A Militarized “Immune Response”

This country was built on a foundation of genocide and slavery. It has continued to grow and develop from that foundation. While slaves were officially emancipated in 1862, structural and systemic racism has continued and can be found in our economics, wealth inequity, health care, education, policing, and much more. Like it or not, this is a core element of this country’s identity and it privileges all others in the dominant white culture.

It might be easier to understand thinking of this country from a systemic viewpoint, and even as a living system built on relationships, feedback loops, and interconnected parts making a greater whole. The living country grows and develops like a living thing within its own environment.

Like all living things it is (and prefers to remain) in equilibrium, working to maintain a state of balance—in biology the term is homeostasis. From a living cell to a human-made social construction of a country, to the entire planet, the rules are the same; living systems maintain homeostasis by using energy and resources to fuel that effort.

When a perturbation (something that disrupts that equilibrium) happens, the system responds with negative feedback loops to maintain the desired state. A house system uses a thermostat and furnace or air conditioner to keep the house at a comfortable temperature by responds “negatively” to temperature changes in that it does the opposite. House heats up, AC cools it down, house cools down, furnace pumps heat out to restore preferred temperature. The salts in a person’s skin cell closes or opens mechanisms in the cell membrane to regulate the amount of salt. When adequate salts are present they “plug” the mechanism that pumps in more salt. When the salts get used up, then that mechanism is unplugged and more salts can be pumped into the cell. Systems self-corrects using the substance/condition that it is regulating. Walmart manages inventory using such feedback loops. When inventory dips below set points, the tracking software automatically triggers increase in production. When inventory sales lag, requests for production of that product are automatically reduced. These are all negative feedback loops and they are the normal state for a system maintaining status quo, norm, equilibrium, or homeostasis. You can pick your term.

Living systems also grow, develop, and evolve in response to changes in their environment. Sometimes things begin to build, snowball, and the perturbations compound to drive the system so far away from the preferred equilibrium state that it cannot self correct and get back to “normal.” A new normal must be established. If it cannot adjust or find a new normal, the living system collapses and stops functioning. It dies. It goes extinct.

In our bodies, the immune system is one a system amongst all our other body systems working to maintain homeostasis. When a perturbation such as a virus, bacterium, cancer, etc., upsets that balance, the immune system kicks in and neutralizes the disturbance. If it does this successfully, then a new normal is established when the body remembers how to ward off that invader/disturbance. When the invader evolves and changes, the body again is “perturbed” and adjusts and learn again and use another resource or tactic—a new antibody often. If it can’t, it dies. But it fights until the bitter end in the effort.

Equilibrium for our country is to continuously build on the foundation of systemic racism and genocide (now expanded to the ecosystem) to maintain the status quo; a desire for perpetual economic growth and an unequal distribution of the wealth, privilege and opportunity to maximize profit gained from perpetual economic growth. The fact that this type of economy is absolutely unsustainable and violates the laws of physics is a different topic.

The murder of George Floyd was yet another perturbation to the equilibrium of that system. And now we are seeing the latest “antibody” of our country’s immune system—a militarized police force. This is what President Trump told Governors in a 55-minute call (a recording of which was leaked from within the White House):

“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.” He told the governors, “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.” “You know when other country’s watch this, they’re watching this, the next day wow, they’re really a push over. And we can’t be a push over. And we have all the resources—it’s not like we don’t have the resources. So, I don’t know what you’re doing.” “It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse….(emphasis added) The only time its successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”

In the past the immune system’s “antibodies” have been segregation, separate-but-equal laws, poll taxes, lynching’s, redlining, Indian boarding schools, forced-march relocation to reservations, and yes, slavery. Make no mistake about it, the white supremacist system (that I have benefited from) is pushing back hard right now with an armed negative feedback loop; it’s getting ugly and violent.

At some point change will have to happen. There will be a new normal. We can continue “push our knee harder down” and support a militarized immune response to further oppress and stave off inevitable change, or we can acknowledge the our country’s original sins and begin sincere work to erase the systemic inequities built on that foundation. Otherwise, we could end up being a system truly at rest and at an equilibrium requiring no use of energy and resources to maintain itself—which is another way of saying dead.

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