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Immunity

Immunology has been debating what “immunity” means since its very inception as a field. The central figure in the early days, Elie Metchnikoff, conceived of it as a kind of equilibrium between different cell lines. Probably the most important figure in its history, Frank Burnet, used to say “immunology was more of a philosophical problem than a practical science”. The reason being that the common sense notion of “immunity” relies on a pretty shaky notion of the organism with strict boundaries.While microbiology has made techno-reductionist notions popular, (given the discipline’s roots in Eugenicist programs of the Rockefeller foundation detailed by the work of science historian Lily Kay), theoretical biology has been busy detailing a very different understanding of organism stability. We are a superorganism, a coordination of many different organisms and “cell lines” as Metchnikoff put it. Health depends on a balance between genetic stability and variation.

Even the notion of “gene” is an outdated concept, as most theoretical biologists admit. There is no static entity at the micro or macrco level–there is no genetic self or organismic self other than the stability achieved within a continual flux that uses viruses as the most rapid mode of adaptation. People can indeed get too much exposure to this flux, but we can also get too little. Even worse is handing the process over to the genetic engineers. They are informed by reductive notions that are beholden to an industry built up around and preying on people fearing contamination and change. Mandating we all become a cog in the machine being set up right now is a straight-up nightmare.

This isn’t some isolated random act of nature. Nor is it a conspiracy. It is the culmination of a century of consolidation of power and knowledge around a paradigm of social and genetic engineering. Just as agriculture is being pushed into fragile dependency on industry through chemical farming so is the rest of the biosphere being pushed there by the same out-of-date model of genetic determinism, chemical medicine, and a consolidation of corporate/State power centered on a merger of BIG AG/ PHARMA/ TECH/ and FINANCE. For more information I suggest people read Vandana Shiva’s recent book for an accessible survey of the subject.

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