James W. Perkinson
Professor of Social Ethics, Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Special Lecturer in Communication Studies, Oakland University
Coronavirus Cacophony: When the Dwarf Rebukes the Giants
Internal medicine MD Zachary Bush has recently asserted that the coronavirus appearance leaping from winged cave dweller to human struggler, beginning in late 2019, is not so much killer as revelator—revealing not some natural monstrosity of plague, but our own monstrous elaboration of toxic eco-destruction. The paper here will sit before this subtle reframing to craft an echo-response to the virus as what popular writer Charles Eisenstein has called a “coronation”—a globe-wide initiation into a new demand of evolutionary “sovereignty.” While both evocations stir cogitation and flicker with vision, neither takes their insight fully into the nether-world depths of our current dystopia. The effort here will track these “thought-comets,” arcing over the fierce upheaval of now, as one white male settler at the curve of water called Detroit—wrestling with the provocative, but not-quite-sufficiently-critical inspirations of two other such white usurpers of place in the U.S. of A.—pushes towards a more indigenously-responsible exploration of this new crossover phenomenon from beyond human self-preoccupation.
Certainly, the virus is a messenger—in its hypoxic invasion of human bodies, “unmasking,” at least in part, the air pollution whose urban vehicular or rural glyphosate-laced particulates become the “combinatory laboratory” that ups the ante on mortality. Thus industrialized metropoles and industrialized agriculture stand revealed as lethal and damnable. But missing from Bush’s break-down of the disease profile is the physiognomy of its social apocalypse—”unveiling” the on-going decimations that white supremacy and settler colonialism, neo-liberalism and petro-capitalism continue to visit on populations indigenous and of color.
Eisenstein likewise embraces the microbial shapeshifter as teacher, but fails to delineate the outrage of the asymmetry disclosed. How might we “hear” the message—not losing or diminishing the wonder of wild nature’s Gargantuan Potency, packaged so minutely, in this late hour of the microbiome’s signal role in ever “looking for” adaptive redress to the grave unbalancing that larger “players” like modern human social orders so wantonly foment on a now global ecological scale? But at the same time, not lose a single scintilla of prophetic indignation and denunciation of the oligarchic obscenity that the RNA-trader is one more time exposing inside human social relations themselves (what Paul will try to bring into focus as “Principalities” and “Powers” and “Thrones” and “Dominions”)? That is to say, how learn to speak of sacrality in a manner not excluding the ironic “majesty” of the nano-scale of Divine numinosity while cross-cutting the amazement with a commensurately fierce exposé and challenge of the demonic?