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Blog Archive November 2016

Collective Imbalance and Discord

The title popped out of a book I am reading. Ed Yong’s “I Contain Multitudes”. My plan was to take my mind off politics. Yong’s subject is scientific: the nature, scope and role of microbial organism. The world of microbe creatures seemed light years away from the US election.

edyong

As is often the case, I was wrong. Rather than taking my mind off politics, I Contain Multitudes became a new lens at which to look at politics in 2016. (I once wrote an essay about apophenia and some may think this essay is a good example of that mental processing condition.)

Trillions of these tiny suckers called microbes are living, reproducing, and feeding and working for our benefit inside our gut, on our skin, in places hidden from public view. An evolutionary case can be made that we evolved as energy producing flesh and blood plantations to service the thousands of communities of microbes. We can live without them, and they can’t live without us. From the microbe’s point of view, we are quite useful containers with lots of nutrients and a largely friendly habitat. Symbiosis is a description of the balanced state of host and microbial communities.

Like communities of people, communities of microbes aren’t always friendly and accommodating to the interests of each other or their host.

The history of microbes indicates they rarely enter and maintain a perfect symbolic state of equilibrium. One microbial community is always on the cusp of wiping out another one. They are ruthless, relentless, and mindless.

A fragile balance exists—more like a temporary ceasefire—between human beings and our microbial communities. Think of the DMZ between the two Koreas.  Not to be ignored is the constant competition among microbial communities. One may be down, another up, and everything changes, usually for the worse for you and me. Our bodies are the battlegrounds where these unstable cycles are played out by microbe forces. When the battle goes the wrong way in microbial warfare, we fall ill.

A lot of what we call disease is a state of microbial imbalance. Relationships between your microbial communities are always precarious and one colony is always pushing to out-compete and take over from another. These microbial wars are a slugfest of epic portions. The sheer scale of microbe soldiers in the billions is daunting.  Microbial communities skirmishes are fought on millions of front, millions of times a day. Your body is a war zone.

The lesson from science is disturbingly clear: a friendly microbe community can turn on you in a New York minute. Yong writes about how this happens to coral living in coral reefs. The coral compete for resources with algae, which produce a dissolved organic carbon that causes microbes in the coral to turn rogue. That’s another name for a pathogen. Microbes who defect to the dark side shift their community into a pathogenic state. If you are coral this is one state where all of the electoral votes are cast for a quick death.

This passage about the microbial disease is instructive:

“These illnesses are caused by communities of microbes, which have shifted into configurations that harm their hosts. None is a pathogen in its own right; instead, the entire community has shifted to a pathogenic state. There’s a word for such a state: dysbiosis. It is a term that evokes imbalance and discord in place of harmony and cooperation. It is the dark reflection of symbiosis . . .”

I propose that we’ve entered a dysbiosis political state. The political, social and economic ecosystem has shifted to a pathogenic state. It’s not just one microbe. It is as if an entire community of millions of microbes had turned on the coral. And we are the coral. Rather than an invader, this community of microbes is part of us, we need that community to function, but it has shifted into a collective state that is a pathogenic state. They have crossed a line. They don’t see their actions as an attack on their host, they see it as clearing out other microbes communities who are eating their food supply. They are opportunistic in nature. Give an inch and they take a nautical mile.

Genes are activated and chemicals produced and released and the body suffers inflammation. The flesh is sometimes attacked, he immune system compromised. They infect their host causing him or her harm.

Dysbiosis in a political ecosystem may be similar in nature.

Peter Turchin has observed in an article titled “I Use the Science of Predicting the Rise and Fall of Societies. What I Discovered Will Alarm You” that fits Ed Yong’s analysis:

“(F)rom 1983 to 2010 the number of American households worth at least $10 million grew to 350,000 from 66,000. Rich Americans tend to be more politically active than the rest of the population. … In technical terms, such a situation is known as “elite overproduction.” … Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class.”

Could the cause of the political dysbiosis be due to the rapid proliferation of this colony of microbes that is causing our imbalance? Turchin and Yong should exchange notes and schedule a talk. They are using different language to describe something that looks very much the same.

As Yong explains, it’s no good to blame the individual microbes in this case. The cause for the breakdown is in the lines of communication between the different species of microbes and the host.

If we are going to restore our political immune system, we are going to need to research and analysis the potential causes for this breakdown in communications between communities. To restore balance is to restore the lines of communication.

Is social media, in part, responsible for allowing the creation of lines of communications that evolve into exclusive, sealed zones that exclude communications with other communities? It’s possible. Can we establish new lines of communication or repair the old lines?

The thing is, like microbes, when we stop talking to each other and start talking only to our own community – and Ed Yong’s book offers ample evidence – we should take this as a warning. It’s a warning your gut knows. But do you know as much as your gut? That’s a question I am uncertain whether I can answer.

———————-
Christopher G. Moore new book of A Vincent Calvino crime novel is titled Jumpers.

Jumpers

Posted: 11/18/2016 6:18:24 AM 

 

The Road Less Traveled

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The path of Life flows along a narrow road built for limited traffic, at limited speed, and with a limited amount of traffic. Our road is constructed with deep ditches on both sides and with a series of sharp cutbacks with a sheer drop on the side. It is unforgiving, unyielding, and deadly without mindfulness of the driver.  But our awareness is short. The noise is ever present. The distractions seem infinite.

We feel some privileged class can pass us at reckless speed even if it forces us into the ditch. They have powerful vehicles. We drive our old wrecks. They laugh at us. We feel ashamed.

We hunger for someone to pull us free from the ditch. Our emotions are screaming for vengeance for that bastard who forced us off our road. We want the rich guy to go off that cliff and we want to smile watching the slow-motion car-camera showing his/her face in terror.

Politicians appeal to the emotional, frightened driver in all of us. We want our roads back.

The political class machine creates a series of promises based on our emotional needs. New, better, tremendous roads, the best road in the world, elevated, covered against the weather, protected against outsiders, roads with no ditches, no sharp curves, road you can speed on. They lie about the conditions of the road. They lie about their ability and our ability to navigate the road. They promise new, better and safer roads that only they can build. We learn to love the lie and it becomes a higher truth.

The fact we are heading quickly to self-driving cars is an indication that it isn’t the roads that are the major problem. It’s the human driver behind the wheel that kills 1.4million people each year in the world. This number of dead in traffic accidents is sufficient to swing a close election.

That mythical political road, of course, never gets built. But that doesn’t stop us for searching for the new road builder messiah. We are suckers for fast-talking expressway promoters. Some call it our resilience. Others call it our insane faith that one person or group of persons has figured out how to solve the road problem. That belief is based squarely on someone who millions have faith has discovered the answer everyone else has overlooked. And, that the answer is simple; if only the ‘others’ would get out of the way and let that simple solution take hold.

The hallmark of an authoritarian regime is strictly control the news of road conditions. They bury the problem and deceptions and those who expose them. We are stuck with this impasse for the near future. Once the self-driving model of driving is adapted and expanded to political road mapping, construction, repair and expansion, our great-grandchildren may wonder why we spent so much of our political lives in the ditch and so little time on the road.

If you’ve lived in a deeply divided country with authoritarian tendencies, you have an idea of how this road construction business will turn out for the Americans.

———————-
Christopher G. Moore new book of A Vincent Calvino crime novel is titled 
Jumpers.

Jumpers

Posted: 11/11/2016 4:31:21 AM 

 

 

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