Commusings: The Hostess with the Mostest by Jeff KrasnoOct 02, 2021
Hello Commune Community,
In preparation for numerous podcast interviews, including this week's multifaceted conversation with Zach Bush, I have been delving into the 40 trillion bacteria, fungi and archaea in my gut. It is astounding how macro systems reflect the micro.
My musing this week was originally inspired by a NY Times article that suggests how love might be literally visceral. More philosophically, the expansive power of our microbes elicits questions regarding the very nature of self.
In love, include mycelium,
• • •
The Hostess with the Mostest
by Jeff Krasno
Doing laundry is a simple way to right the wrongs of the world. I cloister into the dark box of the wash closet to purge my sullied gym shorts like one might cleanse their soul in the confessional booth. There’s a renewal and orderliness to the whole affair of scrubbing and folding.
But I can’t quite sublimate my more corporeal instincts. Before front loading Schuyler’s crop top, I furtively sneak a wee sniff of the armscye. Come on – don’t pretend you haven’t done it.
As I inhale the distinctive musk, a warm sensation floods my body. The olfactory has a prodigious memory. The shirt bears the same aroma that ensnared me thirty-three orbits ago – minus the hint of patchouli. Schuyler no longer makes an effort to apply even the most hippie of deodorants. Still, her signature bouquet maintains its timeless allure.
I will cease disclosing further bizarre intimacies for, as it turns out, I am not even whiffing Schuyler at all. The actual source of her natural perfume is manifestly less romantic. It might be better dubbed Lactobacillus Number 5, for this irresistible essence is produced by bacteria in Schuyler’s armpit who devour her sweat like kids munching Doritos at a birthday bash.
Human perspiration has no aroma at all. Armpits are like sauerkraut crocks and emit what lab-coated folk call volatile organic compounds and what you and I call B.O. I am not attracted to Schuyler. I just revel in her microbial mix.
And it’s unclear if it is really even me that is being titillated. I perceive this aroma as alluring because my own microbes recognize how different Schuyler’s are. The feelgood hormone oxytocin, which is regulated by Lactobacillus reuteri in the gut, is released in response to my lurid sniffing. Perhaps I am just a perverse extra in this evolutionary play. I chivalrously court the affections of my beloved because my microbes are seeking the vast variety of immune system genes which will result in the fittest offspring. Perhaps she’s not my pre-destined soulmate but, due to eating a copious amount of dirt and kimchi, Schuyler is my best genetic match.
Of course, this is a two-way street. Schuyler’s microbiota must also “choose” me. Fortunately, I religiously eat probiotic coconut yogurt which is rich in Lactobacillus reuteri. Apparently, this multi-faceted microbe honors its host by conferring lustrous hair, shiny skin and, in men, high testosterone and large testicles. And I thought she loved me for my quick wit! But, no, I am simply flush with this particular strain of firmicutes bacteria.
From a microbe’s eye view of the universe, by making their hosts sexy and up-regulating the neurotransmitters that might spark an illicit tryst, they safeguard their own continued existence – the creation of another hostess (with the mostest bugs in her gut).
I suppose I am willing to be manipulated by a prokaryote if it means regularly making whoopee with my wife. Sorry, honey, the microbes made me do it! Consider the patently Puritan possibility of just having one gender which, through mitosis, self-replicates. How simple it would be. There would be no patriarchal systems, no domestic abuse, no need for equal rights, no pink pussyhats, no debates over contraception. But there would also be no variety. And genetic diversity, assured through wild romps in the hay, is essential to the evolutionary process of adapting to and, in some cases, fighting off pathogenic microbes. In a twisted turn of fate, if it were not for viruses like Sars-CoV-2, we may never fall in love in the first place.
It begs the question: Despite our anthropocentrism, are humans just pawns in a grandiose evolutionary chess game? Is there no autonomy to being human?
There’s a lot of chatter recently about body sovereignty. Of course, a self must exist in order to have dominion over it. Old Siddartha, arguably the world’s first psychologist, suggested that when consciousness is turned in onto itself, it finds no self at all. The life sciences have similarly had little success locating a locus of consciousness.
This absence of self violates our instincts as a product of direct experience. I mean … Here I am. I am me. I just typed these words. Indeed, my fingers danced across the keyboard as a result of electro-magnetic signals sent from my brain. But did I choose the words?
We confuse the contents of consciousness with consciousness itself. My sense of a stable, reliable “me” is anchored by a feeling of psychological and physical continuity. But this is also an illusion as cells are birthed and die every nanosecond. And what is this unseemly long hair protruding from my ear that was not present yesterday!
As we unpack the nature of impermanence, the non-self is unveiled. On one level, being human is simply the space in which phenomena – objects, thoughts, feelings, sensations – arise and subside moment to moment. And as part of that phenomenon, there is no separation between you and the experience. There is only, in the end, integrated experience now. And again now.
But if you remain unconvinced that the self is illusory, peer not into the nature of the mind. Instead, scrutinize the gut. There is increasing evidence that the 40 trillion bacteria, fungi and archaea snuggled in your intestines play a significant role not just in the previously described mating ritual – but also in governing virtually every system of your body including your immune system, digestion, pulmonary activity, cardio vascular function, angiogenesis, stem cell activation and on.
There’s a case to be made that these little buggers are actually the sovereign ones. As the world became flush with oxygen, these anaerobic critters took refuge in the oxygen-deprived recesses of our ancestral colons. In exchange for this tenancy, when well fed with fiber-rich victuals, they lift our spirits through the creation of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that enhances mood. But if we continue to threaten their existence with an elixir of Twinkies, Glyphosate, Advil, Prilosec, and whiskey shots then, in turn, they will go on strike and our systems will run amok. Holes will develop in the epithelial walls of our gut and lipopolysaccharides (the remnants of dead bacterial cell walls) will infiltrate our bloodstream triggering low-grade chronic inflammation that results in diseases including cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s among many others.
Oddly, the study of the microbiota may inspire a moment of satori. The microscope widens the aperture of the macroscope.
We do not exist as separate individuals in a separate external universe, separate from nature and each other. We live within a holobiome of interconnected and mutually reliant organisms, genomics and light energy. And if you happen to momentarily forget that you are interdependent with all of nature – that, in fact, you are nature – then simply bury your nose in your lover’s sweaty gym shorts and you will be lovingly reminded.
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