For A More Humane Pandemic

April 2020 revision

Including the US, many countries’ public health authorities, their virologists and hospital workers, have coalesced with politicians, citing mortality risks to the immune-compromised, and prioritizing support for health care professionals in a time of ramping demand in many jurisdictions. Together they have instituted an isolation and immobilization policy upon a great, crude swath of the people, now designated “non-essential workers.”

Eager to protect and serve, people have embraced the virologist’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, as people impose self- house arrest and dutifully sew their own face masks. Police have expanded checkpoints from DUI to immigrants and now the entire population of disease vectors. Parks are closed, corporations and states furlough and fire employees, New York epidemiologists call for Americans to “freeze in place,” and the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who own dogs.

 

There is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we think. While we admire the brand of selfless cooperation, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. It is very much rooted in a fundamental, Malthusian premise: Our humanity is the problem to be eradicated. To follow expertise means faithfully following whatever lab-coated technocratic policy crushes humanity while, thankfully for the politicians (some of whom liquidated their vulnerable investments before policies were implemented), maintaining and augmenting economic inequality. The issue here is that indefinite detention, for example the prohibition of walking, the preference for indefinite isolation and immobilization, is also torture in a walking, communicating species, which is what humans are. Both policy confining people to cell-like apartments and mortality are distributed very unequally, afflicting people who live in public infrastructure-poor areas and in the US, particularly long-beseiged African Americans.

Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that isolating and immobilizing criminals and migrants in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. We have a specific model for how we address problems, optimizing the variables of masculine policing employment, maintaining the medical system as -is, reducing deaths among the immuno-compromised, and maintaining the state-mediated intergenerational transfer of wealth from the working class to business owners and top managers. Applied to the COVID-19 pandemic our “health” and “epidemiology” concepts are narrowly technocratic and political;  nonetheless when we say it’s all for health, we think of our mortality and feel deeply.

Governments have offered trillions to compensate businesses for the economic depletion accompanying extended shut-down of all but “essential” work– primarily hospital and guard work. When life is on the line, most people are pleased to pitch in, particularly helping to police and abnegate themselves. In Canada, a Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians are “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

A better approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where an early COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. Iceland is a prominent exception to the technocratic-political refusal of mass-testing. It has been mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland within a couple of weeks. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Sweden has pursued a testing-forward, selected isolation policy to maintain a socio-economy where federal transfers don’t facilitate business to loot the paychecks of future generations. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Kerala has responded to the crisis with effective disease suppression balanced with humane supports and democratic freedoms. As the Wall Street Journal recently observed, countries such as Germany, that are conceptually able (via corporatism) to recognize the contribution of their working class to their economy, soon moved onto increasing their testing capacity, toward a testing-forward approach that allows them to minimize population isolation and immobilization. Minnesota has the capacity to mobilize a testing-forward approach, and save its diverse working class and the economy that depends on human thriving.

 

While blanket testing takes state organization and costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective–and useful in the long run, and will cost less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating most people inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, a variant of criminals, as the technocratic-political population-management model must do.

 

Different conditions require different interventions. The testing-forward approach is not appropriate in urban concatenations, such as Milan, London, and New York City-Connecticut, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global economic network and transit centrality, COVID19 has raged throughout the population, and spread outward. In those metropoles, selected testing and blanket isolation & immobilization makes sense. Just as Wuhan was transformed into a “dystopia,” in the first week of May New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York City would become a surveillance and policing city as its response to its convulsive, central COVID-19 experience. Because NYC is a capitalist metropole, this will create a commercial export industry in antihuman infrastructure. This antihuman policy and infrastructure will be heavily promoted, but must be resisted outside these capitalist criminalized, disease-vector population cores.

Blanket testing/selected isolation would work best in regions with a lower incidence of transmission. The virus has been spread with the travel of business elites. Yet even in seemingly highly-infected Colorado, playground for the rich, testing has shown that only 1% of the population is infected. Regions less central and disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, by instituting universal testing rather than the debilitating and interminable blanket isolation & immobilization approach that looks best on computer simulations preserving the existing parameters that produced the crisis.

 

Unfortunately, in countries like the US, policy flows from its financial metropoles. In a pandemic, this subsidiarization is not beneficial. It is a lack of regional-appropriate capacity. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, distinctive high-capacity regions like Minnesota have a different responsibility, to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ and politicians’ attunement to optimization at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare. Favoring “freezing” the hinterlands, metropole expertise will argue that the virus and antibody tests are not perfect. Yet if the virus and antibody tests are not perfect, in humane-policy jurisdictions like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, they have been shown to be sufficient to allow for efficient, targeted virus suppression and eradication—without incurring other forms of mass health devastation, economic collapse and exacerbated, multigenerational inequality.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Doing like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, and following not just the virological disease-vector population framework and the politician’s population-communications framework, but incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity.  In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of the trillions governments are working to transfer from workers to business elites for generations, where such problems as coronaviruses are caused by already-excessive discounting of workers’ human needs and welfare (Wallace, Liebman, Chavez & Wallace 2020). It would require immediately building testing capacity under state direction. It would require an organized mobilization, redeploying many of the out-of-work legions in the work of testing, or bringing into testing the armies of frustrated altruists within the military. It would be stridently opposed by metropole expertise, because it would be an expenditure of collective resources, and the global financial metropoles will not benefit from either mass testing or the diminishment of socio-economic inequality.

A testing-forward turn would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their hopeful public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions, and act upon them now.

 

Mid-March reporting held that Minnesota state and private (eg. The Mayo corporation) labs did not have sufficient supplies to do mass testing. This “shrug” reporting was quite common in the US and Canada at the time, and there was little interest in how the state might fund and organize testing in these jurisdictions.  Throughout the US the main interest in this story was exhibited by political partisans, who used it to bicker over which party was to blame for the poor testing capacity. This diversion is part of the problem with dependency on antidemocratic political leadership temporarily patronizing virologists. By contrast, Sweden averted politician leadership problems by having long ago built up an independent public health bureaucracy. Politicians have little say in public health policy there, though there was some attempt by politicians to intercede. Without politicians able to jump into manipulating people’s fears to keep policy choices within inequality-preserving parameters (eg. using police and commercial tech to institute a vast prison landscape), Swedish public health experts could take into account the significantly-deleterious mental and physical health impacts of treating humans as little more than population network nodes, and instead design epidemic interventions that preserve human health. While the US and Canada shrugged at their own incapacities or gave room for politicos to carp at their political enemies, governments such as Germany’s began to fund and organize mass testing capacity.

Mayo is among the private corporations that raced to produce immunization, as, with both state and private markets, immunization is expected to be more lucrative than testing. It could be that Mayo’s for-profit requirements mean that Minnesota, unlike Iceland (which state has more independence from New York), does not have the public-private-sector incentive to produce the testing that could end the epidemiological threat far more quickly than more-profitable immunization. This for-profit medical preference will be devastating to human health and the economic viability of the working class and capitalism itself in the short, medium, and long-term. Did Minnesota public health authorities have the capacity to intercede and redirect efforts? In April, Minnesota announced its public health officials had convened Mayo and the University of Minnesota to produce 20,000/day swab (molecular/RNA) coronavirus testing capacity. Yet the governor of Minnesota continued to prioritize isolation & immobilization policy, barring the public from parks and recreation.

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from “squandering” our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? Minnesota’s economic and political elites are well connected to the US financial metropole; but because Minnesota also has working class people, from farm workers to small business owners to furloughed managers, following an isolation and immobilization program is not in this region’s health or economic interests. Ultimately, even our friends in New York can benefit from Minnesota pursuing a humanist testing-forward approach, and preserving health, social, and economic integrity in the US.

Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively subordinated, as our swift lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because those crisis conditions inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what awkward combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access and cobble together (Katharine Moos, 2019; Wallace, Liebman, Chavez, and Wallace, 2020). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed. While we clutch our pearls and claim that our expert antihuman policies are for the “health,” the frontline nurses and doctors, the grandpas and people of color, in fact we are living in a time in which a sinister Malthusian presumption undergirds our expertise: In our disposition to maximize the augmentation of dehumanization and inequality both in our everyday and our emergency policies and institutions, we continue to discount the humanity of working people, to discount their economic contribution, to take more and more from them, to immiserate, stunt and weaken them around the world and cut short their lives, our lives. How can we develop feelings about the foundation of our pandemics, so that we can stop reproducing them? Do well-educated Minnesotans have the capacity to break with the antihuman population management models? Can Minnesota put its weight behind testing rather than freezing humanity?

 

For supporting articles, follow Mara Fridell on Twitter.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing Data

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

 

 

Epigenetics Prehistory: An Historical Science

“At the International Congress on the History of Science and Technology in London in 1931, they were galvanised by the dramatic intervention of a delegation from the Soviet Union led by Nikolai Bukharin…The Soviets rejected the Whiggish view of the history of science as a progressive, disinterested search for truth, insisting instead that science – even its greatest and most theoretical achievements – was driven by the political economy of the time…When, a few years later, an English translation of Engels’s Dialectics of Nature appeared with an introduction by the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, a close associate at Cambridge, the group felt that at last they had the theoretical tools they needed.

Life could not be reduced to mere molecules, they argued, but neither was some non-materialist vital principle required to explain it. The material world consists in a multitude of entities and processes of various levels of complexity. Each level is governed by a set of organising principles dependent on, but irreducible to, those that govern lower levels. The properties of water cannot be deduced from the properties of hydrogen and oxygen. At each level of complexity, from molecule to cell to organism to ecosystem and society, new properties and organising relationships emerge, and to each belongs its proper science. Above all, the TBC insisted, the living world is self-organising and dynamic: it should be understood not so much as an assemblage of things but of dialectically interacting processes. Biology, unlike physics, is a historical science.”

Rose, Stephen. 2016. “How to get another thorax.” London Review of Books 38(17): 15-17.

Sociology, like biology and unlike philosophy, is an historical-comparative science, a product of the Enlightenment and the issuing, fraught, capitalist semi-tendency to attach some contested value to work, rather than simple, pure, brute warlord power over territory, assets, and life. As  historical-comparative sciences, biology and sociology are knowledges built upon and adjusting for both human capacities–including capacity for development, senses and dexterities, capacities of communication and organization, logic and rhetoric– and human limitations –non-omniscience, domineering organization and underdevelopment, environmental and social disorganization, resilience and adaptability through suffering and stunting, misdirecting rhetoric and marketing, and large-scale, pervasive violence capacity.

Science contrasts to philosophical knowledge, historically built upon and adjusting for the mere interests and autocratic perspective and experience of a hierarchy apex, asserting impossible, superhuman omniscience and refusing to recognize collective contribution–refusing humanity.

But just as capitalism easily drifts into brute power, sociology wrestles with both the diminishment of science to the commercial laboratory, and how to incorporate masterful philosophical arguments and styles derived to discredit and supplant democratic knowledge and to support imperial warlord power. In either case, the integrity of the difference is threatened with collapse.

When science is diminished to the commercial laboratory, in inegalitarian societies, it is funded and feted as a privileged site of highly-specified, secured-conditions knowledge. For example, a lab identifies as unreliable a technique for isolating and identifying epigenetic modification. That that technique is faulty is actually an inference from the observation that the epigenetic modification seems too prevalent. But what is the norm? This feeling and the inference are not pure logic, as it is presented in marketing. Rather they constitute an hypothesis, an expectation given by a specific theory. Nonetheless, when the argument is presented and marketed, it is quickly sold as an example of the superiority of efficient laboratory experiment, implicitly in contrast to the full range of scientific methodologies.

Yet science is not simply efficient knowledge. Philosophical knowledge and the knowledge of warlords–these are efficient knowledge. The laboratory scientists are producing one study; even published, it’s not yet definitive, it’s not scientific knowledge. It is a contribution. It is not science, which is definitively collective and aggregate. Science incorporates a range of craft contributions to knowledge over time and across physical and social space. Science has not yet established to what extent that lab’s theoretical interpretation of the finding–The epigenome should not, per theory, be so widespread; therefore the technique that finds it so must be unreliable.–corresponds to reality. We need more contributions to adjudicate the validity of the contribution. Hold yer horses, marketeers. Make way for science.

Superhuman agents in particular have the capacity to use this kind of knowledge, commercial lab knowledge, to intervene in the world, conforming it to a design that locks in incentives, ideas and feelings, and that directs a flow of power. Yet the reduction of science in theory and method to the commercial laboratory threatens the scientific difference with collapse, as Canguilhem’s successors through to Latour’s philosophical knowledge machine have demonstrated. The commercial laboratory dispenses with key components of science as an Enlightenment craft knowledge.

By scientific craft, we mean the methodical interpolation of theory–with its resistance supplied by logic and craft precedence–and thoughtful, rigorous, collective empirical exploration and verification–with its resistance supplied by the socio-physical world beyond the mind community. Without privileging and using these scientific kinds of resistances as knowledge resources, we do not dispense with resistance’s role in directing and shaping knowledge. We only revert to social power as the resistance directing and shaping our knowledge–as is done in religious knowledge and marketing. The specification of metaphysics is crucial to distinguishing the resistance our knowledge is based on.

Epigenetics is a case in point that scientific knowledge has the capacity to transcend  social power, including as it works through the efficiency bluster of commercial lab marketing. But at least under inegalitarian social conditions, science is still efficient in the sense that it takes only a century of biological science and science reduced to the commerical lab, contributors to science at marketing and funding odds, to tentatively merge, inform, and emerge in fuller scientific knowledge.

“In the nineteen-forties, Conrad Waddington, an English embryologist, had proposed an ingenious answer: cells acquired their identities just as humans do—by letting nurture (environmental signals) modify nature (genes). For that to happen, Waddington concluded, an additional layer of information must exist within a cell—a layer that hovered, ghostlike, above the genome. This layer would carry the “memory” of the cell, recording its past and establishing its future, marking its identity and its destiny but permitting that identity to be changed, if needed. He termed the phenomenon “_epi_genetics”—“above genetics.” Waddington, ardently anti-Nazi and fervently Marxist, may have had more than a biological stake in this theory.”–Mukherjee, S. 2016. “Same but different.” New Yorker, May 2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/breakthroughs-in-epigenetics.

Epigenetics emerged out of a scientific approach at explicit odds with capitalist social power’s knowledge, and while it could not dominate the scientific research agenda in such a socially-marginal position, it incubated through the scientific community’s collective, multi-method efforts to build knowledge, finally collectively identifying the limitations of genetic determinism with the Human Genome project. The Human Genome Project played an important turn-of-the-21st century role in confirming the limitations of genes, and thereby moving and expanding biological craft knowledge, thus the biological theory of genetic-environmental interpolation, into a broader research agenda-governing knowledge.

To advance scientific knowledge, commercial lab knowledge had to both contribute to the constraints of capitalist-directed socio-environmental design, and at its limit, eventually submit a bit to biological knowledge that could not fit an inegalitarian agenda systematically discounting universal life development and interaction. The commercial lab scientific reduction will try to incorporate and redirect anticapitalist scientific knowledge, as where a psychology lab was given huge grants in the early aughts to  use the lab to reduce epigenetic knowledge into a Mother-blame knowledge, where mothers are conceptualized, per psychological theory, as a sovereign, discreet, autonomous environment of preferences and individual choice. The marks of capital upon science that emerge in the commercial lab science reduction, that distort even trained scientists’ understanding of the scientific difference, continue to be branded by unchanged socio-environmental requirements to marketing in a capitalist social world of manufactured scarcity. But even diminished and partially-exiled, scientific knowledge advances beyond domineering interest, if perhaps in doing so, it functions less efficiently than philosophical decisionism or marketing.

An excellent example of fuller scientific knowledge is given in the revealing contrast between commercial laboratory’s confinement to medical knowledge versus biological knowledge. Biological knowledge–across basic animal and plant breeding, through entomology, and most strongly in the Marxist-fueled developmental biology knowledge forwarded by the research of Lewontin, Levin and Gould–has long scientifically established that organisms’ development is conditioned by the environment, including but not reducible to progenitors’ living conditions. By contrast, medical epigenetic knowledge is in its infancy and its findings are still highly contested. Commercial labs are only starting to work out experimentation with the environment-driven epigenetic intermediaries, histones, methylations, and RNA interactions modifying gene expression–for the purposes of producing profitable (if state-subsidized) interventions for the medical market, particularly cancer drugs.

What has been accomplished over the last century is that biological craft knowledge has been reunited with narrower commercial-lab medical knowledge. That is a mighty shift, not to be dismissed. This biological restoration produces anxiety, but some confidence that with privileged funding and the universalization of marketing, commerical-lab knowledge can control and contain fully-scientific biological knowledge. The latent threat to the power order is that, emerging from the same Enlightenment, sociological knowledge has, like biology, a comparative historical-materialist scientific core. Within the social sciences, great idealist capacity, enhanced by the capacity to work with positivism to bury metaphysics out of sight, has been built up over the neoliberal period. As per its method, “expert” cherry-picking and fetishizing historical cases of cartesian-boundary flaunting injustice–particularly focusing on Gilded-Age eugenics, this philosophical tradition will police the boundary between epigenetic findings and sociological knowledge of social construction. It will attempt to forbid, by its justice-of-the-exception argument, the organization of egalitarian collective agency to reduce crippling violations of shared humanity.

 

 

Post-cartesian Epigenetics Bibliography

Costa, DL, N. Yetter & H. deSomer. “Intergenerational transmission of paternal trauma among US Civil War Ex-POWs.”

Hendrickx, K. & I. Van Hoyweghen. 2018. “An epigenetic prism to norms and values.” Perspective 9(63): 1-5.

Loi, M. 2013. Social epigenetics and equality of opportunity. Public Health Ethics 6(2): 142-153.

M’hamdi, H.I., I. de Beaufort, B. Jack & E.A.P. Steegers. 2018. “Responsibility in the age of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) and epigenetics.” Journal of Development Origins of Health and Disease 9(1): 58-62.

Morriseau, T. 2019. “Continuing the legacy: Discovering new insights into the role of genes and the environment in Type 2 diabetes in Oji-Cree youth.” Research Life, Winter V. 1: 17.

Mukherjee, S. 2016. “Same but different.” The New Yorker, May 2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/breakthroughs-in-epigenetics

Notterman, D.A. & C. Mitchell. 2015. “Epigenetics and understanding the impact of social determinants of health.” Pediatr Clin N Amer 62: 1227-1240.

Rose, Stephen. 2016. “How to get another thorax.” London Review of Books 38(17): 15-17.

Rothstein, M.A., H.L. Harrell, and G.E. Marchant. 2017. “Transgenerational epigenetics and environmental justice.” Environmental Epigenetics: 1-12.

Sadler-Riggleman, I. & M.K. Skinner. Environment and the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of disease, Chapter 15 in .

Vandenbergh, M.P., D.J. Vandenbergh & J.G. Vandenbergh. 2017. “Beyond Lamarck: The implications of epigenetics for environmental law.” Mich J. of Envtl. & Admin. Law 7: 1-31.

TBC

The Canadian Right-wing Academic Argument Against Environmental and Social Justice

A McGill historian of science, looking as much like Foucault as he can, in 2018 published an article, with a fellow conservative holding physical science credentials, in which he makes an argument that epigenetics should not be linked as a rationale to egalitarian policy change.

After a two-paragraph intro to epigenetics, Canadian Foucault-Latour coins three neologisms, three sins, to package his argument for prohibiting a bridge between physical science findings and egalitarian social policy:

1) “Mischaracterization”: This is the (dubious) problem where the Historian of Science doesn’t agree with findings–for example, that epigenetic information can be transmitted intergenerationally, and he selects those particular epigenetic findings to dismiss as inconclusive.

2) “Extrapolation”: This is the problem (for Canadian Foucault-Latour) where scientists bridge the physical and social sciences, particularly including social epidemiologists, to suggest that with the theory-backed, mechanism-identified evidence of correlation and time-order, we can make a scientific claim that the material world and institutionalized social relations impact human health, and thus changing institutions, design, and infrastructure can reduce the socio-material harm.

Canadian postmodernist doesn’t say here how he defines science, but it’s probably commercial laboratory science, per postmodernism’s capitalism-accommodating idealist reduction. Along with positivists, discourse-totalizing postmodernists are a Cartesian Praetorian guarding the sacred boundary between the human, idealist world(s) and the base, material projection.

The article is basic, and extremely light on the empirical evidence. Yet with masculinist aesthetics, it presents errant pedantry as technocratic rigor. The McGill third arm of policing–not particularly well supported– is to attribute to mostly-unidentified other scholars a lack of his own fine appreciation of the connection between genetics and epigenetics. He decides this is the 3) “Exceptionalism” sin. This is raw crank. Even in pop culture accounts of epigenetics, the historical relation between the Human Genome Project and the growth of epigenetics is emphasized. The authors need to spend more time reading other people’s academic work, and less time in the patio party conversations.

It is a very thin article evincing a cursory familiarity with the substantive topic–which is not a survey of epigenetics. It is how epigenetics are being approached by anti-cartesians. Extremely thin on data, the article is only justifiable by an overinvestment in either positivism or in the postmodern, idealist, theoretical reduction of science to the commercial lab. It is a “textbook” recent case in reactionary “critical” idealism. It is the embodiment of the institutionalized Canadian settler-extractivist theoretical approach to reconciling private-property-reifying liberalism with hierarchy-reifying conservatism: effacing the inequality while censoring the inegalitarianism.

The basis for this authority’s institutionalized expertise is that while he was a grad student, he had to work with an indigenous community, as most Canadian social science and humanities academics did by the second decade of the 21st century, and that required him to write an article denouncing the association in medical studies of Canada’s First Nations with health problems due to the colonial relationship. I know this, because that is what I was being commanded to do then. You were told, by indigenous leaders in institutions, that you had to write stories about how there is no problem. Obviously, indigenous people outside of power were not clamoring for academics to amplify this particular voice. It became a theoretical specialty to argue that the material world is radically divorced from, inaccessible, and unknowable to humans–unspeakable.

Then McGill had a short burst in 2012 of trying to set himself up as an authority on how the biome is just imaginary and a bad discourse, because its metaphysics connects the material to the social–social design, institutions, and infrastructure overdetermine human health– and so its justice telos is about reducing social, economic and political inequality. He analyzes surveys, which is what he uses to back up the idealist social science theory.

In idealist thought, human health is not a thing. Health is just a holographic projection of bad Minds. Some physical scientists twiddle around with health because the tyrannical state. In idealist thought, design, institutions, and infrastructure are not recognized to create different kinds of social relations oriented to distinct justice teloi. Their discursive ontology only permits them to recognize difference, and they reject the idea that inequality is a thing, let alone a problem. The only problem, for which idealist humanities and social science academics are the official police, is reduction of difference–for example, state policy changes that reduce social hierarchy. Reducing inequality is the ultimate injustice from the idealist position. They believe the historical-materialist justice telos competes with the idealist justice telos–to proliferate difference, including inequality.

Inegalitarianism is difficult for postmodernists. Like good imperialists, and against all historical and concurrent evidence, they believe we can have moral, tasteful, polite inequality, reconceptualized as playful, fecund difference, without the discursive rudeness of inegalitarianism, which they typically project outward upon Americans, because of the brutish conservative culture of slavery-backed capitalism that feeds the US global imperial role, or another geopolitical Other–Nazis or Russians.

Canadian Foucault-Latour also sprinkled an article in his CV about how “contagion” is really financial crisis; wholly within discourse, that was a less-reactionary effort.

When critical idealists can keep within texts, they do not necessarily support capitalist and capitalist-state efforts to repress egalitarian, developmentalist design, institutions, infrastructure, and relationships. A postmodernist, like this McGill Man or Latour, may instrumentally play with a conservative, positivist physical scientist–they share the inclination to denounce inequality recognition and egalitarian redistribution; they both bury metaphysics; and they are both keen to reduce science to the commercial lab.

Yet the alliance between postmodernists and positivist commercial scientists of course contains an inner crack. Postmodernists as idealists are distinct from physical scientists in that they abject recognition that the world we live in transcends the textual. The Postmodernists reject an ontology material and historical and social. There are only words, which is the hermetically-sealed flat universe of the social, and when the textual ontology is imported into the social sciences, the lacunae–through which, in proper discursive philosophy, the historical-material world enters–is papered over. Thus postmodernists reject expanded, scientific methodologies, rather than just authoritarian bluster (“Meritcratic” decisionism, eg genealogy, and associated speculative idealism). When they use their idealist hermeneutics against the Earthly and human material world, it is all reactionary conservatism and it has been for a long time.

McGill ref: Huang, JY & NB King. 2018. “Epigenetics changes nothing.” Public Health Ethics 11  (1): 69-81.

Note that the Swedish Universities by contrast are immersed in studies linking epigenetic difference and health effects. Canadian idealism v. Scandinavian historical-materialism. University of Washington has an anti-cartesian epigenetics lab.

white storytellin’ & nawlins

Various American researchers have cranked away over the decades trying desparately to show that blacks are naturally inferior to whites, and so, by implication, deserving of the pile of shit continuously heaped upon them. In recent incarnations of this program– that attempt to correlate race or “racial” genes with IQ, the natural-race researchers studiously avoid Stephen Jay Gould’s trenchant critique that no one has any idea what IQ measures. Does it measure natural intelligence? Does it measure inequality? We don’t know.

All we know is: Someone should study how much funding and research time, over the last century, has gone into trying to show that blacks innately deserve bullshit. I’d bet those figures would be impressive. I’m all for researchers getting funding. Getting funding just for retelling the American myth with slightly different operationalizations of race and fitness is, however, moldy and pathetic.

Likewise, the white folks’ “the blacks were irrationally, randomly violent” storytelling industry (official and otherwise) always has been a staple artifact of living in the US.

Yet American blacks have almostly uniquely, steadfastly opposed human degradation–fascism–throughout American history. While congratulating themselves on the size of their cars, adopting the mantle of “honor” for fighting wars on behalf of economic elites and advertising their propensity to prayer, most other American groups cannot claim the big-picture moral clarity that blacks can.

Today a Russian immigrant coworker forwarded an email, supposedly from a letter by a paramedic, “Brian”, to his father. The letter described all sorts of New Orleans Soddom ‘n’ Gomorrah, including the rabid aggressions of the crazed, dark poor, and ended depicting a New Orleans reporter chastizing politician Jesse Jackson for “playing the race card.”

A coworker replied with a report on that email circulation by the urban legend email busters at http://www.snopes.com/katrina/personal/sells.asp. While largely unverifiable, much of the “Brian” email was of course a fake.

Slowly, we begin to see acknowledgements of the traditional white storytelling process in the case of Hurricane Katrina:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1563470,00.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/29/national/nationalspecial/29crime.htm

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9505323/

http://ladybunny.net/blog/2005/09/black-people-loot-whites-find.html

The interesting question is always: What specific racial/political/economic interests is the apocryphalia serving this time? For starters, see:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/hurricanes2005/story/0,,1585353,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1577324,00.html.

Update on genome research and human genetic variation:

Culled from the article by Wade, Nicholas. 2005. “Genetic catalog may aid search for roots of disease.” The New York Times, October 27.

The “hapmap” are the human genetic findings of a research team which observed that 95% of the human genome is passed on to offspring in chunks of genes, rather than in the transfer of individual genes.


Other genomic regions bear strong marks of natural selection but contain no known gene, a highly perplexing outcome that suggests, Dr. Altshuler said, that “our current ability to predict the function of DNA is very flawed.”

The common variation picked up by the hapmap is much the same in different ethnic groups, because most of it is inherited from the ancestral human population before modern humans are believed to have dispersed from Africa about 50,000 years ago. The four ethnic groups studied so far have yielded four million sites of common variation, from which the total number in the world’s population is expected to be 10 million.

The hapmap researchers have found that the Chinese and Japanese genomes are so similar that they can be grouped together for many purposes. The genetic differences between Europeans, East Asians and Africans lie mostly in the relative abundance in each of the common DNA mutations. But the hapmap team has found a handful of fixed differences in the first million mutations it studied – 11 between Europeans and the Yoruba, 21 between Europeans and Asians and 5 between the Yoruba and Asians. The role of these mutations is unknown.

The few fixed differences tend to emerge on the X chromosome, which is more highly differentiated between ethnic groups than are the other chromosomes. The reason, Dr. Altshuler said, could arise from the fact that men carry only one X chromosome and so, unlike women, have no backup copy if a gene on their single X is inactivated through mutation. That puts the X chromosome under heavier pressure of natural selection, and the different environmental pressures experienced by various ethnic groups may have forced the X chromosome to differentiate more than the other chromosomes.

The hapmap team believe they have created a powerful new tool for exploring the human genome but they advise researchers to be careful about publicizing their work, especially when exploring genetic links to human characteristics that are not medical. “We urge conservatism and restraint in the public dissemination and interpretation of such studies, especially if nonmedical phenotypes are explored,” they wrote.