Bio: Davide is a Information Technology Project Manager, Second Level Degree - Teorie della Comunicazione Dissertation/thesis title: Black Mirror: Posthuman Visions?
Style: Thoughts scattered about this "psychodrama"
Fields: ICT, Media Studies, Posthumanism
Author: Davide Bruno
We are your ancestors, just like the rocks and the seaweed, and much more than the apes. We are wherever you are and also where you aren’t. Too bad for you if you only see in the universe what is to your liking! But above all, quit saying that it is I who am killing you. You will not die from my action upon your tissues but from the lack of care of your fellow humans. If you had not been just as rapacious amongst yourselves as you were with all that lives on this planet, you would still have enough beds, nurses, and respirators to survive the damage I do in your lungs...”1
«There are seven types of coronaviruses that are contagious for humans. Four types (NL63, 229E, OC43 and HKU1) are responsible for 15 to 30% of the world’s common cold cases every year and are considered endemic. Two other types are considered epidemic: the Sars outbreak, which affected 26 countries and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002, and Mers, which was first reported in 2012 and is prevalent in the Middle East.»2
Numerous studies have identified the origin of the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in bats that are supposed to be responsible of the current pandemic. It seems that their ability to host viruses without getting sick and the high tendency to socialize have made them one of the main reservoir species of zoonotic viruses. However, the causes that lead to the jump of species (spillover) and therefore to consequent epidemics, seem to lie above all in the reckless human exploitation of the territory and of the animal species that inhabit it.
The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, like the previous SARS and MERS, takes his origins in bats. In fact, it shares 96% of the genome with a coronavirus, RaTG13, found in a bat (Rhinolophus affinis) in the province of Yunnan (China) in 2013. (3)
The virus found in bats (RaTG13) doesn’t seem capable to infect human cells, as its Spike protein is not suitable to bind ACE2, the membrane receptor used by SARS-CoV-2 during human cell infection.
Therefore it seems unlikely that the current pandemic was caused by a direct passage of the virus from a bat to humans; it is plausible instead that the intermediate passages have occurred in other animal species, as has already happened with SARS and MERS. Viruses with Spike proteins quite similar to that of SARS-CoV-2 have been found in pangolins.
Whatever the mechanism that gave rise to the direct ancestor of SARS-CoV-2, there seems to have been a single passage from the last animal reservoir/host to man and, since then, the virus has spread only from man to man. (4)
«Viruses exhibit some of the characteristics which are common to organic life, while they are missing others (for instance, metabolism, which is the reason why they depend on their host cell); viruses are thus considered neither inanimate nor living, challenging the biological concept of life itself»5, somehow overcoming the animate/inanimate and living/non-living dichotomy, severely testing the classic categories of thought redefining the very meaning of “life”. From an evolutionary point of view: these “Things” are very ancient, circulating for more than three billion years, and Homo sapiens are, in terms of biomass, an insignificant species. The 7.6 billion Homo sapiens who populate the planet, in fact, represent just 0.01 percent of all living beings. Yet our impact on other life forms is devastating and unprecedented: throughout our history, we have gradually emptied the planet of plants and wild animals to replace them with livestock.
First anthropo-decentralized considerations
In western culture, the millenary anthropocentric world view, has been put in crisis in particular by the discoveries of the so-called "hard sciences" (6): mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology and lately by the recent achievements of nanotechnology, biotechnology and life sciences. Anthropocentrism is a cultural and social paradigm, an overall vision of the world and reality, which supports the affirmation of the humankind according to a dictation, precisely the anthropocentric one, in which man is metaphorically placed at the center of the Universe and everything that is not human “orbits around him" (7). Posthumanism intercepts from a theoretical point of view the profound change of the paradigm in the relationship with technology and nature: biotechnology, the great digital revolution and the Darwinian revolution, which has overcome disjunctive anthropocentrism, showing how man is no longer a special entity, but it is strongly correlated with all the rest of nature. The post-humanistic perspective, on the other hand, is able to dismiss man from the position of "the only guardian of the Kingdom of beings" (8) («unico custode della casa dell’essere»), laying the foundations for an ethical framework that justifies a joint relationship with other living beings and inanimate objects. Posthumanist philosophies, although characterized by an extreme heterogeneity of points of views, can converge in supporting the need to rethink the western culture, starting from questioning the traditional concept of being human, as well as some dualisms, such as human-non-human, natural-cultural, biological-technological. If we try to see it from a less anthropocentric point of view, the Homo sapiens are billions of potential guests for SARS-CoV-2, scattered all over the world; we are also facilitating it with ever more massive and fast transport systems, by which we gather and live in cities and metropolises: we are a perfect definition of super-spreader. It seems that the most widespread "biological entity" on earth is the virus, the eighth kingdom including thousands of species, alternately narrated as bitter enemies of the sapiens.As a part of the vast virosphere still largely unknown, SARS-CoV-2 has broken into our lives. In Italy, but also elsewhere in the world, it has found a fertile ground in a public health system reduced to the bone by decades of neoliberalism. The intrusion of the virus, with its disruptive effects, once again, shows that humans are not the only ones who play a leading role. Unexpected actors such as oceans, bats and bacteria often make and undo history. Their action unfolds through completely asymmetrical relationships with other actors and other entity.
The great catastrophes of humanity, such as the plague of 1347 or that of 1629, the coronavirus of 2020 are showing that despite the progress of intelligence and the arrogance of the "Promethean syndrome", or maybe just for that, the human being is constantly in danger. Even if there could be an intimate relationship between pandemics, progress and modernity. I think it is fair to remember while the world mourns and worries about the coronavirus pandemic, it ignores-or pretends to ignore, that since the beginning of this year there has been a spread in Latin America of dengue, the tropical disease caused by a mosquito, thirty times higher than the serious epidemic of 2015; in 2019 dengue produced 3 million infections, with more than 1,500 deaths. Worldwide, the situation is not better: according to UNHCR, 8,500 children under the age of five die every day because of malnutrition; in addition, 6.3 million children under the age of fifteen died, in 2017 because of malnutrition or other causes. I think it is really necessary to change the point of view, in favor of a more anthropo-decentralized approach that is: less western, less patriarchal, less Caucasian-centric, less racist, less adult-centric, less masculine.We can also identify a technological approach to the containment of the virus. Tracking, and more generally geolocation, provide the most open manifestation of the space of the control society, a potentially unlimited space, not directly marked by barriers, but constantly coded, reported, monitored. The recent collaboration between two technology giants also gives us an indicator of the epochal situation we are experiencing in fact Google and Apple are announcing a joint effort to enable the use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design (9).
We then move from supervising and punishing to supervising and rewarding. Thus the moral value of the choices is denied, because automatisms are at work that leverage immediate, unreflected pleasure, and do not value the slow apprenticeship, the variety of individual taste, the difference in character: straight to the bowels and that's it, a lot of sympathy and no critical distance, no deep and conscious empathy. On the other hand, these procedures imply a cognitive delegation which is always prodrome of social delegation: there is no way to get our hands in it, I can only join with enthusiasm, or desert, and suffer the social stigma.At the same time there is something tragicomic in finding that the geolocation of individuals assumes that they do not harbor the terrible and perverse idea of simply leaving their smartphones on night tables.
Voluntary servitude is at its peak when the prisoner's electronic bracelet becomes a expensive i-phone.
This is not a black swan, surely
Traditional storytelling and institutional communication describe the pandemic as a “black swan,” a metaphor for an extremely rare event that is unforeseen and has an enormous impact. It was coined by economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in 2001. Self-justifying and somehow completely self-fulfilling. Some scientists had sounded an alarm about a possible epidemic and the spread of a new zoonotic virus, so it was very predictable. An essential connotation is missing - explains Taleb - unpredictability. It is valid for the disease itself because it has been years since the scientific community warned that a global epidemic would break out sooner or later. Already at the time of Ebola it was feared: it did not spread because it had developed in a place not too connected with the rest of the world, but now the epicenter was in the country interconnected par excellence. But true linguists say that the proper metaphor for the crisis is a “gray rhino” (10), which refers to highly probable but neglected threats that have an enormous impact.
The real name of the current epidemic should indicate that it depends, in a certain sense, on the contemporary "there is nothing new under the sun", Coronavirus 2 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome, abbreviated as SARS-CoV-2 (acronym from the English Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - Coronavirus - 2), previously named new coronavirus of 2019 (2019-nCoV, or even 2019 nCoV-ARD) a name that in fact includes a "later" identification, after the SARS 1 epidemic, which occurred in the world during the spring of 2003. This disease had been called, at the time, "the first unknown disease of the 21st century". Not even the dignity of coining an original name. It is therefore clear that the current epidemic is in no way the emergence of something radically new or unheard. Of its kind it is the second of the century, coming from bats. A serious criticism addressed today to the authorities regards the prevention policies, after SARS 1, they should have had seriously supported the research to make real effective means of action against SARS-CoV-2 available to the medical world.
Lockdown of the mind
In a matter of weeks (from February 21 to March 22), Italy went from the discovery of the first official SARS-CoV-2 case to a government decree that essentially prohibited all movements of people within the whole territory, and the closure of all non-essential business activities. After a first underestimation, each Region/municipality has ruled the issue in a very different way: controls by drones, heavy fines for those who leave the house, encouraging the social denunciation, to name but a few. The central government, such as the local one, passed the buck to the individual behavior instead of planning a clear prevention policy with a massive use of diagnostic tests, massive employ of technology in contact tracing, monitoring and isolating those tested positive. The repressive system is also confirmed by the special powers assigned to the prefects, who are allowed to use the army to guarantee the containment measures, by simply communicating the decision to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, effectively equating the army with the police. The health system has been weakened by the cuts to the public spending, imposed by the financial system. The number of general practitioners has decreased, at least in Italy. So now the problem is that there are not intensive care units. In conclusion unlike HIV, an enormously more insidious enemy that has killed ~ 35 million people in thirty years and still without a definitive cure or a vaccine, SARS-CoV-2 is a virus incapable of hiding (in technical terms: to integrate into the host genome) and not very good at changing, therefore remaining much more vulnerable to the host's immune response. So, if it is unfortunately inevitable that COVID-19 will still cause many deaths in the coming weeks and maybe months, it is even clearer that it will soon be DEFEATED. All supercomputing resources are committed to finding the antidote to the SARS-CoV-2. Dreaming of the final clash between biovirus and sequencer decoder algorithms. In any case, the human is already out, it seems to me.
1 What the virus said - paru dans lundimatin#, le 27 mars 2020, https://lundi.am/What-the-virus-said (visited 15/04/2020)
2 https://multimedia.scmp.com/infographics/news/china/article/3075382/decoding-coronavirus-covid-19/ (visited 13/04/2020)
3 Andersen, K. G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W. I., Holmes, E. C. & Garry, R. F. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med (2020) doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0820-9.
4 Phylodynamic Analysis | 176 genomes | 6 Mar 2020. Virological http://virological.org/t/phylodynamic-an... (visited 15/04/2020).
5 F. Ferrando, Philosophical Posthumanism, Bloomsbury, London, New York, 2019.
6 The term only recently came into use, when practically all disciplines began to bear the name "Sciences" (social sciences, communication sciences). To refer to what were originally called Sciences (such as Physics or Chemistry).
7 R. Marchesini, Il tramonto dell’uomo. La prospettiva post-umanista., Dedalo, Bari, 2009, p.89.
8 G. Leghissa, Ospiti di un mondo di cose. Per un rapporto postumano con la materialità, «Aut Aut - La condizione postumana», n. 361/2014, p.5.
9 Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
10 M. Wucker, The Gray Rhino: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore. St. Martin's Press. 5 April 2016.