X-Message-Number: 15766
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: "Rebels Against the Future"
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2001 09:39:05 -0800



Rebels Against the Future
Witnessing the birth of the global anti-technology movement

By Ronald Bailey, Reason Science Correspondent

Two weeks ago at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, 
Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, made a disturbing claim 
about the future. "Major anti-technology movements will be active in the 
U.S. and elsewhere by 2030," he predicted Unfortunately, Collins is off by 3 

Indeed, I may have witnessed the birth of the global anti-technology 
movement at this past weekend s International Forum on Globalization s 
Teach-In on Technology and Globalization in New York City. Held at Hunter 
College on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the organizers said some 1,400 
registrants attended the two-day meeting. The speakers included an all-star 
cast of technophobes and other rebels against the future, featuring proud 
self-declared luddites such as Kirkpatrick Sale, Jeremy Rifkin, Jerry 
Mander, Andrew Kimbrell, Paul Hawken, Pat Roy Mooney, Mae-Wan Ho, and 
Vandana Shiva.

If it s new, they hate it. What they fear and loathe most is biotechnology, 
but now some are beginning to train their sights on nanotechnology as well. 
The audience consisted mostly of grizzled veterans of the civil rights, 
peace, and environmental movements from the 1960s and 1970s with a 
smattering of earnest youngsters hailing from too-cool college campuses 
located in places like Vermont, Massachusetts, and Oregon. Whenever one of 
speakers revealed shocking truths about corporations (always invoked simply 
as they), the audience would murmur in horrified dismay: "They can move 
genes between species!" or "They are patenting genes!" or "They have 1,200 
nanotech patents!" It seems that few of the attendees had bothered to read a 
paper for the past few years, so all this was news to them. "Progressives" 
they may call themselves, but they certainly haven t been keeping up with 

The goal of the Teach-In, according to conference organizer and IFG head 
Jerry Mander (best known for his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of 
Television), is to "bring together the protest movement born in Seattle with 
the leading critics of technologies, luddites if you will." In this, Mander 
certainly succeeded.

So what are they afraid of? They generally fear "technology s symbiotic 
relationship with corporate power," according to Mander. He doesn t much 
care for the Internet because he thinks "it s facilitating the greatest 
centralization of unregulated corporate power in history." Besides the 
Internet, "now we have biotechnology and its younger sibling nanotechnology, 
which can potentially redesign nature from the atomic level up," declared 
Mander. "With these technologies, nothing will be outside of corporate 
control. They will achieve the full realization of a bionic society."

Neo-luddite and bioregionalist Kirkpatrick Sale warned that "electronic and 
genetic technologies are bound to have earth-shaking, even earth-shattering 
effects." He continued, "All you have to lose are your boxes -- the boxes in 
your homes, on your desks, on your laps. We now know that they are all 
Pandora s boxes."

Randy Hayes, head of the Rainforest Action Network, decried biotech as the 
"most uncontrollable mass experiment the planet as ever seen." Rich Hayes, 
director of the Exploratory Initiative on the New Human Genetic 
Technologies, fears that "the development and use of genetic technologies 
will irrevocably change human life and destabilize human identity and 
function." If that weren t bad enough, "most chillingly, as these 
technologies are being developed, a political and ideological movement is 
rising that celebrates the techno-eugenic posthuman future," warned Hayes. 
He specifically cited REASON magazine as being at the forefront of this 
pro-biotechnology movement.

"Computers are a colonizing technology," pronounced Chet Bowers, an adjunct 
professor in the Environmental Studies Department at the University of 
Oregon. He further warned that "computers profoundly alter how we think and 
inevitably reduce our ability to understand nature and cultures other than 
our own." Bowers decried Hans Moravec s vision of the future in which people 
could download their consciousnesses into computers.

Pat Mooney, head of the Canadian Rural Advancement Foundation International 
(RAFI) wowed a workshop of earnest "progressives" by painting a vision of 
the nanotechnological future that would make Eric Drexler, the godfather of 
nanotech and author The Engines of Creation proud. "Although it s a long way 
off, they are moving toward creating nano-assemblers that could manufacture 
anything," explained Mooney. "You could take materials from sewage, air, 
water, anything to build what you want."
He added, "Just read the White House press release from January 23 last 
year. It promises that nanotechnology could clean up the environment, end 
hunger, cure disease, and extend life. It s scary." Scary?

So what do they want to do? First and foremost, they want to organize. 
Nearly every speaker mentioned how important it was for so-called civil 
justice, environmental justice, green, peace, and other civil society groups 
to join together on an action program to control or halt progress in the 
development of all the derided technologies.

Specifically, Rich Hayes demanded "an immediate global ban on human 
reproductive cloning, an immediate global ban on manipulating genes that we 
pass on to our children, and accountable and effective regulation of all 
other human genetic technologies."

Jeremy Rifkin called for "a strict global moratorium, no release of GMOs 
(genetically modified organisms) into the environment." Rifkin argued that 
"the gene pool is a shared commons which should be administered as a trust 
for all humanity." He would "prohibit any patents on genes, tissues, cells, 
organs, organisms," and advocates a global tax on human gene therapies and 
biotech drugs, the proceeds of which would be distributed to the developing 

Activist Stephanie Mills, who became famous when she announced as 
valedictorian of her class at Mills College in 1969 that the world was in 
such bad shape that she would not have children, demanded that society 
broadly adopt the "precautionary principle," the notion that before any new 
development in science and technology can be used, it must be shown to have 
no negative impact. Technology proponents "are still arguing against the 
sensible idea that new chemicals and new technologies should be presumed 
guilty until proven innocent," declared Mills. "No wonder there are luddites 
still among us," she added.

Martin Teitel, a philosopher who directs the anti-biotech activist group the 
Council for Responsible Genetics, was quite explicit about what the 
precautionary principle could do to stop technological progress. "How could 
any scientist prove that a biotech crop was completely safe without field 
trials which is what the precautionary principle would require?" he was 
asked. That s just fine, Teitel admitted, because "politically it s 
difficult for me to go around saying that I want to shut this science down, 
so it s safer for me to say something like  it needs to be done safely 
before releasing it. " Requiring biotechnologists to prove a negative under 
the guise of implementing the precautionary principle means that "they don t 
get to do it period," Teitel explained. In other words, Lie to the public 
about what your real intentions are. Is that what he s teaching his 
philosophy students?

To stop the technological juggernaut they fear, the luddites at the Teach-In 
know that they must stop the global process of economic integration and the 
technological progress it encourages. Free trade is, of course, anathema. 
John Cavanagh, director of the far-left think tank the Institute for Policy 
Studies, says that economic policies and regulations should favor "small 
activities, local markets, local communities with livelihoods connected to 
local economic production." Sarah Anderson, also from IPS, warned that 
"online shopping is too easy and encourages overconsumption." Anderson 
worries that "the United States is using the allure of e-commerce to push 
developing countries into accepting the same old free market ideas." Jerry 
Mander actually recommended that countries return to the old import 
substitution model of economic development which bankrupted most of Africa 
and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s.

"This is the big wrestling match of the 21st century," declared Rifkin.

For once, he s right. Whether wilfully or out of sheer ignorance, the 
congregants in Manhattan this past weekend dismiss any and all evidence that 
the human race has progressed over the past 100 years, much less the past 
1,000; the longer life expectancies, higher standards of living, and cleaner 
environments that are everywhere becoming the rule and not the exception for 
the masses have seemingly made no impression (nor have the economic forces 
that make such things possible). The hopeful future of humanity freed from 
disease, disability, hunger, ignorance, poverty, and inequity depends on 
beating back the forces of know-nothing reaction such as those assembled at 
this weekend s Teach-In. The struggle for the future begins now.

Ronald Bailey () is Reason Magazine's science 

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