from the world's big
From Junior Capitalist to Social Activist
Raj Patel has worked for the World Bank and WTO and been tear-gassed on four continents protesting against them. Writer, activist, and academic, he is currently a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Centre for African Studies, a researcher at the School of Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a fellow at The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as Food First.
Question: Where are you from?
Raj Patel: I was born in London, but I’m a mutt. My mother was born in Kenya, my father was born in Fiji, my ancestors are from India. And I grew up in London and spent, basically, most of my time in the basement of the convenience store that my parents ran. [
Question: What inspired your activism?
Raj Patel: Growing up in Britain, but as part of a south Asian family was big in ways that I didn’t expect. There was this transformative moment for me that I remember – I think I was about six years old. My parents had taken me and my brother to India so that we would ‘know what is it to be Indian,’ and we would learn some Guarati, which is the language my parent spoke at home. And we were at a stop light in Bombay, I think, and we were inside a taxi and it was raining. And all of a sudden, there was this knocking sound at the window, a sort of tap, tap, tap. And outside the window was a girl, I would imagine she was an adolescent, and in her hands was a tiny baby and the baby was crying and crying and crying. And there was screaming outside the car and she was tapping on the window asking for money. And soon there was screaming inside the car because I was howling. I wanted it to stop. I wanted my parents to give her some money. And then as we drove away from the lights, I kept on howling. And I wanted to know why that was? Why was she on the outside of the car and why were we on the inside? Why does she not have a home and we did? How come we could afford to fly to India and she was begging at a street light?
Now, that kind of experience – I’m not trying to make myself out as anyone special, everyone has that moment. One of the most – something you’re guaranteed to hear in any playground are howls of “that’s not fair.” We all have that. But for me, that moment never really left me. I still carry that little girl around with me.
And after that happened, I went back to Britain and I started renting out my toys to my friends and their parents would give them pocket money so that they could play with whatever toy it was that I had. And I would give that money to charity, to aid – the thing in the news then was the famine in Ethiopia, so we sent the money off to Ethiopia. And I found myself to be a sort of junior capitalist turned philanthropist. But there is only so much toy rental you can do before you realize actually, the problem is still there. And being exposed to the persistent problems in India, year after year, made me realize that short-term fixes like sending overseas aid, while tremendously important, are not sufficient, and you need to get to the deeper root causes of things.
I studied in Britain and in the United States and in South Africa both looking for those answers and also learning from people who purported in some cases and who actually did, in other cases, have answers to how to address the deeper root causes of poverty.
Question: What is a common misperception about hunger?
Raj Patel: One of the things that I learned from groups around the world, particularly looking at issues of hunger, is that the root cause of hunger isn’t that there is a shortage of food. There’s more than enough food on earth today to feed everyone 1 ½ times over. We’ve go plenty of food on this planet. But there reason people are going hungry is not because of a shortage of food, but because of poverty. So, people are not sitting idly by waiting for food to fall into their laps. There is that kind of vision, particularly when we are thinking about how to change the world. Sometimes you’ll hear this line of “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” All of us can kind of get behind that, and think, yeah that’s pretty cool. Yeah, teach a man fish feed him for a lifetime. But the trouble is, think about what sort of image that rests upon. It has at heart, the idea that you’ve given a man a fish – a couple of guys in the third world somewhere sitting next to a flowing river and their chomping down on their fish, and they’re enjoying their fish very much and they’ll look over into the river and they’ll say, “Well, what’s that? That looks like a fish. Well, how are we going to get it out? Oh, I have no idea. We’ll have to wait for the white man to come and give us another fish.” But it’s got this, I mean this tremendously disempowering. That’s a nuts vision of how things happen in developing countries. Actually in developing countries people have been fishing for a very, very long time.
What the aid complex and what modern development has done for developing countries is impose a vision of how fishing should happen. And that vision is very unsustainable and it comes from outside. It comes from Europe, it comes from North America. A vision that markets and free markets and modern capitalism is going to make life much, much better. And in the process, the ways that people have been fishing, the ways that the social organization has been managed, often very sustainably, is destroyed and swept away.
Now, one of the ways that people have been fighting back is through organizing and developing their own principles – their own ways of democratically organizing and sharing resources. And I was privileged enough to come across a number of farmers and farmers’ organizations, and landless peoples organizations that have been organizing around the principle of how to feed themselves. And the vision that they have is a vision called “food sovereignty.” Now food sovereignty is – the definition is very long and if you’re interested go to Wikipedia and check out food sovereignty, it’s a great definition. But in essence, the idea of food sovereignty is that people have the ability to be able to make their own decisions about food and agriculture policy.
Now that may not sound like terribly much. The rights to be able to make your own decisions about food policy sounds pretty vapid, it sound like it’s a right to have rights over your food system. It doesn’t seem to contain any policy. But in fact, it does. The full definition of food sovereignty demands that there are things like women’s rights being respected and agrarian reforms so that there’s fair and equal land distribution. But the actual deep idea in the idea of food sovereignty is that we need democracy in shaping our food system. We need a way of actually everyone getting around the table and having a conversation about food and agriculture and the way that people around the world get to eat and the people around the world get to develop and realize their full potential.
Now, that turns out to be pretty radical because, as I say, the history of food policy, the history of agricultural policy in poor countries has been one where people from the outside will come in, teach people how to fish, or teach people how to grow food, or essentially destroy the sustainable agriculture that exists in developing countries and replacing it with an agriculture that, at the moment, is looking increasingly unsustainable.
And so having food sovereignty, having a democratic conversation about food is actually pretty new. Most countries have never had a democratic conversation about food. We haven’t in the United States, but pretty much no country has had a democratic process where people decide, how are we going to make sure that everyone at a national level gets to eat, and that we distribute food fairly, and that we have sustainable agricultural practices so that our kids will inherit a planet and an agricultural system that sustains them as much as it sustains us.
Right now we’re on the brink of basically emptying the oceans. We’re heading towards climate change catastrophe fueled in no small part by unsustainable agriculture that will mean in a couple of generations time, there will be 9 billion people on earth and a great deal more hungry people than we have right now. Food sovereignty is a way of democratically getting us back on to a track of sustainability.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Raj Patel initially thought a global economy could combat poverty but eventually realized that the root causes of inequality need to be addressed.
If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.
- Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
- Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
- One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.
Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.
- Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
- The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
- The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
Duke researchers have developed the first gel-based synthetic cartilage with the strength of the real thing. A quarter-sized disc of the material can withstand the weight of a 100-pound kettlebell without tearing or losing its shape.
Photo: Feichen Yang.<p>That's the word from a team in the Department of Chemistry and Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Duke University. Their <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/adfm.202003451" target="_blank">new paper</a>, published in the journal,<em> Advanced Functional Materials</em>, details this exciting evolution of this frustrating joint.<br></p><p>Researchers have sought materials strong and versatile enough to repair a knee since at least the seventies. This new hydrogel, comprised of three polymers, might be it. When two of the polymers are stretched, a third keeps the entire structure intact. When pulled 100,000 times, the cartilage held up as well as materials used in bone implants. The team also rubbed the hydrogel against natural cartilage a million times and found it to be as wear-resistant as the real thing. </p><p>The hydrogel has the appearance of Jell-O and is comprised of 60 percent water. Co-author, Feichen Yang, <a href="https://today.duke.edu/2020/06/lab-first-cartilage-mimicking-gel-strong-enough-knees" target="_blank">says</a> this network of polymers is particularly durable: "Only this combination of all three components is both flexible and stiff and therefore strong." </p><p> As with any new material, a lot of testing must be conducted. They don't foresee this hydrogel being implanted into human bodies for at least three years. The next step is to test it out in sheep. </p><p>Still, this is an exciting step forward in the rehabilitation of one of our trickiest joints. Given the potential reward, the wait is worth it. </p><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.
- 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
- Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
- Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.
The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.
In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.
That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.
70 data points and machine learning
Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash
Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:
"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."
The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.
Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."
Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.
Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.
On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.
Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash
Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."
"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.
The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.