[Marxism] Frankenpolitics: The Left defence of GMOs,

dave x dave.xx at gmail.com
Fri Jan 10 01:29:29 MST 2014

On Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 1:51 AM, David P Á <david at miradoiro.com> wrote:

> This is in some sense true, but I'm afraid it's unavoidable. At this
> point natural selection isn't the only force out there. We practice
> artificial selection all the time. We change our environment in
> deliberate and planned ways. Given the population density of the world,
> there's not much of a way around it, and I'm not of the Malthusian bent
> that suggests the solution to this is for 95% of the people to die
> (others first, of course!).
> That said, there are two important aspects that make this not as much a
> problem as it could otherwise be.
> On one hand, yes, evolution is a powerful force; but it is a relatively
> slow one. As optimisation strategies go, I wouldn't consider it
> particularly strong. Planned outcomes are routinely better, hence why we
> bother with engineering, and, in a sense, why we are Marxists: we think
> a planned economy can work better than the anarchy of the market.
> On the other hand, while it's true that monoculture is problematic, the
> fact is, all agriculture is problematic. In that case, there's an
> argument for reducing the land, water and energy use that we need to
> dedicate to it, which entails increasing yields and this requires
> monoculture among other techniques.

> That's unlikely so long as we continue doing agronomy, but again,
> there's not much of an alternative. Perhaps agriculture was humanity's
> original sin, but once certain gates are crossed, there is no way back.
> While it is true that food distribution could and should be more
> equitable and efficient, and that there's a fair amount of slack
> regarding food that gets misallocated or destroyed for completely stupid
> reasons like fruit that doesn't look aesthetically perfect, it's
> nonetheless also true that given the resources (arable land, energy) and
> number of people, a step back towards reduced yields would result in a
> food catastrophe. The use and misuse of different techniques to avoid
> this outcome may be a bit too much like walking on the edge of an abyss,
> but what is the actual alternative? Localist low-yield solutions are
> completely unviable to take up the slack for commercial agriculture.
> Also, while it's true that evolution keeps finding ways around our
> safeguards, these workarounds are rarely metabolically free. The
> organisms (insects, etc) adapting to external threat must often spend
> resources on these adaptations that render them otherwise less fit.
> There may come a point when the fitness gradient we are able to create
> is too sharp and they can't climb it anymore.

First I am no Malthusian. Human population figures are not the best way of
framing the sorts of environmental problems we face. As for evolution it
operates on many timescales some of them very fast indeed, some very very
slow. For high dimensional optimization problems it is one of the most
powerful techniques we know. Human ability to manage complexity is limited
and some approaches work better than others. Human planning that does not
take into account basic facts about life on earth will fail given time and
while all agriculture may be problematic it is not equally so.

Localist solutions are not a panacea but they are not inherently low yield
and with the right sort of scientific and engineering applications can be
significantly improved. They can also address problems with the ecology of
monocropping and the dependence on pesticides. Of course that doesn't mean
all monocropping can be easily gotten rid of but a shift towards an
agriculture that is sensitive to local ecology and conditions, that is more
democratic, more 'food sovereign', more attuned to human needs and health
and every bit as integrated with modern science and engineering as modern
GMO'd monocultures should be the goal we are striving towards. There are
quite a few left wing biologists who have done work motivated in this vain,
I happen to be married to one of them. If you want an accessible scientific
summary I recommend 'Nature's Matrix' by Perfecto, Vendermeer and Wright.
Some interesting work has also been done in this direction in Cuba, see for
example the volume 'Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming
Food Production in Cuba' by Funes, Garcia, Bourque, Nilda and Rosset.

More information about the Marxism mailing list