Identity and Disease

*Disclaimer: this blog post was written prior to the reading of Zone One*

This blog post is inspired by my classmate Emma’s blog post titled “What does it mean to be “human?”. Emma’s blog post got me thinking about the article we read in class about how humans are actually just made up of microbes, the assigned article about how a parasite living fish eyeball controls its behavior and the disease in Clay’s Ark. Upon reading these 3 pieces of literature I am pondering the question, at what point does a disease take our identity?

In Clay’s Ark the infected humans experience incredible hearing, super strength, night vision, increased sex drive and the drive to infect others. While those infected still have the ability to think and make conscious decisions they also commit horrible acts. An example of this being when Blake tries to rape his daughter Kiera, or when Rane has sex with the “repulsive” “ape-like” man (Butler, 599). These actions were clearly produced by the alien microbes living inside of them. Meda says “Eli says we’re holding on to our humanity by our fingernails. I’m not sure we’re holding on at all” (Butler, 497). The phrase “not holding on at all” brings the article involving the fish to my mind. In this article it discusses how a parasite, Diplostomum pseudospathaceum, causes the infected fish to act in ways that favor getting eaten by a bird. This clearly goes against a fish’s natural instinct to survive and avoid aerial predators. In my opinion these infected fish are no longer the same species as the non-infected fish. The infected fish are submissively acting to their parasite. Now to return to Clay’s Ark, are the infected humans still humans?

In class we discussed an article titled “Some of My Best Friends are Germs” and in this article it says ” we are only 10 percent human: for every human cell that is intrinsic to our body, there are about 10 resident microbes” (Pollan 3).  After Blake samples Meda’s blood he comes to the conclusions that the alien microbes have “left her no longer human” (Butler, 498). My interpretation of this is that those 10 percent of human cells were replaced by the alien microbes. Therefore, statistically speaking the infected humans no longer have human cells. That being said however the infected humans still have emotions and thoughts. As a reader I was left to ponder the question are their thoughts and emotions products of their alien microbes, similar to the fish example above?

While writing this blog post I can’t help but think about those who have been affected by brain tumors. People with brain tumors can experience complete changes in the way that they act. Speaking from experience, my grandfather’s late ex-wife became a seemingly different person after the diagnosis of her brain tumor. I was fairly young but I remember my parents started to not let me see her and they said “Betty- Anne doesn’t act like Betty- Anne anymore, its just her tumor speaking”. This tumor completely changed Betty-Anne and my family never once questioned “is she still human?”. There seems to be a common theme among those affected by the alien microbes, the fish and those affected with brain tumors. This theme is that a symptom of their diseases results in them to act differently. Note my important use of the word symptom. The definition of symptom is a sign of the existence of something. To answer my original question I believe that a disease will never take something’s identity but the symptoms of the disease can mask it. I think a good comparison to help give my answer some context involves patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In the late stages of Alzheimer’s many patients cannot recall almost any of their former memories. However, there have been instances where listening to a song or a certain candle burning have caused the patient to remember something and for a small window of time. This is proof that even though diseases/microbes can take over our mind’s, our identity is only masked.

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