July 28, 2022

Agriculture (and Energy) Revolutions

The First, or Neolithic, Agricultural Revolution was the wide-scale transition of many human cultures during the Neolithic period from a lifestyle of hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and settlement, making an increasingly large population possible. [Also the beginning of centralized government and social hierarchy]

The Second, or British, Agricultural Revolution, was an unprecedented increase in agricultural production in Britain arising from increases in labor and land productivity between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. Agricultural output grew faster than the population over the hundred-year period ending in 1770, and thereafter productivity remained among the highest in the world. This increase in the food supply contributed to the rapid growth of population in England and Wales, from 5.5 million in 1700 to over 9 million by 1801, though domestic production gave way increasingly to food imports in the nineteenth century as the population more than tripled to over 35 million.

The Third Agricultural, or Green, Revolution is the set of research technology transfer initiatives occurring between 1950 and the late 1960s that increased agricultural production in parts of the world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives resulted in the adoption of new technologies, including high-yielding varieties of cereals, agrochemicals, controlled water supply (usually involving irrigation), and newer methods of cultivation, including mechanization. … It contributed to widespread reduction of poverty, averted hunger for millions, raised incomes, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced land use for agriculture, and contributed to declines in infant mortality.

The energy for the Green Revolution was provided by fossil fuels in the form of fertilizers (natural gas), pesticides (oil), and hydrocarbon-fueled irrigation.

(above from Wikipedia)

Obviously, there have been adverse consequences for the environment and other animals, but you can't just outlaw it without an alternative in place (and support for the transition, eg, to large-scale organic agriculture) that can sustain what it created. But that's what much of the new "green" agenda is doing, particularly in energy, pushing (much) less efficient technologies (requiring more resources – both materials and land – and infrastructure) that are therefore even more harmful to not only people but also the planet as a whole.

July 16, 2022

“Ethics” in a moral vacuum; or an hubristic pile of false premises and untested assumptions

Compulsory moral bioenhancement should be covert
Parker Crutchfield
Assistant professor in Medical Ethics, Humanities, and Law
Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo
Bioethics 2018;33:112–121

. . . . .

The present issue is not whether the public health program of administering moral bioenhancement ought to occur; it’s a matter of how it should occur. Let us suppose that if it were to occur overtly, it would occur similarly to vaccination programs for children: At the age where the moral bioenhancement is safe and effective, children would receive the moral bioenhancement from their pediatrician or family physician or community health department, and that would be that. That information would then go on their health records, and they’d go on with their more moral lives. Let us also suppose that if the program were administered covertly it would be conducted in similar fashion. When children are scheduled to receive vaccinations, they are at the same time given the moral bioenhancement, but neither the children nor their parents or guardians are told about the moral bioenhancement and it doesn’t go in their health records. The administration of it could be double- or even triple‐blinded, so that only a few individuals are aware of the moral bioenhancement. Everyone would go on with their lives unaware of the moral bioenhancement. The question is: Which is the most ethically desirable scenario? I argue it is the second scenario, in which the moral bioenhancement is administered covertly.

. . . . .

Consider first the fact that as compared to a covert moral bioenhancement program that is blind to everyone except few, an overt program would reduce the expected utility of the program. This is because if people knew that they were being morally bioenhanced, at least some of them would fail to receive the bioenhancement. They would request exemptions from the policy on the grounds that it conflicts with their religion or their personal convictions, or they would falsely believe that the moral bioenhancement leads to various disorders or diseases unrelated to the intervention. People would slip through. Some would slip through because of failing to pay attention, while others would outright refuse the intervention. That this would happen is obvious when we consider policies on vaccination or quarantine: People refuse vaccines or otherwise fail to get them, and people slip through quarantines and other methods of isolation.

If the moral bioenhancement were overt, the expected utility would be less than it would be if it were covert. It’s not that the utility of preventing ultimate harm is less; it’s that the expectation that the moral bioenhancement will succeed in preventing it is lower. The more people that avoid the compulsory moral bioenhancement, the lower is the expectation that ultimate harm will be prevented. If the program were covert, people would be unaware of the intervention, and so would not be in a position to avoid it, resulting in many fewer people failing to receive the intervention.

Both overt as well as covert compulsory moral bioenhancement programs would restrict the range of moral attitudes, dispositions and behaviors of its participants. The range of moral attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors that would be restricted would be the same for both types of program, as it is the intervention upon these that is presumably necessary to prevent ultimate harm. So the extent to which the interventions themselves are liberty‐restricting, the liberty restrictions will be equal between a covert and an overt program. But for overt compulsory moral bioenhancement programs, participants would also know that their moral attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors are being intervened upon. Some of these people who know that their moral capacities are being restricted, will desire to not be so restricted. Thus, the desires of these people will be frustrated, which results in suffering.

If the program were covert, the people who desire to not have their moral capacities restricted wouldn’t be aware of any restriction, so, from their perspective, the desire to not be restricted wouldn’t be frustrated, which means they wouldn’t suffer from knowing that they are participating in a compulsory moral bioenhancement program.

… The same point could also apply to other public health programs, such as those that require people be vaccinated. Some people desire to not be vaccinated. When these people knowingly receive a vaccination — to attend school, for example — their desires are frustrated, and this frustration causes suffering. If it were possible to achieve all of the benefits of vaccination without having to cause the suffering that results from believing that one is vaccinated, then that would be preferable to actual vaccination procedures. … A covert compulsory moral bioenhancement program is less liberty‐restricting than a similar overt program is. …

Moreover, given that the expectation of preventing ultimate harm is lower for an overt program, the potential for more significant liberty restrictions is greater, as our liberties may be more likely to be restricted by our harsher environments that result from having undergone ultimate harm. And upon one’s death from ultimate harm, one’s liberties are fully restricted — dead people have no liberties.

… A covert program better promotes equality, because by keeping the program covert to everyone, the program ensures that all participants are treated equally. It is totally impartial. In an overt program, it would remain open that some populations are in a better position to avoid the intervention, such as those that could easily afford the penalties imposed for refusing, or those that do not rely on public health clinics.

Another potential source of unequal treatment is that likely many physicians would disagree with the policy, putting them in a better position to refuse to administer the moral bioenhancement. Based on this variance of attitudes within physicians, it is likely that the treatments would be administered unequally.

Similarly, a covert program would be fairer than an overt program. Because everyone would receive the moral bioenhancement, there is no population that would be forced to bear a disproportionate burden. … An overt program, however, may encourage others to find ways to avoid receiving the enhancement, meaning that they wouldn’t be required to bear any burden, which is unfair.

. . . . .

[A] compulsory moral bioenhancement program does violate autonomy, but only if the program is overt. If a person is compelled to participate in a moral bioenhancement program, and the person believes that the new moral capacities — including the new desires, values, and other attitudes — are caused by the enhancement, it is much more difficult to see how the person would embrace these capacities as their own. The knowledge that some of one’s moral capacities are the result of manipulation by another agent undermines trust in their authenticity. Thus, an overt program is likely to violate the authenticity condition. If the moral bioenhancement is covert, one is in a much better position to embrace the new capacities as one’s own. Though the new capacities are in fact not one’s own, there are fewer obstacles to embracing them as one’s own, such as the knowledge that they are not. … So, if a moral bioenhancement is compulsory, to best preserve authenticity, it is preferable for the program to be covert.

Even if a moral bioenhancement program does diminish a person’s autonomy, there is no implication that to do so is wrong.

July 6, 2022

The Battle Against the Bland

Paul Kingsnorth, Real England: The Battle Against The Bland (Portobello Books, 2008) (excerpts):

“Leaving things alone these days is a sign of failure. Control, utility, is all, and progress means having fewer and fewer places to hide.”

· · ·

“This report [The State of the Countryside 2020, Countryside Agency, 2003] is worth remembering because it is an excellent reflection of how farming and rural life are viewed by the office-bound political and business classes who are deciding its future. The underlying assumptions of this report, and of this class, are so huge that they are, paradoxically, almost hard to see.

“They assume that the business ethos of the city is applicable to the country side. They assume that people are prepared to accept a countryside in which the barns are empty of cows but full of ‘choice managers’. Above all, they assume one huge and untrue thing: that, in essence, the countryside is the same as the town. It is a green business park, with the same pace of life, experiential framework, morality and ethos as the town. It is the city with more trees, less pollution and a lot more free parking, and anyone sufficiently sentimental to imagine otherwise is just not being competitive enough.”

· · ·

“‘I’ll tell you what scares the shit out of Tesco,’ says Peter [Lundgren, Lincolnshire farmer]. ‘It’s not the farmers – they can squash us. It’s not the government – they’ve bought them. It’s the consumers. If they decide to go somewhere else, Tesco is stuffed, and they know it. That’s where the power is. I wish more people would realise it.’”

· · ·

“I am told by those who want to improve me, and direct me, that my standard of living has increased in the last thirty years – I have the benefit of new roads, runways, street lights, wheelie bins, health centres, houses and cars, as well as access to more gadgets and electronic wonders than apples on a tree. But ironically, as my ‘standard of living’ has increased so the quality of my life has dramatically decreased because of noise pollution, light pollution, air pollution, traffic jams, no policemen, the disappearance of the family doctor, litter, agitation, regulation, speeding lorries, junk food, supermarkets, dumbed-down television, political correctness, mindless development, materialism out of control, and the number of career politicians who clearly have never done a proper day’s work in their lives.” [Robin Page, The Decline of an English Village (Bird’s Farm Books, 2004 (30-year edition))]

“‘There can’t be a rural culture without farming,’ [Page] says, decisively. ‘There would be culture, but it wouldn’t be a rural culture. It would be a suburban and an urban culture. I call it urban colonialism. We are having urban values imposed on us, which I don’t like at all. When white people go up to black people and impose their views on them, that is said to be not wanted and culturally and racially objectionable, and then you tell me that you’re doing me a favour by doing that to me. It’s a version of ethnic cleansing, is what it is. I think it’s a disgrace.’”

[Other groups – both rural and urban, and in between – fighting “regeneration” in the book also use the term “ethnic cleansing”: the erasure of everything outside of the homogenized money culture (run by a ministry).]

“… [M]ore and more people seem to feel themselves part of a minority. Some of them, like London’s Chinese community, or other ethnic minority communities, genuinely are. England’s traditional farmers are too. Yet your average white-skinned, mainstream English person often feels beleaguered too. …

“They can close down a hundred pubs, build on acres of green fields, destroy entire industries, raze meaning from the landscape and call it investment. We are in the grip of the tyranny of this minority [‘of the chain stores, the developers, the agri-businesses, the big landowners’]: not a minority defined by its race or religion, but by its power and wealth. They run the show, and their lack of accountability makes all those who don’t share their bounties feel discriminated against.”

”‘They're fucking gangsters in suits.’” [Danny Woodards, grocer, Queen’s Market, Upton Park, East London]

· · ·

“Preserving these things, ensuring that they continue to live, would not help us in our slavish and unquestioning journey up the global economic ladder. None of them makes quick bucks, and some make no bucks at all. And when we finally become a nation in which that is reason enough to shrug our shoulders and let them all go … well, you decide whether that makes us a global success or a local failure, or whether the two are strangely interdependent.”

“Across the country, we are confining real life to the margins; pushing it beyond the balance sheet; dismissing it; destroying the valuable and the irreplaceable.

[cf. the unverified in Joanna Kavenna’s novel Zed (Faber & Faber, 2019)]

“We are doing so because we must grow. We must develop, and regenerate, and push forward. We must consume and profit and invest and the end goal, while unclear, must not be discussed, and must certainly not be questioned. We are in competition with other nations who must do the same things, and there is not time for questioning. We are UK plc, and we compete in a global marketplace. We are serious people now, with no time for whimsy. Whimsy does not pay, and never has.

“As we move forward in pursuit of the siren of growth, we unleash a flattening of our history, heritage, landscapes and cultures. We tear up our orchards, bulldoze our markets, sell off our farms and our public squares. Big government and big business combine to steamroller people and places, for the good of the country, and those who object are pushed out to the margins, to cling to what remains of colour and character. That character clings on where it is not, yet, worth the time and effort it would take to extinguish it. But its time will come. It will be regenerated, because there is no other way.

“As I pointed out in the first chapter, the changes that are affecting England are no accident, and neither are they anything unusual in global terms. Global consumer capitalism is unleashing the same forces on every nation on Earth, and each of them, in its own way, is experiencing the same sandblasting of the special, the same razing of the real.”

“Delhi, England, Beijing, Prague, Melbourne, anywhere else you care to look … this ‘development’ – this beast which crushes all before it and calls that crushing progress – is the real enemy now. It existed before Marx, before Adam Smith, before trades unions, before the stock market. Back in the 1830s, [William] Cobbett called it simply ‘the Thing’, but it was ancient even then.

“This is not about Left versus Right. This is about the individual versus the crushing, dehumanising machine, whether that machine is represented by the profit-hungry corporation, the edict-issuing state or – today’s global reality – a powerful alliance of the the two. The machine may come at us from ‘Left’ or ‘Right’; the twentieth century has given us many examples of both variants. But wherever it comes from, it always overshadows any mere individual who stands near it.”

“The Thing has dehumanised us, and we are all increasingly dependent on it for succour. We expect. We demand. We are like children.”