Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being

SDG 3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Browse books and journal articles relating to this SDG below and find out more on the UN Sustainable Development Goals website.
 

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being

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The Great Decline is an ambitious work offering a wholly fresh take on the multiple crises we face, both individually and collectively, in the 21st century. The central argument is that, after a period of qualified social progress in the mid-20th century, recent decades have resurrected social and economic arrangements that are toxic in terms of our fundamental needs, undermining the social and political stability of our societies as well as our individual mental and physical health in ways that have been poorly understood and which have now reached a crisis point. Across numerous established democracies, including the UK and the US, the neoliberal consensus principally advanced in the 1980s continues to tear apart the social fabric and destroy countless individual lives amid a growing climate of fear, anger and uncertainty. Amongst a range of consequences, we have witnessed the rise of populist politicians exploiting and further sowing social distress and division, while the ensuing polarization and undermining of established democracies has left us ill-equipped to deal with the huge challenges being presented by climate breakdown and rapid advances in digital technologies. While addressing these troubles of the present, this is also approached from a broad historical and to an extent evolutionary context advancing an original biosocial perspective, the social map, drawing on social science, political economy, neuroscience and epigenetics to present a radical reframing of where we are, how we understand our relationship to the social, economic and political environment, and how we relate to each other.

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This chapter considers the potential impact of climate change and environmental degradation on the economy and society, as well as how this is perceived by the public. A key argument here rests on the perceived incompatibility between the current global neoliberal economic growth model and environmental sustainability. Of particular interest is the growing gulf between those preoccupied by and active on environmental issues, and the large constituencies who appear to either deny that there is an issue or that it is particularly relevant to their everyday lives. Questions on the influence of the fossil fuel industry, neoliberal politicians, and the wide range of commercial and financial interests that have employed a range of strategies to forestall climate action, putting profit before people and the planet, are addressed. This includes a discussion of the way in which the neoliberal right has established climate concerns as a wedge issue in the so-called ‘culture wars’. Finally, there is a focus on the broader question as to how we might respond to substantial shifts in climatic conditions over the longer term, including potential echoes of pre-Holocene patterns of forced migration in a world where rising nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment is a growing phenomenon.

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The concluding chapter pulls together the threads that run throughout the book, highlighting the multiple problems that have emerged from current socioeconomic arrangements, while addressing where we might go next, particularly given ever more evident climate breakdown and the potentially epochal changes and challenges posed by AI. On the one hand, we will likely be influenced to press on with business as usual as we deal with the latter, courting a deepening of our current troubles and a potentially more oppressive response from elites defending the status quo and seeking further advantage. Alternatively, we have the option of reining in our overuse of resources that threatens the planet while harnessing technological change to reduce the burden of overwork and share its benefits more evenly and cooperatively. Reduced working time, greater freedom, revived communities and real relationships and, critically, a lessening of the insecurities, injustices, pressures and demands that pervade our societies is possible. Moreover, as both history and current experience indicate, the ramifications of inaction in this regard go much further than the grassroots level, given that fractious peoples tend to turn to autocratic leaders offering hollow nationalistic and bellicose visions of national renewal that, in turn, may threaten to undermine peaceful international relations. Despite these being evident the numerous dilemmas that currently confront us, the chapter concludes on a qualified hopeful note. This reflects the view that crisis points are often turning points and that there is clearly a measured optimism and desire for something better among the young, a window at least before the pessimism, angst and anger that is inherent in our current way of life intrudes.

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From the mid-19th century, consumer culture emerged as a major feature of contemporary market societies, shaping modern peoples’ identities, relationships, worldviews and communities. This chapter addresses the way in which consumer organizations, advertisers and mass media have attempted to maximize consumption and profit since that time by appealing to and, often, manipulating the public in terms of many of the fundamental human needs discussed in earlier chapters. The role of modern media and now social media in consumer societies is also explored in relation to the proliferation of consumerist values as well as the commodification, monetization and overwhelming of our attention in pursuit of the aggressive marketing of products and services. Consumerism within our highly mediated culture, it is argued, has entailed a distortion of ideas, values and relationships together with the cultivation of a range of increasingly recognized personal, social, political and environmental ills, exerting a profound effect on societies as a whole. The chapter also acknowledges the impact of online shopping and the ensuing so-called ‘retail apocalypse’, considering whether this might lead to a necessary contraction in consumer activity over time, given the latter’s contribution to climate change and environmental degradation.

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The Great Decline is an ambitious work offering a wholly fresh take on the multiple crises we face, both individually and collectively, in the 21st century. The central argument is that, after a period of qualified social progress in the mid-20th century, recent decades have resurrected social and economic arrangements that are toxic in terms of our fundamental needs, undermining the social and political stability of our societies as well as our individual mental and physical health in ways that have been poorly understood and which have now reached a crisis point. Across numerous established democracies, including the UK and the US, the neoliberal consensus principally advanced in the 1980s continues to tear apart the social fabric and destroy countless individual lives amid a growing climate of fear, anger and uncertainty. Amongst a range of consequences, we have witnessed the rise of populist politicians exploiting and further sowing social distress and division, while the ensuing polarization and undermining of established democracies has left us ill-equipped to deal with the huge challenges being presented by climate breakdown and rapid advances in digital technologies. While addressing these troubles of the present, this is also approached from a broad historical and to an extent evolutionary context advancing an original biosocial perspective, the social map, drawing on social science, political economy, neuroscience and epigenetics to present a radical reframing of where we are, how we understand our relationship to the social, economic and political environment, and how we relate to each other.

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This chapter focuses on the resurgent power of the financial sector as one of the most significant features of the neoliberal turn. A financial sector that had been regulated and contained since the 1930s was unshackled in response to a revival of the belief in the inherent efficiency and self-regulating tendencies of free markets. This chapter considers the relationship between financial sector activity and the growing indebtedness, inequality, work and housing insecurity that have greatly extended risk and political instability in contemporary developed economies, while linking this to biosocial imperatives described in earlier chapters. A further argument here maintains that a significant feature of ‘big finance’s’ wealth creation and exercise of power has been greatly facilitated not necessarily by success in its traditional activities, but by various forms of ‘innovation’, where profits and wealth have been created by the conjuring of assets divorced from the ‘real’ economy. This has further resonances with respect to the central theoretical model, in terms of understanding the implications of our inhabiting of a world where the line between the real and imaginary can be unclear, and where the narratives that shape everyday lives are often determined by the influence of economic elites.

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This second scene-setting chapter continues where the previous one left off, charting some of the main features of the emergence of modern Western society from the Renaissance, through the Enlightenment, industrialization and urbanization to the present. The difficulties in adapting to the increasing demands and complexities of modern societies associated with increasing population density, complexity, technological and cultural advancement are engaged with. Here the ‘growing pains’ of modern society and the often violent and conflictual competition to impose order and control both within societies and across the globe is discussed. The development of capitalism is central here as a system of both development and highly unequal exploitation, leading us towards the present where our divided societies are beginning to fracture as more and more benefits are captured by the few and risks are imposed on an expanding majority. The chapter ends by discussing how pressure from below, together with the shared experience of the Great Depression and war, provided a window for the emergence of the qualified and short-lived progressive postwar era where some of the inequities and injustices of the past were beginning to be confronted, and a greater sense of order, wellbeing and hope for the future emerged.

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This chapter engages with some of the well-documented labour market issues arising from the neoliberal-led form of globalization, such as the offshoring of labour and the role of the financial sector in shifting corporations towards a model privileging ‘shareholder value’ and short-term profit accumulation, overturning a prior focus that was more favourable to long-term growth and stakeholder obligations. The chapter also addresses currently accelerating labour market changes precipitated by the digital revolution. Contrary to assertions that technological advances deliver more new jobs than they destroy, it is argued that the growing capacity to replace human cognition has called this into question, while these trends are already in motion, given the increasing prevalence of nonstandard forms of employment associated with the ‘gig economy’. In qualification, however, it is important to note that this is by no means an argument in favour of restricting technological progress. Rather, it is argued that, without careful management and prosocial intervention, harnessing these technologies in the service of social as well as commercial priorities, these trends will likely increase inequality and further undermine the stable employment that once rendered working lives and family finances manageable, and developed economies and societies more stable, during the high modern era.

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From the Era of Hope and Progress to the Age of Fear and Rage
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It seems clear that many formerly stable societies in wealthy developed countries appear to be falling into an apparent state of ‘permacrises’, accompanied by an increasingly angry and irrational social and political culture that is undermining the peace and stability of our societies and democratic institutions, from the local to the global.

Applying an original biosocial approach (the social map), and drawing on ideas and evidence from sociology, history and political economy to psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics, John Bone argues that conditions in our turbo-capitalist and increasingly estranged, media dominated societies have created a toxic environment, deeply damaging to our mental and physical health. As well as shedding new light on our current troubles, Bone also outlines why this leaves us ill prepared to deal with two of the greatest challenges confronting humanity: the rise of AI and automation and how we deal with climate change.

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This chapter addresses the fact that the current era has been one marred by ever-widening inequality, where increasing poverty and destitution have surged amid burgeoning opulence and wealth. The latter has been marked by the revival of an ultraprivileged economic elite inhabiting an exclusive social sphere beyond the reach of an increasingly insecure and moribund mainstream society. Thomas Piketty’s thesis is referred to here in relation to the fact that the yawning gap between rich and poor now threatens to become unbridgeable as inherited wealth accumulates across generations further stifling social mobility, a scenario highly evident in the US, the UK and other nations that have embraced neoliberalism. The manner in which this scenario has been sustained ideologically and politically is addressed in relation to a discussion of historical attitudes towards economic injustice and treatment of the poor. However, while briefly flagging up these well-documented trends, this chapter also presents an argument, referring to the key theoretical themes, as to why high levels of inequality as well as insecurity appear to have such corrosive individual and collective effects, with specific reference to the emotions that arise where people’s internalized notions of how the world should work conflict significantly with their experience.

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