Cardiac Cells and How Communities Can Learn to Beat Again.

Expanding on a twitter thread found here:

Let’s talk about cardiac cells.

You know we can grow them in a Petri dish? When they’re alone, they just twitch. But if they’re touching? They start beating together. It’s What They Do.

Hearts are simple.

They’re just muscle pumps.

It’s why we can yank & reinstall if we have parts.

Cardiac cells are kinda cool because of the ion channel stuff, but they’re really basic, and there’s a reason they’re early in fetal development. They’ve got to get organized early, but when a “fetal heartbeat” is detectable? It’s a streak of flutter. It fits on a pinky nail.

With lots of room to spare.

What’s not developed when a few dozen cardiac cells throw a rumba party in an embryo?

Nerves, brains, brain stems, all the digestive stuff, eyes, ears, ankles, hips, lips… I can go on. Here:

But let’s also talk a bit of history.

Consider the first Christian concepts of infanticide as applied to the potential, the not-yet born. These evolved long before pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, stethoscopes, or even a lot of observational medicine. Irregular periods were the norm.

You might suspect you were pregnant, but you wouldn’t, couldn’t be sure you were pregnant until an event around 16-20 weeks, called quickening.

(It’s when your adorable peanut (or personal facehugger, depending on your feelings about pregnancy) kicks you in the goolie bits for the first time. Fortunately, your peanut/facehugger is small.)

Most people now who are intentionally pregnant are delighted their sproglet is also growing a tiny pair of Doc Martens in there.

But 700 years ago? You may not even know you’ve missed a period. Periods are unreliable when every calorie of labor only produces 8-10 calories of food.

(Footnote: The current return on seed to crop is about 500 calories per calorie of *seed*, but the use of fossils fuels for farming has actually reduced food production efficiency. It now costs us 3 calories for every 1 we can eat. Processing and transport are the major issues here, and explicitly our over-reliance of fossil fuel inputs like anhydrous and overuse of pesticides. This is a climate change issue we have to address. )

But 700 years ago? If you felt the early symptoms of pregnancy, there was

a) a HUGE chance you were gonna miscarry anyway, and
b) it wasn’t a crime to eat/drink/make into a pessary the medicine of the time to bring on a period.

That lasted well into the 19th century, and oils of rue, tansy, pennyroyal, and compounds of all of the above plus cohosh and several other known drugs were just part of the standard pharmacopeia, including in the 1905 Sears Catalog.

Fun fact: archeological projects on the Oregon Trail & California Gold Trail regularly find empty bottles lacking corks for patent medicines of the time used to alleviate “menstrual congestion”. Women who were mostly WALKING from St Louis to Willamette or San Francisco knew exactly what those drugs were used for, and what it meant to plan a pregnancy to their best ability.

The point: For a good 1000 years of a Christian dominated western world, making yourself certainly not pregnant before quickening was No Big Deal. It was not a crime, not even generally condemned.

There was always some celibate being a judgy asshat (Susan B Anthony, priests…) about women making their own decisions about reproduction (SBA was evil on this). Medical professionals of the time made the strong case to BE CAREFUL with those poisons — and they are — , and YES, YOU WILL GET AN INFECTION THERE IF YOU POKE THAT THING IN THERE IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING. AND YOU WILL DIE.

But that? They were adamant mostly because there were no antibiotics.

(Also, pre-20th century medicine was dealing with much bad observational data and problematic theory, but they were not wrong about infection being something they had little power to control.)

Now… We didn’t invent the pregnancy test until the 1930s. At that point, we could confirm early pregnancy and learned to observe the specifics of the condition, while we were also progressively improving at preventing pregnancies (better condoms, diaphragms, then the Pill) & safer abortion.

But we now had to reckon with that old notion of quickening that had become cultural foundation. We had to think deeply on the ethics of pregnancy, on free will versus interpretations of scripture and tradition. And we should think of these things: we should contemplate if agency and autonomy can be forcibly abridged, or only voluntarily; and if there is a moral good for that abridgement, how do we make it an equitable abridgement so that no group of people are by law or by custom forced to bear more responsibility for childbearing? How do we encourage and enable childbearing and parenting for the best interests of the potential child, as well as the adults?

Plus between the 1930s and now, we’ve always had a deeply patriarchal culture entwined into a capitalist structure with a massive need for workers.

The sixties gave us photographs from the inside of the uterus for the first time & ultrasound told us exactly when each developmental mark happened.

Quickening was always subjective. If you asked a woman in 2nd trimester if she’s been kicked yet? There’s a good chance that if she strongly felt she needed to abort that pregnancy, she would say no, she had not. (I obviously state that as her right.) Since early kicking feels a lot like intestinal gas anyway, it’s not even that much of a stretch.

But observing, for instance, a heartbeat on an ultrasound is not subjective. And the forcible Birthers liked anything that took agency out of the woman’s hands. Anything on an ultrasound could be made to fit that cultural quickening argument, and the earlier the better.

Because the simple organizing principle of cardiac tissue beating together is so very simple, and because those streaks of proto-cardiac tissue (they’re not a heart; they have no blood vessels or valves!) necessarily start beating early in embryonic development, using that flutter of cardiac tissue as an objective measurement of quickening leaves the tissue of a figleaf of a legal abortion, while effectively banning almost all of them.

This heartbeat movement has been a forced birth goal for decades. They’ve been working to get their reps into office to make it happen.

The question, of course, is always why there’s such a close capitalist/business interest alliance with the forced birth crowd? Pregnancy is expensive for businesses: if they have to pay for family insurance, a pregnancy is $20K in the US, easy. If they don’t, and half of their workforce has to take a year off, that’s a training cost also in the $10-15K range. The best business decision is free, easy contraception, for everyone.

Note above? that Patriarchal comment?

That’s a big reason for the alliance. That need for cheap workers, and workers who are easy to control, because they can easily be replaced and will tolerate low pay and/or poor working conditions because it’s better than the alternative.

Ohio, for example, is losing population. The state’s population has been virtually unchanged for the past 30 years, while its demographics show that it’s getting older, poorer and less well educated.

A flat or shrinking population makes a WORSE economy; a growing population is key to a thriving one. This is why Thanos is so completely wrong, and why a post-Snap world is a chaotic, failing and flailing one before we consider the massive collective trauma. (This is also true of Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series, which is just utterly terrible in every dimension. See Fred Clark, at Slacktivist, on this.)

More people means more services, more expertise, and more production of goods and services. Thanos had no concept of economics, and only a bad one of bacteria — yes, in a Petri dish, bacteria will eat everything, overpopulate, then die back and maintain a lower population. That’s how it works only in a Petri dish.

Ohio hasn’t been able to attract migrants, and is doing a shit job of keeping their young people in state. They’re getting older, sicker, and less able to work, with a shrinking population following them to keep paying for them. Sure, nobody in Ohio wants to PAY for the infrastructure they HAVE, much less the stuff they’ll have to build to attract inward migration, but that’s because there’s a behavioral vicious cycle at work here.

Take a thriving town 60 years ago: many small businesses, most of the population was under 40, they had functional industries to keep capital cycling from consumer to producer and back. A growing population needs more housing, which means more jobs, which brought in capital from the feds for mortgages (as monetary creation). Which becomes real money as soon as it’s a construction worker’s pay.

But then the town peaked, and while it’s easy to get people to pay for new stuff on the town credit card, nobody likes paying to maintain anything, either with the checkbook or the town credit (municipal bonds). Tax revenues don’t keep up (because they forgot to put aside a capital sum of the early property tax income, then property taxes didn’t keep up), major industries retooled or closed. The small businesses suffered. People left. Taking services with them.

This isn’t new; it was happening, more slowly, before the Industrial Revolution, too. People are essentially lazy; when a more efficient thing comes along, it displaces the older inefficient thing, and there will be some people who can’t adapt and will suffer.

But the people who are still there remember the way it used to be. They feel the loss viscerally, but they also become deeply paranoid about losing or sharing what they have left. They remember abundance; they feel scarcity now; they anticipate total loss.

They’re fearful.

Many of the ones who remain are trapped. Their wealth may be in a house they paid for, and now they can’t sell because nobody’s buying in a dying town. Or they can’t get a refinance on a mortgage, and they’re upside down. Their parents or elderly relatives can’t move.

This backlash against others is an angry manifestation of grief. It’s not healthy. It’s a reality. It manifests, often, in religious reactionary beliefs and attempts to control the behavior of others because there’s so little economic control available. Also, please do not doubt the extent of emotional self-justification. Again, see Fred on this, specifically here.

But the funny thing?

It’s not true.

Towns have been dying & rebuilding for thousands of years. If there was a good reason to put a mill on a river in 1750, there’s a good reason to put a mill on a river in 2020. Ohio can fix this, without punishing half of the population.

First, they need to declare comprehensive bankruptcy. Every town that’s upside down on municipal debt compared to property & sales tax income needs a bankruptcy restructuring. It needs to be what bankruptcy was intended to be in the US – the economic reset button of the biblical concept of Jubilee. It cannot be the Michigan model of punisher emergency managers. And at the county level, and at the state. Because they’re all upside down.

Footnote: all lending comes with risk. There is no reason that lenders should be insulated from the risk of losing their money. A guaranteed loan is a moral hazard for lenders, and it makes them do bad things with money, like… tranching mortgage backed securities and inflating their value. Remember 2008? The moral hazard of guaranteed loans drove that.

Then allow cities, counties and states to continue to collect the property tax, on the condition they use all the money that USED to go to servicing ALL of that debt to build infrastructure. There’s a LOT of debt in Ohio & in Alabama & in Georgia & any other place that’s losing population and getting draconian about forcibly quartering every uterus with state agents.

I don’t mean plumbing projects.

Or roads.

I mean wafer fabs.

I mean semiconductor assembly.

Electronics infrastructure, from recycling the massive store we have, to constructing new ones.

(And the educational infrastructure to do all of this.)

I mean solar panel manufacturing.

Plastics recycling to fiber spinning to textile construction.

Cotton work — there’s no reason to ship cotton from Georgia and Alabama to Malaysia for spinning, Indonesia for knitting and Honduras/Bangladesh for cutting and sewing just to ship it back to a Walmart in Macon. We can do this. We did, for a century. We can do it better, without killing our workers. We can build dust control.

I mean rockets.

I mean heavy lift capacity to fire as much as we can into low earth orbit, with the intention of building orbital manufacturing platforms to get shit over to the Moon and out to Mars. Work on the space elevator. (We’re close. We’ve got the carbon fiber tech very close to making this possible.)

I mean robots – machines to make the machines and the people to build and maintain the machines. And the intellectual infrastructure to break the machines that do more damage than good, by building a better one.

(YES, we have the rare earths & metals problem. We can recycle through it for a while, during which time we work on alternate sources and alternate materials. 100 years ago, we didn’t give a damn about niobium and tantalum and palladium. If we work the problem, we won’t have this problem in 2119.)

Everything we’re import? Every state that is upside down on debt could be making everything on one of those cargo ships. Because we once did, but the nation and the states refused to help manufacturers finance a functional retooling for improved environmental and worker safety standards. So manufacturing left for places where they could be dirtier and crueler, and cheaper, and this made the world a worse place twice over — the community abandoned and flailing, and the one being exploited.

We can do this, if it’s where we place our focus. It’s expensive. Yeah. That’s life on this planet. And off of it, if we have enough of our fossil fuel bonus left to make that step.

At the root of all of this reactionary social behavior is the fact that we are stuck hard in a debt trap. And we don’t have to be. Because we have the concept of bankruptcy, and we have the ability to admit that the 20th century’s experiment with the suburban model was an abject financial and social and environmental failure. (There’s a reason it never existed before.)

I hate going down the Bern path, but yeah, fixing an economy on a local/state level is how you make people secure enough to think of criminal justice as reparative instead of punitive; it’s how you think of drugs as a symptom of a social failure instead of personal morals. (Elizabeth Warren is so much better on this.)

Having the basic security of a functional local economy is how we get people willing to invest in education, because they have enough resources that they can afford to delay their children going to work and contributing to the house, or getting out of the household to reduce costs.

And secure enough in their access to medicine that they don’t resent poorer people for having Medicaid, and secure enough in food to not resent EBT… and so on.

It’s not all economic anxiety, but it IS a wide-spread lack of security and distrust of failing systems.

Local financial security is how a culture stops resenting other people for having sex, or feeling the need to punish all of the women, or scrambling to force population growth & forcing a form of debt & health care coverage indentured servitude.

Gotta have security to see other people as people.