The Dislocated Male
Reihan Salam is a writer, journalist, and Schwarz Fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy institute. His writing appears regularly in The National Review, Forbes.com, The Daily Beast, Slate, and other publications. His article "The Death of Macho," concerning the disruptive effects of the recession on men across the globe, appeared in Foreign Policy in 2009. He is the co-author, with Ross Douthat, of "Grand New Party: How Conservatives Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" (Doubleday, 2008).
Question: What is the economic problem with men?\r\n
Reihan Salam: Yeah, I mean there is so many different ways to approach the problem with men. One is when you’re looking at labor force participation, if you’re looking at prime age males. You have a lot of folks who don’t have college educations who have basically seen the labor market, you know their labor market position deteriorate very, very fast and the reaction has been to withdraw from the conventional world of work. Now you know what’s the problem with that? Well the big problem is when you’re not attached to the labor force you also start losing your connection to a lot of these basic bourgeois norms and habits that are part of life as a citizen in a free society and then you’re more inclined to engage in pathological behaviors. You’re more inclined to kind of have these masculine impulses to provide and what have you kind of corrode and manifest themselves in these really ugly forms, so that I think is what I think is the biggest and most pressing problem that is particular pressing of the context of an economic downturn like the one we’re going through.\r\n
Question: Why do you believe this labor situation will be permanent?\r\n
Reihan Salam: Well I think that there are lots of big structural changes that have happened in the economy and they’ve been going on for decades, but now they’re accelerating by virtue of this downturn as happens in any downturn and you know in broadest sense it’s this idea that you’re moving from a world that relies on brawn to one that relies increasingly on brainpower, but beyond that it’s also a world that relies on certain kinds of social intelligence, on being able to kind of construct networks that can be of value to you. That can enhance your resilience in a rapidly changing economy and again, if you basically rely on your strength in order to earn you an income in a way that’s not terribly specialized in a way that requires you take direction, but not necessarily even have to take it very well. That’s just gone and it’s not only gone in the United States. It’s gone in societies like China and increasingly India, societies that we think of as you know nipping at our heels, but this kind of large scale dislocation is taking place almost everywhere and the societies in which it’s not taking place are being badly left behind in a lot of other important respects. I think of Iran as a really good example of this is a society in which men retain this kind of very dominant position, but at the cost of economic stagnation.\r\n
Question: What problems could the surge in dislocated men cause?\r\n
Reihan Salam: Well I think on the global scale it’s more interesting because it’s a lot sharper. If you look at China for example where you have this large population of surplus males you’re talking about tens of millions of people who could theoretically contribute to chaotic violence, to networked violence, gang violence, etcetera if they don’t find some way of being stable, productive, contributing members of the broader society and I think that Iran similarly is a society in which the kind of taste for male dominance is such that it will lead to entrenched poverty for long periods of time. You see this across much of the world. It’s interesting the extent which female literacy predicts whether or not a society is going to experience and economic takeoff. There is almost… There is such a tight correlation between these two things it’s quite remarkable. Similarly, when you look at domestic violence within a society and how strongly that correlates with how externally aggressive that society is or the level of political instability that society experiences, it’s pretty interesting. And again, men tend to be the perpetrators of domestic violence. When you’re looking at the United States you have this different set of issues that we are already dealing with and are trying to contain through the instrument of the welfare state, so when we talk about prime-age males who are participating in the labor force, we’re talking about guys who are on disability benefits. We’re talking about guys who are incarcerated a lot of the time, and the social consequences of that are unfortunately pretty obvious in inner-city neighborhoods across the country and pretty dire.\r\n
And you have this issue… You know you see now in the African-American community, but it’s something that is becoming much broader in which women who have higher rates of educational obtainment have a very hard time finding spouses and again this complicates pretty much everything. It complicates the patterns of childrearing. It complicates whether or not children have two biological parents in the home and the **** consequences of that relate to educational obtainment for the next generation, so I think that it really is part and parcel of a lot of kind of big tangles of pathology that we’re dealing with, not only in inner cities, not only with this or that minority community, but increasingly across the entire American population.
Recorded on November 16, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
What’s left of the male breadwinner stereotype may not survive the recession. The results won’t be pretty.
A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
- The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
- The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.
- The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
- The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
- Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.