Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Globalism vs Community: Food.

1:09 PM Posted by Patrick 6 comments
If I wanted to oversimplify things grossly, then this is the part where I would tell you there were two kinds of conservatives; the right kind and the wrong kind, my kind and their kind. I could tell you that there is only one kind of conservative, and then proceed to shock you by telling you that the trademark of a true conservative is conservatism. Not all those, I would say, who stand under the banner of the VRWC are actually conservatives. I would be going somewhere with this, and I might even ask you to bear with me.

I stake my claim to conservatism on the grounds that my philosophy and outlook on the world might actually be described as conservative. My worldview is two nuanced and multifaceted--ok, so its a Hydra--to say that there are just one or two elements which define my world, but there are a couple dominant threads in my political thought. In the first place is a healthy respect for things received. Being the thoughtful student of history that I am, I understand that the mores, customs, and laws of a people do not come about by accident, but in order to prosper and knit together the community. Note, however, that I do not say that I hold these things in reverence. The customs of men are always flawed, and will require adjustment from time to time, especially as the community changes.

The other dominant thread, which defines my outlook as conservative--and puts the lie to many pretenders--is moderation. Just as we do not engage in ancestor--say Founding Father--worship, it is also foolish to rush into any change without first considering all of the possible consequences.It is, after all, the mistake of an enthusiast to confuse the intent of an action with its consequence.

This definition of conservatism could actually accommodate any number of minor political opinions and persuasions, but I feel that it should stand as something of a rebuke to the reactionaries, who would claim conservatism as they tilt at windmills.

It is my opinion, however, that the ideas above must necessarily stand in stark contrast, and opposition to, globalism. How can I mean such a thing, and why do I deal in such vague general terms? No, you are right. Let us begin with something we may all agree is evil, and I will develop my point from there.

Of all of the things which we have received, not one of them is greater than the earth. That might seem obvious, but with our modern attitude toward the earth, it seemed to need restatement. It is our home, our means of subsistence, and the inheritance that we will leave to our children. It is also beautiful, and, as a certain Someone once saw, it is good. Amongst the greatest duties of man is the careful cultivation and tending of the earth.

I am not an environmentalist, I am a conservative. The earth is something good that we have received, and which it is our duty to preserve for our posterity. I also understand that the wellbeing of men is tied up in the wellbeing of the land. That is not to say that we should ever value the land above the people, but that we should understand the importance and dependency of the one upon the other.

Our global orientation has no consideration for the land. The commercials on the radio advertise that best poisons, for both pests and weeds, so that farmers will get the maximum yields. And since those alone are not enough, they also should use--and almost without exception do use--petroleum based fertilizers, all in order to get the maximum yields.

But these yields do not mean much for the farmer, because the farmer is essentially a share cropper for an Agra-industrial conglomerate, like Mon$anto. The farmer scrapes by, and bulk agricultural produce sits in silos and waits for what is left of its lessening nutritional value to deplete, at which point it will be shipped over seas or turned into microwave dinners.

No matter what the other effects, things never look great for the farmer. The prices he sells his grain for must be competitive, not just with his neighbors, or with the surrounding countryside, but with the whole world. He must sell his product cheap. There might be some who say, good, that means cheaper prices for the consumer. I will remind you now: you get what you pay for.

In order to scrape by each year, the farmer is using genetically modified crops, which certainly produce more, but which deplete the soil faster. Instead of rotating crops and allowing fields to lie fallow, which responsible farmers have been doing for millennia, he must use all of his land, every growing season. He continues to pour poisons into the ground, even as the crops he grows diminish in nutritional value, and the soil is stripped to the point of exhaustion.

This process, the demeaned position of the farmer, the destruction of the land, the degradation of our food, is carried out to feed the needs of the global market.

Corporations like Monsanto are not particularly concerned with the state of the land; they hold no affection for it, and so long as you can force the sufficient quantity of metric tons out of it, they will never see any reason to change their practices. Indeed, at the point that they see lower yields, they will probably resort to stronger chemicals.

I might demonstrate this with other areas later, but I believe--in congruence with my conservative tenants--that the care and maintenance of something requires understanding and respect. These are categorically impossible at a global level, and so the only truly sustainable and healthy economic and political arrangements are found at a local level. I might look at our government structure and the development thereof as an example later.

But I think the most important, quite possibly, is a local food economy.

Examine the farmers markets which have sprung up in Fort Wayne, and which do a relative bustling trade. Nothing like what we need, but a start. For prices competitive with those at the grocery store, we buy unpolluted, nutritionally superior food from local farmers. The difference for these farmers is that the entire profit from their yields is their own. The corporate farmer is splitting their share with two middle men, their Agra-industrial handler and Kroger. The local farmer can make more money on a smaller yield, and so, does not need to abuse his land. In the meantime, these farmers markets lend to an almost festival air, one sees familiar faces at the local farmers market, and one develops relationships with the vendors. There is dignity. There is community. There is a genuine love for the land.

The global has no consideration for the local; it cannot. It is a large sum game, and quantity must always trump quality, to say nothing of decency.

As a conservative, I also recognize that we probably cannot legislate our way out of this hole. What would we do? Tell a farmer how much of his land he is allowed to use? Do we own his land? Has he not lost enough of his dignity that we should also set ourselves over him? Do we outlaw fertilizers and pesticides and watch in horror as tired soil no longer produces sufficient yields to make our microwave dinners, let alone enough for global export?

No. Like most things, sudden change would not be beneficial either, and it is not wise to force such a thing. The only answer to this problem is for people to change the way they live. People need to turn their eyes to their own communities and buy local goods and local produce. I do not speak of "the market" as some talismanic force which will set the world to rights, but behind that word is the reality that all movements start with individual choice.

Healthier communities and healthier food are not going to come from global initiatives, which understand neither the land nor the people, but only from the concerted effort of individuals, who are willing to give of their time, talents, and money in order to bring about a more morally sound and sustainable system. Communities do not come about by fiat. They are necessarily organic; they intimate knowledge, care, and the active participation of individual members.

It takes more time, and it takes more effort, but the essence of conservatism lies in patience, moderation, and respect. But to what end? A community is a small thing and delicate. It cannot make war. It cannot change the world. It cannot even forward the aims of peace and democracy.

No. It will not be able to do any of these things, and it is not going to be a paradise, but, at the very least, it might just tend its garden.

It is insufficient for such a topic, but I suppose that is enough for now. I'll write about another facet later.

6 comments:

  1. I have five nitpicks and one response.

    1. "It is, after all, the mistake of an enthusiast to confuse the intent of an action with its consequence."
    I propose a modification to your axiom. Confusing the intent of an action with its consequence is a form of non sequitur, and one of the great missteps of logic made by human beings, of whom the enthusiasts are merely one caste. The specific mistake most perilous to the enthusiast is the assumption that all things scale linearly: the idea that 700º for 20 minutes is the same as 350º for 40 minutes; the idea that a speed of 80 mph is merely four-thirds as dangerous as a speed of 60 mph; the idea that you can work fully half as many sixteen-hour days as you can eight-hour days; and so on.

    2. "Of all of the things which we have received, not one of them is greater than the earth."
    This requires qualification. "Greater" by what measure? Mass? The sun is larger. Affinity to God? Surely our bodies, made in His image, are more like God than the planet is (their current fallen state notwithstanding).

    3. "The commercials on the radio advertise that best poisons, for both pests and weeds, so that farmers will get the maximum yields."
    I know the point you're driving at, but I think stating it in this way is disingenuous. I imagine that even fairly unreasonable people consider the "best" poisons (insecticides and herbicides) to be not only those which most effectively discourage the activity of the offending insects and weeds, but also do the least amount of mischief to every other part of the ecosystem, particularly the air, human beings, and the crop itself.

    4. "I will remind you now: you get what you pay for."
    Although this is in general a good rule, it is in this case actually opposed by the paragraph you've put it in. That particular paragraph aims to show that the reason the food is cheap is because the farmer is economically required to sell it at a low price, regardless of its relative quality.

    5. "Communities do not come about by fiat. They are necessarily organic..."
    True, in the sense that a seed does not grow into a tree by fiat. But by fiat the seed can be planted, and watered. Likewise the government has the capability of affecting and relocating people in ways which are essentially guaranteed to generate communities.

    R. I either don't quite follow your reasoning, or I don't quite follow your usage of the words "individual"/"local" and "global". You say several times that the global is incapable of understanding, consideration, etc. You say that the solution can only come about at the individual or local level. But my understanding of these words is that they all refer to the same thing (humans), merely at different scales. By extension, if a problem is global, then by definition it can only be solved by a global solution. That solution may have a local or even an individual genesis, but it must end up global.

    Suppose you meant to solve this whole problem with your blog post. Just for the sake of argument. How would that work? Well, it could work by causing those individuals who read it to stop contributing to major food chains, Monsanto, etc., and buy locally instead; it would simply require an enormous number of people to read/spread the post. Or, it might theoretically be read by someone in a position of power (a politician, a billionaire, a CEO), convince them, and cause them to use their influence to set in motion a sequence of events that end up solving the problem. In either case, the snowball starts small (your blog post), but ends up global.

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  2. In retrospect, points 1, 2, and 4 are pretty nitpicky, and possibly not worth fussing over. But I consider the others to be various shades of relevant.

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  3. Sorry it took me so long to see this, and thank you for taking the time to give a well reasoned answer, as you always do.

    On reflection, you might find 1. to be pretty nitpicky, but I appreciate the distinction. I was unclear on my own part, in that I was referring particularly to political or ideological enthusiasts, and the peculiar belief that serious multi generational problems might be cured with a single program, and that said program will not effect any other than the intended.

    On the second point, one obviously has to put our bodies, the gifts of the church, and the like well above. However, the health of our bodies is bound up with the land around us, and the first gift that God made to man--after he gave life--was the Earth, along with the command to rule over it. And while we don't know the hidden will of God on this one, our best evidence would lead us to believe that He would prefer we rule benevolently.

    Point four was kind of trite and folksy, often true, but not always.

    So back to the contentious points.

    Point three I'm not about to give up on. Pesticides and herbicides are seldom so rigorously tested as they should be, and serious questions remain about what trace elements of the toxin remain in the food after harvest. We know that chemical pesticides play a role in increased lung-cancer risks for cigarette smokers--granted, already engaged in a risky and filthy habit--but the mass use of known--or even suspected--endocrine disruptors seems unwise. And the effect on humans is only a part. Mickael Henry et al showed that even trace exposure to some common pesticides lead to dramatically higher mortality in hives, by upwards of one third. In addition, a recent USDA/EPA report confirmed that hives exposed to pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, were more susceptible to mites, which were another long suspected culprit behind CCD. The effect it on bees is just the best documented, probably because we need them, but I would imagine there are probably other adverse effects from allowing such things into the water table. I think that the 'best' pesticides
    that we have right now, or at least those most widely used, are still rather destructive.

    I would say that 5 is still necessarily true. Take the development of the Balkans. No matter how many times you draw lines and tell people they are together, and that they are part of one nation, or consolidate them under a new government, they will never necessarily cohere into one unit. There are people of Albanian decent scattered across the Balkans, and no matter how hard the various regims try to integrate them, the Albanians stubbornly maintain their identity. Or look at the people of now defunct Dagestan. The Russians relocated them brutally on more than one occasion, but they filtered back to their homeland, and maintained much of their regional identity. It did not matter that they were moved into other communities all over Russia; they had a strong cultural heritage and it persisted. A true community and culture is not easily created or destroyed.

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  4. And lastly, the first problem comes with the concept of a global problem. To get it, you lump a bunch of individual, familial, or community problems into one big mass. Unfortunately, although the symptoms may be similar, the problems may stem from different things entirely. So when one looks to create a mass, or global, solution to a given set of problems, it is questionable whether people across different communities, traditions, backgrounds, etc, find their problems in the same roots. The best solutions are tailored to the case, and the larger the scale one works on, the less specific the cure can be. In addition, what fixes one man's problem may create new difficulties for someone else.

    Is it impossible for a grand scale program to do good? Of course not! But I think the effects are near impossible to gauge beforehand, and I think that the potential for wide reaching unintended consequences is infinitely higher.

    It is hard to pose a really good solution without understanding the problem, and the problem cannot really be understood without knowing the people who are caught up in it.

    When we think of global problems, I think we are often mis-categorizing and lumping together many problems that have very different solutions.

    I hope that this reads as something near lucid. :-p

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  5. 3. Point three I'm not about to give up on.

    I haven't asked you to give up the point.
    But, in any case, you haven't contradicted what I said, so I have nothing further to add at this time.

    5. Let us be clear about these concepts, so that we can see whether we agree or disagree. You made two statements (among others):

    A. Communities do not come about by fiat.
    B. [Communities] are necessarily organic.

    I accept B — at least for the purposes of the present debate — but make a distinction on A, which I feel could be understood two different ways:

    A1. Governments cannot create communities (strictly speaking).
    A2. Fiat (government action) can never lead to the existence of a community. More precisely stated: There is no community which will exist if and only if some set of government actions exist first.

    I agree with A1. I do not agree with A2. How about you?

    As for my main point, I must backtrack a bit. On my first reading of your post, I thought that you defined one or more of the problems you discussed as a "global problem"; I see now that you did not. Looking over the last paragraphs of your original post, as well as your second reply, I don't think I disagree with you, but neither do I feel I quite get your "gist", as it were.

    Here are two statements you make about what "must" happen:

    C. People need to turn their eyes to their own communities and buy local goods and local produce.
    D. Healthier communities and healthier food ... [will only come] from the concerted effort of individuals...

    My question is: do you make these statements merely as an observation of facts, or is it your intention to propose a specific course of action that you and your readers ought to take? If the latter, is the specific course of action contained entirely in statement C, or does it include something else?

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  6. Unfortunately, I think that all that they can be for now is a statement of fact. I write mostly as an exercise to get my head around whatever is bothering me, and while I see there being necessity in the development of a more robust local commerce and community, I have no idea how to encourage such a thing on a grand scale. I encourage people at school and work to participate in community events, and especially farmers markets, but I have no agenda maxima which I can put forward. In the end, I am just one more malcontent singing the tired song of "wouldn't it be nice if...."

    Whenever I write like this, I do it with the knowledge that it will probably never be realized on any great level. Human nature isn't changing, and we tend toward norms and the least expenditure of effort. I was waxing idealistic before crashing back to reality. ;-p

    And as for the point-3/poison conundrum. I think that many people make the economically efficient choice and refuse to recognize the ecological damage being done by the "cheap and effective" pesticides that are most commonly used. The present economic model means that farmers live from crop to crop; it has always been so to a certain extent, but the effect has been exacerbated with time. Most poor farmers, as is demonstrated by usage, find the best poison to be the one that kills the most things for the lowest price tag.

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