Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Battle lines

Imagine, if you will, a war. I don't mean a common war, with dying on each side until a settlement is reached, but rather a WAR. The kind where each side is bent on exterminating the other. An endless arms race that forever results in skirmishes, counter-attacks and occasional breakthroughs. Imagine that this war has gone on for as long as anyone can remember, and that it shows no signs of abating. Indeed, every time one side or another gains an advantage it is only a matter of time before their new confidence is shattered by the endless inventiveness shown by the opposition. It is a conflict that goes on and on and on and will never, ever end. It can only end when one side or the other has been totally erradicated.

It may sound as though I am describing some event from fiction- some mythical fantasy civilization or even plot from sci-fi. Yet, as it happens, what I am describing is not fiction. This war is real, it's being fought as we speak, and we are all participants in it. I refer, of course, to the unending battle between ourselves and a seemingly endless variety of micro-organisms who are attempting to colonize us.

Doubtless at this point you think that I'm exaggerating. You're thinking of the occasional cold or flu, the annoying sniffles that strike now and then. These, however, are but insignificant skirmishes that are almost always won by the stalwart defenders of your person: your immune system. Ah, the immune system, a complex biochemical response to disease that starts by making your body inhospitable to invaders and progresses all the way to scorched-earth. Some parts of your immune system exist solely to exterminate those cells of your own that are subverted by invaders. It's a little like bombing one of your own cities that has been captured by the enemy so that they cannot use its factories. Seem harsh? Well, maybe so, but it's also necessary. Our bodies represent a vast stockpile of resources that hungry bacteria and viruses can exploit for their own benefit. We are the means for their reproduction. Our survival depends on thwarting their efforts to subvert our own capabilities. If we fail, even briefly, geometric growth will bury us beneath the weight of our opponents' numbers.

The alternative to this war, to the constant fight for biological integrity, is often quick death. Sometimes, however, it is something else- something that many might consider almost worse. One Indonesian man suffers from HPV, a virus that afflicts many in the developed and less developed worlds with relatively minimal effect. Unfortunately, his immune system is compromised. It is less capable, less brutal, less efficient than most and as a result he is unable to fight the HPV invaders to a draw. In this man, they are winning, and the results are simply horrible:

Many people think of evolution as being "red in tooth and claw." This is fine, as far as it goes, but it suffers from a degree of myopia. We maintain the pleasant fiction that the lords of evolution are those creatures with the biggest weapons, the most cunning tactics, and the most powerful muscles. In reality, the struggles between animals for survival are but tiny eddies in the much larger conflagration that is continually waged between organisms that are far too small for us to see. Our continued ability to wage our macroscopic struggle for life depends on our continued victory in the microscopic one.

Our best weapon in this is the fact that we can think, we can reason, and we can produce new tools to help our immune systems keep us safe. Tools like vaccines, antibiotics and public health measures generally. At least, that's if we could just stop fucking arguing about whether there's a war on in the first place or whether it wouldn't be better to just surrender.

Look, you wanna "support the troops?" Great: start with the ones that are saving your ass from pneumonia on a daily basis.

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