Believe What You Want; Perceptions, Part Two

Last week, I told you that the sky isn't really blue, due to the fact that it is just the way the air molecules refract sunlight. And explained some of the mental processes our brain goes through when making decisions, specifically decisions about society, our perceptions of social situations as well as precepts of other people's actions and being.

We learned that the human brain has a tendency to autonomously make assumptions based on past experience, as opposed to present evidence. And also, how we link the traits of a person or persons with traits that are descriptively similar while not truly meaning the same thing.

But, we also discovered that every person is different and uses a combination of different processes to formulate opinions. So, this week, we are going to look at alternative functions, as well as summarise the group mentality of perception and truth.

And, explain why the sky is actually blue.

 

Attribution, for better or worse

Now, we all know that we can be affected by different things at different times. Sometimes, when we're very hot we can become bothered and thus more irritable. Or, when we've had a luck day, we can find ourselves more forgiving, and less inclined to make negative assumptions. This is what we call mood.

But, while we might be able to justify our own actions taking circumstance into respect, can we say that we do the same for others? Attribution theory is the method by which we attribute certain characteristics or opinions of a person's actions based on traits or factors that we perceive, being unable to perceive things in the exact same way to the person/thing we are attempting to understand.

These attributions can be broken down further into what makes two alternative methods of analysing a situation.

The first of these is a Dispositional decision. Basically, where we understand a person's actions through their inherent personality traits. The other being situational, where we have to tendency to perceive things based on the situation the person is in. Now we use a combination of these at any given time, though most of us tend to lean more towards one side depending on who we are, and our past experience with understanding others.

Essentially, we decide subconsciously, 90% of the time, whether we believe in what is known as entity theory, or on the other side of the coin; incremental theory.

 

Personality vs. Context

If a person makes their decisions/assumptions based on another's entity. It means that this person is of the belief that traits are fixed. Meaning that; a person cannot, and does not, change their personality. Regardless of situational factors. These people tend to lean more towards dispositional decisions. Making out that another person acts the way they do simply because “that's who they are”

On the flip side, another person could believe that people do change. And that their personalities are influenced by their own experience and surroundings. These people tend to put situational factors above personality traits when trying to understand another's actions. So which are you? Do you think people can change, or do you think we are rigid in our disposition? And that people are just who they are. Or, have you already worked out what I'm getting at here?

 

We like, what we like

Before you answer that, there's something you should bear in mind. Studies carried out on disparate individuals in a controlled clinical setting have proven that statistically human beings inherently resist change. We're not just talking about situational change but also attitudinal. When faced with two opposing viewpoints with no other evidence to go off but a persons own opinion and experience we will welcome the evidence that confirms our own opinion and ignore, or explain away evidence that conflicts with our own notions.

In fact, we may even ignore it if the evidence is overwhelmingly against our already fixed opinion. We will find some situational factor which justifies our previous thoughts in ignorant of the newly stated fact.

Essentially it is our own belief structure which not only determines how we perceive situations, but also, how we perceive others actions in those situations. But I didn't really need to tell you that did I?

 

True Change

So what do you think; can people change? Or will we resist change to a point of being blatantly wrong, while still confirmed in our belief that we are in fact correct?

Think about your own experience. Think about the people you know, especially the people you are close to. Who are they? What do they believe? Have they changed since you've known them? Or are they inherently the same person who has just learned to adapt to different situations?

There is NO CORRECT ANSWER to this. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a definitive conclusion over human perception. Because the fact is, perception depends on the person. And no two people are exactly alike, no matter how we may perceive them to be inherently same.

Some people can and do change, while others, submitted to the same experience may merely confirm their original hypotheses and continue on. It doesn't make you a better or worse person, your simply a person. And honestly, what we say we believe, may not actually what we believe in the first place.

People can act in a variety of different ways influenced by the people they are with at that moment. And what a group decides is the truth, to that group is the truth. And our perception Shouldn't be allowed to judge them in the same way they shouldn't judge us.

It is a simple fact, we are all different. No matter how much we may want to be the same, to fit in, and to have others conform to our standards, they can't and we can't. It's so straightforward. Our differences separate u; and divide us into categories. But we shouldn't allow this to effect our opinion of a person to the idea that they are good or bad. We should instead focus on those dividing lines that bring us back together again.

 

It's All Relative

Ask yourself; why is the sky blue? Why is that the universal truth of the matter? What your feeling is called cognitive dissonance. It is the state of mind we enter when faced with two conflicting ideas, wile simultaneously believing both to be true. The sky is and is not blue.

IN the same way, it is said that time is relative to the object tor person experiencing it, thus so is truth. All truth is relative to the person perceiving it. And thus almost all reality is fluid. I've already outlined how this construct works. But, what does that say of us as people? Do we simply relay truth as it is relative to us, or can we step outside these bounds and see truth for what it really is? Or does truth even exist, is it merely a concept? An ideal by which we may aspire but never truly attain?

As usual, this depends on the person, our perception of truth belongs to us. No one else. And what we want or believe to be true is exceptional to another persons. And like wise their truth should not cloud ours, it should clarify. Because, as is very clear from the way we form these thoughts, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

 

Affecting Others

Now, don't take me for a fully-fledged neo-liberal, while I do believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and are entitled to act based on that opinion, regardless of what it may be. I do not believe that anyone's opinion should be taken as far a to negatively effect the life of another, no matter how right you believe yourself to be.

You see, if we inflict pain through our precepts, we are trying to prevent others having theirs. And so we broaden the divide between reconciliation of these ideals. And education on the unviresal truth of the matter at hand. This goes not only to people who act on homophobia/racism/ageism but also people who become violent towards those who harbour these ideas. You are both overreaching with your perceptions. It is not our place to punish people for their opinions, as it is not their place to inflict their opinions on us.

We have to try and understand, because only through understanding, and learning where differences come from as what makes us the same can peace and equality be found.

 

Perceptions

Our perceptions define who we are, they are created by us, about us, and rarely have a route in how another person actually perceives themselves. We must allow these perceptions to exist, in agreement with our own or not, but likewise we cannot force other people to bend to our ideas. We can merely ask them not to inflict those ideas in times when it does not really effect them, and as we cannot inflict our ideas onto them when the result is not relevant to us.

With this in mind I am to embark on a series I will simply call “Perceptions” keep a look out for these articles as they will be examining both sides of world-encompassing arguments, not looking towards what the truth is, but analysing instead how these arguments are formed, and what the middle-ground for communication of these ideas is.

For, after all, we all sleep under the same sky, whatever colour that sky may be.

image source: Fine Craft Guild

Jumping to Conclusions; Perceptions, Part One

The sky is not blue. Almost everyone knows this, it's part of primary education. The blue colour we see during the day is simple air molecules refracting the colour blue from the spectrum of light emitted from sunlight. But when asked what colour the sky is; almost everyone will respond by saying “blue”. Because that's how it appears to be, and thus that's how we as people perceive it.

I've chosen this example for a very good reason. The sky is one of the constants that applies to every human. A universal truth if you will. You are familiar with the turn of phrase “we all sleep under the same sky”. And yet on a daily basis that truth lies to us, and we say “the sky is blue”.

The point I'm trying to make, is that if a fact that we view as unshakeable is a lie; then what else are we wrong about? And importantly, why do we insist on calling it blue, even when we know it isn't?

 

Consume, Consume, Consume

Human perception is a delicate thing. The way our mind processes the information given to it by our senses and turns them into what we see, hear and feel is tremendous and complex. But what is equally tremendous is our ability to lie to ourselves through these processes. Every day they can go a bit screwy. You hear a shout, and for a second think you heard your name being called. The blood pumps a little faster in your leg; and you convince yourself it's your phone vibrating.

Our brains are fascinated by input, they're obsessed with it. They seek it out even when we are asleep. Human beings live by the way they perceive the world around them. But what is perhaps more fascinating, at least to me, is how our minds turn that input into decisions and opinions. And how once we've decided what they are, how rigid we become towards altering them.

 

Social Perception

Now, there is no single way in which every person comes to these decisions. Each individual creates their own impressions in their own way. That is to say, we are all at a point on a scale. And while we each go about how we make decisions uniquely, we all use the same tools, and thus there are systems for how we do that.

What I'm going to talk about here is Social Perception. Essentially it is what;

allows individuals to make judgements and form impressions about other people”

But crucially these impressions are what leads to our judgement about situations, news, art, politics, and of course, the other human beings who share this world with us.

There is a number of ways different people form these different opinions. We are going to look at them here in some detail. And show not only why we think the way we do, but explain why the sky is in fact blue.

 

What Matters

It is important when assessing our perceptions that we classify the subject into categories. These categories are;

1. Purpose, why are we making a judgement.
2. Social context, what situation is the behaviour we assess is exhibited in.
3. Memory, how are recent memories relating to our perception influence what we are currently experiencing. (for more information on how we form memories please see The Nature of Selective Memory, my previous post.

So let's begin.

 

Craving Consistency

Much of our Social Perception comes from automated responses bases on opinions and decisions we've already made. It is rare that we will come across a situation which we cannot immediately link to something familiar we have experienced or that is directly related to something we already “know”. This is known as Consistency Theory, and can actually be quite scary when you look at it in detail. For when we see how quick our minds are programmed to jump to conclusions, you can't help but call into question any conclusion we make.

It is significant also to note, that the personality modules I'll be describing apply to almost all of us, and those that don't apply to you, undoubtedly correspond to how another would form their opinion. So don't beat yourself up if you notice that you fall into these categories. Because everyone does, in one way or another.

SO, how to we decide what we think about something before we even know we've decided it? Well, for example, if we feel strongly about an action a certain person made, we are more likely to feel the same way about their next action.

Put it like this; you support a football team. And the manager buys a player whom you love, he plays football exactly the way you like to watch, and in your mind, before you've even seen this player on the pitch in the colours, you think its a good signing.

Now, two weeks later the manager signs another new player. They're from a different corner of the world to the previous signing, they play the sport in a completely different manner, they even look totally different. But, because you liked the previous signing, your brain is automatically programmed to like this one as well.

This kind of opinion is usually the easiest to change. And usually a quick snap to reality, ie watching that player play. Will allow you to form your own opinion again. But what is your don't get the chance to watch? What if you miss the news? (though that's a near impossibility in this day and age) Will you go on thinking you agreed with someone's decision simply because you agreed with it last time?

 

Evaluating “Evidence”

This goes even further, though. Because our brains like tying things together into neat little bundles, if there are two traits which are descriptively similar we will associate them anyway despite their intrinsic differences:

An example of two traits that are descriptively similar are "sceptical" and "distrustful".An observer using descriptive similarity to form an impression of a "sceptical" person would most likely also believe that person to be "distrustful", because these two traits similarly describe a person who questions what other people tell him.

So you see, as much as society abhors “jumping to conclusions” our minds are programmed to do just that automatically. And oft times we do so without even realising we've done it, and simply continue on, utterly oblivious to our knee-jerk reaction.

This goes a step beyond, as when we have already seen proof that a person behaves in a certain way. We immediately form other opinions about them based on these conclusions. For a stark example; lets look at refugees.

 

Opinions and Decisions

Many people have grown concerned that with the influx of migrants moving into Europe from the Middle-East that many of these people may have “terrorist sympathies”. Specifically related ISIL or the “so-called” Islamic State. Now, it is undeniable that the men who have committed these acts of war against European cities are from these places. And so, many people end up supposing that many of these refugees are in fact “terrorists”.

Now while we liberals may be outraged by this mode of thinking it is important to note that the people making these assumptions aren't entirely to blame. Their brains are programmed to make these links and jump to these conclusions based on past evidence. (Not to mention the emotional sway of our memories. In a crunch, we are more likely to call upon facts that scares us, than one that has no emotional value.)

Another way of putting it on a day to day basis is this; a person starts a new job and is late a few times. We infer to ourselves that this person is lazy. Simply because they didn't push hard enough to be on time. It is only after getting to know this person we may learn that there commute is a nightmare, or maybe their car broke down, or they missed their bus. There are so many possible reasons, but humans will jump to the one which can be confirmed by their past experience. Even if that past experience is wholly incomplete.

Our brains make assumptions based on the evidence we already posses not on evidence we might receive but haven't yet. So similarly a person who has no Muslim friends or acquaintances, will make assumptions about an entire race based solely of the evidence they have been exposed to.

 

Observing the Categories

Now, I have chosen quite an extreme example, but human beings work on extremes most of the time. And it is important to note that most of the time, people will make assumptions based on descriptive similarities first. Being, sceptical = distrustful. But, in a crisis, or while making a kind of snap decision, we will rely on our evaluative process first, ie late therefore lazy.

Not everyone makes decisions like this all the time however, it all comes back to the categories I listed above, and that will decide which method of opinion forming we fall into. There is, however, another side to this coin, another form of decision making. And we uses both in our day to day lives.

 

Scratching the Surface

SO, while you may note that you have found yourself falling into these traps, remember everyone does it, and it is vital that you notice yourself making decisions like this if you are ever to educate yourself more on what the truth of what the matter is.

And, if you are thinking to yourself, I don't do that. I make every one one of my decisions based on tangible evidence, you need to start asking, where does that evidence come from? And am I really taking in every single “fact-of-the-matter”.

 

Next week, in Part Two, I will look at Attribution. We'll see how our brains come to conclusions based on 'evidence', and how we have a tendency of molding that evidence to suit what we already believe, in ignorance of what it truly represents.

 

The basis for everything I say in the above article is from research in the field of Social Psychology, anyone unclear or in doubt of what I've said should pursue the topic in more depth, and of course, wait until next week's conclusion; Believe What You Want; Perceptions, Part Two.

The Nature of Selective Memory

Justin Beiber's favourite colour is purple. No, I didn't google that. I was told that, maybe four years ago, by someone who was quite a big fan at the time. But the real question is, why did I remember that and yet my best friend's birthday seems to slip past me every year? Despite me knowing him for nearly my entire life?

Memory. Specifically, selective memory. But what is Selective Memory? Let's go to the Collins Dictionary:

1. euphemistic an ability to remember some facts while apparently forgetting others, especially when they are inconvenient
2. psychology the ability to retrieve certain facts and events but not others

Lot's of us have Selective Memory about a lot's of different moments and times from our past. Even the very recent. While alcohol (at least for we Irish, and especially when it comes to General Elections) can be used as a great excuse, we can't be drunk all of the time. So why can I remember the favourite colour of a musician I've never met, while I have to think about my boyfriend's favourite colour? (which is blue, in case your reading, love)

The answer is actually very simple. Well, it's not, actually. It's all about the way our brain processes the input we receive and which part of the brain it gets stored in. But I'll get to that in a bit. The initial answer is very simple. Emotion. Our memories and our emotions are linked nearly seamlessly. This isn't true 100% of the time, but, of course, nothing ever is.

So, returning to Mr. Beiber, I heard that “fact” while on a date. It was the first date I had been on following the breakup of a three-year relationship. I was nervous, excited, hopeful, and maybe a little scared. But why should that be relevant? Well…

 

Forming Memories

There are two main ways that we form memory, explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit would be "external" memories. Of events or facts or birthdays. These are memories associated with verbal or visual signals. Implicit memory is muscle memory, the memory of physical response.

I'm not going to deal with implicit memory here, though I should probably mention that these memories are still formed through similar processes.

Now, why did my emotions matter when I heard this fact that clearly did not matter? Well, it is straightforward enough, in situations where you feel genuine emotions you are more inclined to form a powerful memory. When in situations of low or non-existent emotional value it will be more difficult to form a memory that will last.

Advertisers and speech writers have been using our emotions for their own gain forever. They know that an advertisement that forms an emotional response, be it positive or negative, is far more likely to stay with you that just been given cold facts. And they use this knowledge, very successfully, so that, when you're next in the shops, deciding what to buy, you remember their ad, you remember their product, and more than likely, you will buy it.

We only need to glance at recent political events to see how emotions; and emotions induced while receiving information, influenced the selective memories of millions of people.

Modern internet journalism is another example of this. In the past, news was colder, more black and white facts. Depending on your outlook of what the facts were. Now writers are trying to get into your emotions first, and give the facts second. Because that's how people remember. I've been attempting to do it this entire time, and I’m not going stop. Because, our emotions, and our memory form the basis of we are. I'm not here presenting facts, I'm here asking, who are you?

 

Emotion; Past & Present

So, our feelings characterise not only whether a memory is good or bad, but also how strong it is. But, believe it or not, our emotions in the present can get mixed up as you are remembering the past. In fact, the emotions you are feeling while remembering can sometimes replace those you originally felt. Thus your own interpretation of your own memory becomes altered or maybe even distorted.

I recently read a great example that can explain this:

Let us say, god forbid, you are in a car accident. Your tyre bursts and the result is you come off the road and hit a post box. Now, you call you friends or your loved ones and you say “I've just been in a car crash.” which you have. But at this moment you are full of adrenaline, you're scared because of what happened, you're relieved because you're okay. You're nervous about your no claims bonus.

However, when you calm down, you assess the damage to yourself and your vehicle. And you realise it's not all as bad as you think. Then, a week later, you say to someone; “Oh yeah, I had a bit of bump in my car the other day.” What's changed? You still felt what you felt at the time, the shock, the anxiety. But now, looking back on it, you feel none of those things, and so, your perception of the event changes. It goes from being a terrifying crash to a mild bump. The past hasn't changed, the event still happened. But the way you look on it and experience it again as you remember it; has been altered.

This is the Nature of Selective Memory.

It relies on how you feel about something, not just at the time of the event, but at the time of remembering. But the main feature of this recollection is emotion. I can remember the colour purple clearly, because I can remember the day clearly. Because of the emotions tied into it. And it is these same emotions that can lead to you forgetting something entirely. If the emotions you felt at the time were so strong, so overwhelming. Your brain can't remember the events clearly. It's clouded not only because of the intensity of the moment, but also, because you don't feel that way now. There’s no link to the memory in the brain. It's too different or powerful for your everyday cognitive abilities to deal with.

This is why people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will block out certain things, only to have a visual or verbal trigger induce a flashbulb memory. Bringing them right to how they felt at the time. It is also why we've been able to forget some of our worst memories. Our emotions are confusing enough as it is. Anyone who has kept a particularly personal, or traumatic secret will understand the lengths the human brain goes through not just in processing emotion, but reasoning them out and even denying their existence.

 

Random Memory

Sometimes, "Selective Memory" sounds like far too deliberate a term. I would say Random memory, because most of the time, the decision to forget or recall certain moments is not your conscious decision to make.

Our emotions are too powerful. They override our thoughts, our actions, they make us do things we never would have thought we could do. And then, they manipulate our very memories of those events. This is why therapists exist. This is why we have thousands of experts on human emotion and memory. We need them. Without them, memories can literally ruin your life. For an example, look at Gulf War Syndrome.

Now, psychologists generally consider that Selective Memory is a bad thing. The repression and ignorance of certain moments from our past can have an overwhelming effect on the present if they were to suddenly return to us at the wrong time. BUT, it isn't all bad.

 

How You Make You

When I said above I was asking you who you are, I meant it. Our selective memories are crucial in forming our opinions of ourselves. Now, this can take positive and negative forms. But you can bet, a highly confident person has a very selective memory when it comes to remembering all the good they've done, or can do. When a shy person's selective memory will only define those moments of failure, those moments where they weren't at their best. Ignoring, or completely forgetting, the moments when they did well. Likewise, if you're in a bad mood, you're more likely to remember things associated with that feeling, ignoring the good memories. And vice versa, with those good memories and a good mood.

Whether we like it or not, we need both of these concepts. How many times have you felt so confident, so full of yourself that you come across as arrogant or unlikeable? Purely because of your mood. And on the opposite side of that; how many times have you felt so crap, so utterly useless that you don't even know why you bother?

This is when the average person must recognise their selective memories in effect. You think you're getting carried away? There's no harm in remembering the time started a fight and lost. Even if it's embarrassing, it might stop you doing something you'll regret later. This kind of mental reasoning is how we learn what can cause us harm when we are children, what we forget is we don't stop learning because we stop growing.

Think of a time you were so down, that you felt like remembering a time you did well is just arrogance, and it couldn't have been as good as you thought. Forget that, acknowledge that it's your current emotion influencing that memory. And maybe, you are just as good as you think you are. There is a major difference between modesty and self-deprecation. And even if someone else may remember things differently, who cares? They are not inside your head, how you remember things, how you perceive events, doesn't have to belong to anyone else. No one else even has to know. This is your personal story, that forms how you see yourself.

Your memory is what makes you who you are. Your self-image comes from these emotions. So, if memory is generally selective, even in the smallest of senses, why hide from this? Use it. Cersei Lannister put it best: “Someday you will sit on the throne, and the truth will be what you make it.” We all are the rulers of our own minds, even if sometimes it doesn't feel that way. Don't fear your selective memory, find your own truth out of it, and accept it. Those are the truths make you who you are.

 

Whose Blood is that Anyway?

Last week the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) issued a statement announcing the end of its lifetime ban on men who have had sex with men donating blood. Now, don't let this headline fool you. They are ending diddly-squat. Instead, what they in fact announced was a shift in their policy, from a lifetime ban, to a ban on any man who has had sex with another man within the previous twelve months.

So essentially, unless you are celibate, extremely committed to being able to donate blood, or just having a bad year; most gay or bisexual men are still banned.

It is important when looking at the information surrounding this move that we take into account the origins of the ban. And scientific research which forms the basis for this change.

 

A History Lesson

By the end of 1983 over a thousand people had died in the United States due to AIDS-related illnesses. At the time, HIV or AIDS was not the term used. The disease was exceptionally new, and not very well understood. Evidence at the time led initial researchers to conclude that it originated purely from homosexual intercourse, proposing the name “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” or “GRID”.

It wasn't until 1983 that it was even discovered to be transferable through heterosexual intercourse as well. It was also in this year that it was officially recognised that it could be passed through a sufferer's blood, and thus the United States Food and Drug Authority (FDA) announced a lifetime ban on any man who had sex with another man from ever donating blood.

A reactionary, but widely regarded as necessary, approach at the time. Testing procedures in relation to blood donations were far from as advanced as they are today. And it was decided that in order to minimise the risk of a person receiving a transfusion with infected blood, it was necessary to restrict donations from “high-risk” individuals, ie gay men and intravenous drug users.

Over next ten years, HIV would become far more understood within the medical community. Its true origins and causes brought into the light of day, and most importantly it was confirmed that this was not just a disease affecting, or caused by, gay men. It would become common practice over these years for blood to be screened with ingreasing rigorousnous before being added to any national supply.

Ireland has a sensitive set of issues surrounding this decision. The first being, that is was illegal to be gay in this country until 1993. So already, Ireland had huge steps to be made in terms of gay rights before this issue could even be considered being discriminatory. Also, until 1980, the sale of contraception was completely illegal in Ireland. And still, it wasn't until 1992 that they were permitted to be sold generally.

So, not only was it illegal to be involved in gay activity; the only protection anyone had from contracting the disease was also unavailable to the majority of the Irish population. Other than abstinence, of course. Another, excellent reason for a ban on anyone who was particularly high-risk for the disease.

So, we meander through the 90s, and LGBT rights becomes an ever increasing issue among the populations of many countries. As people fight tooth and nail for every inch of ground gained, the IBTS (Irish Blood transfusion Service) sits safely in the knowledge that despite these strides in social awareness, as well as sexual health awareness not just among homosexuals but also among the previously under-sexually-educated Irish population, they have still minimised as much of the risk of AIDS infected blood making it into their supply.

The basis for this contentment? Men who have sex with men involve themselves in which is empirically thought of as “risky-sex”. Risky sex, (click to see complete definition) on the contingency of screening when donating blood, is considered to be unprotected intercourse of any kind, among other more specific outlines. Essentially gay sex is considered "risky" regardless of its nature, and people who practice it, when giving blood, are put in the same category as people who inject drugs intravenously in terms of the risk factor for HIV contraction.

To put it crudely; being gay (or bi) is considered medically equivalent to sharing a needle with a drug addict.

Any male/male sex is considered “risky”. Basically, the medical community (none-unanimously, I might add) decided gay men are more likely to suffer from AIDS or HIV. And this ban, combined with rigorous testing of the blood that was donated, meant security and safety for anyone receiving these anonymous transfusions.

2015; the Marriage Equality Act passes in Ireland by democratic vote. For the first time, LGBT people breath a genuine sigh of relief. Their fight is nearly over, they have gained not only acceptance, but support, from the majority of the Irish population. An astounding victory for LGBT rights, and for moral statement within the Constitution, one that led every person in the country to think; we're going somewhere.

2016; the Irish Blood Transfusion service announces an end to its ban on blood donors. With a deferral period of one year, for any man who has engaged in sexual intercourse (protected or not, monogamous or not) with another man. The scientific basis for this decision? Well...

 

Screening Process

Apparently, the margin for error on testing blood is still too high to risk allowing any who may have engaged in “unsafe” sexual practises to be allowed to donate. Essential this year gives time for any HIV-related illness to present themselves. Thus if you haven’t had sex in a year, you're probably okay.

Hold on, let me repeat the most important part of that statement. The margin for error on testing blood is still too high. Did you get it that time? So I ask you, what is the scariest part of this plan? Certainly, it isn't “queer blood” being part of the national supply. And it certainly isn’t that this year-long waiting period is too short. No, the truly terrifying thing is the notion that blood transfusion services don't consider their own tests good enough to justify allowing gay men to give blood.

I don't know about you, but I think this suggestion may make people question how comfortable they feel receiving any blood from anywhere. HIV is far from being the only disease which is communicable through human blood. There are many, many different types of immune deficiency and other viruses, many of which that are statisictally irrelevent towards sexual orientation, that can be contracted through many different means. Not just sex.

 

Logic vs. Fear

So what’s this all about? Why is it still so “risky” to be gay? I have a thought.

Let's say, for example, that they did completely remove this ban in favour of another method, an example of which I will go into shortly. And, let's say, that there was a case where a patient contracted HIV from receiving infected blood that was passed with a “false-negative” and considered safe for use. The backlash against the transfusion service in question would be astronomical. And, unfortunately, this could fall heavily back onto their decision to lift the ban. This would be a huge blow to LGBT rights. Right-wing lobbyists and propaganda would immediately turn this back onto that decision, and against gay people in general.

Or, are they actually protecting us? Are they taking the biggest step they can on an issue that could be eternally derisive if adequate precautions are not taken? My answer, I hope that's at least what they think they're doing.

 

The Rest of the World

I said above we needed to look at the scientific research behind this deferral period. Unfortunately, there is none. There is statistical research which suggests that men who have sex with men are more likely to be HIV positive. But that's like saying: statistically, men are more likely to get into car accidents; so they implement a lifelong ban on driving. Or, they must have not been a man for at a least one-year prior to taking their test.

Ireland isn’t going to be alone in using this measure though. In South Africa, the deferral period is 6 months. In the UK, Australia and Sweden it is 12 months. While in Canada and New Zealand it is five years. In Italy, however, the ban was completely lifted, instead, a system known as “Assess and Test” was implemented.

Basically, their model uses;

“risk behaviour” screening questions and blood testing, which applies to all donors, regardless of sexual orientation.

Since this method began there has been no rise what-so-ever in the frequency of infected blood being discovered in Italian clinics. And they increased their donor pool by hundreds-of-thousands.

This the real issue here: Blood donation is essential for medical practices. Without it, many serious injuries and illnesses cannot be treated. Many times over the last thirty years have different countries and cities suffered from blood-shortages. The most famous, very recent event, being the mass shooting in Orlando. Where many hospitals found their supply running low, and despite many gay people desperate to give blood in order to help their wounded compatriots, they were being turned away due to regulations.

 

Just not up to Scratch

Frankly, IBTS your announcement IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. It is so far from being good enough that it has sparked further outcry from a minority which is so close to ending its fight for complete and utter equality.

These are not the “stepping-stones to freedom” to paraphrase one of our most famous leaders. This is a step backwards. A further entrenchment of discriminatory ideals which segregate and marginalise those already on the outside of what's considered ordinary society. And despite it appearing a step in the right direction, I feel this move further insinuates that any form of gay sex is inherently “risky” and therefore wrong. Not to mention serving to further stigmatise sufferers from an illness that affects nearly 40 million people worldwide. And has killed over 34 million since the first diagnosis in 1979.

I implore any reading this to research the Italian system and take measures promoting this thoroughly safe alternative to a ban which is based on discriminatory stereotypes and not the best and most comprehensive scientific data available.

Also, think about reform towards examination of the blood screening process or, what's really necessary, is a clarification from the IBTS as to what is meant by this allusion that their clearly legitimate and thorough procedures are somehow not good enough. As I find it very hard to believe that this justifies their minor step in resolving the issue. To end I’ll leave you with a quote from French Heath Minister Marisol Touraine;

“Giving blood is an act of generosity, of citizenship, which cannot be conditioned to sexual orientation.”

Well said Ms. Torraine, well said.

image source: Asia M.I.S, Deviant Art