X-Message-Number: 15787
Date: Sat, 03 Mar 2001 02:04:59 +0000
From: J Corbally <>
Subject: [off topic] Luddites

>Message #15772
>Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2001 11:56:29 +0000
>From: "Joseph Kehoe" <>
>Subject: [off topic] Luddites
>The following is off topic and not directly related to cryonics. It is a 
>response to a previous post regarding "luddites". Skip if you are not 
>Read with interest the reason report on the "neo-luddites".
>I agree with some of the report but not all. I have found that some (many) 
>scientists can be condescending in
>their attitudes to non-scientists when they are debating with them. Many 
>give an impression that non-scientists
>have no right to question them and treat them (the public) like children. 
>In debates this really goes down well!
>I am not a luddite by any means but it is wrong to treat people who 
>disagree with our views as if
>they are ill-informed unintelligent people. They are correct on a number 
>of points:

Hello Joseph, what part of the ould sod are you in?

I don't think you're a Luddite.  I do however think you are 
misinformed.  Let's go through what you've written.

>1. Genetically modified organisms ARE part of the biggest experiment ever 
>run on the planet.

Not so.  Not by a very wide stretch of the imagination.  Probably the 
biggest "experiment" ever run on this planet was the Cambrian 
explosion.  We won't come anywhere near that kind of scale for a long time yet.

>Whether you agree or disagree with bio-engineering - releasing them into 
>the wild (at this early stage) is very risky.

Risky?  Define the risk.  It's not enough just to say they are 
"risky".  Anyone can say that, it's easy.  What's harder is to state what 
that risk is.  It's  harder again to put some proof behind it.

>Maybe they will have no ill effects but if they do once they are "in the 
>wild" we will be unable to bring them back in.

Why would you think that we'd have to "bring them back in".  What makes you 
think they'd last "in the wild"?

>If you are willing to take that chance then fine but you cannot dismiss 
>other people who do not want to take
>that chance - the outcome will affect them as much as you.

What "outcome"?  Willing to take the chance?  Try necessary to take the 
chance.  We have mouths to feed.

>2. Large multinationals ARE using these technologies wrongly.
>It is just plain wrong that a company can patent one of my genes. It is 
>also wrong that they be allowed to patent
>plant genes. In the real world companies are patenting genes so they can 
>get a monopoly on certain markets.

I'm not that well versed on the whole gene patent issue, probably because 
I've no real idea what a "patent" is.  Perhaps someone on this list with 
such knowledge can chime in here....

>No longer will farmers be allowed to grow their own seed.

Do you mean "allowed" or "able"?  No one could stop them growing their own, 
so that is simply fear-based misinformation.  As far as I'm aware, they 
don't grow their own seed right now anyways.  Go look in your local 
agricultural supplies store.  Why do they still sell seed if all these 
farmers are producing their own?  Surely the market would be dead by now, yes?

The various varieties of crops in use today, even the so called "organic" 
crops, did not exist a few thousand years ago.  The varieties grown today 
have been put throught the artificial selection process for a long 
time.  The result is plants that grow well, but do not compete well.  They 
wouldn't last 5 minutes on their own in the wild (hence the special 
protections, herbicides etc..)  They don't give back a whole lot of seed in 
return from what I've heard, so farmers have to buy seed each year.

>If you want to grow wheat you have to pay royalties
>to some company. If you live in India and grow, say rice, you will not be 
>allowed to grow your own from seed -
>so you will be further in debt. - More money for the rich less for the 
>poor. Terminater genes have already been
>developed that when placed in seed will stop them from germinating and 
>producing more seed. Companies will
>own the food chain!!!

Hate to break this to you, but companies have owned it for a long time now, 
Terminator genes or not.  Doesn't matter if they are biotech or organic 
companies, someone owns it.

Again, the point of not being "allowed" grow your own seed is a false one, 
and was refuted previously.

>If you do not believe this then check out what is happening in the 
>American mid-west.
>Private detectives are investigating farmers to ensure the grain they grow 
>does not contain a certain companies
>patented gene. If it does they are sued. Now if your neigbhour grows that 
>gene-specific crop then an amount of
>it will cross to your fields so you are in trouble! This also disallows 
>farmers from growing their own seed!

I've never heard of this, not even a whiff.  You'll have to provide a 
non-environmentalist source for this before anyone here would accept it as 
fact, myself included.

>Take the example of the outcry in Britian over the gene tests. The 
>genetically modified plants there were modified to be resistant to the 
>weedkiller Roundup (I think the name is correct). The company developing 
>these plants also owns RoundUp (spot the connection) This will alow plants 
>to be sprayed with weedkiller much more often.
>Result :
>a) Greater sales of roundup

So what?  Do you really think this kind of thing is unique to 
biotech?  This selling technique is nothing new.  Ever read "use only brand 
X refills in your supomatic whatnot for the best performance"?  Ever notice 
the refill brand just HAPPENS to be the one made by the whatnot manufacturer?

One small correction : You said "This will allow plants to be sprayed with 
weedkiller much more often".  In fact, it would simply allow them to be 
sprayed, not necessarily more often.  Just because the plant is resistant 
doesn't mean Farmer Joe will go apeshit with the Roundup canister.  He 
still has to pay for the stuff.  He will use only as much as is 
necessary.  Besides which, in terms of risk, Roundup (glyphosate) 
biodegrades within a few days, and is pretty benign to anything but weeds.

>b) More weedkiller in the environment

So what? See above.  Strange how Luddites don't complain about people using 
weedkiller on their lawns.

>c) wash your veges very carefully before eating them to remove the traces 
>of weedkiller

Good advice at any time.  You have more to worry about with regards to 
bacteria and general dirt on vegetables than you do with weedkillers.  Ever 
wonder why stores adivse washing all vegetables, including organically 
grown ones?  Gritty dirt on my carrots is my major peeve, btw.

>Effect on the poor in the third world
>none, they cannot afford roundup
>Genes as profit centres!

Oh, the poor third world, woe is they!  Third world farmers have bigger 
problems than affording Roundup.  Besides which, where are all the 
"organic" varieties of crop for them to grow in their arid conditions?  The 
third world is NOT a valid argument against biotech; it's a valid argument 
against poverty.

>3. Techno-heaven as an excuse for anything.
>I think nanotech is inevitable and am looking forward to the good 
>consequences. But it should not be
>used as an excuse for doing wrong. Sure oil will destroy the ecosystem, 
>sure whales (or snails or whatever)
>are becoming extinct but as soon as we have nano we will put them back!

I've yet to see anyone seriously put forward this argument.  Anyone with a 
basic knowledge of ecology knows that in some cases, reintroducing a 
previously lost species will be unsuccessful due to changes that have 
occured since it originally went extinct.

>There are two problems with this argument
>a) Nano will never be able to replace ecosystems we simply do not have 
>enough of the (any) ecosystem in storage to
>replace it therefore only highly depleted versions (approx. 1-5%) could 
>ever be brought back and these will not
>work (ask any ecologist)

Without nano, we cannot say for certain what can be done or not.  It may 
very well be possible to bring back an ecosystem using it.  Of course, it 
would be far better not to destroy the ecosystem in the first place.

>b) It is a form of the ends justify the means argument. With or without 
>nano it is wrong to cause pain to
>sentient organisms if it can be avoided. It can be avoided so it should be!

Same argument could be made about any technology.

>* Progress is good but not when it becomes the property of a few faceless 
>companies who use it only for profit.

So all progress is bad then.  Most items that could be defined as 
"progress" are in fact the property of "facless" companies who use them for 
profit.   But do you honestly, truly believe that a single individual, 
given say 50 years, could manage the output levels and the product 
performance of a company?  Single handedly?  Could Henry Ford have brought 
the production line to realisation without a company to organize the people 

>* Genes are not property.

Oh yes they are.  My genes are MY property.

>* Some advances do actually have bad effects.

Some bad advances do actually have good effects.  Ever hear of nuclear 
medicine?  Radiation therapy?

ANY advance can have good or bad effects.  The Luddites accuse anyone who 
promotes advances of producing only bad effects.   Once they've redefined 
progress as bad, they can justify any restrictions.  This is, when viewed 
through the lens of history, quite simply grossly innaccurate.  When was 
the last time you read or heard something from Luddites who were extoling 
the virtues of some new item of technology?

>We are part of the privileged few on this planet (in the universe 
>perhaps?) who live in luxury.

Relative to our ancestors perhaps.  We still suffer disease, death, toture, 
rape etc...  There is still much room for improvement.

>We should ensure that all
>advances are used for the general good not for profit.

What makes profit so bad?  If the company I work for didn't turn a profit, 
that would be very bad for myself and the thousands who work for them.  If 
every company didn't make money from tomorrow on, what would happen to 
their employees?  What about the economies they depend on?  Sometimes the 
only way to do good with technology is through profit.  Nanotech may 
eventually do away with this need, but the first nanotech assemblers will 
still need to turn a profit to recoup research expenses.  Profit is a means 
to an end, not an end in itself.  Believe it or not, most of those 
"faceless" companies know this implicitly.

>Poverty, slavery, war and sickness occur more now than at any
>time in the past.

Absolutely NOT true.  So wrong as to be indefensible.  This one sentence 
shows that you've not done a single iota of homework to back it up.  No 
offense meant to you here, but I have to call it as it is, and this is a 
false statement, on every count.

>It is just that we moved them all to the southern hemisphere so we would 
>not be reminded of them
>when we drive around in our luxury cars.

Again, not true, and the attempt at guilt for our "luxury cars" is 
ineffective.  Arguments from emotion are to be avoided.

>How many people were given the education to allow them to decide about 
>How many people have the money to afford it?

How many of the people here were born with the money to afford 
cryonics?  How many here could afford it at 12 years old?  At 15?  18 
perhaps?  Those who can afford it did so under their own efforts.  The 
difference between them and someone in the third 
world?  Opportunity.  After all, how many people do have the money to 
afford it and DON'T do it?

>We should be open to the arguments put forward by these "luddites".

We are.  But the arguments are generally poor, ill-informed, often just 
plain or intentionally wrong and especially over-emotive.  It would help if 
the had good arguments to be open to.  In some ways they remind me of 

Different issue, same failings.

Can it be said that they equally endeavor to be open to ours?

>They are not all fools and they are sometimes correct. I think you will 
>find that the majority of them are not actually against progress just how 
>it is being used.

Most Luddites are opposed to human cloning, regardless of how it's 
used.  The same with biotech.  The same with automation, and more and more 
these days, with nanotech.  The majority of them are indeed opposed to 
progress, with no thought as to what benefits can be obtained from it.

>If nano is the revolution we think it will be then ethics are more 
>important now than ever.

Depends on what you define as ethics:)

>If I am incorrect in any of the above arguments then feel free to let me 
>know. The following do not count as counter arguments:
>1. You are a luddite.
>I am not and even if I was - attack the argument not the arguer!

Anywhere I've used the term luddite above, I've tried not to associate it 
with you, as I don't believe it applies.  I apologise if I've broken this 
rule anywhere in the above text.

>2. You are a hypocrite
>Maybe but how does that change the argument?
I don't think you're a hippocrite, but it seems obvious to me that you've 
read much "luddite" literature, but not so much from the other side of the 
debate.  It's more a lacking an overall view of the issues IMHO, not one of 
hippocracy.  Ronald Bailey has written some excellent articles on this 
subject at www.reason.com



"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you ought to go back home and
crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures
to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."
-Q, Star Trek:TNG episode 'Q Who'

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