Seeing a link on Gem Newman‘s wall today I was inspired to comment. He did a critique on a piece of sensational media. I hope that my own sensationalized title isn’t too much of a turn-off for the skeptics out there, but I just like having fun with them 😀
I have to say that I pretty much agree with this article’s basic assertion, which to me seems to be that the article upon which they are making commentary is sensational, misleading and playing logical hop-scotch to the distraction of the reader.
Where I divert is where it calls out the three points which I actually agree are being falsely conflated.
1. The business ethics of Monsanto
2. The safety of Agent Orange
3. The safety of GMO crops
Firstly, both 1. and 2. should absolutely be conflated. How can they not be? However, to leave it there without further reflection is also problematic, which I will try to get to.
Now with regards to the third point, there needs to be some clarification. What do we mean by “safety of GMO crops”? Are we talking about the concept of GMO technology striped of it’s economic and political context? If so, then surely their assertion is correct. This has nothing to do with the other two. The technology should stand or fail on it’s own merits.
Now, what about the relative safety of “GMO” fully contextualized as a technological concept who’s development and application are governed as a product of industry (using scientific methods) which is in turn governed the collective realities of current day North American capitalism?
As a side-note, notice how much text is contained in the previous paragraph simply describing a single concept. That’s how packed our language can be. It is how much we often either take-for-granted or utterly ignore, and often without being aware of it.
I still maintain that the original article is broad-brushing and sensationalistic. I also think that this kind of critical response to it is not only acceptable, but necessary. However, I also think this editorial response to it may be overcompensating in it’s criticism. Moreover, I think this kind of polarized reaction is somewhat prevalent with those who come to the defense of “science”. That’s another word who’s breadth of definition is often ambiguous, but that’s another discussion in itself.
In my opinion the most relevant discussion about GMO as an overall concept must include the full context in which it resides, because that fully realized context will by definition affect it’s fully quantifiable results. This is whether or not we have the tools to fully measure it or even a broad enough understanding of what to measure. For example, what effect will changes in food production have on political power balance in the global economy.
Part of the fully qualified context is the particular brand of capitalism in effect in the U.S. and the global economy and political power balance in the world. This is the “natural world” within which Monsanto and other corporations live.
It is a terrible failure of understanding in my view to think that corporations who do very bad things are simply unethical entities that randomly spring out of an otherwise functioning system that does good things for us as a species. This is magical thinking at it’s finest IMHO. My understanding is that corporations act the way they do necessarily according to the nature of the system they exist within.
Just as with evolution, individual entities in nature succeed or fail according to the physical rules of the natural world within which they exist. It is absurd to speculate that when a particular entity has survived or failed, that it has done so DESPITE the nature of that system rather than BECAUSE of it. The rules of that system have operated against the characteristics of that entity and it has either failed or succeeded. Thus, if a corporation has survived in the system within which it exists, it has done so according to the nature of that system. If the nature of those entities is considered not ideal, then necessarily that system or at least some part of it must also be considered not ideal.
Now before I run off on a tangent about capitalism, the take away for this discussion is that surviving and thriving corporations that exist within their legal and economic context, have a certain amount of predictability. The nature of today’s corporation is not merely strict competition, but the LEGAL MANDATE of its controlling body to produce profits. Profits in the greatest possible magnitude and at pretty much at all costs. Their context also includes governmental, legal restrictions.
But like human beings, one of the traits it has acquired is the ability to change the environment within which it exists. For the corporation this includes abilities like lobbying against these restrictions, and to a greater degree in more recent years, infiltration of the regulatory government agencies who manage these restrictions.
So, it’s perfectly valid to call “logical fallacy” when we hear someone say that this thing is necessarily evil because that other thing they did was evil. *BUT* calling out this logical fallacy doesn’t negate the deduction that Monsanto or any other powerfully situated corporation for that matter, are very likely to engage in unethical behaviour. Not simply because we FEEL that they are evil, but because there are specific characteristics which they are likely to have given the context in which they exist and are successful in.
We are at the very least, justified in being suspicious assuming we are using the right reasoning for being so.