by Kamala Das
The privatization and development of once public resources and always earths resources, is no longer a political or economic issue, it is an issue of our natural right to life and free-survival.
To understand this viewpoint, let me first define both privatization and development as they related to sociopolitical structure. Privatization is the transfer of ownership from state and publically owned business and services to private ownership. Private meaning corporate. Development is the act of improving, expanding, enlarging and refining. These two terms are similar in the fact that they 1. both are used by corporations to make profit; 2. include the view that the earth is property and can be owned and ; 3. require a relationship between the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, ideas, and ecosystems in order to expand. Sometimes I use these terms interchangeably because you can’t privatize without development.
The current model of development presents us with a picture of things to come. In this picture we continue to grow, ignoring the fundamental mathematics of the exponential function, without self-imposed or externally imposed lifestyle and consumptive changes; maintaining a burgeoning relationship to services that provide for our ever-expanding unrealistic wants programmed by Edward Bernays, advertising agencies, public relations firms, spin doctors and social pressures.
In this scenario, unless their is pause and a major overhaul, all the problems we identify today as consequences of our consumptive living will amplify. Limited resources will dictate the etiquette of resource wars (and has). The natural consequences ranging from our own lewd experimentation on each other with pharmaceuticals, to ecological devastation on land and sea, to genetic modifications that cross the species barrier, will also multiply.
If you were in a bus driving driving 100 miles an hour toward a cement wall, at what point would you ask the driver to slow down? At what point would you take over the wheel? Would you sit comfortably and try to rationalize that the situation will solve itself?
If we sit comfortably and try to rationalize that the situation will solve itself, it will. There will be an apocalyptic downsizing based on earths own reordering of our meddling into its intelligent design.
The social and political face of this scenario is based on a continuance of growth at the same or higher rate of development from now into the future. At some point, the effluence of development creates negative feedback. When the agenda of the developers meet up against those who don’t want to be developed, that tyrannical forms of control and manipulation push against the dissenters, least growth necessary for return on investments be impeded. Nature nature can change the story at any time, and sometimes I feel like we are subduing our own rebellion waiting on hers.
I will attempt to highlight four parts of the negative feedback from progress forward development. 1. Loss of biodiversity. 2. Poverty 3. Psychology of reliance. 4. Conflict of interest; The very act of living uses the products and services of the entities we want to resist.
(1) Part of the negative feedback from progress only development comes from a loss in biodiversity; biodiversity of people, and biodiversity of the environment. Most if not all traditional values and culture of indigenous people’s are sorted to the fringes, and forcefully negotiated with because their decision to live in another way compromises progress. These fringe people exist in a paradox, lumped under the umbrella of poverty whose prescription is always the same –jobs, reeducation, privatized water and food, dependent farming techniques, allopathic medical care, and market access, while struggling to preserve the autonomy of their “ways.”
And so to the fringe goes cultural wisdom that grew out of successive generations of living, surviving, and dying in a specific ecosystem. And so to the crowded cities go these displaced peoples, into a type of consequential poverty created from power plays for their land, and power plays for their relationship to earth.
There are observable similarities between the dominance of man over man and man over nature. Take example, the supposition, that we can improve nature by genetically modifying it or “civilizing it, improving it, and modernizing it” to meet some target defined by a pejorative elite. This modality ignores, totally, the importance and purpose of the information encoded into the seed that is replaced.
The manifestation of adaptive intelligence is visible all around us. Just like the world around us was not crafted solely in one life time, and our personal skill with life has taken birth to the present to know what we know, all of nature undergoes the same process. The cotton plant’s seed has this intelligence -all seeds do. Through successive generations of natural selection it has developed changes in its physical morphology to enable it to survive shifts in environmental conditions, on a micro and macro scale. I don’t think we can know what the extent of this intelligence is, nor do we know the length of which the seed has been incarnating in order to develop its present day response to a late monsoon for example.
A myopic way of looking at things would be to only acknowledge the changes the plant responds to that we can observe during our lifetime. But this precludes the chance that there are things the plant has by way of intelligence that came before us, and that our observation isn’t in some way limiting the outcome by our narrow bandwidth of perception. The observer effect has been noted in physics, and is commonly called the Heisenberg Principle of Observation or Uncertainty Principle.
Genetic modification is the ultimate form of privatization. It allows for seeds to be patented and reduces biodiversity to something studied in an biotechnology engineering college. It also strong arms those who produce our food to accept the GM dogma of the dominators because of the the threat of financial ruin, harrassement and legal reprocussions. From an investigative report written in Vanity Fair, May 2008:
In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors…
When Monsanto is asked about their practices, they say they are simply protecting their patents.
When staking the lives of future generations on products that have no natural basis, such as genetic modification that uses the gene of one species to splice into the DNA of another, it is a rather DANGEROUS assumption that we can modify nature to suit our needs without considering its observable interrelated complexities, let alone its non-observable complexities without a backlash of generational proportions.
(2) Another part of the “negative feedback” of development is poverty. According to Wikipedia, poverty is defined as, “a lack of basic human needs, such as clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter, because of the inability to afford them. This is also referred to as absolute poverty or destitution. Relative poverty is the condition of having fewer resources or less income than other within a society or country or compared to world-wide averages.”
In either case to classify people as “impoverished” seems directly proportional to (a) the amount of exposure they have had to an outside culture who suggests upon contact either through direct contact or advertising (school books, bill boards, TV) that they are in fact poor and not economically viable which may not have been an organizing center of their society; (b) the dominant entity such as rulers and landlords from inside or outside the country creates the conditions that are thus classifiable as poverty by exploiting an underclass because they do not share the same economic values, bloodline, caste, language, education etc. These sort of people or sets of circumstances are discussed in board rooms as needing civilizing, modernizing, improving…etc.
You do not need to buy something, you already have. If you are growing your own food in sufficient amounts, it makes no sense to have to afford it. In order to profit from everyone on earth, it is necessary for everyone to play the same “I believe in your power to rule over me and I believe that money has real value” game.
The introduction of money and lending systems into agriculture, privatized the relationship of the farmer and what is farmed. This led to vast exploitation of everyone but the dominant industry cash cropping farmer. Worldwide, many small time farmers were pushed into “poverty” because of their manually produced foods could not compete with the lower prices of the mass produced foods.
Navdanya, “a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade,” writes in her book An Ecological History of Food and Farming in India, Vol. 2. The introduction of money into the agricultural system had several impacts – it led to the pauperization [ impoverishment ]of the peasant through price fluctuations of commodities; it engineered a shift from the production of food to the production of high-grade crops and cash crops- from coarser millet to wheat, and to cotton, sugarcane, indigo, poppy, etc. This shift required larger investment in cattle for more frequent ploughing and watering, in installations to process the produce such as sugarcane press, boilers, indigo vats, etc; and heavier risks in respect of harvest and prices. This in turn led to both the larger and the smaller peasants contracting debts to pay the revenue or to obtain subsistence, food, and cattle, and in a way led to the formalizing of the relationship between agricultural producer and the moneylender.
(c) In cases where the classical definition of poverty relates to diminishing resources created by natural phenomena, people adapted cultivation methods, migrated to better conditions or failed. When they have failed, the shedding of good-will by western nations has alleviated hunger, no doubt, but the caveat is that it has replaced it with malnutrition that comes from eating only imported/subsidized/donated refined wheats, sugars, soya, maize and prepackaged foods.
The demand for cash crops leads to a climate of monoculture farming devoid of companion diversity and heavily reliant on chemicals and heavy equipment. I’ve observed a parallel between cash crop/staple crops such as wheat, corn, sugar, and soy, and crops given preference for genetic modification. One has only to read Monsanto’s product list to also draw this conclusion.
When corruption exists between the donator and receiver of good will, it creates more problems than it solves. One problem is that the practice of skimming by those eager to make a profit from the donated food, puts these “donated” foods in competition with the local market, driving the price of local products up. This has an effect of changing the diet of those classified as impoverished to one that is heavily reliant upon importation, packaging, and branding, which creates a degree of separation between the impoverished and their native nutrition.
Then there are obvious strings attached on anything, other than personal donation. As we have seen from the World Bank, a portion of community sovereignty is traded for the agenda of international interest aligned more with the political class instead of an “impoverished” class.
(3) An additional problem of privatization and development is the psychology of reliance. This is the third, and lessor considered type of negative feedback. Everyone has to eat, regardless of what their relationship is to their food. Once a person or culture is alienated from the process by which food is grown, and prepared, which is a common situation in cities worldwide, one must rely on a third-party to grow, distribute and prepare the food. When the third-party is profit motivated the quality, variety and nutritional value of the food is always compromised.
The reliance on man-made food systems, from packaging factories, distribution chains, and stores, etc. puts ever more psychological distance between the eater and the food and places food more on the stock market than in the farmers market. This in turn opens the farming and production of food to profit motivated experimentation and unnatural manipulation separating it from more energy efficient and sustainable methods.
The distance also trains the eater to feed from the hands of multinationals and not feed himself. Once disconnected completely from an ancestral knowledge of their natural right of food, and the ease of which a balanced ecology can produce all that the individual needs to survive, the eater is thus turned into an ignorant consumer only and will out of necessity and ignorance accept the most outlandish claims of what is good or not good for him or her.
If we are relying more on third parties for our “resources,” the question then comes, who is managing whose resources? And what gives someone or entity the right to the resources in the first place? In modern terms, this is defined by those who have the money to extract the resources and distribute them. To put it another way, since you and I are not managing our own resources, something else is doing it for us and making alot of money! Those who can develope and/or privatize what was once assured by our own skill and interest such as farming and public works have taken the right, and continue to do so because of a lack of resistance.
And as we have seen, the resources are rarely distributed back to the people who are requiring them for daily survival, rather export quality is sent to “advance” western consumers, while the “third world” gets the chaff. The question of what gives someone or an entity the “right” is a tricky one, and has seen bitter debates in the form of war throughout history.
The definition of what a right is and who gives them is something hotly debated in political circles. Inalienable, self-evident or natural rights are those that are “given” simply because you are alive. Legal rights are culturally and politically relative. The latter is living, meaning it changes based on the system put in place to “grant” and “ensure” those rights. For the sake of this article, I would like to suggest that natural rights must always, without exception be esteemed higher, and considered over legal rights as to insure the basics of survival, both individual and collective. My view-point is not often shared.
In the case when natural rights are infringed upon by legal rights, the right or perhaps more correctly the ability to do so, is implied and remains only from a lack of resistance. I would like to submit that there are also pseudo rights, neither legal nor natural, that continue because they are acceptable in so much as they are not challenged. We may not define a multinational in America extracting resources in India as a right, but the sociopolitical consent implies that it has somehow allowed someone/thing to do so; an ambiguous “right to”. Pseudo rights remain unless challenged.
It is important to remember that our natural rights are not granted because this would imply they come from a hierarchy which must grant or revoke them. Rather, natural rights are ours naturally because we are alive. Things that we take for granted such as eating healthy food comes to our attention as a “right” only when challenged, and once challenged must be fought for.
Our natural rights can be compromised by legal rights if the system of creating and promoting those legal rights is askew. Take for instance the dumping of toxic waste into a river that is a source of water for a downstream community. It is their natural right to have clean water. It is the legal right of that company to exist. It may not be the legal right of the company to dump the toxic waste, yet it will continue uless this practice is challenged. Generally because of the personhood status, size, and money holdings of a large corporation, legal rights become blurred. Local officials are paid to look the the other way or the corporation can change local regulations and politics. It is only until those downstream begin to fight for their natural right to clean water that movement occurs on a political level to challenge if the corporation has a legal right.
It is important to remember that the present day corporation is a separate legal entity made of members such as management, creditors, shareholders and employees, all working together to grow sustained profits for its owners. It relies on continued growth for success. It is legally considered a person. It in fact it has legal rights, particularly the 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution which gives each U.S. Citizen protection for life, liberty and property. It can buy and sell property. It can borrow money. It can sue and be sued. It’s members are protected by limited liability. Law suites brought against the corporation do not affect the members individually. The corporation cannot be imprisoned for its heinous crimes.
Originally, “corporations” were limited, and had a charter that was revocable if they were not doing something to enhance the public welfare. It was subordinate. In 1886, all that changed. One small remark by a court reporter in a Supreme Court case opened the door to corporate personhood. Please see the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad to understand the history of how corporate lawyers jumped on the chance to expand corporations by using the 14th amendment and the Jurisdiction and Removal Act of 1875 a law created so black litigants could bypass hostile discrimination from southern state courts.
We as individuals, can hardly compete with the influence of a corporation because of its monetary and political power. Corporations though considered “people” are amoral. There is not incentive for restraint unless restraint is profitable. The playing field is unfair. Their legal right to exist is eroding away at our natural right to life, liberty and property. Additionally, most developing nations have patterned their incorporation law after the United States, so the lack of ethical personhood is worldwide.
I admit to that being a charged statement, so let me give a few examples to support it. I have chosen the Multinational agrochemical company Monsanto to illustrate a lack of ethical personhood. Monsanto is pushing genetically modified seeds worldwide with the skill of bloated legal and public relations departments, and internal scientists, referred to as “life scientists” who have no other agenda than to promote Monsanto’s technology. It’s past atrocities include:
- Anniston Alabama Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into landfills that poisoned creeks for over 40 years. PCBs or Polychlorinated biphenyls share a structural similarity to dioxin. They are carcinogenic, a known cause of cancer.
- Monsanto covered up dioxin contamination in a wide range of products, including Lysol and Agent Orange used in Vietnam. They either failed to report contamination (they knew dioxin to be poisonous since 1960), or they substituted false information and samples for testing with doctored results. The extent of their cover-ups would require several articles to cover. If you are interested, I suggest reading : Agent Orange on Trial, Mass Toxic Disasters in the Courts.
- More recently Monsanto attempted to bribe Health Canada to gain its approval over rBGH a synthetic growth hormone that increases milk production in cows. When injected into the cow it forces them to produce 15%-25% more milk, and damages their health and reproductive capacity. The milk then contains elevated levels of IGF-1, or Insulin Growth Factor 1 which increases the chances for breast cancer. An excerpt from the Ottawa Citizen, from Friday the 23rd of October 1998, reveals:
Scientists `pressured’ to approve cattle drug: Health Canada researchers accuse firm of bribery in bid to OK `questionable’ product
Veterinary scientists from Health Canada’s Human Safety Division testified yesterday that they are being pressured to approve a controversial hormone intended to boost milk production in dairy cattle. “We have been pressured and coerced to pass drugs of questionable safety, including rBST,” Dr. Shiv Chopra told the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
The senators sat dumbfounded as Dr. Margaret Haydon told of being in a meeting when officials from Monsanto Inc., the drug’s manufacturer, made an offer of between $1 million and $2 million to the scientists from Health Canada — an offer that she told the senators could only have been interpreted as a bribe.
Dr. Haydon also recounted how notes and files critical of scientific data provided by Monsanto were stolen from a locked filing cabinet in her office. Dr. Chopra said that all files pertaining to rBST are now controlled by one senior bureaucrat and can only be viewed by gaining permission. “I can’t even believe I’m in Canada when I hear that your files have been stolen and that all the files are now in the hands of one person,” said Senator Eugene Whelan. “What the hell kind of a system have we got here?”
We are in a situation worldwide where our natural rights are threatened, and the legal rights favor those who are threatening our natural rights. Are we still willing to wait and see how far the brave new world will go before it makes life on earth impossible to live without literally paying for the air we breath? Mosquitos have been genetically modified to not have offspring, and goats have been genetically modified with a spider protein to make their milk contain a type of silk that can be used in industry. Hasn’t it gone far enough?
We have all become accustomed to pointing out the problem, more than solving it. I believe yet another part of the negative feedback stemming from the effluence of modern development is that our (4) resistance is ushered into conflicting interest. It seems impossible to resist when we rely or enjoy some things and services, directly or indirectly, tied to the companies we object to. We must however, decide if the tiny comforts afforded to us by modern living are worth the poverty, injustice, and ecological catastrophes. Really? It feels that good? Ask yourself “How am I directly responsible for the change I want to see? We must empower ourselves to defend not only our life but generations to come.
American civil rights advocate and clergyman Martin Luther King took a brave step when he spoke out against the American war in Vietnam. He insisted that the U.S. wasin Vietnam “to occupy it as an American colony.”
Vietnam was a brutal war of which the United States defence department contracted Monsanto and Dow Chemical to make Agent Orange, later found to have high levels of dioxin, as a defoliant to force the Vietnamese people from their villages, destroying their agrarian way of life by killing the jungle around them. Gruesome deformities and cancers developed in the Vietnamese people and troops responsible for the spraying. Martin Luther King was critical of this war.
The American colonization of Vietnam and the Corporate privatization of our food have many similarities. Both are colonized by force. Public relations attempts to spin acceptance of wrong doing in both scenerios. Dissenters are silenced. Environments are poisoned.
He states in his speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam”
“A time comes when silence is betrayal……
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission of which is calls us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.”
To answer how, we must look at the tactics and bravery of freedom fighters within and outside our own countries borders.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar….it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring,” Martin Luther King
The fight is no longer local, or national. In the coming months, I will highlight the works of many freedom fighters, including Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Subhas Chandra Bose, M.D. Nanjundaswamy, Vandana Shiva, and Bhagat Singh to name a few. India and her struggle to free her self from British colonization and now privatization produced a rare breed of dissenter the likes of which few western nations have seen.
The first is India’s lessor known freedom fighter and farming advocate Professor M.D. Nanjundaswamy. I have copied his obituary which highlights his life and efforts toward stopping Monsanto and KFC from disrupting India’s food sovereignty.
The scholar activist Professor MD Nanjundaswamy, who has died aged 68 of cancer, was India’s leading advocate of farmers’ rights, and a vociferous critic of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and multinational companies in developing countries. While he failed to throw even one western firm out of India, he became a key figure in the international debate, and gave peasant farmers around the world a voice on the global stage.
He seldom travelled out of India – in 1999, he was refused entry to Britain to accompany a caravan of 500 protesting Indian farmers – but his scathing criticism of global trade liberalisation policies endeared him to a generation of international activists.
A passionate Gandhian, Nanjundaswamy was among the founders, in 1980, of the Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha (KRRS), a farmers’ group which opposed the corporatisation of agriculture and the entry of multinational corporations into India. At its height, in the mid-1990s, the KRRS had up to 10m members – one in four of the southern Indian state’s farmers – and the professor was frequently able to attract a million people to his famous rallies.
The slight, bespectacled figure, usually seen wearing green to symbolise solidarity with farmers, advocated “direct democratic action” where passive forms of negotiative democracy had failed. Over 10 years – well before Genoa, Seattle and other western anti-globalisation protests – he and his supporters stormed and ransacked the offices of the giant seed company Cargill’s, wrecked a KFC outlet, burned Monsanto genetically modified crops and took on Pepsi, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
Western companies, and indeed local and national governments, were frequently apoplectic at Swamy’s tactics, charging that he was a “pseudo- Gandhian”. But he argued that destroying inanimate property that was being used to “deny the true development of people” did not violate Gandhian principles. Western multinationals, he said, were a new form of colonialism, and he summarised his struggle as “people-power vs money-power”.
Very few KRRS demonstrations were, in fact, remotely violent. The professor, who had an impish humour, once organised 10,000 people to sit down outside Bangalore town hall and do nothing but laugh at “democracy”. The state government reportedly caved in to their demands. But he also advocated arrest and taking responsibility for actions; on one occasion, 37,000 of his supporters were arrested in one day. He himself was frequently arrested, once being charged with attempted murder, looting and violence.
Protests were important, he said, but his real work was in creating a sustainable society based on Gandhian principles and ecological common sense. This meant not just opposing the patenting of seeds and liberalisation policies imposed on the Indian subcontinent by the WTO and the International Monetary Fund, but also educating farmers and developing social awareness.
Born in Mysore, Swamy was the son of a farmer-turned-lawyer and socialist parliamentarian. He read science and law at Mysore and Karnataka universities, and did postgraduate work at the Hague Academy of International Law in Holland. After studying constitutional law in West Germany and France, he returned to India in 1964 to become professor of law at Mysore and Bangalore universities.
Swamy’s intellectual antagonism to western development models was based not just on Gandhi’s work but also on his experiences in Europe. It was further informed by his observations of the green revolution which, in the 1960s, introduced India to the principles of large-scale agribusiness. He believed the revolution had seriously damaged Indian agriculture, and had led to irreparable ecological and social decline.
What taught him true development, Swamy said, was practising traditional Indian organic farming on his family’s 20-acre farm. Those who had adopted the green revolution technology, he argued, became debtors as their crop yields declined. Above all, he feared for the Indian peasant farmer, whom he saw being thrown off the land, like western farmers. In India, he said, there was no safety net for the vulnerable.
In 1989, Swamy was elected as an independent to the Karnataka state parliament. He advocated the complete decentralisation of state power down to village level, and rejected the western development model, under which industry took control and people became mere onlookers and objects of development. Instead, he proposed “total participation”, with villagers becoming the masters of their resources.
In recent years, he became the managing trustee of Amrita Bhoomi, an international centre for sustainable development, conserving indigenous seeds and promoting sustainable agriculture, and worked closely with the Third World Network based in Malaysia. Together, they helped set up village seed banks and collected 500 varieties of traditionally used seeds.
Swamy’s wife, daughter and son survive him.
MD Nanjundaswamy, academic and farming activist, born 1935; died February 3 2004
Guardian News & Media 2008