Gone Viral

Spring and the full Corona Luna

Thursday gratefuls: Brenton and his obvious joy with Murdoch. Seoah and Joe, who appreciate him, too. Murdoch in a safe and happy place. Students in the Radical Judaism class at Kabbalah Experience. The full Corona Luna above the peak of Black Mountain, visible now, illuminating the still snow covered ski runs. A renewed sense of purpose, finally caught.

In reading the Talmud two days ago I came across this uplifting verse from Leviticus: And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and you shall be gathered together within your cities; and I will send the pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemyā€¯ (Leviticus 26:25). Catastrophes happen when Israel violates the covenant.

Yesterday’s daf continued in this vein. The rabbi’s were trying to explain early death, especially among the young. Why do women die in childbirth? Why do children die? Why do young, apparently healthy men die? Women might die because they ignored the ritual purity laws during menstruation. Young children, blameless, might die because their parents broke an oath.

Pat Robertson and the Health Minister of Israel both suspect sex. Yaakov Litzman said he believed homosexuality caused the pandemic. Then, he got Covid-19. Hmm. Pat Robertson believed oral sex was the culprit, but he focused on oral sex that brought women’s vital juices into contact with other chemicals and other organisms. Voila! The coronavirus.

Why is this happening to me? A normal human response to wonder. We seek answers. But, how you frame a question is also how you answer. Why do women die in childbirth? They must have displeased God. How? Well, during their period and for a week after they’re impure. However, we know some women and men have sex during that time. Violating the halakha. So…

Yaakov and Pat find sexuality frightening so they look for a cause within the world of sexual variation. Homosexuality and oral sex between men and women or women and women are not straight, white, ritually pure sex, so… Conspiracy theorists want quick closure on questions to tamp down their anxiety. We know about genetic engineering. We’ve seen movies. So…

If you don’t care about the actual cause, but want to use the fear the virus generates for political gain or you need political cover, you suggest the first site of the pandemic as having special responsibility for it. The Wuhan virus. The Chinese virus. Put into “presidential” speeches with the same black marker that moved Hurricane Dorian into Alabama.

Biological origins occur first to me. If the non-living virus fits into biology, that is. The pangolin explanation made sense to me. But in fact I have no idea how a pangolin might be involved. Down at the viral level. It’s my 21st century, third millennium worldview that the answer to why lies in a microscopic world where answers are often hidden, difficult to identify.

So I’m agnostic on where it came from and why it’s here. Except that my strong conviction about why involves a natural world far more complex, far more powerful than we allow ourselves to believe. Our illusion is that we understand these things. Except we don’t.

Viruses can be troublesome. They’re not alive, yet they apparently have a living things desire to procreate. Antibiotics do nothing against them. Nothing to kill. While soap, good old fashioned hand soap, breaks up the fatty layer that surrounds them and puts them on the road to decay.

Viruses are numerous. 380 trillion of them in your body right now, according to this article. A conservative estimate put the total number of viruses, different viruses, at about one million for the vertebrates. In all organisms? Maybe over 100 million different kinds. A further refinement of this estimate for mammals indicates there are about 320,000 different viruses that affect mammals. How many do we know that infect humans? 219. Or, maybe today, 220. That’s what the novel means in the novel coronavirus.

How you define is how you solve. If the problem of women’s deaths in childbirth is violation of purity laws, you get to teaching and enforcing those laws. If it’s homosexuals, you do everything you can to subdue and oppress them. If it’s rogue bioengineers, you find their lab, wipe it out, and go after their funders. If it’s China, you keep those damned tariffs on.

If it’s the natural world in its blooming, buzzing confusion (William James on consciousness), then you get those labs going, do preventive things like social distancing, and try to understand how this happened. Me, I’m going with blooming, buzzing confusion. I’m going with a natural world far more complex, far more intricate than anything we can even imagine.

Yes, we’re part of it, but a small part. The virus doesn’t care about humans per se. It just cares about creating more viruses. This makes me happy. It means the world’s mystery is beyond our grasp and will probably always remain so. When we do things to the natural world, we often, perhaps usually, don’t understand the downstream results of our actions. We’re learning humility right now. Let’s hope the lesson carries over to the other major crisis now heating up, climate change.

This entry was posted in Commentary on Religion, Commentary on the news, Health, Myth and Story, News of the Strange, Plants, Science, US History, Weather +Climate, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

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