Terminator technology article

John Schinnerer JohnS at STLabs.com
Fri Jun 26 19:19:06 EDT 1998


Ah, journalism - lies, damned lies, and statistics (like politics) ...and
clever use of 'hooks' and implicit assumptions...scary culture!  If
perma-culture wishes to offer alternative understandings, this stuff needs
to be attended to, pried open and spread out to dry a bit (after which it
might make good fertilizer... :-)

> -----Original Message-----
> From:	Xavier Dequaire [SMTP:xavierd at online.no]
	[...from article on genetic engineering vs. Prince Charles]

	>...Growth in biological knowledge, the company says, "is
	>agriculture, nutrition and health care" just as the digital
	>transformed communication. 

	This is undeniably a true statement.  But what is the nature of the
transformation, and the possible consequences?  The comparison to the
'digital revolution' is not necessarily a positive indicator...the
transformation of healthy tissue into cancerous tissue is certainly a
transformation, but is it preferable?

	>...Mankind has been
	>breeding and therefore interfering, with plants for thousands of
	>they point out: "We have been changing the genetic structure
	>cross-breeding, chemicals, hybridisation. 

	Another undeniably true statement (does everyone feel comfortable
agreeing with Monsanto by now?  Good, good...let's continue the session,
then...).  And much of our interference (especially the chemical and
monoculture hybridization part) has made things worse.  But besides, they
say, we've always done it!  Everyone's doing it!  Why stop and reflect?  We
must keep on doing it!  (...if everyone jumped off a cliff, we'd join them,
wouldn't we?  Of course!)

	>All that's different is that
	>we now understand the genetics far more than we did and we can use
	>slightly wider range of choice of material."

	Like .004% instead of .002%, I'd guess... :-)  One larger problem is
the continuing belief that the whole can be understood by studying tiny
parts in isolation - not a permaculture approach, that's for sure, and well
disproven by history...

	>...even though that "slightly" encompasses fish genes
	>in vegetables. Our human history is, first and foremost, the
history of
	>mucking about with the genetic makeup of other living organisms. 

	Well, that's one version of history, I suppose...and never before
have we messed about with so much 'power' and simultaneously so little
understanding at the level of 'power' we're messing with.  Selective
breeding and selective seed-saving and cross-pollination and grafting and
all the stuff we've been doing for 1000's of years is at an entirely
different level biologically than putting (for example) fish genes in
vegetables.  The larger-system controls that kept previous limited
experiments from turning into widespread pathologies may not offer the same
protection when we fiddle so directly - especially with plants.  The non-pig
growth hormone gene in the pigs episode is a prime example.  The idea was to
amp up pig growth for economic reasons - the test pigs grew fast and happy
for a little while and then got massive systemic complications
unforeseen/unforeseeable by the experimenters, and died unhappy and

	>If in the future genetic engineers can produce plants which can be
	>in salt water or are insect-resistant, or can produce all the amino
	>acids humans require in maize without meat protein... doesn't this
	>simply extend human opportunity and happiness?

	Nope - because if it did, wouldn't the 1000's of years of
"improvements" already made have extended human opportunity and happiness as
well?  Funny, it doesn't look that way...
	One reason: unless self-regulated (and we're not choosing to do that
on a large enough scale), animal populations will always increase to the
edge of starvation and will typically not shrink significantly until food
sources are already systemically collapsing (that is, not just the immediate
supply but the food sources - soil, habitat, etc. - are beyond near-term
recovery).  Disease may also control population, of course - but not for
humans right now.  We're too clever with medical technology.

	Another big problem with the above is that nobody is funding the
kind of egalitarian goody-goody genetic engineering given as examples.
Crops are being made pesticide-resistant, not insect resistant, and so on
(Monsanto sells both, y'know...and funds a lot of genetic research...).  And
there are already salt-water plants and insect-resistant plants - have been
for millions of years - but unfortunately it's hard to make a profit from
them, and that's the game here.

	Question everything...

	John Schinnerer

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