Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I'm considering  the manifesto of the organization whose website is linked above, which describes itself as doing “metagenomics.”  It appears to be a little bit like the Bioneers and interests me from at least four points of view: 
1.  As a context for science-based “religious” concepts in something like the way that Bertrand Russell tried to reconcile Christianity with physics, which turned out to be a clumsy failure IMHO, but suggested useful ideas like “process theology” and interactions with Zen or Tao.
2.  As a “way in” to discussion of how a little virus (gene code) from the jungle of Africa jumped from chimps to humans, spread around the world, and has changed everything by eliminating whole generations of people in African countries and on the American arts scene, to say nothing of the SF gay renaissance, by propelling research on the processes in cells and immunity systems, and by affecting earmarked international assistance for disease as a way of controlling populations politically.  Always just under the surface are suspicions that HIV-AIDS clinics have made it possible to eliminate stigmatized groups within the US by only pretending to provide antiretrovirals.  The poorer, sicker, more rural you are, the harder it is to get care.  The wealthy, healthy, urban politicians do not "care."

3.  Metagenomics provides an interface for creating a morality of science in terms of how every ordinary action and small life decision affects all the rest of the planet.

4.  It asks what is the function of membranes, boundaries, between creature and environment or within the creature or within the environment, particularly in terms of evolution that is horizontal instead of vertical down the generations, jumps sideways instead of advances.


"Recent developments in molecular biology imply that classic distinctions between nature and nurture or biology and culture are not applicable to the human ecological niche. Research in epigenetics shows that the effects of culture on nature go all the way down to the gene and up to the stratosphere, and the effects of  biology on culture are similarly inextricable. Living systems almost invariably involve the interaction of many kinds of organisms with a diversity of technologies. The anthropocene—the age of human cultures and technologies interacting with natural environments—changes rapidly, and to understand and manage its functioning requires perspectives from each domain. We propose  the study of Symbiology, the post-organismic study of relation.  [The biology of symbiosis.]
The kinds of relations we study include:
symmetric mutuality (relations among equals in power or status), 
asymmetric mutuality (relations among unequals such as parents/offspring or teacher/pupil), 
autonomy, and so forth, and these relations are discernible throughout  nature and all cultures." 
(Regenia Gagnier, Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, University of Exeter)

In my own terms, everything is connected, it’s all moving, and there is no escape or apartness.  It saturates us all, IS us and our thinking.  "Us" includes all plants and animals.

Much of my thinking about it so far as been in terms of boundaries, in the sense of biological boundaries or the legal borders of countries, and how an abundance on one side but a shortage on the other will create a value differential that can be exploited.  I come at this in terms of art and groups like Native Americans or at-risk boys, but also in terms of something like a religious congregation that promises health and prosperity -- even eternal life in an afterworld -- to the people who come “into” the group.  Their worst punishment then is expulsion, but also they may leave voluntarily.  Empty pews mean a dead church.  What fills the pews is effectiveness, safe haven, powerful ideas.  Good for countries, too.

Sometimes countries control the crossing of their borders by banning anyone who cannot prove they don’t have HIV in their bodies, which gives border officials the justification for invasive procedures that break the privacy of the individual as well as his or her skin in order to get blood to test.  The drive to convert a person’s genome into an identification algorithm like a grocery store bar code makes science into politics on the spot.  Television crime shows spin plots around it.  But too soon!  Now that we can look at individual cells, we find chimeras -- people who have two separate genomes in one body, perhaps because of absorbing a twin early in gestation, and we discover that mothers can have cells from the fetus in the womb migrated through their own bodies, even to their brains.  Genetic mosaic.  We lurch from one assumption, seemingly so firm and useful, to its discrediting, to the next shaky idea -- often overlooking the assumption that might truly be effective.

One of the most compelling ideas is that our individual bodies are really communities in process, some cells leaving, some cells arriving, changing their nature according to what resources are available, so that we only have the illusion of being ourselves over time even though we continually add exo-beings to our bodies.

Now I’m going to repeat the list of processes while adding definitions, because I’m not exactly sure what each of them means.  Yet.

Mutualism, the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits.  An economic theory and anarchist school of thought that advocates a society where each person might possess a means of production, either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labor in the free market.

Parasitism is a non-mutual symbiotic relationship between species, where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host.  (The 1% problem.)

Domination is c
ontrol or power over another or others.

Recognition is an act of recognizing or the state of being recognized. The identification of something as having been previously seen, heard, known.  Social approval.

Separation is the act of separating people or things or the state of being separated

Solubility, The solubility of a substance is the amount of that substance that will dissolve in a given amount of solvent. Solubility is a quantitative term. 

Symmetric mutuality is relations among equals in power or status. 

Asymmetric mutuality is relations among unequals such as parents/offspring or teacher/pupil.

Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, esp. privileges granted by one country or organization to another.

Alienation is a withdrawing or separation of a person or a person's affections from an object or position of former attachment : estrangement. 

Isolation is the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others. 

Autonomy is independence or freedom, as of the will or one's actions: the autonomy of the individual.

As I think about these terms, many of the examples that come to mind are political, as in the current situation between Ukraine and Russia, which seeks to alter the boundary between the two countries.  In fact, borrowing from the gender terminologies, Ukraine is not cis-identified:  It is legally not Russia, emotionally is Russia, mixed in terms of religion and language, asymmetrically mutual, and internally alienated.  In a word, askew.

The present political situation on the reservation is also more easily described if one has a grasp of these terms, but they can be less emotionally discussed in terms of the metagenomic code and the way it both determines and responds to its environment.  Without good terms, carefully defined, it is too easy to misunderstand what is going on or to overlook dynamics that aren’t obvious to an outside observer or to a person who is emotionally involved, living in the turbulent situation.  Much of the evolution of the rez population has been horizontal: pulling in people and culture from other places, or -- in the case of the half of the tribe that lives elsewhere -- dissolving into the larger culture.

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