Busy times here at #BTEHbook central, mostly catching up from my first vacation in a quite a while, which consisted of an enjoyable time hosting my parents around my new(ish) digs in Britain.
So this week I bring you a re-post of an excellent bit of writing from political phylogeographer Rob Wallace, from his blog Farming Pathogens. Rob’s incisive critical and literary sensibilities, and friendship, were of immense help while I wrote Beginning to End Hunger. Check out his post below on the problem of capitalism, industrial food, and the environment.
Similarly, as you will see in BTEH, there is no ending hunger without fundamentally challenging, resisting, and changing the capitalist institutions dominating so much of our lives. But I also propose that, as we can see from the many examples like Belo Horizonte, there’s every reason to think we can move further down this emancipatory road. But it will require, as Frances Moore Lappé points out in the preface to my book, “a willingness to try on new glasses and to embrace the joy of gaining clarity on one’s next step, letting go of any certainties beyond.”
So I hope you enjoy today’s uncertain but insightful peak farther down the path, care of a brief perch on Rob’s Brobdingnagian shoulders.
They lived like monkeys still, while their new god powers lay around them in the weeds. ― Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars
For a column to be published on Earth Day, the day of the March for Science, a reporter asked me three questions: Why are capitalism and environmentalism inherently incompatible? Why is industrial farming harmful to the environment? And why are corporate sustainability and carbon footprint reduction programs so often a farce?
Drawing from previous essays, the newly emergent ecological Marx, both sides of the John Bellamy Foster and Jason Moore debate, and the clash over environmental destruction under pre-capitalist formations, I answered all three together in what follows, parts of which the columnist may excerpt.
Capitalism is fundamentally different from any other social organization in human history. There is the matter of scale, of course. The environmental destruction arising from the system’s mode of production is now global…
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A Gulliverian reference… have to love that. Extra points for using Brobdingnagian in a sentence.
Does Swift’s treatment of the Balnibarbi academics (Part III) ever cause pain? Long ago over a beer with an academic buddy I mentioned this passage from Gulliver’s Travels. He put down his glass, peered at me over the tops of his glasses and shook his head slowly. He’d too often advocated the values of science for the sake of science…. and too often been teased/abused/tormented by reference to the passage. I had no idea. Lesson learned.
I have to admit, my literature reach exceeds my grasp…. I know the word (along with Lilliputian) and know they’re from Gulliver’s Travels, but I’ve never read it myself.
So can’t speak to the Balnibarbi academics’ treatment. Though I have no problem with the enjoyment of science for science’s sake, I have to admit that I have long since tired of this enjoyment used as an excuse for aloofness and unconcern with quotidian problems of justice and the nuts and bolts of actually protecting the environment/sustainability/biodiversity/resilience (since I have mostly worked with ecologists and environmental scientists). Though I suppose a whole satire remains to be written on how scientists often use anecdotes of the broad goods brought by science for its own sake, in order to justify *any* given specific piece of science for its own sake, implicitly (or explicitly) saying that you can’t foresee ultimate usefulness, so you should not ever judge or prioritize [their particular project]. The elision of “unexpected benefits” to “you have to support everything” alongside denial of the fact that society at large, and scientists ALREADY set scientific priorities in numerous ways always grates. I do understand that funding and support for Science has been eroding; but I don’t think retreat into refrains of what amounts to “who are you to judge” does us any good.
Wow. You make TOO much sense. And I have to agree so wholeheartedly it’s embarrassing.
I will stoop to anecdotes (i.e., discovery of penicillin) only when the opposite side is so anti any science as to represent mouth breathers. Otherwise, be creative enough to sell your science for the value to which you are capable. If you haven’t the imagination you might take a moment or longer to consider why not.
And while we’re at it I might argue that paying for science IS getting too short… but if there be a silver lining to this reality it seems creative and elegant experiments should garner more attention for their thrift and as such spur more creativity in the future. No sense wasting or squandering those few resources that are made available for research.
“If you haven’t the imagination you might take a moment or longer to consider why not.” Agreed!! And definitely I would argue that paying for science is getting too short. But my opinion is that this is in no small part due to scientists’ not only staying aloof, not only insisting on being aloof, but the delusion that has taken over too many of us that the way “back” to better support is “more rigorous science,” which in practice means more peer-reviewed articles, more scrambling for government (and private) money, and less emphasis on teaching and service. In other words, less emphasis on two activities that actually might help maintain/restore the prerequisite trust and human connections that science needs in order to enjoy more public support. They’re not *enough* for that, to be sure, but a rededication to working with and for communities can only to be the good, in the long term, for public support; and it is my firm opinion that when one spends enough time with non-university people, you can find those who might share your passion if you take the time to help them access it. JoAnn Parent may or may not care about String Theory, but perhaps her star-gazing daughter does, or her brother-in-law or retired mother or father. We can make the argument of science for its own sake, but we need to do that in conversation with everyone else in society; not defend our turf as a unique source of good for humankind [irrespective of what our specific turf is].
But I digress! Yeah, we all use anecdotes sometimes. And I like to quip that “The plural of anecdotes IS data” — in that qualitative and quantitative research both can spring from systematic analysis of anecdotes. A random assortment of anecdotes is, at worst, incomplete (and perhaps unverified) data. But the sometimes implication that our own experiences and impressions are completely irrelevant to science is to take a good quip too far the other direction.