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Friday, May 11, 2007

The Woes Of Complex Societies II

In a previous post, I discussed some of the woes of complex societies, and in light of the current wheat/melamine scandals, it is time to discuss another glaring problem which I neglected in that post. It is food production, and there are some interesting facets to this issue. I will turn to the tainted wheat issue in a bit, but I want to explore this question in some depth first.

When I use the phrase "food production," I am talking about the manufacturing of food. And I am talking about making food down to the family farm level, down to the "kitchen garden." As a friend of mine recently pointed out to me, we have to eat, right? Yes, of course we have to eat, but do we have to make food?

Anyone taking seriously what I am implying here will understandably suffer a little cognitive dissonance, as the wholesome idea of growing food to eat is practically in our genes. What could possibly be seen to be wrong with the rituals of seasonal sowing, reaping, food storage and surplus, and, well, general prosperity and growth of our communities?

Even the "radical" movements which advocate "eating local" are implicitly agreeing that if we decentralized our food supplies, we would still be engaged in food production. While we would be helping things immensely, I am questioning this. I think we are kidding ourselves if we think we can have a natural, organic and healthy relationship with the world while we are artificially boosting the food supply in ways that the animals cannot. Once we move away from the natural hunter/gatherer model and proceed into agriculture, we are making trouble.

How? First of all, look at population. The current glut of human beings which are stressing the planet's ecosystem can fairly be blamed on our cavalier use of millions of years of stored, ancient sunlight. This will stop when the oil becomes too expensive to convert into food (if we don't choke the Earth to death first), but there will always be pressure to find other sources of stored sunlight to boost food supply. These include enriched topsoil, which is a byproduct of the decay of organic beings of all kinds, which are little "sun batteries" themselves. All human activities in this direction are, in fact, an assault on the natural order of things.

But I do not want to focus on the insult to Mother Nature here, for that is too much for some people to wrap their minds around, and I have complete sympathy for that. We are so indoctrinated with the idea that the planet is here to serve Man's needs that suggestions otherwise tend to shut off the opportunity for meaningful discussion. Rather, let's focus on the consequences of having "too much" food.

To put it simply, taking energy which is above and beyond what is naturally provided out of a particular region creates unnatural population growth. Unnatural population growth means that when an upper limit of energy extraction (food production) is reached, the population expands outwards into other regions to produce even more food. And the beat goes on. It goes on to the point where we have huge populations which cannot properly feed themselves and, rather than accept a natural limit on just how many people the Earth is naturally capable of feeding, we. Just. Take. More.

This planet created us and fed us long before we learned how to "cheat" and extract extra energy (food) from her. We consider it an evolutionary advance that we have the cleverness to feed ourselves like this, but we are in complete denial about the negative consequences of this. It is considered a radical idea, indeed, to put forth the proposition that we are not supposed to work for food. Not supposed to make it, especially not supposed to convert it into non-foods, whether it be by trading a chicken for a rocking chair or, as done in today's absolutely amoral agribusiness, to make money from it.

Food is free. It is provided. It is provided at just the level that our numbers are permitted. Natural food production, that not done by the hand of Man, is the natural governor on our population. Thwart that governor and, well, I think you take my point, whether or not you agree.

I want to drive home the point that food is free. We are forced into treating it as a commodity for a number of intersecting reasons, the main one being the "ownership" of land. Nobody owns land - that is a fraud. All deeds are byproducts of past acts of violence and illicit stakes of claim, and we are all complicit in this criminal activity because we all trade on the "inviolability" of property rights. Thomas Jefferson even made this concept a linchpin of liberty, but it is not. Landed gentry cannot be expected to have a clear, disinterested eye on this question, after all.

While Man was (un)organized in sometimes nomadic, purely hunting/gathering (HG) societies, he spent far less time "working" than he does today. Any farmer can tell you what kind of work is required to sustain a viable farm. What is seen as "work" by HGs, is ironically considered recreation in complex societies - hunting, fishing, gathering berries, etc. Why have we forced upon ourselves the toil of the plow and harvester when we stand in the midst of a natural garden of plenty - plentiful, of course only in relation to the properly governor-ed population and the free access to the lands. Why have we put up fences, and created gatekeepers to the plenty of the Earth?

Why do you and I have to work to get money so that we can barter for what is already ours? Hell, we've so bought into this nefarious system that we are moving towards privatized water supplies and paying money for bottled water, for fuck's sake. Could we be any more self-destructive?

Before going any further here, I want to stress that I am not lobbying for change here. That is a at best a pointless exercise, and at worst an incitement to violence, and I am interested in neither. What I am shooting for is worldview change, one person at a time. I don't care if it takes generations for us to wake up, wake up we will. The catastrophic consequences of our system are nigh, and those who survive it will do well to take some lessons from it, and it would be nice if they dropped the folly of food production.

Anyway, natural human greed dictates that in a money-for-food system, food production becomes more and more centralized, and we have what we see today - massive, centralized food production and distribution. Which leads us to melamine.

While the melamine scandal is clearly a product of big-business greed (in China this time), there is another aspect of centralized food production in a complex society: The numbers of people who are affected by single problem. While I have maligned food production as a whole, if we indeed "ate locally" (and that is a worthy thing to be shooting for), then a problem like the tainted wheat would not have such global consequences.

What we are seeing with these food-supply problems (e.g., mad cow disease, etc.) is another signal of the collapse of our complex society.

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