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Humanity vs. Chemistry  RSS feed

 
Josef Theisen
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I was pondering humanities seemingly arbitrary relationship with chemistry and had a few thoughts that I feel are worth sharing.

It seems to me that the basis for our morality in using chemicals to do our bidding is rooted in the classic literary conflicts. In a conflict that is man vs. man, such as a sporting event, war, or dating, the direct use of chemical agents to gain a competitive advantage is considered immoral. Similarly in man vs. self, as in the case of any type of self medicating or drug use, it is generally at least frowned upon, and then some. It is only when the conflict is man vs. nature, as in farming, building, pest control, or a doctor prescribing medications; that we take a no holds barred approach and support such action. Given our natural history, I can understand why this is the case. But what would it take to get us to treat the natural world with a similar sense of fair play?


I am quite confident that if we, as a society, started giving pesticide using farmers the same treatment Lance Armstrong has received lately, no legislation could hope to match the results.
 
Matt Smith
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Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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Interesting. I think you're onto something here.

This discussion could suffer from confusion unless you are willing to define what you mean by "chemistry" as specifically as you can here. For at it's most basic level, chemistry is utterly ubiquitous.

Can I infer that by "chemistry" you mean the application of chemical substances that have the power to largely prevent or change the natural order of things?

I phrase it in those terms because (just to play devil's advocate for a moment):
Man vs. man: A seductresses' use of a familiar perfume to influence the actions of a man would be considered far more moral than a man slipping some poor girl a mickey.
Man vs. Self: A man drinking caffeinated coffee is generally considered moral, while the same man dosing himself with heroin is considered immoral (Although I fear this particular example has more to do with cultural norms than chemistry)

In both instances chemistry is being used, but the difference is in intent and degree.
 
Josef Theisen
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You make a fine point, unfortunately I lack the technical background to make that definition. I was thinking more in terms of the direct vs. indirect uses of our chemistry prowess. With perfume and gunpowder being examples of indirect, while roofies and agent orange are used for direct results.

Caffeine is an interesting one though. When compared to other drugs, it is only criticized in extreme overuse, and even then in a comic light.

This whole line of thinking really is just an exploration of the cultural norms of chemistry, or more specifically how things that horrify me can be accepted as normal. But I do realize that I am generalizing quite a bit, as watering your vegetables can correctly be called a direct chemical application.
 
Matt Smith
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Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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When I think of these issues I tend to think of them as being rooted most deeply in man's conception of his idealized self as opposed to his perception of nature.

Perhaps we look down upon utilizing chemistry to degrade one's self or cheat in 'battle' because doing so moves us farther from what is generally agreed to be the human ideal?

Whereas we have been raised to understand that nature is primarily a source for raw materials and commodities capable of furthering human goals and development. With ourselves as the center of our understanding and "Human Progress" as our primary goal, many undesirable things can be justified. If we had all been raised on the ideal that a dense and complex interdependence between man and nature was the ideal towards which we should strive, our society would have grown and structured itself differently.

Moving down from the philosophical realm...

It will be hard to fully vilify all the nasty chemistry that goes into our modern system of food productions, simply because the population at large has been sold on the lie that the status quo (with all it's drawbacks) is the only viable option to produce food on the scale it needs to be produced. Even if people know it is 'evil', they will still accept it because they have not been presented with any alternative that seems viable.

So whereas Lance Armstrong needs only one screwup to fall from his image of impossible superhuman grace, the agro-chemical industry can churn out disaster after disaster and still remain firmly entrenched as a "necessary evil" until an alternative becomes widely understood.
 
Matt Smith
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Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
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I am also loathe to vilify the farmers themselves. They are as much victims in the system as anyone, perhaps most so.

And if the system really is to change, I believe they must be on board as part of the solution.
 
Rufus Laggren
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I think you point to good thinking material, Josef! In the late '70s (I'm guessing) there was a book named "Three Farms" that described the destruction and self destruction of three very different types of farm life in the United States. In all cases the farmers felt sincerely that they had no other choices, that they were doing the best and most proper thing in every way that they could.

To me it looks, most broadly, as a case of skewed identity: We don't identify with "nature" and thus can say it's OK to do anything that serves our purposes in that area. Total impunity morally speaking because our self preservation reflexes (sorta speak) don't kick in. And yes, I think morality is an extension of self preservation.

Perhaps the Judea Christian culture has fostered this since "... fill the earth and subdue it..." and "Rule over... every living creature..." (found in Genesis) kind of gives carte blanche and sets up a man vs. nature framework. But I suspect all our biblibcal translations reflect "local" attitudes found in Europe and molded to serve the vested interests. Self sufficiency and respectful relationships with nature don't make good building blocks or levers for large scale socio/political manipulations.

Rufus
 
wayne stephen
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I believe the schism of Man vs. Nature is rooted in spirituality in general , not just the Judeo/Christian / Western Rational ethic. Bhuddism teaches the world is an illusion , Yogic thought views nature and flesh as lower spiritual planes. When science demanded proof of spirit and did not find any it left spirituality behind. Became cold and clinical. But science has now reformed and atoned . Neil DeGrasse-Tyson professes we are made of actual star dust . Richard Dawkins professes we are apes who walked out of Africa and share kinship with all living things. Even bacteria. Perhaps there is still chance of salvation in scientific thought. Permaculture is scientifically progressive , the cutting edge of agricultural and ecological experimentation. Neil DeGrase Tyson , an atheist astronomer, was asked by an evangelist what he would say if he knew he would die today - would he atone and believe in God? He answered " I have dined on flora and fauna to live , now let flora and fauna dine on me so that life may continue. " That is science , that is spirituality , that is permaculture. Certainly the Chemists can also atone .
 
Josef Theisen
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I don't know... Did the spirituality cause the culture? or the other way around? I guess that's a little deeper than I was ready to go. And maybe chemistry is not even at issue, as this same difference of treatment can be applied to other human activities. (FYI it is never ok to rototill people)

Perhaps the real issue I'm trying to understand is a difference in understanding and the ability to empathize. Rescuing a cute fuzzy animal from sickness or injury seems to be a fairly universal virtue. I think it's learning about the natural worlds ways that is making certain widely accepted activities hard to stomach for me. I won't vilify a farmer for farming, but I can vilify anyone who needlessly murders trillions of my friends.
 
Tyler Ludens
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For related thoughts, here's this thread: http://www.permies.com/t/18210/ancestral-skills/animism-alien-nation-recovering-natural
 
Josef Theisen
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wayne stephen wrote: - would he atone and believe in God? He answered " I have dined on flora and fauna to live , now let flora and fauna dine on me so that life may continue. "


I love that quote, the idea of embalming has freaked me out for a long time. Incineration isn't much better, anyone know of a good human composting facility?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Josef Theisen wrote:anyone know of a good human composting facility?


These folks are working on one: http://www.herlandforest.org/ (actually a natural burial site, not composting! )

Depending on your state laws, it may be possible to be buried without embalming.

Here's a site with a listing of the laws pertaining to natural burial in Wisconsin, you'll have to look up the actual statutes, there don't seem to be links: http://naturalburial.coop/USA/wisconsin/
 
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