Ebola is 20 million years old?
How do you know?
Viruses are terrible at leaving fossils, but they can leave their imprint on their hosts.
Every now and then, a virus will insert some of its DNA into its host’s genome, and that viral DNA gets passed down their descendants for millions of years.
Our own DNA is riddled with viral DNA, which makes up at least 8 percent of the human genome. Most of it has mutated into useless baggage, but some has been transformed into useful genes (useful to us, that is). I’ve written here about how virus proteins are essential for our placentas to develop.
The presence of the same virus at the same spot in two different host species can give a clue to its age. That’s because the virus must have infected the common ancestor of the two species.
In recent years, scientists have been finding DNA from the lineage of viruses that includes Ebola (called filoviruses) in mammal genomes. Last month, they published an especially interesting study on this fossil virus material. They found the same viral DNA at the same spot in two species of rodents–hamsters and voles. And this DNA is more similar to Ebolavirus than to its closet relative, Marburg virus. Hamsters and voles share a common ancestor that lives roughly 20 million years ago, and so that means that Ebola viruses had split off from Marburg virus relatives at least that long ago.
There’s even some evidence that some of this Ebolavirus DNA is performing some useful jobs in its mammal hosts. It would be fascinating to learn more how this deadly virus has been domesticated.
What’s weird is I’m one of these old school activists. Before I was a writer I was an activist. Super boring! I’m kind of still an activist. Not kind of, I still am. It’s really like the identity my friends knew me before I was any kind of writer. Again guys, it’s sort of strange but I grew up in the 80’s in Central New Jersey and every single kind of colonial settler colonist calamity was present in my community. So get who my friends were, right! My friends were an Irish immigrant kid, the only white kid in our community, the only one, and hard core Irish Catholic republican. His family was not republican as you guys think, republican in the Irish terms. His family used to pass the hat around in church to raise money for the IRA…. This was the 80s, you guys, they would get up and be like, British occupation, 22 Irish were killed, let’s throw money in and the hat would go round…
My other friend was an Egyptian kid whose family extended into Palestine, and throughout all the 80’s, while everybody else was like watching like John Hughes movies, this kid had me on point on Palestine. This kid was “like this and like that and like this and like that.”
And then of course this was at the height of the apartheid movement. So all of my African American friends, well I should say, two of them, not all of them, two of them had parents who were part of that whole leftwing, you know, fucking pro-ANC, anti-apartheid movement. So I’m in this poor community and this is all just getting beamed into my head.
So by the time I was in college, I could give you chapter and verse on anti-Zionist projects. And look guys, you know– for many people it’s like a really tough issue. It’s like, we’ve kind of gotten deranged so that there are certain areas we can’t discuss. And of course the situation in Palestine is never– is like an utter taboo in this country. You know, it is an utter taboo. It’s like our ideas of terrorism, our ideas of Arabs, are over-saturated with the most negative, weirdly-perverse racist ideologies. I mean I can’t even turn on the news for five seconds without hearing the most fucked-up racist shit about Arabs or Muslims that would never pass muster if we were talking about any other group. And so in that kind of atmosphere it’s just a shouting match. You know if you’re like, I think the occupation of fucking Palestine is fucked up on 40 different levels, people are like, you’re the devil, we’re going to fucking drive you out of MIT, we’re going to get your tenure taken away, we’re going to destroy you.
I mean that’s like literally the reality. Where you can say almost anything else. You could be like, ‘I hate humans.’ … Bien. Bien. [unintelligble/Spanish/laughter]
I mean, I’m sorry guys, just forget it, I mean just as a basic human being, on the basic, basic level: If you are occupying other people’s shit, guess what, you are fucked up. [Wild applause] That’s that. I mean, that’s that. and that’s a tough thing for people to stomach, man. Because we live in a country that’s currently occupying people’s fucking land. [Applause] Like, god forbid, Americans are so deranged about Palestine because Americans are thinking, like yo, if we give up here, these fucking Indians are going to want their shit back. Well maybe they should get their shit back. Since 90 percent of us don’t own anything, I dont’ know how much it would hurt us. But whatever.
For most of recorded thought it was taken for granted that rationality was what separated us from the beasts. Plato argued that hatred of reason (misology) sprang from the same source as hatred of humankind. Aristotle declared that man was ‘the rational animal’, and this seemed evident to Spinoza, too: just as ‘a dog is a barking animal’, so man was the beast who reasoned. Philosophers have, of course, long differed about the nature and limits of rationality. Kant argued against ‘rationalists’ such as Leibniz, who taught that pure reason could disclose the nature of reality. Hegel insisted that individual thinkers cannot escape their particular historical context, and Hume observed that reason alone cannot motivate action.
Nevertheless, until recently it was still largely assumed that rationality, whatever its character and limits, was a definitional aspect of humankind. Hence the despairing apotheosis of Romantic anti-rationalism in the later 20th century, when it seemed to many that the Enlightenment had led straight to the Gulag and the Holocaust: to decry the operation of reason was to take a pessimistic view of humanity itself. Today, however, we are told we can abandon the notion that rationality is central to human identity. But does the evidence show that we must?
What cultural logics connect recent confrontations in Ferguson, Gaza, and east Port of Spain? The short answer is militarism, poverty and racism.
Peter Kraska, a professor of justice studies, describes police militarisation as “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.”
Watching events in Ferguson and elsewhere in the USA it is clear the sale and transfer of billions in weapons and military equipment to police forces around the US has created a militarised police force unable to fathom the concept of community policing.
In Gaza, the Israeli state’s embrace of an ideology of militarism has produced a dire public health crisis. The connection there is not just one of ideology but of training and equipment too. The same gun, projectile, and shell casings, manufactured by the same US companies like Combined Tactical Systems, litter the streets of Ferguson and the rubble of Gaza. While Israeli security forces also trained two law-enforcement agencies in Ferguson.
In east Port of Spain, the state, under the leadership of Captain Griffith is also involved in turning residential areas into militarised zones. The Captain’s answer to those speaking out at the inherent dangers of police and soldiers treating citizens and residents as wartime enemies is east Port of Spain is the safest it has been in years. And women and children can walk securely again.
Conveniently, Griffith leaves out the part about residents jumping from one dire situation to another or how making neighbourhoods into state enforced military zones, and making people live under conditions that feel like occupation, helps in the long term?
The second link between Ferguson, Gaza and east Port of Spain, is a history of poverty. To fail to see the inhabitants of all three as victims of economic injustice, and blame individuals for troublemaking, is to be blind to the context, provocation, and reasons people behave as they do. Crime is often a product of social conditions, and no policing including militarised policing can totally eliminate it.
Poverty for all three areas is structural. This means poverty is a historical legacy, reinforced rather than solved by the state. Whether it’s the 7-year blockade of Gaza, or the underdevelopment of Ferguson and east Port of Spain, the outcomes of intergenerational poverty produce populations and persons in need of support, development and uplifted social conditions. Not more state violence, destruction, and further retreat from social norms
The final link between the three is racism. This is the link that makes sense of why persons in power accept militarisation and poverty in areas they are not from. Racism is easy to see in Gaza and Ferguson. How could events be described otherwise? The Israeli state is founded on racism, while US police statistics illustrate being black there is a different and more dangerous experience than being white.
In T&T we might pause and say the issues found in east Port of Spain are less to do with race and more to do with class. After all the hotspot areas are low income and we have no white majority. Yet that would be an error. Yes these situations are about economic realities but they are patterned by the racist ideologies of their colonial origins.
The sadness about acknowledging connections between confrontations in Ferguson, Gaza and east Port of Spain is no leadership anywhere is willing to recognise that when militarisation, poverty and racism blend we’ve returned to the colonial logic of racist imperialism and white supremacy.
One form of racist supremacy in this new imperialism is the false pride with which leaders look at their supposed interventions. Whether its Netanyahu, Thomas Jackson (the Ferguson police chief), or our own Captain Griffith, the problem to them is always the people in those under siege communities.
That is why the powerful and their military agents dehumanise and mistreat them. Yet these fair-skinned male leaders, and it is always men, are so enamoured of their actions they fail to see the context or consequences of their ideas.
It isn’t the people who are the problem. Lawlessness is a symptom, not the cause. Whether its crime, or looting or riots, these are some ways the powerless take back power. Many might not like such social rebellion but it’s symptomatic of a wider problem sewn into the fabric of modern society.
That problem is the cultural logic of colonialism. Its armed forces, economic looting and white supremacy never completed went away; they just continued along submerged and are back in the open for all to see.