The casual ableism of futurism

    This article by Janet Gunter discusses the endemic ableism she’s discovered due to her new and invisible disability (Long Covid). As a technologist and anthropologist, she notes that even progressive futurist notions such as solarpunk are problematic for people like her who rely on complex supply chains.

    We need to do better to understand that a future that doesn’t work for us all is, as Janet points out, exclusionary and essentially a form of fascism.

    <img class=“alignnone size-full wp-image-8827” src=“https://thoughtshrapnel.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/DALL·E-2023-10-24-20.15.19-Photo-of-a-circular-wooden-cabin-in-a-serene-forest-setting.-Inside-a-person-who-appears-tired-and-fatigued-is-resting-on-a-tatami-mat-taking-a-mome-1.png” alt=“DALL-E: Photo of a circular wooden cabin in a serene forest setting. Inside, a person who appears tired and fatigued is resting on a tatami mat, taking a moment to rejuvenate. The cabin’s large round windows offer panoramic views of the dense trees and distant mountains, while the interior showcases Japanese minimalism with sliding paper doors and a central meditation space.

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    Scanning back to scifi of my childhood, the only disabled character in Starwars was Darth Vader. And Vader is a perfect posterboy for the usual scifi treatment of disability – a canvas for creepy transhumanist visions of “fixing” the disabled and the hiding of disability. (It turns out, now, there are rare good depictions of the disabled in scifi, but you have to know where to look!)

    Others have observed that ignoring or devaluing the concerns of the most vulnerable — or suggesting that they get fixed or deleted from a future green society — is tantamount to ecofascism.

    […]

    What the ableist world needs now is acceptance of cataclysmic change and all of the grief that comes with that. Acceptance that our Cartesian minds will destroy us, that we need to learn to listen to our bodies and to the biosphere. Acceptance that the pace of our lives must change.

    Personally, I desperately need visions of the future where I can be an active, valued participant, no matter my physical or cognitive state. I need everybody involved in envisioning and testing new ways of living within our planetary boundaries to consider and include people like me at the outset, not as an after-thought.

    Source: Crip futurism | Janet Gunter

    Image: generated with DALL-E 3

    Hacking the vagus nerve

    It looks like electric stimulation of the vagus nerve using something like a TENS machine could help with everything from obesity and depression to Long Covid.

    One of the universities local to me is leading some of this work, and they have a page about it here.

    From plunging your face into icy water, to piercing the small flap of cartilage in front of your ear, the internet is awash with tips for hacking this system that carries signals between the brain and chest and abdominal organs.

    […]

    Meanwhile, scientific interest in vagus nerve stimulation is exploding, with studies investigating it as a potential treatment for everything from obesity to depression, arthritis and Covid-related fatigue. So, what exactly is the vagus nerve, and is all this hype warranted?

    The vagus nerve is, in fact, a pair of nerves that serve as a two-way communication channel between the brain and the heart, lungs and abdominal organs, plus structures such as the oesophagus and voice box, helping to control involuntary processes, including breathing, heart rate, digestion and immune responses. They are also an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs the “rest and digest” processes, and relaxes the body after periods of stress or danger that activate our sympathetic “fight or flight” responses.

    […]

    Search “vagus nerve hacks” on TikTok, and you’ll be bombarded with tips ranging from humming in a low voice to twisting your neck and rolling your eyes, to practising yoga or meditation exercises.

    Researchers who study the vagus nerve are broadly sceptical of such claims. Though such techniques may help you to feel calmer and happier by activating the autonomic nervous system, the vagus nerve is only one component of that. “If your heart rate slows, then your vagus nerve is being stimulated,” says Tracey. “However, the nerve fibres that slow your heart rate may not be the same fibres that control your inflammation. It may also depend on whether your vagus nerves are healthy.”

    Similarly, immersing your face in cold water may also slow down your heart rate by triggering something called the mammalian dive reflex, which also triggers breath-holding and diverts blood from the limbs to the core. This may serve to protect us from drowning by conserving oxygen, but it involves sympathetic and parasympathetic responses.

    Electrical stimulation may hold greater promise though. One thing that makes the vagus nerves so attractive is surgical accessibility in the neck. “It is quite easy to implant some device that will try to stimulate them,” says Dr Benjamin Metcalfe at the University of Bath, who is studying how the body responds to electrical vagus nerve stimulation. “The other reason they’re attractive is because they connect to so many different organ systems. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that vagus nerve stimulation will treat a wide range of diseases and disorders – everything from rheumatoid arthritis through to depression and alcoholism.”

    Source: The key to depression, obesity, alcoholism – and more? Why the vagus nerve is so exciting to scientists | The Guardian

    Steaming open the institutional creases

    This is a heart-rending article by Maria Farrell, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She details her experiences for Long Covid suffers, and it’s not easy reading.

    I’m including this quotation mainly because she talks about the impact of the Tory government in the UK over the last decade or so. It’s easy to forget that things didn’t use to be like this

    I hid for two years in graduate school, the first year in a wonderful and academically undemanding programme with a tiny, lovely class. I wrote an essay about Walter Benjamin and interactive media that winter, and I remember pulling each sentence rather brutally from the morass of my former abilities and piling them on top of each other. Let’s just say the angel of history made sense to me in a way she had not, before. Minute on minute, I could barely make the letters settle into words, forget about forming sentences or ideas, but day on day it turned out I could do it. It just took a higher threshold of discomfort than I’d previously believed manageable, and about eight times longer. I’m so glad I learnt this. The knowledge that impossibly difficult intellectual tasks can be worked through piecemeal – not in darts and dashes of caffeinated brilliance – was not natural to my temperament, and it’s why I can still do things.

    It’s a very bourgeois thing to be able to hide out in grad school. I’m always embarrassed when people remark on how many degrees I have. It put me into financial penury for quite a few years, but it felt worth it to still outwardly look like a person who was moving forward in life, not someone whose clock had stopped in August 1998 when I failed to heal from glandular fever. All that is harder now in Britain, as Tories systematically steam open the institutional creases people like me could fold ourselves into, and dismantle the social welfare that would have held many others as they waited to be well. I started off with moderate M.E. and now, much of the time, I would say it is mild.

    Source: Settling in for the long haul | Crooked Timber

    Steaming open the institutional creases

    This is a heart-rending article by Maria Farrell, who suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She details her experiences for Long Covid suffers, and it’s not easy reading.

    I’m including this quotation mainly because she talks about the impact of the Tory government in the UK over the last decade or so. It’s easy to forget that things didn’t use to be like this

    I hid for two years in graduate school, the first year in a wonderful and academically undemanding programme with a tiny, lovely class. I wrote an essay about Walter Benjamin and interactive media that winter, and I remember pulling each sentence rather brutally from the morass of my former abilities and piling them on top of each other. Let’s just say the angel of history made sense to me in a way she had not, before. Minute on minute, I could barely make the letters settle into words, forget about forming sentences or ideas, but day on day it turned out I could do it. It just took a higher threshold of discomfort than I’d previously believed manageable, and about eight times longer. I’m so glad I learnt this. The knowledge that impossibly difficult intellectual tasks can be worked through piecemeal – not in darts and dashes of caffeinated brilliance – was not natural to my temperament, and it’s why I can still do things.

    It’s a very bourgeois thing to be able to hide out in grad school. I’m always embarrassed when people remark on how many degrees I have. It put me into financial penury for quite a few years, but it felt worth it to still outwardly look like a person who was moving forward in life, not someone whose clock had stopped in August 1998 when I failed to heal from glandular fever. All that is harder now in Britain, as Tories systematically steam open the institutional creases people like me could fold ourselves into, and dismantle the social welfare that would have held many others as they waited to be well. I started off with moderate M.E. and now, much of the time, I would say it is mild.

    Source: Settling in for the long haul | Crooked Timber