Who Is 5G?

In 1867 James Clerk Maxwell, the British scientist, predicted, using math, that there would be an electric and magnetic field that could travel through space as an ‘electromagnetic wave.’ In 1887 Heinrich Hertz proved Maxwell correct  with generating the first radio waves and then Marconi made the first radio transmitters and receivers in 1894/5. Radio became used widely starting in 1900.
The electromagnetic spectrum is a naturally occurring presence that we, here in the West, have named and measured and harnessed. This spectrum ranges from low wavelengths to high wave lengths. Right in the middle is visible light, sunlight, and, if the conditions are right, a rainbow. A prism does what water droplets in the sky do – refract light to show the component parts of visible light. ROYGBIV. The red end of the visible spectrum is lower wavelength and the violet end is higher wavelength. Radio waves are, obviously, invisible and on the lower end and xrays and gamma rays are on the higher end.
One more bit of science here and then we’ll dive into some greater wondering…ionization. Ionization is the energetic capacity of an electromagnetic wave to knock an electron off of a molecule or atom. Broadly speaking the electromagnetic waves on the low end of the spectrum are not ionizing and electromagnetic waves are ionizing on the upper end. We wear sunscreen to protect from the ionizing effect of ultra violet light on our skin. The cells in your skin, when ionized can distort into becoming cancerous. We wear lead vests when we get xrays to protect us from the ionizing radiation and we dont get near high concentrations of, say, gamma rays for the same reason.

In the sub-news lately around the coronavirus has been the issue of the rollout of new 5G wireless frequency and how it might be somehow the cause or amplifier of the virus. People are burning down 5G towers in response to this misinformation. Specious arguments about how the city of Wuhan was the first place in China to get 5G and also where the virus emerged abound and ignore that at least a dozen other Chinese cities also got 5G at the same time and the virus (or another virus) didn’t emerge in those places. Italy doesn’t have widespread 5G and neither does New York and and neither do Navajo reservations yet they all three are socked by the virus. 5G sits on the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic portion of the spectrum and all science thus far has deemed it to be safe.
That said, that doesn’t mean that it is safe. It just means that the evidence thus far has not convincingly shown otherwise using a scientific lens. Has every winging bird, and flowing stream, and napping bear, and curling vine been subjected to human studies about the possible impact of 5G on their cellular structure, growth cycles, and health? No. That said, no mechanism for how a non-ionizing part of the  electromagnetic spectrum could impact biological processes has been generally accepted. So far. There are people looking at this and concerned by this. I, for one, am interested in finding out more about this because I don’t think that science can or should measure everything. There are things that lie outside of the capacity of science. And we also know that science can get better over time with better questions and better studies. And certainly cultural consequences of technology are rarely wondered about but are not the dominion of science.
Assuming for a moment that the health impacts of 5G are somehow in doubt, my own sense is that implications for what this technology does to our social fabric and the connection to the earth and to each other are more pressing. But I could be  wrong. I’m open to it! Bring on better science! Correlation is not causation. For example the number of highway fatalities has declined regularly over the last 30 years and so has the number of tons of lemons that the US has imported from Mexico. Those numbers aren’t related. The notion that our ills sit upon one simple thing is reductionist and encourages simple solutions. This is savior thinking and it ultimately is used to get us off the hook. It is hardly ever as simple as ‘get rid of the bad thing’ when there is a whole complex of galvanizing structures around the bad thing. I can understand the concerns though because it sort of ‘intuitively feels right’ since we have this sense that more technology isn’t automatically good for us. But there is more to consider because our intuition doesn’t always account for things we don’t know about. Again, much more to consider.
That said, the far flung conspiracy theories about 5G and the coronavirus and the science I mentioned are simply the gatelatch into a much more interesting and diverse ecosystem and lets go there.
Here in the west when we see a rainbow we stop and stare. We take pictures. We take them as signs of good fortune and promise. Whether or not you are a believer, the rainbow appearing to Noah after the flood in the book of Genesis as a sign of the covenant from God that no more further destruction of the earth would ensue partially informs our love of this visible slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.

But the understandings of rainbows in different parts of the world and in different times varies widely. For the ancient Norse the rainbow was Bifrost, the bridge between the realm of the gods and earth that only the deities and those who died gloriously in battle travel upon. Many different traditions see rainbows as bridges for ancestors to travel to earth upon to visit kin or bridges for those ancestors to return back to from whence they came.

Some ancient Indians saw the rainbow as the great bow of Indra being set down after he shot his lightning arrows at demons in great storms. But the Sumu people of Honduras and Nicaragua consider the rainbow an incarnation of a kind of devil and consider it bad luck to look upon. The Karens of Burma also understand the rainbow to be a demon. The Fang of Gabon also consider rainbows too dangerous to look upon unless one is prepared ceremonially. In Armenian mythology the rainbow is the belt of Tir the sun god. In Chinese mythology the star crossed lovers Hsienpo and Yingt’ai must wait until a rainbow appears for them to be close to each other, though they can never actually meet. Hsienpo is Red and Yingt’ai is Violet or Blue. In Greek mythology the rainbow is Iris, both the bow herself and the anthropomorphic messenger for the gods. And of course the famed leprechaun guarding pots of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Which is all to say that in some understandings in the world the rainbow isn’t a thing but the rainbow is a being. Or a thing with a being in close relationship with beings.

Which makes me wonder not so much ‘what is 5G and its health impacts?’ but ‘who might 5G be and can we court a relationship with them?’

In the United States the way businesses can use the electromagnetic spectrum is via an auction run by the FCC to get a slice of the spectrum to use unilaterally. You know about this with tuning your radio dial. 92.4 FM is a different channel than 106.2 FM or 880 AM. These stations at one time paid a fee to claim that section of the radio spectrum and then pay another fee at different intervals to maintain their ‘right’ to that part of the spectrum. With new parts of the electromagnetic spectrum being used there are new auctions between big tech companies to use the 5G (or 4G or 3G etc) range. These tech companies and telecoms usually agree on what they will bid ahead of time with each other because they all want a cut of the profits and need competitors to spur innovation. And while the FCC runs the auction only a small percent of the bids are ever collected by the government agency.  So these telecoms usually make even bigger profits because they almost never pay full price for the space they take up. As an example the 2G spectrum auctions prices were never fully paid to the FCC but when 3G came along and another auction happened and they started to make their money the telecoms said ‘well, we forgot to pay our bill for the 2G spectrum but its useless now…but here’s a bit of money for your trouble.’
The FCC’s approach to this is informed by the general cultural understanding of ‘new ground’, it is terra nullius. This term was the term that colonizers from Europe used for the places they landed in the Americas and Australia to say ‘nothing is here’ or more precisely, ‘nobody that matters to us.’ This doctrine made indigenous people non-entities, mere obstacles to overcome. There was very much something and someone there. This is playing out in pipeline protests in the United States and Canada currently – governments and oil companies say ‘there is nobody there and nothing there we are running this pipeline through’ and indigenous people say ‘we are here and that land is sacred to us, the land is our mother, that river is our brother. Don’t build here and defile this place.’ And then conflict plays out between understandings of the world.

The same thing happens with the FCC, the electromagnetic spectrum is terra nullius. From one perspective that is true but this stance also eliminates the possibility that maybe, maybe, maybe the electromagnetic spectrum is a being of some kind, a spirit, a crackling web of waves as much as part of the nervous system of the world as a web is a manifestation of the mind of a spider. It was understood to be such a thing in another time as our rainbow stories show.
Which leaves us with a huge question then…How do you proceed with enough caution to not assume that ‘nothing is there’? I don’t know. I don’t know how the electromagnetic spectrum could have been or should now be courted to allow humans to use the space. But courtship means that you humbly ask and hearing back a ‘no’ is a possibility. We see this all the time with indigenous people and hunting. So often it is easy to find examples of people asking the trees, the wind, the rivers, the animals themselves ‘may we please…here is a gift for you so that your ears might be more well turned to hear my plea.’

I don’t think it is as simple to say “Hey Rainbow, I know you have invisible neighbors. Could you tell them how sorry we are for just, you know, using their homes or them for our communications and commerce? But we really need this 5G thing to be cool with them pretty soon. You’ll tell them, right? Great! Thanks Rainbow. See you after the next rainstorm…or not, are we supposed to look at you? I don’t know. Sorry again! Oh, we got them a box of chocolates and some flowers. Thanks!”
That clearly isn’t it. And I have no idea how it is supposed to go. And imagine how electrification of the the world might have been different with this kind of understanding. But I’m inclined to wonder about it now. I’m inclined to wonder about how it all might be to ask. Maybe you’ll wonder about it too. Wonder about your consequence and the consequence of your asks. And wonder about what might be alive and mattered even though you swore it wasn’t and it didn’t. And how do you proceed then?

Here at Primal Derma we work on trying to remember and practice that the materials that we work with were and are alive and come from somewhere and that it is not inevitable that we will get them. But if we do get them when we ask we need to do our best to acknowledge as many of the players involved in word and deed and in our manner of approach. Certainly we fail regularly but this is part of our attempt too. The cows, the farmers, the land, the jars, the packing materials, the boxes. We are trying.

Thanks so much for wondering about such a thing with your favorite skincare product.

Until soon enough,


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