OGH Books

Jun 23
Objectivist or positivist science

I am re-reading Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. As a fantasy of a totally «objective» science. A «psychohistorical» science, founded on human crowd behaviour, able to forecast the future. Down to the last decimals.

What you need, in this perspective, is a better mathematical solution, to different probabilities of human behavior.

Asimov’s trilogy would probably have been mainly forgotten, now, if it wasn’t for the fact that he also questioned this kind of thinking.

The trilogy is an excersize in «extreme objectivism» plus critique.

The problem is – how to avoid civilization breakdown.

Asimov first outlines a «first foundation», an engineering and natural sciences type of forecast, to avoid the breakdown. Later he proposes a «second foundation», relying more on psychologists and sociologists. Together, these will be able to restore civilization.

Asimov wrote in the 50ies. He had never read J. G. Ballard, Philip K Dick, or Ursula LeGuin – the «inner space» critical turn of science fiction in the 60ies and 70ies. along with feminist awakening. Or Foucault, and others, later. Asimov often often wrote like a conservative engineer, and his gender role portraits, in the Foundation triology, are often funny “pastiche” from the US in the 50ies.

What is remarkable is that his texts can be read, in more modern and postmodern  light, later on. For example, Asimov had not read Judith Buttler’s gender as performance theory. But this element is present in his texts. The actors “perform”, and this has consequences for the structural study of psychohistory.

At each step, in the Foundation trilogy, Asimov brings his objetivist science plan further. Yet he also stamps on his own feet. The plan doesn’t quite work out. This is what makes the trilogy entertaining – and challenging, today also.

 

May 18
A post-pandemic society of the future: Asimov’s The naked sun

What an amazing author and scientist Isaac Asimov was. I have re-read his book The naked sun, a science fiction novel written in 1956.

In this short book, 191 pages, Asimov manages to combine 1) a detective story, 2) an exploration of artificial intelligence and human interaction («the laws of robotics»), and (3) a portrait of a postpandemic/postcrisis society where human contact is looked at with fear. This last aspect has gone unnoticed.

In this society, you can «view» someone, by means of technology, from afar – but «seeing» them, directly, is a horror, or as if we would expose genitals to each other. Seeing people in real life is restricted to very close contacts and special situations. People have become hermits, each in their own castle. This society is located on the fertile planet Solaria, colonized by emigrants from Earth long ago, having developed into a «hygienic» land owner world. The citizens are few, compared to the area of the planet, so each citizen has a huge estate, and lives from this «estate economy», by means of robots doing the work – 30 000 robots per citizen, we are told (no problem with Asimov’s imagination).

Here, each in their huge estate, they rule as local kings and queens (both are portrayed). Presumably without much social class divide (at least, this plays no role in the book).

So, if we imagine that the current pandemic is not the last, and that humanity will have to adapt – here is one interesting but also quite sad telling of the future story, leading to personal isolation plus  technology or robot work. However, Asimov does not leave us depressed.

Here is the attempt, at the back, to summarize the book.

 

Yet Asimov also introduces a theme 4) already in the title of the book: The naked sun. The main person, the detective growing up on Earth, has a fear of open spaces, and of seeing the naked sun, or the sky. At the end of the book he overcomes his fear. The extreme isolation of the castle-citizens of Solaria, and the anxiety of the tunnel-living people from Earth, can be overcome. The author has a trick up his sleeve. I think this qualifies to «the very best indeed». What a mind, and author.

Even if Asimov is sometimes classified as a tech oriented writer and a natural sciences type of researcher /author, there is no doubt whatsoever, in this book, that cultural and social constructions play a large role, including social roles and social psychology, that are very clearly displayed in the text. These cross-disciplinary areas are exactly where Asimov excels – in my view.  The “robots, mainly” view of Asimov is far too narrow.

Although Asimov was still a fairly young man (36 years) when The naked sun was written, he had already tasted success, especially through The Foundation trilogy, and he writes with confidence, although very economically, this was still a novel that should appeal to the action-seeking book reader and not go too far in depth. Kiosk literature, but clearly punching way beyond its class.

The Naked Sun was the third volume in his “robot series” starting with I, robot, a few years before. The cover below illustrates the need to get attention, at the time. Especially for this new “controversial” science fiction litterature.

This how this somewhat controversial book was presented at the back cover:

 

Why could Asimov be so “assertive” and clear in his plot, in The naked sun? It was not only due to the two former volumes in the “Robot” series. It was mainly that the Foundation trilogy had now started to gain well-deserved attention.

The Foundation trilogy, written a few years before, makes the same basic points as The naked sun.

The Foundation trilogy is wider and much more epic than the robot series. Much like Star Wars, later.This is how it was presented, in my slightly later UK edition (1967).

In Foundation, volume one, we have, first, a galactic civilization that faces breakdown – yet some of it manages to survive, as an outpost in the galaxy, mainly for technology reasons.

Next, this “first foundation” renaissance civilization manages to overcome regional barbaric forces, and expand, but is then faced by a “human mutant”, overturning all expectations.

Finally, in the third volume, Asimov leads the way towards a more mysterious “second foundation”, which is socially and psychologically oriented, more than technically. Only through the combination of the two foundations is civilization regained.

It is written somewhat “naively”, using the words and conceptions of its time, but it still gives food for thought. I have never understood why it did not become a film or series, since the plot and background arguments are in many ways better than Star Wars, not to speak of Game of Thrones, et al.

PS – There is now a “teaser” for a new Foundation series, from Apple TV. Great – but so far I am not so impressed. The trick of the tail, in this story, is the sociological overview, not the dramatis personae. But we’ll see.

 

 

Oct 18
Glitrende om Dylan og 60-tallet
Jorun Solheim: Shakespeare i smuget, John Grieg forlag.
Anmeldt av Øystein Gullvåg Holter, oktober 2020

Jeg tenkte først: dette blir spennende. Så merket jeg, jeg la boka bort. Dette blir for heftig, tenkte jeg. La meg vente til jeg er på hytta, og har tid, fred og ro. I mellomtiden leste jeg meg litt opp. Bare litt. Jeg leste Uncut’s «Ultimate music guide: Dylan», som iallfall er fri for annonser, og gir oppdaterte syn på hva Mr Bob har prestert her i verden, album for album.

Solheim har levert en glitrende beskrivelse av hvordan Bob Dylans kunst, og særlig hans tekster, kan oppleves. Jeg bruker ordet «glitrende» fordi jeg ble grepet, da jeg først kom inn i boka, etter et kapittel eller to. Jeg leste i flere timer, og leste resten neste dag. Kunne ikke legge den vekk.

Og jeg har tenkt på den mye etterpå. Når jeg gjør praktisk arbeid. Noen av Dylans melodilinjer dukker opp i hodet mitt. Jeg husker tekstene som Solheim skriver om fra gammelt av, nynner sangene inni meg, og tolker dem nå på delvis nye måter. Hva mer kan man be om? Det holdt til å beise hele verandaen på hytta i dag. Indre melodier, musikk til arbeidet.

Jeg tenker også på hvordan forfatteren får fram det beste og viktigste i Dylans tekster. Hvordan hun balanserer kunst og resepsjon. Sine egne erfaringer, en personlig ramme fra ungdomstidas møte med Dylan i hans klassiske periode på 60-tallet, uten at dette tar overhånd, men danner en fin ramme om musikken som beskrives.

Det er sjelden jeg opplever en bok om musikk på denne måten. Jeg har lest en god del, selv om mye Dylan-litteratur (et stor felt, nå) er ukjent for meg.  Jeg har hørt mye Dylan, gjennom tidene, og regner med at det også er en kvalifikasjon. Jeg har mitt eget personlige forhold, og et stort pluss ved Solheims bok er at hun gir stort rom for dette. Hun er åpen og ærlig og hva hun liker og misliker av hans musikk, og begrunner hvorfor dette er store kunstverk nettopp fordi kunstneren lar oss tolke på vår egen måte. Det er ingen fasit.

Forfatteren er litt eldre enn meg, og alder var faktisk viktig på en nokså spesiell måte, på 1960-tallet. De eldre hørte Dylan som et tilskudd til folk og protestsang, mens de yngre syntes det ble ennå bedre da han gikk forbi dette. Og plugget inn en elektrisk gitar. Solheim og jeg har imidlertid omtrent samme syn på dette. Det begynte med den symbolske vendingen i Dylans sanger. Så kom elektrifiseringen. Dette er vel i og for seg nokså allment godkjent nå – Dylans «klassiske» periode var fra da han startet å skrive sine egne mer «introverte» sanger, og etterhvert tok i bruk rock og el-instrumenter, fram til han måtte ta en tur på landet, det ble for heftig (for å si det enkelt), på slutten av 60-tallet. Med sanger som Hard rain’s gonna fall, Ballad of a thin man, Mr Tambourine man, Like a rolling stone. Solheim bruker mikroskopet omtrent som jeg ville gjort, på de store verkene fra denne tida, som Visions of Johanna.

En «glitrende» bok er ikke bare en bok man er enig i, men noe man har fått å være uenig i, noe man kan bryne seg på. La meg ta noen småsaker først.

Solheim avviser the Byrds versjon av Mr Tambourine man som sentimental. Var den egentlig det? Er ikke ordet kommersiell mer dekkende? Jeg hører ikke så mye sentimentalitet, men derimot et sterkt ønske om å lage noe som var «fengende», en ekte hit-låt. Som den ble. Som solgte langt utover det som hittil hadde vært Dylans fan-skare. Var det dårlig? Byrds ble da vitterlig etter hvert ganske gode Dylan-tolkere (Chimes of freedom f eks) og utviklet seg til et særdeles godt band (hvis i tvil, hør deres live versjon av 8 miles high, på live-albumet «the Byrds»).  Så ja, litt mer balanse her, hadde vært kjekt.

I det hele tatt kunne jeg ha ønsket mer referanse til andre artister som utvekslet ideer og noter med hverandre, og litt mindre følelse av at Mr Bob var totalt i en «klasse for seg», King of the hill. Det var han ikke. Det var mange andre would-be-poeter (f eks John Lennon, Jim Morrison), og Dylan var som en svamp, tok til seg alt som var brukbart, fra disse (altså, ikke bare fra americana-røttene som han senere har framhevet). I forhold til Beatles, for eksempel – dette var toveis innflytelse, på midten av 60-tallet.

Solheim skriver et sted at hun forteller mest om tekstene til Dylan fordi hun skriver en bok. Det er ikke en helt god begrunnelse – og heller ikke hovedbegrunnelsen i boka – som er at hun skriver om det hun ble mest opptatt av. Men jeg skjønner hva hun mener. Det er lettere å forholde seg mest til tekstene i en bok, på samme måte som musikken er hovedemnet, på et noteark.

Det er ikke slik at forfatteren bare ser på Dylans tekster og ikke hører på melodiene og musikken. Hun framhever stemmen, hvordan den enten gjorde sterkt inntrykk, eller ble avvist. Solheims små anekdoter fra Dylan-mottakelsen på 60-tallet treffer blink. Jeg opplevde selv hvordan min mor ba meg skru ned lyden på Dylan’s Hard rain, ut fra at hun ikke «orket mer av den stemmen», på 60-tallet. Og jeg husker samme diskusjon på fester. Boka er full av slike treffende referanser til 60-tallets kulturendringer. Det fikk være grenser! Dette var i en periode der langt hår for gutter fortsatt var kontroversielt. Der lytting til Bob Dylan fikk preg av å være «motkultur», et brudd med den herskende kulturen, systemet, eller «the establishment» som det etter hvert ble kalt.

Likevel savner jeg litt mer om musikken og melodiene. Melodiene, særlig. Solheim kunne godt vært tydeligere på å framheve melodienes betydning, når det kommer til «I want you», for eksempel, som har en av Dylans mest fengende melodier. Kunstverket er en enhet (mer eller mindre vellykket) av tekst / sang, og melodi / musikk. Ordene i I want you er for meg tegn på glede, yrhet, ikke bare en stabel av fenomener eller metaforer – når man hører dem som sang, med musikken. Går man bare inn i teksten, og leser ham som poet, blir det for trangt. Om man hører ordene sammen med melodien, gir de en annen – eller la oss si, tredje – mening. De betyr noe nytt sammen. Solheim skriver stort sett bra om dette, boka er ikke en løsrevet «tekstlig» poesianalyse, selv om jeg altså gjerne hadde sett mer om musikken og melodiene.  

Dette kan ha å gjøre med at jeg selv var aktiv i kritikken av kommersiell musikk på slutten av 60-tallet, og var med på å grunnlegge organisasjonen Samspill i 1971, som senere la grunnlag for plateselskapet Mai, og en musikkavis, Vår musikk. Vi var motstandere av ensidig kommersialisering av musikken, men samtidig tilhengere av utbredt konsum (av god musikk). En umulig oppgave? Javisst. Tanken var at motkulturen kunne utnytte kommersielle krefter (ikke bare omvendt). Det betydde, for eksempel, at tilmed Paul McCartney kunne skrive en «god nok» tekst, fordi det som teller, er det totale uttrykket, kunstverket slik det faktisk kommer i bruk, ikke bare teksten for seg. Når man tar inn at Byrds’ versjon av Tambourine man vekket gjenklang i tusener av amerikanske hjem der Dylan direkte ikke hadde fungert, blir vurderingen annerledes. Dylan ble selv opptatt av å bidra til samfunnskritisk pop. Forfatteren virker mindre interessert.

Fra en kjønnsforsker som Solheim hadde jeg kanskje ventet en ennå vassere diagnose av Dylan som proto-feminist, «androgynatisk» (for å bruke et begrep for boka Menns livssammenheng), til tider trans, en banebryter i forhold til kjønn. Her har forfatteren mye spennende å si, men ambisjonsnivået er trolig klokelig lagt noen hakk ned. Hun dokumenterer at Dylan var kvinnevennlig og relasjonell i bred forstand og ikke bare kan avvises som mannssentrert eller (av og til) misogynistisk, men hun går ikke så mye videre fra dette. Det tror jeg er realistisk. Det er kanskje riktig at Dylan på sitt beste kan tolkes som forkjemper for en ny kjønnsorden – men vi er fortsatt innen en mannssentrert kultur. Emnet fortjener oppfølging.

Det som blir tydelig, er at Solheim, ved å ha med kjønnsperspektivet i analysen, ofte tolker tekstene på en ny måte.  Dette er kanskje bokas viktigste «added value» i forhold til den eksisterende litteraturen om Dylan, som stort sett er skrevet av menn.

Solheim avslutter boka med et drømmekapittel. Dylan kommer ramlende inn i buskaset mens forfatteren sitter under et tre og leser en bok. De prater og samtalen består utelukkende av sitater fra Dylan-sanger. Godt levert. Men jeg blir litt undrende, når forfatteren ender kvelden med å bre over gjesten et teppe, og så gå å legge seg, alene. Mange hadde nok hatt en litt våtere drøm.

Et par videre utfordringer kan nevnes. Det er litt tendens i boka til å teoretisere seg bort fra hovedsakene – men ikke mye.  De antropologiske referansene er relevante (og dempet ned) – bra – men hvor mye de egentlig bidrar med, i forhold til Dylans tekster, er ikke alltid klart. Metaforene er bestemte og konkrete – javel – men så kan de også bety forskjellige ting – javel. Som nevnt, dette er ikke tekster, det er del av et kunstverk som kalles «låt», «sang», «track» osv – og analyse derfra kan trolig gi mer mening i bildet.

Boka er personlig vinklet – til en viss grad. En antropolog oppsøker sitt personlige felt. Hvordan er denne grensen dratt? Gjentar forfatteren det hun har opplevd som hovedsaken, ved artisten? Blir hun selv en «masked marauder»? Er boka litt mystisk?

Jeg synes den forblir litt uavklart, uten en klar slutt (men ikke mystisk). Uavklart for eksempel fordi forfatteren sier nokså lite om hva som fikk henne til å digge Dylan i ungdommen ut fra sin egen familiesituasjon, eller hva som gjorde at hun sluttet å lytte, senere. Det ligger i bakgrunnen men spesifiseres ikke. Her og nå, i denne boka, er dette kanskje akkurat passe. Det er Dylan, ikke Solheim, som er i fokus. Det er godt levert og balansert.

Boka river ned myter om 60-tallet – og slutten er et godt eksempel. Forfatteren legger et teppe over gjesten i stolen. Ikke en natt i felles seng. Hvorfor tenkte jeg først, at dette var litt spakt? Burde hun ikke hatt en «våt drøm»? Jeg tror jeg tenkte ut fra fordommer om 60-tallet, som virker inn på de fleste av oss – at det den gang mest handlet om «sex drugs and rock’n’roll». Men Dylan var ikke et sexsymbol. Han var «hode», i motkulturen. En motkultur som handlet om samfunnsendring, ikke sex drugs eller rocknroll. Ikke først og fremst iallfall, selv om det kom som motvekter etterhvert. Solheim får dette fint fram, gjennom sin poetiske og symbolske tolkning av Dylan.

Alt i alt er denne boka en fin leseropplevelse som virker inn på leseren på mange plan, og som dermed er verdig adjektivet «glitrende». Dette er den beste boka om musikk jeg har lest på lenge. Den anbefales ikke bare ut fra interesse for Bob Dylan, men ut fra interesse for motkultur, ungdomsopprør og kjønn og likestilling.

Etter å ha lest Solheim, kikket jeg litt mer på Uncuts guide til Dylan. Jeg oppdaget ikke bare at 2 av 2 redaktører er menn, men også at 18 av 18 bidragsytere er menn (s 5). Tenk det, Hedda! Er det mulig!? Første gang en kvinne nevnes, er det under «Thanks to». Denne sterke mannsdominansen i Dylan-tradisjonen er interessant, og kanskje noe Solheim – og andre – kan komme tilbake til.

Mar 15
Corona, class and gender

Author at the Margareta Church ruins, in the Maridalen valley north of Oslo, early March 2020

Blog post written March 16, updated March 22 and April 6, 2020

 

“There is no such thing as society” – ? The social profile of Covid19

A virus does not have any idea of social class, status, and other forms of ranking or hierarchy in human society. It just looks for bodies where it can survive and multiply.

The virus spreads to “somebody”, not just “anybody”, in our society. It doesn’t affect all groups in the population equally.

It spreads through people who create society through their practical lives.

The neoliberal idea that “there is no such thing as society” (Margareth Thatcher), that we are only individuals, is not very convincing in these times of trouble.

Epidemics have a social class profile, and this is an important perspective to keep in mind, as argued by Svenn-Erik Mamelund at Oslo Met, and other researchers. Mamelund warns that the effects of the pandemic will be worse, in lower income groups https://www.klassekampen.no/article/20200316/ARTICLE/200319974

The total cost of epidemics is usually higher among poor people and regions. This is why, as the WHO warns us, we need to worry about Africa and the poor world, in the current situation, not just the spread of the virus in Europe and the US. Poor countries will be even worse hit, and this will hit back on us, unless we can break the cycle.

The new corona virus is socially blind, it just jumps to the nearest somebody. Workers in high-contact jobs are more prone to get it, and people with more social contact.  The transmission as well as the resulting Covid-19 disease has a social profile, with the death rate much higher among some population groups than others.

Although the patterns of disease transmission and development are partly cloudy, two facts emerge beyond doubt. 1) the disease selects by age, older people are more likely to get heavier symptoms and are more likely to die from the resulting worsening of the disease. 2) underlying health problems like heart problems and diabetes are also clear negative factors increasing the chance of dying from Covid-19.

Men go first

It is also clear that the death rate from the disease is higher among men than women. Yet the reasons for this are still in the dark. They are not well clarified.

It seems that, once again, “gender” is a topic that stands at the end of the queue, regarding research, even though, empirically, it is central.

I have looked for research on men’s larger death rate from Covid19 since late February. It is only in the last weeks that the issue has shown up more frequently, mainly in the media, citing recent and still rather fragmented research.

The numbers are only partly clear. I have not seen exact international statistics, regarding the gap between women and men’s chance of dying from the disease. My overall impression is that men stand a one and a half chance, to a double chance, of dying from the disease, compared to women. According to the Chinese evidence (based on the first 55 000 deaths), the chance of an infected man dying from the disease was 168 percent the chance of a woman dying from it (crude fatality rate). A more recent study (72 ooo deaths) shows a very similar pattern, 165 percent chance.

Why?

The first reports, from China, on the larger death rate among men, were tentatively explained by the much higher proportion of smokers among men compared to women in the country. Now, reports from Italy indicate that men are even more prone to die from the disease compared to women, than in China. The “extra male burden” of the new disease is maybe even larger in Italy than in China. Yet in Italy, smoking is more gender-balanced than in China. From age 60 upwards – the main part of the new disease death cases –  the proportions of women smoking is circa 80 percent the proportions of men. The gender gap in smoking seems too small to explain the large fatality difference. See https://www.statista.com/statistics/501615/italy-smokers-by-age-and-gender/

I wrote about this in the original version of this post some weeks ago. Now (April 6) I see the same point picked up elsewhere also, e g in this informative text: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/coronavirus-death-men-women

There is recently more interest in gender issues, and I notice a move away from purely “external” explanations, like smoking, towards more integrated approaches. Even if damaged lungs doesn’t help, its not enough to explain the gender difference. The same goes for other biological or other disease factors. They are important, but they don’t explain all. Quoting from the above paper:

“Ultimately, biology, lifestyle and behaviour are all likely to play a role in the spread and impact of Covid-19. But it will only be possible to understand the exact differences between men and women once more countries produce and make available sex-disaggregated statistics on infection and mortality.”

Possibly, fatal cardiovascular disease, more common among men than women, is a more important factor behind the different fatality rates, than smoking. Studies point to a higher fatality among men at this point, maybe twice as high as women, and cardiovascular disease is the number one factor increasing the complications of the new disease, ahead of diabetes, and others, according to Chinese studies. However, this is probably also only part of the picture. The fatality from cardiovascular disease becomes more gender-balanced, among older people.

There are other medical or biological explanatory factors too, including better immune systems among women, and maybe hormone and chromosome differences, but the picture is still far from clear (as far as I can see).

Patterns of behaviour – our old friend “society” – most probably plays a large role.

Men and health

According to men and masculinities research, men are in situations that may work against good health, and often adapt to patterns of action and practice that increase the health problems. Men’s health behaviour is more often in the high risk zone, than women’s behaviour.

A dramatic example of this rule comes from studies of suicide. These show an almost universal global pattern – men suicide more often than women. Recent studies have also mapped suicide attempts, not just suicides. Here, the situation is the opposite. Women, not men, are most prone to attempt suicide. These studies show that when people consider suicide, men tend to do it, while women more often stay on the brink, they may attempt it, but they don’t go through with it.

Similar patterns can be found in other health-related behaviors. Compared to women, men typically take less (and later) contact with the health system, and are less open about problems. Even in gender-equal Norway, if a couple has a problem, it is typically the wife contacting the family councelling or therapist, dragging the husband along.

Greater fatality among men compared to women in different age groups and for different diseases and causes has been reported e g by the UK researcher Alan White (https://alan-keith-white.blogspot.com/2019/07/mens-health-and-womens-health-emerging.html).

These are relevant factors, even if they may not play the main role for the Covid19 deaths today. The health and social evidence are important parts of the whole. Another important data source on men and health is the International Men and Gender Equality Study (IMAGES, cf. https://promundoglobal.org/programs/international-men-and-gender-equality-survey-images/

It should be noted, that the idea of a “zero sum game” in terms of gender and health is rejected by most health researcher, even if it lives on in the media. Women’s health does not improve by men dying before them (or vice versa). Instead, women’s and men’s health problems should be seen in connection, and reduced in terms of better health behaviours from both (all) genders. Yet the idea stays on, in today’s media and debate.

According to the evidence regarding gender conceptions and bias, “fundamentalist” gender ideas may become stronger, in times of crisis or perceived danger. Crises may create “social panic”, a pattern mapped by researchers already in the 1960s. With more anxiety, studies show, there will be more of a backwards leaning on what is “safe”. Strict conservative gender rules are often considered “safe”. The evidence at this point is not conclusive (there may be gender innovative responses also), but it is clear that gender conservative fallback is a recurrent trend.

Generals planning for the last war?

Imagine what would happen, if women’s death rate from the new disease was almost the double of men’s. Would there have been an outcry? I think so. In gender-equal countries like Norway, at least.

I find it strange, based on the death rate evidence, that “male” is not included, and still not much highlighted and discussed, among the new disease risk factors.

Why not?

Is it mainly due to gender conservativism and a kind of automatic thinking? Men are more prone to die, this is part of the male role, with the man as protector and provider? We are “at war” with the virus, we are told. And men / soldiers are of course the ones most likely to pay their lives. So, the empirical red light warning, the much higher death rate among men, has mainly passed under the conceptual radar.

Class experts tell us that Covid19 will hit poor people worst. Gender experts tell us that women will be worse hit. This has been very visible in Norway, and internationally, as the media debate has taken up research issues, with more peope concerned about the “how” and “why” of the disease.

I think these experts, opinion leaders, or “generals”, are mostly quite correct, regarding strategy, or overall impact. Yet generals need to know about tactics too. Tactics is not about what happens some years ahead. It is about what happens today and tomorrow.  The current empirical picture of transmission, hospital treatment and death from Covid19.

We need to untangle the overall long term effects of the disease, from the actual happenings here and now. Especially, we need to distinguish between the transmission group and the serious impact group (those who get seriously ill, and may die).

For a dramatic example, compare the Black Death. This also probably first started among poor people – we don’t know. It spread through tradesmen to Europe. A typical first stage is transmission through people with money and contacts.

This is now replicated in the European evidence including Norway. Here, ski tourists from Italy and Austria brought home the virus. Likewise, with the so-called Spanish Flu after World War 1, the origin seems to have been in the US, spreading to Europe and the rest of the world mainly through the military. Poor people, and women, usually get the largest total costs from epidemics, but the transmission, especially in the early stage, is another story.

Top down transmission

Instead of the poorest and the lower classes, we obviously have a situation with a “top down” type of distribution of the virus, e g in Norway.

It started with people with money and contacts, mainly. And the fatality rate seems to be quite high, in these groups also. The lack of attention to the top down spread is evident in Europe and elsewhere with leaders in isolation, or infected.

Crying wolf regarding the working class, or women, is important in an overall perspective, but may be misleading, here and now. To understand and reduce pathways of infection and death from the disease we need to look at the upper/middle class, people in occupations with much contact – and men.

There are two different main groups involved, in reducing the total damage to society – the transmitters, and the seriously affected. Their social profiles started quite similar, but are now more diverse, as the disease spreads downwards in terms of social class, gender and ethnicity.

This is now quite clearly confirmed by local evidence from Oslo, capital of Norway. At first, the transmission was largest in the most affluent parts of the city. Recent evidence shows a shift towards the less affluent parts. Maybe, in some weeks time, these areas will be on the top of the list of infections per capita. The transmission will still be somewhat top-down, probably, but less so, than in the first phase.

This prediction fits the international Covid19 statistics (see e g Worldometers). Here, the numbers still read like a “rich world” club of transmission and deaths, with the rich world country deaths outnumbering the poor countries, and with the “epicentre” moving, with US rising fast, and Europe slowing down, while poorer countries – so far – have far lower rates.

This will most probably change, according to top down transmission class and gender analysis and historical epidemic evidence. We shall see. What is clear, here and now, is that top down transmition is shifting into wider transmition, going further out and downwards in terms of social status (class, gender, and others).

It seems that some of the bias and outmoded thinking in the first stage of the disease – where the gender death rate imbalance was almost totally overlooked (in February, early March, in my evidence), and the top down transmission evidence was mainly ignored  (again, in my impression) – was due to the way expert researchers have conceptualized their work. They are into “gender”, for example, but in a quite restricted way, where gender mainly means “women”. Where men are assumed to be of less interest, and/or less gender-equal.

This gender-means-women bias is quite typical, in my experience, in international organizations, for example. Likewise, in terms of class, there is a common response, class means the lower class. Is this approach wrong? On the whole, no. But like I said, it is not the full picture. Tactics differs from strategy. Tactics involves the empirical material, here and now. At that point, experts have been slow to respond, in my view.

Since women generally live longer than men, and age is the number one factor increasing Covid19 fatality, we might have expected more women than men dying from it. Yet this is not the case. This underlines the need to investigate gender differences further.

Summing up

Clearly, better knowledge of the “hidden” gender dimension is needed. Researchers and experts need to cooperate, to create the best possible socio-medical-biological mapping of how Covid19 spreads, how it develops into serious illness, and takes lives – and how it can be reduced.

It is now clear that this will be a long-term pandemic. Gender is one of the central variables regarding the death rate from Covid19, and the reasons for this, still mostly unknown, are important for research and prevention.

The social part of the mapping of Covid19 should include social class, gender, ethnicity and other factors. This is vital and urgently needed. Gender may be a key factor, to reduce the disease and the social and economic cost of the pandemic.

Today (April 4), in Norway, there is really no telling how many have been infected by the virus. This is because testing equipment has become scarce and testing is not at all on the level of the WHO recommendation  (“test, test, test”).  So, experts and health workers are trying to trace transmission paths through a very limited number of test numbers. This is clearly far from optimal.

But at this stage, a social probability map – and guidelines – who, to test – is very important. Where to look, to find the transmitters. Social science cannot predict this exactly, of course, but it can help out, making it more likely that the tests that are actually done, find their target – the transmitters.

 

Author following Covid19 news on a mobile phone, April 6 (reading some good news, maybe light in the tunnel, now.)

Mar 10
Harriet Holter on Metoo – long before

Harriet Holter and Erik Grønseth

Norwegian and Nordic gender research was often radical and innovative in the 70s and 80s. Erik Grønseth and Harriet Holter were two of the pioneers, in Norway.

In this 1987 paper, Harriet Holter discusses Metoo problems, long before more open information was available, long before Metoo.

I cannot find this text on the web, so in this age of open access, I make a copy. You can find it here.

Holter Harriet Seksuell kultur overgrep og gjensidighet 1987 IMG_20200310_0001

Feb 09
The banality of evil

At last, very delayed, I have read this 60s classic:

 

I am embarassed, I should have read it long before, this is glittering analysis, a beacon of a book, everyone should read it, its a true classic of the 60ies.

What does it say, more exactly?

Eichmann did not start out as a killer. On the contrary, his job was to “export” Jews – to somewhere. He got clever at this, threatening and pushing Jewish councils, so they cooperated, and paid much of the price for the “export”. At the start, the end of the export was some other place. Later, it meant death. Eichmann claimed he did not know. He was only the master of the trains and transportation, shipping out Jews, to “somewhere”. His main worry was that the Nazi hierarchy didn’t recognize his effort, to get this whole system going, based on his former recruitment of Jewish participation to the migration deals. The bigger bullies in the Nazi chain of command did not fully recognize his manly efforts! This was what most worried Eichmann, even as he sent millions of Jews to the death camps.  This is the “banality” that Arendt describes so well.

 

 

 

Oct 19
Alternative capitalisms

A new capitalism analysis?

Yes, new capitalism analyses do appear. Although fairly rarely, maybe. It is not just the old stuff on how capitalism is bad – or good. Not just the old black and white treatment.

Two fairly recent examples include Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level (2010), and Thomas Pikketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014). Both works created a lot of scientific debate. Instead of condemning or praising capitalism in general terms, these pioneer studies went into the empirical terrain – what actually happens, in capitalist economy, viewed from our own time.

Both books have the merit of a clear empirical hypothesis, and a theory updated around that central fact. In the case of The Spirit Level, the central empirical fact or pattern is the build-up of psychological and health costs related to capitalism, or at least, some very hardline or competetive forms of capitalism. In essence, there are good psychological and health reasons to avoid too much or too hard capitalism. The fallouts and dysfunctions are bad not just for those who fall out of the system, but for the system also, including the upper class.

Pikketty’s argument is more detail-focused. He goes into one highly significant “detail”, the percent of the total product value taken out by the owners of the production process. He finds a clear historical tendency – the share given to owners is rising, and the rise is notable in the period from the 1980s-today.  From the conclusion:

“A market economy left to itself … contains powerful forces of divergence …… the principal destabilizing force has to do with the fact that the private rate of return on capital, r, can be significantly higher for long periods of time than the rate of growth of income and output, g. The inequality r > g implies that the wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. (…)  The entrepeneur inevitably tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor ( p 571).

There are different ways to interpret this, but there seems to be little doubt that the new findings give a fairly historically correct picture.  Pikketty’s “facts” are even more broadly acknowledged than those of Wilson and Pickett.

None of these works highlight gender discrimination as such, although it is mentioned in The Spirit Level.

Gender equality is assumed to be a fairly peripheral factor, which is a mistake, in my judgement of the state of the research, including my own studies.

Instead, the main discrimination factor is social class or status – rather than gender, ethnicity, or sexuality.

The empirical message seems strong, but I would like it to be tested for control variables like gender equality.

The main message of Wilkinson and Pickett, and of Piketty, is that more social class divides will create more problems. Although starting from different disciplines and problem formulations, the two projects converge in their analysis – which is significant, I think.

Beyond these empirically oriented works, I have a lot of “imaginative” books on capitalism, in the bookshelf by my desk. Like; “How will capitalism end” by Wolfgang Streeck. Hardt and Negri: “Empire”, and books on the follow up debate. In my bookshelf, Steven Lukes: Power: A  Radical View, sits besides Judith Butler: Undoing Gender. Eric Anderson’s Inclusive Masculinity is not far away.

Why? The subject is cross-disciplinary. What is called capitalism in one book may be called masculinity in another.

 

 

References

Piketty, David 2014: Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts

Wilkinson, Richard; Pickett, Kate 2010: The spirit level. Why greater equality makes societies stronger. Bloomsbury Press, New York

 

Jun 28
Harriet Holter on gender differentiation and gender stratification

It looks a bit sad, maybe – the cover on Harriet Holter’s doctoral thesis, published by the University press (Universitetsforlaget), Oslo, 1970. The cover was made by me and Iben Hjort. No brains involved. Empty at the top.

What did Harriet Holter actually say, regarding gender differentiation and stratification? Her text was a world first – or a very early candidate, to distinguish more clearly between these dimensions. Here are some excerpts.

‘The concept of sex differentiation is in the present work often distinguished from sex stratification, that is, from the ordering of the two genders in terms of power and social prestige.’ p 18.

‘In the language of exchange theory, the net results of the differentiation accorded each partner must be great enough to keep motivating the exchange.’ 21

Some stratification counters differentiation:

‘Gender stratification [means] that men, in general, have more power and higher prestige than women. In what sense is this a reasonable postulate? Everyone is classified by many criteria in addition to sex. Sex is only one of several attributes that affect a person’s total prestige. It is assumed, then, that men tend to be evaluated more highly (..) when all other status criteria are similar for the two.’ p 44.

‘A functional explanation of the common rank order between men and women would have to postulate that women’s tasks, that is, to give birth to children and take care of them and rear them, is less necessary for society. (..) This position seems untenable. Gender differentiation, not gender stratification, may promote basic societal requisites like protection of the young and securing a close contact between infants and nourishing mothers. (..) Once men and women are differentiated with respect to responsibilities for infants, the two sexes differ in their opportunities for securing wealth and power.’ p 45

‘Women’s ties to their infants create immobility that is incompatible with many kinds of instrumental activities. (..) Instrumental activities are valued more highly than expressive ones especially in modern society.’ p 46

‘Expressive tasks devalued since they are less easily evaluated, dont give control over large resources (like some instrumental tasks).’ p 47. ‘Unlike expressive roles, instrumental ones require the delay of gratification, which helps in the control of resources’ 47

‘The more differentiated in the traditional manner are the tasks of men and women, the more likely it is that the stratification is marked. (..) [Yet] Certain forces act counter to these processes’. 47-48

‘The complementary natures of sex roles … is also a basis for the development of female forms of power as well as male ones.’ 49
‘The main hypothesis [in research] about improvements in the exchange positions of women follows from their increased occupational participation.’ 50 ‘Women do not have to use sexual favours as goods-in-exchange, a fact that enables them to enjoy sexuality as a pleasure in itself. And it might be added, women’s freedom with respect to choice of marital partner is increased.’ p 50.

Harriet Holter compared sex and race as examples of ‘ascriptive differentiation. Due to the conventions at her time, she here uses the term differentiation, rather than stratification, and states  (p 51), that “One characteristic of sex differentiation, and partly of race differentiation (..) has been the change in the definitions of criteria from legal rules to informal norms. Such a shift seems to have taken place in all societies that have experienced prosperity in recent times.” She concludes that “sex differentiation, like other functional differentiations, entails a rank ordering of the positions of men and women.” (p 53).

In chapter two, on sex differentiating norms, she defines “sex roles or gender roles” (p 54) more precisely  – this is “stable, patterned and sanction-carrying expectations about a person’s behaviour”, “the sum of norms directed towards a person occupying a certain position.”

Later, she discusses why gender is not class – a different type of ranking mechnanism, p 225. She notes that women are sometimes more conservative than men, ‘more in favour of ascriptive principles than men’ 230. ‘Sex differentiation may support class stratification by reducing tensions produced by the stratification’ 231.

Here we are into the heart of the matter. Renewed and increased class stratification may be eased by going back to a more traditional gender role system.

 

 

 

 

Jun 26
Men and gender equality research model wins peace prize

Each year, since 2012, the Schengen Peace Foundation and the World Peace Forum award the Luxembourg Peace Prize, an award that “honors the outstanding in the field of peace”. The categories of the Luxembourg Peace Prize and their celebration “amplify the aims and goals of the World Peace Forum”. This year, the award for “outstanding peace organization” was given to Promundo.

The prize for “outstanding peace activist” was given to Masami Saionji and Hiroo Saionji of the Goi Peace Foundation and May Peace Prevail On Earth International, based in Japan. Thich Nhat Hanh received the award for “outstanding inner peace”.

Since its founding in Brazil in 1997, Promundo has worked in collaboration with partners to advance gender equality and prevent violence in over 40 countries around the world through research and evaluation, targeted advocacy efforts, and evidence-based educational and community-wide program implementation.

The research model and its links to implementation and innovation are a main part of the reason why Promundo received the prize. The prize statement specifically mentions “high-impact research”.  Cf https://luxembourgpeaceprize.org/laureates/outstanding-peace-organization/2019-promundo/

The new research is also used in the recent State of the world’s fathers report (cf https://genderjustice.org.za/publication/state-of-the-worlds-fathers-2019-executive-summary/), which has drawn attention from media including The New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/07/us/parents-fathers-role.html )

An important part of this research model was developed in Norway. Here is the background. And some ideas, how to follow up. 7 points, in all.

(detail of cover of Brandth and Kvande, editors: Fedrekvoten [The father quota], 2013)

1

A main part of the Promundo research effort started from a new type of gender equality survey made in Norway in 2007 in a project and survey called “Gender equality and quality of life”.  The survey included much more detail on gender equality than previous studies, including more perspective on men as well as women, more focus on gender equality not just in opinions but also practices, household care and work divisions, and well-being, health, conflict and violence.

2

The Promundo team developed the Norway survey framework into a more relevant and applied version applicable in the global south, focusing on violence and health issues, and expanding the practical experience questions. In the first 6-country survey (2009-11), about 60 percent of the questions were taken from the Norwegian survey. The Promundo survey was called IMAGES – International Men and Gender Equality Survey. Later, as Promundo and local partners have adapted the survey in new contexts, now more than 40 countries, many of those core questions have continued to be used.  And the logic of gender equality being related to quality of life continues to be a key conceptual framework for the studies.

3

The survey design was further developed by the Promundo team in a variety of contexts and collaborations, including cooperation with researchers at the Centre for gender research, University of Oslo. In some respects, it goes far beyond the original Norwegian project, although main questions and an important part of the framework remained the same.

4

The Promundo development mainly concerned actions – more than structures. The original Norwegian model had more emphasis on mapping structural factors hindering or helping gender equality. Later, an independent development of the structural part of the design was made in a Poland-Norway study (2015). Several books and papers have been published from this project (called GEQ – Gender equality and quality of life).

(Poland-Norway study logo)

The Poland-Norway study includes a “European blueprint” for a wider European project, combining a developed survey questionnaire with interviews and other data. See http://www.geq.socjologia.uj.edu.pl/en_GB/start?p_p_id=56_INSTANCE_ZGJFS82ydNo6&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&p_p_mode=view&p_p_col_id=column-2&p_p_col_count=3&groupId=32447484&articleId=136474060  – The Promundo survey developments gradually also included structural factors.

5

However, a comparison of these partly independent developments of the same research model remains to be made. The original gender equality model focused on a number of broad factors to be investigated regarding the “state of gender in/equality” – how to measure this as an independent dimension, in society. These included gender equality in childhood and youth, in working life, public sphere, family and household, etc. The presumed factors were designated mainly as “structural” but included cultural variables also. The design had a social-psychological dimension.

6

Why has the research model been a success?  It goes into a not so well known area, men and gender equality, combining action questions with structure questions and cultural questions. It is focused on important issues like health, caring, conflict and violence. It s not a “cover all” but offers a more detailed map than other research designs. Weak spots can be reduced by combining surveys with other methods.

A main reason for the success, in my view, is the combination of action and structure aspects. This means that trends and actions among men (and women) can be analyzed with more nuance and precision, regarding structural factors. You get more information on specific themes like violence, especially in the IMAGES version, and also tools to adjust for different social and cultural context, including five main dimensions of gender equality and (in less detail) other discrimination experiences. This makes for a powerful tool. It is a bit like a “meme”. Once you have this new mapping, you don’t want to be without it. In principle, investigation can be focused and targeted, and remain balanced, un-prejudiced.

7

Analyzing the total evidence, both the new European studies and the new global studies, is a main issue now. It needs to be done. Through our center at the University of Oslo,  I have cooperated with Promundo in order to get this issue into the prioritized European research agenda. So far, without funding. I hope this will change, now.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this research effort on gender, men, women, violence and conflict, health and well-being – is of great importance not just in itself, but also in relation to other top priority research areas. How to reduce social discrimination. How to resolve burning questions of climate change. How to engage men and boys as well as girls and women in positive gender equality change.

Now more than ever, with so much interest in the topic of engaging boys and men by donors, governments and academics, the IMAGES dataset, together with the European dataset, is an unprecedented resource for analyzing these issues, and considering how to bring other topics into new surveys, and begin to carry out the survey again in the same countries 10 or 15 years later to assess change. Furthermore, given that Gates Foundation supported Promundo to unify and clean up the global dataset, Promundo and the University of Oslo are well-placed to carry out this analysis – building theory, identifying gaps and opportunities, and making IMAGES and European tools, questionnaires and interview guides even more available to interested researchers.

 

 

May 31
Why we build the wall

I have been reading Chris Beckett’s science fiction novel America city –  a direct extrapolation from today’s events in the US. A hundred years from now, the south of the US is no longer liveable. Immigrants flow to the north. But to win the election, presidential candidate Slaymaker has to relieve the burden on the northern US states. His outspoken female (and partly feminist) advisor comes up with an advice: what about Canada, they have room for our refugees. With scary but quite probable results.

Bilderesultat for chris beckett america city

This book, together with the great conclusion of the Dark Eden trilogy, Daughter of Eden, makes Beckett my favorite current sci-fi author. There, he goes into the mind of a “ghostspeaker”, the kind of woman prophet-sayer that is otherwise not much credited in science fiction. In America City, it is the mind of a US president wanting to build walls. Beckett looks from the inside. He goes into the mindset of the “others”.

Top of today’s literature, if you ask me.

After reading America City, it was somewhat of a shock to discover this record – Ainais Mitchell: Hadestown – Why we build the wall. I had not known this before.

I read, it is now a Broadway musical – I would love to see it.

To soothe my mind, I play a record dedicated to another vision of America – one of openness and acceptance: