October 02, 2012

Stoned and unequal

Yesterday I happened to attend a meeting of WV county officials and had a great conversation with a prosecutor from the southern coalfields who spoke of the awful epidemic of prescription drug abuse in that part of the state. Low income people and low income communities are the hardest hit.

Those familiar with WV will recall that these southern counties are both the ones from which huge amounts of coal have been taken and are also those with high rates of poverty and unemployment, big inequalities in terms of power, and not a whole lot in the way of empowerment for most people.

By chance, this morning I read the following passage about an experiment with monkeys in the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett:

In a clever experiment, researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina took twenty macaque monkeys and housed them for a while in individual cages They next housed the animals in groups of four and observed the social hierarchies which developed in each group, noting which animals were dominant and which were subordinate. They scanned the monkey's brains before and after they were put into groups. Next, they taught the monkeys that they could administer cocaine to themselves by pressing a lever-they could take as much or as little as they liked.
The results of this experiment were remarkable. Monkeys that had become dominant had more dopamine activity in their brains than they had exhibited before becoming dominant, while monkeys that became subordinate when housed in groups showed no changes in their brain chemistry. The dominant monkeys took much less cocaine than the subordinate monkeys. In effect, the subordinate monkeys were medicating themselves against the impact of their low social status. 
Golly, it's a good that that never happens with people, huh?

ECONOMIC JUSTICE 101. Here's a take on the subject by yours truly.

ZOMBIE BEES? A friend of mine from upstate New York just sent me this link. Thanks, CR! The good news is that at least zombie bees don't eat other bees and turn the ones they bite into other zombies.


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