How to Stop a Contagion

I know Margaret Mead once said never to “doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world, [and that] it is the only thing that ever has.”  But how, when you are to change a country not only plagued by corruption but infected at its core.  A small group of thoughtful and committed citizens against a contagion of corruption?

Corruption has devoured institutions, and has gobbled up the vital organs of this state, infecting individuals.  Our best and brightest are tainted, making it widespread, propagating it even more. One look at endemic corruption and you already feel defeated. Why not learn to live with the plague? Perhaps we’ve had moments of remission. We have unseated Presidents, convicted one for plunder, and so soon after, the convicted is a mayor, and the infection has spread even more. We cannot seem to potently rid ourselves of the malady. It keeps recurring, mutated or with a more resistant strain. How do you stop a contagion?

I got stuck.  Couldn’t hand over the cure.  I had hoped to deliver a tough remedy, like antibiotics or radiation.  That we purge this country of corruption, by cutting off infected parts, containing the endemic and blasting everyone inside.  But I knew it wasn’t the antidote. There was a recurring answer I kept dismissing.  Because my antidote is exceedingly idealistic.  Bordering on airy-fairy. And as much as I needed to engage in chemical warfare, I don’t believe in antibiotics.  Thus, I was desperate to find a cure in nature.

(And so, if you hate quixotic projects, kindly stop reading this piece.  I am clearly an idealist.  And my antiserum calls for white armies, butterflies, the birds and the bees, even schools of fish.  Really.)

Here I go. First, white-blood cells, the anti-bodies.  How does our immune system attack an infection?  The body’s armies of defenders are white blood cells.  The white army attaches itself to corrupted strains to stop it from replicating. These cells will also tag the virus so other fellows in the white army, can track down the invaders and smother them.  What is most fascinating is that once the virus has been cleared, the white army will persist and retain a memory of the blasted virus. Subsequently, the entire system is primed to fend off another infection from the same virus.  It gains immunity.

Second, I tell you the story of metamorphosis.   How does a butt-ugly worm sprout multicolored wings?  A caterpillar consumes a hundred times its weight in a day.  When it is too bloated to continue, it hangs itself up in a cocoon. Deep inside the cocoon and the caterpillar’s body, tiny cells (called “imaginal discs”) begin to form.  The imaginal discs carry with them a genome, the image of the future butterfly. These imaginal discs are so divergent from the old cells that the caterpillar’s immune system will mark them as a threat and destroy them.  Except that, more and more imaginal discs appear and clump together. The clumps then resonate at the same frequency, passing on information.  Consequently, the clumps will form clusters, until the worm’s immune system fails, and the imaginal discs mold the tissues, the organs, and the systems that will birth the butterfly.

Now, let’s pretend we label ourselves deviants of a wormy system.  As the worthy bearers of a future reality, we are the imaginals who will overwhelm the rotten system.  Except. How do you progress from mere deviance and itty-bitty clumps, to become clusters that resonate across the state?  We’re adept at assembling pocket movements but the bands can’t come together. Let alone learn harmony

So finally, let me tell you about the birds and the bees.  And schools of fish.  How do hundreds of bees unanimously decide where to build their hive? Waggle dances and swarming! Or birds, how do they create perfect V formations as they wheel across the sky? Have you ever seen sardines underwater?  They dupe big fish predators with an orchestrated dance! There’s no one in charge and no one is commanding the others.  And yet they band and work together creating perfect colonies, flying V’s and tango!

Which is what I’d like to hand over. It’s easy to doubt feel-good quotes and metaphors.  Up against ghastly corruption, you would easily dismiss faith and a miracle cure. Especially when you’re a tiny cell battling an endemic disease.  The old system can easily devour you or else turn you into glob.

But you can sift through all the annals of history, scour apothecaries and the wisdom of books, and find there’s no antidote to a spread of evil except a salvo of good.   So despite the contagion, I will pin my hopes on the small groups of thoughtful and committed citizens that will change this country.  The white armies around the country, the deviants, mavericks, and misfits.  Movements are everywhere.  Forming in itty-bitty clumps.  Except we need to learn from swarm intelligence.  Pay close attention and listen to each other.  Follow simple rules, pass on the right information and coordinate our movements.   Light on the hidden connections and invisible patterns that will link us together. Discover a way to cluster.  We need to discover how to sprout wings despite already crawling on the ground, orchestrate a waggle dance and swarm so we can build a new hive, and protect ourselves from predators with a synchronized dance.

And so I end this Quixotic treatise with Miguel Cervantes: “For neither good nor evil can last for ever; and so it follows that as evil has lasted a long time, good must now be close at hand.

Inspired by a talk of Maria Ressa on Social Media, a gentleman who raised a question, and Nicanor Perlas’ “The Butterfly Effect and Societal Transformation”

One Comment

  1. Frank Jones (@MrBasket2000)

    My country is also experiencing widespread corruption, affecting from the Head of State (just a nominal post, with no real duties) and his family, to all levels of the political system and governments (central, regional and local), labour unions and the economic sector. This is not something new: it has been there for decades, we knew it but we didn’t care as the economy was going well and our standard of living improved every year until . . .

    . . . We were hit by one of the deepest economic recessions ever in our history, and this is the biggest difference with Philippines: there, in your country, the economy is going well and people are improving their standard of life.

    The economic recession pulled the trigger of a citizen movement with the aim of changing the system and remove from power those who brought us and our country to this situation.

    I just hope that the filipinos won’t need a economic recession to start changing the system

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