Some Original Revolutionary and Progressive Values which Have Been Lost
If there was any thinker in the world I admire is Karl Marx. Contrary to many people’s opinions, I do not consider him a philosopher, but an economist and one of the fathers of Sociology. I think that most of what he proposed as solutions for capitalism have been refuted by philosophy, sociology, and history. Yet, that does not mean that he didn’t have any valuable insights. Capital stands as a unique classic that, along with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and has enabled us to understand capitalism regarding its process and dynamic. The work itself is not infallible, but it is immensely valuable. I also think that the Communist Manifesto, how ever small and simple it is as a historic document, should be considered an eye-opener for most Progressives and Left-wing leaning people today. I particularly love these words when he makes an explicit admiration for capitalism:
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
For Marx, the technology developed by the bourgeoisie was incredibly valuable and created “wonders”. Of course, all of this technology was directed to one end in particular: the bourgeois’ profit. Even Marx recognized the great advances that this technology meant for the public, but he recognized the need to eradicate the injustice and class struggle generated by the system, so that the proletariat would, not eliminate these technology, nor dismantle these means of production, but to use them for a just world. In this case, science was seen as the basis for making the world better. Marx was Mary Shelley’s fan, and read Frankenstein (and you can see it all over Capital), and this novel referred extensively to the problem of “how man should not cross certain boundaries established by Nature”. Yet, Marx underscored the great importance of science for making the proletariat and the poor better. His friend, Engels, described his proposal as “scientific socialism”, as opposed to “utopic socialism”. Although I do believe that Marx’s proposal for this “scientific socialism” is as utopic as the rest, I can’t avoid appreciating how much Marx and Engels regarded science so highly.
There was also the Progressive Era that stemmed from the ashes of the Gilded Age in the United States. In part (but only in part) to the economic collapse of the 1880s, the Federal government wanted to invest in education, medical services, and the sciences in general. Of course, this was no ethical golden era. Native Americans had to suffer new ways of exploitation under these ideals, and … at least in my case … the Progressive values mixed with Imperialistic ideals led to US’s efforts to establish policies to assimilate different ethnicities which did not agree to WASP values, such as Puerto Rican culture. Needless to say, practically black people in the U.S. were virtually left out of the Progressive equation. Despite this, not all Progressive values should be rejected. New technologies that started appearing more vigorously during these decades were extremely valuable, and made people’s lives better. These led to a basic ideological and physical infrastructures that led to more government investment in new technologies during WWII and the Cold War.
Something Gone Wrong with the Left
Apparently, even when the radical Left and the more Center-Left or Progressive policies affirmed and recognized the way technologies (even from the private pro-capitalist sector) improve people’s lives, this seems to be no longer the case. Instead, the Left is gradually leaning towards anti-scientific and anti-technological views. Usually, they have a secular “holier-than-thou” attitude against the Right-wing, especially regarding the problem of climate change. They actually tell people that ignoring science is to doom the world. That is great, as far as it goes.
The problem with the Right-wing regarding climate change can be read word-for-word in any Left-leaning or environmentalist blog or website about this subject: scientists all over the world have established a pretty strong consensus that global warming is happening, and its effect –climate change– is anthropogenic (from human origin). There is no question at all about this. Yes, you could find some very few scientists (with titles and everything) who have contested it, but they are a minority, and practically all of their work have been refuted by other scientists. In the current scientific literature, this is practically a non-issue. See the most recent peer-review article on the consensus here. In fact, it has been found that most of the deniers of the anthropogenic origins of climate change make scientifically baseless allegations: they ignored critical background information, cherry-picked their data, rejected solid studies that were inconvenient to their preconceived solutions, and so on. I could even add the documentaries that purposely distort data to deceive the public (e.g. The Great Global Warming Swindle). Many people in the Right reject this consensus for two reasons:
- Because most of the measures to remedy climate change implies an increase in state-sponsored investments in clean energy, which would mean an increase of the intervention of the political state in the economy.
- Because a lot of the interests behind Right-wing politicians come from industries that invest heavily in fossil fuels.
The same could be said about the Right-wing’s flirtation with Creationism and Intelligent Design, mostly because a lot of the Right-wing embraces the religious sector of U.S. society, most notoriously the conservative and the fundamentalist sectors.
Yet, as it happens, when it comes to other scientific issues, such as GMOs, nuclear energy, and others, certain Left-wing and environmentalist groups can be just as “crazy” or incredibly “deceptive” as their counterparts in the Right-wing extreme. DemocracyNow has served as a forum for Left-wing and environmentalist forum … which is great! … Except when the show interviews a lot of people whose reputation and credibility have been seriously questioned by the scientific community (e.g. Vandana Shiva, Helen Caldicott, Greenpeace activists, etc.). This adoption by the Left that these people are somehow sacred leads to peer-pressure. If you believe something different than from these major figures in the environmental movements, then you have been “bought by Monsanto”, or “bought by the fossil fuel industry”, or “bought by the nuclear industry”, or you are a traitor to “the cause”, etc.
Yes, I agree that the interaction between scientists and companies is a problem that must be dealt with. There have been scientists who have been recruited to say that cigarettes are not all bad for you, and work for the tobacco companies. Yet, that hasn’t moved the whole scientific community an inch in favor of smoking or had dissuaded its members from believing that it is carcinogenic. Even tobacco companies agree today that it causes cancer! The same can be said about the way ExxonMobil has recruited scientists all over the world and has actively tried to intervene with the scientific establishment to change the consensus, even when it knew that the anthropogenic climate change was real. Let’s remember that Exxon has about $350 billion in assets, and about $400 billion in revenue. As we have seen, Exxon has been totally unable to change the minds of the vast majority of the scientific establishment about it. All of the major scientific institutions around the world have established their agreement with the world wide consensus on the subject.
Yet, when it comes to genetically modified food and transgenics, the Left becomes the very big mirror of the Right in both attitude and behavior. Today, an overwhelming vast majority of scientists and scientific institutions around the world agree that GM food is no riskier than conventional or organic food. These conclusions have been very well established by scientific and health international organizations and by independent scientists again, and again. Here are three of the most important studies about GM food in the world:
- The European Commission’s 10 years study of GM food.
- An Italian meta-analysis on 10 years of scientific literature on how GM food has affected non-human animals and humans: basing themselves on 1,783 studies found no evidence of harm.
- A 2014 study which carries out a meta-analysis, researching about the harm of GM on farm animals covering a period of 29 years, including the results of about 1 trillion meals to a 100 billion non-human animals: there are no cases of reported harm.
Of course, as the exact mirror of the Right, certain people in the Left (especially those in the environmentalist movements) accuse the scientists participating in this as being “sold to Monsanto”. My question is … “Really?” Is Monsanto all THAT powerful to establish the consensus on GM food in the scientific establishment?
Remember how ExxonMobil with all of its assets and revenue, and which has actually tried to buy scientific opinion, has been unable to change the 97% scientific consensus on climate change? Well, how much does Monsanto have in relationship with Exxon? As it turns out, Monsanto has $23 billion in assets (it is almost 15 times smaller than Exxon’s), and $14 billion in revenue (almost 27 times smaller than Exxon’s) … all of these are 2013 and 2014 figures. How could Monsanto accomplish something that neither the tobacco industry nor the fossil fuel industry (whose revenues together are remarkably higher) have not been able to do?
And it gets even worse. Compared to many of its competitors, Monsanto is a remarkably small company. Don’t get me wrong! $14 billion in revenues makes it a very big company. Yet, not so much when you compare it with Syngenta’s ($15 billion), Bayer ($51 billion), DuPont ($36 billion), Dow ($57 billion), Archer Daniels ($90 billion), BASF ($99 billion), and Agrium ($16 billion) … 2013 and 2014 figures. So, this mythology about an all-powerful Monsanto is not even remotely believable, especially when one takes into consideration the situation in the market.
And it gets even WORSE. The Monsanto that exists today barely resembles the old Monsanto. As the public record will tell you, the Monsanto that exists today is actually a spin-off that arose when the old Monsanto was fused with another company, Pharmacia, which was later bought by Pfizer. The agribusiness operations (which Pfizer was not interested in) consolidated into the new company, Monsanto (the one people love to hate today). Of course, misunderstandings about this history have made some people in social networks say that Monsanto is managed by Pfizer, which is utter non-sense.
And to make matters worse … Monsanto is not the only company working on GM food. It was lucky that it was the first one to market it. The other ones have not been able to do so too soon, mostly due to over-regulation implemented because of anti-GM activism. Not even public university scientists who are willing to charge a small fee for their patents, or, better, make their seeds available for free to farmers, have not been able to do so because of this over-regulation. Some have no choice but to make BigAg companies the owners of these seeds so that they become available, which is ironically what the Left mostly fears. Talking about a self-fulfilling prophecy!!!
Anti-GM: The Left’s Dark Side
Whether a technology is produced by big corporations or cooperatives, small businesses, or the public sector, is irrelevant from an ethical standpoint. What does matter is if these organizations actually accept and manage the technology in such a way that can benefit the public most. Vaccines and medicines that save lives, and gadgets that improve quality of life for many have been the great accomplishments of modern medicine. Yet, most of these have been created by for-profit corporations. Despite this corporate end, the public greatly benefits from the availability of this technology. In fact, a lot of these medicines, vaccines, and devices can be traced to how public scientists interact with big corporations, which provide the capital for investment. In the case of medications, some of those greatly needed in many parts of the world are provided for free. No one in his or her right mind would actually protest the provision of these goods on the basis that “they are corporate” or “made for profit”. If any corporation withholds them on purpose, it would have the same outcry that the pharmaceutical industry had to deal with in 1998 when it asked the U.S. to create a blockade to South Africa because it tried to buy cheaper medicines from India to deal with AIDS population. The public would be rightfully outraged when vultures prey on the sick for profit, like what recently happened in social networks when people learned of a hedge fund manager who raised the price of a drug used for AIDS patients.
On the other hand, we can’t deny that some sorts of technology were originally created for reasons that, perhaps, people find reprehensible. There is no doubt that the military in the U.S. has made Puerto Ricans miserable by advocating for a colonial policy that lives on today. Many innocent people have died because of military tech used in battles and wars all over the world. Yet, it does not cross my mind to protest against the Internet, whose origins include its adoption by the U.S. military in the 1960s. There is no doubt that this technology, with all of its virtues and vices, has made people’s lives better: just imagine that people have more access to information, manage their finances, buy goods, etc., all of which have saved a lot of people money and increased their wealth. In some countries, due to the access of the Internet, that can represent the difference between having four meals a week to having five meals a week. This is the reason why I believe that access to the Internet should be in the end a human right, and we should develop the technology towards that goal, regardless of whether you love or hate the military establishment.
Even when supposing that Monsanto is the ethical equivalent of the evil Galactic Empire that built the Death Star and destroyed Alderaan, the rejection of genetic modified food is simply something I can’t understand.
It is often said that Indian farmers are committing suicide because of the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt-cotton in 2002, a story promulgated mostly by Vandana Shiva and company. Yet, there is no scientific study in recent years that accepts this narrative. On the contrary, all of the pertinent studies show that there is ample evidence that Bt-cotton has made their lives better (see here, here, here, here, and even more critical articles here and here, most of these studies are independent) . This is indicated by two things:
- The rate of adoption of Bt-cotton by Indian farmers over the years
- The improvement of their quality of life
So, even when Indian farmers have to buy Bt-cotton seeds that are four times more expensive than normal seeds, they produce so much cotton that their increase in wealth, and their savings from not having to buy insecticides compensate for it very well, and their lives have improved dramatically in general.
When you see the testing of Bt-brinjal, it has been said by some environmentalists that it has been an overwhelming failure, and that it has been denounced by farmers. Yet, these very same farmers named in the article beg to differ from it (Watch them say this on video! By the way, they also make fun of anti-GM activists.) The seeds for Bt-brinjal have been provided for free to farmers, who can plant the next generations seeds as many times as they want. Monsanto made sure of this … (That evil company!)
GM-papaya has been able to save papaya farmers from starvation, and it was the direct result of public scientists, Dennis Gonsalves and his team. The only threat that these farmers have ever faced are anti-GM activists who destroy their papaya trees. And you can go country, by country, and find that there can be difficulties (e.g. weeds and insects resistant to glyphosate and Bt respectively), but there are also situations where, with good farming practices, GM can make a difference in farmers’ lives (e.g. in every country that has legalized it). The most recent study that calculated the economic impact of GM on farmers has pointed out that, even when farmers in general pay far more for seeds (due to their demand and patent costs), they save a lot of money from administering pesticides and health costs related to them, and increase in productivity. Both of these factors account for an almost 70% increase in revenue. When you ask yourself why do farmers buy GM-seeds, the answer is easy … because they have more money and they improve their quality of life.
Impacts of GM crop adoption.
Average percentage differences between GM and non-GM crops are shown.
Results refer to all GM crops, including herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits.
The number of observations varies by outcome variable; yield:
451; pesticide quantity: 121; pesticide cost: 193; total production cost:
115; farmer profit: 136. *** indicates statistical significance at the 1% level.
That’s it! Now everyone can talk to me about how Monsanto makes farmers “miserable”. As a “Leftie” at heart, I would love to believe that a corporation is making farmers miserable, but I would actually believe it more if that “Farmer profit” bar was beneath the line, not over it.
Due to the notable increase in production, despite the cost increase of Monsanto’s seeds, the indirect effect has also been beneficial for consumers, since it has driven down corn, soy, and cotton prices due to the increase in productivity, hence, the increase in supply. Other than the excessive use by glyphosate by some farmers, especially to the point of generating glyphosate resistant weeds, I have not seen anything else that would damn this company to hell. Quite the opposite. In general, the solidarity created by the social matrix involving Monsanto, public scientists, farmers, and consumers have been greatly beneficial to everyone in general. Are there monopolistic concerns? Definitely! But the fact that farmers keep buying GM-seeds despite their cost reveals that they are more than happy to pay for a better outcome than the alternatives.
Going beyond Monsanto is also a healthy exercise for the mind when trying to think clearly about this subject. Other projects such as Simplot’s Innate potatoes, Del Monte’s Rosé transgenic pineapple, wheat without gluten, golden rice, purple tomatoes with antioxidants, the golden banana, the golden cassava, among many others, are being developed by other companies or by public universities around the world. In the case of public universities, they are trying their best to create GM seeds whose patent licenses can be affordable, or, in the optimal case, make them patent-free (the so-called “open source” GM seeds) to make them freely available to farmers to do with them as they wish. Also, these products would directly improve the health of consumers, since many of them are designed to avoid carcinogens, prevent cancer, or make available a variety of goods to people whom, for reasons of their particular illnesses, cannot consume them. People who suffer from celiac disease will feel their pockets relieved because of a gluten-free wheat.
Yet, out of all of these, only Arctic apple and Innate potatoes have been made available. Why not more?
Why isn’t golden rice available now? Golden rice is GM rice that has been fortified with beta-carotene, one vitamin A precursor, which studies have shown to become vitamin A after it is consumed. These seeds would be provided patent-free for farmers, with the right of re-selling them and re-planting them as long as they don’t profit more than $10,000. In practice, this would make the rice available for free for all Asian farmers. However, golden rice is not available, because environmentalists (especially Greenpeace) have made sure that it is never available to people in Asia who are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. This would cost them $1.4 million life/years to many people who are really going through blindness and death because of lack of access to it. This is clearly inhumane and, coming from a milti-million dollar organization (such as Greenpeace), it is a crime against humanity.
But, it is a crime supported by the LEFT!!!! How can this be?! Aren’t Progressives and Left-wing people all for human rights … for the economic rights of the marginalized and the poor?! I think that knowing this fact shook me pretty bad.
… I have to say that not even that prepared me to what happened next: the relentless persecution, intimidation, and even physical threats to U.S. scientists whom anti-GM critics perceive as being in cahoots with Monsanto. The cooperation among public scientists and big companies is a delicate subject, and from an ethical standpoint, I can understand the objection coming from many people. However, from an ethical standpoint, this sort of cooperation is completely legitimate if it is done following a code of ethics, and scientists can guarantee their independence of criteria from their interactions with industry.
The first victim of this process was Dr. Kevin Folta, and I’ve seen with pain how he is going through this ordeal, even when the money he received from Monsanto was not for him (as Ralph Nader deceptively tries to argue), but for an outreach program teaching young people about science. Whatever you believe about Monsanto (e.g. that it is the equivalent of Skeletor’s Snake Mountain), this contribution was very positive, because it promotes science. Even when people want to really believe that Monsanto finances Folta’s work, just forget about it! He works on strawberries, Monsanto is not interested in them and has not financed his studies at all.
And I’ve seen worse! Much worse … with no public uproar!!! Did you know that Nova’s episodes on Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Universe was sponsored by David H. Koch, of the Koch Brothers? You know, the same people who finance anti-scientific campaigns to discredit global warming, and try to cut down regulatory legislation of the industry? Yeah… those guys! And still, they are great episodes. The same when Microsoft sponsored some great episodes by NOVA, and believe me, THAT company can control your life a thousand times more through your computer than Monsanto would ever do just by selling seeds and Roundup. I’ve always promoted software freedom, and I wish that more people in the Left had just the same passion against Windows and MacOS that they have against Monsanto.
And even the Left is in a worse situation than the Right, for the simple reason that the former tends to be so self-righteous about how much it endorses evolution and the anthropogenic view of climate change. Yet, when it comes to studies, the anti-GM sector is just as insane!!! It uses extensively retracted, very bad, and ethically questionable studies to prove their point (such as Séralini’s experiment), or studies financed by industries and lie when they say that they have no conflicts of interests (e.g. the famous Judy Carman’s –and company’s– study on the effects of transgenic maize and soy on pigs), or studies published in notorious predatory journals such as those published by OMICS International, Scientific Research, MDPI, and others (e.g. Stephanie Seneff’s bogus study on glyphosate in Entropy). In other words, everything revolves in totally and absolutely discredited studies that are not even worth the virtual paper they were written in. And please, don’t get me started on Greenpeace!!! It is renowned for not revealing how their studies were carried out, and it has been caught altering its own data to fit its causes (e.g. the Brent case, and the Chernobyl meltdown).
The Left’s dubious association with pseudo-scientifically-minded individuals around the world does not make the its situation any better. Mike Adams, founder of Natural News, is not only a long time scammer, but also at one point wrote an article clearly implying that it should be anyone’s moral duty to kill scientists, academics, journalists, and so on who advocate for GMOs, while the next day posting a webpage giving people names of Monsanto employees, biotech scientists, academics, and advocates so that the public would intimidate them. Then he changed the text to “clarify” that he didn’t mean “kill”, just bring these advocates “to justice”. Later he deleted it, but the Internet remembers events like that. Because of this incident, he is being investigated by the FBI right now. By the way, this article was also posted in Vandana Shiva’s website for a week, and then was taken down after the uproar of indignation it provoked. Dr. Oz, (read this study and listento this interview about his recommendations), Vani Hari (the Food Babe), Jeffrey Smith (who knows nothing of science and doesn’t know what he’s talking about — see here and here–), Dr. Joseph Mercola (… And I mean, really?! A guy who sells as “healthy” a product containing the very same stuff he himself has said is poisonous to the public?!! Really??!!! …), among other frauds, have inundated the media with totally false claims about GM food, not supported by any scientific study at all.
Even legitimate scientists, such as Dr. Don Huber, fall from grace as soon as they are mixed in this mess. According to him, he discovered how GM and glyphosate create a “pathogen” that could represent a threat to human and animal health. He has been claiming this for years, without ever showing this pathogen to the scientific community. (So … is he withholding evidence of something that could harm the public, and will not make it available to scientists and the public for examination? Why the heck not??!!!) And what about David Suzuki’s shameful ignorance of GM work that ended up in a video that discredits his statements, not only about GMOs, but about his campaign to address the problems of climate change? The Right-wing had a field day with Suzuki! With this, in the eyes of the public, Suzuki has contributed to discredit the urgent need to address the problem of climate change. He campaigns for it, but appeared before the public as an ignorant about his own field, genetics; so, in the minds of many people, why should they pay attention to him about climate change?
And the Left wants to associate with all of these people and use them as “legitimate” references?! Really??!!!
I began as an anti-GM campaigner, and I ended up being in favor once I sat down and studied this subject carefully. I have to say that as time goes by, I am increasingly disappointed with the Left, especially when they don’t stick to neither science nor history. They invent false historical memory about a time when “farmers lived in harmony with nature”, and “they lived healthy” because they had no synthetic pesticides and everything was done “naturally”. Just a little verification on farming practices in that “ancient past” will make them realize that not only they used to use pesticides, but that they were as toxic as arsenic, mercury, sulfur, copper, rotenone, pynethrum, among many others, many which are banned today in many countries, or are still legal but are creating a lot of environmental problems. A little check on the life expectancy data on humanity in the past vs. today should wake people up from their slumber.
From what I’ve seen in the left, not only in the United States, but also in Puerto Rico where this opinion is almost monolithic, especially with political groups like the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), the Sovereigntist Movement Union (MUS), and even Nada santo sobre Monsanto, which have created a new ignoramitocratic thinking (i.e. they dictate public policy on the basis of ignorance and fraud rather than science). In the United States, the situation is a little bit different so far as the political Left is divided on this issue. Although I understand the opposition to the nuclear alternative by people like Ralph Nader, I have been stunned by the fact that he actually endorses the persecution and intimidation of scientists by misusing the FOIA, especially accusing the critics of such behavior of being “tied to Monsanto”, and quoting a study published in a very low impact journal that has been criticized and debunked by the scientific establishment, mostly because it made no original research, and was picking and choosing the data from a previous retracted Séralini study, which was later republished without any peer-review. The authors of the quoted study are, of course, Séralini himself and company. Nader also quoted the (in)famous IARC study that created a lot of unwarranted chaos in public policy over the world, and which is also ridden with very serious and evident mistakes.
(Note/Rant: Why is it that we have to ban glyphosate all over the world because it is categorized 2A by the IARC, but not working at night, or working in a salon … By this reasoning, women are screwed, because estrogen has been classified as 1 by the IARC –i.e. we are sure it is a carcinogen– , as well as painting, … and let’s ban pears, they have formaldehyde, and let’s not forget banning the Sun itself!)
This has been the greatest disappointment ever from the Left, especially many environmental groups.
Before, I thought that the Left embraced the best of Progressive values, and placed a great emphasis on science. Today, as time goes by, as a Left-wing, I’m asked politically to support ideas that are clearly unscientific, fraudulent, and that obey the interests of certain industries (like the organic industry, and the scammer industry, many of them with cultish tendencies and behavior) to whom the Left and the environmental movements are doing favors. When did so many in the Left in industrialized countries become so pathologically inhumane? Can some of you who hold this position really consider yourselves as being ethically superior to the Right-wing extremists and the harm they cause? I think not!
If being in the Left means that I have to endorse pseudo-science, scammers, and not embrace the best studies out there about this subject (and many others), if it means using important mechanisms for human rights to abuse scientists, and also preventing the poor and the sick from having technologies that may save their lives, … then it is time for me to leave it behind, and I will wipe the dust from my feet on the way out. As far as it goes, the Left is inviting people to “think outside of the box” created by the political and corporate establishments … in order for people to accept another box created by other political and corporate establishments –the latter, built on fraud and fear-mongering–.
As far as it goes, I will be more independently-minded, and far more receptive to science than I have ever been in my life.