VIRUSES FOR PEACE?
Is civilization a contagious disease?
A good many civilization-haters have been calling it a disease for years, of course but new evidence from the National Cancer Institute suggests that they may have been far more right in saying so than anyone ever dared to imagine.
It began a month and a half ago, when two NCI scientists - Doctors George Todaro and Raoul Benveniste - announced that they had found a startlingly close match between a particular sequence of genes in the chromosomes of baboons, Old World monkeys, great apes, and men, a similar sequence of genes in a particular virus that infects baboons, a similar sequence in a virus that infects cats, and a similar sequence in the chromosomes of domestic housecats and three related species of wildcats.
The implications, said Todaro and Benveniste, were inescapable. Apparently, some 25 to 35 million years ago, in the days when our ancient, primitive primate ancestors had not yet evolved into the separate species of Old World monkeys, apes and men, a part of our ancestors' genetic material broke loose and turned into an infectious virus. A few million years later, this virus began infecting cats as well as primates. And, perhaps 5 to 10 million years ago, this virus became absorbed into the cats' own genetic material, making the ancestors of our modern housecats a little bit more like monkeys, apes, and human beings.
Scientists have been fascinated for many years by the fact that domestic animals - horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, buffaloes, dogs, and cats-seem to be evolving in a way that parallels the evolution of man. Like man, these animals have been losing their fierce, Neanderthal-type brow ridges. Their fangs have grown smaller; their foreheads have grown larger; their brains have expanded. They are less jumpy, nervous, skittish, and fearful than their wild ancestors - less likely to attack or flee from men, less likely to attack or flee from each other. They are slower, more placid, and gentler; they are more trusting, more intelligent, and more willing and able to co-operate in complex tasks. (The evolution of horses and dogs that has made sheep and cattle-herding possible is a particularly good example of this.)
Are these changes due to infectious viruses - viruses which have carried the complex genetic basis for civilized behavior from one species of animal to the next?
Did some string of genes, broken loose from the cells of primitive dogs, infect the great apes and men and give them - us - the emotional and metabolic capacity for dog-like love and devotion? (Or was it the other way around, and did dogs learn devotion from the viruses of men?)
Did we "catch" the herd instinct from cows and buffaloes, and sheepishness from sheep? Or did tame cattle and sheep-herders infect cattle and sheep with tameness?
Is there a group of viruses, somewhere, that helped make civilization possible? Is civilization like the common cold?
It is tempting to imagine that this is the case - that, far back in prehistory, a series of "bugs" swept the world, and in their wake came agriculture, domestic animals, villages, and organized warfare - Mohenjo-Daro, Babylon, the Mongol hordes and the Great Wall of China; the Golden Age of Pericles, the Codes of Justinian, the mores of the Pharisees, the Magna Carta, the Renaissance, cities, factories, pollution, the global village, the Woodstock Nation, freedom marches …
Of course, it is still just speculation, and it will be many more decades before scientists will be able to explain the relationship between genes and viruses and civilized behavior.
But if it is true that civilization is "catching", then we can hazard some delightful speculations about the future.
What next? Nature, not man - the hand of God, disguised as evolution invents improvements in our chromosomes. We have some idea, from the past three billion years, of the direction in which evolution is headed. Life tends to evolve to greater variety, greater harmony, a more flexible response to every situation, more playfulness, more efficiency, more stability, more freedom.
Could there, then, be an eco consciousness virus in our future? A virus that makes man a more responsible caretaker of his world, and that makes animals, insects, and plants into more responsible watchdogs and caretakers of men? Perhaps one day of feeling dizziness and weakness - and afterwards, the men and animals who catch this disease evince a new reverence for all living things … Men by the millions suddenly begin refusing to pollute the air with auto fumes, or to poison the oceans with fertilizers, detergents, and industrial wastes. Hunters refuse to shoot the few surviving wolves and mountain lions and eagles, and throw down their guns. Farmers refuse to do anything that might hurt the birds and animals, and even the earthworms, in their fields. Lumberjacks refuse to cut down too many trees from one area. Sheepherders refuse to overgraze. Stripminers refuse to stripmine. Litterbugs are set upon by packs of ecology-minded dogs and pigeons.
How about an anti-ego virus? Suddenly men no longer fight for control of industrial empires, or for profits on petroleum, or for control of Indochina, or for more than their share of luxuries and holidays. Prejudices vanish; partisan politics are forgotten. Armies are disbanded. People admit it when they're wrong. Devotion ceases to be a dirty word. Scientists trace the source of the change to a world-wide disease whose principal symptoms are laughter and tears. The disease soon spreads to animals, who begin to co-operate with men without being asked.
A third possibility: perhaps, one day, a new disease sweeps through the world - one so subtle that its only symptoms are a sudden startlement and a slightly changed awareness. It becomes incorporated into human chromosomes. Children born with the new genes in their cells are no longer satisfied just to live out their lives no, they have to find out why they're here. Throughout the world, the new generation goes searching down a hundred thousand paths, looking for an answer, for something that will give them peace. Animals and plants have been infected, too - they co-operate with the seekers in amazing ways. The seekers call this co-operation "grace". Blind faith, cynicism, philosophy, travel, drugs, mantras nothing will give these new seekers peace … until they find their Lord, and receive the Knowledge, and begin to meditate.
AND IN A FLASH THEY'RE OFF!
Liberty, premie band from Aspen, Colorado on a national tour with John Denver - playing 42 concerts in 40 cities in six weeks.
We caught the band at the airport just in time to do a short interview and snap a few pictures before they took off for the first leg of their tour climbing aboard John Denver's specially chartered rainbow and star-spangled jet.
DT: How does it feel to be going on this tour?
Jan Garrett, (lead singer): I haven't thought about it yet and I hope I don't think about it for the whole time. It really feels great!
DT: How did this happen?
Jan: What do you mean, how did it happen? By grace. From the very beginning it has been very clear to us who is doing it all.
DT: Anything else before you go?
Jan: Yes! Everybody please come to the concerts … we'll be needing the holy company. Get front row seats so we can see your smiles. And Guru Maharaj Ji, if you are reading this, thank you.