Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals And The Entire Natural World
One species has transformed into a material backdrop for its tribulations the 10 million other species that constitute its extended family, its giving environment, and its daily cohabitants. More specifically, it is one small population of this species that has done so, the bearer of a merely historical and local culture. Making all other living beings invisible is a provincial and late phenomenon—not the product of mankind as a whole. Imagine a people approaching a land populated by a myriad of other related peoples, and declaring that they don’t really exist, and that they are the stage and not the actors (ah yes, it’s not a fiction that requires a lot of imagination, as it also comprises vast swaths of our history). How did we accomplish this miracle of blindness toward the other creatures of the living world? We could hazard here—to exacerbate the strangeness of our heritage—a rapid history of the relations between our civilization and other species, a history which leads to the modern condition: Once nonhuman living beings were debased ontologically (that is to say, considered as endowed with a second-order existence, of lesser value and lesser consistency, and thus transformed into ‘things’), human beings came to believe that they alone truly existed in the universe.
It simply took Judeo-Christianity to expel God from ‘Nature’ (this is the hypothesis of the Egyptologist Jan Assmann), to make Nature profane, then the scientific and industrial revolutions to transform the nature that remained (the scholastic phusis) into a matter devoid of intelligence or of invisible influences, available to extractivism, for human beings to find themselves as solitary travelers in the cosmos, surrounded by dumb, evil matter. The last act involved killing off the last affiliation: Alone in the face of matter, human beings nevertheless remained in vertical contact with God, who sanctified it as his Creation (natural theology). The death of God entails a terrible and perfect loneliness, which we might call the anthropo-narcissistic prison.
This false lucidity about our cosmic solitude put the final seal on the serene exclusion of all nonhuman beings from the field of the ontologically relevant. It explains the ‘prison house’ of the philosophy and literature cultivated in the great European and Anglo-American capitals. My choice of this expression is not arbitrary: Not only are these fields now a prison house or ‘closed room’ in the sense of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”—but also the prison house is the world itself, the universe, which is populated only by us and the pathological relationships with our fellow humans entailed by the disappearance of our plural, affective, and active affiliations with other living beings, nonhuman animals and environments.
This ubiquitous theme in 20th-century literature and philosophy, which foregrounds the cosmic solitude of human beings, a solitude elevated to grandeur by existentialism, is intriguingly violent. Under cover of the heroism of the absurd (as Albert Camus defined it), under cover of having the courage to face the truth, this violence is a form of blindness that refuses to learn how to see the forms of existence of others, negating their status as cohabitants, postulating that, in fact, they have no communication skills, no ‘native senses,’ no creative point of view, no aptitudes for finding a modus vivendi, no political promptings. And this is the great cunning, and therefore the hidden violence of Western naturalism, which in fact aims to justify exploiting all of nature as a raw material lying to hand for our project of civilization—it means treating others as matter ruled by biological laws, refusing to see their geopolitical promptings, their vital alliances, and all the ways in which we share with living beings a great diplomatic community in which we can learn anew how to live.
The human subject alone in an absurd universe, surrounded by pure matter lying to hand as a stock of resources, or a sanctuary for humans to recharge their batteries spiritually, is a phantasmal invention of modernity. From this point of view, those great thinkers of emancipation, Sartre and Camus, who have probably infused their ideas deeply into the French tradition, are the objective allies of extractivism and the ecological crisis. It is intriguing to reinterpret these discourses of emancipation as vectors of great violence. Yet it was they who transformed into a basic belief of late humanism the myth that we alone are free subjects in a world of inert and absurd objects, doomed to giving meaning through our consciousness to a living world devoid of it.
This myth took away from that world something it had always possessed. The shamanists and animists described by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Philippe Descola know very well what this lost state had involved, namely complex social relations of reciprocity, exchange, and predation which are not peace-loving or pacific, and do not follow Isaiah’s prophecy, but are political in a still enigmatic sense, and call for forms of pacification and conciliation, of mutualist and considerate cohabitation. After all, there are meanings everywhere in the living world: They do not need to be projected, but to be found, with the means at our disposal—translation and interpretation. It’s all about diplomacy. We need interpreters, intermediaries, and in-betweens to do the job of starting to speak again with living beings, to overcome what we might call Claude Lévi-Strauss’s curse: the impossibility of communicating with the other species we share the Earth with. “For despite the ink spilled by the Judeo-Christian tradition to conceal it, no situation seems more tragic, more offensive to heart and mind, than that of a humanity coexisting and sharing the joys of a planet with other living species yet being unable to communicate with them,” Lévi-Strauss said in conversation with Didier Eribon.
But this impossibility is a fiction of the moderns—it helps to justify reducing living beings to commodities in order to sustain world economic exchanges. Communication is possible, it has always taken place; it is surrounded by mystery, by inexhaustible enigmas, by untranslatable aspects too, but ultimately by creative misunderstandings. It doesn’t have the fluidity of a café conversation, but it is nonetheless rich in meaning.
As an enigma among other enigmas, the human way of being alive only makes sense if it is woven into the countless other ways of being alive that the animals, plants, bacteria, and ecosystems all around us demand.
The ever-intact enigma of being a human is richer and more poignant when we share it with other life forms in our great family, when we pay attention to them, and when we do justice to their otherness. This interplay of kinship and otherness with other living beings, the common causes they foster in the politics of life, is part of what makes the ‘mystery of living,’ of being a human being, so inexhaustible.
Independent Media Institute_______________________
Baptiste Morizot is a writer and lecturer in philosophy at Aix-Marseille University in France who studies the relationship between humans and other living beings. His many books include Ways of Being Alive and Rekindling Life: A Common Front, both published in English by Polity Books.
Flipping the Script on Turkey’s Cancel Culture
Despite its negative connotation, “cancel culture” – ostracizing someone for their harmful views – has had a big impact on addressing inequalities in the West, particularly discrimination of women. But in Turkey, it is women themselves who are getting canceled.
In late July, actress Birce Akalay took to social media to lament Turkey’s current economic crisis, expressing disappointment in the declining value of labor and the plummeting value of the lira. “I’m fed up,” she wrote. “Our workers, our people have become miserable.”
Akalay, of course, was right. The lira has been steadily depreciating, and inflation has reached 79 percent, the highest among OECD countries. And yet, because Akalay is a woman, her views were almost immediately discounted as heresy.
Turkiye newspaper columnist Cem Kucuk twice threatened Akalay over her criticism. The first time, Kucuk made her an open target by saying that “those who have spoken like this in the last 20 years have either gone to jail or fled or their careers are over.” In a follow-up piece, Kucuk even compared Akalay to the ex-president of the TUSKON business organization, Rizanur Meral, who was accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher implicated by Ankara of masterminding the 2016 attempted coup.
Sadly, Kucuk is not the only powerful man to scorn outspoken Turkish women. Following the June 2013 anti-government protests in Istanbul, when 14-year-old Berkin Elvan was killed by a gas canister fired by police, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Elvan a terrorist and encouraged thousands to boo his mother.
Since then, condemning women for taking a stand against injustice has become a government-sanctioned epidemic – with many victims.
In August 2020, a suicide note left by an 18-year-old woman from Batman, in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast, claimed that she had been kidnapped and raped by a Turkish sergeant, Musa Orhan. Orhan was eventually charged and found guilty of rape, but a judge refused to issue an arrest warrant.
Like thousands of concerned citizens, actress Ezgi Mola expressed outrage on Twitter, writing: “Shame on you for releasing an inglorious rapist.” But when Orhan sued Mola for libel, accusing her of “insulting” him, he won, and Mola was fined nearly 7,000 lira ($390) for her post.
Another egregious example surfaced in October 2021, after Ece Ronay, a 22-year-old Kurdish musician, publicly accused comedian Mehmet Ali Erbil of sexual harassment. On social media, Ronay published some of the messages Erbil had sent her – including a proposition for sex. Yet rather than come to her defense, the public victimized Ronay all over again.
Erbil defended his actions by claiming Ronay had marketed her body via TikTok, and therefore, shouldn’t be coy about sex acts. Not only did he get his followers to shame Ronay using a raunchy hashtag, he also sued her for defamation. That lawsuit is still pending.
While femicide and harassment have been long-standing problems in Turkey, they have become worse during the Justice and Development Party’s two-decades-long reign. Violence against women has risen by 70 percent in the last 15 years, and 246 women have been killed by their partners in 2022. According to a March 2022 report from Turkish polling agency Metropoll, domestic violence is the biggest problem that women in Turkey face.
Turkey did have a flicker of a #MeToo moment after the brutal rape and murder of 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan, in 2015. But it never caught on, and contrary to women’s movements abroad, Turkey’s push against sexual abuse and harassment has arguably backtracked. Erdogan’s decision last year to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention – a decree that aimed to prevent and combat violence against women – only reaffirms the statement of Canan Gullu, the president of the Federation of Women Associations of Turkey, that “government is an explicit ally in hatred against women.”
Journalists, entertainment moguls, and politicians are fueling this violent, hate-filled rhetoric, while the Turkish judiciary system keeps rewarding men who treat women like property. People who have the ear of the public should not target women with their vileness, as doing so will only perpetuate the injustice.
In countries like Turkey, where media censorship is high and transparency is low, social media is the frontline of political debate, the most democratic platform for silenced opinions. But with a new social media law in the pipeline, where “intention” will dictate whether speech is deemed illegal, it is women who have the most to lose. The only solution is to flip the tables and cancel the men who continue to live in the past.
Alexandra de Cramer is a journalist based in Istanbul. She reported on the Arab Spring from Beirut as a Middle East correspondent for Milliyet newspaper. Her work ranges from current affairs to culture, and has been featured in Monocle, Courier Magazine, Maison Francaise, and Istanbul Art News.
Mendel’s Genetic Revolution and the Legacy of Scientific Racism
Scientific advances are not always linear; they zigzag in unexpected ways. This is particularly true of genetics, which has a dark history of being coopted into eugenics and race science.
In July, the world celebrated 200 years since the birth of Gregor Mendel, who is widely accepted as the “father of modern genetics” for his discovery of the laws of inheritance. His experiments with peas, published in 1866 under the title “Experiments in Plant Hybridization,” identified dominant and recessive traits and how recessive traits would reappear in future generations and in what proportion. His work would largely remain unacknowledged and ignored until three other biologists replicated his work in 1900.
While Mendel’s work is central to modern genetics, and his use of experimental methods and observation is a model for science, it also set off the dark side with which genetics has been inextricably linked: eugenics and racism. But eugenics was much more than race “science.” It was also used to argue the superiority of the elite and dominant races, and in countries like India, it was used as a “scientific” justification for the caste system as well.
People who believe that eugenics was a temporary aberration in science and that it died with Nazi Germany would be shocked to find out that even the major institutions and journals that included the word eugenics as part of their names have continued to operate by just changing their titles. The Annals of Eugenics became the Annals of Human Genetics; the Eugenics Review changed its name to the Journal of Biosocial Science; Eugenics Quarterly changed to Biodemography and Social Biology; and the Eugenics Society was renamed the Galton Institute. Several departments in major universities, which were earlier called the department of eugenics, either became the department of human genetics or the department of social biology.
All of them have apparently shed their eugenics past, but the reoccurrence of the race and IQ debate, sociobiology, the white replacement theory and the rise of white nationalism are all markers that theories of eugenics are very much alive. In India, the race theory takes the form of the belief that Aryans are “superior” and fair skin is seen as a marker of Aryan ancestry.
While Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers and Nazi Germany’s genocide of Jews and Roma communities have made it difficult to talk about the racial superiority of certain races, scientific racism persists within science. It is a part of the justification that the elite seek, justifying their superior position based on their genes, and not on the fact that they inherited or stole this wealth. It is a way to airbrush the history of the loot, slavery and genocide that accompanied the colonization of the world by a handful of countries in Western Europe.
Why is it that when we talk about genetics and history, the only story that is repeated is that about biologist Trofim Lysenko and how the Soviet Communist Party placed ideology above science? Why is it that the mention of eugenics in popular literature is only with respect to Nazi Germany and not about how Germany’s eugenic laws were inspired directly by the U.S.? Or how eugenics in Germany and the U.S. were deeply intertwined? Or how Mendel’s legacy of genetics become a tool in the hands of racist states, which included the U.S. and Great Britain? Why is it that genetics is used repeatedly to support theories of superiority of the white race?
Mendel showed that there were traits that were inherited, and therefore we had genes that carried certain markers that could be measured, such as the color of the flower and the height of the plant. Biology then had no idea of how many genes we had, which traits could be inherited, how genetically mixed the human population is, etc. Mendel himself had no idea about genes as carriers of inheritance, and this knowledge became known much later.
From genetics to society, the application of these principles was a huge leap that was not supported by any empirical scientific evidence. All attempts to show the superiority of certain races started with a priori assuming that certain races were superior and then trying to find what evidence to choose from that would help support this thesis. Much of the IQ debate and sociobiology came from this approach to science. In his review of The Bell Curve, Bob Herbert wrote that the authors, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, had written a piece of “racial pornography,” “…to drape the cloak of respectability over the obscene and long-discredited views of the world’s most rabid racists.”
A little bit of the history of science is important here. Eugenics was very much mainstream in the early 20th century and had the support of major parties and political figures in the UK and the U.S. Not surprisingly, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a noted supporter of race science, although eugenics had some supporters among progressives as well.
The founder of eugenics in Great Britain was Francis Galton, who was a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton pioneered statistical methods like regression and normal distribution, as did his close collaborators and successors in the Eugenics Society, Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher. On the connection of race and science, Aubrey Clayton, in an essay in Nautilus, writes, “What we now understand as statistics comes largely from the work of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher, whose names appear in bread-and-butter terms like ‘Pearson correlation coefficient’ and ‘Fisher information.’ In particular, the beleaguered concept of ‘statistical significance,’ for decades the measure of whether empirical research is publication-worthy, can be traced directly to the trio.”
It was Galton who, based supposedly on scientific evidence, argued for the superiority of the British over Africans and other natives, and that superior races should replace inferior races by way of selective breeding. Pearson gave his justification for genocide: “History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.”
The eugenics program had two sides: one was that the state should try to encourage selective breeding to improve the stock of the population. The other was for the state should take active steps to “weed out” undesirable populations. The sterilization of “undesirables” was as much a part of the eugenics societies as encouraging people toward selective breeding.
In the U.S., eugenics was centered on Cold Spring Harbor’s Eugenics Record Office. While Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and its research publications still hold an important place in contemporary life sciences, its original significance came from the Eugenics Record Office, which operated as the intellectual center of eugenics and race science. It was supported by philanthropic money from the Rockefeller family, the Carnegie Institution and many others. Charles Davenport, a Harvard biologist, and his associate Harry Laughlin became the key figures in passing a set of state laws in the U.S. that led to forced sterilization of the “unfit” population. They also actively contributed to the Immigration Act of 1924, which set quotas for races. The Nordic races had priority, while East Europeans (Slavic races), East Asians, Arabs, Africans and Jews were virtually barred from entering the country.
Sterilization laws in the U.S. at the time were controlled by the states. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the doyen of liberal jurisprudence in the U.S., gave his infamous judgment in Virginia on justifying compulsory sterilization, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” he ruled in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck and her daughter were not imbeciles; they paid for their “sins” of being poor and perceived as threats to society (a society that failed them in turn). Again, Eugenics Research Office and Laughlin played an important role in providing “scientific evidence” for the sterilization of the “unfit.”
While Nazi Germany’s race laws are widely condemned as being the basis for Hitler’s gas chambers, Hitler himself stated that his inspiration for Germany’s race laws was the U.S. laws on sterilization and immigration. The close links between the U.S. eugenicists and Nazi Germany are widely known and recorded. Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race described how “Adolf Hitler’s race hatred was underpinned by the work of American eugenicists,” according to an article in the Guardian in 2004. The University of Heidelberg, meanwhile, gave Laughlin an honorary degree for his work in the “science of racial cleansing.”
With the fall of Nazi Germany, eugenics became discredited. This resulted in institutions, departments and journals that had any affiliation to eugenics by name being renamed, but they continued to do the same work. Human genetics and social biology became the new names for eugenics. The Bell Curve was published in the 1990s justifying racism, and a recent bestseller by Nicholas Wade, a former science correspondent of the New York Times, also trot out theories that have long been scientifically discarded. Fifty years back, Richard Lewontin had shown that only about 6 to 7 percent of human genetic variation exists between so-called racial groups. At that time, genetics was still at a nascent stage. Later, data has only strengthened Lewontin’s research.
Why is it that while criticizing the Soviet Union’s scientific research and the sins of Lysenko 80 years back, we forget about race science and its use of genetics?
The answer is simple: Attacking the scientific principles and theories developed by the Soviet Union as an example of ideology trumping science is easy. It makes Lysenko the norm for Soviet science of ideology trumping pure science. But why is eugenics, with its destructive past and its continuing presence in Europe and the U.S., not recognized as an ideology—one that has persisted for more than 100 years and that continues to thrive under the modern garb of an IQ debate or sociobiology?
The reason is that it allows racism a place within science: changing the name from eugenics to sociobiology makes it appear as a respectable science. The power of ideology is not in the ideas but in the structure of our society, where the rich and the powerful need justification for their position. That is why race science as an ideology is a natural corollary of capitalism and groups like the G7, the club of the rich countries who want to create a “rule-based international order.” Race science as sociobiology is a more genteel justification than eugenics for the rule of capital at home and ex-colonial and settler-colonial states abroad. The fight for science in genetics has to be fought both within and outside science as the two are closely connected.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
Essential Things Prohibited in Marriage According to Java Tradition and Culture and in Bible’s Point of View
Indonesia is a vast archipelago consisting of more than 17,000 islands, has more than 1340 ethnic groups and tribes, according to the 2010 BPS census.
The Javanese are the largest ethnic group in Indonesia, accounting for 41% of the total population and the most populous population. Java is divided into 5 provinces and one district with a community character that has strong cultural ties is Surakarta or well-known said as Solo.
It is located in Central Java Province and the other city is Yogjakarta in the Special Region of Yogyakarta. It is said that for centuries, culture and beliefs that have been passed down from time immemorial need to be preserved and appreciated, especially in a life event that is predicted to involve bad luck and good fortune. In the marriage culture, there is a sign that there are still many who believe and consider it when they decide on their life’s partner when come to marriage life.
People understand that there are consequences of prohibition in the culture, especially Javanese culture. The author describes things as follows concerning the prohibition of marriage according to Javanese culture.
First: do not hold any celebration especially Wedding Party in “Suro” month (Muharram)
Whoever he is, if he is Javanese and is going to hold a celebration, especially a wedding party, then one thing that must be considered is that every Javanese, whoever and adheres to any religion, this community group must avoid any celebration in the month of Suro or well-known also as Muharram. The month, which is considered sacred for most Javanese people, is believed to bring bad luck or bad things to those who do not heed the prohibitions that have been existing in Javanese society for generations.
It is said that it was Nyai Roro Kidul, the ruler of the Java Sea holds the celebrations in the month of Suro, and therefore ordinary people are forbidden or unable to hold parties/celebrations, or they would get a disaster for ignoring the prohibition.
Second: do not get married if “weton” calculation is not matched
One way to determine a mate is based on a weton compatibility calculation. In Javanese culture, the calculation of “weton” or date and day is very important, let someone a miscalculation, it can damage the marriage life, for example if it does not match the weton of one of the future couple. On the other hand, if the couple is matched according to the calculation of the weton, the two will be in harmony and will live a good life together. If according to Weton, the couple is not compatible and force themselves to get married, it is believed that disaster and disharmony will come in their marriage life. Concerning this weton, the author will continue his description in the next chapter based on calculations and predictions of marriage. 1 dan 1; 1 dan 1 dan 1, 1 dan 3.
Third: never marry on position of birth 1st with 1st , 1st with 1st and 1st and 1st, and 1st with 3rd
There are things that are forbidden if the first child will marry the first child (siji lan siji). If they insisted on getting married, then it would lead to bad luck for the future couple. It is believed that they will face disaster or calamity. Usually, for families who believe in their beliefs and follow Javanese culture, that option should be considered. Logically, the burden of the first child will be heavy if the parents are too old or die, then the first child will be responsible for his brothers and sisters including the whole family.
It is also prohibited when 1st gets married with 1st and 1st (siji jejer telu), it refers to couple of 1st child with 1st child and one of their parents are 1st child too. If the calculating is like that, it is better to avoid or not proceed the marriage, it will cause you bad luck and disaster also will threat their relationship.
Another prohibition is when 1st child gets married with 3rd child (siji lan telu), it means if couple is 1st child and 3rd child, and they still insist to get married, only few of this society who believes that their marriage would get a lot of trouble. Maybe Javanese believe that character between 1st and 3rd child is different, therefore will cause lots of problem.
Fourth: do not break the marriage rules because of wrong house’s position
There are interesting things to note about the position of the couple’s home. If this is not taken care of, there will be lack and no happiness in their marriage even their parents will pass away soon.
Marriage cannot be held if house of the couple is face or opposite each other. If they are insist to held a marriage, then one of them have to give in with house renovation and heading the house so it will not face each other. Or one of the couple, have to “thrown out of the family” and take by other family closed to their house but not face each other.
Marriage is not allowed if the house is adjacent to the in-laws’ house. In the prohibition of Javanese customs this must be taken into consideration. If this is unconsidered, the consequences for parents will pass away in short time.
Marriage cannot be held if the prospective spouse’s house is only five steps away.
This prohibition is quite interesting. This means that, it refers to the house around, which incidentally is a close neighbor. Wouldn’t it be closer to understand better the situation or character of a potential partner??? However for those who adhere to Javanese customs, this is prohibited. If they break up, it can give such result like an unhappy marriage, not getting along and there are only shortcomings.
Fifth: prohibit rule that related with day and date of birth
In addition to not being allowed to carry out marriages in the month of Suro (Muharram), there are also based on calculations to determine the hour, day, month; but some are calculated based on the date of birth. Determining the date of marriage for the Javanese, is very important. If you choose the wrong date for the wedding, bad luck will follow you. But if you choose the right wedding date and always get the fortune. In addition to certain days, dates and months, those who follow Javanese custom, it is believed that if the wedding is held on the groom’s birth date, the marriage shall bring the fortune to the couple and keep the disaster away from their marriage’s life.
Sixth: prohibit rule that related with gift
At the time of the wedding, the invited guests usually give the gifts to the bride and groom as an expression of prayer and congratulations. For the present time, it is more in terms of benefit and practically therefore, it is not merely about the form of the gift itself. According to Javanese myth, the first gift that should be opened is the one that will be used first in starting or treading family life. If this is done then the family will get good luck.
Bible and Christianity point of view concerning Javanese culture
Basically, in Bible it was written that every day is a good day (Genesis 1:3, 31 & Galatians 4:9-11). There is no bad day, everything happens is in God hand. Eternal relationship and journey of marriage life become a good events, not because of weton calculation, day, birth position and what would be the celebration, but more to God’s word also put Bible as a guidance in marriage. Put Bible above culture, as form to honor our Almighty God to rule our life (Matthew 15:1-20). More than that, the fundamentals of marriage life are pray, loving, trusting, patient and struggle (1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Galatians 5:22-23). Kindly our Lord the Almighty, be the center of happiness and prosperity.
Editor: Nia S. Amira
Parents Should Use Facts, Not Fear When Deciding to Vaccinate Children
In a paper published in November in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, leading experts in pediatrics, immunology and infectious diseases posed a question that is currently haunting parents everywhere.
“Should children be vaccinated against COVID-19?”
It’s a tough question and, as the experts bleakly conclude, there is no easy answer. There is still “no consensus on whether all healthy children under 12 years of age should be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Parents, few of whom will be equipped to calculate the risk-benefit ratio in question, now face a dilemma, and polls have shown that up to 60 percent of parents are reluctant to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds.
Over the past few months, health authorities in country after country have been opening up their COVID-19 vaccination programs to children as young as five years old.
The majority of parents will be among the estimated 62 percent of the world’s population who have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, having trusted the scientific consensus that the drugs are both safe and effective.
But when it comes to deciding whether or not to have their child jabbed, many parents will be veering instinctively towards vaccine hesitancy – and, say the experts, they might be right to entertain doubts.
The authors of the new study conclude that the case for vaccinating healthy children “is more difficult than for adults as the balance of risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in children is more complex, as the relative harms from vaccination and disease are less well established in this age group.”
Their advice? Well, of course, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer.
The first question for parents to address is, “Why?” COVID-19 has been seen to be much milder in children than in adults, and even when it is severe, deaths are much rarer.
That, of course, would be no consolation to a family that loses a child, so why not have the vaccination anyway, just in case?
Another good question. After all, the more people, adults and children, who are vaccinated, the more the spread of COVID-19 is hampered.
Like adults, children also transmit the coronavirus if they’re infected, even if they have no symptoms.
In October, the US Food and Drug Administration said that vaccine safety and effectiveness had been studied in a group of almost 3,100 children, and the drugs had been found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
There are other benefits to vaccinating children, such as minimizing disruption to education.
So what about the downsides of vaccination – the threat of possible side effects?
The emerging reality is that these are extremely rare in children. A child might suffer pain at the injection site or could feel tired for a while. Headaches, achy muscles or joints, and even fever and chills, are also possible, but are almost always short-lived.
The worst possible side effect, of course, is death. As one meme on Facebook put it, “We are being told to line up our children to get something that might kill them, to protect them from something that can’t kill them.”
But this is demonstrably false scaremongering. A review of COVID-19 deaths in England, published in November 2021, found that 25 infected patients under the age of 18 had died from having the virus. At the same time, of three million children having been given the vaccination, not one had died as a result of the jab.
In December, UK medicines watchdog the MHRA approved use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds, following a review of safety data that took account of the fact that at that point over 5.5 million dosages of the vaccine had been given to 5- to 11-year-olds in the US alone, with no adverse consequences.
For some, there is a moral dimension to hesitancy. Is it right, they are asking, for adults to protect themselves by subjecting children to vaccination?
The answer is “yes”. Vaccinating children protects the whole community, not just the adults. Plus, the more comprehensive a vaccination program, the less likely it is that other variants will emerge – variants that might pose threats to specific groups, including young children.
Others fear that giving their children a “new” drug, without any data on its long-term safety, might be a risk, but this is to misunderstand the nature of the vaccines.
The mRNA technology that lies behind vaccines such as the Pfizer-BioNTech jab – on offer for young children in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – is not new, and neither is it introducing potentially hazardous substances into the body.
Some vaccines work by introducing a weakened or inactivated virus into our bodies to trigger an immune response. On the other hand, vaccines based on mRNA merely teach our bodies to recognize the proteins produced by viruses or bacteria and trigger an immune response.
Ultimately, though, the decision about whether to vaccinate children must lie with their parents – and here’s where I must declare an interest.
I am the fully-jabbed father of a 7-year-old daughter and, after much soul-searching – and a great deal of research – my wife and I have decided that she should have the vaccine.
We have reached this decision on two grounds. The first is that she is more at risk – albeit only a tiny risk – from COVID-19 than she is from the vaccination.
The second is that her inoculation will represent a tiny but significant step towards humankind’s ultimate victory over a virus that, to date, has claimed almost six million lives.
Ultimately, of course, it is your choice. Just be sure your decision is informed by facts, and not by unfounded fears.
By Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.
This article was produced by Syndication Bureau to publish on Telegraf.
Kamala vs. Mitt: Two Different Viewpoints of Family Planning Prefigure Different Futures for Planetary Health
Forget their policies for a moment, and consider how two politicians’ lives foreshadow our ecological future.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris does not have any biological children and grew up middle-class. Meanwhile, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a Mormon with five kids, was born into wealth and has substantially increased it for his family.
Their lives prefigure very different futures for the country and its children.
If those in the U.S. who are privileged enough to be able to follow Romney’s example of having unearned family privileges and a large family choose to do so, then the entire country will eventually arrive at an ecologically degraded and unsustainable future, as well as a crowded political system, where the day-to-day reality of life is defined by massive inequity driven by family wealth. The increase in population, which is “rising unevenly,” is one of the contributing factors leading to an “unprecedented” decline in nature that is “accelerating” species extinction rates, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The continued and unchecked growth of the human population might exacerbate this situation further.
Meanwhile, if we follow Harris’ example, and especially if she uses her earned wealth to further social justice in her current position, we arrive at a more sustainable future and an optimal world population, where every vote counts, and privilege is earned rather than inherited.
Which of these two futures do parents want for their children?
Parents have a right to protect their children’s future by not following the example and choices of people like Mitt Romney, whose life is like a microcosm of what it means to exploit the environment and capitalize on one’s birth position.
In March, the Senate passed legislation, urged on by Romney, that while appearing to lift children out of poverty, is probably better characterized as an attempt to nudge people to have more kids. The legislation does nothing to truly eliminate child poverty by moving toward recognizing every child’s right to a fair start in life and does not help to promote smaller and more sustainable families amid the climate crisis or provide solutions for preventing future population-driven pandemics. The legislation also does nothing to address fundamental problems that will continue to grow with the push for more babies. It does nothing to prevent child abuse and the horrific acts of torture some children continue to face at the hands of their caregivers. It does nothing to restore the natural world that previous generations enjoyed and that is likely to be stolen from future generations if nothing is done to remedy the situation.
What can people in the U.S. do to fight for their rights to a natural and democratic future when even a more progressive Congress ignores them? While many have lauded President Joe Biden’s plans as a modern-day New Deal, there is also a need to envision a more physical and intergenerational revision of the social contract where the people of this country can prioritize children’s right to an ecologically and socially fair start in life simply because future children represent the constant restarting of the agreement. The rights of the children, in this sense, override all competing rights, including the rights of the uber-wealthy—like those paying millions to be space tourists—to hoard resources that could instead be used for improving family planning.
This change can come from the grassroots, not just by telling political leaders what’s important to them, but also by engaging in their communities to spread information about the connection between ensuring a better future for children in terms of climate, democracy, and other opportunities. Given what’s at stake, it would be immoral not to recreate the social contract to make it fair from the start and move the country as a whole a bit more toward making choices that are represented by Harris rather than Romney.
Regardless of the action that people take and the example that they choose to follow, between Harris and Romney, they now have starkly different examples of the kinds of lives children can lead, and what they represent for the future of humanity at large.
By Carter Dillard is the policy adviser for the Fair Start Movement. He served as an Honors Program attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice and served with a national security law agency before developing a comprehensive account of reforming family planning for the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal.
How Community Schools Are Helping a Hard Hit City Dig Out of Tough Times
Rocked by vanishing industries and charter school expansions, Erie public schools are fighting back with a “transformative” education approach.
Days after the GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, announced a round of crippling layoffs in 2013, an employee was found hanging from a crane in “Building 20,” according to the Erie Times-News. The image of a dead worker dangling from a crane in a dying factory seemed symbolic of a city going ever deeper into the depths of despair.
GE Transportation, once the largest employer in the county, has been shedding jobs for years, dropping from 20,000 workers, who were employed when the company was at its peak, to 3,000 in January 2017 after it “laid off 1,500 of its remaining 4,500 workers,” according to Yahoo News. Other plants in Erie—Hammermill Paper Company, a paper mill; Lord Corporation, a maker of industrial coatings, adhesives, motion management devices, and sensing technologies; and Zurn, a plumbing equipment manufacturer—were also shedding jobs or closing completely, according to a 2018 Associated Press article that appeared in the Pennsylvania newspaper the Morning Call. The layoffs and shutdowns affected blue-collar and white-collar workers alike.
As good-paying jobs left Erie, families increasingly left the local schools. By the 2016-2017 school year, the district estimated its schools were 5,000 students below capacity, reported the Erie Times-News, which meant less money was coming into the district from the state, compounding the district’s long-standing funding deprivation from the state—among the lowest in Pennsylvania, according to the Erie City School District’s assessment.
Asking local taxpayers to dig deeper was not an option in a city where almost 28 percent of residents lived below the poverty level, the median home value was significantly below the state average, and an abundance of government-related buildings made almost a third of the real estate tax-exempt.
Erie’s school district was also bleeding money to an expanding charter school sector, one of the largest in the state. In the 2015-2016 school year alone, Erie paid more than $22 million to charter schools.
Students remaining in district schools tended to be the ones who were the costliest to teach. In a 2016 report using data from the 2014-2015 school year, 80 percent of Erie K-12 students were classified as poor, and 17.6 percent qualified for special education services. The district was also in the top 3 percent among Pennsylvania school districts for the number of English language learners.
By 2016, the combination of the cratering local economy with declining school revenues had resulted in the district accumulating a debt load of $9.5 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.
So dire were Erie’s financial straits that in 2016, the then district superintendent, Jay Badams, went to the state legislature in Harrisburg, NPR reported, and threatened to close the district’s high schools unless the state came up with emergency funding.
When I interviewed Badams in 2017, he told me his startling proposal was an “ethical decision,” because the more affluent school districts that Erie students would transfer to were more generously funded and offered richer learning opportunities.
Shortly after our conversation, Badams announced he would leave the district at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, partially due to his frustrations with funding. But before he left, he put into place two innovations that would help pull the district out of its nosedive.
First, a fiscal rescue package that included state emergency funding and a plan to consolidate schools resulted in the district rebounding from a deficit to a budget surplus of nearly $714,000 going into the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.
The second innovation would take longer to bear fruit but would nevertheless show how public schools can be a rallying point for communities traumatized by wrenching change.
‘A Greater Sense of Hope’
“The biggest difference between Erie schools in 2016 and now is that there’s a greater sense of hope and a feeling that we’re having a more positive impact in the community,” says Joelyn Bush.
Bush is the director of marketing and communications at United Way of Erie County, a local nonprofit that teamed up with Erie’s Public Schools in 2016 to help implement the second innovation Badams proposed before he left—a pilot project at five Erie schools testing an approach called community schools that helps schools in a high-poverty district address the needs of students who have increasingly difficult lives.
“In 2016, we knew the biggest challenge Erie families faced was growing poverty,” Bush recalls. “Whatever we chose to do would have to address that.”
The model would also need to work within the district’s ongoing financial constraints.
The community schools approach matched the district’s criteria because, by design, it repositions schools as neighborhood hubs, not only for education, but also for integrated health, nutritional, and social services. And rather than requiring significant new outlays from local taxpayers, the funding model relies by and large on establishing a network of donor sources, primarily government grants and donations from local businesses and nonprofits with strong ties to the community.
In Erie’s case, seed money of $1.5 million for the pilot was provided by local and regional nonprofits, according to the Erie Reader, and each school implementing the approach was paired with corporations and nonprofits that pledged to cover ongoing costs of $100,000 per school, per year. The entire effort would be coordinated and managed by the county United Way.
“We knew we had people, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that wanted to help Erie schools,” says Mike Jaruszewicz, vice president of community impact for United Way of Erie County. “The community schools model provides the framework to do that, so people who want to help see how they can.”
“This wasn’t just a patchwork of programs to implement here and there,” says Bush; it was a way to have “real collective impact.”
Erica Erwin, currently the coordinator of public relations and strategic communications for Erie’s Public Schools, was an education beat reporter for the Erie Times-News when the district announced its pilot program. “The idea that there was a way to address barriers to learning, like poverty, by establishing a network of partners to help address the barriers was fascinating to me,” she recalls. “The idea seemed transformative.”
‘Thank God You’re Here’
But if the community schools approach were to fulfill its lofty promises, it would need to be workable for the people who had to implement it.
One of those people was Amy Grande, the community school director at McKinley Elementary School, one of the five schools in the initial pilot.
Born and raised in Erie, Grande has lived in the community her whole life. Prior to being hired for her job at McKinley, she had volunteered in the district starting in 2009, and then was hired as a gym teacher and an athletic coach.
Although she felt she knew her community and its problems—and felt confident that the community schools approach could help address those problems—she wasn’t sure how teachers would welcome having yet another program come into their school, especially one that saddled the school with the responsibility to address community conditions outside of the school.
It turned out she didn’t need to worry: “The teachers’ first reactions were, ‘Thank God you’re here,’” she says.
What teachers appreciated about the community schools approach and Grande’s role was that it gave them a way—and a person—to address the nonacademic issues that interfere with student learning but can’t be addressed by time- and resource-constrained teachers.
For instance, because Grande took her position midyear, during the typically harsh Erie winter, there were students who came to school late, or not at all, because they lacked warm clothing.
“Right away, I had 30 students who needed coats, boots, gloves, and hats,” she recalls.
What also quickly came to her attention were the school’s ongoing needs for basic food items supplied by the in-school pantry. Safety issues—such as lighting, security, and accessibility—also needed to be addressed. Eventually, she found herself helping families with things like utility bills and homelessness.
Sometimes, the issues were more complicated than what Grande and the school’s partnership with the United Way of Erie County could handle. But the community schools approach offered ways to take on and address those bigger challenges, too.
A Walking School Bus
“Transportation is a huge barrier for our families,” Grande says.
Getting to and from school became harder for Erie families when the city’s financial collapse caused the district to limit school bus service to only those families living outside a one-mile radius of the school. Later, that limitation was raised to 1.5 miles.
“At McKinley [Elementary School], that excludes most of our families,” Grande explains. “So, you’re talking about children as young as kindergarten having to cross dangerous roads, including highways, to get to school. That’s an incredible impediment to attendance.”
Consequently, McKinley Elementary School averaged only 73.5 percent of its students attending regularly in the 2018-2019 school year, which was well below the statewide average of 85.7 percent, according to an email sent by Jaruszewicz.
To begin to tackle the challenge, Erie educators and administrative staff, along with the support of their United Way partners, secured a grant to conduct a safe routes assessment to note where students live, the intersections they had to traverse, and the stoplights and sidewalk conditions students encountered along the way.
To address how students would get to and from the school, Erie schools and United Way of Erie County staff created a walking school bus.
“A walking school bus is a bus without the bus,” Grande explains, adding that a walking school bus consists of a group of students walking to school escorted by one or two adult “drivers.” The “bus” has designated “stops” in the morning where children “board” and proceed to the next stops along the way to school.
When school ends, students gather with their fellow “passengers” and are escorted back to the stops closest to their homes. Bus routes change based on safety conditions and the transportation needs of families from year to year.
Adult escorts for the walking school bus were recruited from a local service-oriented organization called the Blue Coats. The Blue Coats, Bush explains, was an entity born out of the need for Erie to address issues of unruliness and violence in the schools. The organization recruited volunteers, mostly men, to stand on street corners and other key traffic areas to monitor the behavior of students going to and from schools.
In 2015, the Erie school district credited the Blue Coats “with a sharp decline in violence in and around the schools,” according to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Washington Times, prompting a local philanthropy to award the Blue Coats a $300,000 grant, “to shepherd Erie children” through school.
McKinley Elementary’s first walking school bus started in February 2021 with only four students enrolled, but by the end of the school year, there were 30 students enrolled, according to Jaruszewicz. Of the 30 students enrolled, 26 increased their attendance, and the average number of students attending McKinley regularly jumped to 86 percent by the end of the school year in 2021, besting the state average.
Other Erie schools involved in the community schools pilot had similar success with raising student attendance rates. Strong Vincent Middle School saw chronic absenteeism decrease by 20 percent, according to Jaruszewicz. Edison Elementary School saw chronic absenteeism rates drop from 22 percent to 11 percent between 2017 and 2020.
Giving Erie a Fighting Chance
In 2018 and 2019, Erie’s Public Schools added one new school each year to its group of schools using the community schools approach. In July 2021, the district announced it would expand the approach to five more schools, based on the success of its pilot program, according to the Erie Times-News.
The short-term goal of the approach is for all students entering Erie High School to have attended a community school in their elementary and middle school years, according to the article. But “the long-term goal is to grow academic success,” says Jaruszewicz.
That may “take years for the results to show,” he readily admits, and certainly the interruption posed to in-person learning as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.
But the progress Erie schools have made on improving student attendance is encouraging, as numerous research studies have found a close association between attendance in the elementary grades and achievement and social-emotional outcomes in later grades.
But Erie advocates for the community schools approach also tend to frame their efforts in a narrative about the city’s financial comeback.
“The work of community schools is also an economic development initiative,” says Jaruszewicz.
Erwin elaborates, “Improving the walkability to the school campus has ripple effects on family employability. If parents know their children have safe routes to and from school, they know they are free to be at work. When we add after-school programs for kids, parents know they can work afternoon shifts.”
Bush says, “The community schools approach is not just a school issue; it’s a community issue and an economic development issue. Investing in these students and families now will pay off in the long run because, through the model, we’re supporting the community’s future workforce.”
If Erie still has a fighting chance, it will need that.
By Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.
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