Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The OTHER Manhattan Project...

... Establishing the Right of Life.

Dr Martin Henry Dawson wasn't the most publicly articulate of individuals, to put it mildly.

 However, his public deeds have stood in, just fine, for his lack of public words.

In the late Fall of 1940, I think he saw his prominent university, together with the American scientific establishment and his government, begin to act a bit like an Nazi , in their admirable attempts to stop the Nazis.

He may have felt that the minute we start acting like the Nazis, they've already started to win the war.

It probably started when he saw a Parkinson-afflicted patient named Charlie Aronson, probably a Russian or Polish born Jew, being set to lower priority (in the informal triage system), when it came to seriously treating his SBE disease.

 This was because Dawson's university medical school, along with all of American medicine, began putting much less emphasis on Social Medicine (the strong helping the weak and the sick) and much more on War Medicine (the strong helping the fit and the strong).

If you want to see it as the American Right using the upcoming war as an excuse to turn back the advances of the American Left in the area of health care, few historians are going to call you wrong.

Dawson had the conventional Jello-like morality of his 134 million other fellow Americans - the sort of morality that publicly disapproved of the mass killing of  Jews but stopped short of doing anything direct and immediate to stop it.

And he was dying of a terrible disease that literally sapped all of his strength.

Nevertheless he successfully defied his government at the height of its powers and moral authority.

 Dawson succeeded in getting many others to ACT UP and defy the wartime government as well, until it bowed to massive public pressure and returned the Right Of Life to the weakest of its citizens.

He made sure his Natural penicillin would save Charlie and all the world's sick, in war as in peace ---- and it still does.

I am fascinated why a dying man was able to do so when so many  better known, more motivated, more experienced social activists and critics failed in their wartime efforts to make the government do right.

I have come to believe the answer lies in his private, personal research project.

From 1926 till his death in 1945, Dawson was privately consumed by his fascination as to how weak, tiny, brainless bacteria and other microbes managed to co-exist and even flourish in a world seemingly dominated by beings much larger and smarter than they.

Dr Dawson did pioneering work in some of the most seminal Biology of the 20th Century : HGT DNA/Quorum Sensing/Microbial Mimicry/Biofilms.

He began to feel that the tiniest beings are very clever indeed, perhaps in some ways, even cleverer than the largest , smartest beings on Earth: us.

Through this work, over time, I think he began to fundamentally doubt the human counterpart to this: that it was unfortunately inevitable that  Might was Right in the workings of human affairs
as well.

It was his new science, as critical to our understanding of our world today as Paul Direc's new science proved to be, that allowed Dawson to dispute the dictates of Charles Darwin and John Dalton
that drove the governments of Hitler and FDR.

It was his understanding of this new science that gave his moral jello the firm backbone of the latest science and led him to stubbornly oppose the entreaties of all his colleagues .

For they based their morality upon an older - and in Dawson's eyes - much discredited science.

 I believe it was his newly found scientific certitude that enabled this most uncharismatic of men to become a moral beacon to others...

I believe it is a truism that while the Flag may follow the Constitution, the Supreme Court follows NATURE and SCIENCE .

Which is to say that our understanding of the ultimate reality, today mediated through the Lens of Science, is what generates and gives force to our sense of morality.

 So it that when our scientific view of the world changes, as it did for Dawson, so does our sense of what is right and wrong, with sometimes powerful consequences...

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