Ask Surly Amy: GMO’s and Superbugs

Dear Amy,
As a proud skeptic I have always defended GM foods as a necessary and wonderful lifesaving measure. However, I recently found a study online about how the corn rootworm has developed a resistance to the GM pesticides and fears of ‘superbugs’ evolving are echoing across the net. I am always willing to change my mind in the face of new evidence, but I’m not yet convinced that this evidence is robust enough. Since you seem to be so great at getting in touch with scientists, could you dig up an etymologist or an agriculturist to set my mind at ease?


Dear Harley,

The first thing I did after I read your message was to email our entomologist pal, Bug Girl. Bug had this to say:

The study is legit–the problem is that people haven’t paid attention to refugia, and have created a situation where resistance is inevitable. Eventually, insects will become resistant to whatever we throw at them. We can, however, change our behavior to make that less likely.

Who or what is to blame?

The problem is not specifically the GMO corn crops themselves. Like Bug said, insects will eventually become resistant to whatever we try to use against them be that organic, genetically produced or chemical pesticides. The problem that we see happening with corn root-worms is happening in part because the farmers are not planting buffer zones of non-modified corn and/or they are not rotating their crops with soy or other vegetables.

This article from Western Farm Press goes into detail on the topic of insect resistance and corn crops and uses a pest called the European corn borer as an example. It was an earlier pest that threatened to destroy corn crops before GMO corn came onto the market. From the article:

In a 2010 paper in Science, Gray and colleagues from several Midwestern universities reported that the introduction of Bt corn in 1996 led to a profound and lasting reduction of the European corn borer across the upper Midwest.

This success was in large part due to two factors, Gray said. First, it was relatively easy to get high levels of the Bt proteins in above-ground corn tissues, on which corn borers feed. And second, regulators required farmers who used Bt corn to provide large buffer zones, called refuges, planted with non-Bt corn. The refuges would supply a lot of Bt-susceptible insects to mate with those that survived exposure to Bt and were thus resistant to the toxin, to reduce the development of Bt-resistant strains.

It would seem that the appearance of less bugs from high use of pesticides is proof that the crops are doing what they should by fighting off pests. The reality however, is that without buffer crops or rotating crops the insects that do survive, because they have developed a resistance to the pesticide, will interbreed and then create more insects with a high resistance. The buffer crops help because the non-resistant insects breed with the resistant ones and that can slow down overall pesticide resistance. Rotating crops can help as well because a pest that likes to eat corn probably will not like to eat soy and that in turn breaks or slows down the cycle.

Corn rootworm. Illustration from

There are also a lot of financial reasons why farmers are not planting buffer crops and overusing pesticides thus resulting in resistant insects. And it is not just the corn itself. Growers are adding additional pesticides to the soil as well as a sort of “crop insurance plan”.

From the Western Farm Press article again:

For corn in central Illinois, the average non-land costs – things like fertilizer, seed, crop insurance and machinery – come to about $513 an acre,” Gray said. Cash rent can add another $325 an acre for high-yield ground, he said. “So I think a lot of the growers see $20 to $25 dollars to apply a soil insecticide as pretty cheap insurance to protect that $850 investment.”

Landowners are raising rents in this competitive arena, some lenders encourage growers to do everything in their power to protect their yields, and federal incentives have lowered the cost of crop insurance for growers who use Bt corn, Gray said. So there are a lot of reasons for farmers to keep doing what they have been doing.

Rent and corn prices are high and it is not feasible for growers to switch crops each year.

It is not the genetically modified food that is solely to blame for resistant pests. It is important to be skeptical when people immediately blame the idea of genetically modified foods. It is very easy to point fingers when one doesn’t understand how a process works. And yes, as Harley mentioned above, GMO crops are indeed going to be more and more important as time goes on as we will need to feed more and more people. We as a society need to understand how to properly use these plants and not to simply throw out the technology because it is not a perfect solution.

In summary, it is a vicious cycle and the bugs and insects will do whatever they can to evolve and survive whether or not we grow plants with built in pesticides or whether we add our own organic or non-organic pesticides to the mix. Just remember that it is a complex issue and that GMO crops themselves are not where all the blame should be placed.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

*Corn photo by me.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. What people need to understand it that we cannot simply look for evidence and blithely make up our minds. We must also consider the Law of Unintended Consequences (also see Stochastity). We don't have much evidence of the dangers of geoengineering either; but that has DISASTER written all over it. When we monkey with genetics and natural systems, we allow our arrogance to overrule our respect for the complexity of the natural world. It also helps to remember that we humans are not as smart as we think we are.
    People still don't get why monoculture crops are a problem.

  2. I'm in favor of modifications that increase nutritional value of crops, but I'm not convinced the ones for weed killer or pest resistance will work in the long run. We're fighting evolution there and I'm not sure we're good enough to beat it yet.
    NPR ran an article on why Monsanto didn't think weeds would develop resistance to GMO crops:

  3. I think people who are looking for a simple answer whether all GMO crops are evil or good will be disappointed. The answer as to whether the companies that produce GMO crops are evil is easier. The answer is yes. Monsanto and similar companies have no profit motive to generate more food. Their motive is to sell more seeds. If their seeds produce more food it can be a selling point, but they can sell their seeds in other ways. If bugs become resistant to glycophosphate and BT so what? That's just another opportunity to generate a new seed type that everyone will have to buy. Who cares if farmers who used these pesticides responsibly are hurt too? Collateral damage, baby.

    Actually I do think GMO technology is partially to blame. It's like upgrading from conventional to nuclear weapons. As long as war as necessary there will be weapons. The thing that is different now is the environmental damage one company can do and the speed at which they can do it. Like nuclear weapons, however, you can't go backwards. Monsanto has the bomb and we all have to live with it. And eat it.


    1. "I think people who are looking for a simple answer whether all GMO crops are evil or good will be disappointed. The answer as to whether the companies that produce GMO crops are evil is easier."

    2. Like you, I am concerned about the fact that a "metric fuckton" of glyphosate is going to end up in MY food.
      In the quickies of Dec 30th, a certain Catch 22 was illustrated.
      Most commenters agreed that the meta-analysis reported in HufPo was crap, and that it was a bad way to do science.
      However I don’t know if everybody caught on that the GMO corn strains involved had not yet been approved for release and so were not yet available for better designed independent studies – by which time it would be too late.
      I was horrified at how crude the original Monsanto study was. An awful lot seemed to hang on the fate of the 10 rats in the test group.
      Please correct me if I have my facts wrong here.

      1. That reply was for Davew. For the record I am all for GMO's if due diligence is done and replicated in independent studies.

      2. Everyone needs to understand that this is happening in a small pocket of the US where as the article states the growers are not rotating their crops as they should. Not very many places can get away with zero rotation and still have a successful crop.

        Also this is happening because there is not a multiple mode of action to target the pest the gene is kind of a “silver bullet” in that it kills the pest and does it well whereas they target other pests with multiple modes of action so that resistance does not build up. Obviously Monsanto does not want resistance to happen or they would lose a money making technology.

        And for the poster that suggested they did not want to eat foods that are laden with glyphosate if you are eating non gmo crops the chemicals used to control non gmo crops are much more lethal or have a significat LD rating (lethal dose) compared to glyphosate and are not as easily broken down by the plant or the soil. Bringing glyphosate on the market has helped reduce the use of harmful herbicides

  4. Just about everything we eat has been genetically modified by humans. Some plants and animals have been modified by unnatural selection over thousands of years. Others have been manipulated recently in laboratories. For some reason, most people have no worries about the former, but there is rampant fear of the latter.

    1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think people become allergic to hybirdized crops, whereas GMOs have been blamed (by some) for the rise in wheat allergies.

      1. Looking up some of the primary literature, I'm inclined to say you're wrong,

        The National Academy of Sciences recently expressed this view in its 2004 report Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects, which stated, “The process of genetic engineering has not been shown to be inherently dangerous but rather, evidence to date shows that any technique, including genetic engineering, carries the potential to result in unintended changes in the composition of the food.”

        Looking up information on google finds me a lot of food wooites babbling about how science is the worst thing ever (slight hyperbole). I'm inclinded to believe that biotechnologists are doing what is humanly possible to ensure that GMO crops are safe.

        1. They don't seem to address the foreign proteins in wheat being an allergen. They do discuss Brazil nuts but I did not get the impression it was widespread. I looked around yesterday and this report it looks like they are acknowledging that non-food supply genes must be carefully considered to avoid allergic reactions.

      2. A relative of mine is reading a book about "wheat belly" and GMOs in general. She also believes in psychic healing, so….
        But what I always wonder is, what is the mechanism for our immune systems to recognise whether a plant has been genetically modified by modern means or by selective breeding? Unless there are trace chemicals left over from the process (I'll admit I know nothing about how this stuff is done), I always assumed that an atom is an atom is an atom: whether it got there because of forced plant sex or because of science shouldn't matter.
        So the "I'm allergic to GMOs," seems silly to me. I'll buy that there are a LOT of problems with our food systems (we can start with the fact that millions of people are currently starving and go from there), but I've come to believe that attacking GMOs "just because" is usually not the most effective or useful tactic.

        1. The mechanism would be that we added something to the plant which is also an allergen. But, that is why there is immunological testing done during the genetic engineering process.

          1. @Vene which sounded somewhat imperfect and still in the early stages of understanding. That's about the limits of my knowledge, but from what I've read, it sounds as though it's a work in progress. Not reassuring if GMOs are in full force decades before they are fully understood.

        2. It's not really the "atoms" they're worried about, it's the proteins. New ones not in the normal food supply that may be considered by the immune system to be an "intruder".

  5. I’m concerned that people, even those here, seem to think that GMO’s are either the “bestest thing evar” or evil. (or at least the companies behind them)

    Things are rarely that black or white, and evil? Really?

  6. "Things are rarely that black or white, and evil? Really?" I am in total agreement. I had a friend who called anyone she didn't agree with a Nazi. What did that mean?  A fascist, a member of the National Socialist Party, or just someone who didn't agree with you? Scientists and the agricultural industries work to produce disease and insect resistant crops with higher yields in extraordinarly bad situations. Its what they do. Thats how they make money and it is what the world demands. Its not good or evil and it may have unintended consequences. So does everything. The world is getting more populous not because we are running out of food, but because we are feeding it more. Not everyone, and not everywhere, but statistically we are producing more and better food now than ever. The only way we will not need to produce better and more food is if the population of the world starts to decrease, and that doesn't look like its going to happen anytime soon.

  7. Ah, but the world isn't "demanding" GMOs, they're being pushed on the world (sometimes despite quite a lot of resistance). This is particularly heinous in developing nations with large populations of poor people, which corporations that deal in chemicals (be it pesticides or pharmaceuticals) use as testing grounds because of either laxer laws that protect the public or lack of proper oversight that let's the corporations get away with it. If it was simply a matter of choice, then Monsanto would have no issue with proper labeling of GMOs so that people could make their own choices and "the market could speak". Monsanto's gone to great ends and used their considerable corporate strength to bully small farmers and to make sure end consumers don't know what they're buying. 
    On good and evil…I tend to stay away from the religious concept of evil and look at whether someone's or something's actions are constructive or destructive. Monsanto has shown themselves quite willing to be destructive for short term corporate gain even if it risks human health over the longterm. Their agenda is to make money and to create a monopoly vis a vis seeds (and a dependence upon them). Making money, in and of itself isn't "evil", doing so with rampant disregard of the consequences is socially destructive and anti-social behaviour. It's not like they support or promote public, non-commercial science on GMOs, and like pharmaceutical companies they are essentially more concerned with controlling public perception of their product to maximize profits (at least while that product is under patent) than they are with science.
    I always find it odd that people seem to believe that creating technologies using science is the same as practicing science for the sake of increasing knowledge and understanding. Quite often these two practices can actually be in competition, particularly if there's been a lot of money invested in a technology. Scientists may be willing to write off ten years of unproductive research when a new discovery points to it being a non-viable avenue of research (because it's actually about knowledge and understanding first) but corporations will seek to monetize all their research (even if it means suppressing unfavorable trials). 
    It really does science a disservice when we equate corporations involved in creating technologies (stuff and things, products) with science (a practice or process that is often used to create technologies but has knowledge as it's "product"). Or the belief that all scientists are automatically people of conscience who would never do anything for purely personal gain (corporations tend to pay much better than academia for a reason) – there are, of course, people of conscience who work for corporations (hence the whistleblowers that reveal the shenanigans that go on within corporations). While some people may be inclined to believe that biochemists employed by corporations must be working for the public good, that's just as naive and faith-based as simply believing GMOs are "evil". There's a lot of accummulated evidence that Monsanto (and most multinational corporations) are less interested in public health and the public good than they are in profits (and human costs be damned, particularly poor people).  Sure there are lots of other corporate interests on the alt med woo "side" that benefit from promoting the idea that GMOs are "evil" and misinformation, that doesn't actually make Monsanto the "good guy" – people really need to move beyond that simple Disney-esque good vs bad trope. Also being so defensive about science as always a "good thing" (science is neutral, it's what we do with the knowledge that is ethical or not) and automatically defending multination corporations creating technologies as if they're practing an equivalent to non-aligned academic science is, well, is just another form of ideological woo and not dealing with the real complexity of the world.

  8. That sounds about 2 bowls of popcorn from a conspiracy theory. I worked for Merck Medco back in the day, and those guys do design drugs to serve a purpose and make a profit, but they are also very aware of public opinion, which is why drug companies want to get out of the vaccine programs for fear of lawsuits and bad publicity because of anti vaccinators.  I was there during the Vioxx scare and it almost destroyed the company. The story that you don't get to hear about Vioxx was the people begging Merck to put it back on the market and it eventually was with the "black label". I don't know how many times I heard " I would rather die than be in this amount of pain, when are they going to put it back on the market?".   But the company was also found to be using deceptive tactics and settled in the millions. Would people have taken it with the warning. I am sure they would and are, but they deserved to be informed, I agreed with that decision. They also have donated millions and millions of dollars and medicine to developing African countries to prevent disease.  Does that make them good? Of course not but it is nice.  When I said the world demands these things, the demand is enough food to survive, no matter how it is achieved.  The world may not "say" they want this, but in order to keep living food has to come from somewhere.  GMO is one way and should be pursued.  Norman Borlaug saved more lives through his interbreeding wheat programs and scientific studies of wheat gentics than everyone on this blog put together (unless he posted something and I missed it ) He also did it with big corporation money. People die with substinence farming, it is too unpredictable and not practical for large scale world populations.  Bottom line, if we continue breeding, we need food. How are we going to get that  backyard gardens? I don't think so. Absolute trust in multinational corporations? Of course not. We have to weigh the human benefits versus possible tragedies. Stay vigilant and informed. 

    1. It's not a conspiracy theory, it's just a critical look at the reality of lobbyists, PR, how litigation is used and how multinational corporations that are beholden to stockholders (that want ever increasing profits) function. I actually see it more as a systemic problem than one of "evil" individuals conspiring to commit atrocities. (Though, obviously there are people in this world who make a tidy profit out of covering up unethical behaviour of all kinds, as well as committing it. Some people also value money and their own physical and psychological comfort over the health and safety of others.) I don't think actual scientists are conspiring to do "evil", it's just human nature to suppress cognitive dissonance and to want to think of ourselves as "good" people. Scientists are no exception to this general rule of being human, and scientists that go to work for corporations quite often do so because the money is better than in academic science – this doesn't make them "evil", people have practical considerations. However, you get whistleblowers when people do have a crisis of conscience between their intent and what's actually going on, when they can no longer suppress their ethical qualms about something they've been participating in or have witnessed. There's very good evidence that multinational corporations do suppress evidence, try to interfere with governmental regulation to protect people's health and to ensure people can make informed choices, and don't care about even massive human costs (the most famous example of this is, of course, the tobacco industry).
      Being a scientist doesn't automatically give one the skills to think critically about communication, culture or human systems – particularly if you're a specialist in physics or chemistry, which often show a great deal of disdain for less "hard" science. Being a scientist does not in and of itself make one an ethical person or give one the abilities or knowledge to deconstruct and understand propaganda and social systems, or the ability to see ones own cultural and personal biases. It's naive to think that multinational corporations care more about people than profit, particularly when there's plenty of evidence to indicate otherwise. Trying to claim that any discussion of how multinationals function and systemic problems are a "conspiracy theory" is in and of itself simply a rejection of reality, is just like alt med types that claim that government regulations to protect people are actually intended to destroy people's organic home gardens and bake sales. Both are naive and reject real world complexity for good vs evil dichotomies that are actually often more ideological and linked to identity than they are evidence and reality.

  9. Not at all, everyone, big and small works to better themselves. I am a stockholder and I admit I enjoy profits. I am a shareholder in many different companies and have a 401K plan that is directly affected by stock price.  They do answer to me, if I don't like the results, I sell and buy shares from another company. Thats life and it ain't fair. I have been the victim of large companies affecting me and recently a privately owned company of about 6 people screwed me and I am either going to have to swallow the bill or litigate. Its true that big corporations can have a bigger effect speaking of which, that article showed science in action imho. Monsanto and university scientists believed (with data to back it up) that resistance would be hard to achieve for weeds based on findings they achieved with other plants.  They were wrong and spent a ton of money figuring out why. Hardly nefarious. I took many courses in biology and botony in college and these things are extremely complicated. Its a logical fallacy to think multi national corporations are any more nefarious than your next door neighbor. My next door neighbor was cooking meth in his basement and no one knew it until his house was wrapped up in yellow tape and the fire dept made us evacuate while they disassembled his lab, and I live in a very nice suburb of Columbus Ohio. My belief is that  you will find selfish unethical people wherever you go, which I say stay vigilant and alert.

  10. Does "bettering yourself" simply mean making money to you? That's an interesting ethical perspective. I generally think of "bettering oneself" as gaining more of an education or somehow developing a personal skill-obviously we don't share the same values.
    Your next door neighbour does not have the resources to lobby the government or be part of the revolving door of employement between government departments and corporations. Nor does your neighbour have the power and money to make sure that a scientist whose ideas they don't like doesn't get hired (David Healy and the Toronto Affair, for example) by threatening to pull funding. Trying to do the whole "corporations are people" arguement is ignoring reality yet again (just as the laws that corporations lobbied for to make corporations legally "people" don't actually make corporations into people with human rights). I think it's a bit odd that you think that just because your next door neighbour was a crackhead who cooked meth that it's okay for corporations to equally nefarious – both are actually illegal and antisocial (just, in one case, the scale of death and destruction is much larger and the addiction is to money not meth). Simply selling off your shares after the fact isn't actually having any real power over a corporation if you're a Joe Schmoe investor without voting powers over corporate governance and actions, you might sell as an after effect and investing in something unethical may help finance the unethical actions but it's a pretty indirect and weak form of power. Of course, some people choose to make sure they invest in ethical businesses, though that's often not where the real money is to be made because exploitation tends to have a higher profit margin by its very nature. And people who chose to invest in businesses that are unethical usually have some reason why they're not ethically responsible for doing so, like I said above, most people want to believe they're "good" people so it's why we don't look at how our own actions or desires can contribute to suffering in the world.
    Also, business in and of itself isn't necessarily bad, neither is trade. What we have right now is a system that rewards corruption and exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few – the revolving door between big corporations and government is obviously going to cause bias and corruption (even lobbyists admit this), and corporations lobby governments to create unfair advantages and to remove consumer protections because of this, they also lobby government to try to destroy public science so it's not exactly a win for science on any level. If you invest in the stock market, then you're aware of the systemic corruption that deregulation not only created but encouraged on Wall Street. This is a systemic problem, it's not just about one corrupt individual but about a system that encourages and normalizes this kind of behaviour. The whole "my neighour was a bad person" argument is ultimately rather silly, just as silly as the "it's a dog eat dog world" interpretation of Darwin's survival of the fittest that's so popular within the business world. 

  11. So the problem is not the technology, it's the system. Capitalism, which incentivizes short-term profits over systemic analysis and rational regulation. 
    Same as it ever was.

  12. Lobbying isn't a private function available to only the few. I have done lobbying, its a thankless business. I have lobbied local politicians and state politicians, I have not lobbied Federal representatives but I have worked directly with a lobbiest who did. My  next door neighbor actually did have the means to lobby government officials, as we all do. The reason I got involved politically was because I didn't like the way things were going so I did something to change it. Its hard work and getting House Bills passed is difficult. Keeping track of your government at your local, state and federal level is hard. Thats exactly why we have a representative government, to represent us because we are too busy to do direct democracy. I agree with most of your views, but sense a certain cynicism rather than speaking from experience. . My neighbor could have run for government before his arrest, I don't think he can now, but Rep Traficant did after his arrest so maybe he can. Special interest groups can grab the ears of your representatives to be sure and voter apathy can let people get away with murder, as the case of Bell California proves.  I don't blame capitalism or the system or democracy. I am sure you can find corruption in any government, or corporation or any system.  I have been a manager in large corporations and have had the fortune to work on my own as well. I have fired many people and I have always been as honest and upfront as possible. I prefer it that way and I prefer it from my managers. I saw corruption on large and small levels. The company cheating employees and employees cheating the company. I was part of a company that was directly affected by deregulation in the mid 80's in a negative way then I went to a company wherein deregulation was a boon for them. I got to see both sides and both sides were convinced they were correct. And they were from their point of view.  No system is perfect. I am not supporting unregulated business, nor do I believe that the market will decide. I support staying active educated and aware of what is going on. I am glad to see people interested in staying involved in what big business is doing.

    1. tracylords (btw, is that a reference to the porn star or your own name?) – Capitalism and democracy are not the same thing, much as they get conflated in the US and by corporate funded think tanks. I still find it entirely entertaining that you're trying to claim that your crackhead neighbour has the same power as a multinational corporation. No individual has the same power and influence over government as a corporation, that's why unions were formed in the first place and people engage in collective action. Particularly if the people in government rotate through jobs in government and the very corporations they're meant to be regulating. Sure incredibly wealthy people have more power in government and can mobilize more resources than an individual lower on the economic ladder, but that's obviously not your crackhead neighbour next door.

  13. We need a little more skepticism and critical thinking here.
    When bugs become “superbugs” and resistant to Bt GMOs, the only “super power” they have acquired is resistance to the Bt protein. The only effect that has in farming is that Bt GMOs are no more resistant to those “superbugs” than plain old non-Bt GMOs.
    If non-GMO seeds are just as good as GMO seeds, why would anyone pay a premium for GMO seeds?
    It is the same with glysophate resistance. When weeds become “superweeds” and resistant to glysophate, all it means is that glysophate is now useless as an herbicide. If something is useless as an herbicide, why would anyone try to use it? Why would anyone pay a premium for glysophate resistant seeds if using glysophate as an herbicide was useless?
    Those who are hurt the most by resistant pests are the corporations selling the herbicides and pesticides that the pests have become resistant to.
    If there are so many weeds resistant to glysophate, such that Roundup ready seeds are not worth a premium price, then Monsanto has lost its major market. Monsanto has squandered the advantage that Roundup ready GMOs had by not preventing weeds from acquiring glysophate resistance.
    It is easy to see why and how that happened. Monsanto is in the business to make money. Questioning the wisdom of drenching every field with glysophate would have cut into short term profits. When your job depends on high short term profits, there is a very strong compulsion to ignore any facts or ideas that might question that premise until it is too late.
    The problem is the capitalist system. You can make money if stock prices go up, and you can make money if stock prices go down. The people who profited from the stock price of Monsanto going up because of high usage of Roundup ready seeds, will likely also profit as the stock price of Monsanto goes down as Roundup becomes useless as an herbicide.
    Preserving the value of glysophate as an herbicide was not a priority because the “value” of glysophate as an herbicide in 10 years only accrues in 10 years. Who owns Monsanto stock in 10 years when glysophate and Roundup ready seeds become useless? Only people foolish enough to still own Monsanto stock in 10 years.

  14. One person's cynic is another person's realist – obviously we have different perpsectives on this. My view also comes from decades of experience, I've engaged in activism and petitioned for change (both historically and I still do today) for decades, and even helped achieved change. I've also worked in advertising and communications to pay the bills, but my main focus as a writer is art and culture (and I have an amateur passion for neurobiology and psychology, it's what I grew up around and it's really highly connected to art and communication). I grew up with science and medicine but went into communication, culture and the arts – which is probably why I find it frustrating when people can think critically about one thing but not the other, and when either side disparages things they don't understand (the scientific method, postmodernism, etc). Particularly when it's just a repetition of things they've heard elsewhere that are actually more about political demonization than any true understanding of what is being demonized. This divide and conquer strategy is very effective since it gets people fighting over identity related issues using what are essentially buzzwords instead of coming together to fight for common goals vis a vis human rights. 
    But, really, our experiences are anecdotes. I was certainly less cynical before the wholesale aussault on women's rights spread from the US to Canada and an election was stolen here. (I live in Canada but I have a lot of American friends who are activists of various kinds-plus we get a lot of American news.) It's being in the trenches that's made me cynical, though I am not without hope or just giving up.
    Ultimately my perspective comes from being old enough and involved in activism long enough to have seen the evolution of the corporate assault on regulations meant to protect us "little people" and the religious assult on hard won human rights that started in the 1980s. (I'm not saying that makes my perspective more valid than yours, just explaining where it comes from.) These two things are intricately connected, and it's not just a national thing, it's driven by multinational corporations and networks of think tanks (in the Canada and US it's corporate funded think tanks like the Cato and Fraser Institutes, in the UK ones like Policy Exchange). This assault on "reality based communities" is actively and very quickly stripping away all the progress in human rights that has been achieved. The revolving door between corporations and government has always been problematic but now that so many basic protections have been stripped away, the government is pretty much controled by corporate interests both in the US and Canada.
    So, yes, having the human rights that my mother fought for (abortion and access to birth control) and those that me and my friends fought for (gay rights, environmental protections, racial equality) under attack and having to refight these battles does make me cynical when the assault is part of a well oiled corporate/governmental alliance that has deregulated government to the point where corporations are considered equivalent to people. I don't know how anyone cannot be cynical about our system when it doesn't even recognize people as people anymore! And, if you think I'm cynical, you should talk to some of the young people who think critically. (I'm not speaking about the evangelically based Invisible Children type of "activism" that leads people to think that uncritically clicking "like" on Facebook is engaged activism, I'm talking about young people who see equality and opportunity being clawed back, and nothing being done about global warming.)
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your perspective and engaging in discussion about these issues – even if our perspectives differ. I don't think there's much to be gained from my labelling you as "naive" and a "dupe of propaganda" or you labelling me as "cynical" or observations about systemic corruption as "conspiracy theories" simpy because our experiences and observations are different – hopefully all of us can come together to try to at least resist being dragged back into the dark ages. I realise we've gotten off the topic of GMOs directly, on that particular topic, I think that the most effective actions are simply about creating non-corporate food networks so that's where I put my effort. Good luck with your own efforts.

  15. In response to my crack head neighbor, he is and was not a crack head. He just sold it, and did very well from what I could tell. And yes all things being equal, he didn't  have the power of a multinational corporation, but who can tell what can happen. There was an unmarked building on the border of an affluent suburb in Columbus. In this unmarked buiIding was a house of ill repute. This woman and her employees were eventually caught and arrested She was an extremely good business woman who ended up having a daughter whom she put through college, used the cathouse as a back for a legitimate business, paid taxes through that, and was living in the 1%. She plea bargained and there were more than a few state employees who lost their jobs. My point being, that woman yielded a lot of power, but was really on one person, doing something most people would think of as unpleasant. I think you and I agree that in a sense one person has less power than a large group of people with money, but everyone and everything starts somewhere. I  didn't think a coke sniffing idiot from Texas would be leader of the USA, but there you go. Nor did I think a mixed race Hawaiin would either. My point being is I see everyone with the potential to wield great power.

  16. Eh, but that coke sniffing idiot was the son of a former President that also set him up with a cushy corporate job and was also just a figurehead for Cheney/Rove (who were also active in Reagan's government, hence my point about the origin of these problems further up). And, well, the jury is still out on just how much of a corporatist Obama is, if it's even relevant considering the current state of the American government. It's kind of proving the point to use Bush as an example. And, sure there are some criminals (madames, drug dealers) that weild a lot of power by virtue of knowing the dirty secrets of rich and powerful heads of corporations and government officials, that's really not the same as an individual who does actually try to do things ethically. However, even with these examples Bush just had to be a well born idiot while the madame and the drug dealer had to actually work and then get arrested in their attempts to have even a smidgeon of the power that Bush was born into. "I see everyone with the potential to weild great power" – that's nice but it ignores both the evidence and historical and contemporary reality – American isn't a classless nation wehre everyone has equal opportunity. It doesn't actually mean that everyone gets the same opportunity to develop and weild their human potential – let alone that the power or even potential for power is the same for a poor individual as it is for an incredibly wealthy and politically connected multinational corporation that has a revolving employment deal with politicians. 

  17. I'm still wondering if Tracy Lords is your real name or if you chose a porn star's name to comment on Skepchick with intention to troll (considering that your avatar is a screaming dude, it seems like an odd name choice for someone on skepchick…not that I have an issue with Lords or anything).

  18. I am coming across as a troll? Sorry, not my intention, having just commented on the new troll blogging I feel embarrassed if I presented that face. I actually thought you and I sort of represented two sides of the same coin, I do agree with almost all of your points, but disagree on others and have read all of your posts and made me think. As far as the Lords thing, my name is actually very similiar and have been teased about it most of my life, so I decided to embrace it. I figured if it was good enough for Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story, I can reclaim it too.  I have had that avatar as far back as I can remember, that's Ash from the Evil Dead 2 whose own disembodied hand is trying to choke him. Somewhat metaphorical for most of us, our own worst enemy and all, and hilarious to boot.

    1. High five for Ash!

      When I first saw you comment, I got excited because I thought you were Traci Lords, and then I realized she spells it with an "I". 

      Not that you're not just as awesome as I'm sure Traci Lords is!

    2. Fair enough Tracy Lords, just seemed like a name that someone who was trolling Skepchicks might use because they'd think it would be offensive to women use a porn star's name. I, personally, quite like Lords. Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I think today we will not save the world on the internet but it's always interesting to hash out ideas and discuss things with people who have different perspectives. Also, to make it clear, I do think people collectively have (decreasingly) power to influence government, just not nearly as much as corporations. There's a reason why divide and conquer is a time honoured strategy so I hope to join you on the frontlines regarding issues we do agree upon. 

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