Friday, August 30, 2013


Many people are focused tightly on the disease caused by human immunodeficiency syndrome or HIV.  This is because research is traditionally done in this way and because people are driven to stop the specific suffering and death of human beings due to HIV.  But many other issues and patterns are connected to HIV.  My interest is in the big picture of the entangled bits of the surface of the planet and sometimes in the forces inside the planet that produce geological events.  As well as these physical links and ruptures, I try to think about social cultural patterns that derive from them and contribute to them.  Therefore, I’m interested in the primate origin of HIV, the changing human patterns that transformed SIV into HIV, the resulting reactions of societies around the world as the virus reached them, all the previous pandemics we know about, and the social forces that prevent scientific knowledge and ordinary compassion from saving people.

The Decameron of Boccaccio is a collection (decameron) of stories presumably told by a small group self-quarantined during the great plague that swept Europe, reducing the population by one-third.  My mother survived the Spanish Flu (though her doctor did not) but I don’t know of an anthology that resulted.  It killed 2 to 3% of the population of the planet, reaching even into the Arctic.  Ten percent of the American prairie population died.  The demographic was the same as soldiers: the best and the strongest, because it was not the LACK of immunity, but a sudden burst of SUPER immunity that killed people.  The homeostasis of immunity, which is a stream between the two banks of too-much and too-little, is deadly when over either limit.

The origin of the Black Plague was microbes carried on fleas riding on black rats which may have followed the Silk Trade into Europe.  Most flu epidemics come from the mixing of birds with pigs, which have a physiology much like humans.  The birds are air travel.  (When pigs fly.)  In both cases, plague (which persists in rodent fleas of Asia but is now curable with drugs) and flu (which is a virus and therefore not susceptible to most drugs) were closely linked with human travel patterns for trade or war.

This is also true of smallpox. The history of smallpox extends into pre-history; the disease likely emerged in human populations about 10,000 BC [when livestock was domesticated].  The earliest credible evidence of smallpox is found in the Egyptian mummies of people who died some 3000 years ago. During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year, including five reigning monarchs, and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Between 20 and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.  When Europeans brought the disease to America, it had the same consequences, but worse.

The following information is from a paper written in 2005, which means it’s out-of-date, but it still gets the idea across that African primates and monkeys of many kinds have SIV and that the origins are very ancient.  Gorillas have passed SIV, as HIV, to humans in a small area.  Monkey-originated HIV has affected more people, and the main origin of the Euro-American HIV is from chimps.  Given a chance, all primates eat other primates, but maybe gorillas less so than the others.  It’s a puzzle to me that if SIV and HIV are transmittable by sex, why do bonobos seem to escape?  They are the most human-like and the most constantly sexual.  Is it because all the bonobos who were susceptible died a long time ago -- so now being a bonobo means inheriting immunity?  People who eat a lot of bush meat carry blood markers of many versions of SIV.  One tribe of human pygmies carries almost all of them but seems immune to not only SIV but also HIV.   

Simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) are primate lentiviruses [lente = slow] that infect no fewer than 36 different nonhuman primate species in sub-Saharan Africa. Two of these viruses, SIVcpz from chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and SIVsmm from sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys), have crossed species barriers on multiple occasions and have generated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) types 1 and 2. . .   “We Were Here.”  
This link is to a University of California Television Osher Center for Integrative Medicine hour and a half movie about the origin and history of AIDS, reaching back centuries until it goes crazy in San Francisco about 1981 and begins wiping out a community of men who came to join a movement expressing freedom, esp. in terms of MSM sex.  Survivors tell their stories in a kind of national “decameron.”  
Because of the kinds of communities, these men -- and the women who were also there --have a particular kind of story to tell.  Many linked sex with love (this is probably as much physiological (in-born) as psychological (cultural).  They took care of each other before anyone even knew what was going on.  These were guys who broke barriers, who challenged the status quo, who had come from all over the planet to participate in a revolution.  It wasn’t just about free love -- it was about freedom from assumptions.  When I look at all the faces, it often strikes me how similar they are demographically to the WWII photos of soldiers.  When the plague hit, the veterans -- now doctors, professors, and researchers -- at once set to work on the problem of AIDS. 
When AIDS jumped from the West Coast to the East Coast and hit the artistic and bohemian population, a highly political bunch who knew a holocaust when they saw one, the reaction was much sharper and more violent.  Gay liberation broadened and intensified at the same time.  It is the combination of both modes of response (love and fighting back) that has brought us -- at least most of us -- to a new understanding of human relationships.  Now we are up against a similar revolution that is about whether economic patterns can be kept from killing people just as AIDS has -- is.  We see that poverty, hunger, unjust law, stupid priorities, and so on are fanning the flames of an AIDS pandemic into a holocaust of the world as we know it.
Nothing is more contagious than ideas, but some populations around the world have not “caught” ideas that would protect them from fear.  They are still infected with what one writer calls “the culture of persecution,” which he figures arose in Europe about 1100 AD, probably as a reaction to the plague.  It is a meme pattern that promotes fear by pointing to culprits and trying to eliminate them as sources of contagion.  But we see many of the Inquisitors secretly indulging their obsession: J. Edgar Hoover cross-dressing, super-conservative politicians unzipping, teenagers persecuting other teens.  The mysterious draw of wickedness.

The homeostasis of culture is not different from any other limits of survival.  Too much persecution and the culture will kill itself, a kind of auto-immunity.  Failure to identify dangers and resolve them before they kill the vulnerable is also to lose the culture.  These are the shores of survival. 

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