Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots


Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.

Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (

The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.

“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (, a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.

People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.

So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.

All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.

Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.

Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.

So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.

I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.

I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.

A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.

I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.

We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.

The slogan “no justice, no peace” says it all. We’ve always known that, and the Kerner Commission Report spelled it all out after the riots in 1967 (, but it was ignored.

This crisis will be fixed for real when justice in America is established for real. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I just wish it would soon.



For America today: shamrock = lily; Erin = Freedom.

Steeling Ourselves to Reopen


Steeling Ourselves to Reopen

“So, the country is steeling itself for its Great Leap Forward: coming out of our underground bunkers, our bomb shelters, our foxholes, our caves, where we have been hiding out from the tenuous invisible virus-laden fog of everyone else’s exhalations. We are being steeled to open air-tight hatches and climb out into the wreckage — unseen but wrecked — of our old world. But the air of that old world is now no longer the same; it is infected, and that infection washes in and out of human bodies that wither in many ways in the wake of the viruses’ passing, to hang in the air waiting for new hosts to house, feed and transport them on their constant wanderings to reproduce. And we, the humans weary of protecting ourselves from infection by hiding out in our private dens and burrows, are now being mesmerized by the slowly rising crescendo of suggestive siren songs, sad wails, ominous warnings, frenzied exhortations all saying the same thing: open up! leave your hiding! burst into this new air, join humanity once again, forget your fears, and gratefully, with energy, with enthusiasm: go to work! Yes, that is what is needed, work! work! work! Be happy in your work! You are wasting your lives hiding, and by doing so you are losing all that is most dear: income, employment, and all the good things you deserve, but which must be paid for! Why, that is essentially death! No!, it is time to rejoin the human race, and go out into the world without concern of our invisible invaders, and take back command of the world by stepping out into it! Yes, it takes strength to be a real man, a real woman, who can take charge of their lives and go and make something of them, by working and earning, and clearly justifying their place in our civilized world. These are the kinds of people who make up the strong healthy body of civilized humanity, the human force that pushes forward and survives, that creates the future. But not everyone has that courage, that drive, that worthiness; some are weak, outdated, unworthy; essentially deadwood, an unnecessary overhead expense on the virile core of humanity, the workers essential to the steady functioning of our way of life. So strength, now with a clearer understanding of freedom after having brushed aside the fears of this virus, is now ours, and the strong essential people understand that because they have the courage to break out back into the busy world that we must quickly revive, together shoulder to shoulder, that we can waste no sympathy on the unnecessary old, weak and cowardly. People are always dying, old, young, it doesn’t matter, so hiding away from a remote chance of death is wrong, especially as doing so has let all our work and prosperity fall into ruin. No!, we move forward, and we do so with confidence in our own strength of purpose, our own drive to gain the prosperity we deserve, our pride in supporting our families, and in helping to advance great commercial enterprises of social necessity! So, go out, fear not, some small number of you will always be surprised by an early death, but this virus will focus itself on the old and non-essential and the weak. Forget about them!, that kind of concern only holds you back from devoting yourself to what is most important and gives you your meaning in life: your work! So let the old and the weak and the undeserving sicken and die, do not worry about spreading virus germs to these non-essentials. We will be better off without them, the emotional drag on us of all their worries, and the wasted costs of their upkeep will be cast aside once the virus prunes them away from the real virile core of humanity. Then, think of the kind of world we will be building!: one of drive without restraint, of prosperity without cost, of work without stop, of people steeled to their tasks and moved past their childish sentimentality and fear, of people past caring for those who don’t deserve to live if they try to stand in our way and hold us back, especially holding us back from our freedom and obligation to work, which gives us all we were ever meant to be and to have. If you work hard, you will be treated well; if you do not work, you will be punished! So fear not! Live and let die! Join together, and work! work! work! Be happy in your work!”

And so the Maximum Leader spoke to his people to fill their spirits with his disease, and steel them to re-emerge into the pestilence of his reign, and maintain it.


Most COVID-19 Contagious People Are Asymptomatic


Most COVID-19 Contagious People Are Asymptomatic

Most COVID-19 contagious people (carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus) are asymptomatic: they show no symptoms.

Social distancing is essential to slow the pace of the pandemic since neither you nor anybody else will know who is a carrier that crosses your path. This has been amply shown by the exemplary and highly effective Vietnamese response to COVID-19 (

A Reuters news story of 16 April 2020 (Coronavirus clue? Most cases aboard U.S. aircraft carrier are symptom-free, notes:

Sweeping testing of the entire crew of the coronavirus-stricken U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt may have revealed a clue about the pandemic: The majority of the positive cases so far are among sailors who are asymptomatic, officials say. Roughly 60 percent of the over 600 sailors who tested positive so far have not shown symptoms of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, the Navy says. The service did not speculate about how many might later develop symptoms or remain asymptomatic. “With regard to COVID-19, we’re learning that stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power,” said Rear Admiral Bruce Gillingham, surgeon general of the Navy. The figure is higher than the 25% to 50% range offered on April 5 by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.

A Boston25News story of 15 April 2020 (CDC reviewing ‘stunning’ universal testing results from Boston homeless shelter, reports a similar finding, that: ‘1.5 weeks ago’ (in the first days of April) testing revealed 146 positives out of a population of 397 in a Boston homeless shelter. That result indicates a rate of 36.8% positive for infection AND being asymptomatic. Those positives were then quarantined separately. ‘Now’ (15 April 2020) only one needs hospital care, while many of the other positives still show no symptoms.

If there is a ~2 week (or more?) delay between infection and outbreak of symptoms (during which time the person is invisibly infectious), then that is a long latency as compared to colds and flu (days). SARS-CoV-2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus; and by my understanding of such +single-stranded RNA viruses, they get inside infected cells, commandeer the messenger RNA manufacturing machinery and thence the protein manufacturing machinery (ribosomes) of the cell to produce the viral components (viral RNA = virions, and protein capsules to encase them) that are assembled into new viruses that exit the cell (killing it, when a large outflux), and tearing off some of outer cell lining to wrap themselves in a lipid (fat) cover.

For details about viruses and the diseases they cause I highly recommend the 1994 book, Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them, by Peter Radetsky. It is an excellent book, well-written, with a wealth of information, and fascinating reading. It spans 200+ years of viral infectious disease discovery and vaccination development history; most of it for the 20th century.

Coronaviruses in general seem to have a very complex chemical process for coursing through their human hosts. A very technical summary of all this is given in a 2015 National Institutes of Health (NIH) paper, conveniently posted online (Coronaviruses: An Overview of Their Replication and Pathogenesis, The relative lengthiness of this process will account for some of the ‘delay’ or ‘latency period’ between initial infection and outbreak of symptoms.

Another and more insidious factor that could contribute to that delay is this, as described (in one sentence) in the NIH paper just noted (

“In several coronaviruses, S protein that does not get assembled into virions transits to the cell surface where it mediates cell–cell fusion between infected cells and adjacent, uninfected cells. This leads to the formation of giant, multinucleated cells, which allows the virus to spread within an infected organism without being detected or neutralized by virus-specific antibodies.”

In other words, some of the viral goop inside an infected cell bonds it to adjacent healthy cells into which the virus can then penetrate stealthily, out of “sight” of the antibodies of the immune system floating in our bloodstream. In that way many cells can become invisibly infected, as regards our immune system’s “radar,” — thus our asymptomatic latency period — before all viral hell breaks loose from all those “sleeper cells,” and the victim is obviously in full-blown disease.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus initially causes an upper tract respiratory disease in its infected human hosts, but it can migrate deeper down the airway, then into the lungs, and down very deep to lodge in and damage the alveoli, the ‘air sacs’ where air/oxygen enters the bloodstream through capillaries. From there it can drift along with the blood to arrive at (and possibly infect) the heart and the kidneys, these latter being another type of “spongy” organ for osmotic-type transfers (of oxygen into the blood with the alveoli, of liquid wastes out of the blood for the kidneys).

Several reports, one from 12 March 2020 is cited and quoted here (Are Kidneys Targeted by the Novel Coronavirus?,, show that kidneys have been infected by SARS-CoV-2, and a significant fraction of survivors have lasting kidney damage requiring dialysis thereafter. This paper notes (in the following consolidated paragraph):

New data on coronavirus disease include some startling revelations: Kidney involvement seems to be frequent in people who have been tested positive and have developed symptoms. Two studies showed a high rate of renal abnormalities in corona-positive patients: Admitted to hospital, 34% of the 59 patients developed massively elevated levels of albumin in urine (=proteinuria), a symptom of kidney damage 63% of the study patients developed proteinuria while in hospital, and many of them also had blood loss in their urine (hematuria). Kidney function was impaired in 27% of the study population and in 66% of the patients who died from the coronavirus infection. These findings are supported by a second study involving 710 hospitalized patients: On admission, 44% had hematuria and proteinuria (26.7% had hematuria only), and kidney function decreased in nearly 15%. “This shows that COVID-19 also attacks the kidneys, not just the lungs”, explains Professor Carmine Zoccali, President of the ERA-EDTA. [ERA-EDTA is one of the biggest nephrology associations worldwide leading European nephrology and one of the most important European Medical Associations.]

Some recent news stories voice concerns that, after ventilators, kidney dialysis machinery may be the next area of medical equipment shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

People who died of “complications of COVID-19” might have succumbed to pneumonia (drowning because of fluid filled lungs); or hypertension heart attacks, exacerbated by obesity, where the heart was pumping furiously to try to capture and circulate oxygen from lungs that were clogging up and choking off that gas flow; or kidney failures; or any combination of these. “Old people” are more susceptible because they generally have weaker immune systems and more underlying conditions (e.g., hypertension and heart diseases, diabetes, airway constrictions/emphysema, obesity).

Many people are curious as to how COVID-19 might be similar to, or different from, the H1N1 avian flu that caused the 1918 pandemic. In particular, some observe and ask: ‘the 1918 flu targeted its fatalities in a far younger population, why?’ The culprit was “a cytokine storm in the body,” an effect that also certainly occurs to some COVID-19 unfortunates. This article on H1N1 (Influenza A virus subtype H1N1, notes (in the following paragraph) that:

The 1918 flu caused an unusual number of deaths, possibly due to it causing a cytokine storm in the body. (The current H5N1 bird flu, also an Influenza A virus, has a similar effect.) The Spanish flu virus infected lung cells, leading to overstimulation of the immune system via release of cytokines into the lung tissue. This leads to extensive leukocyte migration towards the lungs, causing destruction of lung tissue and secretion of liquid into the organ. This makes it difficult for the patient to breathe. In contrast to other pandemics, which mostly kill the old and the very young, the 1918 pandemic killed unusual numbers of young adults, which may have been due to their healthy immune systems mounting a too-strong and damaging response to the infection.

The article Cytokine Release Syndrome ( describes cytokine storms in greater detail (the next 2 paragraphs):

Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) or cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) is a form of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) that can be triggered by a variety of factors such as infections and certain drugs. It occurs when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells. CRS is also an adverse effect of some monoclonal antibody drugs, as well as adoptive T-cell therapies. Severe cases have been called cytokine storms. When occurring as a result of drug administration, it is also known as an infusion reaction.

CRS occurs when large numbers of white blood cells, including B cells, T cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and monocytes are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which activate more white blood cells in a positive feedback loop of pathogenic inflammation. Immune cells are activated by stressed or infected cells through receptor-ligand interactions. This can occur when the immune system is fighting pathogens, as cytokines produced by immune cells recruit more effector immune cells such as T-cells and inflammatory monocytes (which differentiate into macrophages) to the site of inflammation or infection. In addition, pro-inflammatory cytokines binding their cognate receptor on immune cells results in activation and stimulation of further cytokine production. This process, when dysregulated, can be life-threatening due to systemic hyper-inflammation, hypotensive shock, and multi-organ failure.

So, some COVID-19 fatalities may be due to over-acting immune systems that cause massive inflammation in response to the infection, and consequently excessive cell damage to the unfortunate human victims. As auto-immune diseases demonstrate, it is possible for people of any age to have a trigger-happy immune system.

Viral particles ride on tiny droplets (aerosols) released as part of infected breath. Given the uncertainty on the scope of infection in the population you live among, and their degree of contagiousness, both because of the asymptomatic latency and the limited extent of testing (especially in the USA), your best tack is to stay away from other people’s “breath plumes,” the clouds of vapor and water droplets that expand from their mouths and noses as coughs, sneezes and exhalations (which are stronger and of longer range when exercising or under physical strain). Eventually such droplets fall to the ground. Face masks are helpful for limiting the outward range of plumes expelled by an emitter, and also for shielding impacted passers-by, by filtering the wafts of an emitter’s infected breath (hopefully attenuated by an emitter’s mask) before it reaches their own noses and mouthes.

Over time, aerosolized virus is eliminated and destroyed by the combination of sunlight, heat and humidity. These three weather-related virus-destroying factors are noted in an 11 February 2020 report, which otherwise seems overly optimistic about when SARS-CoV-2 will “go away.” (

Sunlight, as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, ‘bleaches’ or ‘oxidizes’ the virus particles; heat can cook them to death (breaking them apart; heating is a technique that has been used to make weak-germ and killed-germ vaccines); and humidity can “rain out” virus particles from the atmosphere, washing them away in ground runoff, eventually to break apart. Flu is seasonal because of these effects: it expands through its human hosts in the fall and winter (in the northern hemisphere), and dissipates when sunnier warmer weather arrives (by retreating into asymptomatic wildlife hosts, usually migratory birds and also bats).

So to recapitulate, most people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic at a rate of 60%. (The two ‘full population testing’ studies cited here reported rates of 60% from over 600 infected on a US Navy aircraft carrier ship, and nearly 37% from 146 infected in a homeless Bostonian population housed in a single shelter.) For the SARS-CoV-2 virus, “stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power.” That stealth, in the form of its asymptomatic latency period, seems to be due to its lengthier chemical process for reproducing itself in human host cells and then expelling itself from them, and probably also with the added subterfuge of ‘glueing’ infected cells to adjacent healthy ones, which the virus then penetrates and infects without going outside the cells so as to not alert the human immune system antibodies coursing through the bloodstream.

Social distancing and face masks — inconvenient, uncomfortable and unpopular — are essential behaviors to limit the expansive speed and range of this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This disease can be fatal, and it has been shown to leave lasting damage to the hearts and/or kidneys of a portion of its survivors. People most susceptible to succumbing fatally to COVID-19 are older, and/or have underlying medical conditions that weaken the operations of the lungs, and/or heart, and/or kidneys, and/or the immune system. Another morbidity factor, which can occur in people of all ages, is having a overly aggressive immune system that would unleash a cytokine storm in response to this viral infection.

The appropriate political response by the survivors of this pandemic is to support national universal healthcare, and to support the just and generous remuneration, job security and workplace safety of the frontline medical personnel attending to the sick and dying, not just during this pandemic but thereafter. Also, we must support the robust financial support of epidemic and pandemic response planning agencies, beyond the cheapskate, ‘just in time’ high-profit business-wise lower levels of support reluctantly agreed to by reactionary neoliberal privatization freaks like Donald Trump.

While several prototype vaccines and cures for COVID-19 are currently in clinical trials, it is not yet known if the SARS-CoV-19 virus will be able to be warded off once and for all with one or two antiviral vaccine “shots,” or if it will become another of the seasonally recurrent viruses, like the cold and flu viruses, that mutate (by viral “drift,” a small change in the surface H gene; or “shift,” by forming a new strand of RNA) too quickly for our medical science to ever devise an unchanging vaccine that affords us a permanent immunity.

Given this COVID-19 global experience, will humanity now find common cause to alter its various regional behaviors that in aggregate give rise to such insidious viral pandemics? We’ll see. I suppose that a science-fiction writer could craft a dystopian tale from the individual human and societal failures that we are yet likely to witness, in which our atmosphere is routinely contaminated with disease-causing viruses like SARS-CoV-2, along with our usual copious greenhouse gas and fossil fuel carbon particulate pollution, so that the human denizens of Planet Earth would then have to move about clothed in hazmat space suites with oxygen tanks, and with their livestock housed in large controlled atmosphere feedlot bubbles; and tough luck on the wildlife.

On the prospects of humanity changing its ways after this round of COVID-19, I am reminded of the last scene in the 1959 movie On The Beach, of the empty windblown streets of post-human Melbourne, Australia, with a slowly fluttering Salvation Army street banner that reads: “There is still time…Brother.”

I am grateful to Katje Erickson for pointing me to the two ‘full population testing’ studies cited here.


Drawing by Babak Kateb, MD


Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?


Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

Harbhajan Singh asks [6 April 2020]: “Could COVID-19 save Lifeboat Earth?”

Many realize that eliminating humanity would make Earth healthier for Nature, plants and animals.

Many also realize that without profound changes to human behavior — by everybody, everywhere; including limiting population growth and ending greenhouse gas emissions — that humanity can not exist in balance with Nature, and both will increasingly suffer, eventually — in a few lifetimes? — fatally.

It is well documented that as human encroachment and destruction of Nature (e.g., environments and biodiversity) advances, that habitability decreases.

That decrease is due to a combination of:

— pollution (bad air, ocean plastic, dead seas, lost topsoil, lost forests, toxic land);

— climate change (and more violent weather, floods, droughts, wildfires);

— food source degradation (inorganic industrial farming, loss of natural varietals, loss of seafood), and

— greater hazards of releasing viruses (epidemics and pandemics) fatal to people.

The scientific reports get very specific on ‘this particular negative effect has this particular [human stupidity] cause’, but in aggregate they show what I’ve just outlined.

More people are realizing that humanity’s accelerating encroachment and destruction of Nature can only cause more deadly virus pandemics to plague us. Hotter environmental temperatures from global warming, and greater particulate and noxious gases pollution from human activity (industrialization, capitalism, militarism) aggravate the severity and lethality of all respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

I prefer that humanity became vastly more intelligent, and cooperative, and altruistic, and balances its existence (both individual and collective) with Nature’s timeless rhythms and geophysical limits.

The most important aspect of that wished-for cooperativeness is that we cease viewing each other as deadly rivals in a grim zero-sum game of making-money one-upmanship and competing narcissistic schemes of enslaving others.

Miraculously, the Earth is the most wonderful Paradise we know of in the entire Universe. If we treated it as such, instead of treating it like a garbage dump and sewer, it would return that appreciation, and we would knowingly experience life in this actual Paradise, for ourselves and for endless future generations.

This is not just poetry, it is fact.


Our Virally Porous Walls


Our Virally Porous Walls

“The Invisible Invaders” is the title of Peter Radetsky’s book on “viruses and the scientists who pursue them.” It is a richly detailed, smoothly written primer on the subject for the non-biochemist. This book arcs through four topics:

first: a history from 1744 to 1930 of the development of the medical science and vaccines aimed at combatting infectious diseases (for smallpox in 1796 by Edward Jenner [1749-1823], for rabies in 1885 by Louis Pasteur [1822-1895]); the discovery of the virus in 1898 by Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931); and the discovery in 1917 by Félix d’Hérelle (1873-1949) that viruses could attack and kill bacteria — which are living cells;

second: the science of virology, and the present understanding that viruses are parasitic forms of ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that invade living cells and hijack their functional programming, so as to reproduce and expel more viruses;

third: modern-day concerns and discoveries about viral diseases: colds, herpes, flu, hepatitis, cancer, AIDS;

fourth: gene therapy inspired by natural viral action, the intentional manipulation of biochemical dynamics to thwart viral infections and to artificially create designer proteins for desired purposes.

Radestsky states that: “[Most] of us have little idea of the impact viruses have on our lives. For they are not simply dangerous enemies, the only organisms besides ourselves that pose a threat to our survival; they’re our co-travelers in life, our most intimate fellow workers. Viruses are literally everywhere — inside us, outside us, constantly permeating the boundaries of the self… They may swap our genes around, rearrange our destinies, act as agents of the ecosystem. In their admirable simplicity and appalling efficiency, they may be the most successful life-form of all… if they can be said to be alive in the first place.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). We can metaphorically visualize a viral pandemic in a manner similar to the antique and unscientific ideas that the causes of inexplicable epidemics were astrological “influenza,” and bad airs, “malaria,” wafting out of swamps; by imagining viral epidemics as very tenuous and filamentary clouds of sub-microscopic nucleic acid particles, each wrapped in fat and coated with protein, that are all coursing through our atmosphere, propelled by air currents on every scale from weather systems to human exhalations, and despite their extreme fragility have the power to penetrate through our civilization and into our very bodies and once there to penetrate into the core genetic control units of our cellular functioning — and disrupt it.

We can never perfectly wall ourselves off from viruses, to them our bodies and our patterns of living are so easily permeable. Our surest defense against viral diseases for which we have no vaccines is avoidance of infection. Such avoidance if afforded by a combination of distancing from infectious people and environments (whether visibly or invisibly contaminated), and the conscientious frequent application of personal hygienic practices and household and occupational sterilization protocols. Physically, and mindlessly behaviorally, we are an open weave to viruses, a rich meshwork of protoplasm waiting to be virally colonized and explosively exploited.

The reason we have been hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with its still increasing force, is that the United States is a nation and society structured like a Matryoshka Doll that imprisons its people but is transparent to viruses. We each are walled in by many types of barriers intended to exclude us from the ‘tribal clubs’ of others, those barriers being: ageist, bigoted, cultural, ethnic, financial, intellectual, political, racist, religious and sexual; we humans can come up with an endless array of repulsive distinctions about ourselves.

We have a multiplicity of forms of imposed isolation, of social distancing, each tailored to the individual’s demographic characteristics, to their sociological DNA if you will. We all live within walls, within outer walls, within still outer walls, and so on for many layers of confinement away from the more favored tribes and classes, yet also shielded from the more unfortunate ones. This structure of social fragmentation and hierarchical survival is the embodiment of capitalist civilization. It is the separations and differences and conflicts and jealousies and inequalities that exist among us that create the necessary socio-political spaces and the material opportunities to prosecute individualistic capitalist schemes, those personal drives toward profits — and also for crimes and wars.

That drive towards profits — in its extreme it is pure narcissism — is impossible to even imagine in a hypothetical society of ideal socialism, a society that has been largely homogenized in the sense of eradicating all the artificial exclusionary distinctions that define the house-of-cards capitalist paradigm. That those distinctions were always illusory and only seemed intellectually sacrosanct and physically rigid was because the popular will of the nation’s many individuals had been trained over many generations by pro-capitalist anti-socialist mass indoctrination to unconsciously project the capitalist paradigm that is imprisoning them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has collapsed the illusion of that paradigmatic rigidity, of the reality of capitalism. The viral ‘cloud’ has easily penetrated through not just our bodies, but the exclusionary distinctions we previously thought of as either protective shields or barriers to our aspirations. The collapse of those illusions is experienced by the benefactors of the capitalist economy as fears of economic depression and of political revolt by the laboring masses. The collapse of those same illusions is experienced by the masses excluded from prosperity in the current paradigm, as an awakening to and anger over the unreality of the many strains of slavery we all have imagined ourselves into for so long, and an awakening to the breathtaking proximity to us of the bracingly real alternate and liberating paradigm of socialism. We can actually all live better, happier and more securely starting right away! It is solely a matter of popular will.

During this pandemic many have already stated the obvious: any successful effort to end these epidemics will necessarily be a socialist action, and the more socialist those efforts are, the greater the degree of their ultimate successes. Our exclusionary ‘walls’ and clashes of hoarding behaviors are transparent to viruses, only social solidarity can be made reasonably opaque to them. To effectively combat viral epidemics we must close up the now-gaping weave of human civilization. Such a closing up will encounter much friction and resistance, as each person seeks to preserve their private bubble of self-importance, money-making, irrational fantasy and bigoted exclusivity, which are the forces of repulsion within our atomistic social collectivity. The capitalist benefactors will actualize their resistance to the closing up of the human social weave, their economic collapse fears of the awakened and just anger of the exploited masses, by tossing bribes and police-enforced compulsion at them: the smallest, cheapest weight they can put on the lid of the bubbling cauldron of neoliberal capitalism to keep it from flying off as it boils over.

Despite the widespread and atomizing disorientation of American society in reaction to COVID-19, as if it were some impending apocalypse, it would be wise to become disciplined, rational and socialist, and to realize that this pandemic is but a skirmish in the monumental and unavoidable karmic war we now must face against our own narcissistic desecration of Nature, and which we call climate change.