Religion, Spirituality, and Psychedelics

I grew up in a very conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christian home. Both my parents were theology students who met in seminary, but the details on how I am somewhat fuzzy. I think around the age of six or so, given that the only narrative that I was exposed to was the metaphor of Christianity it was impressed upon me the need to live a Godly life and so I became “born again” / asked JC to live in my heart. In retrospect, I don’t think this is an appropriate age for one to make this kind of decision, especially when it’s the only worldview one is exposed to, but at the time I think my intentions were as genuine as they could be for a seven year old probably scared of hell, wanting to be a good Christian to make my parents happy, not having good media literacy skills as a child, and believing these stories to be true; and, of course, because I loved Jesus.
 
Anyways, for most of my primary education I attended a religious Christian school and always loved reading the bible, even if I didn’t like dressing up for chapel on Fridays, or Church on Sunday morning and night, or the Wednesday night prayer meetings. Because my parents were theology students and good Christians to boot, we always had concordances lying about: English-Koine [Greek] dictionaries, and English-Hebrew dictionaries to look up the meaning of the original scriptures. Also because I grew up in an essentially a fundamentalist Baptist church (a GARBC Baptist church –fundamentalist in structure, but because they make the distinction they are GARBC they aren’t technically fundamentalist), the emphasis was on the consequences of sin and moral righteousness instead of other strains of Christianity that emphasize love, Christ-consciousness, and humility. From as long as I can remember till I was about ten years old I was winning awards in Sunday school and getting all-expense trips paid to the local Christian camp because I would be the one who memorized the most Bible verses. Being a Christian was cool and I was afraid for the souls of people who weren’t. I remember giving those little orange New Testaments to boys who lived down the street from me so they could hear about Jesus, get saved, and go to heaven too. The strains of Christianity I was exposed to were socially conservative and the only community I really knew growing up was the church. I also went to the same primary school that was in the same building as my church and where my mother taught. Some examples of how conservative my family was: we were not allowed to watch television (except for Christian movies), listen to secular music (or any music that had percussion in it) because beat driven music, and, by proxy, dancing is how the devil influences you to have premarital sex–as I learned one day in vacation Bible school. For a time, Christian pop was also deemed secular music and I remember one day my mother destroying my eldest brother’s DC Talk CD that he had bought because my mom didn’t think  “rap” could edify God. I think I was about 13 years old too when I had covertly acquired a Savage Garden CD and would listen to the track “Truly Madly Deeply” and thinking about how romantic yet risqué the lyrics “I wanna stand with you on a mountain, I wanna bathe with you in the sea, I wanna lay like this forever, until the sky falls down on me..” were, haha. Scandalous!
 
Anyways, like I said the emphasis was on the “Old Testament” and I was always looking stuff up and insatiably curious about the religion of Jesus, Judaism. Even though I knew English translations of the bible, like the King James Version was the work of poor scholarship in all its Elizabethan English glory, I was still curious about the translations and why words were translated in certain ways and the exploded and multiple meanings of words in Hebrew. I eventually became very interested and involved in studying Judaism from an outsider’s and eventually somewhat emic perspective. I was fascinated looking at the rich traditions of Jewish scholarship in reading and interpreting the bible.  I was (and still am) convinced that the Hebrews/Jews have a better approach to engaging spiritually, yet exegetically, with their sacred texts. Given that Jesus was a Jew, Judaism was the only other religion that my parents, and later just my mother because my parents divorced when I was about 7, permitted me to openly learn about. When I was 14, for my birthday my mother gifted me a side-by-side English-Hebrew Tanakh to encourage my bible studies. As a 13 year old, I used to hang out at length in the Yahoo chatroom for Chasidic Jews and learned all that I could from them about their take on the Bible, the status of Jesus (whom they titled “Yokshe” or “may his name be blotted”), and for a time, I fancied myself a homemade Jew-for-Jesus.
Additionally, I began to question some of the literalist tendencies in fundamentalist and evangelical churches. This largely stemmed from my time intensely studying the Bible, and time spent with my Chasidic friends online that pointed out glaring textual inconsistencies in the New Testament with the Hebrew bible, the way Christians restructured the books of the Bible, and how the Roman Catholic councils that canonized the bible ascribed authorship to the gospels to individuals (ie. Christ’s apostles) that is historically unsubstantiated. The ways that Jews competitively yet respectfully argue back and forth over the meaning of a single sentence because of the multiple meaning of a single word in that sentence to me pointed to a way reading the bible that felt closer to realizing the sacred nature of the Hebrew bible which revealed the mysterious glory of G-d that is beyond conceptual embodiment, personification, and literalization. It’s a very different tradition of Bible study where a pastor or priest who claims to be learned in the bible, but in all likelihood is just trained in his particular strain of theological analysis and apologetics, presents a lecture to an audience either intent on conveying the moral soundbite from a particular story, or form a grandiose metaphysical assertion based on a twisted form of Jungian divination or schizoid associative logic through selective reading/framing of passages purportedly linked through “symbolism.” I still think that to literalize most spiritual teachings results in a degraded understanding, but that the tendency to do this largely stems out of Western post-enlightenment history where religious institutions and ideologues feel like they are competing for ontological territory with cosmogonies perceived as incompatible or incomplete. At this stage in my life, I felt very comfortable intellectually deconstructing Christianity, pointing out where things didn’t make sense, or passages that couldn’t both simultaneously be literally true. My practices weren’t Jewish in that I observed Hanukah or anything, but my approach to studying the Bible is and not dismissing the very clear regulations in the Hebrew bible that many Christians denominations tend to cherry pick what they think is relevant.  This is where I began to doubt, but still Christianity was my primary and really the only lens that I knew through which to view reality.
 
However, before the age of 14 I also became inquisitive about other non-Abrahamic faiths and was somewhat frustrated with some the dismissive comments I would hear about other religions in church, Sunday school, and from other Christians in casual conversations. The best example of the most commonly heard glib remark about other religions (and sometimes other sects of Christianity) was that the gods they worshiped were actually demons. For me I thought this was absurd. I thought that people must not consciously think they are overtly worshiping false gods over Jesus and that no one would consciously regard their gods as demons or malevolent forces. I actually felt too that the idea that deities of other religions were actually demonic forces or fallen angels was incompatible with Jewish-Christian teaching and that other religions were likely devoid of any sort of spiritual agency, like the contest between Elijah and the pagans’ alters in I Kings chapter 18. My curiosity in other religions was firmly discouraged by virtually every Christian around me; the response I got by most was: Christianity is the only true religion and there’s no need to get confused by looking at the beliefs of false religions.
 
I also thought that I could communicate telepathically and thought that this is what prayer was and used to try to project my thoughts into the universe. I was interested in representations of the supernatural and “magic” as I saw glimpses of it on TV at my friends’ houses whose parents weren’t as strict as mine.  Additionally, my church would have these topical pamphlets that I loved reading that would warn about the dangers of real satanic spiritual forces and the horrible things that happened to well-meaning people who got involved in the occult in the pursuit of power and magic. My Sunday school teachers would also warn us about the spiritual dangers of Ouija boards and recount personal stories about having seen them fly across the room. I would try to see if crystals might actually have magical powers, I would draw portals like what I saw on the TV show Ghost Writer, and was interested in potentially possessing magical powers, but mostly poking fun outwardly at these naive concepts of magic.  I remember being skeptical of but fascinated by magic as a child and wondering to myself how can a physical object have influence over the supernatural or a spiritual entity. Putting my doubtful mind aside, I researched to the best of my ability at the time everything I could find out about magick. I think it’s fair to say I was a precocious 13 year old. I designed my own language using a mix of scripts that I developed by looking at the history of each letter in the English language in those old World Encyclopedia sets and the language had its own particular pronunciation, grammar, and spelling. One day in seventh grade at the Christian school I was attending I was joking with a friend in class about having magical powers and there was a girl sitting in on our class whose parents were considering sending her to my school. Apparently, my jokes about having psychic powers spooked this girl and she went to her parents and told them students were practicing witchcraft. Her parents decided to not to enroll their daughter and to inform the administration about my occult activity. I was actually suspended for a week while my school investigated my activity in the occult and confronted me with my own ingenuity of creating my own language as evidence of me casting runes, made me apologize for my satanic activity to my entire class (only 15 kids, but hey still embarrassing), and gave me the equivalent of a protestant exorcism–the pastor of the church and the principal of the school took me alone into their office and laid their hands on me to pray the demon in my life would come out and I was forced to say a prayer renouncing the devil. This experience prompted me to really try to understand what it is people believe instead of generalizing about their practices and approaching it through the chauvinistic attitude that my beliefs must correct.

I have since extensively studied the history, rites, and beliefs of Christianity–many major and minor denominations: Catholicism, The Eastern Orthodox and Coptic churches, Lutherans, Anglicans, Mennonites, Wesleyans, the many varieties of Baptists and their theological idiosyncrasies, Universal Unitarians, Pentecostals, Jehovah Witnesses, etc. I studied Judaism in Reform, Reconstructivist, Orthodox, and Chasidic varieties. I studied various cults of Hinduism (Vishnu, Krishna, Kali), some Buddhist teachings, Islam, Baha’i, Druze, Bön, indigenous spiritual healing traditions, or “shamans,” worldwide and I studied neo-pagan religions like Wicca, Asatru, and Neo-Druidism, Voodoo, alongside various strains of occultism (Golden Dawn, Rosicrusianism, IOT, Chaos Magick, Gnosticism, etc). The place where I grew up was actually a wonderful place to study neo-pagan or earth based religions as the largest neo-pagan festival in North America, Starwood, used to be held about 45 minutes from my hometown. Once I started getting in my teens and able to assert that I didn’t want to go to church anymore at around 15, I started exploring the local religious landscape. There were lots of Rainbow Family gatherings and other alt-lifestyle and hippie festivals around and I met and came to know many Wiccans, neo-druids, aspiring occultists and ritual magicians, among others. I would also go to all the local religious centers in my town. For my job-shadowing day in economics in high school I job-shadowed a Wesleyan minister, one day I went to the local Islamic center, and on another occasion one day I stumbled into the Tibetan Buddhist meditation center.  Growing up I’ve met many wiccans who invited me to participate in various rites in their circle, a friendly ex-army bisexual and bipolar artist-occultist who taught me a lot about lucid dreaming and other kinds of dreamwork, witches in the licensed herbalist sense who taught me to respect and identify plant spirits, friendly Green Tara adepts who taught me how to be aware of my breathing and steady my mind, a kind Muslim Palestinian man who was the first person ever to show me how to write my name in Arabic and who couldn’t believe I was searching for truth at age 15, a yoga instructor strung out on LSD raving about the universal abstract that is the Dao, vampyres in southern California who wanted to teach me pranayama, among many other strange and beautiful human creatures, some insightful and many deranged. 

 
The biggest effect that psychedelics have had on my perspectives towards religion and spirituality is that my first mushroom trip at around age 18 really allowed me to break out of only being able to think in Christian metaphor. It gave me a fresh break to build and embody other models of the universe, to consider things on their own terms more fully, and taught me that I can choose what past experiences rule my life.  I think that I should add that from the time I was 13-15 I tried to kill myself repeatedly after I became more acutely aware of my sexuality and I couldn’t I couldn’t successfully “pray away the gay” no matter how much I begged G-d to transform me.  A lot of my self-hatred stemmed from how I knew that same-sex sex is not okay from a biblical point of view, and how my peers would unabashedly let me know how disgusting being a fag is. Part of my insecurity and self-hatred about my sexuality also was in part because I was sexually abused as a child and it was difficult for me to resolve the difference between the desires I felt, what was actually abuse, and being able to explain to lovers why I was so weird about sex.  I’ve also been subject to various forms of emotional and physical violence and alienation growing up and psychedelics have truly helped me heal to where I can acknowledge these events but I don’t let them define me. I see people who have gone through similar life experiences as me, and the one’s who have turned to psychedelics as a source of spiritual truth seem to become burnt out hippies full of conspiracy theories, or they got into Heroin and are addicts, but most of those guys are now dead from ODs. 😦 Psilocybin Mushrooms gave me permission to stop believing and the mental space to approach phenomena without expectations. Keeping these insights and making them real is a whole other matter.
 

I think too what psychedelics have done for me is to me help me retain emotional openness and curiosity to the seemingly incorporeal realms of the mind and non-ordinary, sublime, and mystical states. I still retain the intellectual tendency to interpret these experiences critically and am more interested in what people can do with their spiritual practices than what they believe. It’s important as a spiritual pilgrim to be careful too: there are many charlatans out there who will scam you for a buck or for whom you are just another notch on their Christ-post and don’t really care about you as an individual. Any mature practitioner who truly believes as a matter of conviction and isn’t using belief as a tool to achieve various goals I think should struggle with doubt instead of risk being deluded with certainty. I recognize that Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths can be profoundly transformative and empower certain individuals to accomplish great things, but these system doesn’t work for me in that I have found them experientially empty, the power of Christ was incapable of transforming aspects of my personality that I now no longer want to change, and I have a hard time with someone who claims to be a true spiritual adept and identifies with words that have political histories rife with oppressing others.

Personally, at this point in my life I find aesthetically distasteful the spiritual systems centered around literary scholarship. What a degradation indeed it is for one’s sense of relationship to the divine to derive from indoctrination with religious documents that outline moral modes of conduct. I also question the validity of claims that an autonomous and extrinsic god, or any entity, can only be discovered through language and via analysis of certain sets of sacred texts. Genuine Christian, Mulsim, Yazidi, Jew, or not,  my general response to this is if G-d or any deity wants to talk to me s/he can call me on my cell phone because I don’t have time to sift through cryptic multi-meaning messages anymore. If this dimension of human experience is important to you, it’s vital to listen and to approach spiritual teachings with the burden of a true seeker. Be vigilant in keeping your heart and mind guarded from the deranged, the misguided, and the capitalists, yet be open to receiving insights from the most unusual places.The universe is inside and all around you.  Expect it to communicate directly. Regard that which doesn’t as beautiful and sometimes violent noise.

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I wrote this at a gay club in Beirut called ghost.

As terrifying as embodiment may be, the only response to those who wish that we did not exist and by means of either politics or violence try to suppress us and erase our memories, our histories, and our individual and collective efforts to come into being is by becoming more vibrant, not by speaking LOUDER but by communicating BETTER, and by resisting the complacency of textual or digital projections of our surfaces-minds-dreambodies that keeps us safe but in perpetual states of partial-embodiment. Don’t just increase your pixel rate, resolution, or audio fidelity —live multidimensionally. In the words of Le Tigre: “Get off the internet! I’ll meet you in the street.” ♥

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Lebanon.

So far one if the things that makes me feel uncomfortable is that whenever i pass through some place that is run down or poor or dirty someone tells me that this is where the Muslims live. If someone is ugly or has a physical flaw the way someone interacts with them is based on their outward presentation of beauty. Ignore the trash and lack of proper receptacles for recycling on the side of the road, let me show you something designer, something grand and beautiful. This used to bother me when I interacted with my Lebanese family in the us because they are evangelical Christians and would try to correlate physical beauty or disease and health as a sign of approval or disapproval from G-d. I see so many people who are addicted to glamour here.  Not to say that is bad in itself, I’ve known plenty of models and classically beautiful people who are some of the least shallow individuals i know but perhaps have internalized caustic media message about who who they should be…it doesn’t have to be this grim though either. This reminds me of how I perceive American consumer culture to have emerged in the 1950s post WWI and II as  a means to conceal the atrocities of war. Perhaps it’s the parents who want their children to experience a joy that wasn’t possible in their era.

I  remember being told throughout my life how I shouldn’t feel poor having grown up in the US because comparatively i have so much more. In Lebanon, driving to my one of my cousins million dollar flats in the hills above Beirut, I am reminded of the times my family had to heat hot water on a stove to take baths during the winter because my mother couldn’t afford the bill for hot water and it was shut off and how I always had second hand clothes and how my mother would get free food from the church mission because she couldn’t afford to buy groceries. I was once told there’s a difference between being poor and not having any money and I think to a large extent this is true and have tried to live my life in the premise that material wealth is not a good indication of who someone is. I do wonder though what are the lifestyle choices that have made visible such dramatic economic disparities, how long this process took, and whether further exploration of the country will show me that there are poor christian districts and wealthy Muslim areas too.

I’ve always tried to understand what people viewed as abject, undesirable, dirty, or even what people label wrong or evil. I guess I’ve been labeled these things  by people who are preoccupied what is physically beautiful as these terms far too often in my life to look away when someone starts talking this way. One of the things I feel overwhelmed by here is the beauty of people here and how that confronts me with some of my own emotional ugliness. I’m not talking about physical beauty, although there is that too, but I’m talking about being overwhelmed with kindness, hospitality, and being witness to very intimate forms of non-Eros love. I am privy to this because I am capable of waving around the signifier of “family” which has powerful currency here, unlike the us, even amongst my Leb family in America. To date, an uncle that I haven’t met in analog yet is the only person to tell me that is proud of me. He told me this through an IM chat conversation where it was just he and i talking, mind-to-mind interaction facilitated trough the web and even though we are on completely different continents and I’ve not physically met him, I could still feel his affection towards me.

Whenever I would go to see my Leb family in the US, the announcement of their love and affection towards me always felt like a performance that was intended more for the third party viewers to this spectacle rather than a heart felt expression of affinity towards me.  Their expressions of love towards me has always felt empty. Maybe I’m romanticizing the people here too much and giving people too much credit. I’m in a totally different environment and perhaps people here are just fulfilling their cultural expectations of warmth towards those who return from the diaspora. The other day I was approached by no less than six people who looked as me with excited gleams in their eyes and said “::gasp:: Ibn Hanna?!!!” and then proceeded to kiss me incessantly. None of them could tell me their relationship to my dad and I was reminded of his funeral where I saw people who I knew he hadn’t contact with for over ten years and had essentially abandoned him during some fucked up shit that happened between my parents, the truth of which I will never really know, who were all in their performative role of grief/relief that they could close a chapter of awkwardness in their life. The one person who I saw in what I perceived to be a true state of grief was the woman who had managed the assisted living home he lived at and who helped me arrange to meet him.

Returning to being confronted with my own emotional ugliness, this statement stems from the coldness I feel towards most of the members of my immediate family, particularly my mother and my mothers family. We have histories that have led to this coldness and recently my mother has tried to reinsert herself into my life, but I am not sure if she is genuine or if she needs information about my life so she perform being a good mother to her social network. Why then if I’ve been so quick to reject the idea that sharing DNA with someone does not make them your family seem to apply to the people I am related to in the United States? When I first was informed of the hazy existence of my Leb family in Lebanon my desire to find them was based out of selfishness and that too was perhaps what motivated me to connect with my Leb family in the US also. I feel like I fucked those relationships up a bit about not being honest above who I am from the beginning but I also know that I’ve kept certain aspects of myself discreet out of fear of rejection, misunderstandings, or more violence and hatred.

I also wanted to more generally understand this part of the world. Living in the US  is a media bubble, where war is total simulacra and form of entertainment where I can just change the channel and forgot about it. I live every day not experiencing the consequences of war or being able to look it directly in the face.

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طرابلس‎

Listless boys in the middle of the road selling gum. Army guys wearing purple berets and rifles. Women in designer hijabs. Women in shabby hijabs. Guys with flashy shoes and tshirts. Jeans. Me being the Whitest person on the beach. going out for sweets and having my znoud il sit experience tainted by receiving messages from people who are not a part of my life and think they they’re privy to my personal life here. Hearing the call to prayer. Heat at 8pm. No rules to traffic everywhere cars are honking not because they’re mad but because it serves as a guide for traffic. Lebanese red cross vehicle. Knowing I’m missing a lot by writing this. Beat up cars and BMWs . Part of the road closed for a wedding. Trash. Hibiscus trees. no rules for traffic. Foxy guy sucking his teeth. Lots and lots of banks. Hot dog billboard. People on mopeds weaving through traffic. No rules to traffic. Army vehicle with men in black berets. Ten story apt complexes. Palm trees and the sea to my left. Produce stand on the side of the road. More Apts. signs in Arabic and English and French. Buildings clustered together like crystal habits. The smell of cars oil an rubber and petrol. Arabic music. Tripoli.

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What’s The Matter With GMOs –A response to Vandana Shiva.

After reading “What’s the big deal about GMOs anyways?” I was really disappointed for the umpteenth time with the organic movement for creating panic and anxiety in the completely wrong direction. This article is a classic example of uninformed “naturalists” who don’t know how to differentiate Recombinant DNA Technology, Transgenics, and Genetically Modified Organisms/Foods from some of the corporate policies that abuse this technology. This is pathetic. The self-proclaimed “eco-crusaders” waging ontological war against a process that is widely observed in nature only serves to manipulate the consumer public into making fear-based decisions based on distorted science, and stunts legitimate discourse on how to anticipate and minimize the ecological impacts of GMOs, as well inhibits the possibility for the public to actively participate in creating regulation policies. My response will attempt to disentangle some of the skewed data presented in this article and to specifically address the biological science regarding GMOs.

First, authors Dana Blinder and Leah Zerbe, haphazardly mix issues with health concerns regarding GMOs with those of epidemiological import. Their concern over the development of super-bugs (penicillin resistant gonorrhea, the emergence of the NDM-1 enzyme, etc) represent issues of globalization in general, and also are the result from the over-prescription of and failure to properly use contemporary antibiotic therapies. This does not relate specifically to food consumption and GMOs, or their global-corporate developers. Also, while Diabetes and Obesity are a growing health concern in industrialized and developing nations, this is not the result of GMOs particularly either; rather, it results largely from the increase in caloric intake which characterize modern diets coupled with a decrease in energetic costs in obtaining food. In bio-anthropological and nutritional research.  This is understood as the result of a mismatch of contemporary lifestyles and environments with genomes that developed during the Old Stone Age, the Paleolithic –-a time characterized by hunter-and-gatherer modes of subsistence, where Homo sapiens’ body adapted to maximize fat intake. The switch to agricultural modes of subsistence, and the exponential rate of cultural evolution which has occurred since the industrial revolution has not been enough time for contemporary human populations to adapt and develop regulatory mechanisms to cap this influx of calories that has increased exponentially in the past few hundred years. However, it is also important to note that the Human Genome has NOT remained static since the switch to agriculture, which occurred approximately 11,000 years ago. Gluten tolerance is one of the main genetic features of many –but not all- contemporary human populations; gluten tolerance reflects evolutionary pressure from switch to grain diets, which characterize the agricultural model that gave rise to the increase in population density seen in the present era, the Anthropocene.

When Vendana Shiva talks about the creation of two new toxic forms of food: herbicide-resistant crops and Bt toxic crops there is legitimate cause to be concern over corporate policies in some specific instances.  First though, I would like to address the incoherence of Vananda Shiva as she dizzyingly invokes fear over poisonous effects of GMOs on human diets and then discusses Bt-cotton. Um, I thought we were talking about food here. I would also like to point out that most researchers (and organic farmers alike) view Bt-toxins as ecologically safe.   I would also like to point out that the one of the first GM foods available on consumer markets, the Flavr Savr tomato, involved the deletion of a gene, rather the introduction from another or similar species. At the time of writing this, I am unaware of any data on whether transgene EPSPS CP4 is inherently mutagenic. However, there is still cause to be concerned when global corporate food companies use GMOs in dangerous and asocial ways.  Asocial instances involve gene patenting and branding of intellectual property rights to seeds and other organisms and the refusal of companies to release relevant data and methodology to other researchers to independently assess health concerns. The fields of biological and genetic engineering alongside nutritional science are very new and a full understanding of what we are doing will only thrive in a situation in which information and knowledge is freely shared across research facilities, including those in disparate fields such as academia and corporate sectors of development. Also, I personally dislike the business model that food corporations implement by asserting intellectual property rights and only offering GM crop seeds to farmers on a lease basis, but this is an issue that I feel can only be resolved through negotiations between seed suppliers and farmers themselves.

To then bring attention to a dangerous, and I would be as bold to say outright abuse of GMOs, comes from when developers engineer a food crop to be resistant to herbicides which have demonstrated a wide range of damaging ecological effects.  Unfortunately though, for we the consumers, food production giants have not yet found it financially compelling to adopt a model of GMO research and development that is open-source, social, and ecologically minded. This is no surprise with traditional forms of capitalism; although it isn’t enough to complain about the evils of capitalism and turn a blind eye to attempts of GMO technology to address nutritional deficits in certain populations, such as the case of bio-fortified rice, which is developed largely as an attempt to increase nutrient intake of poorer people in rural China, without increasing their food costs. What is disturbing though is the undulating waves of anti-GMO dissenters who use such distasteful terminology like “eco-crusaders” where the Naturalist Gestapo, through misunderstanding fundamental biology and the history of farming taint the reputation of transgenic technology and create a misguided media frenzy over the real health concerns stemming from corporate practices of mass food production.

So now, I’m really tired of hearing from the organics only crowd about the unnaturalness of transgenic gene splicing and the contrived dangers of transposons. These people really should have paid closer attention in genetics class. There are multiple instances of lateral gene transfer occurring outside laboratory contexts, and not just in microorganisms; lateral gene transfer has given rise to a great deal of biological complexity we observe today and occurs not just across genus either, from plant to plant, but also across Kingdoms, from fungi to aphids. Also, the concern of emergence of the NDM-1 enzyme producing gene and the ability to “jump”/exchange this trait with other types of bacteria, alongside the fear that other transgenes will escape into the wild, is also accomplished by horizontal gene flow.

Proponents of traditional agricultural methods must recognize their techniques are not completely neutral in its ecological effects either; know your history before you critique others please. The ancestor of Corn, Teosinte, underwent dramatic genomic expansion after becoming an object of domestication to agriculturalists. Another example that hits close to home would be to mention the genetically uniform modern seedless Banana. The Chiquita® Organic Banana, available on consumer markets despite geographic location or seasonality, since becoming domesticated has become completely dependent on human involvement in reproduction via artificial selection and cloning. Since when is nature a registered trademark?

ancestor to corn

I agree, we need to be cautious, because we really have no idea how we are affecting the planets ecosystem by introducing a mass flux of transgenic organisms with no native habitat; however, this isn’t just a stringency issue for transgenic foods, it also applies to traditional agriculture. What I find to be a quite disturbing existential dilemma is when corporate food giants create transgenic organisms for mass consumption; yet don’t treat them like they are unique and special. Instead businesses worry about maximizing profits, market shares, dividends, and don’t care about public safety or ecological repercussions. I’m not a fan of capitalism in general, but this particular form of it needs to be obsoleted right now. I do think it’s sad that we have to invent ways to make more enriched foods instead of distributing resources in a manner in which we aren’t starving off sectors of the global population, but anti-GMO crusaders like Vendana Shiva need to take a closer look at the history of women’s rights and the types of social stratification introduced by sedentary agriculturalist societies.

Interestingly, there is a new consumer item on the available in groceries stores across North America currently, which may catalyze a dialogue between transgenic folks and the traditional agriculturalists: Orange Cauliflower. Orange Cauliflower, high in Vitamin A and beta-carotene content, developed by agriculturalists at Cornell University using traditional farming methods –this is an excellent platform for transgenicists and traditional agriculturalists to engage in non-competitive discourse over the nature of nature, evolution, natural and artificial selection, and human involvement in the biosphere.

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