Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Monsanto and the banality of evil

A discussion about Monsanto arose in a private technology forum that I attend, which dredged up the following from me and that in turn I'd like to share with my regular readers. DS

My great uncle was one of the original chemists of Monsanto... the boss had no money for the payroll and he paid them in shares... my great aunt had to work in a sweatshop for two years so that they could eat.... they all ended up rich. In those days there was a rotating board of directors, so every so often my relative, like the other original chemists, was chairman of the board...only in America, eh what? He was a lovely old guy, when I was a little kid.
I just mention this so you could understand how painful it is for me to know that Monsanto is one of the most villainous, monstrous, harmful corporations to ever have existed, which is causing thousands of Indian farmers to commit suicide (this is just a tiny sample). For me this is like discovering that my dear old, Horatio Alger of an uncle was Heinrich Himmler. Watching the wonderful "Food Inc." made my skin crawl and spoiled a hundred lovely, childhood memories for me.
There is a Spanish saying, "con las cosas de comer no se juega", which translates literally as "don't play with your food", but in Spanish "jugar", "play" also means to gamble.
The heart of our humanity in civilization is born in agriculture and naturally, being so fundamental to our deepest needs, physical, cultural and spiritual, it has a religious aspect... seen that way Monsanto is beyond blasphemy.
A few years back incensed by what I was reading about the old family "milch cow" and giving free rein to my dark journalistic arts, I used a social-hack to fool then WTO head Mike Moore into giving me the private email address of then Monsanto CEO, Bob Shapiro, the creator of the field to dinner plate "Roundup" concept. We carried on a civilized dialog for several years.
Shapiro is a very pleasant person to correspond with and I came to the conclusion, which I communicated to him, that he was an idiot-savant like the Dustin Hoffman character in "Rainman". A commercial genius, but completely tone deaf politically... When he got canned more or less for this defect, he was inclined to agree with my analysis.
He didn't seem to see the connection to his business model of thousands of Indian farmers, on losing their lands because of debt incurred by Roundup, committing suicide by drinking the stuff and that millions of other Indian country folk who have been forced by this agriculture to flee to cities with poor sanitation, where they defecate in the streets, threatening a worldwide 14th century style pandemic. He couldn't see what a storm this would raise.
My impression from my dialog with Bob Shapiro was that he saw his mission on earth solely to "create value for shareholders" and could see no other responsibility to humanity and mother earth than that... I am much reminded of Hannah Arendt's theory of the "banality of evil".
Finally I think if Monsanto could they would patent oxygen and charge us all to breathe. It's like something out of Kurt Vonnegut.
The irony of all this is that I have heard classic Marxists maintain that this is an inevitable stage in the completion of the capitalist cycle and that simply by nationalizing Monsanto and Walmart we would have a perfect, planned economy... in other words we are all dressed up and waiting for Lenin. DS

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