Who The F!@# Cares? – Ordinary Sexism

Oh look, she has so many blazers that they cover the entire color palette…

Because, of course, there is nothing more important to cover when it comes to Angela Merkel. There is nothing new to the fact that women politicians, heads of state or public officials do stand out from their masculine counterparts with their dark business suits, like this:

But there is no doubt that this Merkel thing is another way of scrutinizing women’s bodies. After all, have we ever seen something equivalent done about a male politician? President or whatever?

I remember when France got its one and only prime minister, years back, we got treated of news report regarding the couture house where she bought her clothes. Again, nothing equivalent for men. When it comes to women, it allows for the speculation and evaluation regarding what women are showing or covering.

Either way. Who cares. It reduces powerful women to a shallow and superficial attribute.

In Which I Try To Make Todd Krohn Mad

So the ASA posted this infographic in its Facebook feed:

So, dear ASA, you disappoint me.

Aren’t we, sociologists, supposed to exercise some skepticism and critical thinking regarding the labeling of individuals with mental illness? Aren’t we supposed to examine the social construction of these “objective” categorizations of symptoms into neat clinical diagnoses, with corresponding pharmacological treatments?

I mean, it has only been a month since Thomas Szasz died, but have we forgotten his legacy so quickly?

Could we at least pay lip service to the medicalization of deviance?

Take this post, just today, by Todd Krohn, over at The Power Elite (Todd is all over that medicalization of deviance stuff):

ADD Or Not, Pills Prescribed In Schools:

CANTON, Ga. — When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.
“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”
Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance.

In other words, since the rich kids are using these drugs to cheat, let’s give the low-income kids a fair shot at cheating too.

Someone should ask this doofus how this differs from performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) in athletics. Because frankly, there is none.

So what’s really going on here?

“We as a society have been unwilling to invest in very effective nonpharmaceutical interventions for these children and their families,” said Dr. Ramesh Raghavan, a child mental-health services researcher at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in prescription drug use among low-income children. “We are effectively forcing local community psychiatrists to use the only tool at their disposal, which is psychotropic medications.”
Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist in Cambridge, Mass., who works primarily with lower-income children and their schools, added: “We are seeing this more and more. We are using a chemical straitjacket instead of doing things that are just as important to also do, sometimes more.”
Chemical straightjacket, perhaps, but I prefer Chemical Shackles, because this has nothing to do with enhancing performance in school and everything to do with drugging the next generation of kids into complacency.”

Go read the whole thing.

But I “love” that last statistics on the infographic: “70 to 90% of those who receive pharmacological and psychosocial treatment have significant reduction of symptoms and increase quality of life.” I guess that settles it.

So, ASA,

The Patriarchy Continuum as Non-Stop War Against Women

And the war against women can take many forms. In the US and UK, it focuses on reproductive rights and access to safe contraception and abortion. But it can take many other forms, along the patriarchy continuum.

It can take the form of insults hurled at a Prime Minister (and she deals with it masterfully):

“Australian prime minister Julia Gillard “played her best hand with a brilliant attack on the Conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, accusing him of being sexist and a misogynist,” the Telegraph reports.”

See also here.

It can take the form of daily harassment, as in Russia:

“The activists of RosNakhal, a newly formed movement, say that it is difficult for women to escape the attention of predatory men in the Russian capital, and want the Russian parliament to act. The campaign was started by Yulia Kolyadina, a presenter on a fashion-based television channel, who says she was so irritated by being harassed by men as she went about her daily business in Moscow that she decided to make a film to highlight the problem. A friend followed her around the city with a hidden camera for two days and filmed various exchanges.

“I want to show everyone, and especially men, how your attempts to chat up women can turn into the worst kind of rudeness,” Ms Kolyadina says at the start of the video, which has received over a million views since it was posted a fortnight ago on YouTube.

What follows are a number of clips of men sidling up to her at cafés, bus stops, or simply on the street and making clumsy chat-up attempts. When she says she does not want to talk to them, some of them attempt to touch her, while others suggest going back to their place to “get to know each other”. One man does not even say hello, but has as his opening gambit: “Ooh, what a nice juicy arse you have!”

“It’s a real problem and we want men to realise that women should not be treated like objects, but with respect,” says Olga Boltneva, a 20-year-old journalism student who is one of the campaign’s organisers. “I often go to the park to read and men appear and just won’t leave you alone. When I heard about Yulia’s idea I knew straight away that I wanted to help out.”

After the video went viral, consultations have already begun in the Russian parliament over whether or not some kind of penalty could be introduced and many MPs are supportive.

“However strong Russian women are, it’s very unpleasant for them when their personal space is breached,” Maria Maksakova, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, told Izvestia newspaper. “We are going to look into all the aspects of this problem and develop a solution.” The main issue is how any kind of law against sexual harassment could be enforced, but Ms Boltneva points to Brussels, where a €250 (£200) fine for “sexual intimidation” has recently been introduced after a similar amateur video of everyday harassment was put online by a 25-year-old film student earlier this summer.

But many Russians have a different attitude towards the issue. In 2008, a woman attempting to bring charges against a lecherous boss had her case thrown out after the judge ruled that predatory sexual behaviour was a normal part of life. “If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children,” the judge ruled.””

Seriously.

It can be the extra shame heaped upon women victims of rape, adding insult to injury, first in Tunisia:

“Tunisian civil society is rallying in support of a young woman who was raped by police officers in what they say is part of a broader assault on women’s rights by religious conservatives.

There is widespread outrage after 27-year-old victim was summoned by the investigating judge on Wednesday to face chargers of “indecency” from the two men accused of raping her, in what many argue is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate her.

Leading human rights, feminist groups and other prominent members of civil society have formed a committee evening to co-ordinate a campaign in support of the woman, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

Faïza Skandrani, the head of the Equality and Parity organisation, told Al Jazeera that the case was an important one for two reasons: it marked the first time a woman allegedly raped by the police had taken the case to court, and it was the first time the authorities were trying to publicly shame a woman into dropping such charges.

“The investigating judge is turning her from the victim to the accused, to help the police officers get away with it,” she said. “I’ve heard about similar cases in Pakistan, but this is a first in Tunisia. Next they will be charging her with prostitution.”

And in Indonesia:

“Une école indonésienne a expulsé une adolescente de 14 ans, l’accusant d’avoir“terni l’image” de l’établissement après avoir été violée, a indiqué, mardi 9 octobre, une organisation de protection de l’enfance.

L’écolière était retournée dans son établissement lundi et participait à une cérémonie de lever du drapeau quand, devant des centaines de ses camarades réunis pour l’occasion, un enseignant est venu lui annoncer qu’elle était“expulsée”, selon Arist Merdeka Sirait, président de la Commission de protection de l’enfance, une organisation non gouvernementale. Le professeur a indiqué à la fille qu’elle avait “terni l’image de l’école”, a-t-il précisé. “L’école a aggravé le traumatisme en l’humiliant en face de centaines de camarades. Cette fille a été la victime d’un réseau de trafic d’enfants. L’école aurait dû l’aider”, a-t-il ajouté.

Une plainte officielle a été déposée par la commission auprès du ministère de l’éducation afin de demander la révocation du permis de l’école privée, située dans la banlieue de Djakarta, a indiqué le président. L’adolescente était entrée en contact avec un “ami” par l’intermédiaire du site de socialisation Facebook. Elle s’était rendue à un rendez-vous qu’il avait fixé mais avait alors été enlevée par un groupe qui l’avait maintenue en détention pendant une semaine, période durant laquelle elle avait été violée à plusieurs reprises.”

Quick translation: an adolescent meets a guy on Facebook. They agree to meet. She gets kidnapped by a group of men who hold her hostage for a week and rape her repeatedly. Now, she has been expelled from school because it is bad for the school’s image to have a “tainted” student. And for the stigmatization to be complete, she was called out by school officials during a flag raising ceremony in front of the student body.

And last but not least, the Taliban are always reliable in their hatred of women:

“A girl of 14 who gained worldwide acclaim for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban’s ban on education for girls was shot in the head on her way home from school yesterday,

Militant leaders said the attack on Malala Yousafzai was a warning to other “secular” youths. The teenager was sitting with other pupils in a bus ready to leave the grounds of their school when gunmen approached and asked which one was Malala. They opened fire, injuring her and two other girls in the vehicle.

The attack took place not in a wild tribal area but in the Swat Valley, a northern district where the Taliban was supposedly cleared out by the Pakistani army in 2009. Malala was airlifted from her school in the town of Mingora to hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, for surgery. She was in a critical condition last night but doctors said the bullet had not entered her brain.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – the main faction of the home-grown Taliban – claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt and warned that it would target Malala again if she survived. Earlier this year, the TTP said the teenager was on its hitlist because of her “secular” views. A spokesman for the Taliban said yesterday: “She was young but she was promoting Western culture.”

Malala had resisted the Taliban takeover of Swat with her diary – published in 2009 under a pseudonym by the BBC’s Urdu language service. In it, she told the outside world what was happening in her home district. Early that year, with the Taliban menace still present, she spoke out on television, always sticking carefully to her demand only for schooling.

In one television appearance in Swat, with Taliban sympathisers apparently in the audience, she said: “I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.””

I hope she makes it.

And this was just in the past few days in the war on women.

Technology, Norms, And Social Change

A while back, I wrote the following and I still think it is a central premise.

In the opening chapter of American Society: How It Really WorksErik Olin Wright and Joel Rogers lay out the three major lines of sociological inquiries:

Description: what kind of society is this? How does it compare to other societies and their institutions? What are the similarities and differences? And that means getting the facts right through high-quality evidence and rational arguments

Explanation: opening the black boxes of different institutions and see how they work, and with what consequences. That is usually where theories come in. It is truly at this stage that it matters to think like a sociologist. And what does thinking like a sociologist mean? I find this definition almost perfect:

“The myriad of actions that we as conscious, choosing persons engage in are governed by rules. Howeever, unlike the rules of nature that govern the motions of the planets, these social rules are changed by the actions they regulate. Our activities are rule governed, but our activities also produce and transform the rules that govern those activities. Sometimes the changes in social rules are the result of deliberate actions by people – as when we change a law; sometimes rules change as the unintended consequence of actions. The central task of sociology is to understand how rules generate their effects, how people respond to the rules under which they live, and how the rules change over time.

This sociological approach to understanding and explaining society may seen trivial and obvious, but it is also quite profound. And it turns out to be a very complex matter indeed to figure out how these rules work and how, out of their interactions, the social facts we observe get produced.” (3)

Out of this, the authors delineate six aspects of social rules:

  • Rules are enforced through sanctions and consequences. To call something a social rule means that there is a system of sanctions sustaining it.
  • Rules take different forms.
  • Rules are not neutral. Social rules benefit some people and impose harm on others. As the authors note, the structural rules of basketball give an advantage to tall people over short ones. This is the same in many other social, political, and economic contexts. Ergo…
  • Rules and power interact. Rules are protected by power and those who benefit from social rules will use their power to keep them in place. “Social rules will tend to be stable when they confer power on the people they benefit.” (4).
  • Rules can be inconsistent.
  • Rules can change.

This is the most controversial aspect of sociology. Our behavior is consistently driven by rules that we may or may not be aware of.  And rules change, for instance, when new technology is made available to the general population.

Take this example, for instance:

This is not so much about learning how to use a new technological device as much as learning the new norms that should regulate one’s behavior when using the device. There is nothing really in the above that relates to the technology. It is all about rules of etiquette.

At the same time, these vignettes reflect the preexisting social norms of the day in terms of class, race and gender:

It is clear that these rules are scripts to restrain behavior in a class, gender and racially acceptable format that is most definitely middle-class, follows gender roles of the time and assumes white speakers: no slang, no non-standard English, etc.. It also assumes feminine telephone operators, as this was then one of acceptable jobs for young women (referred to as “girls” in other such ads).

The new technology is also firmly placed in the context of a business tool, within a set of preexisting norms of modern times based on productivity and efficiency so as not to disrupt other part of business or the business of the telephone company itself:

In this sense, one can see such vignettes as part of the disciplinary regime brought about by modernization and described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish:

It would certainly be an amusing exercise to try to delineate similar vignettes for current technologies such as cell phone usage, as well as social networking platforms as Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.

Extracting Free Labor

There is the old-fashioned way, second shift style. In this case, though with a reverse twist:

And then, there is the “new” way, made famous by Arianna Huffington, where you get paid in whuffie, hugs, beer or prestige (as when one blogs or reports for the HuffPo):

“Album in hand, Palmer prepared to tour. She advertised for local horn and string players to help out at each stop along the way: “join us for a couple tunes,” as the post on her Web site had it. Even better, “basically, you get to BE the opening ACT!”

Just one thing, local musicians. There would be none of this million-plus dollars available for you. Supposedly, Palmer had spent it all on producing her album, along with things like airfare, mailing costs, and personal debt, and so couldn’t afford to pay anyone else. She promised instead to “feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily.” This is a compensation package which, honestly, might be worse than nothing. Depends on the beer.”

So, Amanda Palmer took a lot of heat for this and rightfully so but this goes beyond her case (y’know, the whole C. Wright Mills, personal trouble versus public issues):

“This is a time-honored dodge, which might be called “the Oompa-Loompa defense.” It goes something like this: outsourcing labor to people who will work for less is fine because they are “happy” to do it. Such practices and accompanying rationales have been continually refined—think the helpline that dials a tech in Bangalore. But the fantasy of the happy worker has taken on newer and more mind-bending aspects, as has work itself. It now includes things like the unpaid microlabor of providing content for Web sites. It includes the amateur photographer who provides her images of, say, the police killing a young black man to the local news as an “iReport” for nothing but a credit and a T-shirt. Or a music lover scratching out a review on some hip site for a byline alone. Or consider the subtlest and arguably the most exemplary case: how, in wandering the byways of Facebook and Google, you are diligently rendering gratis a host of information about the preferences and habits of you and your friends—data they sell to advertisers. This, too, is unpaid labor.

In general, there is the boom in such practices that seems tied to the digital era; you can’t spell Internet without intern. As the argument goes, you are paid in access to a desirable milieu, or the chance to do good. Work for nada at an N.G.O.: you are being paid in justice itself. Oh, you might also get the vague promise that such valuable experience will pay off later. This promise is packaged with the threat that if you don’t take the gig, you will be closed out of the disastrous job market altogether. You had better be happy about it.

Ideally, you don’t even know you are working at all. You think you are keeping up with friends, or networking, or saving the world. Or jamming with the band. And you are. But you are also laboring for someone else’s benefit without getting paid.”

Let’s definitely call this the Oompa-Loompa economy: where happiness pays off in itself. And remember that part of Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention where she told that moving story of teachers teaching for free after furloughs or lay-offs? Same idea. If it is your passion, your calling, you vocation, then, surely, money does not matter.

And don’t get me started on internships.

Then, there is all the work we volunteer for the m/billionaires who created social networking platforms, from Facebook, to Twitter, to Tumblr, to Pinterest, etc.

This means a radical redefinition of the modern dichotomies: work / leisure, home / workplace, public / private. Digital information and communication technologies break down barriers between these different spheres, often with innocuous names (crowdsourcing, crowdfunding) but they involve the redefinition of labor (as something paid based on different factors but always compensated) to labor as not-work but fun, voluntary, bringing its own rewards (remember playbor?).

This does not just affect creative workers but can potentially extend to anyone. And as the article above notes, working for free might now be seen as a prerequisite before entry in the job market proper. Of course, these years of unpaid internships and gigs will do wonders towards reimbursing these student loans.

But this is a zero-sum game, every bit of free labor, volunteered or extracted, makes someone else wealthier. Every time one creates value but does not benefit from it, then such value creation benefits someone else. So, there are one billion people working freely (as in voluntarily and without compensation) for Mark Zuckerberg. Every blogger or reporter providing content without pay on HuffPo makes Arianna Huffington wealthier (along with investors of course).

But I guess as long as we are happy to do it, that’s ok. This is the version 2.0 of the old argument that peripheral workers are happy to have low-paid, long-hours factory jobs because these jobs are better than what they had before Nike or Foxconn opened that factory.

The morality of the story: every form of labor extraction comes with a cute ideological justification that makes it sound neutral, if not actually beneficial. But it is still extraction, therefore, predatory and inequality-deepening.

Isn’t This Einstein’s Definition of Insanity?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Well:

“Throughout the 1980s and 90s, when many developing countries were in crisis and borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund, waves of protests in those countries became known as the “IMF riots”. They were so called because they were sparked by the fund’s structural adjustment programmes, which imposed austerity, privatisation and deregulation.

The IMF complained that calling these riots thus was unfair, as it had not caused the crises and was only prescribing a medicine, but this was largely self-serving. Many of the crises had actually been caused by the asset bubbles built up following IMF-recommended financial deregulation. Moreover, those rioters were not just expressing general discontent but reacting against the austerity measures that directly threatened their livelihoods, such as cuts in subsidies to basic commodities such as food and water, and cuts in already meagre welfare payments.

The IMF programme, in other words, met such resistance because its designers had forgotten that behind the numbers they were crunching were real people. These criticisms, as well as the ineffectiveness of its economic programme, became so damaging that the IMF has made a lot of changes in the past decade or so. It has become more cautious in pushing for financial deregulation and austerity programmes, renamed its structural adjustment programmes as poverty reduction programmes, and has even (marginally) increased the voting shares of the developing countries in its decision-making.

Given these recent changes in the IMF, it is ironic to see the European governments inflicting an old-IMF-style programme on their own populations. It is one thing to tell the citizens of some faraway country to go to hell but it is another to do the same to your own citizens, who are supposedly your ultimate sovereigns. Indeed, the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast.

The threat to livelihoods has reached such a dimension that renewed bouts of rioting are now rocking GreeceSpain and even the usually quieter Portugal. In the case of Spain, its national integrity is threatened by the separatist demand made by the Catalan nationalists, who think the austerity policy is unfairly reducing the region’s autonomy.

Even if these and other European countries (for other countries have not been free of protests against austerity programmes, such as Britain’s university fees riot and the protests by Italy’s “recession widows”) survive this social unrest through a mixture of heavy-handed policing and political delaying tactics, recent events raise a very serious question about the nature of European politics.

What has been happening in Europe – and indeed the US in a more muted and dispersed form – is nothing short of a complete rewriting of the implicit social contracts that have existed since the end of the second world war. In these contracts, renewed legitimacy was bestowed on the capitalist system, once totally discredited following the great depression. In return it provided a welfare state that guarantees minimum provision for all those burdens that most citizens have to contend with throughout their lives – childcare, education, health, unemployment, disability and old age.”

And this is all done on the backs of the poor. This will do nothing to get these countries out of their economic slump. But what this also does is also deepen a crisis of legitimation that opens to the door to fascist parties (see France and Greece).

Book Review – Naughts and Crosses

I read Malorie Blackman‘s Naughts & Crosses because it got a lot of hype on my Twitter timeline and on the blogs I regularly read and also because, again, I am looking for a replacement to the Hunger Games as class project in my freshmen introduction to sociology class.

Of course, the premise intrigued me. It is based on a counterfactual: what if the British society’s racial composition were reversed and Blacks (“Crosses”) were the dominant racial groups and whites (“naughts”) were a minority, subject to individual and institutional discrimination, as well as prejudice and stereotypes? It is nice to have white people decentered and on the receiving end of treatment usually reserved for minorities of various kinds. Since the book is written for young adults, obviously, there is a lesson to be learned here.

In the story, naughts used to be slaves to the Crosses. After slavery ended, a system of segregation was established, very much apartheid-like: separate schools, racial IDs, residential segregation, racial stratification.

The plot itself revolves around two families: one Cross family, the Hadleys (Kamal, the father, also high political official, his alcoholic wife, and their two daughters, Minerva and main character, Persephone), and a naught family, the McGregors (Ryan and Meggie, the parents, Lynette, the traumatized daughter after an attack by a mob of naughts because she was dating a Cross who died in the attack, Jude, the rebellious adolescent, and Callum, the other main character).

The narrative is à deux voix, alternating between Sephy and Callum. The two families are connected as Meggie McGregor used to work for the Hadleys before being fired unfairly, so Sephy and Callum spent part of their childhood together. On top of that, due to outside pressure, Crosses were forced to desegregate their schools and Callum is scheduled to start going to Sephy’s school, along with a handful of other naughts. Things go downhill from there.

There would be all the ingredients for some sociological analysis here, from the entire structuring of society under black supremacy, to the names each group calls the other (“dagger” for the Crosses, “blankers” for the naughts). The book goes through all the day-to-day humiliations naughts have to endure at the hands of the Crosses in every settings.

Here is a sampling:

““But the school explained why. You’re all at least a year behind and …” “And whose fault is that?” Callum said with erupting bitterness. “Until a few years ago we were only allowed to be educated up to the age of fourteen—and in naughts-only schools at that, which don’t have a quarter of the money or resources that your schools have.”” (Loc. 240)

““They don’t sell pink Band-Aids. Only dark brown ones.” (…) I’d never really thought about it before, but she was right. I’d never seen any pink Band-Aids. Band-Aids were the color of us Crosses, not the naughts.” (Loc. 917)

““They smell funny and they eat peculiar foods and everyone knows that none of them are keen to make friends with soap and water.”” (Loc. 1048)

““Blank, white faces with not a hint of color in them. Blank minds that can’t hold a single original thought. Blank, blank, blank.”” (Loc. 1069)

“Why was it that when naughts committed criminal acts, the fact that they were naughts was always pointed out? The banker was a Cross. The newsreader didn’t even mention it.” (Loc. 1135)

“How dare a naught sit in first class? It’s outrageous. Its a scandal. It’s disgusting. Disinfect that seat at once.” (Loc. 1299)

“I didn’t want to hold her responsible for the way security guards and store detectives followed me around every time I entered a department store. And I’d stopped going into bookshops and toy shops and gift shops when I realized that no matter where I went in them, all eyes were upon me. After all, it was one of those well-known Cross-initiated facts that we naughts didn’t pay for anything when there was the chance of stealing it instead.” (Loc. 1322)

“How come in all the early black-and-white films, the naught men were always ignorant drunkards or womanizers or both? And the women were always near-brainless servants? Naughts used to be our slaves, but slavery was abolished a long time ago. Why were naughts never in the news unless it was bad news?” (Loc. 1343)

“It was the same story up and down the country. In the few schools into which us naughts had been allowed, we were dropping like flies. Expelled, or what the authorities euphemistically called “excluded,” for those things that would get Crosses detention or a severe telling off. The odd Cross or two may even have got suspended once in a while. But they certainly weren’t being expelled with anything like the frequency we were.” (Loc. 3151)

The problem, from my utilitarian perspective here, is that the book is written at to low a level to not feel a bit insulting to college students. As for the book itself, it turns too quickly into some sort of Montaigus v. Capulets as Callum and Sephy slowly figure out what has been obvious since page 1 of the book. And, of course, teenagers are annoying and it seems authors cannot write them any other way. Actually, other characters, I thought, were more interesting, Jude McGregor and Kamal Hadley, for instance. Each was involved politically, Hadley as part of the Cross establishment that tries to maintain Cross supremacy in spite of outside pressure, and Jude, joining with the naught equivalent of the black Panthers. But too much of the book is dedicated to heart-throbbing between Callum and Sephy as their families disintegrate.

I would give credit to the author though for not copping out of a harsh but logical ending.

And so, the search continues.

Planet of Geezers – Better Than Soylent Green or Logan’s Run

Danny Dorling is optimistic on global ageing:

“So what will a stable and older population look like? Our best clues are those societies that have already made the transition: look at Japan over the past couple of decades. Life expectancy will be very high and, barring years of natural disaster, should be expected to continue to slowly rise. Couples will on average have fewer than two children, so the population will slowly decline in size. There will be less overcrowding as this occurs. Transport will be largely publicly provided, and a large majority of the population will live in cities. Tokyo shows that it is possible for 30 million people to live in close proximity and relative harmony.

There are other models in Asia to consider as well. In Hong Kong and Macau fertility rates may be even lower than in Japan. Across the megacities of mainland China there are schemes in place to adapt cities to work without private cars and, since 2009, according to a Washington thinktank China has been leading the world in clean energy investments. China is preparing for the demographic transition and a future in which many groups of grandparents only have one grandchild between the four of them.

Across almost all of Europe, other than in the UK, population numbers are either in decline, or the slow population growth which exists is decelerating. In Germany and Italy numbers have been falling for some time. Ageing is accelerating as a result. When this is badly managed, it results in the young deserting rural areas too quickly, for the lure of bright lights and more young people.

Where ageing is managed well, people continue to mix.

(…)

And a growing number of elderly people provides more potential carers for the dwindling numbers of children in the world, the children who their children give birth to. This is part of the reason why 12,000 fewer children under the age of five died daily in 2010 than in 1990 – despite there being more children at risk, despite a billion still going hungry. Children in poor countries with surviving grandmothers nearby are far more likely to survive childhood themselves. As yet the benefits of grandfathers have to be proven, but hopefully they soon will.

Finally, what of countries like Britain and the United States that continue to try to put off ageing through relatively high rates of fertility and in-migration of young people? It is most likely that people continue to be drawn into these two places because so many have English as a second language, and there is a surfeit of low paid jobs and other opportunities at the bottom of the economic scale. Delayed childbirth due to middle class women having to compete more for work for longer in these two more unequal affluent economies may have also played a part, but even here there is evidence that current demographics may help.

(…)

Over half the couples in the world are having fewer than two children each. This is partly because almost everywhere infant mortality is falling, globally faster today than at any time in human history. It is when this happens that people almost everywhere become brave enough to limit their families to an average of two or fewer children and so our average age increases rapidly.

For a while in the rich world we need not age as quickly as we otherwise might. If more young migrants moved towards where the global elderly are concentrated, in our rich countries, this would slow down population growth and enhance global ageing as people quickly assimilate to the fertility rates of the places they move to. The future is bright; the future is grey, urban, caring, low-growth and green. We just have to get there.”

Emphasis mine.

The immigration part is guaranteed to freak out the nationalist crowd but there is no other choice.