Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugly is in the eye of the observer

Volunteer in a Senegal

As a Peace Corps volunteer in a Senegal (west Africa) during a severe drought I lived on famine-relief rations. I saw people die of starvation. I've been hungry myself. (I was discharged from Peace Corps weighing 156lbs. I'm 6'3" tall. )

After leaving the Peace Corps I got a Master's degree in Agricultural Economics. During the course of my studies I went back to the same part of Senegal to do research, and I spent eight months at an experimental farm there. I've spent five years working with subsistence farmers on the edge of starvation. So this whole topic hits very close to home. (Also, Dear Wife has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics.)

I am entirely in sympathy with the Europeans and anti-SR Africans.

It is impossible to separate the issues of food from those of power and control. For it is entirely possible today to feed the world a healthy diet without any new crop technology at all. So why are we arguing over new technology? It's as if there is a thirsty man surrounded by gallons and gallons of tap water and we're arguing about giving him Evian and Perrier. "Evian is more nourishing!""Perrier will give him cable TV and two cars in his garage!" But I ask, why not just give him the damn tap water?

The problem of feeding the hungry are not technological, they are political. Who owns the land? Who owns the patents? Who owns the factories? Who has power and who does not? Who will benefit from a new pesticide regime and whose land will be expropriated in the name of progress? These are the questions at the heart of this struggle.

Don't tell me that with Genetically Modified Organisms the hungry powerless people will win and and the big technology companies will win and nobody will lose. This is the lie that the big technology companies want us to believe so that we can feel good about ourselves. It is a hateful bullshit lie. Can we be honest with each other? Who wins? Who loses? Let's speak the truth.

If power were distributed equitably among humans on earth, virtually everyone would be well housed and well nourished. Keep this in mind when evaluating arguments in favor of this or that disruptive technology that threatens traditional ways of doing things. For "traditional ways of doing things" is the power of the powerless. If you don't understand this concept, please ask Osama to explain.

Resistance to genetically engineered crops is not mere ignorance, and "traditional agriculture" is not mere stupidity. Or rather, if it is stupidity, it is stupidity analogous, say, to USians going home for Thanksgiving. Every year we USians spend tens of millions or dollars, and hundreds of us die in traffic accidents, going to or from "home" for Thanksgiving dinner.

Why do we go home for Thanksgiving--incurring risk, inconvenience, and expense-- when we could get biologically equivalent nourishment by staying wherever we happen to be and eating a can of dog food and some raw vegetables? Is it because we're stupid? Irrational? Or because the Thanksgiving tradition has great value and meaning to us? Because this meaning is what we live for, basically?

As you say, it is true that genetically modified crops are inevitable, just as globalization is inevitable. But that's no reason not to try to influence the form they will take, or even to resist them. After all, suicide bombings are probably inevitable. Does that mean that we should stop trying to prevent them?

It's silly and dangerous not to recognize transglobal corporations and their beneficiaries for what they are. They are entities constituted to make money for their shareholders. That's what they are and that's what they do. That's what corporations are for. They make money for their shareholders. Period, they end. Any world saving collateral improvement that thereby results is incidental.

Moreover, as it turns out, corporations also assume lives of their own and take actions inimicable to the interests of shareholders--and the corporations themselves--in order to optimize some short-term objective function which is obscure to us and them. This is like, for instance, cancer. Cancerous cells grow like crazy and kill the organism in which they live. They do this not because it is an optimal survival strategy, but because it is their nature and that is what they do.

It would be stupid to say that cancer cells operate on some kind of long term plan beneficial to their hosts and to them, and it is equally stupid to say that Monsanto wants to feed the starving children out of the goodness of its transnational heart. Monsanto wants to make money and it wants to continue to exist. Anything else that one might say about Monsanto's intentions is sentimental bullshit and extremely dangerous. The same assertions hold for all multinationals and their avatars--that is, the large nation-states, the USA pre-eminent among them.

To some extent, the argument over SRO's is about technology. But mostly it's about power, freedom, autonomy, and the meaning of human experience. It's not incidental that the arguments of the Bush administration in favor of this technology are indistinguishable from those of its corporate sponsors.