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posted on 16th July 2021 by Rosie Harrison-Nirawan
Are experts inadvertently fuelling a healthcare rebellion?

 

A team of metropolitan doctors gather in the unpopulated landscape of Khon Kaen province, North-East Thailand, known as Isan. Their mission is to convince the Isan people to stop eating the raw fish that is giving them bile duct cancer. Data shows that the parasite carried by the fish is one of the leading causes of death in the region, with one third infected with the fluke. But despite the severe risk to life, preventing the problem proves to be a much harder task than expected.

How could such a situation arise, where people willingly refuse to look after their own health? Alien and geographically distant as this may seem, this phenomenon is highly relevant to us, as an unfortunate blame is being laid on BAME communities often showing an ambivalence towards the Coronavirus vaccine. Lessons can be learnt from the Isan people in Thailand: both health issues have arisen out of a delicate situation wherein ethnic minorities with a historically problematic relationship with authority resort to self-harming behaviour in the face of worrying facts.

Such proud resistance recalls crowds cheering anti-vaccine comments at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the USA, to which Fauci expressed shock at people not wanting ‘to do something to save your life’.

The advice given by experts in Khon Kaen are emphatically rejected, with many people continuing to eat the fish as a symbol of socio-political allegiance. This fish is a cornerstone of Isan culture and an ancestral dish that defines the small, marginalised community. The inherently hierarchical act of educated, wealthy, urban doctors invading their space and confiscating an element of their heritage invites a sentiment of covert rebellion amongst the Isan population that results only in ill health and, in worse case scenarios, death. As doctors progress further into the realm of empiricism in their frustration, the polarisation between expert and rebel simply broadens.

It has long been known to psychologists that emotional attachments to group identities often take precedence over ‘rationality’. Indeed, evolution dictates that collective action within communities requires a teamwork mentality in order to ensure survival; nevertheless, in areas where authorities have a dubious history of abuse towards some of its citizens, it perhaps becomes common sense to resist the power of their ‘experts’.

To truly overcome this divide, a specific cultural sensitivity is essential. If lessons are to be learned, BAME people cannot undergo the same process of blame and degradation that the Isan people were victim to. Empathy is, perhaps, the key to connecting fact with emotion. Genuine, non-hierarchical conversations must be had in which there is an attempt to understand communities’ gestures of anger, what the concept of wellbeing means to them and how they can feel both culturally secure as well as healthy.

Building on an atmosphere of distrust is by no means simply solved through conversation. A multidisciplinary approach could, for example, examine historic relationships of power that continue to inform the ways in which marginalised communities feel towards governments and establishments.

People cannot be dismissed as stupid, small-minded, provincial or uncivilised before the systems in play regarding power, trust and cultural belonging are thoroughly examined through both talking and listening. The ‘Gunner Get Jabbed’ initiative at the Emirates Stadium was one such example of empathetic success, wherein several members of the black community were encouraged to get the vaccination in an environment that could relate the meaningful culture of football to their community and offer them access to this. Other such factors that could be played on for other communities include religious settings, community leaders and ethnic minority healthcare workers within the NHS who could both relay information about and deliver the vaccine.

It is an established fact that members of the BAME community are sadly more susceptible to death from Coronavirus, as discussed in Gurnek’s lens blog ‘Anti-Vaxxers Need More Empathy Than Judgement’. Indeed, an empathetic approach is not merely ‘kinder’, but the only effective way to ensure as many lives as possible can be saved from such a virus that does not exclude on the basis of skin colour. We all must lay aside our snobbery and adopt a lens of deep and informed understanding.

 

Rosie Harrison-Nirawan is a Global Future Intern studying History of Art and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. Her combined love of art and literature reflects a wider interest in different cultures and the positive outcomes that can arise out of the ways in which they interact with one another.

posted on 2nd July 2021

We are proud to be hosting a live conversation with radical activist Valerie Brown, 2021 mayoral candidate and film maker Celeste Bell, daughter of punk icon Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex. 

These female icons will share their insights on black activism and rebellion through the decades. They will be introduced by Bryony Heard, author of ‘England Our England’ which tells the stories of the Black and Asian Migrant Pioneers.

The event will be hosted at Soho House, White City, on Tuesday the 6th of July, 7-9pm. It will be open to all Soho House Members and afterwards an audio recording will be uploaded on YouTube and our website here. 

This conversation will be one of many events this summer and into the autumn in which we promote conversations amongst Windrush generations. By continuing to open up this dialogue we choose to remember their lives and the contributions they have made to British society in a wide range of areas.

Stay tuned to learn new ideas and gain new perspectives from these with powerful and inspirational women!

posted on 1st July 2021 by Aman Bains

You may think of conspiracy theories as a fringe set of beliefs not to be taken seriously. However, they are increasingly relevant and harmful in today’s society and dismissing them will only worsen their impact.

In fact, a surprisingly high proportion of us hold conspiracy beliefs, with one YouGov survey showing that 60% of people in the UK believe in at least one conspiracy theory.

Currently, the most dangerous conspiracy theories are held by anti-vaxxers. You may have laughed at videos of people holding magnets to their injected arms in an attempt to prove they have been implanted with government tracking chips, but these ideas have life threatening consequences for public health. In the US, huge resources have been wasted disproving alleged UFO sightings and the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate.

Frustrating as it may be, we need to be careful not to dismiss these phenomena, as it will only further isolate and radicalise conspiracy theorists.

These beliefs are not evenly distributed across society. Those who believe in one conspiracy theory are more likely to believe in a host of others as well. For example, one study found that those who think princess Diana had been assassinated by the royal family were also more likely to think that she is still alive hiding in a far off island, despite the fact that these two beliefs are directly contradictory.

Interestingly, there are a number of psychological traits that are common across conspiracy theorists that are worth unpacking. These traits affect us all in one way or another, but they are generally found in higher levels amongst those holding radical beliefs.

Firstly, conspiracy theorists often lack self-esteem. Paradoxically, this link is also paired with a tendency towards narcissism. Perhaps this is because conspiracy theories offer a feeling of superiority and uniqueness for those individuals who are also craving relief from perceived low self-worth.

Secondly, conspiracy theories flourish in times of uncertainty and when people feel a lack of control – which may help explain why such theories have proliferated in the pandemic. When people feel powerless, conspiracy theories offer certainty. People start to believe that agency does not lie within but instead in powerful entities such as government bodies. Ironically, this distrust of those in power means that conspiracy theorists put leaders on a pedestal by suggesting they have extraordinary control over important aspects of our lives.

Thirdly, the aptly named “bullshit receptivity” trait identified by researchers, has been shown to be a predictor of conspiracy theory beliefs. People who believed the significance of a randomly generated list of seemingly profound yet meaningless statements such as, “true faith unfolds through the light of timelessness” or “matter is a modality of sexual energy” were more likely to endorse conspiracy beliefs. These findings may indeed be due to the application of intuitive and less analytical thinking. (You can have a go at exploring your own “bullshit receptivity” here.)

It is important to recognise that many conspiracy theories take root because they often hold a kernel of truth. Indeed, the belief that coronavirus began in a Wuhan lab was once considered a conspiracy now seems to hold more evidence.

Before passing judgement on these people, it is worth noting that we live in a post-truth world, littered with corruption and misinformation. Ex-president Donald Trump thrived off muddying the waters with his references to “fake news”.  With some leaders conspiring to manipulate and mislead the public, it is understandable that these theories seem particularly popular.

What does this mean going forward? It’s a challenge to respect the person holding a conspiracy theory whilst simultaneously encouraging critical thinking. In order to propel society away from damaging false beliefs, psychological security must be created. Here are some ways we might begin to address this:

  • Concerted efforts to hold leaders accountable for spreading misinformation in order to restore some basic trust in our institutions
  • Building on existing efforts to create a market for more balanced media and news
  • Attempts to break-down echo-chambers of thought that often make conspiracy theories snowball

There is a certain arrogance in assuming that the full truth is always obvious and accessible. We must acknowledge that the boundary between truth and conspiracy is often blurred. So instead of dismissing those holding conspiracy theories as errant individuals, we should take responsibility for the deeper societal contexts that leave all of us more vulnerable to adopting these beliefs.

 

Aman Bains is a Global Future Intern studying Psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is passionate about understanding the human mind and the reasons that people think and feel the way they do. She is also deeply interested in developing her knowledge of how psychological differences across cultures can give rise to social injustice and divided communities. She combines this with a deep love of philosophy, poetry and music.