Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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1 thought on “Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

  1. Professor Douglas R. Weiner (Department of History, University of Arizona) sent me questions #1 and #2, below. My replies follow each. These are just my opinions, I am no expert!

    1. “Have you ever wondered whether humans, on average, have certain in-built predispositions? Natural selection, for instance, could not have selected for long-term thinking; on the contrary, Daniel Kahneman tells us that we tend to think in quick and shallow ways based on experience and stereotyping rather than in deep, analytical ways, for the simple reason that it takes far fewer calories and effort to do so.”

    I believe humans are born with built-in predispositions:

    First of all, they have default personality types (Jungian theory, most elaborated in the “Please Understand Me” book by Keirsey and Bates). This is all about the introvert/extrovert, thinking/feeling (analytical/emotional), intuitive/detail-oriented, open-ended/judgmental mix of characteristics in the default personality of young people. As we grow and learn, we consciously and semi-consciously round out our personalities (to go beyond being one limited personality type) to better cope with the real world and human society (Jung was empathic on this point, believing we “individuated,” or rounded ourselves out — assuming ‘mature attitude’ individuals (so, not everybody) — at/by around 38 years old. I see Keirsey and Bates as being much more detailed and dogmatic about it being ‘permanent’).

    Since homo sapiens are a genus branching off the primate limb of animal life, I think it clear that we share many of the genetically programmed behavioral characteristics seen in primates, most closely chimpanzees and gorillas. Interestingly, there is a greater genetic difference between chimpanzees and gorillas than there is between chimpanzees and homo sapiens. So, “Man is a social animal,” as Aristotle said, and thus I think both tribal and group/tribe-territorial (as played out in the first third of the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

    I think “ethnic identity” and “racial identity” and bigotry (like White Supremacy) arise from the innate tribalness programmed into our primate-style genes: the appeal of apartheid, the keeping of ground and resources (which for humans includes $$, economic opportunities, and political power) for “ourselves” and “our kind.”

    The effort to claim exclusive use of resource pools (like food items/sources), and fight off others (other “species” and even others of your ‘ethno/race/kind’) from them is very general in the Animal Kingdom. So, why not humans too, as a default or id behavior?

    As to short-term instant and emotional decision making versus long-term analytical consideration and rational deciding, I think the majority of people are the former (as you described it above), but I think that ~30% (+/- 10%) are the latter, both because of a natural tendency to do so (default personality type) and because they have “individuated” (grown up and gotten educated). But, yes, I agree that the quick/no-think option is lower energy and can easily dominate the species (we all do it to some degree).

    I think there is a strong genetic component in all this. I found “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins most enlightening on the whole topic of how humans choose (he was mainly interested in understanding altruism, but also has a fascinating discussion of sexual selection and ‘faithfulness’ vs. ‘faithlessness’).

    Finally, it is important to remember that the entire spectrum of “normal behavior” and human characteristics (like personality, thinking styles) is very wide. This is evolution’s way of sprinkling many types of people (or, creatures of any species) into Life-On-Earth, so some will always be best adapted (survive) to the current environmental conditions, and will thus most likely dominate the reproduction of their species in those current conditions.

    2. “I wonder whether we have evolutionarily conditioned predispositions toward hierarchy and patriarchy, although those may be modified under the right circumstances. We almost certainly have a bias to conform for fear of ostracism from the groups to which we belong; groups afford protection, and so our fears make us conformists who are unable to control our human predators. And perhaps there is something deep within our predispositions that makes capitalism so attractive.”

    I think our “monkey troop” genes dominate here. We want to be part of the group; we want to rise in the hierarchy of the group; and this means we want group approval and (if we can get it) “power” to dominate and “lead” the group (which means gaining both the approval and fear of the group members of lower rank).

    I think the idea (illusion) of individual superiority (‘kingship,” rugged individual, ‘real-man,’ Privileged Princess ‘Karen,’) is pushed as indoctrination to support capitalism (marketing!), and thus in reality for most of us to be worker ants for the Alcon Blues (the wealthy, elites, celebrities, ‘insiders’) who suck off that system. That indoctrination works (on the irrational and/or inattentive) because it taps into our monkey troop and hierarchy-attuned genes. But, if you read Dawkins you learn that altruism is also deeply programmed into our genes. Monkey troops work because the individuals do cooperate and look out for each other, within the troop (many pack, herd and flock animals defend each other individually, against predators).

    I think dogs are popular pets because their owners want to be “The Leader of the Pack,” and their dogs totally get that, and wag their tails happily over it. I think the American slave-owners of the 19th century also had this attitude, but with less sentimentality (and lots of cruelty, because they were drunk on power).

    So, I think the “popularity” of capitalism is more due to massive unrelenting propaganda, since most people never really benefit much (or at all) from it. Also, there are many historical instances of very popular socialist/communitarian societies, and these would resonate quite well with our monkey troop genes as well (safety in numbers, security in the group).

    I’m sure I’ve strayed way beyond my depth, in making the comments above. I would imagine anthropologically well-informed evolutionary biologists and psychologists would be better able to explain it all. I don’t think exclusively economic, and/or historical and/or political theories, like Marxism (which, within its limited scope about conscious actions is excellent) can entirely answer these questions; I think the genetic/evolutionary factors form a substratum to human behavior and thus to such theories about human societies.

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