Heraclitus and friends on the environment redux

James D. Watson on genetic engineering:

If you thought every plant was the product of a god who put it there for a purpose, you could say that you shouldn't change it. But America isn't what it was like when the Pilgrims came here. We've changed everything. We've never tried to respect the past, we've tried to improve on it. And I think any desire to stop people from improving things would be against the human spirit.

It's not often that we think of far-Left environmentalists (of the bogeyman variety covered here) as reactionaries, but in their devotion to preserving foods as our grandparents grew them they can't be described any better way.

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I think of many radical

I think of many radical environmentalists exactly that way, as reactionaries. They seem to have this notion of wanting to return to a perfect "Garden of Eden", something that never really existed, rather than accept that the history of mankind began with our ancestors' emerging from the cesspool of nature. It is inherent in the nature of human beings to transform nature to one's will. The result of such transformations is more often than not something *better* than it was before. It's capitalists who are the true "progressives."

This misconstrues the

This misconstrues the argument again. If all you are talking are essentially strawmen/fringe bogeymen, then, well, carry on merrily. I fail to see what purpose, myself, ...or maybe I see the purpose pretty clearly in a more deconstructionisty sense.

But the point is not merely to preserve food as your grandfather ate it. Vandana Shiva herself acknowledges that plants have been bred over time and are NOT the same plants over the generations. The point is who is making the changes, why, the externalities of the changes, the bearers of the externalities, and all those messy judgements.

Now of course you will say that all these things existed even with traditional methods of seed selection, and so on, but the claim is that the kind of crude genetic editing that Watson etc want to perform today is qualitatively different from humans acting as natural selectors, particular given present circumstances of the factors I describe in the previous paragraph.

I defend this argument, by the way, as someone who is in principle in favour of modern research into genetic editing.

"The result of such

"The result of such transformations is more often than not something better than it was before."

Who gets to evaluate "better" here? It's still not at all settled, for instance, what "better" means given one intellectual property rights regime affecting genetically-edited crops vs another regime.

According to right thinking

According to right thinking people (no pun intended), it is impossible to be on the left and be reactionary. The further left one goes, the more "radical"; further right, more "reactionary". So either these "far left" environmentalists are actually radical, or they are really in fact "far right". At least in the American scene in 2005...