Vermont has stepped up to the plate (no pun intended) and seems on its way to pass a law that will require the labeling of genetically modified food sold in its stores. This debate slices at a couple of different angles. Those opposed to such an idea fall into probably two major camps. You have the acolytes of science who claim that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with GMO products. You also have the small government free market folks who don’t want Uncle Sam regulating anything. I personally think this is a great idea. If I belong to any political party, it’s the Green one, and I am always happy to see Vermont truly behave progressively.
When combing through the comments on Reddit, the internet’s great bastion of dogmatic scientists/atheists, you find many people defending many dubious things because those things fall under the larger banner of Science. Nuclear energy, for example, is one of them. GMO food is another. The reason why they shrug off all the resistance to the practice is because they are not convinced that GMO food actually poses any health risk, and those who outcry are simply uninformed and base their discomfort on conjecture and not scientific study. This may be true. I don’t really know. I certainly don’t want to be some Luddite who cowers in fear of altering the natural order. I have that pang of suspicion though. It’s kind of based on how poorly we’ve handled the natural order up till now too, but I am willing to concede that I have not done extensive research, nor that I am versed in the scientific literature.
You also have the folks who think that government should just mind its own god damned business. This is a free market economy, after all. We should not let government bureaucrats, who only want to justify their own existence, find another way to get in between the citizens of this great nation and the goods and services they deserve and downright demand. Well, fine, except the only institutional entity that I despise more than our government is corporate interest.
The reason why this law makes sense is because I as an individual have a right to know what I am consuming. It’s funny how the First Amendment leaves dark that other side of the coin in terms of free speech: the right to know. Free speech should be about both direction of the current: out of your mouth but also in your ears. The free flowing of information is vital. I want to know who is a backwards racist, so I can in turn make appropriate decisions based on that information. I want to know about GMO foods not so I can protect my health, but so I can stop the destructive and dangerous practices of Monsanto. So, I, as a citizen in a democratic free market can decide what I need and want and so I can guide the guiding hand of said market and shape society beyond my vote for representatives. Once, someone gave me a bunch of shit for smoking organic cigarettes. “Oh geez! What? Healthy cigarettes now?” No. They will not clean my lungs, but the tobacco will be grown without the use of Earth-murdering pesticides. It’s a decision not for me, but for reducing the enormous impact we have on this suffering planet.
But see, that’s the problem. We don’t live in a free market. And in fact, those who fan the flames of anti-government regulation are those most opposed to the idea of a free market economy. There are those amongst us who are rightfully concerned about the overreach of government power. But, what shocks me is how they can often align themselves with big business interest at the same time. In their view government is the problem, business is not. How can anyone ever separate the interests of big business from the government? This is the greatest spin of all time. Lobbyists have not only taken control of government policy, they have shaped public opinion to be suspicious of any protection the government has to offer to the consumer and the market. After all, that should be the ideal role of the government: protection.
But not protection from some manufactured global threat, protection from those who seek to exploit us. We can run up the tab of our defense budget no problem because we’ve been telling ghost stories around the TV campfire, stories of evil brown men who hate our way of life. Around the same pale blue glow, we can also tell stories of brown people in this country sucking our way of life dry through welfare and Medicaid and food stamps. But when you take a step back, what does the power structure in this country actually look like? Everything is designed so wealth flows in one direction: to the top. Everything you think your life is, the house you build, the food you eat, the trips you take, the gadgets you buy, all of it sends wealth in one direction. Michael Pollan gets a little too bourgeois at times, but he made an incredibly lucid point when talking about the GMO debate: People can’t stand social engineering when it is committed by the government, but they downright fucking love it when it is committed by big business. What you desire, what you fear, who you think you are all result from a vast web of influence that you consume regularly and have absolutely zero control over: News media, advertising, sitcoms, the physical layouts of malls and supermarkets, all of these contribute to what you call reality and ultimately, what you call identity. When it comes to business and government, GMOs are absolutely the real culprit: Grossly Manufactured Opinions.