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Admittedly, I did have some preconceptions when I read the blurb for Rana Dajani’s recent article in Nature, How women scientists fare in the Arab world. Many secular individuals tend to expect, arguably with good reason, that gender equality is a pipe dream wherever religious fever is high – especially where the Abrahamic faiths are the dominant ideologies.

However, Rana’s article was far from what I had initially taken it for and, more importantly, makes a number of valuable points that relate to Western countries just as much as well as a continual argument I refer to on New Anthro regarding neo-liberal market economies.

Firstly, I have a slight criticism in that Rana makes the point that, for mothers as scientists, they cannot spend the additional time networking and taking part in mentoring programs outside business hours as they place family first – even if the father is with the children, this is no compensation to being there herself.

This might be the case for many women, the world over, for all I know. I think it says more about the men they marry. I know with great certainty that my own wife would disagree. I am as doting and involved as herself – with the only deficit being that I cannot feed our baby girl at this phase of life. We are committed to caring for our baby for the first few years of life (rather than childcare) and, when my wife is ready to return to work, we will juggle our shared commitments.

That said, Rana makes some valuable points regarding sexism that has permeated gender equality,

“The feminist movement was a good thing, but it was too focused on equality with men and failed to enable us to respect ourselves as women and to be proud of who we are.

“Our productivity, for instance, is measured on a male scale.”

Gender equality does not mean that both genders compete against one another in the Olympics for very good reasons. This is not to say that there are some jobs either sex is better enabled for or that a woman cannot follow a career path equal to a man (or, as it stands, have the right to do so), but only that she also has the right to adjust her career to have a family also (which, by sheer luck of nature does create a few “obstacles” to ones career, more so for her, at the very least around the pregnancy and birth, than it does for a male).

It is not sexist to point this fact out, but it is sexist to treat gender dependent biological factors as an excuse to discriminate unfairly through uneven weighting. In the modern information age, there is no reason why an individual should be unable to pursue their career and family obligations however they choose as long as they are able to meet their stated tasks. We should empower individuals, male or female, to be the best professional and parent they can be.

One should not exclude the other and yet, motherhood is a prevalent form of sexism that exists today.

Another point Rana made was brilliant;

“The years we spend taking care of children are not calculated as part of the gross domestic product of a country. What is more important — to build physical things or to nurture a human being?”

It is a point I have returned to again and again. I even quoted Andrew Mason, from the University of Southern Queensland, in The Human Island (revised version of which will be released within the week);

“The normal measure of an economy, which looks at Gross Domestic Product [GPD]… doesn’t really measure our lives, it just measure economic things. So if you go and buy some veggies from the supermarket, that contributes to GPD, so it looks good on the economy. But if you grow veggies in your own backyard, it doesn’t contribute to GPD. So things like car crashes contribute to GPD because, you know, people are employed fixing cars and looking after things and you know the people that go to hospital to be treated; all that contributes to GPD. Whereas going for a walk in the park doesn’t. So they’re trying to work out how to model economics that will more accurately reflect a happy society.”

Gross domestic product is a poor indicator of human flourishing and yet remains the grand messiah of the free world markets. The post-Global Financial Crisis stimulus packages aimed to get the economy rolling again, by urging consumers to buy material goods rather than reduce personal debt or increase personal savings. They were to help out a sick (and entirely dysfunctional) economy with the only benefit to the community expected to be, perhaps watching the next season of Big Brother in higher definition.

As Rana asks, what is more important, material goods or human well-being, or to use Andrew’s examples, the fitness and family time in going to the park or a busy hospital or mortuary with the results of a car crash?

In my personal opinion, the problems of disparity addressed by Wilkinson and Pickett in The Spirit Level or on The Equality Trust, protested against within the Occupy Movement and the continual rejection of all environmental degradation by certain groups of the community all come back to confidence that spawns from a modern day “prosperity” which has effectively removed human indicators from its internal regulation processes.

More consumers are needed. The quality of those consumers are not important. Hence the urge to work, to keep up with the Jones’s, the anxiety, the disconnection… Why we all too often wonder why we spend so much time doing what we are doing when we would rather be enjoying time with friends and family or undertaking hobbies or self-improvement opportunities.

The humanity is removed from our species primary productivity, which seems so absurd the more one thinks about it. I doubt many of us really appreciate such principles.

The more I reflect on what I have learnt regarding the inherent cultural values associated with factual evidence (such as that relating to evolution, climate change etc) and from discussions with others on the subject, I’m drawn to one point which I feel is potentially the most difficult to overcome by those who reject evidence to maintain a favoured view point.

This is a fear of a loss in control supposed by “committed sceptics” of a given subject.

With those who accept the high certainty of such finding, in general, I find they are happy to acknowledge their own shortcomings and prefer to embrace acquisition of high quality information over a need for absolute certainty. This of course can lead to flying off the spectrum entirely (especially where critical evaluation of information is neglected) and into the ether of “anything is possible and thus everything is really unknowable”, which I have also encountered.

On the other hand, I find a panicked reply when reasoned debate fails a committed sceptic.

A creationist once told me he would prefer to be evolved from a wolf then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence. Most others claim that morality is meaningless if evolution is true.

A committed sceptic once told me that he welcomed the tropical summers of the UK then, when he couldn’t counter a reasoned look at the evidence regarding climate change. Most others talk about the end of the civilised world if it’s accepted as true (eg. initiatives aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will send us back to the Stone Age).

Listen to the language; morality would be lost… society as we know it – the hard won civilizations we have created – will be destroyed; the primary value at heart here is a sense of purpose, of meaning, both personally and communally. If this instinctive meaning to one’s life is “lost” absurd propositions are likely and fatalism inevitable. If X is true, well, all hell will break loose…

Of course it wouldn’t.

We have incredibly strong evidence to support the theory that the universe is more than 13 billion years old and of our genetic relationship with all other life on this planet; of evolved diversity.

We have conducted studies that conclusively demonstrate empathy and altruism in other species. Morality exists not due to divine implantation in our minds and/or soul, but due to increasingly well understood social behaviour which is not unique to our species.

What’s more, our morality is not a written and thus stagnant code hardwired on our brains, as unchangeable as they would be on stone tablets. Instead they are evolving – arguably for the better – with subsequent generations (read, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman).

Likewise, climate change is true – it has occurred for reasons understood previously without human influence or consequence, however, this time is different only in that latter points.

Climate change is always punctuated with great changes to species abundance, distribution and regional weather patterns however, so far, life has persisted.

Fatalism and committed scepticism only reduces our potential for effective adaptation. And it is in this point that I feel the concern over a loss of control is unwarranted. It is a misunderstanding control entirely.

Surely we have given up the days in which a daily, weekly, monthly or other pivotal points in time required a sacrifice to ensure the gods favoured us with good weather (for our crops and well-being).

Sure we may laugh, but such events are written even into the stories of the god of Abraham and, within my own lifetime, people in developed countries have turned to rainmakers for help. It is laughable to think such devices enable control over the elements – giving up expected favour or assistance by the gods or other magical methods isn’t to give up control, only a delusion of it.*

On the other hand, we clearly do have control over the global climate. We’re currently and inadvertently conducting such geo-engineering. We have the control on how much heat we wish to trap and what kind of global climate we want.

Thinking about it in this way, imagine in the future that we knew that the axis of the Earth’s spin, the orbit around the sun or solar activity (or a combination of these factors) were to send us into another cold or warmer phase (science has given us the tools to make such prediction). We could alter the concentration of greenhouse gases to ensure we maintain a climate similar to the Holocene, ensuring food production, human well-being and species protection.

We also have the power to control how well we adapt to any unavoidable changes, in advance, if we so choose to acknowledge the projections. The results of our efforts may not even be evident until long after we have handed the keys on to future generations. This demonstrates not only control, but wisdom.

We truly are capable of being masters of our domain. However, we remain victims instead to our own delusions and preoccupation with fatalism. As stated above, the worst fears expressed by committed sceptics are simply unjustified and in truth masked the real fear; a fear in losing control. The reality is, as is so commonly the case, the very opposite. In letting go of false “certainties”, tied to a delusion of control, we can instead own our future.

While I believe if push came to shove, we would battle on under change and persist, however, I would like to think we could instead value real certainty and real control which is already within our grasp.

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*Even if there is a god(s) – which is not the point of this article – we always claim their ways to be mysterious, favouring or ignoring for their own reason, leading us back to same point; it is thus a delusion of control under such “mystery”.

I have been a student or employee of a few universities now and one thing I noticed they all share is a proliferation of proud posters, website “ads” and statements of their successes in progressive work.

As far as I can tell, this ought to be their primary position. Anything else would be squandering their unique assortment of resources.

Universities and colleges can be places comprising thousands of staff and students focused on enhancing our understanding of the natural world, human health and social justice. They often take up large plots of land and require large quantities of resources (especially water and electricity). They can also be large sources of pollution and chemical use (eg. waste, various gases, radiation, etc).

If they are not asking themselves, ‘How could we be more efficient in the use of X?’ or ‘How could we reduce the waste of Y?’ well they are not making use of the cluster of thinkers and doers at their disposal. Likewise, if they are not asking themselves, ‘How can we improve well-being within a community?’ and applying various social experiments within their (often vast) community (or subsets within their community), well, again they are missing a unique opportunity.

Too often we cry that the government should do something about problem B, however – and this touches on the point I was making in my previous article – most often there isn’t an acceptable example of the contrary locally. Take, for instance, old growth forest loss or the recent noise around the carbon tax in Australia.

In the former, what are the alternatives? White Australia is heavily culturally coupled to logging as it is the sheep industry (which too is unsustainable). Examples of countries that do otherwise are countries that live different with different cultural values. Look at Japan for instance. The protection of their woodlands does relate strongly to other cultural options – such as limited (if at all) land meat production and much higher urban density to that “expected” within white Australian culture. Germany is another country with a strong focus woodland protection and even though it is, like white Australian culture, western European, it is still a different way of life to ours and the two hundred years of ‘a sunburnt country’ mentality.

Likewise the carbon tax plays on a fear that our politicians are relentlessly screaming wolf about; it’ll ruin the economy. This is very much a cultural value. Most people in Australia hold the right to free enterprise as one of the highest virtues. We’re probably not unlike our counterparts in the US in that we praise the success of others who were able to secure a large chunk of wealth for themselves. Look at Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Both are, in general, viewed as “go-getters” (although, this is far from universal).

The carbon tax is seen as an attack on this cultural value (as is the mining tax, and the goods and services tax etc). A “big fat tax on everyone”, as Abbott drilled into the public is an affront to a prime cultural value held by most Australians. So foreign is the contrary position, it may feel that it’s not unlikely one would hear comparisons to socialism or communism. Fears of an Orwellian state run rampant.

Yet, within our own communities, we have large sub-communities, with a large amount of assorted resources and a drive for knowledge. From these communities, we could (or should) have a playground for testing local cultural values, under the guise of resource management and social well-being (that is to say, improvement in these fields would be the quest). The medical schools already do this – so why is it too much to expect third year or post-grad students to be asking questions like, ‘How can we make the campus more biophilic?’ or ‘How can we lead to lower stress and improved learning rates within the students?’ or ‘What can be done to manage X resource more efficiently within the campus?’

Such answers could be profound as it would not be restricted simply to factual answers, but also within a cultural context. It could be thus more easily applied within the wider community than, say, expecting Australians to adopt practices from abroad simply because they are more efficient.

The one thing to be wary of however, is the potential grounds for xenophobia that is created if we put too much emphasis in culture. Again, I feel that tertiary education provides a good tool. They are, in Australia, multicultural communities. Posing questions and developing answers within this sub-group could reflect Australia, as a whole, and thus present answers to a wide range of problems – within that cultural context discussed above.

I started this article by saying that, from what I’ve witnessed, universities are doing this and proudly sharing this fact via various media. I would like to see more of it – especially aimed at student project development and across a wider scope than I am aware of occurring so far.

It would also be useful for the students of natural science as it would give their studies a social aspect that is sometimes lacking (not always, as I am aware with the natural resource management components of my own degree) and hopefully an awareness of the impacts their future careers could have on politics and their local communities. It could also provide an avenue for learning science communication to such students. Most importantly, it would help to couple facts, or at least greater certainty, to cultural values that could be more readily applied to the greater community beyond the campus boundary.

My recent absence is understandable. I am the proud father of a four week old girl. As well as this, I, almost single-handedly moved us from Adelaide to Melbourne two weeks ago. My wife unfortunately had a difficult labour, “ending” in with a caesarean. Ending being of course inaccurate as she is still recovering.

Sending them away by plane only to return home to pack it entirely up into the back of a truck and the following day, drive nine hours only to unload it, rebuild a house before starting a new role is a lot to do, but for the two of them, I would do it again and again.

More importantly, while it’s not beneficial to writing, it was for thinking. The last month has given me so much fuel for thought that I find it hard to articulate one thought concisely through a tangle of others. The joys, the strain, the despair as well as the glowing horizon of new adventure, experience and development have all greeted me.

A tiny little face, emotionless in the deepest of sleeps in the security of her father’s arms. A beautiful woman whom recently endured unimaginable pain and confusion looking upon you with nothing but love and gratitude for all you are and do (which, conversely, seems so insignificant when compared to all you have witnessed her overcome in the recent weeks). Three lives, shared and independent, packaged and stuffed into a truck. Familiarity replaced with opportunity. My head is full.

However, what returns to me time and time again is nothing unique or even an idea I formulated myself, yet it is one of the initial points that originally drew me to blogging in the first place.

Growth economies are unsustainable with finite resources or where resources have a limited regeneration rate. It isn’t rocket science.

Yet we persist endless towards this delusion, unquestioning as so many are about any given faith. “Consumer confidence” is surely mentioned in any dedicated news broadcast as it’s so essential for local and global markets. If we don’t spend, we all will fall into the chasm of recession.

What hits me harder than ever before is the fact that we have no right to greedily take up all available resources. If you were stuck on a remote island with a handful of people with enough food and water to support the team for a week, you would have no right to gorge on that supply with the view that, perhaps that will increase yours odds of survival over the others. Equally, it would be unethical to cut down the last fruit baring tree for fire wood or to consume all the eggs laid by a sea faring bird species.

Sure, history has many examples of such events, but this does not excuse them anymore than repeating war crimes. We all want the best of ourselves. We praise those whom stand up against a tyrant, the communities that band together in times of hardship and the purely altruistic acts that go above and beyond general human behaviour.

If anything, we should want to strive to mirror such people and acts and not the short-sighted selfishness of the greedy few. They don’t make for good role models.

Wealth is currently the result of converting resources into waste. The faster, the better. However, simple examples such as plastic, aluminium and paper recycling present a face smacking argument against such a mantra. Wealth comes really from creation. As we wear out easily acquired resources, we will become increasingly aware of another cheap supply of raw material; our own waste.

Will we acts like any given star which has no choice but to turn on the bigger atoms – the product of former fusion – when its primary supply of hydrogen and helium are depleted? Would we then learn from the current age of gluttony and attempt to achieve a stable and sustainable state or would we continue on, much like the star, and burn ourselves out of existence?

It disgusts me that my little baby girl is very likely to live in the age of rubbish mining. Perhaps I will too. The meagre wealth acquired from the first run through from our age will look as pitiful to them as the fuel guzzling machines of the mid-to-late twentieth century do to anyone whom cares to look into it.

Not only has the per capita rate of emissions increased over time, but so has the far more obvious waste production – just look at the size of the bins today for an average sized family compared to the tins of a couple generations ago. This, so we are told, is necessary or else it all goes bust.

This is demonstrably untrue. The truth is, we’re lazy. While we have the finest technology the world has even seen, we’re slowly losing the ability to prepare food, count in our heads or even write legibly. This isn’t simply because we’re dumber – but because certain systems and technologies have taken over these roles for us. The same can be said about the entire production line. We see only a small part of the production line from resource collection to the eventual rubbish heap. Making it cheaper also increases consumer interest and the turnover rate; feeding the economy.

We are a few generations divorced from patience. Instant gratification is the demand. Coupled with an unsustainable economic structure, this is a recipe for disaster.

Heading away from Adelaide, I had a moment just passed the first exist from the freeway into Murray Bridge where the road bends and you are rewarded with a grand sweeping view of the Murray flood plain, where I wanted to get out of the truck and leave it. This stuff that I was moving over 800km was, for the most part, a burden.

Sure, much of it is essential for comfortable exists, such as beds, clothes and crockery and my wife and I are fairly minimalistic, however, much of the stuff wouldn’t last long enough to be passed down. Not more than what I could have fit into my own car was of sentimental value. The rest will be wasted in some way, at some time, within my life time. While we both tend to sell or give away unwanted items, rather than wasting them, that only opens up the door for others to waste them into landfill on our behalf. Maybe when they are fairly decomposed and more difficult to work with, my grandchildren maybe old enough to happen upon them in a future mining site.

This is the legacy I am leaving that beautiful little person, asleep within my arms, as a parting gift in the making. I’m horrified with myself. We do not have the right to accelerate production, to increase turnover rate of goods solely for a quick dollar, for it was never our dollar to begin with (and, it’s very likely to go towards the next item for landfill anyway).

 

 

 

Work of the Moth