Marc Jenkins gave a terrific lecture titled “How the Immune System Remembers Infections” this week. As a sociological criminologist, I’ve long been fascinated by immunology and its connection to the social organicism of Spencer, Durkheim and others. The immune system wondrously learns to quickly recognize and neutralize pathogens in the body, even as the pathogens quickly evolve and adapt to overcome the immune system. He used this trunk monkey* video to introduce immune functioning (body=car; pathogen=thief):
By analogy, some argue that communities exercise social control in the same way. One hears such analogies when people describe how a social group is brought down by a nefarious “virus” or “cancer.” For example, when the Patriots traded Randy Moss to the Vikings, a commentator was asked whether Patriots Coach Bill Belichek considered him a “cancer” in the locker room (“more like a polyp,” was the clever response). Such social organicism can be carried way too far, of course, perhaps even to genocide.
More positively, I’d compare immune response to the sort of rapidly mobilizing and self-sustaining resistance that a good school might develop in response to, say, a sudden rash of fights breaking out at the Friday night football games. The destructive behavior can either take root or it can be brought under control pretty quickly, once the fans in the bleachers learn to recognize and take the collective responsibility to stop it.
Professor Jenkins closed with another video, and I couldn’t help but identify with the host’s completely ineffectual efforts to ward off the pathogen in this one. Reminds me to boost the ol’ immune system before winter hits….
* No, that doesn’t look like an actual “monkey” to me either, but “trunk monkey” makes for a clever name.