Racism – The Consensus Delusion

From Jose Marichal, this very interesting article summarizing a study on racist thinking:

Racists take comfort in an imagined consensus. That’s the implication of a new Australian study, which suggests a possible approach to breaking through bigoted beliefs.

The newly published research, which surveyed attitudes towards that nation’s Aboriginal population, found prejudiced people are far more likely than their non-prejudiced neighbors to believe their fellow Australians agree with their attitudes.

Furthermore, they tend to think the attitudes of their friends and colleagues toward the minority group is even more negative than their own — a false belief that allows them to view themselves as safely within the boundaries of community norms.”

More than that:

Does this mean that the solution is to puncture this false sense of consensus or open-mindedness? The article does not say, unfortunately.

Winners and Losers of Global Governance

This becomes indeed a very relevant point in light of this:

Let’s not bury the nation-state too fast, shall we? Some states can still flex their muscles, using one form of power or another, to maintain some degree of dominance over the global economic system.

Extreme Stratification as Social Dislocation

“No class of Brazilians is unaffected by the effects of inequality. Living in fabulous privilege among so many desperately poor people, the Brazilian rich have found it increasingly necessary to isolate themselves from their fellow citizens. One example of the ironies of inequality comes from a Washington Post story dated June 1, 2002, which documents the rise of helicopter travel in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, during a period when its economy has been in recession. Poverty and insecurity had pushed the city’s crime rate to record levels – sixty homicides per 100,000 people is São Paulo compared to seven per 100,000 in New York City (in 2001, the homicide rate of Rio de Janeiro was approximately nine times high than in New York City). The fear of violence and kidnappings, combined with the everyday hassles of getting around in São Paulo – including long traffic jams and dangerous road conditions – have encouraged  Brazil’s elite to take to the skies. An estimated 240 helipads (compared to 10 in New York City) carry politicians, business executives and the simply wealthy to their gated communities, which they consider relatively safe because of the presence of armed guards patrolling the perimeter. When forced to the ground, many of Brazil’s wealthy travel in armored vehicles with bulletproof glass; drivers take special courses in escaping ambushes and foiling kidnappings.

The rich fear the desperation and anger of the poor, who are living in some of the world’s most troubled and violent urban slums called favelas. In forty years, Brazil went from a country that was two-thirds rural to one that was more than two-thirds urban. A growing industrial economy and the persistence of rural poverty sent great waves of people to the cities. Brazil’s many large cities, especially Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, have mushroomed so rapidly that there is insufficient infrastructure to accommodate everyone – in poor neighborhoods, there are too few buses, inadequate provision of drinking water and almost no sewage lines. Compared to the demand, jobs are scarce, ill-paid and often temporary. People built houses from whatever they can find: slabs of metal siding, cardboard boxes, wooden posts, mud and adobe – whatever is lying around that they can turn into a shelter. Houses are often piled crazily on top of each other, without effective zoning or community associations to oversee new development. These houses are often built illegally, and residents illegally tap onto electrical lines and other utility services. There is little or no garbage service, so trash piles up and creates centers of infection and toxic pollution. Some favelas have been built around garbage dumps because of the food and materials that people can extract from the garbage.” (xvii – iii)

This reminds me of Star Trek’s episode, The Cloud Minders,

World Cup, Nation-States and Globalization

Tony Karon neatly sums up how the world of soccer, although still organized along national lines for international competition, and local (and corporate) lines for domestic championship, is a thoroughly globalized one where individual players seamlessly navigate across global flows (of money, mainly):

Go read the whole thing.

On the sociology of sports and globalization, see this, and this.

Surveillance Society and The Globalization of the Private Space

Via Pierre Bourdieu (no, not THE Pierre Bourdieu, THAT Pierre Bourdieu) who haunts Twitter, la Tribune de Genève has an interview with David Lyon, the foremost expert on the Surveillance Society. In this interview (in French), Lyon takes on the “nothing to hide? Nothing to fear” attitude of the general public regarding the loss of privacy and the global exposure of private data (if there is still such a thing anymore).

As Lyon notes, the rise and expansion of the mechanisms of the surveillance society has been made possible by the faith in solving all social and political problems through technology. Current spying technologies have made possible modes of surveillance that are both massive, expansive and capillary. The massive surveillance apparatus triggered by 9/11 is only one example of this trend.

In addition, as the surveillance ideology spreads, the redirecting of certain tools towards data gathering has also been massive: from social networking, Facebook, for instance, has been turned into a datamining tool as it gained in popularity… and it now dominates the social networking platforms:

Lyon also notes a cultural shift that works in favor of the global visibility of personal space: the greater trend towards public expression of… well… anything, as illustrated by the proliferation of “reality” television shows (real housewives of wherever), that is a public “mise en scène” of the private through social networking sites. All these make us more accepting of the shrinking of the private.

Needless to say, everything Lyon writes is worth reading. I have a lot on the surveillance society (click on the category to the right).

Book Review – WWW: Watch

Usual disclaimer: good science-fiction is good sociology, and Robert J. Sawyer is one of my favorite scifi writers (along with fellow Canadian Robert Charles Wilson). WWW: Watch is the second volume in the WWW trilogy (the first volume, WWW: Wake reviewed here). I have to say that I enjoyed this one more than I did the previous volume. I would confess that, while reading Wake, I skimmed some passages (especially the emerging consciousness parts).

In Watch, the emerging consciousness come into his (since it’s decided to make it masculine… hmm) own and starts to deal with the complexities of humanity. At the same time, it’s becoming more present attracts the attention of the agencies of the Surveillance Society, especially from the US. And a decision is quickly made by the US President and his representatives, WebMind (the name the entity is given) has to be destroyed. I am guessing its survival will be at the heart of the third volume.

For now, in Watch, Webmind gets busy absorbing information and trying to put it to good use. There is no doubt that Sawyer is fascinated by the ethical questions raised by the emergence of a virtual consciousness and how this reflects upon humanity. Although, as a sociologist, the “everything can be explained by game theory” meme can get a bit annoying and a gross simplification of human relationships.

The first volume also wove together other storylines: Hobo the half-chimp / half-bonobo. We find that story again in Watch. However, the Chinese storyline is remarkably absent from Watch. I’m guessing, it will be picked up in the third volume. It might be a matter of economy of storylines as the introduction of Watch (the US spying agency) takes quite a bit of space here. There is also more involvement from the characters of Caitlin’s parents.

As with Wake, Watch is still organized around the character of Caitlin Decter, the blind American teenager who gets her sight back thanks to a device from a Japanese scientist. Actually, she got more than her sight back. She can also “see” the web. In Watch, there is still quite a bot of space dedicated to her struggling with viewing and how it affects her relationships with her parents and friends… and boyfriend (the least interesting part of the book… but teenagers are notoriously uninteresting in that department).

Again, the most interesting part of the book, beyond being a great story, deals with questions of dealing with an Other, the nature of consciousness and human relationships. The book seamlessly weaves together great storytelling, science-fiction, philosophy and science and that makes it a real page-turner, again, more so, in my view, than Wake.

Needless to say, I can’t wait for the third volume.

“Beyond a Certain Level, Connectivity Becomes a Hazard”: Volcanoes and Subprimes

The title from this post is borrowed from a column by George Monbiot in The Guardian referring to what the volcano eruption and financial crisis have in common: strained system, pushed to the limits.

Although I disagree that we need less interconnectedness, but rather more sustainable ways of interconnecting and certainly systemic simplification whether in the financial sector or in dealing with environmental systems.

And speaking of the financial system, Rue89 has an excellent primer on the Goldman Sachs affaire, with a little video on “Subprimes for Dummies.” (Below but all in French)

“Le B.A-BA des subprimes”, le film
Uploaded by rue89. – News videos from around the world.

I Am Indeed…

What Kind of Reader Are You?

Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You’re probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people’s grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Crime of Honor: Two-Day Old Baby Suffocated by Its Grandmother

I have blogged quite a bit about crimes of honor but this is a new one:

As the article notes,seven people were arrested near Istanbul, the two-day old baby was born out of wedlock and was therefore killed by its grandmother, and buried in the family backyard by its uncles. These relatives also bribed the doctor who delivered the baby and his secretary so that they would not issue a birth certificate.

Family values.