(Part 1 here) (Part 3 here)
For too long, humans have sat by passively while corporate and government interests have run rough-shod over the rest of us. They have frequently created and instituted technologies and processes that were later found to have egregious effect on the world population as a whole. Examples? Pharmaceuticals, geo-engineering, nuclear power, and the list goes on. In each case, safer alternatives were suppressed because they weren't as profitable, or the technologies were put in place without a full debate by all parties on the benefits and detriments of the technologies, usually with a profit motive involved.
We are currently being damaged as a whole by things like Fukushima, strange diseases and side-effects from pharma, massive natural disasters attributable, as least in part, to modification of the environment (geo-engineering), not to mention unbridled profiteering causing economic hardship worldwide.
We now stand on the verge of instituting a technology that will have profound long-term effects on humanity and the very survival of our species. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are a very real and present danger to our survival as a race. We are quickly reaching the point where it will be possible to modify the human genome and have those modifications become a permanent part of our species, for better or worse, and it is the 'worse' part that concerns us most. The Law of Unintended Consequences states that whatever benefit we gain on the whole from GMOs will be offset by detrimental and possibly horrific consequences that will not be easily remedied (see Fukushima, Chernobyl, et al.).
The possible physical effects are only part of the debate. As I discussed yesterday, the legal ramifications are just as horrific. The ability to create beings as a dedicated slave race or engineer living beings whose sole purpose is to be diced up for body parts raises dozens of ethical and moral issues that are in no way simple or easy to dismiss.
Humanity has spent the past few hundred years making great strides in individual liberty and human rights. The creation of legally-owned beings for the purpose of hard or hazardous labor - a disposable race - would reverse all the achievements we have made as a species and lead to a cheapening of life on the whole. After all, if we can accept that a certain group of individuals is disposable, then it is a short jump to seeing the entire human race as such, or more likely the establishment of a genetic elite who could not be challenged since they hold the power of life and death with legal precedent and backup.
The moral and philosophical issues are even harder to debate. Some would take the point that only God owns an individual and is empowered to muck about with our genome. The counter-argument would be that if only God is empowered, then how is it that we mere mortals have discovered the technology? Without the ability to place God in the witness box, there is little weight to such arguments, and many would see them as archaic. The debate is millennia old and shows no signs of being resolved soon.
In fact, what makes humans free but our ability to kill anyone who challenges that freedom? Has not all of human history shown that those with gold and guns make the rules? Aren't morals and ethics just idealistic constructs backed up by appeal to a higher authority that no one can prove exists (assuming one is Aristotelian in outlook)? Especially in the post-Darwin era, might-makes-right has taken on a kind of natural imperative, especially in the age of Nietzsche and his ilk. If God is dead, then there is no teeth behind the claim of moral superiority on that side of the argument.
Those in favor of GMOs and related technologies can run out dozens of proposed benefits to humanity, and on the surface they seem quite desirable. Improved bodies and immunity. Longer and better quality lives. Greater harvests and healthier foods to support increasing populations. Lofty goals indeed. But as we have seen again and again, the reality often falls far short of the rhetoric.
Iran's attempts to develop nuclear power have been used as an excuse to place the country and its people under threat of invasion and economic sanctions for the better part of 30 years now, though similar programs in other countries have gone unchallenged. Fukushima is rapidly poisoning our planet and the effects will be with us for thousands of years. The area around Chernobyl has been a wasteland for decades and likely will be for centuries to come. British dumping of radioactive waste in the North Sea has been poisoning that region for 40 years. And this is only one technology.
Internal combustion engines and petroleum fuels. Chemical waste from manufacturing. Fracking. Just read the list of side-effects on most pharmaceuticals to see that not everything is as peachy-keen as advertised. There is a quiet war building with super-bugs created by the profligate used of antibiotics, which were hailed just 60 short years ago as the redemption of mankind and the end of disease.
GMO technology has been foisted upon humanity with little or no debate as to the desirability and long-term effects of the processes. There has been no great public debates on the moral and ethical hazards. Problems and horror stories have been buried in the name of profit. Just one example is the Indonesian cocoa crop.
GMO tech promised to provide cocoa trees to Indonesia that would have larger canopies, produce more and better fruit, and increase the profits of the small farmers who used it. Instead, the trees have larger canopies at the expense of root development, so the trees literally fall out of the ground. Those that don't fail to provide the promised bonanza of higher yields. In the longer-term, Indonesia's cocoa crop, one of the largest in the world, has been damaged and many small farmers have been impoverished due to crop failure.
In other areas, Monsanto's Round-Up ready seeds promised the use of less poisons to kill pests and weeds. Instead, the resistance engineered into the crops have transferred to the pests and weeds, as well, causing greater use of highly toxic Round-Up and other poisons to maintain the same levels of efficacy pre-GMO.
Then there's the whole issue of ingesting GMO foods. There is mounting evidence that these foods cause horrific diseases and organ damage when eaten. These effects have been hidden by a complicit media hoping to protect advertising revenues, but the stories are getting out. In any event, it is safe to say that the corporate interests are hiding information that might harm their profits, and the anti-GMO side is likely guilty of hyperbole in some cases. Either way, the facts must be placed on the table and debated.
In the past, humanity as a whole did not have the ability to mount a global debate. It is only since the communications revolution and democratization of satellite and internet technology that the entire human population has had the ability to mount such an endeavor. Until now, corporate and government interests have had a free ride in protecting each other's revenue streams at the expense of the rest of us humans.
The time has arrived whereby humanity can mount a global debate and every human has the ability to join in. The nature of and threat from GMOs demands that we open this debate now and on a global scale. We have a global institution in the UN with the resources and teeth to bring all the parties to the table and enforce the results. We have the technology to invite all humans to participate in a way never before possible. And we have an issue that demands a global solution before it goes any further and becomes irreparable.
In my next column, A Modest Proposal.