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by Cayce Callaway
Wednesday, Jul. 04, 2001 at 12:11 AM
"Most of all, I wondered when doubt began to be reserved for dissent."
"For members of the public who would like to learn more about the benefits of biotechnology, head on over to Healthfest..." The newswoman said that repeatedly. She was smiling every time. Clearly biotechnology was cause for celebration.
It made me wonder if she knew who Vandana Shiva was or Percy Schmeiser or if she'd ever heard about the struggles of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, journalists who sacrificed their careers in the corporate media to tell the truth about bovine growth hormone. I also wondered if she ever doubted what was printed on the Teleprompter above her head.
Most of all, I wondered when doubt began to be reserved for dissent.
Walking through the parking lot of the Beyond Biodevastation conference, I overheard a woman laughing with a small group of the multitude of police present for the event. She said, "Yeah, they're all in tie-dye...I thought I was back in the 70's." Was that the last time she doubted what she was told? Or was she always content to reduce political discourse to a fashion statement? Hardly a worthy target for dubiety.
Unfortunately, she seems to be in the majority. Newscasters and reporters can't get through a story on protesters these days without mentioning what they're wearing. In addition to the aforementioned "hippy" garb there's the ubiquitous reference to "black-clad youths in masks"; a phrase that's uttered with reverential fear and has become synonymous with citywide pillage. At the staging area for the Biodev march, the media clustered around the one group of six people dressed in black, largely ignoring the other 1,300 to1,400 people present. It's hard to promote much skepticism of a young mother with a baby carriage or an aging farmer giving away organic greens.
Hundreds of police lined the streets of San Diego with an estimated million dollars spent on security for the Biotechnology Industry Organization Conference. They have now joined forces with police worldwide to combat those who they believe are spreading dissent and attempting to disrupt the world as we've come to know it. They are prepared for battle, they eye demonstrators with a look reserved only for the enemy. Doubt for them long ago dissolved into contempt. Does any one of them ever stop to consider whether or not they're protecting the right people?
The biotech industry spent millions to keep the public from questioning their motives. News reports were filled with child cancer victims cured by gene therapy. Conspicuously missing from most of the blatantly emotional appeals was any information about patenting of life or the lack of research on long-term effects of genetically modified food, the major issues for most of the protestors. I didn't meet a single demonstrator who was advocating death for Tiny Tim.
But with only a small amount of doubt directed at the biotechnology industry one starts to see not angels of mercy but globalization shrouded in science. In San Diego, the public was led to believe the conference would bring together smart people in lab coats who could assuage any fears that might exist about the ethics or agenda of biotech executives. In reality, BIO was a PR event, with everyone, including the scientists, playing their roles. If it had truly been a conference intent on probing the issues of biotechnology, the dissenters wouldn't have had to meet across town under the heavy eye of the police department. Doubt would have been present at the convention center, examination would have been encouraged.
But most corporate scientists seem content to wear blinders and apparently checked any doubt they might have had at the door when they took their jobs. It's a troubling notion. The one scientist I know questions most everything he encounters. It seems to be his nature. Is it not their nature as well? Where is the broad suspicion of scientific researchers who pick and choose their data based on the financial returns of their employers?
Polls following the BIO 2001 conference showed most San Diegans approved of the crackdown on demonstrators by the San Diego Police Department. Alternatively, an ABC News poll showed a whopping 93% of the people questioned wanted genetically modified food labeled with a large number showing a reluctance to buy it if it was. The contradiction between these two polls indicates a disparity between an inclination to doubt and a willingness to bring that doubt into conscious action. It also highlights the widespread distrust of those who choose to make that connection.
Questioning and opposing the agendas of neo-liberal corporations and governments is no easy task. The obstacles are large and well-financed, the information buried amidst slick propaganda. Oppositional tactics include condescending smear campaigns with full media complicity that portray protestors as extreme, violent and misinformed. Peaceful protests the world over are met with harassment, police provocateurs, chemical weapons, rubber, and increasingly, real bullets. But far from the soccer-thug rioters who disregard everyone and everything, the voices of dissent are attempting to shine a spotlight on those who want to turn every aspect of life into a commodity, every inch of earth into a mechanism for personal gain. So why is doubt directed at those who work to expose greed and corruption and withheld from those with so much financial stake?
Is it possible the corporate PR machine has deceived the public into thinking everyone has something to gain from their avaricious globetrotting? Is it a governmental conspiracy? Is it simply an attempt by most to live in still waters? Or is it all of the above? The egocentric and covetous using a mass desire for a comfortable and peaceful existence to discourage critical thought.
Whatever the reason, truth cannot exist in a world where skepticism is reserved for those who question the established norm. Reality becomes skewed. Monsanto is seen as a savior, feeding the poor with yellow rice and pest-resistant seeds while their practices of snatching up natural resources in developing countries, exaggerating the nutritional benefits of their crops and ruining the livelihoods of farmers across the world go unchecked.
We must make a choice. Either we hand over the keys to the kingdom of humankind to a group of people whose sole aim is the never-ending acquisition of wealth and power or we stand up and tell them no, our world is not for sale. If we choose the latter, questions must be asked, motives must be examined and doubt must once again enter the public discourse. If we choose the former, I predict it will take very little time before doubt will be inevitable.
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