Life On Earth vs. Death by Patriarchy

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Singing Bird

Top Song Birds in America – Song Sparrow photographed by Bill Leman

In the mid-1940s, environmentalist Rachel Carson became concerned about the broad use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. Many synthetic pesticides had been developed through the military funding of science following World War II, and Carson’s friends living on Long Island noticed that while the local application of DDT was killing insects, it was also killing birds.

Because of the impact on bird populations, the Audubon Naturalist Society actively opposed chemical spraying programs and recruited Carson to help publicize the U.S. government’s spraying practices and related research. Carson then began a four-year project gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. By the end of her research, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the resulting human sickness and ecological damage. Her conclusions were published in 1962 as the book entitled “Silent Spring,” a metaphorical title suggesting a bleak future for the entirety of the natural world, not only the literal predicted absence of birdsong.

The development of chemical and herbicidal warfare gave rise to the domestic application of the same chemicals by the corporations that developed them. On September 20, 2016, top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. asking federal regulators to approve mega-mergers between the corporations, which have today fundamentally reorganized global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.)

The worldview that allows for and supports the exploitation of natural resources is linked with patriarchal socio-cultural systems that are characterized by competition for land, the control of women and children, and subjugating peoples of other cultures considered to be threatening to nationalistic concepts of racial and biological purity. Social power within patriarchal systems is all about control – of men and women, of resources, of economies, of leaderships, and of nature itself. The patriarchal system is preoccupied with structures of dominance and submission, a dynamic that has put both human societies and Earth’s ecosystems in peril.

Carolyn Merchant is an American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science. She is most famous for her theory presented in her book, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution” (1980), in which she identifies the Enlightenment as the period when science began to objectify nature as an inert resource for exploitation that needed to be forcibly dissected in order to be made to give up its riches and power. Her book and theory continue to be relevant in today’s Anthropocene era of globalization and global climate change. I highly recommend Merchant’s book, and she is currently Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Just a few days ago, I read an article by Catwhipple in “The Circle” (an online magazine for Native American news and arts).  The article, Sex, Fossil Fuels, and Matriarchal Economics, connects the dots between exploitation of the environment by the oil industry with the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women plaguing the United States and Canada.

Catwhipple writes:

The man camps and the consistent violence against Native women which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry is a huge issue, and it’s also the metaphor. “Let me shove this pipeline down your throat”. That’s basically what the MN PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] just said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women. How much more graphic than “let me shove this down your throat…” do I have to be?  Consent is consent. Consent is about sex and consent is about pipelines and megaprojects. In the old days, the company men and their governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It’s not supposed to be those days now.

Sadly, most people realize that the days of colonialism, racism, and patriarchy remain a powerful influence. However, the current national and global struggles may indicate the last stand of a system that perceives its immanent demise.  The truth behind climate change is that either our current socio-cultural system is radically transformed or this planet will die by our collective hand.

Affecting many nations, men and women who identify with the toxic system of patriarchal authority and privilege have girded their collective loins today for what seems to be a 12th hour stand against those who don’t see nature or women as ultimately expendable.  Women and nature are inextricably linked within the patriarchal worldview, which long has been the dominant system informing resource exploitation and the oppression of peoples. What once may have contributed to the aggressive survival of our species is now condemning all other species to death, along with our own.

The origin of the term ecofeminism is attributed the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (1974). Ecofeminist theory posits that a feminist perspective of ecology does not place women in the dominant position of power, but rather calls for an egalitarian society in which there is no one dominant group.

As d’Eaubonne defines the approach, ecofeminism relates to the oppression and domination of all marginalized groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.). The author argues that oppression, domination, exploitation, and colonization from the Western patriarchal society has directly caused irreversible environmental damage.  With the rate of species extinction growing exponentially with each successive generation of humans, the impact of human habitation has had a catastrophic impact on every habitat. As ecofeminism makes clear, any positive change of course requires an accompanying change of the basic socio-cultural structures and economic practices informed by the patriarchal influences in many developed nations.

Socially conservative and militant expressions of the Abrahamic faiths in particular need to be challenged. The development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each substantively arose within patriarchal societies as ideologies under-girding and legitimating the subjugation of women that accompanied the conquering of lands, including the habitats with all the species and resources therein.

Progressive Christian theologians and writers have long championed a rediscovery or socio-cultural archaeology of early Christian belief and context. We frame an understanding of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that emphasizes the transformational nature of love for one’s neighbor, care of community, and liberation from systems of oppression. The resistance to forces of empire calls for the social movement away from patriarchal structures and norms to those that emphasizes human equality, care of creation as a vital imperative, equitable economy, and governing principles that assure the same.

Recently, the current United States administration’s opposition to abortion has led to the watering-down of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war and reaffirming the UN’s opposition to sexual violence. However, the US – along with China and Russia – insisted on removing all references to women’s sexual and reproductive health or else the three countries would veto the resolution.

The US administration opposed all mentions of reproductive health on the grounds that health services for women victimized by rape during times of war implied support for abortion. The administration has taken measures to avoid supporting efforts and organizations that provide abortion services to women, including victims of rape.

CNN reported that the US move against the UN resolution is “just another expression of the contempt that this administration has for women’s rights and reproductive health and rights,” said Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations at Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s certainly typical of this administration when it comes to anything having to do with reproductive rights, sexual assault,” Murphy said.

The current administration of the United States is a casebook example of how the patriarchal worldview – supported in this instance by a conservative Christian belief system – is operating at this moment and in our generation to obliterate those voices, lives, and landscapes most affected by its consequences. Violence against women is not only aided and abetted, it is sanctioned and frequently legislated.

Women are not the only one’s negatively impacted and subjugated within patriarchal systems. Patriarchal norms place men at risk in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Emerging literature on toxic masculinity illuminates our country’s current struggles with gun violence, the prison industry, violence towards women, and racism – just to name a few examples.

A recent article in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton describes how as a young man he was influenced by the behavioral modelling of a male cousin. The author was drawn to cousin’s strength, his bravado, his violence until his cousin physically assaulted him, placing his life in jeopardy. As Hylton shares his story, we learn how the episode forced him to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his cousin’s life and his own. Reading Hylton’s story is like watching someone, with their last breath after a harrowing climb, plant a flag in the top of an unfathomable cultural iceberg. It’s chilling, and no man should have to endure it, but Hylton makes us have to look.

Jared Yates Sexton has written about the challenges that men have to “detoxify their masculinity” in his newly released book, “The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and the Crisis of Our Own Making.” Sexton addresses toxic masculinity as, “An especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that has held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

Perhaps, the results of our 2016 national election and the resulting societal destruction over the subsequent years have helped to illuminate the psychology behind patriarchy. Additional social factors such as the unrelenting phenomenon of mass shootings in schools and in places of worship are social symptoms of a common cause affecting our entire national life and role on the world stage.

Our current administration has made legislative incursion into our national parks, lands previously set aside as wilderness areas, and treaty lands held by Native American communities.  The language of climate change has been deleted from government websites and reports, while traditional energy corporations continue dangerous resource extraction methods and alternative energy resources are resisted.  Incursions have been made into legislating control over women’s bodies, depriving LGBTQ persons of basic benefits and employment, consolidating control over natural resources, jeopardizing long-standing peace negotiations and historical alliances, criminalizing refugees, and protecting gun rights ownership over the rights of children.

The voices of scientists, physicians, ecologists, progressive theologians, journalists, park rangers, Native leaders, human rights advocates, international representatives working for peace and social justice – all of these voices are being vilified by those invested in preserving the worldview that is now killing all of us and all of life on earth. We must keep speaking, writing, resisting, and insisting on justice and equity for all and for Nature herself.

The hateful movement of conquer and divide must be replaced with the loving movement of resist and unite. We are in the midst of a critical historical moment of social transformation, and we must be willing to take the reins of our social direction and not accept the bit being forced upon us by those who claim that life is sacred when all their actions speak otherwise. We must strive beside one another for the change that brings greater justice to all people as well as to our waterways, lands, and air.

The desperate ultimate landscape presented in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” has haunted my fears since I was a child and first encountered her prophetic work. I need the birds to sing, which is why I pledge to them every morning – as they greet the rising sun –  that I will do all that I can so that their song will not be lost, that every spring will hold their voices of hope, endurance, and perseverance. If they can speak with such resolve, so must I –  and so must we all.

A New Spiritual Discipline of Food: Replace Fasting with Food Sovereignty

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Organic Flowers and Vegetables

Many religious and spiritual traditions include seasons and occasions that practice abstinence from food and drink for periods of time or deferring meals until the end of the day. Fasting is often considered an important spiritual discipline, calling for mastery over one’s own will in order to make one’s self sufficiently receptive to or focused on the Sacred.

Within a faith context, humanity’s relationship with food is understood both figuratively and literally as epitomizing life’s dependence on God. As essential as breath and water, without food – without sustenance – life dies. So, when people (acting from spiritual discipline) fast from food, they are engaging an ancient trust that God will sustain them nonetheless.

In a way, fasting is a re-enactment in miniature of agricultural famine – something usually very much beyond human control. Fasting, as a spiritual humility, is actually very much within the practitioner’s control as a type of self-sacrifice offered for the sake of greater wisdom or more intimate connection with the Divine.

In actual practice, then, fasting is really only a spiritual discipline for those who have the ability to acquire food readily and eat it whenever they want. Fasting is, by definition, a choice. People who are genuinely without access to food, who suffer hunger and poor nutrition on a daily and protracted basis, don’t have that choice. They go without food, because there is no other option – there is no sustenance. Prayers go up, but no manna comes down.

The sad reality is that not only do we have issues of hunger in the United States, most of us aren’t actually eating food – healthy, natural food that can sustain our health and our world.

I propose that rather than practicing fasting (which impacts an individual life, that of the practitioner), those seeking a spiritual discipline around food make choices in consumption that will enhance the quality and freedom of all life on Earth. Eat, but eat to empower others – even other forms of life and lives in other countries.

In the global landscape of agriculture, the United States is the number one producer of both corn and soybeans. The USDA estimates that in 2014 alone, the US produced a record level of 14.4 billion bushels of corn for an average of 171.7 bushels an acre. In 2014, the US also produced a record level of 3.91 billion bushels of soybeans for an average of 46.6 bushels an acre. However, 90% of US corn production is made up of genetically modified corn, while over 95% of US soybean production is made up of genetically modified soybeans.

Sixty-four countries around the world have banned the import of Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs] and require consumer labeling of GMOs, so that consumers have an informed choice about what they are consuming. The labeling is required, so that consumers know when they are consuming the chemicals that are genetically bonded to genetically modified corn and soy, which cause the crops to be pest resistant. Additionally, over 99% of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season.

GMO systemic insecticides include neonicotinoids (neonics) which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies and birds. Two neonics in widespread use in the U.S. are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees, while ever-increasing amounts of older much more toxic herbicides like 2,4 D and Dicamba are being sprayed on GMO crops in the US, along with huge volumes of Glyphosate to deal with the superweeds which have arisen and are GMO resistant.

The main chemical companies involved in GMO production are the US firms Monsanto, DuPont/Pioneer and Dow Chemical, as well as Germany’s Bayer and Syngenta of Switzerland. Also, the Rockefeller Foundation is heavily invested in genetically modified organisms, having created the ‘gene revolution’ with over $100 million invested in GM science since the 1970’s.

Unfortunately, genetically modified corn and soy are not only involved in direct human consumption, they are included in the majority of livestock and poultry feed in the US. Additionally, 60-70 percent of processed foods have ingredients derived from GMOs. It’s no accident that each of the chemical companies listed above are stakeholders in multiple grocery manufacturers that produce the vast majority of processed foods, household cleaners and personal cleaning products on the market.

In order to better control non-GMO competitors in the market place, the big players have bought up conventional/heritage seed companies. For public sector breeders, who used to produce most of the seeds that farmers used, government funding has been reduced under the pressure of powerful GMO lobby interests. Furthermore, cross-pollination of conventional fields by GMO strains has become so widespread it is difficult to produce “pure” seeds that are not contaminated. Farmers whose conventional crops have been accidentally crosspollinated with nearby GMO fields are taken to court by Monsanto for violating proprietary laws, while the farmer’s crops are burned.

The problem of GMO crosspollination is so bad, that Bill Gates is spending $30 million in a remote island called Svalbard (located approximately 1,100 kilometers from the North Pole) to build a heritage seed bank. Corporate moguls such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Monsanto Corporation, the Government of Norway, the Syngenta Foundation, and Dupont/Pioneer are building a ‘doomsday seed bank’ officially named the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, part of the Svalbard island group.

Ostensibly, these groups are saying that they want to assure that, “the genetic diversity of the world’s food crops is preserved for future generations.” I can’t help but wonder exactly which parts of whose populations will benefit from the seed lockers of the wealthy and those who have profiteered from the environmental Armageddon they created.

In her seminal work, Silent Spring (1962), Rachel Carson wrote, “A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

Writing thirty years prior to the US dominance of GMOs, Carson seems to have anticipated the use of the herbicidal chemicals developed for war time use on the jungles of Vietnam as they would be applied to domestic agriculture. Her plea for environmental stewardship remains a clarion call for those in the trenches struggling for food sovereignty.

Last month the Grocery Manufacturers Association (working in partnership with GM producers) attempted to block a GMO labelling law passed in the State of Vermont, on the heels of Governor Peter Shumlin signing Act 120 into a law last year. The lawsuit has not been successful so far, however, and the Vermont label law is set to go into effect on July 1, 2016.

In the face of corporate monopolies of food production and the use of chemically laced genetically modified foods, the grassroots efforts of the non-GMO consumer awareness campaign called ‘The Non-GMO Project’ is supported by the US Organic Consumer Association. A new generation of young farmers is committed to growing heritage crops (non-GMO) through organic and sustainable farming practices, while a new breed of ranchers are feeding herds and flocks with non-GMO feed in humane settings.

A global organization called the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) is an autonomous and self-organized global platform of small-scale food producers and rural workers. Their organizations and grass root/community based social movements are dedicated to advancing the Food Sovereignty agenda at the global and regional levels. More than 800 organizations and 300 millions of small-scale food producers self-organize themselves through the IPC, supported by several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The most important action that any individual can take in response to agri-corporations attempting to control global food production (especially in the poorest countries) is to take personal steps towards becoming less dependent on GMO foods. In effect, hit them with your pocketbook by buying organic.

Here are some consumer tips for shopping and eating in support of food sovereignty:

• Pay the extra money for foods that are Certified Organic in your local grocery stores: your dollars will go towards sustainable practices, and that’s the goal – Certified Organic foods are also non-GMO, though they might not always have the Non-GMO project label because they may simply not be participating in that campaign
• Look for foods with the Non-GMO Project label, which means those products are organic
• Become familiar with the processed foods that contain GMOs, such as Nabisco, Kellogs, Proctor & Gamble, and Unilever – if a product has soy or corn syrup in it and it doesn’t have an organic or non-GMO label, then it’s probably derived from domestic GMO soy or corn.
• Check out your local food coops, farm stands and farmers markets for organic foods and products
• Shop and eat locally to minimize the production process of your food
• If you eat out, research for restaurants that specialize in organic foods – even some chain restaurants like Chipotle’s are serving non-GMO foods
• Engage in your own food sovereignty project by turning your lawn into an organic vegetable patch of heritage seed producing crops that are pollinator friendly
• Participate in community gardens and hunger-reduction community feeding programs that strive to provide nutritional organic meals to those in need
• If you contribute food stuffs to community pantries, be sure to purchase non-GMO options for those who cannot afford to purchase those on their own
• Write to your congressional representatives, if they are pro-Monsanto or pro-GMO
• Put pressure on your local stores that sell pesticides with glyphosate and other neotnic toxins (such as are in “Round Up”) that kill pollinators
• Work with non-chemical fertilizers and pest control options in your garden
• If you live in the city, consider becoming an urban bee keeper or create an organic vegetable container garden
• If you eat meat, buy grass-fed non-GMO beef, and non-GMO organic poultry. Avoid farmed salmon, and buy dairy and eggs that are certified organic
• If you keep a flower or vegetable garden, research local seed-saving programs where you can shop and contribute to cooperative reserves of heritage seeds. Purchase organic, non-GMO seeds and grains.
• If you keep a few chickens in your yard or goats, provide them with non-GMO feeds and grains in order to avoid GMO chemicals in your eggs, milk and meat.

Below are some key websites for obtaining information that may be of help to you as you turn your personal fasting into a spiritual discipline of food sovereignty:

https://www.organicconsumers.org/campaigns/millions-against-monsanto – This is the website of the Organic Consumers Association, the organization that launched the Millions Against Monsanto effort to challenge the strong corporate lobby and food production control of Monsanto and its partner organization in charge of consumer food distribution, the Grocery Manufacturers Association [GMA]. Both Monsanto and GMA are insidious corporations, whose demonstrable and detrimental role and impact on environment and food production of which most consumers are unaware. The Organic consumers Association website provides several useful links, including information about the nature of GMOs and the actions and history of Monsanto. Any product made by Round Up, for example, contains a chemical called “glyphosate” engineered by Monsanto and singularly responsible for the destruction of whole colonies of pollinating insects including Monarch butterflies and honey bees. The benefit to destroying pollinators for Monsanto is to make food growers reliant on genetically modified seed that is incapable of producing viable seed such that the consumer must purchase new seed every growing season.

http://www.rareseeds.com/resources/non-hybrid/ – This is one of several websites, and a good one, dedicated to maintaining organic, non-GMO and naturally pollinated seeds through seed saving programs which assure non-hybrid organisms (plants that have not been crossed with GMO organisms).

http://www.nongmoproject.org/find-non-gmo/search-participating-products/ – This website is the home of the Non-GMO project, providing links to non-GMO consumer products – everything from bread and cereal to wines and beer, frozen foods and baby food, skin cream and shampoo.

http://gmo-awareness.com/shopping-list/ – This website contains both lists of non-GMO food products but also provides links to GMO food products to avoid when shopping, many of which are very popular food brands. What is challenging about shopping non-GMO is that many products include oils or sugars which are made from genetically modified organisms. The problem about genetically modified organisms is that food-based GMO additives are bonded to pesticide chemicals such as glyphosate. When consumers eat GMO products or put them on their skin and in the environment in an ongoing way, toxic chemicals are able to build genetically modified bonds within our organic system (our bodies) – the root cause of many types of cancers, diseases associated with hormone imbalances, fatal allergies, as well as fatigue and depression. The effects of long-term exposure to human life are currently being documented, and the early results are genuinely horrific. GMO’s and glyphosate products have been banned in countries on every continent of the globe, including the UK, all of Scandinavia, Germany and New Zealand. For more on what countries are doing to ban GMO’s, go to http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/

The topics of food democracy and ecologically healthy food production are real passions of mine, so I hope that I’ve been helpful in providing you with resources for more information. Whether you want to plant healthy non-GMO seed in your garden or buy organic non-GMO milk to go with your organic non-GMO breakfast cereal, these websites can guide you. Our collective hope is in the efforts of organizations like the Organic Consumers Association and in our young people, a new generation of young adults who are feeling called to organic and sustainable farming.

Humanity’s choices on this earth ought not to be between eating and hunger but between what gives life to the few and what gives life to all. As Rachel Carson knew, “In nature, nothing exists alone.” Certainly, whatever our faith traditions, God has shown us this as well.