The two worldviews that reflect the conflict of values between the rights and interests of civil society and of the corporate imperialists are as irreconcilable as they are ancient. It is the conflict between domination, expropriation and exploitation, versus cooperation, participation, and conservation. This is no better illustrated today than by the imposition of genetically engineered (g.e.) seeds and crops on states and countries where civil society opposition is overruled by government collaboration with the rising global biotechnocracy, and acts of civil disobedience in protest are prosecuted as terroristic.
This biotechnocracy, following the dictum of Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State who said “If you want to control the people, control the food,” now seeks control through the patent monopoly of seed, conveniently ignoring, if not encouraging, the genetic contamination of conventional and organic crops by its g.e. plants. The health, safety, and nutritional value of g.e. crops and foods was presumed, but never proven. The corporate ethos seeks world-market penetration and domination in the service of mammon**—profits and power. Social, environmental, public health and other external costs and risks are of no consequence, the entire transnational business enterprise being amoral, ‘science-based’, and devoid of any bioethical evaluation. It is insulated by aligned governments and organizations and agencies like the World Trade Organization, and FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius, from public accountability and responsibility for harms done including its significant contribution to climate change with its primary production of feed for livestock and poultry, and now for biofuels. Their seeds are primarily for commodity crops not grown to feed people directly and locally, making a few very rich, while more go hungry as more still, along with their pets, become sick consuming manufactured, highly processed, convenience, junk, and fast-foods that are served widely in public schools.
What the mother eats during pregnancy creates an imprint on the developing child, so called nutritional epigenetics, that can mean chronic health problems are passed on from generation to generation. Now there are food riots around the world as prices rise because of climate change- related crop failures, and basic food crops and arable land being used to produce ecologically damaging biofuels. Tragic and terrible is the irony that while half the human population is suffering from hunger, malnutrition and starvation, the other half is facing an obesity epidemic and all its costly health consequences to themselves, to their families, offspring and to the health care system.
Other less visible seeds are sown by the hands of antidisestablishmentarians that blossom in the educational system especially, leading to public ignorance, indifference, consumerism, false trust and hope, as well as obedience and conformity. But learned helplessness, frustration, and the emptiness of modern existence devoid of values other than material, are taking their toll on mental health, leading to depression, violence and a host of socio-emotional disorders aggravated by spiritual poverty as much as by economic poverty. Diet plays a significant role in the genesis of these disorders. The old palliatives of alcohol and religion, of new illegal drugs and widely prescribed and highly profitable psychotropic drugs given even to kindergarten children, do little to ameliorate such cultural dis-ease. Psychotropic drugs in particular raise the specter of collusion between governments and the global pharmaceutical industry engaging in mass social control and oppression of a populace at risk from pesticides and other agrichemicals and environmental pollutants that industry-controlled governmental agencies simply ‘regulate’ rather than prohibit. Treating conditions of mental/emotional dysfunction with drugs is to treat the symptoms of a dysfunctional society rather than its causes, genetic anomalies not withstanding, leading to a profitable market far from risk free for the medicated minions.
The looming specters of world hunger and the emerging health care crisis in industrialized, developed nations are being exacerbated rather than alleviated by this agribusiness sector of the food, drug and military-industrial complex. The declining health and increasing public health costs in developed countries correlate with low incomes, unemployment, large families and socio-economic stress. The more educated and affluent sectors have fewer offspring—another critical issue of overpopulation— and less associated stress and diet-related health problems that are becoming epidemic in lower social strata. This social gradient of disease for the underprivileged means elevated blood cortisol levels, impaired immune systems with lowered resistance to infections, diabetes, obesity, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks, chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis and cancer, and premature ageing. These and other diseases of modern civilization are anthropogenic; man made in the service of mammon. The rich ride the unstoppable juggernaut they call ‘progress’ that will only be derailed when civil society gains control, first in the realm of food and nutrition, the cornerstones of health for generations to come.
We will never stop this juggernaut until civil society is unified by visionary leaders who have no vested interest in preserving the status quo where the common good is sacrificed for the corporate good. The possibility of a sustainable economy and a more viable future has been put in grave jeopardy by the corrupted values and short-term profit motives (i.e. greed) of the power elite. The ignoble heroics of colonialism and empire building for God, King, and Country, one of the insanities of the past three centuries, has evolved into the insanity of transnational corporate imperialism now being legally secured via the 2013 Transpacific Partnership. Under the neo-liberal banner of ‘free’ rather than fair trade, and in the wake of missionary zeal, military might, and political and market manipulation and control, the cancerous monoculture of mammon has spread globally. This consumption-driven juggernaut leaves in its wake decimated communities and cultures and devastated environments devoid of wildlife and natural resources, from fresh water and good topsoil to clean air and healthy forests and other natural ecosystems upon which our health and basic economy depend.
Human population control through famine, disease and war are ancient, arguably biologically natural and ecologically remedial correctives. Famine, pestilence and war continue to have profitable consequences for investors. Costs not withstanding, pharmaceutical, surgical and educational components of family planning face enormous obstacles, cultural and political. Having many children provides cheap labor and economic security. Politics are rarely divorced from corruption and the kind of disinformation that equates family planning with genocide.
There is a delicate balance between stabilizing populations through the economic security of technological industrialization and sacrificing cultural and biological (wildlife and habitat) diversity. If the wisdom of America’s 19th century natural philosopher and social reformer Henry David Thoreau “That in wildness is the preservation of the world” is incorporated by all who are dedicated to improving rather than exploiting the human condition, the relentless conversion of the natural world into a bio-industrialized wasteland may yet be averted.
Effective advocacy of population control through family planning is to be applauded as a vital element of self-control to avert the anthropogenic nemesis of the natural world. Opponents who make fatuous religious and moral claims such as the right to life of the unborn and un-conceived live in denial of the severity of the human infestation and its environmental, economic and health impacts on a planet of finite resources, and in the process bring more suffering into this world. So do those in the service of mammon who continue to oppose family planning because they contend that economic growth calls for a large population of consumers and a plentiful supply of cheap labor.
The quickening of climate change, ecocide, plant and animal species and cultural extinctions, and the loss of law and order, ethics and compassion, call for a full examination of what we are living for and how we all might live less consumptively and harmfully. Surely the value of our lives is ultimately in how much is given rather than taken. Where there is compassion, conscience, conciliation and concern there is kinship, justice, and hope. Where there is none of these, there is no civilization, only the anarchism of materialism, consumerism, desperate survilasim and inhumanity and insanity. As human history informs, there will always be war and poverty, famine and pestilence when ego comes before eco; self before other. Every civilization that broke this covenant of compassionate stewardship with the natural world either became extinct or endured into the present as dysfunctional, strife-torn cultures and nation states. Ours in the West is no different, as we bear witness to the tragic consequences of egotism, chauvinism, and anthropocentrism that are outmoded modes of being.
In his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” (2013) Pope Francis condemns the economic injustices of “trickle down” economics and unbridled capitalism, observing that “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in its way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.” I would add amongst the fragile, all indigenous peoples and their endangered cultures, and indigenous species, plant and animal, aquatic and terrestrial who are now falling victim to the global grasp of those who serve through desire and coercion the ends of Mammon.
We must choose to either evolve as a human, and therefore humane, species, or perish under our collective inhumanity toward animals, nature and our own species, what I call “harmageddon” We are losing all sense and evidence of our humanity at an alarming rate. But belief and circumstance need not dictate our fate if we adhere to the cardinal virtues of honesty, humility, respect for all life and adherence to the Golden Rule. To believe and act otherwise is the nemesis of humanity and civilization. To show compassion and seek reconciliation toward the perpetrators of violence as well as with the victims calls for the tempering of moral outrage, condemnation, and retaliation, empathy being the compass for ethical direction. But above all, to put an end to the globalization of ‘harmageddon’, the world’s courts and judicial system cannot continue to put corporate commercial interests before those of civil society and the environment. All citizens should have legal standing with regard to claims of being harmed, be it physically, economically or morally, against those individuals, corporate entities and government agencies that cause harm to the environment and cause animal suffering and species extinction. To base judgments on simplistic risk-benefit determinations and to set arbitrary thresholds of acceptable/unavoidable harm against some possible future greater good or margin of profit is ethically impeachable and morally wrong.
Applying the physician’s injunction to do no harm to economic theory and practice (as advocated by Richard L. Sandor in “Good Derivatives: A Story of Financial & Environmental Innovation) is enlightened self- interest. Such “eco-economics” is the first step toward a viable future. Industries can find ways to internalize harmful externalities—the now being accounted for environmental, social and public health costs of their business activities—in order to restore air, water and food quality and ameliorate carbon emissions and climate change. In my opinion the best example to date of putting eco-economics into practice is in organic, humane and sustainable agriculture, permaculture and biodynamic farming which are gaining greater public support and government recognition.
The manifest reality of this living universe is as terrifying as it is awe inspiring in its beauty, intelligent design, and creative organization. Yet before we have even begun to understand the nature of reality—the laws of Nature, of quantum fields and of genetic processes—in order to learn the art of living and the science of health, we have plundered and desecrated. We live in a time and culture where non-living entities like corporations, but not living entities like trees and oceans, have legal standing. The more that we distance ourselves from life, and destroy the last of the wild, the less the natural world can serve as a referential for the human spirit and for our ethical and empathic sensibilities, without which we are no longer human. The choice between egocentrism or eco-centrism as modes of being and consciousness has been made—welcome to the modern age! But in reality we have no choice if we are to evolve and become givers rather than takers, more fully human, humane, because being altruistic is enlightened self-interest. When we take care of the Earth the Earth will take care of us. Earth First! From this holistic view, the first order of business is to educate the populace to support government subsidized, organic food producers as one of the cornerstones of public health and environmental restoration. Home economics needs to be taught in every school along with self-reliance and the ethics and science of environmental sensibility and respect for the rights of all living beings.
“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man himself will not find peace.”
We are all connected to the unbroken chain of human history forged in medieval times that gave moral authority to the exploitation, oppression, cruelty and annihilation of our own kind and other species, along with entire, unique, glorious and life-sustaining ecosystems, aquatic and terrestrial. This chain of “progress” shackles the Anthropocene epoch to enduring chauvinism, racism, sexism, speciesism, genocide and ecocide. The advent of triumphal biotechnology, patenting of seeds and life, global corporate imperialism and world “free trade” under the pseudo- altruistic guise of the “greater good” exacerbate human bondage through market, media and financial control.
Those who do not share the morality and ethos of this mammon imperative (to make a profit) are increasingly disenchanted with the industrial-consumer-driven materialism that has little regard for human and animal rights and environmental ethics. Millions are unemployed, depressed, prescribed psychotropic medications; others are increasingly oppressed, disenfranchised. Revolts escalate within and between indigenous and immigrant populations. Despair and alienation, poverty and suffering, stalk the desecrated land from continent to continent.
The forces of mammon, using political and military means to accomplish its pecuniary ends helped create its own nemesis; the globalization of terrorism. Internecine and international strife are intensifying with the escalating collapse of regional, and soon to be inter-continental, sustainable economic and ecological systems, along with endemic corruption coupled with lack of social justice, land rights, environmental and wildlife protection and human and domestic animal health and welfare.
These opposing forces, one under the banner of secular scientific/rational and materialistic determinism and the other under the flags of religious fundamentalist extremism/spiritual fascism—both dedicated to create a better world—are enjoining in a conflagration of nihilism. In the Hopi prophecy this was foreseen as the last war of ‘purification’, the end of an epoch of Koyaanisquatsi, life out of balance: the end days of the Buddhist cycle of Kali Yuga. While one side treats its own citizens who voice concern and take action against the exploiters and abusers of the environment and animals as potential terrorists and a threat to national security, the other side imprisons and even decapitates journalists who sought to voice their concerns and post documented findings through the media, controlled and manipulated by both sides, now engaging in cyberwars.
The late Cesar Chavez, President of United Farm Workers of America, with whom I shared the podium at an animal rights conference in California, is a rare social reformer to link violence toward humans and other animals with the long-overdue revolution of non-violence toward all sentient beings. After our meeting he posted this statement to the media on December 26, 1990:
“Kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bull fighting and rodeo are cut from the same fabric: Violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves”.
The ancient chain of our past history of such violence which is now encircling the world must be broken if we are to ever evolve rather than see each generation suffer and perish ever more intensely as our numbers escalate to the point of becoming a planetary infestation causing potentially irreversible climate and ecological changes, and where warfare and self-annihilation become biological and ecological correctives.
In our history on Earth we are now at a critical junction where, as the late Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin advised, we have one final choice and that is between adoration and suicide. We can begin to either assume responsibility and control of our epigenetic/cultural evolution and future, or continue to take the path of nihilism. The only just wars are against suffering and destruction.
When peace-keepers more fully embrace the relevance and imperatives of animal rights as well as human rights and environmental ethics (planetary CPR—conservation, preservation and restoration), under the banner of the Golden Rule extended to embrace every sentient being, then the ancient chain will be broken. The endless cycles of war-without-end will end indeed. But this path of enlightened altruism needs to be cleared of those dominant vested interests, secular and religious, whose values and beliefs, connected to this medieval chain, are creating a global dystopia rather than the utopia they promise and hope to accomplish swiftly—or else we and planet Earth will suffer the consequences.
Applying bioethics globally* could help catalyze the dissolution of this karmic chain of nihilistic human values, appetites and beliefs, as per the following principles and injunctions which are embedded but not fully put into practice in all most religious traditions as well as in contemporary economic theory, ecological science and the One Health paradigm of public well-being and disease prevention.
Global bioethics calls us to give equally fair consideration to three spheres of moral concern:
Global bioethics calls us to be accountable for our actions and appetites in relation to these three spheres; and to examine how well society, our politics, laws, economies (industry and commerce), religious, educational and other traditions and secular institutions scientific and educational, industrial and commercial, as well as our own personal lives, are in accord with the bioethical principles that unify these three spheres in the light and language of compassion, humility, and reverence for the sanctity and inherent interests and rights of every lining being that contributes to the health and well-being of the Earth community.
* For further reading, see Michael W. Fox Bringing Life to Ethics: Global Bioethics for a Humane Society Albany: State University of New York Press.2001, and John B. Cobb Jr. Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action, Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2010. The term bioethics was first used by Van Rensellaer Potter, MD, in 1971 in his book Bioethics, Bridge to the Future, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall , and global bioethics in his 1988 book Global Bioethics: Building on the Leopold Legacy, East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.