Colonoscopy, Revolt & Preference

July 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I first heard of figures such as Peter Turchin, Andrey Korotayev & the whole field of cliodynamics, I did not think an application to current affairs was possible. So far as name dropping goes I was content to make reference to a 1999 article by Korotayev, Klimenko and Proussakov titled Origins of Islam: Political –Anthropological and Environmental Context.

Come the Egyptian revolution and keen on/for a contrarian take it was a joy to stumble upon Korotayev & Zinkina’s Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis . It considerd the explanation patterns used by most media sources & checked the dynamics of the relevant socio-economic indicators.

Was it really economic stagnation, poverty, inequality, corruption and unemployment? No, the common indicators seem to demonstrate

Mubarak’s reign (1981–2011) saw growth by 4.5 times during 30 years which Korotayev & Zinkina maintain is ”one of the best results among Third World countries”. Growth rates accelerated after July 2004 & during the world financial-economic crisis the Egyptian GDP did not fall, but continued growing at a rather high rate.

As for corruption, the 80th position according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 while not flattering is quite comparable with that in Italy, Greece, China, and India.

On unemployment Korotayev & Zinkina note that in the past 20 years it has been fluctuating at a rather high level (8– 12%). But it started to decrease after the launch of economic reforms in the mid 2000s & whilst there was some increase as a result of the global financial economic crisis, it went down again at the eve of revolt.

Even more surprising to me was the GiNi Index, out of 145 countries represented in the last Human Development Report Egypt rated 120th. Thus, as the paper point outs ”UNDP observed a lower rate of inequality only in 23 countries, while 119 countries had higher inequality than Egypt, including France, Ireland, Spain, and India.”

As for poverty Korotayev & Zinkina state that if we choose to look at trends regarding extreme poverty rather than poverty a fascinating near eradication was achieved under Mubarak which puts Egypt among the best performing countries when it comes to this indicator.

So much for these indices then, what clio-dynamic is at work instead? Would it help to look at long term dynamics of per capita calorie intake?
Yes, apparently it demonstrates that in the 1970s – 1980s Egypt managed to escape the so called Malthusian trap. Korotayev & Zinkina consider the Egyptian revolt as an example of a phenomenon titled “a trap at the escape from the trap .

As is expected of all known cases of escape from the Malthusian trap the Egyptian escape too ”was accompanied by impetuous life.expectancy growth, while death rate decreased nearly twice (!) in just 20 years (1970–1990)…”. So if we view the curve of absolute growth of Egyptian population ”… they reached their maximum in 1985–1989… Extracting 1985–1989 out of 2010 we obtain 21–25, which is the age of the numerous young Egyptians who came out to the Tahrir Square in Cairo in January 2011”.

Furthermore they explain:
Large youth cohorts are often drawn to new ideas and heterodox religions, challenging older forms of authority. In addition, because most young people have fewer responsibilities for families and careers, they are relatively easily mobilized for social or political conflicts. However, the most important circumstance (caused just by the “youth bulge”) is that about half of all the Egyptian unemployed belonged to the 20–24 age ….The rate of unemployment in Egypt stayed almost unchanged, but the number of the young doubled. This means that the absolute number of the unemployed young people also increased at least twice.

Is this youth bulge a sufficient cause? Would it have happened in the pre-internet era? Would the revolt have had as few casualties if it wasn’t the case that more than 43% of Egyptian unemployed had university degrees?

No, Korotayev & Zinkina admit but then how was it that no media source found it worth mentioning that according to Egyptian Demographic and Health Survey (conducted in 2008) 40% of Egyptian women and 18% of men were overweight because of overeating. Or that in the period of rapid growth in world food prices, Mubarak’s regime significantly increased the number of beneficiaries of subsidies (from 39.5 million to 63 million people).

Fast forward 3 years later the nation was under operation again. Colonoscopy, just provides itself as a suitable term. Not so much because things are being examined but because it appears that something painful is passed up the anus of the body politic.
What would be the nation’s memory in 10 years of Sisi, Mursi or Mubarak if each era can be compared to a painful procedure inflicted on the population. There is a limit to what a metaphor can yield but I find it very attractive here to cite Redelmeier, Katz &; Kahneman’s 2002 paper titled “Memories of colonoscopy: a randomized trial”.

The study involved consecutive outpatients undergoing colonoscopy who were medically stable and mentally competent. By random assignment, half the patients had a short interval added to the end of their procedure during which the tip of the colonoscope remained in the rectum. Pain during the procedure was measured with a ten point intensity scale. Memory following the procedure was measured using both a rating scale and a ranking task.

Patients who underwent the extended procedure experienced the final moments as less painful and rated the entire experience as less unpleasant. Rates of returning for a repeat colonoscopy were slightly higher for those who underwent the longer procedure.

In so far as we remember a longer duration of pain or longer absolute number of time units spent under pain as less painful, could there be an argument in favor of administering policies, which though on the whole may cause higher absolute pain hours across the populace would be remembered as less painful 5 or 10 years after administration?

Knowledge of such memory failures in clinical settings are thought to offer opportunities for improving patients willingness to undergo future unpleasant medical procedures. The thought comes to mind that such failures in recalling the pain of a particular reign by a population, may too increase the degree to which they if not willingly embrace, at least passively consent to some varieties of political change.


Early in this EGS class session (linked below) moral philosopher Peter Singer too, mentions this same research by Redelmeier et al. and considers some ethical implications of such recollection trends. But the rest of  the session is pretty banal.


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