Monday, 21 January 2019

Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves...

A Cumbria Arts in Health Conversation
What a treat - a real and genuine treat - it was to travel to Carlisle and spend time with people pushing this arts and health agenda up in Cumbria. My thanks to Susie Tate for the invitation and all friends and colleagues, old and new. This collaboration between the people, artists, the University of Cumbria and Healing Arts of North Cumbria University Hospital Trust has so much potential, particularly given that the social prescribing agenda is on the ascendance. Some profound and deeply moving moments too! Our community of interest is expanding and as well as something a large-scale event being on the cards in Lancaster, (keep your eyes peeled) there’s an event happening in Rochdale.

IMPACT: Reaching Out
Weds 13th March
Rochdale Town Hall

IMPACT: Reaching Out conference focuses on using creativity to achieve meaningful engagement and positive mental wellbeing outcomes. Aimed at health professionals, arts organisations, third sector partners and the education sector, delegates will take part in inspirational workshops and presentations for a unique and immersive experience. More details and tickets HERE.  

Soothing the Mind and Keeping the UK Solvent
Vanessa Thorpe writing in the prohibitively expensive Guardian this week, reports that: "Art-loving young people in Britain use museums and galleries to combat the stress of modern life, a study for a national charity has found."
"While art fans of all ages feel that looking at paintings and sculptures is a good way to unwind, new figures analysed by the Art Fund show that those under 30 are twice as likely to visit a museum or gallery at least once a month specifically to “de-stress”." It's all very interesting, positive stuff and good to read Vanessa, but let's not forget that the arts might also be offering provocation and a little disequilibrium too! Read

I read too, that the Creative Industries Federation have undertaken a study that a no-deal Brexit would cause 21 per cent of the UK's creative companies to consider moving their businesses abroad. Also, it would make it harder for 40 per cent of the UK's creative businesses to export. The creative industries are the fastest growing part of the UK’s economy, contributing to over £100 billion in GVA per year. Read more on that HERE.

Literary Administrator
Part Time, Fixed Term (3 days per week, 12 month contract)
This is a perfect job for someone with an interest in seeing the work of D/deaf and disabled writers better represented on stage. You will be supporting Graeae’s lauded, highly-connected training programme, Write to Play, and will be the first point of contact for writers wishing to submit scripts for consideration. The deadline for receipt of applications is 10am, Monday 4 February 2019 and we will be recruiting someone to start on or by the 1 April 2019. Full details HERE.
The Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance Annual Conference
The Alliance’s first annual conference will be held in Newcastle on 21 and 22 March 2019. The conference is aimed at those working with the arts/heritage/creativity and health/wellbeing - or interested in learning more about this work. We hope it will be an opportunity to explore the particular challenges and opportunities presented by a time of unprecedented growth and public interest. Full details HERE.

Ruminations #2
I’m still exceptionally narked by politicians and continuing to ponder Galton, Kraepelin and the cronies of our descent into all this madness - and don’t get me wrong - I’m not anti science! On the contrary, last weeks blog was merely about quantifying the unquantifiable and reducing people to meat. I consume all those developments that science offer with gusto, (well, perhaps consume is the wrong word in this context - I certainly can’t stand having a phone ‘upgrade’ and come to think of it, I even resist software upgrades on my laptop). Every generation must feel that they are on the brink of profound scientific developments. We didn’t have a landline in the family home until I was a teenager - and now - phew, all those gizmo’s. When I was making a film as part of my dis/ordered performance, mentioned last week, I was trawling through the web, trying to find good footage of people obsessing over their phones, and taking selfies. I ended up using some footage of one of those synthetic human ready-meals, advertising themselves under the name of Kardashian. In this sneaky peak below, this 'celebrity' teaches us how to take a perfect ‘selfie’…

So - "make sure the lighting is amazing" - check! "You want to highlight all the good things" - double check! “chin down - and just pose away and take about 300 photos till I get the perfect selfie." 21st Century perfection defined by pixilated celebrity and collagen. 

Today I read about superb developments in gene editing, and the offer of both designing treatments for people living with debilitating conditions, and pre-emptive strikes at ‘screening’ for a myriad of things that might go wrong in our very human make-up. Over the last decade genetics has made huge strides, decoding the information in our genes, and our ability to modify them and genetic testing offers parents the opportunities of screening out children who might be born with certain diseases, conditions and disorders! From Alzheimer's to alcoholism, we’ll be able to identify our chances of succumbing to ill health and eradicate human frailties at a genetic level - some hybrid of Galton and Kraepelin's eugenic vision! Yes - the potential is enormous, we’ll no longer need to perfect our self-portraits through digital enhancement or physical augmentation, we’ll be able to invest in our ‘perfect’ children. And 30% of US citizens surveyed, by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, don’t think it’s wrong to edit genes for physical features! Perfect future versions of our current flawed selves.

Of course, if you can’t wait to iron out your future children’s ‘faults’, you can purchase a range of home-testing kits, and check out your own potential futures. Whether you’re health-conscious or a narcissist, or anything in between - it’s all possible here and now, and all at a price.

In a stinging analysis of DNA testing Barbara Ellen offers us much food for thought. At the benign end of the home testing spectrum Thriva offer a “…convenient and affordable way to manage your internal health.” Their baseline subscription offers vitamin D, iron, cholesterol and liver function tests, at £49 per test, with a recommendation of one test per month! Its co-founder Hamish Grierson describes Thriva as “a lifestyle brand with medical-grade testing at the back end”, enabling “people to see themselves as consumers rather than patients.” OK - consumers not patients! (Yes - CONSUMERS) Lucky for us we have sage people keeping their eyes on these offers, and author of The Patient Paradox, Dr Margaret McCartney, describes the way slick marketing plays a part in persuading people they need to take tests because it could save their lives. 
The results of home testing are of low value, and after people have taken their test, they are often “…told to go to see their GP…swallowing up the time of NHS staff and the money of healthy people who pay thousands to private companies for tests they don't need. The companies make their profits and walk away, letting the NHS sort out all the fallout. {…} Meanwhile, the truly sick are left to wrestle with disjointed services and confusing options. This worsens health inequalities and drains professionalism, harming both those who need treatment and those who don’t.”

McCartney warns us that there’s no evidence that shows doing these tests makes people become healthier, warning that In the world of sexed-up medicine pharmaceutical companies gloss over research they don't like and charities often use dubious science and dodgy PR to 'raise awareness' of their disease, leaving a legacy of misinformation and fear, in their wake. 
And all the time, we are being manipulated by slick advertising, to look inwards.

This gold-rush around gene editing, and the aspiration to perfection, does open up an ethical Pandora’s box, which in the context of Galton and Kraepelin, taken to its extremes, has already been justified by the Nazis in their mass murder of those deemed to be ‘genetically defective’. That said, it’s easy to believe it was only the extremes of fascist ideology that saw judgments around ‘purity’ used to control populations. Coerced sterilisation has been used as a means of controlling “undesirable” populations – including immigrants; people of colour, poor people, unmarried mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill – federally-funded sterilisation programs took place in 32 states in the US throughout the 20th century! Read a deeply deeply troubling work by Independent Lens on this.
So will our rosy genetically enhanced future be something we have any control over. Will community and patient groups be involved in its governance, and will it stop at remedial action to mitigate against disease, or move towards the seemingly inevitable ultimate market choice of not just physical, but mental enhancement? 

I promise that my rumination will subside as the year goes on (possibly, maybe) and here and now, I end with an image of Trump getting his tiny little hands around his filthy phone and tweeting. Urgh. Does he take selfies, I wonder. I know I go on, but he’s the president (small p) of the ‘free world’. I still can’t believe the US elected a CEO, but then I can - in these late stages of what neoliberalism has evolved into, isn’t he the perfect ‘leader' to take us into this fractured future of the perfect self?

To paraphrase both Will Storr and Chris Frith, morality has been replaced by feeling, our feelings are increasingly mediated by social media and we all feel like "the invisible actor at the centre of the world."

Hey Ho...

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