Sunday, May 24, 2020

Survival Of The Fittest

                                                                                                  written 17 May 2020
                                                                                              published 24 May 2020

            In recent weeks, we have seen shelter-in-place protesters: a mingling of alt right, neo-Nazi, tea party, and Trump supporters.  Some hold signs demanding we "thin the herd".  Perhaps inspired by Ayn Rand and the concept of the superman, they believe in the supremacy of the individual over the whole.  From a unity perspective, this is lethal foolishness.
            Bumper sticker Darwinism boils down to "survival of the fittest", but that summary is misleading.  When a herd is attacked by a predator, everyone tries to run away.  While the fittest individual does survive, so does most of the rest of the herd.  What happens in nature is the "demise of the least fit", not focusing on the individual, but evaluating the whole herd.
            A May 12th Washington Post article, by Bernstein and Cha, reported "New Ways the Coronavirus Attacks the Body". "In the initial days of the outbreak, most efforts focused on the lungs.  “No one was expecting a disease that would not fit the pattern of pneumonia and respiratory illness,” said David Reich, of Mount Sinai Hospital.  Today, there is widespread recognition the novel coronavirus is far more unpredictable than a simple respiratory virus." 
            "It attacks the heart, weakening its muscles and disrupting its rhythm.  It savages the kidneys so badly some hospitals have run short of dialysis equipment. It crawls along the nervous system, destroying taste and smell and occasionally reaching the brain.  It creates blood clots that can kill and inflames blood vessels throughout the body.  An exaggerated response from the body’s own immune system can attack the body’s own cells along with the virus.  It harms men more than women.  It picks on the elderly, people weakened by previous disease, and, disproportionately, the obese."
            The combination of diminished immune function due to age and the likelihood of other health issues tend to make the elderly "least fit".  The protesters, who are mostly young, are willing to sacrifice others to get the economy going again and help Trump's re-election chances.  
            But obesity, a particularly "unfit" category in terms of the virus, is not limited to the elderly.  In 2018, a higher percentage of Americans were rated as obese than any other country in the world, over 40%, and a fifth of them were morbidly obese.  Obesity puts stress on the heart, making it more vulnerable to the virus.  
            A strong immune system is critical during this pandemic. Almost 10% of Americans have diabetes, often induced by diet, which reduces immune function, and another 20% of Americans are pre-diabetic.  9% of Americans have asthma and reduced lung function.  Chemical contamination of our bodies reduces immune system function, as does increased stress.  Stress increases with economic inequity and poverty, lack of access to health care, and soul deadening work.  Poor anger management is another stress factor, dramatically on display in the lock down protesters.
            Consider what "most fit" might look like. Certainly, improved diet and exercise would help, as would universal access to health care.  Fittest should also consider how and where we work and live. Robust health and safety regulations in the workplace, and rigorous attention to the chemical contamination of our air, food, and water, would be important.
            In addition to healthy physical conditions, examine what kind of behavior would be "most fit".  Media exposure has honored the compassion exhibited by the front-line health care workers.  Shelter in place is the individual restraining themselves for the benefit of the larger society: compassion in action.  Contrast that to Trump's every move.  
            A "most fit" economy would reward skills necessary for survival: the ability to grow and process food, working in the food supply chain, keeping the basics of life functioning, such as water works, sanitation, trash, electricity, and education.  These essential services are often poorly paid while we lavish money on the top of the corporate structure.  Millions are unemployed and the stock market increases: indication of a "least fit" economy.
            People should be wary of rooting for "thinning the herd".  Our poor diet of chemically contaminated agribusiness food, distorted economy, fractured health care system, toxified environment, and incompetent "leadership" has produced a death count higher than any other country, and the epidemic still rages out of control.  On a global scale, all of America is ripe for thinning.