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Forum

The Forum allows users to participate in conversations around shared blog posts, taped video encounters, and podcasts. Possible topics for such conversations include current events, Illichian concepts, and the intersection between Illich’s thought and that of others. The specific content of the conversation and the format in which it is conducted is left to participants.  

Covid19: What does ...
 
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Covid19: What does the 'data' say?

sajaysamuel
(@sajaysamuel)
New Member

Algebras of justice

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a covid data tracker that reports the different rates of covid-19 cases and deaths by vaccination status. According to the most recent data for November 2021, unvaccinated adults were 13 times more likely to be infected and 68 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than boosted adults. 

Such data fuels anger and frustration at the ‘anti-vaxxers.’ These people must be ignorant of the vaccination’s benefits or ‑if they know its benefits‑ be reckless to run the high risk of dying from a curable infection. Or perhaps they are duped by the unremitting feed of misinformation and lies dished out on social media by right-wing populists and conspiracy theorists.

The same data could be presented in a different way. The statement ‘68 times more likely to die from Covid’ means the same as ‘in a population of 100,000, 32 more unvaccinated people than boosted are likely to die from Covid.’

32 out of 100,000 is not a scary number. It undermines the sanctimonious resentment now felt by the ‘pro-vaxxers’. Almost two-thirds of the US population are now fully vaccinated. Among the vulnerable elderly, that figure stands at more than 88 percent. The risk of dying from Covid-19 for the boosted is now lower than the risk of dying in a car crash or from the flu.

The two ways of reporting the same scientific fact prompt very different responses. Emphasizing relative risks encourages the idea that anti-vaxxers are ignorant bullies. Highlighting absolute risks makes credible the notion that pro-vaxxers are scared ninnies. Public policies like masking, vaccine mandates, social distancing, and travel restrictions can all be promoted or contested by the way the same facts are presented.

So why do the CDC, scientific authorities, and much of the media prefer to use relative risk instead of absolute risk? The venal explanation for using numbers, graphs, and pictures that sow panic is that it is profitable. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ is a phrase well-known to newsrooms and media outlets which make more money from stoking fear. The cynical explanation for this preference is that the authorities and the media want to control the population. They expect a steady fare of scary figures to fatten the masses into obedience.

Rewarding and punishing may be acceptable when dealing with children. But citizens are not children. Moreover, using numbers to intimidate or to patronize is likely to be self-defeating. It can entrench contenders in their corners rather than creating room for reasoned discussion.

Two years is enough for this season of rancor. It is time to set it aside. No one after Omicron can still seriously believe that Covid-19 will be eradicated. We will have to rethink public policies to live with the virus and its mutations. It is time for both ‘anti-vaxxers’ and ‘vaxxers’ to fairly confront the facts. To that end, data scientists of every stripe should refuse to play partisan politics. From now on, let their figures include both relative and absolute risk. Justice is blind only when even-handed. So let the scales of justice balance the toll from Covid against the uncounted harms from Covid policies—increases in domestic and child abuse, depression, suicides, and forgone medical procedures. These and similar calculations demean human suffering. Yet, they seem the necessary gateway to justice.

This even-handed approach might be called the algebras of justice. Algebra comes from the Arabic word al-jabr, which means joining or putting together, originally in the context of setting broken bones. We must mend the fractures in civil society before they deform the body politic.

Sajay Samuel

February, 2022

Quote
Topic starter Posted : 14/02/2022 1:51 pm
Neto Leao liked
Neto Leao
(@neto-leao)
Member Moderator
Hi Sajay,
 
Your argument is sharp and precise. Numbers and percentages have been the spearhead of basically every single decision taken by policymakers, statesmen and governments. In Brazil, for instance, where the numbers of COVID-19 deaths does not surpass only the figures in the US, the visceral debate between "anti-vaxxers" and "pro-vaxxers" is almost null. Basically for two reasons: a) in Brazil we do not have a history of well-established movements against vaccines; and b) one should not call arguments of anti-vaxxers that which was said by the president Bolsonaro when alerting the citizens against mRNA vaccines, that they would be turned into a crocodile or even worse, that they would contract HIV/AIDS. I agree with you that citizens are not children, but when you live under leaders such as Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán or Donald Trump, where many of their fantasies resonate with those of little children, any attempt to engender honest debates about kernel issues, such as vaccination for instance, would require the mutual agreement that we do not stand on the soil of a flat planet.
 
Back to your point of numbers, I believe that many if not most of the people in Brazil, at least with those I have spoken about this, took the COVID-19 vaccine based on numbers, that is on a risk calculation. They trust that, be it relative or absolute numbers, they are inside a safer zone comparing with those who are not vaccinated. I must confess that I know only one person in Brazil, within my circle of friends, who is not vaccinated – this numbers is ten times bigger considering friends in Us and Europe. Of course she is not afraid of becoming a crocodile, she presented her reasonable arguments for taking such stance. And interestingly enough, her arguments are also based on risk and numbers. That is, many if not most of anti/pro-vaxxers base their arguments on a calculation of risks. Living is not Life. Living without a shot can be meaningful inasmuch as living with a shot can be genuine. Life as a product of risk management, as something that fits risk calculations belongs to both anti and pro-vaxxers. Thus, your plead for Algebra fits the reality of people whose Life is measured by numbers, and a fair analysis could amend that which was broken, the body politic.
 
In Brazil, the most traditional and vernacular indigenous ethnicities, which have not been completely smashed first by colonialism and then by development – such as Xavante, Yanomami and Guajajara for instance – are fully vaccinated. They have not abandoned their traditional medical practices and are contrary to many of the modern western medical treatments. However, they have taken the COVID-19 vaccine for the same reason that I have taken, although our reasonings come from different perspectives. For them, vaccines in general are "treatments" that combines mother nature (a virus for example) with human ingenuity (vaccine technology). They do not see them as aggression against mother nature neither as humans unlimited desire to conquer nature. The body is not abused by a drug or a treatment, but invited to lead the response against an intruder. I see vaccines from a similar perspective, but I am grounded on Illich's concept of conviviality.
 
If we take the example of the bicycle, the ideal type of the convivial tool in Illich’s Energy and Equity, we can find kernel correspondences between bikes and vaccines. It is metabolic energy that generates kinetic energy so the bike can move. It moves, however, in a speed faster than my legs alone and for a longer period of time, for most people. Bikes are modern yet proportional, they are made by big industries but are low-quanta energy dependent (that is, the metabolic energy). Vaccines are the closest thing modern medicine has come to homeopathy, that is, the tool that allows the body itself to create the protection against a disease (antibodies). It is metabolic “energy” that generates antibodies against an intruder. Vaccines are also made by big industries – I know pharmaceutical companies are way more tyrannic then bike’s – but they are still low-quanta energy dependent. Jean Robert’s definition of tools, that is, as generators of positive or negative synergy between autonomy and heteronomy can help us to see that both bikes and vaccines generate positive synergy between autonomy and heteronomy.
 
In the case of mRNA vaccines, however, there is a nuance in the level of the flesh that must be addressed. The mRNA vaccines carry the code of the spike protein and after enters into the cells' smooth endoplasmic reticulum it "teaches" the body to create a layer of spike protein that covers the human cell and thus the body creates the antibodies to fight these proteins. mRNA vaccines cannot make the body create spike cells, this is simply impossible, since mRNA cannot even pass through the cell's nuclear membrane to enter the nucleus of the cell. For the body to create spike cells it would require a change in the DNA, therefore something that could get to the nucleus of the cell. mRNA vaccines can only carry a precise code of the spike protein and teach the body how to emulate it as a layer covering the human cell. In principle, therefore, mRNA or more traditional ways of making vaccines produce exactly the same result, that is, teach the body how to fight a disease. However, the body does not simply react to an intruder, like inactive virus’ vaccine or adenovirus’ vaccines, the body generates a protein that does not belong to the human species, “taught” by the mRNA code, and then after generating such protein it begins to create antibodies.
 
I must confess that I am still struggling with this nuance, which I am aware that it is not simply a detail, above all if one wishes to inhabit flesh and body. Would this code be a body's inner layer of text that, like Barbara Duden’s weeding cake metaphor, generates a scission with the flesh? For now, I still see COVID-19 vaccines as convivial tools, regardless of their numbers for protection against hospital and death and of their percentage of efficiency. There are risks of taking the shot inasmuch as there are risks of not taking the shot. Algebra as putting together that which has been broken is a very nice insight to call the scientists to reframe the numbers after two years of Covid. Should we also debate if vaccines are convivial or industrial tools? I never ride my bicycle calculating the risks, which in Brazil’s traffic must be huge!!
This post was modified 3 months ago 2 times by Neto Leao
ReplyQuote
Posted : 17/02/2022 10:46 am
Silja Samerski
(@siljas)
New Member

Hello Neto,

your argument that Covid-vaccines could be seen as a convivial technology, as a “bicycle” and not a car, is quite provoking. I am happy to start a conversation with you by replying to your ideas.

If we talk about current Corona-vaccines, we should not confuse them with classical vaccines. Classical vaccines simulated an infection; a weakened pathogen was injected into your body. In most cases, your body responded with long-lasting immunity. Yet, even these classical vaccinations are no “bicycles”, but “cars”:
1. vaccines inevitably have to be produced in high tech labs
2. they have many complicated ingrediencies which are only known to experts - you never know what enters your body
3. they have to be applied by experts according to their rules (how, when, how much etc.)
4. you cannot use a vaccine – like a bicycle – for your own purposes, or in your own ways, or rearrange it, muddle around with it, or …. - concerning vaccinations, you are only a passive consumer.

This doesn’t mean that vaccines aren’t helpful, no doubt many of them are – but, as with cars, their use should be limited (see my point on “vaccinism” below).
Homeopathy, in contrast, you can use by yourself. Principally, it is low tech, you could even produce dilutions at home.

Now, the so-called Covid-vaccines: The mRNA shots inject a command into your body. Your body becomes the production site of an antigen against which it then reacts. This reaction does not produce long lasting immunity. Rather, this injection is a prophylactic therapy. The head of Bayer, a big German pharmaceutical company called it a “gene therapy”.

mRNA injections are unavoidably high tech and sense-less. All four points above are true for them, too. But even more: You do not know and cannot know what you get injected. The “gene therapies” have no similarity with anything you know of (they are no weakened pathogens). And, in contrast to classical vaccines, they do not generate reliable immunity. Around me, everyone falls sick with Corona these days, no matter if and how often they got the jab. Thus, your immunity is now matter of expert’s definitions and redefinitions: Your immune status - now the basis for civil rights and duties in many countries - changes constantly, from "basic immunity" to "full immunity" back to "no immunity" - all according experts and their scientific test results.

Vaccinations have become a new “technological fix”, rituals enforcing the belief in the technical feasibility of health. We face “vaccinism”, the belief that you can update your immune system just like Microsoft windows against viruses. The vaccine monopolizes immunity against infections, it does away with natural immunity and your bodily healing powers. Becoming sick is seen as “dirty” and vaccines as “clean”. In Germany, having recovered from Corona grants you full civil rights only for 90 days, and a double shot at least for 9 months. Another example for the destruction of the vernacular – the culturally and socially embedded ability to fall sick, mend and heal – by industrial production.

I see nothing convivial in all this.

Best Silja

ReplyQuote
Posted : 23/02/2022 3:50 pm
Neto Leao liked
Nicola Labanca
(@labnicola)
New Member

Dear Neto,

I have the impression you are using per capita consumption of HIGH quanta of energy as a criterion to establish NON CONVIVIALITY of tools (or, equivalently, you are using per capita consumption of LOW quanta of energy as a criterion to establish CONVIVIALITY). I am not sure that this approach can be viable.
 
Although the estimation of per capita consumption that can be associated with the employment of given tools is generally a very difficult exercise requiring systemic approaches (like life cycle assessments), I can understand how per capita consumption of high quanta of  (exosomatic) energy can imply non conviviality. Nevertheless, I do not think that non conviviality generally implies consumption of high energy quanta. In other words, contrary to what you seem to assume, I think that consumption of high energy quanta is likely to be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for non conviviality. Examples of non convivial tools consuming low energy quanta should indeed not be difficult to be identified. Low energy policy tools fostering some kind of social exclusion might for example be probably included under this category (recent social distancing policies probably representing an example of this kind). Even the use of bikes can in my opinion prove non convivial under given social settings (for example, contemporary bike sharing systems implemented in several cities have probably not that much of convivial). All in all, I am hence not sure that social implications of the large scale employment of tools can be deducted from energy equivalences.
In case of vaccines being developed for coronavirus, I have the impression that the information based social imaginary being developed around cyborgs and immune systems can provide more elements of understanding. This social imaginary seems to identify people with kind of cyborgs whose health depends on existing possibilities to reprogram them.  
 
All the best!
Nicola
ReplyQuote
Posted : 24/02/2022 11:16 am
Neto Leao
(@neto-leao)
Member Moderator

Hi Silja,

Thanks a lot for your reply, I was hoping to engage in conversation so ideas and arguments can be clarified through thinking together. I read your text with excitement and, after considering your arguments, I would like to insist with some of my previous ideas.

There are a few Covid-vaccines that are made by the classical way of making vaccines. I took two shots of Coronavac, a Brazilian Covid-vaccine that was made in a public lab of the State of São Paulo, named Instituto Butantã, in which the research and development of the vaccine was conducted by colleagues from the University of São Paulo, who are post-doctoral researchers that live under scholarships. Coronavac and Butanvac, both vaccines from such Institute, are made of weakened pathogen. Interestingly enough, EU does not recognise any of these vaccines. If I travel to Italy, for instance, I fall into the list of unvaccinated people. Now, I know you argued that even classical vaccines are “cars” but I would like to think through the four reasons that made your case. 

  1. Bikes are made by an extremely high tech industry. Robotic arms are the main machine used for making bikes today. A bike factory is not a convivial tool and yet it produces a convivial tool. Cannondale, the famous bike brand, made approximately US$ 2 billion of annual revenue in 2020. Such revenue is 4 times bigger than Instituto Butantã’s. I must say though that one could still make his own bike, but besides Karl Davidson, who is perhaps the only person I know who is trying to make his own bike in his garage, 99% of bike users get their bikes from industrial production. Thus, I am not sure we could consider vaccines like “cars” simply because they are produced by high tech labs. 
  2. The Brazilian Covid-vaccine Butanvac, made by Instituto Butantã, is an open source vaccine. There is no industrial secret involved in the production of such vaccine, on the contrary, it is a production that is 50 times cheaper than mRNA vaccines. One can literally read everything that goes into this vaccine, above all because it is one of the few initiatives that focus on Covid-vaccines production for poor countries. But let us take the case of mRNA vaccines, which are the only ones available in Europe. I agree with you that we do not know the ingredients which are only known to experts. This is obviously something to consider. I ask myself if it is not the case for a political struggle and public pressure for making it more transparent.
  3. In Arealva, the 7000 people village where I took the vaccine, the local public health center was not prepared for this scale of mass vaccination. They gave a four week training that prepared people to correctly apply the vaccine. I was given a shot by the woman that works in the local bakery. She told me that the hardest part of the training was the number of papers and bureaucratic assessments she has to do in a daily bases. Giving people the jab is literally the easiest part. This simple and quite intuitive application was hijacked by experts. It does not mean, however, this is the only way. I agree with you that the rules of how, of when and of how much, are according to a dose given by an expert. But vaccines could also follow the example of insulin, which is one of Illich’s examples of the first watershed of tools, when a modern yet limited tool is efficacious. The second watershed is the scale of overefficient tools becoming counterproductive and ultimately resulting in radical monopoly. It seems to me that vaccines can fit both watersheds. As Illich said in that chapter: “the simpler the tools became, the more the medical profession insisted on a monopoly of their application”. This is happening with bikes, transport experts are trying to have monopoly over the use of bicycles. But in principle, I still see both bikes and vaccines as convivial tools.
  4. Here is where I mostly agree with you. Vaccines cannot be used for my own purposes or in my own ways, and of course, I cannot rearrange them. I believe, like you, that these are kernel principles for convivial tools. However, I remember Illich considering post services as examples of modern yet convivial tools. I cannot rearrange the post or use it in my own ways. Could we have a nuance here in which tools are convivial yet not necessarily fitting such criteria? Vaccines may not fit every aspect of bikes, but does that mean they are necessarily non-convivial? I might sound stubborn here, but my main argument for the conviviality of vaccines is that the body is not a passive consumer of a substance, like antibiotics. It is metabolic energy that generates antibodies to fight an intruder. Often times I cannot feel that my body is responding and actively taking the lead on creating immunity. Should we take vaccination as a condition in which one is a mere passive consumer when is actually my body that creates immunity? Vaccines cannot create such immunity, only an active body can!

I hope I was not misunderstood concerning homeopathy. When I said vaccines are the closest thing modern medicine has come to homeopathy, I meant that there are a few correspondences between them. Since a little child I learned to break fever by sweating, taking cold showers and having a wet cloth over my forehead. My body was leading my recovery. Could this be a correspondence with vaccines?   

I totally agree with you on the political task of setting limits to policies based on vaccines. Although far from my reality in Brazil, I am aware that most countries in Europe are tutored by "vaccinism". There is nothing of conviviality when you cannot have full civil rights if you are not vaccinated and if people believe they are updating their immune system like Microsoft. It seems to me that this is much more related to how vaccine as a tool becomes a national security policy than to the tool itself. I can easily forsee a scenario in which you would lose your civil rights if you do not use a bike, considering the emergency of climate change. Bikes could also be turned into a weapon of national security and we could live under “bikism”. Bikes can be turned into “technological fix” and destroy the vernacular. In Campinas, where I lived during my years of university, the creation of a bike lane came together with the destruction a square that was commonly used by the inhabitants of the vicinity. They used to sit and chat, play chess and even cultivate a garden. The municipality not even consulted these people when tractors destroyed their place for the sake of bike lanes. 

In principle, to break with the monopoly of experts over convivial tools is our political task. It is a shame that the debate over the tools is framed by bad or good, clean or dirty. Driving a gasoline car in Norway is “dirty” whereas driving an electric car is “clean”, although both produce the same result. That is why I wish to resuscitate the enabling distinction between convivial and non-convivial tools. That is why I wish to insist provoking the idea that vaccines are convivial. Could we see natural immunity and bodily healing powers as walking while taking vaccines as riding a bike?

Best,

Neto

This post was modified 3 months ago 3 times by Neto Leao
ReplyQuote
Posted : 24/02/2022 1:23 pm
Neto Leao
(@neto-leao)
Member Moderator

Dear Nicola,

I realised you had replied me just a few minutes after I had answered Silja's comment. Thank you for taking the time to engage in a conversation. I have been thinking a lot about vaccines, tools, conviviality and the possibilities for responses to the Covid-19 pandemic that are collective yet not engineered. It is a joy to finally share some thoughts and get responses that encourage me to craft clarity.

I believe that much of what I said in my response to Silja can also clarify some of your questions. I must start though by saying that I really appreciated your questioning of the assumption that low quanta energy is a viable creiterion to define a convivial tool. I took this distinction from Illich's Energy and Equity for granted. It is not my criterion, but Illich's. In Energy and Equity he argues that tools which are low quanta energy dependant are convivial while high quanta are not. It is quite a good time to revisit such criteria.

You mentioned social distancing policies as examples of a low quanta energy tool that is non-convivial. However, I cannot see how such example fits low quanta energy consumption. Such policies are developed by experts and burocratas, politicians and courts of law. Many, if not most of these policies cost thousands of dollars, they are made under the assumption that to enforce such laws a whole set of apparatuses of high quanta energy dependance are necessary to implement them. We are not talking about customary law. I am still not convinced that examples of non convivial tools consuming low energy quanta are not difficult to find. Yet, I am thankful to your provocation and would love to hear more about your thoughts on this. 

In addition to that, I think that a policy that generates an impediment for me to travel or to leave my house can be framed under a better concept in Illich than conviviality, I am referring to the concept of commons. In many places and spaces of the planet the only relation between people and their surroundings is mediated by the regime of property, private or public. Every property , private or public, becomes a matter of police. In many places in Brazil, where the commons is predominant, physical distancing was decided among communities, ingenious ideas were created to protect families, communities and tribes. I participated in some of these arrangements. We called physical distance, not social. We would care and check on one another and yet, during the toughest moments of the pandemic, maintain a physical distance to avoid the spreading of the virus. In many circumstances such arrangement was broken for the sake of supporting real needs. Perhaps, even physical distancing arrangements can be convivial!

I am in total agreement with your argument that bikes could also be trapped into conditions of systems, as you can read in my response to Silja. Conviviality, as coined by Illich, is a term used exclusively for tools, it is an analytical concept that helps clarify the distinction between tools and systems, for example. A bike, which is the ideal type of a convivial tool, can become the source of a system. That is why I still believe that the monopoly over tools is the main issue here. Cars are often necessary and suitable. If I am having a heart attack I hope to be taken to the hospital by ambulance and not by bicycle. However, as Illich said, we should not live in such a way in which we would need to be carried by something every time we want to move. That is why Illich came up with the idea of speed limit. Speed limit could make cars subsidiary to bikes. I guess I am cracking my head to think about what would be the speed limit for vaccines!!

All the best,

Neto

ReplyQuote
Posted : 08/03/2022 11:12 pm
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