What the Immune System Teaches Us about
Diversity, Balance, Tolerance, Moderation, and Gentle Transformation
The Human Immune System (HuIS) can teach us much about how to best behave. For example, the HuIS has learned the importance of diversity, balance, tolerance, moderation, and gentle transformation.
Diversity: The HuIS has recognized that the human body works best when it welcomes a rich diversity of microorganisms to live within the human body. The best example of this is the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which welcomes a tremendous number and variety of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. Those organisms not only live harmlessly in our GI tract, but they also enable our GI tract, and even the immune system, to perform optimally. Indeed, lack of biodiversity in the microbiome of the GI tract leads to ill-health. Accordingly, the wise HuIS welcomes biodiversity, which it deems essential.
Balance: The HuIS makes it clear, however, that its welcoming of biodiversity comes with a request for balance. The variety of microorganisms need to live together in harmony, with no one species establishing unhealthy dominance. The HuIS honors and encourages all aptitudes and contributions. It encourages equity and lateral collaboration. It discourages hegemony, hierarchy, and supremacist behavior.
Tolerance: The HuIS has learned to tolerate imperfect viruses and bacteria—up to a certain point. The HuIS realizes that viruses and bacteria are imperfect citizens. Afterall, Human beings are imperfect, too. And so is the HuIS. Some viruses and bacteria, new residents in particular, may evolve in unwanted directions and start behaving in undesirable ways. But the HuIS has learned to tolerate imperfections, as long as they are not too harmful. Perfection is not expected or demanded. The HuIS is not heavy-handed. It is not totalitarian. If anything, it may be too gentle, too lenient, too kind. But it has learned that it is best to err on the side of being tolerant, until/unless the behavior of certain microorganisms becomes too threatening. Once such threatening behavior occurs, the HuIS quickly and competently restores order. It is not afraid to use its power, but it uses it responsibly and wisely.
Moderation and Gentle Trasformation: The HuIS is able to maintain order and balance because it has learned to gently nudge new viral and bacterial residents to evolve in acceptable directions. The HuIS carefully monitors the new mutations that naturally evolve. If the HuIS recognizes certain mutations to be too threatening, the HuIS eliminates those variants. If new mutations are less than desirable, but not too threatening, the HuIS tolerates these variants. The HuIS has perfected the Art of moderation and gentle transformation. It knows what to tolerate and what not to tolerate. It is simultaneously lenient and strict. It allows considerable freedom but knows when to impose its regulatory powers.
It is this gentle, careful, moderation and tolerance that encourages new viruses and bacteria to evolve in directions that make them increasingly collaborative and decreasingly threatening—enabling them to live peacefully and constructively with one another and with the human organism as a whole. The goal of the HuIS is to encourage peaceful co-existence among the body’s bio-diverse residents. The HuIS favors mutations that are most compatible with this peaceful and constructive co-existence and disfavors mutations that are destructive and threaten harmony. Part of the genius of the HuIS is its ability to recognize how to gently transform potentially threatening and destructive viruses and bacteria into becoming more collaborative and constructive. New residents do not necessarily know how to behave properly. The HuIS teaches them, through natural selection.
By studying the HuIS, we can learn lessons about the importance of diversity, balance, tolerance, moderation, and gentle transformation that are applicable to both individual and collective social issues. These lessons can be applied, for example, to our individual and collective understandings of and reactions to the current COVID epidemic. But have we applied those lessons? As we (the American public and its leadership) have addressed the COVID situation, to what extent have our behaviors been characterized by a welcoming of a diversity of opinions and analysis, tolerance, moderation, balance, and gentle nudging? To what extent have our behaviors been characterized, instead, by polarization, extremism, refusal to consider other points of view, shaming, shunning, and abuse of power? To what extent have we learned from and emulated the kind, welcoming, balanced, tolerant, gentle, wise behavior of the HuIS?
We would not exist, as a human species, if the HuIS had not learned the lessons it carefully practices. We will cease to exist if we do not learn from and emulate our HuIS.
April 15, 2021