Sunday, July 18, 2010

Slaying the corporate dragon

Consider the lilies how they bloom. They sow not, neither do they reap. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.

“A corporation¾ for all intents and purposes¾ is a monster disguised in human form. It preys not on human fear, as did the dragons of old, but on human greed. It bends the world to its will through enticement, not coercion, and that alone has saved it from St. George’s sword. We all are implicated in its rapacious deeds and our guilt prevents us from prosecuting the monster.”

The oyster fishery in the maritime provinces of Canada is having a banner year. You heard it on the news last night. It’s thanks to British Petroleum; their oil spill has shut down the Louisiana fishery, which supplied 2/3 of the US demand for oysters.
In Saskatchewan, the government has decided to give the potash industry a $100,000 tax break for every head-office position they create in the province. They say it will benefit tax payers “in the long run.” this decision was likely struck in a board room, certainly not on the legislative floor.
At the Station Arts Centre in Rosthern, actors and theatre patrons are wrestling with the morality of the corporate development of genetically altered seed and the patenting of it, so that farmers are obliged to pay a royalty to the company for every seed they put into the ground. It’s virtually a license to print money.

Since corporations thrive on the basic commodities of consumer greed, complicity and subsequent guilt, there is really only one weapon that can bring the dragon back into line, and that is the consumer boycott. The scariest words to corporate management and stake holders are, “I will no longer purchase your product.” Since our provincial, municipal and federal governments are all unwilling and/or unable to regulate the behaviour of mega-corporations, it may be time for a bit of anarchy. I propose a consumer-watchdog check on the activities of the mega-corporations, its purpose being to starve the dragons into submission.
Here’s how it would work:

Participants are found by word of mouth, the internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever means is cost free.
They sign on through the internet, their email addresses are stored in a central server.
They regularly receive bulletins advising them of activities by various dragons that threaten the environment, seed soverignty, human health, etc., along with names of consumer products on whose sale this particular dragon is dependent.
They voluntarily change their buying habits to ensure that they are not supporting the dragon.
When the dragon has altered his behaviour appropriately, another bulletin advises participants of this fact.

To work, such a program would have to ensure that it was behaving fairly, that its bulletins were squeaky clean and accurate. For that, experts would have to be involved, or else libel and slander litigations would undo the whole.
Without some such arrangement, you can rest assured that BP will continue to drill risky wells at sea, Monsanto will continue its efforts to ensure that the seed supply is whittled down to only its patented products, and the Saskatchewan government will continue its policy of favouring corporate stakeholders over taxpayers.
If you’re not convinced, go to the Louisiana shoreline and count the number of BP executives and shareholders washing the oil off suffering pelicans. Then count the “ordinary taxpayers” engaged in the same activity. Then draw your conclusions.
And by the way, if you’re wondering where the opening quote came from, stop wondering; I made it up this morning. And take a look at this international organization to stop the patenting of life:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Seven deadly sins

(This barn has nothing to do with the material below; it just looks nice and speaks diligent conservation.)

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony: these are the sins that have been classified by the church as having the power to interrupt the state of grace and land us in perdition. These are the seven “deadly”, “cardinal”, or “mortal” sins, as opposed to the “venial” sins like (I’m guessing here) chewing your fingernails.

We’re reviewing them through a series of sermons by pastor AF, alongside their corresponding virtues (hard work is the antithesis of sloth, for instance). And, I suspect, most of us are being given another look at behaviours we’ve come over time to see as bad habits or addictions as opposed to “sins.” Whether this shift in thinking is a by-product of the advance of Psychological research and practice, an increasing scepticism about the literal existence of an evil god who tempts and entraps us, or just a natural consequence of post modernism is what I’m pondering these days when I should be mowing the lawn. (I don’t multitask very well.)

Call it what you will, there is something decidedly deadly about--for instance--wrath. We’ve seen the deadening effect of that fog of habitual rage in which many people walk their daily lives. We hear news daily about some lost soul killing, kidnapping, raping in an outburst of wrath that has probably been festering untreated for years. Deadly is definitely the right word.

One concern I have with calling wrath a sin is that it may be dismissive of the precursors and the treatment of it, whereas medical practice attempts to find root causes and prescribe treatment regimens. In the church, of course, the solution to rage is rebirth, however that is described: a miraculous reformation in other words. And yet, rage is as much a problem inside the church as outside, and to dismiss this phenomenon among Christians as “backsliding” or failing to embrace real salvation is problematic. At the same time, there are plenty of witnesses to the transforming power of a genuine, born again experience.

In any case, people come under the spell of one or more of the “seven deadly sins” developmentally. Children of abusers are statistically far more likely to be abusers themselves than are children of loving, conscientious parents, for instance. The key must lie in the nurturance or neglect of maturing human beings, and those who repeatedly tout the virtues of punishment as a means to a cure must be shouted down.

Maybe sloth is the greatest of the sins (or bad behaviours) in the end. Too lazy to do the harder work of nurturance and inspired education, we have too often seized on the strap as a quick, handy response to inappropriate actions in children. The prison system is little more than the same, old, slothful response to deviance that the very advocates of harsh punishment have been implicated in causing. An ounce of prevention is way cheaper than a ton of “cure.”

I’m appreciating the sermon series. The use of the word sin probably serves to underline the seriousness of the kind of cultural decay that allows wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony to flourish, while the tried and true virtues (humility, perseverance, moderation, forgiveness, love, generosity and tolerance) wither on the vine.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The Sacred Egg

Sunday morning. I’m still tired after a long day; opening night of The Seed Savers kept us cleaning up until nearly midnight. The play’s the thing/in which I’ll catch the conscience of the king. The “king” in the play is corporate developers and retailers of patented, genetically modified seed; none were there to have their consciences caught.

But there were plenty of “Hamlets” present. The fear of tampering with the genetic makeup of life is almost universal, as if the egg were sacred. Witness the passionate outcries over abortion, fetal stem cell harvesting and the widespread conviction that implanting a bacterial gene into a canola seed is somehow the equivalent of treading on sacred ground with one’s shoes on. It’s not just a religious sensitivity either; we are biologically equipped with survival instincts, and the fear that “improving” on life forces that have stood the test of time might inadvertently threaten our species is a caution worth taking seriously. The Frankenstein monster; the canola that turns into a noxious weed.

Never mind the sentiment that genetic modification is “playing God.”

The profit motive can easily lead to the compromising of values, often incrementally and imperceptibly. The attachment of Joe, Mindy and Sky to the land, the wind and the seasons is as spiritual as it ever gets for most people, while the argument to “get with the program,” --to equate the profitable exploitation of the land with progress-- becomes their devil. We all face this demon daily, and suffer the guilt of our compromises with it.

And now, flip the coin. We have “modified” through selective breeding the character of animals and plants to better satisfy our increasing need for more and more food as the planet’s populations burgeon. Cows now have udders the size of rain barrels, chickens lay an egg per day, corn kernels are digestible (almost) and wheat can produce 60+bushels an acre, even on the dry prairie. It’s not an idle argument that without scientific advances that have sometimes trodden on “sacred ground” we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. Truth is, even with the green revolution and the genetic modification of some of our food plants and animals, we are unable to feed all of us well.

At the same time, we know that eggs and seeds are primary vehicles for our nourishment, hence survival. We eat eggs and seeds daily, we eat their offspring, we manipulate them to provide more profit food for the hungry. A lot of the compromising of values surrounding life took place long before genetic modification even became a possibility. We North Americans consume life to the point of obesity, as if every forkful didn’t represent nature’s “dying on the cross” for our nourishment. To cry ‘foul’ over the profit-making of corporations may be appropriate, but also somewhat hypocritical.

Katherine Koller’s play doesn’t resolve this dilemma. Perhaps that’s it’s strength as a dramatic performance; these debates almost always end in a draw, and the consequences are almost always shaped by the evolution of thought and culture that have so far learned to adapt to changing times without completely tearing us apart. It’s other strength is that it reinforces our integration with the natural world. Mindy says of her world of wind, land and sky: “I don’t control it; I care for it.”

We need to heed people who do “care for it,” or else our compromises might actually prove disastrous in the end.