by Brian Awehali

People suck, and that’s my contention.
We’re a virus with shoes.

Bill Hicks

I quite like a lot of people, but there’s much to recommend Hicks’ notion that we are viruses with shoes. It’s a fact that well over 40% of the human DNA chain is viral in origin, as Michael Specter writes in a fascinating New Yorker article, “Darwin’s Surprise”:

Nothing—not even the Plague—has posed a more persistent threat to humanity than viral diseases: yellow fever, measles, and smallpox have been causing epidemics for thousands of years. At the end of the First World War, fifty million people died of the Spanish flu; smallpox may have killed half a billion during the twentieth century alone…

Scientists have long suspected that if a retrovirus happens to infect a human sperm cell or egg, which is rare, and if that embryo survives—which is rarer still—the retrovirus could take its place in the blueprint of our species, passed from mother to child, and from one generation to the next, much like a gene for eye color or asthma.

One scientist interviewed for the New Yorker article, Thierry Hiedmann, contends that the mapping of the human genome project and recent findings about “endogenous retroviruses” show that genes and viruses are not, in fact, distinct entities, and that the concept of virus and humanity as enemies or combatants, rather than as co-evolutionary forces, is in error. Heidmann and others have even suggested that without viral influence, mammals might never have developed a placenta, which protects the fetus and gives it time to mature and led to live birth. “These viruses made those changes possible, [and] It is quite possible that, without them, human beings would still be laying eggs.”

So the stuff of us, the meat of our matter, is partially viral in origin. What of our language, and our culture?

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by Barbara Ehrenreich
(part of the extended online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow – The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt)

Two months before a somewhat recent U.S. military invasion, I gave a presentation on war and warrior elites to a small group of sociologists. They were interested and supportive, but a bit pitying about my choice of a topic: War, they were eager to remind me, had run its course. The Cold War had ended; communism was over; there were no longer any “sides” to take. Too bad I had elected to work on a subject of only historical interest.

The conviction that war is passé, or soon to become so, has a venerable history of its own. The introduction of the gun, and after that, artillery, seemed to promise levels of destruction so costly that no state would want to risk them. After the gruesome bloodletting of the Napoleonic Wars, philosophers Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill prophesied that war would end as civilization turned, in relief, to the peaceful business of industrial production. World War I was, of course, the “war to end all wars”; a quarter-century later, the nuclear weapons developed and used in World War II seemed to doom war once and for all. Ghoulish wonks might play with scenarios for “limited nuclear war” and “flexible responses,” but anyone with sense could see that “war has been vanquished,” as Robert L. O’Connell has put it, defeated by its own weaponry.

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