The Public Must Be Compensated

Political partisans have been trying to claim that Sweden’s Public Health authority, fronted by Anders Tegnell, is unique in pursuing a “cruel” herd immunity goal. It is a bald lie. Herd immunity to COVID-19 is the end-game for all decisionmakers in public health, including in the authoritarian-coalition NPI (Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention, AKA mass, indefinite Isolation and Immobilization) response designed by Biosecurity experts (See the FOIA’d Red Dawn emails in the New York Times).

The difference from Sweden’s democratic-scientific approach to the pandemic is that the authoritarian coalition’s NPI Mass Isolation & Immobilization approach allows the security state to practice implementing population lockdown (Red Dawn emails discuss this goal, along with testing the internet.), while technocratic epidemiologists are thrilled to be using societies as laboratories (See https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/opinion/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing.html). All the “early”/”late” implementation discourse in the media is scientistic nonsense typically used to sell Biosecurity indefinite mass house arrest, as opposed to a testing-forward, selective-isolation policy that no coalition has emerged to champion within the authoritarian societies.

But we must start focusing on the bait dangled by the authoritarian-coalition strategy. The avalanche of economic, social and health costs it unleashes cannot be worth the golden carrot swaying before the manhandled public: an immunization crafted over 18 months for one (1) version of coronavirus, where novel coronaviruses develop repeatedly. (A new avian flu, the Red Dawn biosecurity experts noted, had developed in China early this year even while COVID-19 was taking the spotlight.)

The people must rise together and demand compensation from the state for their epic sacrifices to the authoritarian coalition’s social-control practice and universal-lab conveniences.

For A More Humane Pandemic

April 2020 revision

Including the US, many countries’ public health authorities, their virologists and hospital workers, have coalesced with politicians, citing mortality risks to the immune-compromised, and prioritizing support for health care professionals in a time of ramping demand in many jurisdictions. Together they have instituted an isolation and immobilization policy upon a great, crude swath of the people, now designated “non-essential workers.”

Eager to protect and serve, people have embraced the virologist’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, as people impose self- house arrest and dutifully sew their own face masks. Police have expanded checkpoints from DUI to immigrants and now the entire population of disease vectors. Parks are closed, corporations and states furlough and fire employees, New York epidemiologists call for Americans to “freeze in place,” and the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who own dogs.

 

There is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we think. While we admire the brand of selfless cooperation, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. It is very much rooted in a fundamental, Malthusian premise: Our humanity is the problem to be eradicated. To follow expertise means faithfully following whatever lab-coated technocratic policy crushes humanity while, thankfully for the politicians (some of whom liquidated their vulnerable investments before policies were implemented), maintaining and augmenting economic inequality. The issue here is that indefinite detention, for example the prohibition of walking, the preference for indefinite isolation and immobilization, is also torture in a walking, communicating species, which is what humans are. Both policy confining people to cell-like apartments and mortality are distributed very unequally, afflicting people who live in public infrastructure-poor areas and in the US, particularly long-beseiged African Americans.

Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that isolating and immobilizing criminals and migrants in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. We have a specific model for how we address problems, optimizing the variables of masculine policing employment, maintaining the medical system as -is, reducing deaths among the immuno-compromised, and maintaining the state-mediated intergenerational transfer of wealth from the working class to business owners and top managers. Applied to the COVID-19 pandemic our “health” and “epidemiology” concepts are narrowly technocratic and political;  nonetheless when we say it’s all for health, we think of our mortality and feel deeply.

Governments have offered trillions to compensate businesses for the economic depletion accompanying extended shut-down of all but “essential” work– primarily hospital and guard work. When life is on the line, most people are pleased to pitch in, particularly helping to police and abnegate themselves. In Canada, a Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians are “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

A better approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where an early COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. Iceland is a prominent exception to the technocratic-political refusal of mass-testing. It has been mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland within a couple of weeks. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Sweden has pursued a testing-forward, selected isolation policy to maintain a socio-economy where federal transfers don’t facilitate business to loot the paychecks of future generations. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Kerala has responded to the crisis with effective disease suppression balanced with humane supports and democratic freedoms. As the Wall Street Journal recently observed, countries such as Germany, that are conceptually able (via corporatism) to recognize the contribution of their working class to their economy, soon moved onto increasing their testing capacity, toward a testing-forward approach that allows them to minimize population isolation and immobilization. Minnesota has the capacity to mobilize a testing-forward approach, and save its diverse working class and the economy that depends on human thriving.

 

While blanket testing takes state organization and costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective–and useful in the long run, and will cost less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating most people inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, a variant of criminals, as the technocratic-political population-management model must do.

 

Different conditions require different interventions. The testing-forward approach is not appropriate in urban concatenations, such as Milan, London, and New York City-Connecticut, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global economic network and transit centrality, COVID19 has raged throughout the population, and spread outward. In those metropoles, selected testing and blanket isolation & immobilization makes sense. Just as Wuhan was transformed into a “dystopia,” in the first week of May New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York City would become a surveillance and policing city as its response to its convulsive, central COVID-19 experience. Because NYC is a capitalist metropole, this will create a commercial export industry in antihuman infrastructure. This antihuman policy and infrastructure will be heavily promoted, but must be resisted outside these capitalist criminalized, disease-vector population cores.

Blanket testing/selected isolation would work best in regions with a lower incidence of transmission. The virus has been spread with the travel of business elites. Yet even in seemingly highly-infected Colorado, playground for the rich, testing has shown that only 1% of the population is infected. Regions less central and disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, by instituting universal testing rather than the debilitating and interminable blanket isolation & immobilization approach that looks best on computer simulations preserving the existing parameters that produced the crisis.

 

Unfortunately, in countries like the US, policy flows from its financial metropoles. In a pandemic, this subsidiarization is not beneficial. It is a lack of regional-appropriate capacity. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, distinctive high-capacity regions like Minnesota have a different responsibility, to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ and politicians’ attunement to optimization at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare. Favoring “freezing” the hinterlands, metropole expertise will argue that the virus and antibody tests are not perfect. Yet if the virus and antibody tests are not perfect, in humane-policy jurisdictions like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, they have been shown to be sufficient to allow for efficient, targeted virus suppression and eradication—without incurring other forms of mass health devastation, economic collapse and exacerbated, multigenerational inequality.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Doing like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, and following not just the virological disease-vector population framework and the politician’s population-communications framework, but incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity.  In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of the trillions governments are working to transfer from workers to business elites for generations, where such problems as coronaviruses are caused by already-excessive discounting of workers’ human needs and welfare (Wallace, Liebman, Chavez & Wallace 2020). It would require immediately building testing capacity under state direction. It would require an organized mobilization, redeploying many of the out-of-work legions in the work of testing, or bringing into testing the armies of frustrated altruists within the military. It would be stridently opposed by metropole expertise, because it would be an expenditure of collective resources, and the global financial metropoles will not benefit from either mass testing or the diminishment of socio-economic inequality.

A testing-forward turn would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their hopeful public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions, and act upon them now.

 

Mid-March reporting held that Minnesota state and private (eg. The Mayo corporation) labs did not have sufficient supplies to do mass testing. This “shrug” reporting was quite common in the US and Canada at the time, and there was little interest in how the state might fund and organize testing in these jurisdictions.  Throughout the US the main interest in this story was exhibited by political partisans, who used it to bicker over which party was to blame for the poor testing capacity. This diversion is part of the problem with dependency on antidemocratic political leadership temporarily patronizing virologists. By contrast, Sweden averted politician leadership problems by having long ago built up an independent public health bureaucracy. Politicians have little say in public health policy there, though there was some attempt by politicians to intercede. Without politicians able to jump into manipulating people’s fears to keep policy choices within inequality-preserving parameters (eg. using police and commercial tech to institute a vast prison landscape), Swedish public health experts could take into account the significantly-deleterious mental and physical health impacts of treating humans as little more than population network nodes, and instead design epidemic interventions that preserve human health. While the US and Canada shrugged at their own incapacities or gave room for politicos to carp at their political enemies, governments such as Germany’s began to fund and organize mass testing capacity.

Mayo is among the private corporations that raced to produce immunization, as, with both state and private markets, immunization is expected to be more lucrative than testing. It could be that Mayo’s for-profit requirements mean that Minnesota, unlike Iceland (which state has more independence from New York), does not have the public-private-sector incentive to produce the testing that could end the epidemiological threat far more quickly than more-profitable immunization. This for-profit medical preference will be devastating to human health and the economic viability of the working class and capitalism itself in the short, medium, and long-term. Did Minnesota public health authorities have the capacity to intercede and redirect efforts? In April, Minnesota announced its public health officials had convened Mayo and the University of Minnesota to produce 20,000/day swab (molecular/RNA) coronavirus testing capacity. Yet the governor of Minnesota continued to prioritize isolation & immobilization policy, barring the public from parks and recreation.

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from “squandering” our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? Minnesota’s economic and political elites are well connected to the US financial metropole; but because Minnesota also has working class people, from farm workers to small business owners to furloughed managers, following an isolation and immobilization program is not in this region’s health or economic interests. Ultimately, even our friends in New York can benefit from Minnesota pursuing a humanist testing-forward approach, and preserving health, social, and economic integrity in the US.

Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively subordinated, as our swift lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because those crisis conditions inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what awkward combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access and cobble together (Katharine Moos, 2019; Wallace, Liebman, Chavez, and Wallace, 2020). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed. While we clutch our pearls and claim that our expert antihuman policies are for the “health,” the frontline nurses and doctors, the grandpas and people of color, in fact we are living in a time in which a sinister Malthusian presumption undergirds our expertise: In our disposition to maximize the augmentation of dehumanization and inequality both in our everyday and our emergency policies and institutions, we continue to discount the humanity of working people, to discount their economic contribution, to take more and more from them, to immiserate, stunt and weaken them around the world and cut short their lives, our lives. How can we develop feelings about the foundation of our pandemics, so that we can stop reproducing them? Do well-educated Minnesotans have the capacity to break with the antihuman population management models? Can Minnesota put its weight behind testing rather than freezing humanity?

 

For supporting articles, follow Mara Fridell on Twitter.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing Data

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

 

 

Humanist Approach: Global Testing, Selected Isolation & Immobilization

Alternative to Inhumane Selected Testing, Global Isolation & Immobilization Policy

As public health authorities cite mortality risks and prioritize repressing demand on critical care beds, people have embraced the public health researcher’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, including in certain cities around the world where COVID19 rages. Today and for some indefinite time, the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who have dogs to walk, recalling the days when the only people allowed to take breaks at work were smokers.

 

While we admire the brand of selflessness, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. Though doubtless dogs are better for health than cigarettes, the issue here is that indefinite detention, the prohibition of walking is also torture in a walking species, which is what humans are. Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that immobilizing criminals and migrants long-term in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. In both cases, there is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we’re thinking of.

 

In deference to the public health model, the Trudeau government and provinces are stepwise imposing extended mass quarantine and immobilization. The federal government has offered $85 billion to compensate businesses and individuals for the economic depletion that will accompany extended shut-down of all but “essential” services, apparently such as, looking out my home office window, issuing parking tickets to the quarantined. Most Canadians are pleased to cooperate with trusted authorities, and they certainly show themselves to be a beautiful people in their cooperative attitudes. One Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians should be “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

Another approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where a COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. While blanket testing costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective, and likely costs less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating all people (but especially those without vacation homes) inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, per the technocratic statistical population-management model.

 

The blanket testing/selected isolation approach may not work in cities, such as Milan and London, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global transportation centrality, COVID19 rages throughout the population. For those cities, selected testing/blanket isolation & immobilization is considered the most appropriate policy. But blanket testing/selected isolation would probably work best in places like Manitoba, and most of Canada. It could well be that regions disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, instituting a universal testing rather than the universal isolation & immobilization approach.

 

This is not the only policy area in which governments in Canada treat Canada and a region like Manitoba with policy better suited for Milan or London. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, we have a distinctive responsibility in our region to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ attunement to the conditions at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity. In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of $85 BN, yes. It would require redeploying many of the underemployed in the work of testing. It would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions.

 

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from squandering our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? What is Canada’s interest in this?* Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively coordinated, as a one-week lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because they inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access (Katharine Moos, 2019). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed.

 

If we cannot remember our humanity, and pursue the appropriate policy approaches that allow us to thrive, we have nothing to look forward to but more crises. You could see how that would happen, and be celebrated as morally just, within the framework of capitalism. But it isn’t solidarity if it only ever sacrifices one way.

 

*It turns out that what Canada is interested in is what it has always been interested in: extractivism, rah, rah. The government is intent on reserving its power to socialize costs for subsidies to twilight oil rentiers. So it doesn’t want to pay up front for comprehensive testing, and preserve any hope of having an economy not in decline, let alone implement policy on behalf of humans. Instead, it’s forcing the Canadian people, from their home-detention sentence, to suckle the bloated, near-moribund corpse of trash oil capitalists.

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing is Being Deprioritized

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

Iceland is the exception, is mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland by mid April.

Iceland’s relative sovereignty makes me think that what contrastingly distinguishes an unspoken Anglo-American social contract is that the people of the hinterlands must always disgorge themselves to the overaccumulation centers. That’s what makes the Anglo-American model tick.

Canadian semi-public health care

The problem with Canadian health care is not that it is too socialized. It is that it is too capitalist. It places too high a priority on delivering profit to doctors and hospitals. Indirectly, this works out pretty well for those consumers who have pronounced medical-intervention requirements, and thus can serve as profit-delivery vehicles to doctors and hospitals.

In the US, by comparison, only rich people can serve as profit-delivery vehicles to doctors and hospitals, so the advantage of the US’s extreme, conservative-liberal medical market regime is that rich consumers deliver the fattest profits to the doctors, so that some doctors in the US, the ones with the richest medical consumers, can get FAT rich. On the other hand, the Canadian system controls pharmaceutical rents. US policy favors pharmaceutical sales reps’ power over doctors. And HMOs take rents and provide another layer of market domination over US doctors.

However, this is not to say that Canada’s is a fully-developed health care system for humans. It’s medicine, triaged for capitalist requirements. Because Canada is liberal.

If you are not regularly sick or requiring physical relief and readjustment, then you are excluded from the Canadian health care system. You can’t deliver steady money to doctors and hospitals, then you are likely to not be able to access a doctor. You have to rely on continuing exercise, good food, luck, and, if you’re an adult with a little income or wealth, affordable physiotherapy. This is not too much different from Americans, though the adult access to effective, affordable physiotherapy is superior in Canada, and is an okay skeletal (ha! see what I did there?) health care system for usually-healthy adults.

However, normally-healthy Canadians often do not have access to doctors for health monitoring (eg. through childhood development or changes through aging) and consultation, nor for treatment of unusual, fleeting, or minor diseases and injuries, however much these may impact the body’s structural integrity and development. Thus, without exposure in their practice, Canadian doctors are not as adept at identifying health issues that crop up amongst a generally-healthy population. Canadian doctors tend to become experts in cancer, heart care, and broken bones. Neither liberal subject, Canadian or American, has decommodified access to dental care. This is to say that bodily structural integrity and development is never a right nor a priority in a liberal-conservative regime.

But if your luck runs out in a way that is a fast, explosive emergency (broken bones, cancer, heart events), then unlike most Americans, Canadian citizenship includes social protection in those emergencies, as access to medical treatment. And because the sick and differently-abled have access to medical intervention regardless of their own private wealth, Canada has better control over infectious diseases.

Obesity is a Social Inequality & Health Problem

Sociology: I like it more the further removed it is from the task, explicit or de facto, of  proposing the manners required to grease or otherwise optimize capital accumulation.

I appreciate that feminists feel under siege and martyred. Don’t we all these days. But sometimes, due to  un-nuanced, anti-authoritarian alliances with capital, some kinds of feminists permit feminism to be reduced to a wretched, reactionary tool. Certainly, liberal feminism is commonly used in the contemporary era as a tool by political elites to persecute political opponents, as for example where Swedish courts are currently abusing pseudo-feminist sex deviance charges to persecute Wikipedia’s Julian Assange (Sweden has an established weakness for allowing conservatives to use liberal feminism to attack progressive policy, as in immigration).

We appear to have arrived at an epochal juncture where, while global oil-finance-war capitalist machines and working class Enlightenment fighters clash in the streets, postmodernism appears to consist of poorly-paid, impassioned liberal (sometimes self-identifying as radical) feminists, as they are tossed out of the crumbling offices of dying Women & Gender Studies departments in dying humanities schools in overpriced colleges and universities, grasping desperately at the last, remnant, potentially-fundable liberal reform cause: Obeausity liberation (sponsored by Pepsico).

In obesity advocacy, liberal feminism and radical social constructionism are tools used to claim that obesity has no known association with disease. For example, on the environmental website Grist, obesity advocates opposed environmentalists’ pro-bicycling infrastructure campaign on the grounds that it is an affront to obese women. This the last great liberal cause exhorts us to liberate the maligned fat girls from their oppression at the hands of the elite of society: the mean girls, the bicyclists, men who aren’t attracted to fat, and the unsupportive medical doctors of course. In academia, an obese Canadian OISE academic claims that obesity-as-public-health-issue is nothing more than a mean social construction. Presumably to her the function of recognizing a relationship between obesity and disease would simply be to make her feel like she’s in the 7th grade again. Solipsism and careerism charade as a justice campaign.

In a 2010 article from this expanding academic subfield, the UCLA authors Saguy, Grys and Gong reduce the terrain of the issue to a random fight between two groups they reify as moralists v. sociologists. Essentially these are Sneetches with Stars, an unsociological group of people who, presumably out of sheer meanness, choose to understand obesity as a sin behavior “like smoking,” versus Sneetches without Stars, presumably more sociologically-sophisticated people who understand obesity as an “ascribed characteristic like race.”

You know, I enjoy a critique of rampant sociological illiteracy and individualistic moralism as much as anyone; but always take a step back and look around, when social science devolves into simple, de-contextualized barbarity policing/scolding, and social scientists are reduced to professional, secularized nuns. At this point in history, it is a discovery every day for 18 year olds, that race is ascribed. That doesn’t mean that at this point in history, the problem is that doctors got bitchy and called Americans fat.

Fat’s significance is not as a phenomenon of a collective 7th-grader imagination. That would be an EZ problem to solve–for example, with the good old ruler to the knuckles, basically the implied suggestion. No, fat’s significance is that it is created in the physical world outside of our heads, by unequal social relations, which hurt our bodies and minds in other ways as well. People are not being barbaric to oppose this, and it is cheap sophistry to conflate their opposition to these relations with incivility to fat women.  Because it is so myopic, X-treme, fetishized social constructionism can be such a reactionary and careerist tool. Cheap sophistry and toolery are endemic hazards of post-modernism, or any phenomenological dogma. Post-modernism’s proliferation of contextually-naive sophistry and its susceptibility to serving as a political tool for better-organized, hegemonic conservatives (centres of social domination) enable brute power to dictate the terms of reality, and that is why critical realism is required for science, human knowledge, to proceed. (Anarchist post-modernists  argue back that science is nothing more than a tool of the state. That is a debate I will take on more fully elsewhere, but some aspects of my case are embedded in this post.)

Liberal feminist social constructionism dully, dutifully black-boxes why various experts and institutions are identifying obesity as a public health problem, and what their different goals are (eg. social epidemiological efforts to improve public infrastructure v. drug company efforts to sell diet pills). Thus, to the extent that such work –similar to climate change deniers– simply ignores the changing incidence of obesity, its infrastructural, economic and policy roots, its costs to, variously, individuals, families, communities, insurance firm profits, and state health care budgets, and efforts to rectify the roots of obesity that avoid stigmatizing the obese, they are intellectually lazy. But worse, they are dissimulating;* there is in fact solid scientific consensus on the material relationship between fatness and disease.

The Causes of Mass Obesity and the Costs of Obesogenic Societies

This post is not refuting the psychological and physical struggles fat and obese people can experience. Here is a relatable article on how hard it is for a person, once she becomes fat or obese, to lose weight. John Cheese avoids pseudo-altruistic academic bullshit and gives it straight, why poor people in the West are obese, and why they stay that way: They can’t afford real food, and even if they run into money, their tastebuds have already learned that quasifood is exclusively what you stick in your piehole. “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel.”
In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey declares that we should avoid being mean to people about their weight. I agree. Generally, I am all for being nice. I like it when people are nice to me, though I notice that in a world of 7 billion people, privatized, concentrated means of production and consequent rampant over-competition within the labor market, and very little equality and repair, this doesn’t happen as frequently as obesity advocates assume is normative. The reliable exception to this niceness rule is in paid, underpaid, or free, professional academic and political argumentation. So without further ado, let me tell you why fatness and obesity are themselves social and health problems determined by systemic social problems.

The increase in rates of obesity in the soaring-inequality Anglosphere is alarming. In the past 10 years, the incidence of obesity has risen 50% in the UK. The British National Health Service (NHS) observes that childhood obesity is increasing most drastically. Since 1980, the incidence of obesity (as based on BMI) has increased from 25% of the American population to over 1/3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, along with the British Department of Health, have classified American and British societies as “obesogenic,” meaning these societies promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Although more conservative public health experts avoid specifying the well-demonstrated social epidemiological relationship between growing inequality and declining non-elite health, an obesogenic environment is nonetheless seen as the root cause of the increase in fatness and obesity in a population.

“The problems we are now seeing are to do with changes in society – the levels of car ownership, availability of convenience food,” Dr. Tim Crayford of the Association of Public Directors of Health advises. “We need to make it easier for people to make healthier choices, for example, that means having better cycling and walking networks.”

“Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council said that in this (obesogenic British) environment, it was surprising that anyone was able to remain thin, and so the notion of obesity simply being a product of personal over-indulgence had to be abandoned for good,” reported the BBC following a 2007 UK study of the impacts of obesity, conducted by 250 clinicians and backed by the British government.

Fatness-associated risk for the chronic diseases listed below can be (and has been) measured in health care costs associated with fatness. Depending on the methodology, 1998 US costs associated with fatness totaled between $51 billion – $79 billion, for example. In 2002, those who were overweight or obese cost the UK nearly £7bn in treatment, state benefits and indirect costs such as loss of earnings and reduced productivity. These costs spur both capitalist and government interest in decreasing fatness and obesity in some societies. As well, these costs to societies are private profits for many businesses, which produce and support pro-obesity commodities and infrastructure, including pro-obesity hegemonic work.

Fatness is a Risk Factor for Chronic Diseases

Some of the medical and health research establishment classifies obesity as a “metabolic disorder.” That classification facilitates lucrative medical interventions into the symptoms of the public health problem. There have also been successful efforts to designate obesity as a disease, in order to promote drug treatment. That is obviously profit-scrounging behavior, especially as it ignores and distracts from the roots of rising obesity in the population. You are on firmer ground regarding obesity as a “known risk factor for chronic diseases.”

UK studies have shown that 9,000 premature deaths/year in the UK are directly attributable to obesity. Obesity decreases a person’s lifespan on average by 9 years. Severe obesity reduces the lifespan by 13 years.

Fatness significantly increases the risk of the following ten (broad)
diseases (the evidence for the association is rated “convincing” by
the CDC):

Coronary heart disease
Type 2 diabetes
Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of
triglycerides)
Stroke
Liver and Gallbladder disease
Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone
within a joint)
Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

Fatness Taxes the Heart

According to the American Heart Association, fatness is associated
with a number of comorbidities, including several forms of heart
disease. Comorbidity means that no direct physical relationship has
been established between the main “disease,” (here considered fatness)
and the diseases it tends to occur with. So technically, many of the
diseases associated with fatness are not as far as we know caused directly by
the “disease” of fatness.

However, some heart diseases are caused by fatness, including
hypertrophy of the left heart ventricle. Weight is directly positively
related to blood pressure. Fatness tends to cause systemic
hypertension. People with severe obesity are likely to die suddenly of
dilated cardiomyopathies, featuring concomitant cardiac arrhythmias.

When the left ventricle hypertrophies, this causes the right ventricle
to also hypertrophy. This causes obstructive sleep apnea and the
obesity hypoventilation syndrome, which produce pulmonary
hypertension, dilatation, progressive dysfunction, and finally
failure.

The most valid way to diagnose obesity is via hip-waist ratio. Because
insurance companies (eg. Met Life) have traditionally used BMI to
successfully predict risk of disease, we know that BMI is a valid
predictor of heart disease for people who are not of the following
ethnic backgrounds: Pima Indians, Hispanics, and African-American
women.

Fatness Causes Diabetes Type II

Obesity causes impaired glucose tolerance or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, which leads to insulin resistance and accompanying hyperinsulinemia.

With insulin resistance, muscles no longer respond well to insulin, and do not pull sugar (or, more technically, glucose) out of the bloodstream efficiently. Both insulin resistance and fat-marbled muscles (storing extra fat within and between muscle cells) are metabolically unhealthy conditions that can be precursors of diabetes.

The BBC regularly reports on government-sponsored studies of the obesity epidemic in the UK. See:

BBC. 2007. “Obesity not individuals’ fault.” October 17.

Triggle, Nick. 2007. “Why the NHS struggles with obesity.” BBC, September 11.
Also fun: The CDC’s Global Cancer Atlas Online and the US cancer map site. The CDC’s site has mapped data on obesity as it relates to cancer.

Social-constructionist feminists are not the only accomplices in the reactionary coalition to block needed social infrastructure reform in sclerotic, anti-egalitarian, stress-fueling, health-depleting, crisis-plagued late-capitalist societies. Accepting the data on obesity’s relationship to disease, one rising Canadian star of neoclassical freakonomics has used her mathematical skills to argue that obesity is caused by cigarette taxation–which encourages individuals to give up smoking. Her view is that individuals smoke instead of eating; and so in order to stay thin, people must smoke.

So if you’re of the Panglossian pro-inequality persuasion, and yet somehow you don’t subscribe to the solipsi-feminists’ anti-empiricist flat denial of obesity and disease research findings, you have the option of embracing the conservative economists’ contention that there is a second E-Z policy approach (Besides sassily labeling obese people “Real Women” and scolding thin people and family practitioners.) to obesity: discourage taxation and encourage smoking!
Yes, this neoliberal junk social science is what painstakingly-educated people get paid and/or lauded to come up with and flog. They’re just like everyone else when it comes to scratching for their meat. It’s a wicked life, but what the hell. Everybody’s got to eat.

*To be perfectly accurate, they are radical social constructionists, and not critical realists. So they don’t recognize differences among epistemologies’ relationships to ontology. This is what allows them to join with conservatives to deny scientific consensus on changing conditions.

Infrastructural Contributors to Obesity

I) Pollutants Contribute to Obesity and Diabetes:


II) Social Inequality Contributes to Obesity via Stress


III) Capitalism Contributes to Obesity via Class Inequality in Consumption: The Consumption and Lifestyle Decision Paths of Workers and Consumers with Little Effective Demand Are Unhealthily Constrained

Corruption in the US at the 21st Century

Transparency International (TI), the international community’s foremost corruption watchdog, compiles a global Corruption Perception Index every year wherein a variety of “yes-no” questions are posed to respondents from 180 different countries. The results are telling, and they lead to TI’s overall corruption rank for each state…

TI’s corruption barometer found that in Europe, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, political parties are perceived to be most conducive to corruption. In Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the Western Balkans, suspicions lie with the civil service. And in North America, it is the parliament or legislature.

Most police officers in America do not require greased palms for their services. But if one wishes to attend a chicken cordon bleu dinner with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, it will cost him $10,000 (fly fishing and camping in Big Sky Montana with the same gentleman only costs a quarter of that though). Congressman Joe Crowley’s company, however, may be purchased for a piffling $100, including karaoke—unless one wishes to buy in bulk and also attend a “VIP After Party,” in which case the bill rises to $1,000.

The going rate for lunch with Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas seems to be around $500, as is also the price for a savory “Taste of Michigan” luncheon with Congressman Bart Stupak. And for those who feel like splurging, a seat at the “Healthcare Community Dinner Honoring Pete Stark” will set one back a modest $2,500.

Charlie Palmer steaks and health-care talk with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi and Richard Burr costs either $2,000 or $5,000, depending on one’s desired propinquity to the head of the table…

Has the $787,641 to Max Baucus’ coffers (and, to be fair, he is but one of 535) from the health professionals industry since 2005 played any role in his shaping health-care reform legislation? …

Such is also the case for conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House, such as Mike Ross of Arkansas, who just days after voicing his criticism of the progressively minded health-care bills was wooed with extravagant fundraisers by health-care industry lobbyists. (The Blue Dogs received) 25 percent more in contributions from the health-care and insurance industries.”

Excerpted from Whatley, Stuart. 2009. “American Plutocracy.” The Huffington Post, July 31.

US per capita expenditures

What do Americans spend their money on, besides disposable consumer trinkets, interest, and overblown mortgages?

They are currently involuntarily donating:

$2238/capita/annum to military expenditures,
$39,000/capita in wealth redistributions (recent bailouts) to finance capitalists, and
over $6000/capita/annum to the private insurance-lobbyist-pharma-and gross-inequality-lovin’-physicians-run US medical complex!

Such a lucky slave-peoples.

Everyone Does Better with Equality


“Americans think that it’s healthcare that produces health, when there really is very little evidence for that.

What turns out to be really important is the nature of caring and sharing in society. And the best factor that really impacts that is the degree of inequality. Where societies are more unequal, people don’t look out for one another, they look out for themselves. Where societies are more equal—and economic equality is the thing that is most important in this—people look after each other, society looks after each other, and pretty well everyone does better.

There’s almost nothing that is better in a society that tolerates the extreme levels of inequality.”

Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, Senior Lecturer at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! March 30, 2009.

"Nonprofit" Corruption

A revealing article, dubbed wonkishly enough “The Pennsylvania Community Health Reinvestment Agreement”: http://www.statecoverage.net/pdf/monograph0806.pdf

This article provides an overview of one of the many, many problems with a private health care system. Here we see the many opportunities for corruption available to the insurers that enjoy non-profit status, Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The historical roots of Blue Cross/Blue Shield are in the efforts of the AMA to maintain “provider sovereignty”–that is, to prevent the majority of Americans from access to health care, so that the health care market would be calibrated to the incomes/wealth of the most affluent Americans, thus maintaining medical doctors’ financial elitism in addition to their elite status.

It should be made clear to non-Americans that Blue Cross/Blue Shield do not primarily service needy populations.

These insurers’ unregulated status makes public accountability impossible, as this article demonstrates.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield provide an excellent case of the widespread corruption and inefficiency that dominates US businesses via “creative” accounting. They went from no reserves to pay claims in the 1980s and 1990s–when they poured insurance income into outrageous golf junkets and Paris headquarters–to a new amassing of massive wealth at the public and social expense. While companies and individuals paying for health insurance fork over ever higher premiums for the “confidential” ends of the private healthcare insurers, this wealth has been dedicated to ridiculously high executive salaries, the retention of armies of ridiculously overpaid legal firms, and political lobbying.

In exchange for minimal and insecure commitments to low-income health insurance subsidization (covering 100,000 people), the Pennsylvania Agreement effectively relieves these unaccountable companies and their for-profit subsidiaries from contributing to the public welfare through taxation. Crazily enough, the PA Community Investment Agreement appears to be the very best the privatized US health care system can do to provide health care coverage. It is hailed as a cutting-edge model for states hoping to cope with the devastating health care crisis. For in most states, governments have no ability to regulate these “nonprofit” monsters.

And by regulate, I mean to say: Governments have no ability to determine whether a nonprofit is acting in any “benevolent” (as opposed to bilking) manner whatsoever. They have no access to information about rates and expenditures. This brings into question the whole point of even having a “nonprofit” category in public governance. Since its a capitalist country, why assume that any private business is “benevolent” at all? Blue Cross/Blue Shield themselves deny it! Here is the reason for the “nonprofit” category in the US: It’s an avenue for graft.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield are a clear cut case that privatized health care is socially inefficient and socially damaging.