begs the question, if we are susceptible to ignoring the wellbeing of our own health the day after tomorrow, it is even harder to imagine how most people will have real empathy for their yet to be born descendants. This focus on self-interest and short-termism is most obviously seen in politics (doing what is necessary to be popular today and not what is best for the given country’s longer-term interest) and economics (consumption over and above necessity).

As Semuels (2016) has argued, once upon a time, what was good for many business tended to be good for the country as a whole, “companies invested in their workers and new technologies, and as a result, they prospered and their employees did too.” Today things are different. They are different because people want to have their honey today, not to delay for a possibly larger and possibly tastier quantity of honey tomorrow. There is now widespread concern that businesses are too focused on short-term profits and are thus not, “investing in their workers, in research, or in technology—short-term costs that would reduce profits temporarily” (Semuels, 2016).

Implications of large-scale coordinated action

Beckstead (2013 p. ii) has put forward the following thesis, from a global perspective, “what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years.” This sounds and seems to be utilitarian in nature for it suggests that future generations are of more import that our current one. We most of us have tasted some honey, those yet to be born certainly have not. What right do we have to deny them this delicious opportunity? The issue soon becomes technical and difficult because who knows what are the best actions for us to take ‘now’ to ensure that we can best ensure there is honey available to be tasted in the ‘future’?

One way of trying to measure this is use Social Discount Rates (SDRs). SDRs might be used to put a present value on costs and benefits that will occur at a later date” (LSE, 2018). In the context of tackling the environmental crisis, SDRs might be used to calculate and forecast how much today’s society should invest in trying to limit the impacts of climate change for tomorrow’s generations. In other words, they calculate how much self-sacrifice will probably be needed in the here and now in order to ensure the generations of the future will still have a natural environment to enjoy and utilise in a sustainable way. SDRs are designed to weigh future people’s benefits against the costs borne by us today (we self-sacrifice by self-quarantining; we could then self-sacrifice by reducing the number of times we travel by air for holidays and pleasure).

This all gets complicated because nobody really knows how much we should sacrifice. Imagine for instance international travel, should we tell rich people to only take one holiday per year, would they accept this? Which government could win elections with such promises? According to Hodgkinson (2014), the main issue in terms of addressing the environmental crisis is that, if the world’s key governments and institutions were to agree to reduce carbon emissions now, “people living in the future will benefit, not those living today … but it is we [who will] bear the costs of reducing such emissions.”

Remembering the extent to which Social Darwinism is seen as a law of nature (it is not) and the extent to which most business leaders and world governments have adopted the economic philosophy of Milton, it is hard to see how anyone (be it a liberal democratic institution or a concerned individual) advocating frugality, reusing as opposed to throwing away and repurchasing is likely to do well. The thing is this, free market economic policies are causing the overexploitation of the natural environment and businesses are all encouraging people to spend big today and forget about tomorrow. The few businesses or governments that might want to self-sacrifice will likely be put out of business or become unelectable as short-termists will price them out of the market. As many have suggested, the dominant view prevailing view at the international level about action on climate change seems to be, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” And it is those views about what future generations are worth that will determine whether or not we are actually able to deal with the world’s most pressing issue, the global environmental crisis (e.g., Hodgkinson, 2014; Martin, 2015)

While I argued that short-termism is the current zeitgeist, politically, economically and in terms of humankind’s consumption and lifestyle choices, and that it is short-termism—“The Century of the Self” as Adam Curtis (2002) calls it —that is the main reason for there being no clear roadmap to address the environmental crisis, I am actually a rational optimist.[5]  I will dwell a bit and now ask you to dig deep, in a thinking sense, to what Andersen wrote in 2012. She argues, and I paraphrase, that humankind must consciously put aside their own pleasures and preferences for the greater good, because it exercises a kind of ‘moral muscle’ in us. She continues, such selfless acts can actually strengthen us by showing us that we are not simply selfish, hedonistic creatures. Acting in such a way, she contends will probably lead to, “stronger bonds of trust and mutual respect” amongst human beings, reminding us that “living on this planet is a group endeavour; that none of us can survive alone.” We must begin to accept (with the ‘carrot’ of improving our ‘moral muscles’) that making ethical choices that may not be comfortable or lucrative are sometimes, simply put, the right thing to do. I would say that too much of a draconian ‘stick’—like the authoritarian tracking of citizens to, monitor their temperature as some states are doing now—will ultimately backfire.[6]

Concluding remarks

As Magen and Gross (2007, p. 415) point out and then ponder, “many of us succumb to temptations, despite knowing that we will later regret doing so … how can such behaviour be avoided?” I can reply with experience, “such behaviour cannot easily be avoided.” However, referring once more to the seminal work of Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 417), two important findings are drawn, both of which do offer us hapless sinners some ray of light (a possibility of there being some honey and happiness both in the ‘now’ and for the ‘future’). First, they did observe that responses to temptation are not “simply a function of internal controls” and that conceptualisation concerning behaviour in a temptation situation should take into consideration the reward value of the prohibited gratification. Secondly, they concluded that “individual and situational differences in preferences for such immediate gratification.” O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 247) talk about ‘naïfs’ and ‘sophisticates’ and they demonstrate that with education and increasing the awareness of the implications of behaviour today and its impact on them tomorrow may result in changes to short term behavioural patterns. They back this up by saying the sophisticates were in some ways more able to delay immediate gratification as they were more aware of its possible future adverse consequences.

Therefore, it seems to me that if leaders and role models can really sell us the idea of delayed pleasure (e.g., the foregoing of (some) honey for the common good of tomorrow’s generations) can bring us happiness in the sense of the feel-good factor of being a nicer person, then we can hope to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic response. We can then realistically dream of averting the impending climate change catastrophe. It is very important that we do not be totally utilitarian or totally deontological in approach. I will say that a mixture of the two is both ethically and morally sound and critically, more likely to bring to us the end we want without making the means too unpalatable and difficult to endure.

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Notes

 
 
[1]   In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic; the extent to which it has impacted on GDP growth and international travel by air is unprecedented and is projected to result in the biggest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s (Gopinath, 2020). The ‘environmental crisis’ includes the following features, all of which human population growth and consumption choices cause: biodiversity loss (a load of fauna and flora are threatened with extinction because of the destruction of their natural habitats and direct exploitation—think of Wuhan’s animal market and overfishing of the seven seas), climate change (global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion), deforestation, desertification (soil erosion and degradation) and the scarcity of clean fresh water.

 
 
[2]   Refer to Sheahan et al. (2008); “Zoonotic SARS-CoV likely evolved to infect humans by a series of transmission events between humans and animals for sale in China” (p. 2274).

 
 
[3]   As I write this essay, China and the USA are playing a blame game. Basically, both governments are attempting to shift attention from their own mistakes by seeking to turn the public attention to the mistakes they allege of each other (see Appendix A). More recently still the U.K.’s government has accused Russian spies of seeking to steal British research insights into Covid-19 and, the very next day (‘…you took it all away’) the U.S.A.’s government accused Chinese spies of seeking to pinch American research insights into Covid-19. (see: Walker (2020) and Gramer (2020), respectively)

 
 
[4]   For instance, see the Intelligence Square debate on this motion “To Stop Climate Collapse, We Must End Capitalism”: intelligencesquared.com/events/to-stop-climate-collapse-we-must-end-capitalism/

 
 
[5]   In this wide-ranging video documentary, we hear a lot about consumerism and commodification and links this to contemporary view on fashion. It makes the argument that superficiality benefits big business. what is interesting is that this was made before social media. So, the points made almost 20 years ago are even stronger today. The last US election was not about politics and policies, it was about media manipulation, showmanship and ad hominem gone wild.

 
 
[6]   China is using big data to control and monitor everything its citizens do, where they go, what they do and who they meet. Many others are following China’s lead in increasingly monitoring every move of their citizens be it Hungary, Thailand, or the Philippines (Gebrekidan, 2020). Closer to home, we see this happening too in Egypt. As Magdy (2020) writes, Egypt’s President has granted himself more powers using Covid-19 as a cover. While some of the new powers can be linked to Covid-19 human rights groups say, others such as the power to now ban public and private meetings, protests and even celebrations, can not.

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References

Andersen, E. (2012, 26 May). The Noble Art of Self-Sacrifice. Forbes. Retrieved, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/05/26/the-noble-art-of-self-sacrifice/#3588ff7136ac

Beckstead, N. (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Retrieved, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/40469/PDF/1/play/

Curtis, A. (2002). The Century of the Self. Retrieved, https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s

See: Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis anthology

Fisher, R. (2019, 10 January). The perils of short-termism: civilisation’s greatest threat. BBC. Retrieved, bbc.com/future/article/20190109-the-perils-of-short-termism-civilisations-greatest-threat

Gebrekidan, S. (2020, 14 April). For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power. The New York Times. Retrieved, nytimes.com/2020/03/30/world/europe/coronavirus-governments-power.htm

Gopinath, G. (2020). ‘Global lockdown’ will cause worst recession since Great Depression, says IMF. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/business/video/2020/apr/14/great-lockdown-recession-great-depression-coronavirus-imf-video

Gramer, R. (2020, July 22). U.S. Closes Chinese Consulate in Houston Amid Surge in Chinese Espionage Cases. Foreign Policy. Retrieved foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/22/us-trump-china-escalation-tensions-spying-closes-chinese-consulate-in-houston-chinese-espionage-cases/

Hodgkinson, D. (2014). Thomas Piketty, climate change and discounting our future. The Conversation. Retrieved theconversation.com/thomas-piketty-climate-change-and-discounting-our-future-30157

Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin. Retrieved https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cpmRBAAAQBAJ

LSE. (2018). What are social discount rates? The London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/faqs/what-are-social-discount-rates/

Magdy, S. (2020, 9 May). Egypt’s president expands powers, citing virus outbreak. The Washington Post. Retrieved, washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-president-expands-powers-citing-virus-outbreak/2020/05/09/849af3e0-91f2-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html

Magen, E., & Gross, J. (2007). Harnessing the need for immediate gratification: cognitive reconstrual modulates the reward value of temptations. Emotion, 7(2), 415–428. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.415

Martin, R. L. (2015). Yes, short-termism really is a problem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved https://hbr.org/2015/10/yes-short-termism-really-is-a-problem

Mischel, W., & Gilligan, C. (1964). Delay of gratification, motivation for the prohibited gratification, and responses to temptation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(4), 411–417. doi:10.1037/h0048918

O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2000), The economics of immediate gratification. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 13(2), 233–250.

Prasso, S. (2020, 6 May) Lawsuits against China escalate Covid-19 blame game with US. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-06/lawsuits-against-china-escalate-covid-19-blame-game-with-u-s

Rachman, G. (2020, May 4). The US and China’s dangerous blame game will do no good. The Financial Times. Retrieved, ft.com/content/ffc6ac00-8de0-11ea-9e12-0d4655dbd44f

Semuels, A. (2016, 30 December). How to stop short-term thinking at America’s companies. The Atlantic. Retrieved theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/12/short-term-thinking/511874/

Sheahan, T., Rockx, B., Donaldson, E., Sims, A., Pickles, R., Corti, D., & Baric, R. (2008). Mechanisms of zoonotic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus host range expansion in human airway epithelium. Journal of virology, 82(5), 2274–2285. doi:10.1128/JVI.02041-07

Trofimov, Y. (2020, 8 March). Democracy, Dictatorship, Disease. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved, wsj.com/articles/democracy-dictatorship-disease-the-west-takes-its-turn-with-coronavirus

Von Weizsäcker, E., & Wijkman, A. (2017). Come on!: capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet. Berlin: Springer. Retrieved books.google.co.uk/books?id=nWA-DwAAQBAJ

Walker, A. (2020, July 17). U.K. ‘95% sure’ Russian hackers tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/17/russian-hackers-steal-coronavirus-vaccine-uk-minister-cyber-attack

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Appendix A: The blame game


Appendix A: The blame game
Note  Illustration by James Ferguson (Rachman, 2020).

Despite there being many instances of global cooperation etc., not everything is ethically minded and being done altruistically. According to one viewpoint, historians of the future might record that, “the Covid-19 pandemic marked the start of a new cold war between China and the US” (Rachman, 2020). As Prasso (2020) makes clear, mistakes in relation to the virus were made on both sides—cover-ups and arrests on China’s part, downplaying the virus’s contagiousness and suggesting the injecting oneself with household bleach may be a remedy on America’s part.
 
Point: “Coronavirus, explained”
 
Counterpoint: “Once upon a virus…”

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Appendix B: Me, myself & I


Fisher-2019-a

Fisher-2019-b
Note  Illustrations by Nigel Hawtin (Fisher, 2019)

As Fisher (2019) stresses, today’s population of 7.7 billion is small if balanced against all humans who are to be born. If Homo sapiens endure for thousands of years to come, billions of yet to be born individuals do rely on us to do the right thing regarding the environmental crisis. Intangibly it will benefit ‘our’ peace of mind; the benefit to ‘them’ will be very tangible.

Seemingly deceitful

“The Devil’s Trident” et al.

Simply put an illusion is something that is not real. But we most of us want to believe in things that science and reason tell us, by verifiably replicable experiments and observations, are not real; are “illusionary.” They say we see with our eyes, but let us be clear here, our eyes simply act as conduits to our brains, it is our brains that decipher and decide. For those fortunate enough not to be blind, we do like to be titillated by objects of beauty, panoramic views, the flickering of a fire, the waves rolling in and, optical illusions. The latter are a subject of much interest, writing in 1976, Coren et al. (1976, p. 129) pointed out that in the 120 years since Johann Joseph Oppel published the first systematic work on visual geometric illusions, “nearly a thousand papers have appeared that deal with distortions evoked by simple two-dimensional patterns of lines.” In the past 20 years with the aid of computers (to analyse) and social media (to share) the interest in optical illusions has grown further still (Alter, 2013; Hogenboom, 2015; Schultz, 2013). In this short essay I will discuss a number of such illusions, the way/s in which they trick the brain (alongside the human visual system) and the psychology behind them. But first I will discuss the workings of the eye and how it, like the human brain, is very susceptible to chicanery and trickery—to being deceived.

In the beholder’s eye

We know that the human eye works like a camera. When we look at something, light reflected from that thing enters the eyes through the pupil. Bizarrely it comes in upside down and this light and colour info is focused through the optical bits and bobs within the eye (see Appendix A). As Whitaker et al. (1996, p. 2957) point out in relation to the typical functioning of the human eye:

Judgment of the relative position of objects is an important feature of the human visual system. We seem able to perform this task effortlessly across spatial scales. Thus, whilst we can view two objects and estimate their separation, we are also aware of the relative position of internal features of the objects themselves.

However, the human eye, as with the human mind can easily be tricked. Optical illusions occur because our brains automatically try to interpret and make sense of what we see, usually they get things right, that Apple iPad ‘is’ an Apple iPad but, magicians and sellers of snake oil (and psychologists and visual artists) have long known eyes can be tricked because the human brain is partial to seeing myth as fact and fact as fake. Optical illusions fool our brains into seeing things which are there when they are not actually there or are not seemingly there when, in fact, they actually are.

Perception—what we think, what we think we see—is the interpretation of the things that enter our minds including via our eyes. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective. Therefore, the same object will not be seen as the same thing by any two people. As pointed out by Hogenboom (2015) Aristotle wrote that, “our senses can be trusted but they can be easily fooled.” This was in the context of him looking (not into Nietzsche’s abyss, but) into a waterfall for too long. He observed that, if we watch something moving quickly for too long, and then look at an inanimate object next to it — like the rocks beside a waterfall — they will appear to move in the opposite direction; a phenomena now classified as the “motion aftereffect” or, “the waterfall illusion.” Neuroscientists have argued that this can be explained by the fact that it takes a lot of energy and effort for the eye to compute fast moving and continually ‘forward’ moving objects so that when it suddenly switches to seeing a stationary object if over emphasises the lack of movement and moves the object slowly ‘backward’ (Hogenboom, 2015).

There is a theory attached to all of this and it is called the Centroid Hypothesis. It states that judgments of distance between visual objects are influenced by the brain’s computation of the “centroids of the luminance profiles of the objects” (Whitaker et al., 1996). Concerning the Devil’s Trident (see Appendix B), the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C), the Penrose triangle (see Appendix D) and similar illusions, the pattern of neural excitation evoked by contextual flank overlaps with that caused by the stimulus terminator, thereby leading (due to the shift of the centroid of summed excitation) to its perceptual displacement. The relative displacement of all stimulus terminators leads to misjudgement of distances between them; that is, the illusion occurs as a side effect due to necessarily low spatial resolution of the neural mechanism of assessment of the relative location of the visual objects.

The Devil’s Trident 🔱

Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Figure 1: “The Devil’s Trident,” Masterton and Kennedy (1975, p.107).

The Devil’s Trident (a.k.a., “The Impossible Trident”) was first noted in the academic press by an American psychologist—Donald Schster—who is said to have been inspired by an advert he saw in a magazine (Schuster, 1964). Accounts of the “Devil’s Trident”—see Appendix B—stress that the middle prong, “appears to be in two places at the same time” and that it involves, “incompatible surface depth cues linked as though they were compatible” (Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

Knowledge of optical illusions is not a recent thing. Like all good things, we can go back to Ancient Greece to find initial thinking on the subject: Aristotle and the waterfall (as mentioned above). Indeed, as Bach and Poloschek (2006 p. 21) say, Plato also alerted us to the discrepancy between perception and reality in his “Allegory of the Cave.” Philosophers remain intrigued to this day. As Donaldson (2017) argues that impossible figures prove problematic for sense-data accounts of perception that contend that, corresponding to every visual human experience, there are mental objects (sense-data) that we are aware of—and that sense-data have the properties that the objects that our experiences tell us they do. The problem is that sense-data would have to be impossible objects … surely, impossible objects can’t exist!” There are other explanations. For example, illustrations like the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C) confuses the brain (in some cultures, according to Alter (2013), not all) and it overcompensates, “making the line appear bigger — as it would have to be in real life to produce those kinds of proportions” (Hogenboom, 2015).

Concluding remarks

To sum up, we can assume that we will never be able to suddenly see true reality with crystal clear clarity and 20/20 vision, be it the waterfall’s rock, the shadow play in the cave or the Devil’s Trident. But this is the magic of reality. This is something we should embrace and revere, not fear. Just because we do not know what lies within black holes or what exists beyond the edge of the universe does not mean we need to create myths to fill in the gaps and then dogmatically and religiously follow them (see Dawkins, 2011). Personally, I like that art can trick us it actually says to me we are human. Also, I feel that visual illusions are actually logical and explainable by reason and science: our brains have evolved to need to constantly predict what is about to happen so, illusions demonstrate our brain being logical and telling us what we should ‘typically’ see not what we rarely physically see.

References

Alter, A. (2013). Are These Lines the Same Height? Popular Science. Retrieved, https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/are-these-walls-the-same-size-your-answer-depends-on-where-youre-from/

Bach, M &, Poloschek, C. (2006). Optical Illusions. Visual Neuroscience, 6(2), 20-21.

Coren, S., Girgus, J., Erlichman, H., &, Hakstian, A. (1976). An empirical taxonomy of visual illusions. Perception & psychophysics, 20(2), 129–137. doi.org/10.3758/BF03199444

Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.

Donaldson, J. (2017). “Impossible Trident” in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved, https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/impossible-trident.

Hogenboom, M. (2015). How your eyes trick your mind. BBC. Retrieved, http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/story/20150130-how-your-eyes-trick-your-mind/index.html

Howey, T. (2016). “How the eye works” Retrieved, https://www.tomhowey.com/How-the-Eye-Works

Masterton, B. &, Kennedy, J. (1975). Building the Devil’s Tuning Fork. Perception, 4(1), 107–109. doi.org/10.1068/p040107

Schuster, D. H. (1964). A new ambiguous figure: A threestick clevis. The American Journal of Psychology, 77(4), 673. doi.org/10.2307/1420787

Schultz, C. (2013). Are Optical Illusions Cultural? Smithsonian. Retrieved, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/are-optical-illusions-cultural-6633978/

Whitaker, D., McGraw, P. V., Pacey, I., & Barrett, B. T. (1996). Centroid analysis predicts visual localization of first-and second-order stimuli. Vision Research, 36(18), 2957–2970. doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(96)00031-4

Wikipedia (2020a). “Impossible trident.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_trident

Wikipedia (2020b). “Müller-Lyer illusion.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion

Wikipedia (2020c). “Penrose Triangle”. Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_triangle

— § —

Appendix A


How the Eye Works
(Howey, 2016)

— § —

Appendix B


Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Note: The devil’s trident (or ‘tuning fork’) is a drawing of an impossible to physically construct object. As articulated by Wikipedia (2020a), “it appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end” (see also: Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

— § —

Appendix C


Note: The Müller-Lyer illusion typically comprises of three arrows and we think the stems of these arrows are different lengths but, as the diagram shows, they are in fact the same length; as far as we know it was first devised by the German sociologist Franz Müller-Lyer in the late 1800s (Wikipedia, 2020b).

— § —

Appendix D


Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object -- just like this paper’s 'Devil’s Trident'
Note  “Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object (Wikipedia, 2020c) — just like this paper’s “Devil’s Trident” (see Appendix B, above).

Academic referencing

When in Rome, do as Romans do.

Academic Referencing

Ladies of Rome! lend me your attention — If you use someone else’s work (i.e., facts and figures and/or opinions and thoughts), you really must acknowledge this; see it as saying “thank-you” and come on! who wouldn’t wanna say thank you to someone who gives/lends your something. Typically you’d do this both within the text (citations) and at the end of the text in a list of references.
n.b., a ‘List of References’ is not the same thing as a ‘Bibliography.’*

For my guide to APA, click here

For my guide to CMS, click here


End notes

* A reference list should only include the sources you have cited in the body of your work. Whereas a bibliography may list those cited sources as well as any other books that were relevant to your general argument/thesis.

Bibliography
1] A list of the books referred to in a scholarly work, typically printed as an appendix. — Similar: list of references / book list / catalogue
2] A list of the books of a specific author or publisher, or on a specific subject.
3] The history or systematic description of books, their authorship, printing, publication, editions, etc.


Reference
A mention or citation of a source of information in a book or article. — “Each chapter referenced the nooks she’d used to formulate her theory on Nature as God.”

French /&/ Latin

Française || Français
Latine || Latius

You’ll no that English is dead flexible and versatile and so on and so fourth. It is genderless but it isn’t written how it sounds phone should be fone but it ain’t so

Dominarum ex Roma, audi me!!

Audite me nimis 😉

2 b clear, I am saying, when you come to do background reading for your academic essays, and dissertations etc., you will see lots of French words and lots of Latin words in what your read. Therefore (not however / not moreover) you may like to see these two introductory guides I did made:

French in English

Latin in English

Read Rainbow

Communal Goodness

of benefit to one and (hopefully) all…

Audio one, Liberalism in Retreat by Robin Niblett

Audio two, China and the World by Evan A. Feigenbaum

In economics, philosophy and political science, the ‘common good’ tends to relate to what is shared and beneficial to (most) members of a given community (or economy or group of countries).

References
Feigenbaum, E. A. (2017). China and the World. Foreign Affairs, 96(1), 33–40

Niblett, R. (2017). Liberalism in Retreat. Foreign Affairs, 96(1), 17–24


Grant Wood (1891-1942), American Gothic, 1930
The 1930’s, think of the Great Depression; think of the lead up to WWII.

p.s. ‘Ubique’ is Latin for “everywhere,” and tends to imply omnipresence (the property of being present everywhere). Think of the adjective ‘ubiquitous.’ e.g., “Nowadays, smartphones are ubiqitous.”

Priceless Graphite

with a pencil you are totally free

2281

It’s a tool. As is the plough, as are sextants and swords, as is the shovel, as are sickles and hammers, as is the hypodermic syringe (that may carry a lifesaving elixir, an opioid escape or a life saving or a life ending chemical cocktail). Yet, in distinction to those tools, this one, the tool that I talk of now, is by far the more influential. It articulates, crafts, drafts and sketches. It is one that we have all had in our hands at one point in time or more. We use it to colour in shapes etc. as kids at Kindergarten, to spell out words teachers teach us at School. We use it to write shopping lists for trips to Sweihan’s Abu Siraj Supermarket; we use it to organise thoughts and explore our emotions in private diaries. I think it lets is demonstrate we are human kind. It is, as I know you now know, the pencil [take your pick, your etching stick, 9H through HB to 9xxB].

The computer dictates how you do something, whereas with a pencil you are totally free.
— James Dyson, Inventor (1947– )

Put down your pistols, pick up your pencils. Holding them can be therapeutic it can also be fantastically lucrative. As one advertising campaign proclaims, pencils are where it ‘all’ begins – i.e., the ‘it’ is creativity, e.g., the ‘it’ can be influential literature, impressive architecture, iconic furniture (poetic licence permits me to include here other writing instruments such as the quill of the 18th and 19th centuries and the ink pen of the 20th century and the digital stylus/iPencil of the 21st). The pencil, in olden days, was so expensive. Nowadays, it is cheap and everyone can have one. They now come in every shade of the rainbow but for me, I will stick to graphite grey.
The magic ingredient is indeed graphite (a non-metal mineral), but we often call this lead. As do most good things, the word graphite comes from the ancient Greeks ‘graphein’ – in other words it means to write. Pencil is derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning little tail, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages (imagine for a magic moment these writing sticks in the hands of Chaucer, Dante, Machiavelli, Marlowe and last but not least, Shakespeare). According to J. D. Barrow, the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jaques Conte, a scientist working in the Army of Napoleon Bonaparte. I understand from “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that great inventions are results of war. So my humble black and yellow Germany made Staedtler pencil (Norris HB[2] Art. Nr. 122-HB EAN 40 07817 106365) is a child of long past war. My wood wrapped writing stick is born with blood and death on its hands?

Ideas are elusive things so keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, by so doing, you can stab them during the night before they get away.
— Earl Nightingale, Commentator (1921–1989)

The strange thing about graphite is that it is a form of pure carbon that is one of the softest solids known to scientists (is a soft solid, an oxymoron?). Yet if the graphite’s atomic structure is changed just a little bit it becomes a diamond; the hardest solid known to us. Carbon Dioxide is CO2 and as every Emirati high school graduate knows, this is a Global Warming Greenhouse gas. Indeed, we learn from Google/Wikipedia that Carbon makes up 18 per cent of me and, my dear reader, you. Pencils can be square, polygonal or round, depending on its intended use. It is know that vocational people do not much love round pencils because they roll off of tables etc. During the nineteenth century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed in Great Britain where Barrow informs us, “the purest graphite can be found.” The first pencil factory says Barrow was opened in England in the 1830s. I’d like to move to the Derwent brand (I’d love to visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, which a BBC website review say is one of the most peculiar days out in the UK; one that will fulfil the hopes and dreams of pencil fanatics everywhere), but I cannot leave my black and yellow stripped German made digging tool.

Without a pencil in my hand I am not me. If I am not me then I’m blunt and need to be sharper, before my ink runs dry I am now going to ‘pencil’ some sagely advice. According to Alison Nastasi, writers like John Steinbeck and Vladimir Nabokov were pencil fanatics. Nabokov (a user of Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s) outlined his novels and used one to write, “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.” Steinbeck loved the Mongol 480 (Faber-Castell again) as it was topped with a rubber. Nastasi says that Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden (who, I wonder, counted them). My sagely advice, I hear you ask. Well dear reader, it is this, read these words—written in/by pencil—by Steinbeck: “The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable element in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Barrow, J. D. (2010). 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. London: Random House.

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton & Company, Inc.

Nastasi, A (2013, August 17). The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors. Flavorwire.

Brexit: a very British Omnishambles

The backstop is England’s colonial past coming back to bite its behind

onelove
May Day!, May Day! “Brexit” no longer (necessarily) “means Brexit.”

THERESA MAY, THE BELEAGUERED PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM, embarked on a frantic round of European diplomacy in another final attempt to salvage her government’s Brexit deal. She left for the continent after bottling out of the scheduled and much lambasted “meaningful vote” on the deal. Lest it be forgotten, this deal is more of a UK-EU memorandum agreeing to the indefinite deferral of the actual Brexit agreement which is the fruit of two year’s worth of negotiations and millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. It was still nevertheless widely derided and at least 150 of her own MPs were implacably opposed to it (there are a total of 315 Conservative MPs, 257 Labour MPs and, 78 more who are either independent of represent other parties).

Mrs May had instructed Cabinet Ministers to make clear to the media that there would be no chance whatsoever of this critical—accept it or face Armageddon—vote being delayed. So, on the morning of the 10th, Ministers were saying the vote would proceed come what may, but, by lunchtime, the script has suddenly changed. Mrs May formally postponed it, telling MPs it was clear that their concern about the Irish backstop proposals would have resulted in it being rejected “by a significant margin.” Incandescent MPs from all parties pointed out that the significant margin of dissent was there from the outset.

As a consequence, the pound (GBP £) fell sharply, as did the London Stock Market (The FTSE 250, which mostly trades businesses operating in the UK, lost almost 2% of its value). City analysts doubt either will recover much over the Christmas period as Mrs May now refuses to say when the meaningful vote is to be rescheduled for. What is crystal clear however was Europe’s response. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, immediately Tweeted that as far as his side was concerned, there would be no more negotiation. As one radio show host pointed out, “the UK, despite being in the EU, is able to keep its cherished pound coin and not sign up to the Schengen agreement so, already has considerable sovereignty.” And so it was, May returned from Germany where Angela Merkel made emphatically clear that the deal was the best the British would be getting and that cherry-picking and politicking remained firmly off of the menu.

On the 11th, the day Westminster should have been voting, the mood was, as the BBC repeatedly told its viewers, “febrile.” On the 12th, around 50 Conservative MPs called for a vote of no confidence in their PM. Not to be deterred by such seismic happenings, TV anchors and pundits were vigorously speculating over “No Brexit” (retract the divorce papers and work on the marriage) versus “No Deal Brexit” (forget the formal divorce and just run away from the marriage). The debate became most confused and heated when the backstop issue was raised; the public were now demanding to know what exactly the backstop proposal entailed.

Fathoming the Irish Backstop
It is evident from the campaign footage and media coverage that those who wanted Brexit—by hook or by crook—did not spend much time concerning themselves about the Irish border. According to the author, Ishaan Tharoor, this highlights a colonial mentality that still pervades parts of the British establishment (i.e., taking Ireland and the Irish for granted). Far more emotive and easy to articulate was for the Brexiteers to campaign for the right to overfish British waters unfettered and to put a stop to the largely non-existent ‘hoards’ of Middle Eastern migrants seeking to enter the UK.

In essence, the backstop proposal offers both Ireland and the EU an assurance that Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will remain tied to EU customs union and common market rules and regulations until the UK and the EU can jointly agree a final Brexit deal.

Unionists in Northern Ireland do not want London to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK thus, Brexit would possibly require a hard boarder between the north and the south of the island. This constituent are supported by hard Brexiteers who are implacably opposed to the backstop as they see it as a way for the UK to say in the EU indefinitely (recall that Theresa May did vote to remain).

Nationalists in Northern Ireland demand that London retains the open border with the rest of Ireland. Thus, leaving the common market is not a realistic option at any future point in time. (recall that the citizens of Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain: 55.8% wanted to stay as in the EU).

Its 2018, not 1820
Northern Ireland is categorically a legacy of England’s former imperial control over the island of Ireland. But Brexit shows also how British former glory fuels contemporary notions of exceptionalism. There is a clear nostalgia for the past, a past which when popularly portrayed glosses over the bad and the ugly of the Empire and cherry picks the good bits. This rose-tinted perspective of the past, according to the scholar Nadine El-Enany, “has long fed the UK’s discontent at being an equal alongside other EU countries, rather than it being the first among equals.”

In fairness and to give historical perspective, it was Britain that instigated capitalism, industrialisation and travel by rail. Indeed, according to the historian Tom Leyland, the UK also bestowed English as the global lingua franca alongside the blueprints for the institutions that facilitate modernity, which the vast majority of countries have adopted lock, stock and barrel.

As the writer Gary Younge points out, Britain’s colonial past still gives many the impression that, “the reason we are at the centre of most world maps is because the Earth revolves around us, not because it was us who drew the maps.” Yet, post the Brexit referendum, the UK government is finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in todays globalised neoliberal world.

The idea that the UK will find it easy is to forge free-trade agreements with its former colonies or, any other country for that matter, is fanciful according to Indian author, Bhanuj Kappal. “Commonwealth countries may have forgiven, but they certainly have not forgotten past atrocities and economic exploitation.” Few, if any, of the 50 plus so-called Commonwealth countries will voluntarily sign up to the imbalanced trade deals with the UK that there were once force to adhere to.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that these countries will seek to strengthen their ties with the world’s second-largest economy, the European Union ($17.2tn) rather than chance tact and focus primarily with that of the UK (5th at $2.6tn). As the Financial Times recently made clear, 32 of these countries (mainly in Africa and the Caribbean) are already covered by free-trade agreements with the EU. Thus, they already enjoy duty-free and quota-free access to the EU, including the UK, “for nearly all of their goods.”

The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for 13.5% of India’s global trade. By contrast, the UK accounts for only 3.4% of exports and less that 2% of imports. It’s true that Indian companies “invest more in the UK than anywhere else in Europe,” but the objective reality that underlines this relationship is, according to tycoon Lord Bilimoria, that “they see it as being a bridge to the EU.” Thus the UK’s continued EU membership is key to this relationship.

Imagine for a moment Britain as a Bulldog chasing after the postman’s bike. The dog gets hold of the bike—bully for him—but soon realised that he’s unable to ride it and even if he could, he’d have no idea were to ride it to. Brexiteers assumed they could dictate the terms, the omnishambles being played out since the summer of 2016, demonstrates that they cannot.

Lust and Lambast

A hand left poignantly unshaken; a republican party, quite unstirred.

hand-shake

hand-up

Writing concisely is not my style yet, as column inches for anything other than celebrity gossip, consumer reviews and self-help are now such a precious commodity, I must be succinct. Even if I were allowed to go wild with the word count, it would probably demonstrate only the validity of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Nowadays smartphone shortened attention spans need to be taken into account. In order to gain wide readership on matters of current affairs, being parsimonious with prose is a necessity. Gone are the days when waxing lyrical in verbose flowery language on issues of international political economy was considered a mark of distinction.

Partisanship must also be accounted for more before. Both liberals and conservatives now read mostly within their own communal and gated echo chambers. Each is served with bespoke newsfeeds that are informed (and manipulated) by ‘big data’ analytics and, essentially only serve to reinforce extant prejudices.

Adding further weight to the Editor’s demand that this article be no more than 900 words, is the fact that its contemporary flag—the courageous testimony of Dr Christine Ford—is yesterday’s news; it is all but academic now.

Nevertheless, the selection of Judge Brett “the gyrating groper” Kavanaugh to the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States, once more, the mother of all misnomers: the ‘Pro-Life’ constituent. It also makes clear the extent to which a female’s right to decide upon her own reproductive decisions is now under threat. This event, this very partisan confirmation, places the march of progress toward gender equality (‘and’ autonomy from man) that’s been taking place since at least 1913—when Emily Davison was trampled and killed by a racing horse—is now, once more, in serious jeopardy.

This isn’t really news, I hear you say. I concede, women have indeed been controlled and told what to do since the day that the mythical Eve took a—no doubt ‘dainty’—bite of the apple. I agree with you, I’ve recently read Eric Berkowitz’s, Sex and Punishment. From the savage impalement of Mesopotamian women several millennia ago to the Yazidi sex slaves of modern day Babylonia, the female form has long been lusted by men and lambasted by men.

There are mitigating circumstances, I hear you say. I concede here too. These are uncertain times, infotech and biotech are disrupting everything. It is evident that the discontents resulting from the maturing of globalisation have rekindled Huntington-style ‘us’ versus ‘them’ populism. But what is only know becoming apparent is just how gendered the undertones of this regression are. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, dreams aloud of raping Miss Universe. The macho misogynist Brazilian President, Jair “Trump of the Tropics” Bolsonaro, makes clear he’d only rape attractive women. And of course, (the once progressive) ‘Free World’ has Donald “Pussy Grabber” Trump. President Trump is categorically and publicly sexist. Recently, for instance, he described Stephanie Clifford as being “horse faced.”

Just because we can point out causal factors, does not mean we should demurely accept their consequences. We should not allow ourselves to become one of the ‘them’s for such men of power to rile against. This then brings us to one area, one appellation worth agitating against: a constituent of American voters know as ‘Pro-Lifers.’

On the face of it they sound rather caring and progressive. However, they are far from harmless. Indeed, they are both anti-life and very much against gender equality. It is this group who sought a Supreme Judge of Kavanaugh’s ilk. Pro-lifers are pro guns. Correct me if I am wrong, but guns are designed to extinguish life. Whilst delusionally obsessed with unborn foetuses (grounded, you see, on biblical myth) they are vociferously pro capital punishment and are totally okay with tucking into meat feast pizzas and Surf ‘n’ Turf slaughter house offerings.

Moreover, Pro-lifers are church going folk, ipso facto, they believe the battle of Armageddon to be sacrosanct. To be clear, they pray for a Third World War, it is prophesised so it must be true. There is little that is endearing about pro-lifers. Their morality (e.g., not coveting each other’s wives) is based only on their fear of the lord’s damnation to an eternally burning hell. They are not morally decent because it is morally decent to be morally decent. They are, according to their own narrative and logic, morally decent because god commands it.

As a result of their ‘morality’, when Dr Ford—who, unlike Judge Kavanaugh, took a polygraph test and passed—raised her hand and spoke the truth, many pro-lifers petitioned their Republican representatives to turn a blind (uncaring) eye and allow her words to fall upon deaf (unprogressive) ears. Kavanaugh’s being anti-abortion and pro gun trumped his sexual abuse of nonconsenting women. Trump, I imagine, isn’t that concerned about the issue of abortion; neither really are Fox & Friends (the latter are essentially friends of the mega-rich who care only about Trump’s tax cuts). Yet, by facilitating the overturning of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade (i.e., the decriminalisation of abortion) Trump will, by way of the Court’s newest appointee, deliver unto himself the pro-life vote in 2020 and thus, for ‘us’, another four years of megalomania.