21 Questions for 2020: #19

#19. How does a bigger-picture understanding of the COVID-19 crisis change the questions we ask and the solutions we are able to perceive? 

Since the “novel coronavirus” burst onto the global scene in the early months of 2020, we’ve been barraged by “experts” telling us how to process the events unfolding before our eyes. Much of what they are saying boils down to common sense: wash your hands. Don’t sneeze in people’s faces. Stay home if you’re sick. 

COVID-19 is a nasty little bug. But it’s a strange bugger, too, because it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people host this virus with no symptoms at all, while others get horribly sick and die from it. 

What is the solution to the mystery of why northern Italy was hit so hard, along with Wuhan and New York City, while in other places it is rolling through more or less like the common flu? 

The dominant voices—the experts who are testifying before Congress and sharing their views through major media outlets—don’t really have an answer for this, or at least, I have not heard one. 

But there are a few voices suggesting that the answer may lie not with the virus per se, but with the relative health of individuals’ immune systems. 

To me this perspective makes sense. We live on a planet that is naturally teeming with countless viruses and bacteria. Our immune system enables us to keep all the various viruses and bacteria that enter our system under some kind of balanced control, which we experience as feeling well

The problem we’re facing in 2020, according to researchers and activists like Winona Laduke,  Sandra SteingraberZach Bush and many others, is that for the past 70 years or so we have been systematically attacking and exterminating the natural microbiome of the soil, as well as contaminating our waters and polluting our air. Is it any wonder that so many of us have weakened immune systems, since we’ve been breathing, drinking and eating these toxic chemicals for our entire lives?

It is common sense to correlate those who are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 with what the doctors call “underlying conditions”: 

  • People who are already sick with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma are more at risk. 
  • People whose immune systems have been weakened by mental health issues like stress, depression and isolation are more at risk.
  • People who live in unhealthy environments are more at risk: cities with major air pollution and crowding; industrial areas, including Big Ag areas where toxic chemicals lace the environment; and possibly, though this is unproven, areas that are being suddenly flooded with 5G electromagnetic frequencies. 
  • Elderly people living in nursing homes are more at risk—no surprise as they are often living in poor conditions, with unhealthy food and lots of medications that disrupt their immune systems. 

Yes, it is true that we are hearing about the occasional young, healthy person who gets sick and even dies of COVID-19. But we are also hearing that doctors are being pressured to write COVID-19 as the cause of death even when they are not sure this is so—something to do with insurance payments. Many of the health care workers who have succumbed were probably stressed, exhausted and frightened—a potentially lethal “underlying condition” that a virus can exploit. 

I certainly don’t have the answers here, but at least, like Socrates, I’m willing to admit how much I don’t know. I want to stay open to a wide range of voices, knowing that in our age of viral fake news, all information has to be parsed very cautiously and with active intelligence. 

As usual, one question leads to another. Why, in the 21st century, have we seen such an explosion of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, auto-immune disorders, autism and mental health issues like depression, anxiety and addiction? Why, in the country that likes to think of itself as the richest and best in all ways (the United States, of course), is the population the sickest and most stressed and unhappy? How does the GNH (gross national happiness) correlate to a population’s ability to fight off “novel” viruses like COVID-19? 

Although I am in no way an anti-vaxxer (I have been getting my flu shot annually for decades, and made sure my children were fully vaccinated), I have to wonder whether a COVID-19 vaccine is going to be the magic savior that people are hoping for. A vaccine is not going to cure the underlying conditions that created the perfect storm from which the COVID-19 crisis emerged.

Curing what ails us means addressing underlying conditions such as: 

  • social inequality, poverty and crowded, unhealthy living conditions, along with the stress and unhealthy behaviors that emerge from despair and anger;
  • debt bondage that keeps people in harness to the system, preventing us from exploring creative forms of living;
  •  massively unhealthy agricultural practices that result in toxic soil, water, air and food; 
  • widespread chemical contamination from fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction and consumption; 
  • the relentless destruction of the forests and oceans that give our planet its oxygen and keep the climate system balanced.

None of this can be medicated or vaccinated away. There is no quick, clean, easy fix for any of it. But we do have many good ideas about how to start—visit the websites of Project Drawdown, the Bioneers or Yes! Magazine for lots of excellent ideas and inspiration.

It’s going to take slow, careful, loving regeneration to remember how to farm in healthy, sustainable ways, weaning ourselves away from the cheap industrial food that has been so damaging to both our internal and our external biomes. 

The way we educate our children has to change—no more sitting for hours at desks under fluorescent lights, learning how to take tests. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, we need creative, active, lively young people, who understand the importance of respect for the natural world, and who are not afraid to challenge orthodoxies and lead the way towards deep systemic changes in every aspect of life. 

A healthy Earth = a healthy human. I know people are imagining future scenarios where the health of the Earth becomes irrelevant, as human beings take off for Mars, or live on space stations, or transition into virtual reality—but is that really the kind of future we want to create and leave for descendants? 

I am a living cell in the great body of Mother Gaia. There is no boundary between us: every particle of my body is part of the woof and weave of her grand living tapestry, and every moment of my life she and I share breath. In death, I will return my body to her flanks to be regenerated in new forms. 

How could I not wish with every fiber of my being for the health of this grand system of which I am a tiny part? How could I not do whatever I can, with the intelligence and creativity I’ve been given, to ensure that the vitality of this system is regenerated, for the benefit of all life on Earth?

Solving the COVID-19 crisis is not about attacking a novel virus. There will always be more where those came from. It’s about restoring the well-being of the Gaian environmental and social systems—starting with lovingly tending our own individual immune systems, realizing that as we do so, we will also be tending the wider world that is our larger Being. 

Mother Earth and the Art of the Deal: Doing Hope in Dark Times

On trade, as with immigration, the 45thAmerican president is not only an embarrassment, but a danger to world peace and prosperity. But we must take into account the deeper layers to both issues, which he understands only in the most superficial, self-serving way.

On the G7 and free trade: let’s admit candidly that globalized free trade of the NAFTA and TPP variety have been boons for corporations and Wall Street financiers, but disasters for most workers. The policy of freeing corporations to seek the lowest possible taxes and the cheapest, most compliant workers has resulted in unemployed, impoverished, unionless American workers and exploited, slave-like workers in places like Indonesia, China and India. The depression and rage of these screwed-over American workers is what propelled Trump into office, and he knows they will crow in glee as he shafts the ministers of free trade in the G7.

But of course they don’t realize, or refuse to see, that Trump is a wolf in sheep’s clothing (a corporate magnate in worker’s garb) when it comes to trade. All this talk of tariffs or no tariffs is just a smokescreen to throw his trading partners off guard and negotiate better deals for American corporations.

Trump is not interested in the welfare of American workers. If he were, he wouldn’t be protesting so loudly about the Canadian dairy industry, which is a good case in point as to the value of socialized industry. The Canadian government protects its dairy farmers from competition with the American dairy farmers who have been gutted by the free market and have been going out of business and committing suicide in record numbers as a result. Canadians wisely realize the value of nurturing their farmers, and so far Justin Trudeau is refusing to cave to Trump’s bullying, though it’s worrisome that a Trump-lite politician just won high office in Ontario, Canada’s most populous state.

Canadians look south of the border and see a nightmare: civilians waving guns in the streets and at schools, politicians regularly going out in handcuffs, an addicted, depressed, unhealthy, scared-as-shit population too ignorant and distracted to understand when it’s being shafted.

Perhaps the G7 should become the G6 unless and until the United States pulls itself out of its current morass. Thanks to Trump and the Republicans America has become a rogue nation, led by a corrupt strongman who seems to have his opponents, including the Justice Department, by the balls.

Meanwhile, along the southern border with Mexico, Trump has also taken a wrecking ball to a long-established relationship. Free trade was also a terrible deal for ordinary Mexicans—to take one example, thanks to NAFTA their corn industry was totally swamped by dumped cheap corn from American farmers, a lose-lose for all the workers involved.

But of course, the welfare of ordinary people is not Trump’s motivation. If it were, instead of talking about building the next Great Wall (a boon for the construction industry) to keep desperate Mexican and Central American families out of the United States, we’d be talking about investigating and improving the conditions that are forcing families to leave their homes and make the dangerous trip up north. The U.S. destroyed the economies and societies of Central America during the 1970s Communist scare, NAFTA and CAFTA splayed them open to American exploitation, and ordinary people are still paying the price.

This is a “workers of the world, unite” kind of moment, particularly in the face of climate change, which can only be tackled by a unified global effort–but instead the Trumpites are sowing distrust and discord everywhere they go. Fox News and the rest of the rightwing media, not to mention Trump’s own Twitter feed, feeds his followers a steady diet of carefully calibrated misinformation designed to brainwash them into cheering for their own evisceration.

With Bolton at his side, Trump is on the road to undoing the post-World War II world order that has maintained peace and prosperity for the elitessince 1945. If Trump & Co. were of the Chairman Mao variety, we might be looking at a new kind of Cultural Revolution. But no—these men want their elite status to last and grow. They don’t care about the costs—to the planet, to people, to the future.

Instead, we are seeing the rise of a new oligarchy, with Putin its shadow leader and Pompeo its enforcer. The generals go along–war and terror are their stock in trade after all–and business follows the generals with their lucrative military contracts. Next we’ll see Dick Cheney raising his ugly pate out of the swamp looking to rebuild Syria and modernize North Korea.

The truth is that for most of the planet–from marine life to forests to insects, and including poor people everywhere—this is nothing new. Most of the world has been living through a nonstop crisis all during these so-called “boom years” after 1945. Ask an indigenous person in the Amazon rainforest how the past 70+ years have been. Ask the butterflies and bees how they’ve enjoyed the rise of Monsanto.

It’s just that the carrying capacity of the planet is now maxxed out, so in order to preserve and increase the wealth of the elites, they must find new people and places to exploit. The ruthlessness of those in power, which has always been used to bludgeon the rest of the world, is now being turned on our trading partners, as well as on ordinary Americans, who are nearly as weak and easy to screw over as the Central Americans. Witness the fracking rigs in school yards and neighborhoods; the gutting of fragile health care protections for the poor and the sick; the adunctification of the higher education industry; the undermining of unions of every stripe.

The constant stream of unbelievably bad news coming down the transom is like one of those overwritten movie thrillers where you leave the theater shaking your head, wondering why the writers felt they had to cram every single violent act they could think of into a shortest possible time. But something’s wrong with this picture.  Where is the resistance? Where are the plucky Luke Skywalker types who can take on the Dark Lord and his henchmen?

Although rarely visible in the mainstream media, it turns out that the indigenous people of the Americas, for whom this crisis is nothing new at all, are leading the way—slowly, painfully and without great success, but with absolutely rock-solid determination. Everyone who cares about this planet should be standing with them; we need a Standing Rock movement in every state and town, to demand the health and welfare of all living beings on the planet and to insist that protecting the web of life is our most sacred duty as humans on Earth.

Trade and immigration are important issues, but they’re not as important as preparing to deal with the ravages of climate change. The worst thing Trump has done was to thumb his nose at the Paris climate accord, and then to put another wolf in charge of deregulating industry via the so-called Environmental Protection Agency.

Pope Francis gets it; bless him for calling the big oil chiefs to the Vatican for a lecturing on the importance of transitioning to clean energy, and fast. We need more independent, clear-sighted leaders like the Pope to focus our collective attention on what’s really important, and everything that’s at stake in our actions now.

It would sure help if the super-rich like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg would decide, like Tom Steyer, to throw some of their billions into climate change solutions—and I don’t mean inventing rockets to allow the elites to escape to Mars. They should be standing with First Nations leaders like Winona LaDuke, who has already successfully defeated one Midwestern oil pipeline, and is working to make her own reservation energy-independent and self-sufficient.

Despite the shitstorm that surrounds Trump (he reminds me of the Peanuts character Pigpen, perpetually surrounded by his own filthy stench), there is still hope to be found. Do yourself, and our world, a favor: seek out, focus on and amplify every small ray of hope you can find.

It only feeds the dark side to constantly marinate yourself in bad news and share your outrage with others. Feed the light with all the hope, good will and visionary creativity you can muster, and seek out others who are doing this too. Do hope together, and watch it grow.

It may help to remember: Mother Earth is on our side, if by “our side” we mean the side of life, abundance and well-being. If we’re as smart as we like to believe we are, humans, we’ll work with her, not against her. For in the end, she won’t be trumped. She will win this deal, with us or without us.

Honoring Native Americans instead of Columbus

I’d like to suggest that instead of honoring Christopher Columbus on this day in October, we make this a national holiday in honor of the indigenous peoples of North America.

It is shameful that we have no national day of recognition for the native tribes who were here to welcome the first European explorers.  Perhaps this is no innocent oversight; if there was a day of recognition, we’d have to confront the ugly truth of what those Europeans did to the Native Americans–from smallpox to displacement, massacres and enslavement.

Still, that bloodstained history lurks beneath the surface of national holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.  It would be better to look squarely at the truth and do something to atone for it–at minimum, honoring the native ancestors of this land, and their contemporary descendants, who continue to struggle and resist the tsunami of Euramerican industrial civilization.  

For an idea of what that struggle looks like today, check out the Honor the Earth website.  Honor the Earth works “to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.”  It was founded in 1993 by native rights and environmental activist Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls.

In honoring the Native peoples of the United States instead of the European explorer who accelerated the invasion of their territories and the assault upon their cultures, we would be honoring the amazing resilience and wisdom of these ancient tribes, who have withstood the onslaught of European culture with incredible strength, courage and dignity.

We contemporary Americans are standing at a turning point in history where we may be able to get away from the destructive mode of domination represented by Columbus and a host of European explorers after him.

Changing Columbus Day to Native American Day (or perhaps selecting one significant representative Native person from history–I would not presume to suggest a single figure, but there are many to choose from) would be a good start at not only atoning for the bloody history of European-Native encounters, but also moving more harmoniously into the future.


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