“Survival of The Nicest”
I ran across “ Survival of the Nicest” (published by The Experiment in 2014) at least a year ago and then somehow forgot about it until I read about it again in a newsletter I receive. It’s not the kind of book one should forget, it speaks about how altruism could actually help human kind with its struggles. Its full subtitle is “How Altruism made us Humans & Why It Pays to Get Along.” You may not read this book, but regardless you ought to know its thesis. It is written by a science writer and PhD in biophysics, Stefan Klein, and looks at how the idea of evolution is helped by our ability to cooperate, share and be generous, and this not only in humans but in other species of the animal kingdom. He addresses how our social nature leads to our ability to adapt and succeed. He suggests that while the ideas of survival of the fittest may work in the short term, in the long run it is survival of the nicest that should make us get ahead. He cites examples from nature and tries to answer questions such as what motivates humans to help others, does unselfishness exists and why are some individuals more altruistic than others?
Next time the news, people’s behavior, or circumstances around us remind us of the survival of the fittest, let’s remember that’s it’s only one aspect of being human. These pieces and the ideas informing them, like the book, maintain that there is another side, whether one calls it “the Survival of the Nicest” or anything else.
Trafficked Children And “The Ugly Truth”
Several days ago I read a couple of details in a story on the trafficking of children in India that stayed with me. One was how unaware the realities of trafficking are is to most people in India, and the one that haunts me that young girls who were stolen as children to be trafficked were given hormone shots such as oxytocin to makes them mature more quickly. That one detail evoked the horrors of that trade, I keep wondering about the effects of those shots on the girls’ whole lives. Although India has something like half the trafficked children in the world, the consequences of trafficking are invisible in just about all the countries where it occurs, including the U.S. The city of San Diego is doing something about it by having started The Ugly Truth campaign. The city has been identified by the FBI as one of 13 US cities with a high concentration of child prostitution. The campaign will use billboards, radio spots, videos to be run in elevators and health clubs and posters at bus shelters. The idea is to bridge what the campaign organizers see as a disconnect between the reality of sex trafficking and the community. It is hoped that by being more aware, having a better understanding of the conditions and consequences, that people will be more willing to work against human trafficking. The campaign however will run three months. It seems not long enough. But it needn’t stop us from educating ourselves and getting involved in some way or at least learn to identify the signs should we encounter a possible victim.
Implicit bias refers to beliefs that unconsciously drive decisions and behavior. They obviously become part of what lies behind racism. As far as the judicial system goes, racist behavior has been studied with juries, judges and prosecutors, those who put people away. Now there is growing awareness that this can be extended to public defenders as well. They apparently spend less time with defendants of color. Implicit bias is exacerbated by stress, exhaustion and speed, three of the things that affect public defenders. It’s not only the amount of time a public defender may spend with a defendant, implicit bias can affect pleas bargains, the belief as to whether someone is innocent or not, or dealing with witnesses. Technically implicit bias is not limited to racism, it can affect religion. A former judge in Chicago who is Catholic admitted to expecting more from Catholic defendants. While the research about implicit bias affecting the criminal justice system is ongoing we do know that black defendants can have higher bails, longer sentences, that they are perceived as being more dangerous and that juries may be more likely to find them guilty. Phoebe Haddon , a chancellor at Rutgers University along with the American Bar Association is developing training videos where these issues are discussed and illustrated and which will be released later this year. The videos for judges suggest they exercise more humility, slow down their work and engage in more self-examination.
In the aftermath of a new spate of police shooting black men, studying implicit bias seems like too little too late. Yet, while none of this is new to non-whites and it will still be a long time before the justice system is applied equally, the mere fact implicit bias has come to the fore and left academia might well prod all of us to practice the advice the videos give to judges.
Food Waste And the Cult of Perfection
The idea that we are wasting a lot of food is not new, the idea that we insist on produce to be perfect, is not new either. What is new is the extent to which food is wasted. Also new is that the waste is not limited to households and restaurants, but throughout the whole food chains, farmers, packers, truckers, food researchers, academics and even government officials all attest to how much waster there is. How much depends on how it is measured, whether it is from “farm to fork” meaning the whole food chain, or parts of it, so estimates of waste vary from one third to up to one half. Growers leave imperfect produce to rot in the fields, sometimes they are fed to livestock or carried directly to landfills. In landfills they create a lot of methane, one of the gases that contribute to climate change. So the harm is not only to the environment, it affects poverty and hunger. But it has become such a part of the business of food, that it is difficult to get on top of the problem. The Obama administration, along with the UN, is involved in an initiative to halve food waste by 2030 and Walmart has just announced it will be selling imperfect produce. While these are useful and needed measures, they do not touch the cause. The culprit behind the whole issue is “the cult of perfection”. Retailers, restaurants and consumers insist on produce without blemishes as well as with an expected shape. Peppers, squash, grapes which do not look the way they are expected to look can be left rotting or without buyers. But if that’s the reason behind the waste, then no initiative, no effort will have lasting impact unless we participate in changing our culture, unless we understand that the quality of a produce is not affected by its appearance. It’s a concept that would not only help us not waste food and help the cause of the environment, it is bound to also help us conquer many of our prejudices and maybe even play a role in helping bridge the racial divide.
About a Child Predator
Rare is the person who does not cringe with horror at the sexual exploitation of children, and when the crime involves traveling to another country as well as trafficking it is particularly difficult, for me at least, to exercise compassion. Ronald Gerard Boyajian of Palos Verdes, California, a well to do section on the southern end of the Los Angeles basin, kept traveling to Cambodia to have sex with young girls. In 1995 he was convicted of sexually exploiting two girls—whom he had apparently bought in Cambodia from their mothers and grandmothers—he went there to have sex with even younger girls. He had been convicted of 22 counts of having illegal sex and oral sex with a minor. After his release from parole he traveled back to Cambodia 35 times in a nine year period to sexually abused young girls. A Cambodian human rights organization Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE )saw him enter a child brothel and decided to investigate. He was arrested in 2009 with the help of operation Twisted Traveler, am international law enforcement initiative meant to crack down on Americans travelling in other countries, particularly Cambodia to have sex with children, and which is under the Department of Homeland Security. In fact he was one of the first persons to be arrested under this initiative. The offenses took place in Svay Pak, a city near the capital where many poor immigrants live and known to foreigners who want to have sex with young girls. Although how many girls he abused is not known, four of them testified, one saying how she had been abused and treated worse than an animal. Boyajian, now 55, represented himself, objecting at every step, and has been in custody since his arrest. The judge gave him the maximum sentence of 70 years, which he is contesting. His mother, thinks it excessive too, feeling 70 years is too much just to have sex with young girls.
Here is a person who repeatedly and over a period of years harmed young girls not only by exploiting them sexually, but by abusing them and trafficking them, and there is every indication that had he not been stopped he would have continued. Judgmental or not, this to the best of my understanding is evil behavior, the kind of behavior that does not deserve compassion. And here’s the paradox and the conundrum: the paradox that he is a human being and as such deserves compassion, and the conundrum of how to reconcile that to his evil actions which do not.
Nate Parker And The Issue of Rape
I’ve just finished reading several articles about the Nate Parker controversy relating to his having been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 1999 when still a teenager and while being a student at Penn State ( one of the most thoughtful was Slate’s). Parker was cleared and his co- writer, Jean Celestin, who was then his classmate was also accused, convicted and given a 6 months sentence. He was eventually cleared upon appeal. After reading all these points of view I am left with a question: Is our reaction to Nate Parker, the actor, writer, director of the movie Birth of a Nation, a movie about a rebellion led by Nat Turner, meant to make a statement about the history of African Americans, based on his case or is it a product of our current heightened stance to the word rape? In our long efforts to bring rape to the forefront, combat its having been ignored and eventually lessen its occurrence, we need to be mindful about reacting more from a reflex than with thought. The victim committed suicide in 2012, and the Women’s Law Project who is representing her, appears to have seized upon Parker’s new status to revive the case. While I can’t blame them, neither am I willing to be blind to their timing. At issue is not only the fact that to them the case was unfairly thrown out because the night before Nate Parker and the victim had had consensual sex, he and Celestin the articles state harassed her after she complained to the authorities. As far as I could find out, Nate Parker did not repeat his offense. Although what he did was then quite prevalent among university students, and is compounded by the fact the victim was drunk and not quite conscious when the violation occurred, it’s a given it cannot in any way be condoned.
The progress that has been made in the area of sexual assault has to be hailed since not that long ago, rape as an offense was not on anyone’s radar. In the US we do not distinguish between levels of rape as do some other countries, Sweden, for example. Our legal system and our culture have come to regard rape as rape regardless of the level of violence or of circumstances, including any notion of premeditation. And when the word and the offense are associated with a famous person, we seem to respond with strong emotions and instant judgments. The result is that instead of clarifying the case in question, instead of helping us better understand the issue of rape, and hopefully move towards changing the laws to be more appropriate to the circumstances, we forego the thought the issue needs and leap into the illusion of understanding. In the end, in the case of Nate Parker the issue is no longer his guilt or innocence, or even how much he’s achieved since that night, but our reaction to the word rape. Justice is not served by knee-jerking and the cause of rape victims not advanced. Without approving of what Nate Parker did, he did not force himself at gunpoint, the victim may not have been totally conscious but she was not cowed under threat of loss of life, nor was she tortured in any way as are so many. Not all rapes are the same and we need to distinguish if, when and how violence was used, and in what way the victim was made to comply with the offender’s wishes or dictates. The particulars of the Nate Parker case, as far as I read, are different than those of any number of criminal cases, and certainly if we look at circumstances, at great variance with the behavior and pattern of someone like Bill Cosby. In that instance what makes those cases so disturbing was what surely appears to be premeditation. If we believe that rape is serious, then we need to better understand the offense and work to change the laws to better reflect circumstances and include several levels of gravity.
To Ponder On
“Everyone sits in the prison of his own ideas; he must burst it open.”