“The Social Immune System” by Prof John McMurtry

3. See the tracking of the pattern

McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure . Pluto Press. Kindle Edition. The following is extracted from McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure. Pluto Press. Kindle Edition where the concept of the “The Social Immune System” is introduced.


As one considers in overview the unpriced and evolved mediations of every aspect of our lives by complexly articulated systems of life-protective circulation and regulation of our social intercourse and functions, one begins to recognize that – despite its continuous errors, oversights and dogmas – this historically evolved ordering and organization of civilized communities and states for the healthful survival and reproduction of their members is a social immune system of ever more developed complexity and importance to human survival and reproduction.

Following the model of immune systems on the cellular level, we can observe that societies which have not been stripped of their social immune capabilities by borderless money-sequences have highly developed immune surveillance, recognition and response systems. They have evolved, that is, socially constructed capacities for the continuous operation of a many-organized system of surveillance of the social life-host, reaching into every corner of the social organism’s circulations and functions for detection of not-self challenges to its life-organization. They also have an intricately elaborated system of effective immune recognition and response integrated into the social body’s operations at every level to select out the recognized threats and disabling diseases, injuries and assaults on the healthful functioning of the organic members of the social whole.

Societies acting in concert have even universalized on a global level specific quantitative indicators of the health or well-being of the world’s social bodies, compiling and publishing comparative rates of infant mortality, disease frequencies and ratios, average life-expectancies and indices of mortality, distribution of required life-resources across social memberships, general fitness-levels of members’ physical capacities, societies’ distributed attainment of mental competences, and even their measures of self-regulation and distributed participation in the organizational development of social hosts as functioning wholes. To an increasing extent, these various social indicators of the collective health and well-being of societies have become more complex and detailed than the medical profiles and records of individual-patient organisms to which medicine proper has standardly confined its attention. Yet there are two great debasing trends at work. The social immune systems which enable ever higher life-welfare of citizens are being stripped across the world, while the welfare and other new indexes which emerge tend to be subjective lists without life-capacity and capital grounds.

Once we adopt a wider-lensed understanding of human health than that of the individual patient and recognize that all individuals are also members of a larger, living whole in which their interdependent relations and functions constitute a higher order of life-system protecting and regulating its living members as a wider social body, we become aware of a very momentous evolutionary and historical development. Not a Hegelian abstraction or genetic reduction, it has evolved for millennia behind our backs as a species life-formation which ultimately identifies with all that lives – a social immune system of increasingly complex capacities and competences upon whose society-wide-operation more and more people and species depend for their survival and flourishing.

At its own level of life-organization, the social body has developed in degrees varying with the public resources at its disposal all the defining hallmarks of immune defence against threats to its integrity and health: an exactly articulated and regulated system of self and not-self recognition, continuous and comprehensive processes of surveying the social life-host for sites and phenomena of disease, injury and malfunction, and evolved organic structures and strategies of response to recognized impairments of the social body’s vital functions.

It is not a question here of reducing the individual into a mere function and element of a social organism in which individuality does not exist as a value in itself. This is a metaphysical reduction which some organicist political systems like Plato’s The Republic, Hegel’s Philosophy of History and twentieth-century fascism have proposed, wrongly confusing the cellular and social levels of life-organization with disastrous effects when implemented as a political programme. Here the movement is in the opposite direction. The individual is not reduced to a moment of a social organism, to which it is assimilated as a contributory function that excludes the individual’s ultimate life-value in itself – for whose ‘higher good’ the individual may be sacrificed. This is a pathology of reductionism at the other extreme. Rather, the middle way is to recognize the social level of life-organization in its full life-protective evolution as the basis and guardian of individual life from which the individual person differentiates as a unique and unrepeatable bearer of life-value.

It is a question, then, of understanding the individual as dependent upon this social host as a necessary condition of his or her life -xpression as an individual. The individual is not reducible to, but grounded on this social life-host for self-articulation to be possible. The individual achieves individuality by expressing this social life-ground in some way particular to personal capacity and choice – caring for or educating the next generation, speaking for the larger community that which has not been heard, helping to produce goods needed by others as a unique contributor, and in general bridging the individual-social division by service to the larger community in some form in order to be an individual.”

McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure (pp. 149-151). Pluto Press. Kindle Edition. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.