Life is Beautiful

Dear Friend and Reader:

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, its impact and influence sprung from its beauty. The book, after causing a huge controversy, ultimately turned world opinion on the pesticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT. Its chemical formula is C14H9Cl5, and as a double benzene ring molecule, it is similar to dioxin and PCBs.

Planet Waves
Rachel Carson in 1962, the year that Silent Spring was published as a book. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Upon publication of her book Carson was attacked, ridiculed, and chided for being anti-progress and anti-science. In fact, her findings all checked out, and led to much more troubling discoveries.

This substance, made by Monsanto, Velsicol, Michigan Chemical and others, was sprayed indiscriminately from the sky, in Carson’s words. It was broadcast over forests and lakes. It was laced into wallpaper in children’s rooms. Neighborhoods and city streets were fogged with the stuff, as children ran behind the trucks to pick up the sweet smell.

The culprits they were after were mostly mosquitoes and lice. Its discoverer won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Medicine, as a “contact poison against several arthropods,” meaning insects.

Carson was both a scientist and a naturalist. She lived by a forest, where songbirds burst into life each year — and which one spring went silent. She set out to figure out how this happened. It was related to DDT spraying, though in a way that nobody understood, and that she figured out and explained. The DDT did not actually kill the songbirds.

Rather, once applied from the sky, it settled on the leaves of trees. The trees would shed their leaves each autumn, and fall to the forest floor. The leaves would decompose and be eaten by worms. In the spring, birds would return and eat the worms, which would poison the birds. Later work revealed that this disruption was reproductive. The birds would then lay eggs, which could not hatch because the shells were too thin. Therefore, the baby birds would never hatch, and the forest would be invaded by an eerie, deathly silence where before there was the beauty and wonder of thousands of singing birds — a sound many would agree is the joy of life.

Planet Waves
Photo by Lanvi Nguyen.

Explaining the Ecosystem

Carson, in figuring out how DDT disrupted the life cycle of birds, explained the ecosystem to the public for the first time. The interrelationships were barely noticed, not widely understood, and not understood at all on a popular level. She explained to people that all life is related. You cannot just kill bugs with a chemical and not create a disruption somewhere down the line — many places, really, including within our bodies.

Yet the impact and influence of her book came from her poetic descriptions of what nature is, and what was happening. That it happened in the form of an obituary is sad, though through her descriptions of dying nature, she gave us a way to understand how chemistry interacts with biology. When PCBs were discovered a few years later, they had the same effect, of thinning the shells of eggs, among many other devastating problems.

By the 1990s, we had a term for what was happening — endocrine disruption. This is why PCBs, DDT, dioxin, phthalate plasticizers such as DEHP and others, are so toxic. They interfere with hormones and thus the entire life cycle, and cause many forms of cancer — particularly of the reproductive organs.

Yet it is difficult to reach people with a message on that level. When you describe in elegant language, how little birds cannot form properly, and die before they hatch, people listen. Well, sort of. After publication of Silent Spring, and after the author was viciously attacked as a hysterical woman, DDT was mostly banned. PCBs were mostly banned.

But the chemical industry marched on with one more horrid creation after the next — broadcast from the sky, added to food, sprayed in our gardens and yards and parks, and sprayed on the sides of roads. After a few defeats, Monsanto roared back with Roundup, which now soaks the entire ecosystem.

Planet Waves
Photo by Lanvi Nguyen.

The Biome, the Microbiome and the Virome

This week, I encountered a video presentation that moved me as much as Silent Spring did, and which explained something to me about which I had no idea. The past three months of my life have been a crash course in virology, epidemiology and immunology.

This week, I heard a presentation by a medical doctor named Zach Bush on a program called The HighWire.

Planet Waves
Dr. Zach Bush, internist and endocrinologist.

There are so many videos and so little time. I am sent about three a day. Most of them are boring, badly done and not terribly informative. Others you have to sort through a lot of noise, and some take 100 hours of research to verify.

I clicked on this one reluctantly, though I am very happy that I did; it has changed my way of looking at the world, of understanding life, and of my view on the seeming “global pandemic” we are going through.

Bush is a young man of tremendous accomplishment, who first (with no medical experience whatsoever) ended up having to preside over neonatal care in a clinic in the Philippines. That got him to change his academic focus from robotics to medicine. He is certified as a doctor of internal medicine, as an endocrinologist, and as a hospice doctor. Mostly he is a philosopher of the natural world, which is why his ideas have touched me so deeply.

This presentation is about the life of viruses, and explains the “novel coronavirus” that opens up an understanding of the biome (the total ecosystem we see). He explains the microbiome (the one we cannot see, and which lives in our bodies). And explains the virome, the universe of viruses and retroviruses, and how they not only interact with all of life, but the ways in which life is made of them, and how evolution is driven by them. Viruses are the fundamental units of life information, and some would say the most intelligent and enduring form of life.

Planet Waves
Photo by Lanvi Nguyen.

From Figure to Ground

Along the way, Dr. Bush presents a perspective on the “novel coronavirus” that offers what I think is the single most necessary shift in our understanding: that from figure to ground. I have tried to explain this many ways through my coverage of the supposed pandemic. In my earliest presentation in early February, I said this is going to be about the immune system and the state of the total environment. Zach explains this in a level of detail about which I had no concept existed.

In nearly all presentations we see, whether in newspapers, TV, YouTube videos and elsewhere, discussion of the virus is an obsessive discussion of the figure. There is this thing that’s supposedly killing people, and presumably we have to kill it first. It is the enemy. It has destroyed the economy and forced us into hiding. The virus is allegedly the source of our fear, and that fear is justified, because this thing is death incarnate.

Zach describes how the ground of being on the physical plane is made of viruses. This is the ground we stand on: it’s our DNA. He also describes the ground that has been severely disrupted by the loss of biodiversity, and explains how human life is currently the cataclysmic event in the world, exclusively driving the sixth extinction we are living through.

I have watched or listened four times, and it just gets better. While I am not presenting Zach Bush as the person who “knows it all” about the global pandemic, after months of research, I feel confident offering him to you as the most encompassing, humane, philosophical and scientifically relevant view. His view also fits into several other of the more relevant thinkers I have come across, and I have offered a description of how they interweave in this article.

I am not planning to re-explain everything Zach talks about in this interview, which lasts a little over an hour. We have made a transcript of the conversation (which will probably still need some proofreading). You can watch the video and I will play the audio in full on Saturday night’s Planet Waves FM, and offer additional thoughts.

Please take the time to listen in an undistracted way. You don’t need to watch, though he’s nice to look at. I learned the most listening without the visuals. I have not yet read the transcript, though I reckon that will be a whole other level of information.

Planet Waves
Photo by Lanvi Nguyen.

Crimes Against Humanity

After listening four times, one particular thought stands out from among many notable ones in this presentation. It is something that echoes my own observations of how people are being treated in hospitals. It is harrowing that people are being left alone to die, cut off from their friends and family. It is my observation after observing this situation that many of the people who are dying in ICUs would have lived had there been proper care.

Dr. Bush explained that we are overreacting inappropriately, and not responding appropriately, to this situation. He describes how intubation is causing lung injury that is killing 88% of patients. He explains that social distancing to avoid contact with aerosolized (dry) particles is pointless because not only can they travel more than six feet, they can ride the jet stream across the ocean in a matter of days. No scientist understands how they survive, but they have been doing this long before humans arrived — many tens of millions of years before.

Toward the end of the conversation, Dr. Bush says:

“If there’s crimes against humanity being exercised right now, I don’t believe that it’s in a military lab. I believe that it’s in those ICUs of dying patients alone. In what time in history have we decided that we need to en masse let our — let people die alone? Marines are taught to never leave a soldier on the battlefield. Marines will literally charge into machine gun fire, into rocket fire, to go grab that injured soldier so that they don’t die alone in enemy hands.

“What level of fear have we induced in mankind that we are letting our revered elderly, and our young people, who are dying from these conditions, die alone? It is worse than rocket fire. It is worse than this. And we’ve generated that level of fear around a virus that looks to have a mortality similar to flu. What are we doing with this tyranny of fear? We are tearing apart the very fabric of what it means to be human.

“There’s an innate drive in us to stay connected, to stay in one another’s presence. To have fellowship with one another. It’s written into our constitution that you will not block public gatherings, you will not block the ability for us to get together and practice our spiritual faith, to practice our spiritual experience. And if anything is a hallowed ground of spiritual environment, it is the birthplace of a child, and the birthplace of an elder person about to transition to the other side.”

Planet Waves
Photo by Lanvi Nguyen.

What We Need to Understand

I do want to close with one thought. Industrialized humanity assaults its one and only home, our planet, over and over again, and expects everything to be fine.

First with murdering nearly every whale to burn their fat as oil, then with coal, and petroleum, we have depleted one of the most magnificent life forms and flooded the atmosphere with sulfur and carbon.

Then came all the chemicals that stemmed from the petroleum industry: benzene and PCBs and dioxins and dibenzofurans, which have soaked the planet with their indestructible molecules from pole to pole. Then all the insecticides and herbicides, dumped everywhere from Oregon to Vietnam to China and everywhere else, getting into the cells of every living creature.

As we learned about the problems these things caused, most people, and all of industry and government, marched on, as if nothing would happen. Then came electricity and worldwide contamination of the planet with electromagnetic fields. Since we could not see any of it, it did not matter.

Then there was war after war and the atomic bomb and hundreds of above-ground bursts and many more underground detonations. Jacques Cousteau, the inventor of SCUBA, in the 1960s informed us that the oceans were nearly dead. We acted like none of that mattered.

Along the way, the Earth has been polluted with countless drugs, antibiotics, agricultural chemicals and hormone poisons, and we have acted like none of this would have any effect whatsoever. We just pile it on, decade upon decade. All of this has resulted in a buffet of poison food, requiring people to be on evermore toxic drugs. Half of American children suffer from chronic disease, up from 1 or 2 percent 50 years ago.

Then came global warming, accelerated by the decimation of forests and rainforests around the planet, which most people act like is no big deal, or does not exist.

All of this is catching up with us now, and it’s catching up fast. What Zach proposes is that the “novel coronavirus” is a kind of superintelligence that is bringing us back onto a course of balance and biodiversity, because that is what life wants and that is what helps us heal, grow and thrive.

To this, Zach Bush brings a poet’s sensibilities and for that I am deeply grateful. In that spirit, I share his ideas with you.

With love,

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