Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dawson & Hobby's commensals, in the Phony War between pathogens & civilization

Germ Theory, not Eugenics, lay behind Auschwitz

Rather like the ideal civilized white middle class male, to qualify as worthy of respect, a microbe had to be virile and virulent and thus labelled a pathogen.

By contrast, Dr Henry Dawson's first independent scientific paper was all about the activities of non-virulent, non-pathogenic microbes.

Not a good way to position oneself in the fast track - certainly not in 1926 --- and still not in 2016.

His young lab chief, Dr Gladys Hobby, later similarly focussed on a non-pathogen in her first important paper and was criticized for doing so by her senior male colleagues as a result.

Neither Hobby or Dawson were going to get ahead with that kind of behaviour !

But the real problem was/is that the educated world is consumed with the 'false idea' that tiny primitive pathogens posed the greatest threat to the bigger most advanced civilizations.

They made themselves believe - in the face of much hard evidence to the contrary - that the lower classes and more 'primitive' races were better able to fight off germs, based on nothing more than their supposed superior fecundity, as compared to the civilized middle class.

In fact, fecundity was a matter of choice, not of biology, and far fewer of the babies born to poorer people made it to age five than the children of well to do families with ready access to better housing, food, water and medical care.

The same went for their parents as well - being poor made one less likely to live to old age, not more so.

It is a 'Big Lie' that some microbes are pure people killers, pathogens, and thus worthy of attention and respect while others do not kill humans and should be discounted and ignored.

Dawson and Hobby saw disease as the occasional result of the constant intimate interaction between fellow commensals, the human-oriented microbes and humans.

So usually harmless skin commensal bacteria could be deadly, if a passageway was opened up to the interior of the body, past the barrier of the outer or inner skin.

Say by a post-operational wound or a catheter.

(Because remember all animals are built on the plan of  the little worm that is our ancestor.

We are all basically a piece of living garden hose, with a thick skin on the outside and a thinner skin on the inside, a direct tube from mouth to anus, with the "us" living inside the space between the two skins.

 The few bugs that can 'eat' our skin rarely can kill us - they have to get inside either skin to do that.)

Once inside, normally harmless bugs are usually easily fought off, unless the patient is still weak from the disease, the operation and the immune suppressing drugs they were receiving.

The result, all too often is patients dying from bugs harmless in all but these unique circumstances.

The older king of all virulent & virile pathogens, before penicillin, was Strep.

In particular, Hemo Strep, the dreaded Group A Strep (GAS) bacteria, a bug that used to annually kill millions of fully healthy people in literally dozens of widely different ways.

Yet, strangely enough, as Dawson and Hobby insisted over and over, this bug happily lives in all our throats at some times of our lives without usually doing us any harm and habitually lives all the times in the throats of 15% of us, again only occasionally doing us any harm.

Moreover, other than amoebas , all of the various microbes we call germs are not predators in the technical sense of that word.

They do not live by directly killing and then directly digesting their prey.

They live off of smaller biological molecules that drift by them in their liquid habitat , some of which are just small molecules of an inorganic nature, others the debris of other lifeforms and some of which is the debris of lifeforms killed by chemicals the bacteria or fungus exude into the liquid surrounding them.

Most of the time these chemicals simply break up larger molecules in the liquid so they can be more readily consumed but rarely they actually are toxins and poisons that will kill entire beings  and, over time, the decaying bodies of those killed will be consumed, in part, by these germs.)

(As always viruses are unique - they deliberately take over their victims and then work them as slaves until they die.)

So much of the time, perhaps 60% of the time, germs do not kill us but rather we die by our body's immune system's overreaction to a germ colony growing inside our body in a part of it where they are not normally living.

So instead of thinking of germs as predatory pathogenic killers leaping up from the soil to kill and eat us, we should regard them as bugs that live on us that occasionally make us sick and further we should ask,'why don't most of us get sick under these similar circumstances ?'

We then can see it is a combination of the current situations of both us
and them that makes normal semi-peaceful co-existence turn suddenly deadly.

Okay that's the medical side of the coin - I am not saying anything that many medical scientists couldn't have said better and in fact have been doing so, for more than a century.

My real interest is that, given the massive amount of facts supporting their cause, why are these brave souls still being ignored by the greater medical and scientific community and by most of us ?

What do we gain - and gain most of us do - when we believe a Big Lie ?

I think the answer lies in the extreme form this Big Lie takes.

It is uncontroversial to say that many of us are made sick or even die, from something to do that there are colonies of germs living inside us  ----and that these diseases can strike all of us.

But the Big Lie goes far too far when it claims that the smallest, weakest, stupidest beings at the very bottom of the tree of life pose an extraspecial threat to the biggest, strongest ,smartest beings at the very top of that Web of Life.

For that claims seeks to set up a deliberate paradox.

Why ?

It does so, I believe, as a implicit warning to the middle class and rich worldwide : never let down your guard for a minute, never give an inch for a second, or the very smallest being imaginable will inevitably kill all of you, regardless of all your medical walls and medical fortresses.

One doesn't have to read very far into the Holocaust to come across exactly similar thinking.

For even the worst Nazis had to remind themselves every once in a while why it was so necessary to kill every single Jew, even the babies, particularly the babies.

The Nazis commonly referred to the Jews as being human microbes, and so it should be obvious, they reminded each other, just how could quickly one (tiny baby) could turn into a million (grown adults).

Yes, yes, yes but back here on Planet Reality, even a colony with million bacteria might still be almost invisible to the aging naked eye and thus surely not a convincing physical threat.

Because unanswered in all of this is exactly why, if the big strong and smart are so obviously superior while the small weak and stupid are so obviously inferior, must we never let our guard down for a minute with them?

We have seen this sort of quasi-explanation as well with white interactions with black Americans over the last century and a half.

The explanation - if you even ever get one - basically boils down to posing two polar opposites ---- typical of most of what passes for modernity thought.

At the very top, the biggest and most advanced civilizations are morally smart while at the very bottom the least advanced, the microbial living fossils, are stupidly evil.

As yes.

Civilized Morality and Microbial Evil

For the polar opposites of evil and moral neatly sidesteps the parallel polar opposites of big/small and strong/weak and smart/stupid.

The good guys in white cowboy hats, Joe, Adolf, Tojo and Musso, always lose because they're men of their bond, too nice and too trusting while the bad guys, the microbes in their black cowboy hats, always win because they are sneaky and invisible and untrustworthy.

Cake and eat it too !

Negroes ( insert here the despised human minorities of your choice) are inferior but sneaky, eyes downcast but sly.

Etc etc etc.

Pretending, sneaky, sly,lazy, evil,phoney, invisible,saboteur, subversive, spy, fifth column, resident agent, traitor, guerrilla, terrorist, IED, turncoat -- every and all the traditional tactics of the weak - found in the humble microbe living off the generous welfare of the human body. Ingrates !

They were living amongst us, in our most intimate places, invisible or pretending to be friendly.

Dirt is the small out of place, in the space of the Big

Dirt, impurity personified ---- dirt and impurity being the tiny out of place, in the space of the big.

Now this might all lack credibility ---- but for the fact that the Big Lie "germs-as-invader-killers" was fabricated about the same time, circa 1870s or so, as its kissing cousins: eugenics, nationalism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, et al.

And unlike them, it had a seeming core of truth.

It had enough 'common sense truth' (or so it seemed) to make credible that the equally weak and 'inferior' Negro and Jew could , similarly, pose a credible threat to white civilization.

The germs being invisibly tiny, weak (basically a bag of water with usually no means of movement), seemingly stupid, assuredly ancient and supposedly unchanging through the ages (a barely living fossil), they should have been a total non-starter as a threat to a mouse let alone to advanced scientific Anglo Saxon civilization.

Be that as it may, the plain fact was that hundreds of millions died annually worldwide from diseases that scientists reliably connected to the presence of germ colonies in the bodies of the deceased.

Hundreds of millions still do - and it is a fact their deaths can all be connected to the presence of colonies of microbes in their body.

Connected to, but not directly caused by, those colonies of germs.

Human body has about as many microbe cells as it has non-microbe cells 

Because as Doctors Hobby and Dawson kept mentioning way back there in the 1920s and 1930s, trillions and trillions of 'deadly', quote unquote, bacteria live on and in us all our lives and they don't kill all of us.

Surely, they said, the fact that sometimes we are deadly sick with an 'avirulent' bacteria in our body while at other times we are healthy despite having lots of 'deadly' pathogens in our throat requires a more complex, a more horizontal, explanation.

A horizontal explanation that shared the reasons for human disease and non-disease between the intertwined activities of two commensals, human and bacteria.

In a sense it is taking seriously the traditional view of microbes on the human body as being a prime example of dirt and impurity and saying in response, "So what ? The whole world is intermingled and mixed, that's Reality, that's Life, suck it up."

Now any hint of horizontalism in the decidedly vertical hierarchical world of 1870s-1960s Modernity was total anathema.

It was like power-sharing, between negro and white, protestant and catholic, men and 'the girls', parent and child, owner and employees, homosexual and 'normal', white man and 'redskin', defectives and the fit.

Not gonna happen, not on my watch.

Microbial Intelligence and Civilized Evil

And it could all start at the bottom with germs.

For to accept for one moment what Dr Dawson was saying, that the tiny penicillium could easily make the lifesaver penicillin while millions of dollars and hundreds of the Universe's smartest chemists could not  ----- or that microbes could insert their genes horizontally into other beings, to share and spread their genetic wealth around, but horizontally-challenged humanity could not, was to face the abyss.

For if the smallest, weakest,stupidest at the bottom were sometimes superior to the middle class white males at the top, what about the slightly bigger, stronger, smarter negro, woman, aboriginal, handicapped, factory worker, eldest child etc in the middle of the tree of life ?

Where would it all end ?

Where life is today in the most advanced of human civilizations - where white middle class men must share power with many others.

And boy oh boy, man of man, don't they just hate it, eh Mr Trump......

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