Wild Poliovirus Eradicated in Africa; Rejoice!

Lost amidst the mirrored disavowal of the left this week was wonderful news. Democrats were too busy insisting that they weren’t left, Republicans were too busy insisting the Democrats were left. Both found themselves ignoring all policy related to the deadly pandemic ravaging the country.

Democrats, insisting that there was no vaccine for racism (because they have none) and Republicans insisting that there is no racism. Both look extremely out of touch as they throw cultural jabs and collaborate on a universal project of consolidation of wealth, militarization at home and aboard, privatization of institutions including health care amidst a pandemic, and inaction on the biggest catastrophe in human history—so-called climate change, but actually climate catastrophe, climate chaos, climate revolution. We all know this regression into the primal subconscious rhetoric of fear has nothing to do with the extreme left, who both parties will shoot down without remorse, but with the looming and all too present threat of global warming which will burn all the bourgeois property faster than the police can lock up the extreme left.

Even the so-called extreme left makes right turns when it fetishizes the black body, glorifying the violence against it, dismissing calls for socialism as too white, boxing in the black subject as dead and voiceless, in its proper place, insisting that the real lesson for the God-fearing GOP is that there God wasn’t white (true), but that nonetheless, the only function of the black body remains to make this sacrifice that will save us all, the concept of Western civilization that is fully pluralistic, incorporating “both sides”, aiming for “unity” all the while having a politics of Black Lives Matter being isolated to a deadly confrontation with the police.

This white guardianship defends the same property the police defend, defends the same private companies the police defend, and degrades all victories in the political arena as elitist. In this world, ridden by guilt and sadomasochism highly related to both a historical colonialist bodily religious shaming and a post-modern bourgeois all-knowing gaze upon the black body that creates a heroic reinterpretation of brutal police murder as a valiant sacrifice to post-class multiplicity project all the while curiously agreeing to a joint sacrifice of the Other.

All this violence against protesters, which is real, not “theoretical” or “authentic” of course should be viewed as a pathetic replacement of real politics, which itself a sort of abstraction to real economics, which is where both sorts of naive realizations “how dare you shame me for opposing Democrats” or “how dare you not support Democrats” both sort of fall short in evaluating both broader economic trends and paradoxically the possibility of legitimate political intervention into them as well the varying, and valid strategies, and coalitions built in response to real political problems with tough questions and nearly impossible answers.

In brief, stop the madness. Stop celebrating the bodies piling up as a “real” revolution. If you’re there, it’s scary and awful. A necessary price, perhaps, a tragic price, of course. And no this isn’t some “neutral” call against “violence”. Support protest. Supporting looting! But support the bodies piling up as a gotcha against the Democrats or socialists? Bizarre, dangerous and most obviously extraordinarily racist.

If this is “all in my head” as the extreme left keeps telling me, then great. But I want a left

with dreams here. Dreams not just of the bloody war but of mountaintop, knowing all too well that it may very well be a bloody war that gets us there. But this is the tragic means. This sacrifice is not emancipation itself but the path to emancipation. The obligation to the Other cannot just be this bodily trade (I sin, you die, we rise—without you of course, you’re dead, so it’s I rise—but with a new identity, a unity, a finality, a wholeness).

Ok I’m being too vague here. I’m weary now of being misunderstood. The amount of white people unwilling to engage in complexity now are the same ones ironically unwilling to sacrifice the body for the cause, hence the guilt, the defense, and the conservative conclusions (the protests themselves, full of the body, have been the best place for the mind, suggesting a linkage). My point here is a specific one: if the end of polio in Africa isn’t a victory, if the dead black person is a necessity on both sides, where are we going in this fascist country?

Maybe I’m paranoid. Forgive me. Police are everywhere now, perhaps I was too privileged to feel their weight before. Quickness to dodge their fire is needed. The intensity of loneliness in the pandemic—the social isolation can become political isolation—the paranoia induced by this universal distrust of society, interpreted through a variety of political explanations, can be overwhelming. Still, a concrete celebration is in order.

It’s not all bad. In fact there are many reasons to rejoice! The World Health Organization announced, forgive me, this is very exciting news, the eradication of the wild poliovirus in Africa. In this age of a crippling pandemic, such a health success is a reminder of who we can be and who we must be. It has been four years since a case of the wild poliovirus has been recorded in the entire continent. The strain of polio derived from the vaccine itself will still exist, perhaps persist, and wild poliovirus itself is not completely eradicated globally as it exists in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

What we must avoid is two distinct pitfalls: one is the challenge of distribution of the vaccine amidst the deadly contagious coronavirus pandemic. The second is getting comfortable about a state of being technically free of wild polio (it is as noted above largely a technicality, although still a huge step). By comfortable, I don’t mean individuals relax I mean states use it as a politically feasible time for cuts to a successful program. The success is the reason to keep the program going, and expand it until not just wild polio, but all polio, and not just polio, but all disease, is eradicated.

Distrust of authorities behind vaccines, inability to distribute medicine to vulnerable areas and poor sanitation were modern obstacles for Africa in its fight and they mirror our mounting battle against coronavirus amidst an administration on an EPA deregulation terror campaign who not only runs an austerity regime but also a paranoid disinformation network. When polio reigned, who could imagine where we are today?

Ultimately it was the cooperation of governments, the dedication to reach every person near and far, poor and rich, with the recognition that if one of us is sick we are all sick, just as if one of is isn’t free, none of us are. Here once again I’ll draw a parallel to dangerous talk about health care workers who “heroically” (it’s rarely framed as tragically) die for the cause of corona. Rather than thank you signs shouldn’t we be holding up signs of “I’m sorry” or better yet “We will save you too”. While many health care workers who were overwhelmingly women did take tremendous risk and heart to deliver the polio vaccine we can now place heroism in its proper place: not as a winning (polio) or losing (corona) proposition but as an act worthy in and of itself.

We don’t have a vaccine for the coronavirus but whoever has the audacity to believe they own the right to make money from this disease is dead wrong. Dr. Jonas Salk never sought a patent for his vaccine. Neither did Albert Sabin who developed the oral vaccine for polio.

How does the polio success relate to today? The lesson is that a patent for the vaccine of the coronavirus should be off the table. Anyone seeking to profit from this medical treatment must be held accountable. The lives of millions are at stake. This world is full of possibilities. Marvel for a moment in awe at the ability of a species to work together to not only have the individual genius to create but the collective genius of community and care.

Such a time of pluralism in our relations and technologies presents us with possibilities for greatness beyond our wildest dreams. Only this vision of what and who we love will guide us down this truly remarkable path to not only a vaccine to coronavirus, but yes a vaccine to all the world’s social, political, economic and environmental ills. From this vision we gain the necessary wisdom to see through false attempts from oppressors to assert a unity in an exploitive relationship.

No one has a patent on life itself, this fragile existence fleeting away as we descend into political doom. Perhaps this story of collectivism to eradicate a disease seems old-fashioned. But look around, it’s not so. Millions are uniting around common causes, fighting for communities, for people they don’t know, for a planet their children will inherit.

Forget the window dressing. People working together does not only involve sacrifice, it bears a reward. This week’s collectivism reward is a continent free of polio. It is a lesson both in the mysteriousness of a world battling diseases it can’t see and a reminder that by the law of averages, a world working together will achieve great things.

It may be a long road, a road without signposts, a world built on the faith in seemingly all powerful corporate overlords bending to “extreme” political demands, but it is a road that eventually will lead to greatness, such is the inevitable result of action. Every movement pushes the boulder up the road, and one day, we get there.

Today, in many ways, is one of those days, a cause for celebration, and a reminder that we are going somewhere, not just to heaven, not just to the plus gained through the minus, but to a material utopia, where we share all we have, and all we have is shared.

A world without patents, without properties of nature or woman or slave, a world with a collectivism ownership, where polio being cured in Africa feels the same as a polio cure in our own blood. This is not a blood spilled or consumed, but one shared. The miracle is not to die for each other’s sins but to live for each other’s love. This is the extraordinary condition. This is the vaccine.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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