This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.
I am rewatching the Andromeda Strain where a crashed satellite (!) infects humanity with a space bug. And I am also familiar with how NASA took precautions to prevent possible moon bugs from infecting humanity after the Apollo astronauts returned from the moon, and how they are doing their best to prevent Earth bugs from contaminating mars when they send landers there.
One thing that’s often left out when this is discussed is perhaps the most obvious question: If there are space bugs, why would they be adapted to human and Earth biology? How could they possibly infect us if they evolved from a different origin and in a different environment?
The answer is that they almost certainly can’t if they evolved from a different origin and a different environment. There is a small chance they did evolve from the same origin – if there is something to the panspermia idea, although it’s difficult to see that they would be able to infect us since they most likely co-evolved with a very different environment from ours and with very different organisms to us. Another possibility is that Earth bugs got flung into space when a meteor hit, and miraculously survived, reproduced (without host organisms?), changed, and are still able to infect humans or Earth organisms.
There are a lot of ifs here, and it seems unlikely bordering on impossible that it could happen. Of course, NASA wants to take precautions, and they wanted to be seen as taking it seriously, which is why they quarantined the Apollo astronauts.
It makes more sense to decontaminate Earth crafts before they land on Mars and other planets. If there is native life on Mars, we don’t want it mixed in with Earth bugs and we don’t want to have Earth bugs take over the environment – even if that too is very unlikely. There is also a very small chance that Earth bugs arrived on Mars due to a meteor impact, or the other way around, and Mars bugs are still similar to Earth bugs, so it’s good to not have them mixed up.
It seems that many or most countries will have vaccine passports and perhaps require it for international travel and for joining certain events and locations.
We knew it would likely happen, and we also knew that some
– the less mature – would be upset about it.
For me, it’s just the sane and responsible thing to do. It’s what we collectively have to do to limit the pandemic, especially considering that some people are not going to take the vaccine. And governments and private companies are perfectly in their right to require it from people before travel and entering concerts, sports events, movie theaters, and similar places where the virus easily can spread.
To put it bluntly: The more responsible of us have to take measures to prevent the less responsible from keeping the pandemic going.
DISABILITIES & THE VALUE IN ALSO THIS TYPE OF DIVERSITY
There is an ongoing discussion around identifying disabilities while in the womb and whether or not to terminate the pregnancy if the child has a disability. This is a discussion for society as a whole.
At the individual level, it’s a (very difficult) decision that’s up to the parents in each case. I don’t envy the ones who have to make that decision since there is no correct answer, we can’t predict the future, and we cannot know what would have happened had we made the other choice.
Others know more about this topic than I do, but I’ll say a few words about it on a social level.
What I know is that we need diversity – including people who are disabled. It enriches us all and humanity. It shows us something about ourselves. It can open our hearts. It shows us the vulnerability inherent in life, including our own. It shows us the beauty in receiving and in giving. It’s an inherent part of civilization for us to take care of each other.
At a social level, if we value efficiency, we may want to terminate these lives while in the womb. If we value love and humanity, we may arrive at a different choice. And at an individual level, I don’t think anyone outside of the couple can know what’s best.
MORE SCARED OF THE VACCINE THAN THE VIRUS?
Some say they are more scared of the vaccine than the Covid 19 virus.
It’s difficult for me to understand, and I guess that reflects the media bubbles different people live in these days, in addition to personal experiences, general worldview, priorities, and so on.
Getting the C19 virus is like Russian roulette. We don’t and can’t know in advance what will happen. Especially with the new mutations, even young and otherwise healthy people can get very sick. And even those who initially get a mild form can struggle with chronic and debilitating after-effects. A recent Norwegian study found that 40% of those who had the infection still struggled with physical and mental problems months after. Combining the numbers of those who die from acute infection and the ones who struggle with long Covid, it’s clear that any sane person would do what they can to avoid getting it and passing it on to others.
There are some who have problems following vaccines, and even some who die, but these numbers are far smaller.
Looking at the statistics, the choice for me is simple. Stay safe as far as I can from getting it, and take the vaccine as soon as it’s possible.
ISOLATION & LOCKDOWN
I see that in some countries, people rebel against the isolation and lockdown implemented to reduce the health-related impact of the pandemic.
I can’t help but thinking about all the people in the world whose everyday life – with our without pandemic – is like that. People confined to their home because of illness or disability. People without many friends or much social life.
And I am also reminded of how society has shifted towards providing more services online – doctor appointments, performances, meetings – because of the pandemic. This is something many have needed and requested before, and perhaps especially those with disabilities, but it was largely ignored until now.
It’s, of course, because society is designed for the average person, and groups on the margins are often marginalized. There is nothing new here, but the pandemic has highlighted this topic.
HOW DO YOU JUSTIFY YOUR EXISTENCE IN OUR CAPITALIST SYSTEM?
The questions we ask people we have just met says a lot about our culture.
In our culture, after asking for the name, many ask: what do you do? And mean the job.
What people are, in a sense, really asking is: How do you justify your existence in our capitalist system? (Thanks to Don S. for this phrasing.)
We can deprogram ourselves from doing this and instead come up with some other and more interesting questions. For instance: What are you passionate about? What’s something happening in your life you especially enjoy or are grateful for? What would make this conversation the most interesting for you? If we could talk about anything, what would it be?
A friend shared she had a grandfather who was a priest. At some point, he took time off because he started to doubt, and it was experienced as shameful by some other relatives.
It’s normal if we doubt second-hand information. It’s healthy. Just about everything in Christianity is something we are supposed to take as true because someone else said so.
Doubt is not something we chose. It’s the natural function of the mind to doubt what we haven’t been able to check for ourselves, and it is to doubt our stories and interpretations of our own experiences and anything else. Our mind wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t doubt.
And it’s good to be honest about it. You would think being honest goes with the job of being a priest. (Although, in reality, I know that priests may be expected to pretend and not be completely intellectually honest.)
So to me, a doubting priest is normal, healthy, not a choice, and being honest about it is very good.
PERFECT CLOTHING IN PERIOD DRAMAS
I started watching Peaky Blinders (yes, I am often late in watching popular series), and I noticed something that seems to be a trend in modern period dramas, whether it’s TV or film.
Just about every single person has perfect outfits. They look like they belong on a catwalk in Paris. Not in a rough district of Birmingham a hundred years ago.
This takes me out of the “window into the past” reality that needs to be there, at least to some extent, for me to be drawn into the story. Every frame of the series reminds me that this is fiction, and the creators obviously wanted to impress with the spiffy brand-new-looking outfits of the characters.
Note: I know that some of the main characters have money and want to present themselves in spiffy clothing, but just about everyone seems to have this perfect brand-new clothing, not just these few characters.
EVERYTHING GOES AWAY
I have been fascinated by the big picture and deep time since I was a kid, and it was especially fueled by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
That includes the vision from astronomy and cosmology that all this will go away. Everything we know will eventually be gone – humanity, this living planet, this solar system, and most likely the universe as a whole.
For me, this is liberating. Since it will all go away, it means there is less pressure for me to mentally hold onto anything. Why hold onto something when it will be gone anyway?
I’ll still be a good steward of my life, as best as I can. But I don’t need to create extra stress for myself by mentally holding onto something that’s inherently impermanent. It will all – all I and we know – be gone anyway.
SELF-REGULATION, THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS & INFERTILITY
One consequence of all the chemicals we use in our food, homes, and industry is – most likely – increased infertility.
A species that pretends its separate from the larger living system is acting as if it’s true, and that has consequences, including infertility.
It’s valuable feedback, and just one of innumerable pieces of feedback telling us that the separation mindset isn’t working in the long run and we need to shift out of it.
And we can also see it as part of the self-regulation of living systems. A species that’s gone a bit bonkers creates an environment for itself that prevents it from propagating as much as it otherwise would.
What’s the solution? To realize that we are intrinsically part of a wider ecological system and that we need to organize our worldview, mindset, and social systems – including economy and production – to take this into account. We need to acknowledge that we are part of an ecosystem and the realities of this ecosystem.
This seems completely obvious. But the separation-worldview blinds us to what’s completely obvious.
One of my pet peeves from early on in life is when people apply statistics based on groups to individual cases.
For instance, statistics based on group numbers show that something applies to eighty out of a hundred people. And some people in the media, and even some academics and researchers, then pretend this applies to individual cases and say that people have “an eighty percent chance” of this happening to them.
That’s obviously wrong. For any individual person, the risk is different depending on a wide range of variables.
Perhaps this is so obvious that they allow themselves to talk about it in an imprecise way. But it is often received more literally and can lead to misunderstandings, mistaken complacency or anxiety, and even misguided choices and actions.
FICTION IS FICTIONAL
This should be obvious, but I have experienced a few times that people get ideas about how life in Scandinavia is based on movies and TV series. For instance, I talked to someone who had binged on Scandinavian noir and said he was shocked by how much violence and problems we have in Scandinavia (!).
My response is that it’s fiction. Of course, some is accurate, but the stories and interactions are fiction. We all know this. When we see movies from our own country and culture, some things are familiar and some is clearly fictional and a particular fantasy created to serve a story. And that’s the same when we see movies set in other times and places. Some may be accurate, and a lot is typically made up to make the story more interesting.
POVERTY & DESTRUCTION OF NATURE IS BY DESIGN
This is obviously not a new insight, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
Poverty isn’t an accident. It’s by design. We have a social system where it’s easy for those with a lot of money to make more, and where it’s very difficult for those born into poverty to get out of it. The already wealthy have the resources to invest and create more resources for themselves, and the already poor don’t have the resources to invest in anything other than surviving another day. This is intentional. It’s a system that benefits those who already have resources and influence and keeps it that way.
Destruction of nature is also by design, although it’s an unfortunate side-effect of our current system. Our economic system was created at a time when nature, for all practical purposes, was unlimited. Natural resources were unlimited, and the capacity of nature to absorb pollution seemed unlimited. It seemed that way because it was, because of lower population numbers and less advanced technology. Today, it’s not that way anymore. Today, we need to redesign our economic and related systems (production, energy, etc.) to take ecological realities into account.
So poverty and destruction of nature are both by design. And although it’s not quite as black-and-white as that, we can say that poverty is by intention and destruction of nature is an unintended consequence of a system designed when ecological limits were not a concern.
PITTING WEAK GROUPS AGAINST EACH OTHER
I sometimes hear people blame immigrants, Muslims, etc. when what they complain about is created by policies from political parties largely voted for by other groups in society, and often themselves.
A classic strategy is pitting weak groups against each other. It’s what Trump and the Republicans in the US are doing when they blame immigrants etc. for the problems of the lower and middle class. It creates a distraction from the real problem, which is the super-wealthy taking resources from the commons and hoarding it for themselves.
IF I DON’T UNDERSTAND, THEN IT MUST BE WRONG
There is a weird phenomenon I see on social media, and it’s either more common now than it used to be, or it’s always been common and I wasn’t exposed to it much before social media.
When some people are faced with something they don’t understand, and especially from science, they seem to automatically jump to the conclusion that it’s wrong. It’s fake news. These scientists who have spent their whole career studying something don’t get it, and I – who have no background in science and just go by a knee-jerk reaction – get it.
It seems so obviously stupid that it’s difficult to understand that people do it. Perhaps they just like the momentary good feeling they get when they act on their knee-jerk reaction? Or when they pretend to know something they don’t? Or that they get something that professional researchers don’t? I am not sure.
I am sure we all do this sometimes, in some areas of life. If it’s not about science, it’s something else.
Where and when have I done it? In a certain way, I do it with these people. I roll my eyes and see their reaction as idiotic without trying to really understand where they are coming from.
CHRISTIANITY & BUILT-IN INSECURITY
In Christianity, people are asked to believe. They are asked to take someone else’s word for something they can’t check for themselves. In this situation, it’s natural and healthy to doubt. And there is a culture in some parts of Christianity that doesn’t always honor and give room for this doubt.
This is the perfect recipe for insecurity. We are asked to believe something, we can’t check it for ourselves, natural doubt comes up, and we feel we can’t fully admit to it or take the consequences of it. And that set us up for insecurity. We feel we are not on solid ground.
How do we deal with this insecurity? It all depends, of course. Sometimes, it comes out as intolerance for other views and religions, and an attempt to convince others of the truth of our own views. And this can take the form of proselytization, whether it’s informal or formalized.
What’s the remedy? We can approach Christianity in a different way, without anything we need to believe in. Instead, we can explore and test things out. What happens if I engage in the Jesus prayer regularly for a while? What happens if I engage in the traditional Christ meditation from the Orthodox church?
We can be more open about our doubt, take it seriously, and see how we can adapt our approach to Christianity in a way that’s real and authentic for us.
WHY TRUST SCIENCE?
CAPITALISM, PROTESTANTISM, PATHRIARCY, POWER-OVER