[permaculture] Pernicious, infectious memes--OT

Toby Hemenway toby at patternliteracy.com
Thu May 3 16:07:41 EDT 2012

Okay, I'm still thinking about this because these arguments are used to promote such dangerous memes (a form of infectious virus), and I love the way logic demolishes them. Here's what's up with, for example,

>  an infection is always a secondary illness; infections arise after tissue has been damaged, by malnutrition or intoxication. 

This relies on circular logic: "a virus can only infect a damaged organism, because if an organism gets infected, it must be damaged or that would not happen." It assumes what it intends to prove, and you can't get out of that one until you see it is circular. It's certainly true that healthy organisms tend to get fewer infections. This is because their immune systems work much better. But it does not then follow that an organism must be unhealthy in order to be infected. It does not undermine the fact that viruses alone are often sufficient to cause infection, and mountains of evidence exist to show this. The only evidence against it are some thought experiments ("then why does X happen?") and some circular reasoning like that above. The main reason that viruses do not routinely infect healthy creatures  is because viruses have been in an arms race against the immune system for eons. The immune system is full of machinery to block viral and bacterial infection. Viruses are full of machinery specifically designed to evade the immune system (like, they've stolen receptors from the immune system so they can neutralize immune boosting hormones; they wouldn't do that if they weren't infectious). Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. To claim that not getting an infection is a sign that viruses don't infect is to confuse statistics with function. Viruses would not contain that machinery if evading the immune system--infecting a host--were not critically important for them. And the immune system would not mount a huge response, every time, to viral challenge if viruses by themselves were not a big threat to organisms; that machinery would not exist.

In my experience, virologists tend to be smarter than the people denying the viral model, and they understand well-reasoned arguments much better. 

Many people cannot develop or make it through chains of reasoning like this and so they fall for cleverly crafted zombie arguments, like those of the Creationist/Intelligent Design propagandists. Our school system specifically discourages critical thinking so that we will be compliant and susceptible to corporate and government memes ("humans aren't in charge of climate" being a good example), and one side effect is that crackpot theories like "viruses don't cause infection" and "life requires a designer" get far more traction than they would in an educated society. We owe it to ourselves, the planet, and our children to learn how to think critically.

More information about the permaculture mailing list