Feel the Paradigm Shifting
By Jean Hay
According to your perspective, it either is or isn't the new millennium. The minutia of the argument is whether whoever set up the calendar began counting at "1" or "0." Of course, the calendar was not changed in the actual "Year of Our Lord," but several hundred years later, and archeologists have been saying for at least 20 years that Jesus was probably born around 6 BC. By Christian reckoning, that means we've been living in the third millennium for at least a few years now.
But that doesn't mean that a paradigm shift isn't happening.
December 1999 was a remarkable month, with protests at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle at one end and what one reporter described as a "Global Woodstock" celebration at the other.
The demonstrations in Seattle were a demonstration of the "100th monkey" phenomenon. From all over the Earth, real people, the workers of the world, knew that Seattle was the place to take a stand. The solidarity of Seattle is a clear message to those powers that be that we just aren't going to take it any more. Fairness, human rights and economic justice WILL be implemented around the world, or the demonstrations in Seattle will prove to be only the beginning.
Norma Rae would have been proud.
Fairness and economic justice are also the battle cries in the current debate over the high cost of drugs charged to uninsured American citizens. Drug companies say they can't afford to charge real people the same discounted rate as big HMOs or insurance companies. Not only is that baloney, but the solution is simple -- No volume discounts. Have one price for a given drug. Everyone pays the same. Fair is fair. If that means the HMOs pay more, so be it. And if you keep screaming about the huge profit margin you have to make off sick and dying people to justify the cost of research, then maybe we should just go back to the government doing the research -- but this time hanging on to the patents. And just how much does it cost to build a drug manufacturing plant?
The non-event of the Y2K bug was a technological victory -- we recognized the problem, threw enough money and people at it, and came out on top. Whew! We also learned, I hope, that it is a lot more cost effective to foresee such problems and not build them into the system to begin with.
Which brings us to GMO, genetically modified organisms. The global debate on genetically engineered foods, which had a presence in Seattle, is another example of real people suddenly rising up and confronting arrogant multi-national corporations who think we should all just shut up, hand over our money, and be their guinea pigs. Unfortunately, this is not a disaster waiting to happen, but one that is already happening.
People are getting quicker at spotting the maneuvering. The government in December announces a plan to add soy products to the school lunch program. Great idea, you say? Cheaper than meat and just as nutritious? Immediately, in a letter to the editor, the suspicion is raised that the move is just a way of disposing of all the tons and tons of GMO soybeans that can't be sold in Europe.
Not enough independent testing of this stuff has been done. Take the case of the potatoes grown here in Maine that needed to get Pesticide Control Board approval since the poison is built-in, can't be washed off. The scientific evidence presented to the board in 1995 by Monsanto's spokespeople was simply a reiteration of tests done on Bt itself, not on the potato in question. The little research that has been done since then with the real stuff on rats has been disquieting, with hormonal problems and the like turning up.
Hormones control everything from how tall we grow to whether our sex organs function properly, and they are most active in childhood. If the federal government won't do it, our local school boards should immediately ban the use of any genetically engineered food in our school cafeterias. Yes, including the poison-laden Maine-grown potatoes.
(Question: if the Pesticide Control Board refused permission in 1998 for Bt field corn to be grown in Maine, what the heck was the University of Maine doing growing it last year? Are they above the law? And I was not at all reassured when the scientists, commenting on the vandalism done to only one of their GMO corn experiment plots last fall, dismissed concerns by saying it would only have been fed to cows. Are the college cows not part of the human food chain? Do these intelligent people really not understand that cycle, or do they presume that we're too dumb to think it through?)
OF COURSE genetically engineered food should all be labeled at the retail level, including in restaurants. We are tired of being taken for fools. The paradigm has shifted.
Which brings us to the New Year's celebrations. The reporter was right -- all over the world, hour after hour, millions of people joyfully celebrated and had a good time. The world did not blow up. People were happy, just hanging out with friends and strangers. Music abounded. It was indeed a global "Woodstock." People could live in peace and harmony, if only for a little while.
And the fireworks were outstanding. From New Zealand, Australia, China, in Moscow, Paris, London, the newscasts were stunning. The show in Washington, D.C. was spectacular.
Then we hit Times Square in New York, and they somehow looked different, jarring, garish. It took me a few minutes to pinpoint my uneasiness. It was the billboards. They were everywhere. The neon and colored lights outshined the pyrotechnics. The beautiful crystal ball dropped down to a Discover Card billboard. It was the ultimate in commercial crassness.
I was embarrassed for my country.
And, as a former licensed pyrotechnician, I was also more than a little concerned. As all the fireworks were busy going off above Times Square, tons and tons of confetti were tossed off the tops of buildings. My heart was in my throat, wondering if the confetti was paper, and if there wasn't a real danger of an explosion a la the grain silos flash fires that happen every now and then in the Midwest. Suspend tiny particles of a combustible material in a confined space, toss in an ignition source, even a tiny one, and watch the whole thing blow up in your face.
But like the Y2K thing, whether through careful planning or dumb luck, nothing happened.
December wasn't all roses, of course. News of violence at home and around the world abounded.
But maybe even that was not a bad thing. At least we learned about it. We're looking at it. We're not dismissing it or turning away.
Three decades ago Noam Chomsky could legitimately chastise the New York Times and other media for ignoring the plight of East Timor, while lavishing attention on Cambodia. Chomsky accused the NYT of provincialism, of caring only about violence that had an impact on US corporate interests.
This past year East Timor and other obscure parts of the world were regularly in the headlines. We are more aware of our prejudices, and we have more media outlets, including the internet, through which we can learn what is happening, down the road and around the world.
I believe that part of the paradigm shift we are experiencing is an over-the-top disgust with violence. We will be finally asking the questions of why we tolerate it, in individuals and in nations. And I think we will be figuring out ways of doing something about it.
I don't know what, just yet. I'm only the 87th monkey. But I am suddenly more optimistic about the survival of the planet than I have been in years.
Jean Hay writes these columns from her organic raspberry farm in Dixmont, Maine
To Top of This Page