Thursday, January 25, 2007

For Better and For Worse

This post is in some ways more personal than others, but I also like the ways the personal has really become political and vice versa in my life and thought.

On Saturday I attended a town hall meeting on global warming at Chicago's Whitney Young High School. I hadn't realized, until attending this meeting, how far I've been in the last several years from Political-with-a-capital-P activity. While the meeting certainly had to contend with the everpresent older grizzled white guy wearing some kind of "nature" T-shirt who monopolized Q & A with his prostelytizing—I honestly think it's not a political meeting without that guy—the organizers were able to deal with him and other prostelytizers in a respectful, non-dismissive manner and still keep things on track, and the track they were on really was one of thought and substance. I was excited to hear about the environmentalist activities of all sorts of religious and community organizations in the city of Chicago, to feel that at least some core group of people is really starting to think, and not just think in a knee-jerk, ooh-a-new-cause fashion.

In addition, I had yesterday my first appointment with a fabulous alternative medicine practicioner, and I'm now determined to keep room for such consultations in my budget. What's always troubled me about Western medicine, I realized for the first time, is the way it treats things in isolation, and as such, for me at least, breeds inaction. In fact, I'm going to venture that as a general statement: decontextualization breeds inaction. The more decontextualized an event, or feeling, or pain, the more likely you are to be able to keep it from your reality, the more capable you are of believing it's just some problem, not something that touches you. Western medicine encourages that method of thought, as displayed by endless television commercials rushing through a new prescription medication's often-drastic side effects. It's not treating your body as a system, just as dismissal of global warming or consumption of foods composed solely of chemicals are not treating humanity's place in the environment or the creation, purchase and consumption of food as a system. I'm happy to be treating my body as something where a lot of events work together and balance one another, and I'm happy to feel capable of taking an active role in taking on physical challenges.

The larger systems, though, are beginning to show signs of discontent. Tyromaven sent me this, from South Africa's The Guardian, and this from CTV. (Yes, and she also told me about the town hall meeting. I get all my news from Tyromaven. Except the alternative medicine dude—I learned about him from Maddy. Shut up, at least I use the knowledge I acquire.) The latter's more of concern to my pals on the Gothic Funk Cruise, but the former seems to me of substantially greater concern to the world.

There is gonna be some form of plague, kids. I expect it to come in my lifetime. If I were to believe in a god I certainly wouldn't believe in one vengeful individual, but we're due for something that can do to us, as a globalized world, what the Black Death did for medieval Europe, at a correspondingly gargantuan scale. A tuberculosis epidemic resistant to developed tuberculosis drugs that currently kills 98% of people who come into contact with it would do nicely, particularly if they've previously been made vulnerable to illness by a constantly evolving strain of norovirus.

I say "they," but I'm as likely to fall for it as anybody. Perhaps not; let me qualify that statement. I'm American and was born relatively well-off, which means that for most of my life, until the last couple of years, I've had consistent, reliable access to high-quality health care. That health care, I'm sure, though I didn't realize it at the time, was probably overly dependent on antibiotics and led me to develop vulnerabilities to evolving diseases. I have had the good fortune not to encounter those diseases, because I live in a prosperous country with fairly advanced, if not always environmentally sound, sanitation systems. In addition, my immune system has always been hardy, and I've had the good fortune not to develop or contract any autoimmune diseases. I share a space with a lovely, in my view freakishly clean person, which over the long term might lower my resistance but I think, for the year or two it's going to be going on, is probably going to help more than hurt. I don't flatter myself that I'm the "top 2%" that would constitute humanity should a crazy tubercular epidemic knock out 98% of the population. But it certainly makes me happy that I'm learning to take care of myself without stuffing myself full of antibiotics and creating more inadvertent vulnerabilities.

And of course, the WHO's been thinking about all this more than the general population has, and as such it's probably not going to be XDR-TB, it's going to be something that moves much faster and is even more contagious. It's going to be something that's made itself impossible to contain.

I still don't think it's going to completely destroy the human race or the planet, at least not for a long time, which is why I object to the notion that there's only one Important Issue and all others fall by the wayside. Again, decontextualization breeds inaction. If we're all going to die at once anyway, and our descendents will be wiped out, we can't care. It's not just that we don't, we can't. We don't have the resources and we can't find the point to such caring, reasonably, because there isn't one exactly. Obviously, all this is the sentiment behind the old touchstone "Think globally, act locally" (how old is that touchstone, anyhow?), but I don't mind having it rendered concrete. Society's going to change in the face of all this disaster, just as my body's going to change as I age and the environment I live in continues to show how damaged it is; the point is to give yourself as much strength and agency as possible in the face of it.

Mmmm, relentless optimism. How we love thee.


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