Volatility

February 24, 2016

What if They Pass the DARK Act?

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1. What would the preemption of labeling mean in itself? Labeling is not sufficient, and is conceptually flawed if envisioned as a worthwhile goal in itself. It implies the continuation of industrial agriculture and food commodification, and globalization as such. It merely seeks Better Consumerism within that framework.
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If people saw labeling as a temporary measure within the framework of an ongoing movement to abolish industrial agriculture and build Food Sovereignty, that would be good. If people saw the campaign for labeling as primarily a movement-building action, an occasion for public education, for democratic participation in a grassroots action, and to help build a permanent grassroots organization, that would be good. POE as I call it – Participation, Education, Organization.
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But labeling never could be a panacea. Especially the claim that we can expect miracles from it: Labeling = the end of Monsanto. This is highly doubtful. GMO labeling only indirectly tells us some things about the pesticide content, which is a far worse crisis. I think the most meaningful labeling campaign would have to fight for pesticide residues to be labeled/listed among the ingredients, since by any objective measure they’re intentionally inserted food additives.
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Also, just because a labeling initiative or law is passed doesn’t mean it will be enforced with any alacrity. It’s still the same old pro-Monsanto government which would be in charge of enforcement. That’s why getting an initiative or law passed would be just the first and easiest step. Then the real work of vigilance, forcing the enforcers to follow through, would begin. That, too, was a reason why the campaign needs to be, even more than just an intrinsic campaign, the building ground of a permanent grassroots organization.
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Then there’s the fact that most if not all of these initiatives and laws are riddled with loopholes, categories of food which don’t need to be labeled. That almost always includes GMO-fed meat and dairy. Actually, labeling would apply mostly to the same corporate-manufactured processed foods we ought to be getting out of our diets and economies regardless.
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When we combine the insufficient content of these labeling proposals with the fact that they are often called a self-sufficient panacea, and with the fact that the efforts have often been designed like one-off electoral campaigns rather than as processes of building permanent grassroots organizations, we can see the some of the inherent political limits of labeling campaigns.
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[See here and here for more on what the DARK Act is about; it seeks to enshrine the “voluntary” labeling sham, along with ferocious pre-emption as I described here.]
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2. The people consistently indicate that they don’t really want labeling. That is, they don’t want it as a stand-alone consumerist feature, sundered from the context of a complete affirmative (Food Sovereignty) and negative (abolitionist) movement.
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It’s clear that although the people overwhelmingly support the idea of GMO labeling in theory, their commitment to it is skin deep. As soon as the money starts flying and the propaganda noise starts booming, people are easily thrown off balance. They focus pre-existing feelings of dread on the controversy and recoil from such a meager thing as labeling, which seems to offer only a greater sense of helplessness.
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A survey done in California in September 2012 prior to the vote found that even the mention of an increase in food prices would “slightly diminish support”. This was prior to the big propaganda surge which hammered away with this lie. This musters every kind of inchoate fear. Since these days people are fearful and conservative, they shy from stimulation and don’t want anything to change. They’re easily convinced that any change will only make things worse. At any rate, they’re disinclined to undertake any change themselves. Here we have a one-off political campaign which is prone to muster elemental anxieties about poison in our food and the food we’re feeding to our children, about our ever more beleaguered personal financial position, about corporate power over us. This campaign becomes the scene of a media firestorm where people are asked, as consumers, to do nothing but vote a certain way and then implicitly to lapse back into their usual passivity. Their only payoff for having had all these fears aroused is that they gain even greater knowledge of what there is to fear, but get no new sense of what to do about any of it. Under these circumstances, is it any wonder that so many people choose to believe the lies and vote No?
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People don’t really believe the propaganda but are numbed into passivity by the volume and omnipresence of it. This is part of the job of the corporate media, to instill a sense of hopelessness in the individual, a false sense that she’s all alone with whatever objections she has, alone with whatever dissent and activism for change she’d like to undertake. The labeling campaign also instills fear about the safety of the food but doesn’t offer a productive context and course of action for this fear. It implicitly wants to leave you alone with your Yes vote and your new information.
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This is why many consumers don’t want to exercise their right to know. They’re settled in certain habits, have so many other stresses, they already know their food is poisoned and try to exist in a precarious psychological complacency about that. So they’d rather not hear about GMOs on top of everything. This supposition fits the data, that as the No propaganda surges and the noise level of the whole fight escalates, the weakly committed Yeses and the Undecided move toward No. If you’re going to stay within the bounds of passive consumerism, then does a GMO label really give you much of a new choice? Especially if you suspect, in most cases correctly, that the only result will be to discover that all your available choices have GMO labels, so that you really didn’t get more choice anyway, merely more stress.
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Labeling advocates point out that there is an individual, consumerist course of action available – change your eating habits, shun GMO products, petition manufacturers to purge them, retailers not to carry them. (Here we’re talking about doing these in an individual consumer context, not as part of a movement context.)
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But is this the likely result? What about the opposite possibility – that if labeling is enacted, people will just shrug and not change their buying and eating habits? Indeed, it might even help normalize GMOs.
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Since consumerism is inherently passive and not active, since “choice” is a pseudo-ideal that few people really want (their political and economic actions prove it), and since fear-itself induces conservatism in the choices people make, the campaign to label GMOs is bound to be at a disadvantage as soon as it becomes embroiled in a struggle. People naturally support the idea, but not enough so that they don’t abandon it as a kind of “rocking the boat” the moment they’re given a reason to fix their fears upon it.
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In itself labeling is a meager, insufficient measure. Most importantly, it’s conceptually insufficient, as it frames this critical political, socioeconomic, environmental, agronomic, and scientific issue as a matter of consumerist choice. Finally, the labeling idea is ripe to be hijacked by corporate interests or preempted by the central government, as we’re now seeing with this latest attempt in Congress.
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We can’t expect people to rouse themselves and go against the grain of their mass consciousness in any kind of ad hoc way, let alone in a way which they’ll have strong psychological reasons to resist. In order to get organic change, we first need to build an organic movement. We need to take the time and put in the work to build a movement culture where individuals find themselves as citizens, community members, members of a movement. We need to build a movement where people develop the individual self-respect to know that their action which seeks change will bring them a better world, and where they develop the political self-confidence to know that their collective action will work to bring about this bountiful change.
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We need to build a true grassroots movement, this movement has to be affirmative, and it has to seek the stark goal of total abolition of pesticides and GMOs. If we can offer people the opportunity to fight to abolish pesticides and GMOs, or to support this abolition movement with money, a vote, etc., and to do so toward affirmative goals like food freedom, food sovereignty, this offers vastly more on a psychological level than labeling by itself, which is more like yet another annoying consumer “choice”.
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(If anyone’s doubting the implicit criticism here of consumerism as such, keep in mind that poisoned food as a paradigm product class could never have arisen in the first place other than within a context of corporate/state-driven consumerism.)
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3. Consumerist labeling is really part of the “co-existence” notion. A core part of campaign rhetoric lauds “choice”, thereby echoing a standard pro-GM lie and implying that GMO agriculture can co-exist with any other kind of agricultural practice. But co-existence is impossible, politically as well as physically. Corporate agriculture envisions its own total domination of agriculture and food, and all its actions are dedicated to this goal. GMOs were developed as a classical public-private partnership and are aggressively supported by governments because they’re designed to attain the twin goals of physical (genetic) and economic (commodification and patents) domination. Therefore the only possible outcomes for humanity are complete abolition of GMOs or complete surrender to them. Given this circumstance, the constructive place of a labeling campaign or policy, or just the idea of labeling as such, is as a tactical element of the abolition movement. Anything outside of this movement context is at best a misdirection and waste of effort and time we don’t have to spare.
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4. We know the history of corporate lobbying for an FDA preemption policy, the central government’s complete support for GMO domination, its disdain for and hostility toward any meaningful labeling, the Monsanto Protection Act, and now the yearlong attempt to pass the DARK Act. We have clear proof that the central government will not allow political life and democracy to prevail on this, including at the state level, let alone the regional. Even if the DARK Act is forestalled in the Senate, the US government won’t give up. In the end, the only thing which will work will be defiance of the central government power, by whatever means, at lower government levels and especially through political action of the people from the ground up. This includes organized renunciation and replacement of the corporate industrial food system.
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If this is right, then our time requires a far more comprehensive goal.
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5. Abolitionists must use this crisis to reinforce the Community Food movement and goal. Just “buying organic” won’t suffice. Anyway much of organic is the industrial organic sector which is part of the overall corporate problem, and which has previously indicated its own desire to bring “organic” under Monsanto’s domination. We do have the Right to Know, but we’ll know little and have little until we rebuild the Community Food sector and protect it, toward the great affirmative goal of Food Sovereignty.
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We must lift our vision and expand our goal. We need the will to renew political life from the ground up, where necessary in defiance of the central government and corporate rule. We must use the government’s assaults as a political/moral lever to change the political consciousness from an individual consumerist consciousness (uncontexted labeling) to the abolitionist movement commitment, and the broader consciousness aspiring to freedom and demolishing the corporate-imposed bottlenecks against our prosperity.
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The corporate state’s goal is all-encompassing of the political and economic realms, from globalized corporate rule to strangling the rising Community Food movement in its youth. We can see how the DARK Act is not only anti-labeling but, with measures like preemption of local and state pro-democracy, anti-corporate laws, it’s also designed to provide more government power against the Community Food sector and movement as such. It will seek to do this in tandem with the Orwellianly named “Food Safety Modernization Act”, really a pro-big ag Food Control Act. But with the right kind of education campaign about how the government is trying to make it impossible for the people to know how toxic the industrial food supply is, we might be able to turn these assaults to our advantage. Certainly the one and only way to really KNOW what’s in our food and be citizens of agriculture and food production is to support local/regional retail agriculture, visit and know our farmers and processors, build up that sector. The central government and corporations are doing all they can to prove this.
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6. In the past I’ve sometimes been fatalistic about what the system “will do”, and how possible it is for political action to stop it. I’ve said things like, “the system will extract all the economically viable fossil fuels”, acknowledging various impersonal natural/physical/economic constraints on extraction while discounting political action as potentially such a natural force.
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Where it comes to fossil fuel extraction this is no doubt true for the low-hanging fruit, the reserves easiest and least expensive to extract. But as extraction proceeds along the line of deteriorating cost effectiveness, increasing complexity costs, and mounting physical difficulties, political action against it becomes more potent in proportion to the increasing overextension of its opponent. This can happen in the same way that various technical alternatives to fossil fuels become economically viable as oil prices rise.
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So it follows that corporate agriculture is finding its own position ever more costly and physically difficult to maintain, as costs increase, as natural (pest and weed) resistance mounts, as each new set of GMOs is more dubious, its economic rationale less coherent, its lies less viable, the legitimacy of establishment “science” and mainstream media more eroded, while public fear, skepticism, and opposition continue to rise. As this process evolves our action shall become more effective, and our ability to propagate all-encompassing ideas and desires more potent. There will be an ever greater will on the part of the people to organize against this enemy and to realize our affirmatives.
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In making these criticisms, I’m not disputing the basic truths of the pro-labeling argument. On the contrary, I avow these myself. I’m pointing out why, where labeling is presented as a typical ad hoc consumerist electoral campaign, rather than from within a movement context, the labeling campaigns are ineffective politics.
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At the moment the labeling campaigns comprise the main anti-GMO vehicle, and they can serve as good occasions for participation, organization, education – POE. In principle and in action abolitionists should support and join the campaigns. But we insist that labeling is insufficient, is no panacea, and that the fight for labeling is just one step toward building the consciousness toward building what’s great and necessary, a true abolition movement.
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For the moment, what’s a good proximate strategy?
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1. It’s important to defeat the DARK Act through whatever conventional within-the-system means, if possible. This is the system’s attempt to kneecap our movement through legalistic preemption. If this fails, they’ll try again, or else try for a more subtle “mandatory” scam. Anti-GMO people must reject any subsequent “softer” FDA scam, any form of DARK Act Plan B. The same goes for the TPP and TTIP, which are intended to do things like outlaw any labeling whatsoever, right down to the warnings on cigarette packages.
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If the DARK Act is passed, our campaigns must pressure the states and localities to go ahead anyway on democratic moral-political and constitutional grounds, including legal challenges (though we shouldn’t hold our breath in expectation of the court route succeeding). The central government’s ability to enforce its tyrannical policy will be a direct measure of the people’s willingness to crumble and obey, or our determination to stand tall and fight. Again, this applies most of all to globalization assaults like NAFTA, the TPP and the TTIP.
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2. Nevertheless, labeling in itself could never suffice. What we must have, what is necessary, is to drive out pesticides and GMOs completely. Indeed, the worst aspect of the DARK Act is the legal assault it would make on county-level pesticide and GMO bans.
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3. So in addition to POE, the main purpose of labeling campaigns is to provide an occasion to pressure manufacturers and retailers, and to supplement campaigns directly pressuring them.
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4. In this connection, a primary publicity component is to continue hammering away, not just at Monsanto, and not at the GMA, as for example who is providing the funding for the lawsuit against Vermont. Rather, it is Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, General Mills, General Foods, who are most responsible for inflicting these physical and political assaults upon us. The campaigns have often done a good job of this and should escalate. Combine this brand-condemning publicity campaigning and boycott organizing against these manufacturers with targeted pressure on retailers. These kinds of actions have the best track record, among reform campaigns.
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5. As I described in the strategy posts I linked here, both direct pressure and labeling advocacy must be enfolded within a comprehensive abolition movement and serve the abolition goal. Once we have a movement whose members and sympathizers see the world with the eyes of active citizens of a community, rather than with the eyes of atomized passive consumers among an unfathomable mass, then we’ll have the social foundation from which to launch any kind of political campaign. The campaigns will be organic, they’ll be part of an ongoing social and political context, and they’ll be waged and supported by citizens speaking to potential citizens who can see the living reality of the movement before them, rather than just a seemingly disposable campaign and stand-alone ad hoc policy proposal with no context for systemic change or human hope.
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If we want to do what’s necessary and do it right, in the process inspiring people to join a movement or support it (and this is what’s needed, rather than any quick fix electoral solution), we need to build a true movement toward a goal that’s necessary and great. The great goals available to us are the complete abolition of GMOs and breaking the power of corporations over our agriculture and food, in the process putting an end to their onslaught poisoning our food, water, soil, and air. The companion goal is to rebuild our community food economies on the basis of agroecology and food sovereignty, thus combining the best of freedom, health, democracy, and science. There’s no substitute for the patience and hard work required to build this new, affirmatively ecological and democratic, anti-corporate movement from outside the system. Along the way this movement can absorb whatever existing forces are available, so long as they’re compatible with the stark and non-negotiable goal of the abolition of poison-based agriculture. But its inception and the main thrust of its action must always be toward building a new human world.
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If the DARK Act is passed and the TTIP/TPP globalization compacts are forced upon us, raising our sights and escalating our demands upon fate is one of our options. Giving up is another. But it seems that the status quo will no longer be an option.

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2 Comments

  1. […] compared with abolitionism is ancillary to the greater truth that co-existence is impossible and even strong labeling policy would be insufficient. This is in addition to labeling’s many dubious philosophical and moral implications. . We […]

    Pingback by Permanent DARKness Campaign | Volatility — March 2, 2016 @ 2:14 am

  2. […] the co-existence, consumerist ideology, but they’re digging in on refusal to even listen to alternative ideas. Thus the GMO Free USA Facebook group has started censoring my posts (i.e., simply refusing to post […]

    Pingback by Prospects and Stagnation | Volatility — March 6, 2016 @ 7:28 am


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