Stop forced sterilisation

Stop forced sterilisation ▪️ Overconfidence woes ▪️ A fool’s errand - Gen Alpha

The practice of sterilisation of people with disabilities is still legal in much of the European Union despite the fact that it contravenes the Istanbul Convention and the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There are only nine EU Member States which have banned it. The others, including Malta, still allow it.  Hopefully, the European Parliament, which is currently debating the matter, will pass binding legislation that would make it illegal. Thankfully the Maltese Government has now announced it will introduce legislation to do so.

I don’t know whether we have had such cases in Malta, but there is no doubt that forced sterilisation is a cruel form of domination, both of sexuality and reproduction.  To make matters worse, there are three Member States that allow sterilisation of minors for the same reason.  What is outrageous is that it only takes a judicial authorisation for parents or guardians of persons with disabilities to start the procedure, and often the persons being sterilised do not even realise what has been done.

There have been cases of women with disabilities who became pregnant, and their families decided to terminate the pregnancy without their consent. They were also sterilised during the abortion operation. Victims of forced sterilisation are often misled about the procedure and are unaware that it’s irreversible. According to Ghada Hatem, a gyneacologist and chief physician at the Maison de Femmes de Saint-Denis, a centre for women facing economic challenges or abuse in Paris, it’s difficult to gauge whether people with severe intellectual disabilities can comprehend and agree.

In Germany, according to 2017 statistics, 17% of all women with disabilities have been sterilised, comparing to 2% of the women nationwide. In Spain, the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Persons with Disabilities (CERMI) reported the forced sterilisation of 140 persons with disabilities in 2016.

Overconfidence woes 

A behavioural economist at the University of Bath in the UK has found evidence of a direct link between higher levels of unwarranted financial optimism with lower levels of cognitive ability. In his study, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Chris Dawson surveyed thousands of people about their economic outlook and compared their responses with their true financial outlook.

More specifically, he found that respondents scoring the highest on the cognitive tests were 22% more likely to fall into the category of realists, which Dawson describes as more objective about their financial prospects, than were those falling on the opposite end of the spectrum.

In another study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences,  Jutta Karhu and her colleagues found that higher optimism was associated with lower depression among 26-year-olds, higher education levels, and higher scores on matrix reasoning. On the other hand, higher pessimism correlated with lower education levels, higher depression, and lower scores on matrix reasoning, vocabulary, and motor skills. Similar results were found among the 46-year-olds studied.

Higher pessimism was significantly associated with lower matrix reasoning in all cases. Among the 46-year-olds in particular, higher pessimism was related to lower memory test scores and there was no association between optimism and memory scores.

The researchers believe that, based on their findings, optimism may serve to support the development of reasoning skills. Positive thinking and better stress management skills are short-term effects of optimism that improve performance on reasoning tasks. Moreover, optimism may increase one’s motivation to spend more time in challenging situations long-term and help strengthen reasoning skills.

On the other hand, pessimism appears to be related to depression and giving up more easily. This could negatively affect reasoning skills in the short-term but could help develop reasoning skills over time. Karhu and colleagues posit that higher pessimism and memory decline may be explained by pessimists having smaller social networks that would help preserve memory.

Photo: Oleksandr P

Now we are often reminded that having a positive attitude achieves better results. Scores of books have been written extolling optimism, going back to 1952’s The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Generally speaking, expecting positive outcomes has a beneficial psychological effect. We are happier when we experience positive thoughts. However, problems occur when those positive thoughts lead to dismissing evidence that says those thoughts aren’t in line with reality.

Optimism bias is the tendency to think that we are above average and that it’s unlikely we will get sick, have a traffic accident, or make poor investments. These are things that happen to “other people”. It is usual for humans to overestimate their achievements and capabilities in relation to others. But, in the real world, we can’t all be above average, and bad things can happen to any of us.

Financial markets don’t care about our feelings. Too many people succumb to optimism bias and to undue confidence that “things will work out”.  This irrational confidence can result in a poor risk management attitude, where we allow unrealistic expectations to blind us to reality.  We could finish up investing in shares or in the crypto market that promise a high rate of return in spite of their speculative nature or high volatility.

The implosion of FTX earlier this year was an example of optimism bias.  FTX’s CEO Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), a 30-year-old who was described in the media as the “next Warren Buffet”, and his former girlfriend, Caroline Ellison, borrowed funds from FTX for use as margin to support speculative trading in crypto. When the crypto market collapsed, they had big losses and couldn’t repay the loan from FTX. This led to an $8 billion loss for FTX.  The fact that SBF has been convicted of fraud is no consolation to the many people who lost their investment in his exchange.

The moral of these and other disasters is that hope is not a plan.  Anybody who has arduously-earned savings should think twice before plunging into markets that even highly-specialised people find difficult to understand.  This is true for both shares and bonds, especially when they are financially-complex instruments, IPOs (initial public offerings), stock options, venture capital funds, exchange markets, and real estate funds.

A fool’s errand

Anybody in the mood for a dose of nature and history and comedy, might do worse than read The Annual Banquet of the Gravediggers’ Guild, by Mathias Énard, translated by Frank Wynne.  This latest work from Prix Goncourt winner Énard (Compass), is sad, brutal and ridiculous all at once.

The meandering book tells a fantastical story of modern life about David Mazon, a 30-year-old anthropology student who moves to La Pierre Saint-Christophe, a rural village in western France, to write a dissertation about contemporary agrarian life.  The student gradually ingratiates himself with the farmers and spends his evenings at the village’s bar and fishing-tackle shop. Yet unbeknownst to David and to the community, the residents – man and beast alike – have all been reincarnated: a young boar was once a beloved priest, a drain worm was formerly a serial killer, and a butcher was the horse that bore the king of the Franks in the year 507.

Mazon’s girlfriend is angry, his thesis supervisor unconvinced, and the villagers themselves treat David with justifiable condescension and suspicion: he’s a scholarly dilettante, both fascinated and repulsed by life outside the metropolis.

The book reproduces David’s diary, which introduces a rowdy cast that includes Lucie, anti-capitalist activist and organic vegetable farmer; her simple-minded cousin, Arnaud, who can tell you what happened on any date you care to name; the English immigrants who consider the nature of the land around them to be ‘English’; and Martial, the local mayor and village undertaker – the latter is the host of the infamous Annual Banquet of the Gravedigger’s Guild, a yearly ensemble of funerary workers from all over the country, during which all death ceases while the workers enjoy a bit of debauchery.

Illustration: Lou Beach / The New York Times

Enard rushes from one life-story to another, taking the opportunity to recount a huge quantity of French social history under the guise of rather anarchic storytelling; in addition to the ‘present day’ account of current lives, we get bursts of centuries and Empires past, wartime occupation, executions and love affairs, poet-soldiers, and more.

The inhabitants of La Pierre Saint-Christophe are not immune to a dose of reactionary nostalgia.  The village mayor tells Mazon that he’s in favour of forcing immigrants to adopt French customs. “Our whole way of life could collapse, you know, the social security system, education, these things are fragile,” he says, who one might consider as an avatar for today’s body politic.

Towards the end, Enard, who had quit his former life in Paris and root himself in the country “to save the planet”, realises that saving the planet, like living forever, is a fool’s errand.  Because the Wheel will roll on, recycling our free-wheeling souls.  What remains is what always was: disease, war, famine. But also love, faith, and the kindness of strangers.

Gen Alpha

An ExpressVPN survey in the US and the UK has revealed that 50% of children aged four to 13 use social media, while only 25 percent of parents said they allow them to do so.   This already highlights the problem that many children are spending a lot of time on social media without their parents knowing.  The survey also revealed that children spend an average of 28 minutes daily on social platforms, ranging from 21 minutes clocked by four-year-olds to 45 minutes daily by 13-year-olds.

Quite rightly, most parents (59%) were most worried about their child being bullied online.  Other concerns included children being groomed by an online predator; fears that children might be exposed to offensive content; and risks posed by harassment by other users.  These are real risks, since 22% of the children surveyed admitted that they had been bullied online 17% said that a stranger had asked then which school they attended, and 14% revealed that a stranger had asked them for their home address.

Photo: Julia M. Cameron

In Malta, Charles L. Mifsud and Rositsa Petrova had reported on certain facets of this situation in their Young Children (0-8) and Digital Technology – The National Report for Malta in 2017.  Some surprising findings included that most children surveyed were actively using digital devices since they were one year old, many children used their parents’ devices, children were using digital devices more frequently than their parents thought, and the use of digital devices was highly supervised by parents.  Parents were mainly concerned about online safety and access to violent games, as well as about the balance between the use of digital devices and other activities which had a bigger potential for educational and creative development.

Psychiatrist Mark Xuereb has warned about the repercussions of addiction to the use of a mobile and time spent on the Internet, including obesity and suicide.  He has asked parents not to forget that “internet addiction is one of the three criteria that leads to suicide in adolescents and young people”.  By cutting themselves off from society and neglecting themselves, young people risk developing suicidal tendencies.   Xuereb has urged parents not to allow young children to spend more than two hours a day on social media, as established by the World Health Organisation.

Now we have Gen Alpha – meaning anyone born between 2010 and 2024 – who have had screens shoved in their faces since birth. We are breeding and raising iPad kids.  You see them everywhere: in restaurants, playgrounds, and social occasions at home and elsewhere. It would appear that parents find it increasingly difficult to pay their kids enough attention and converse with them.  Fearing that their kids will not behave or act bizarrely, they find it easier to give them the iPad and make them shut up.

Ryan Lowe, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, says that excessive use of digital devices means that children “are not learning the basic skills of patience and containing themselves long enough to manage something difficult or frustrating”. This not to mention that, according to behavioural and neuro-developmental optometrist Bhavin Shah, more children are becoming short-sighted than ever before, they have underdeveloped motor skills, and a difficulty in spatial awareness.

Do parents really want this for their kids?

Main photo: Try_my_best/Shutterstock

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