Dale and I wrote (with snips):
> > Can we organize, pool resources, solve difficult problems
> > by means other than the market (politics comes to mind)?
>Sure, go ahead. You have complete freedom to do that, and it is in no way
>impeded by private plant breeding.
Is this true? I would argue that it is precisely the tendency of the
'privatization of life-forms' to inhibit our (sic) freedom to do that. It
seems to do this by various mechanisms, one of which is the discursive
equation (like Dale's) of life forms with refrigerators. I think the whole
hubbabaloo around the 'terminator' gene speaks both to this tendency of
privatization towards control/monopoly and to the very real feelings of
people throughout the world of being 'impeded' by this very tendency.
> > And are there problems more appropriate to these 'other'
> > means? Is the discovery of new plant and animal varieties
> > for food, medicine, companionship (pets), etc. one of
> > these problems?
>Do you STILL not understand? Did Edison discover the light bulb? Did Ford
>discover the automobile? We don't "discover" new plant varieties, we make
'Understanding' is exactly what I'm trying to do (and contribute towards.
The equation life form=refrigerator seems in part to be based on this
distinction between 'discovering' and 'making'. I think it apparent that I
would not draw the line at the same place Dale would, but he is probably
right in that it is an ethical problem (he regards seed patenting as
ethically sound). Of course, it is for this very reason that I make the
appeal to a political process rather than an economic one for the
arbitration of this line.
I would say that the grey area also consists in terms like resources (public
domain resources not being 'used up') that are used as if they were
transparent. Were these resources 'made' or 'discovered'? Or was the
distinction simply not so well placed, ownership not so strictly delimited,
when corn, for example, was 'domesticated', 'discovered', 'created'? (We
might reflect here on Columbus's 'discovery' of America, and the ownership
it implied for the Spanish crown). Dale may be basing his distinction on a
change in breeding techniques (from selection to recombination?) which
presumably corresponds to a change in intellectual processes (more
individualized?), but I'm not so sure that's not also an arbitrarily placed
line. (Please excuse me if I'm misrepresenting, just trying to further the
dialogue.) In any case it's an historical question that can't be answered
for being anachronistic (who 'invented' corn?). We should instead probably
reformulate the question, along with our epistemology. A suggestion:
In the problematic of genetics we find such materialist arguments (e.g.,
certain things [resources] are just *there* for the taking) dissolving and I
think we could approach the problem more fruitfully from the perspective of
information ownership and control. Under this perspective we can make more
fruitful equations, such as plant varieties with musical compositions within
a discussion on intellectual property rights. If our goal is diversity (in
both music and plantlife), what regime of ownership would be more conducive
to that goal? Of course diversity is not the only goal -- musicians and
plant breeders have their own certainly, and we have more broadly economic
and productive goals as well -- but nevertheless it is an important one and
one which I think private ownership does not respond to very well. Perhaps
a stricter (shorter) temporal limit on copyright/patents? (See the concept
of 'leaking' below).
> > Although it might be responded that individual rights are
> > what's at stake... and that these individual rights are best
> > respected by private ownership, I would object
> > again that the argument is based on status-quo assumptions,
> > namely that the public domain has already been defined as the
> > raw material of the plant breeder and does not extend to the
> > results of her/his work.
>Why should the results of anyones work be taken and placed in the public
>domain? This is Socialism pure and simple.
>I respect that position,
nice save, but dangerously close to red-baiting
>think it goes beyond this particular debate.
On the contrary, this *is* the debate.
>> But this is currently not so
>black and white (see below).
Agreed. And I don't pretend that I would prefer 'everything for everybody
and nothing for me' or anything of the sort. But I do think the line has to
be drawn somewhere, and the discussion over GMO's and the patenting of
life-forms is probably the place to begin rethinking where this somewhere
is, far beyond cold-war politics.
> > How to rethink these assumptions? It seems to me that the notion
> > of organization gets us beyond a concrete individualism from the
> > very beginning (what does it mean to say 'I (sic) am organized
> > enough'?), and along these same lines I would venture that plant
> > breeding is by 'nature' a collective process involving
> > generations of both human and plant individuals in which the
> > question of 'ownership' should be dealt with very carefully.
>I agree. The breeding enterprise (public AND private) has worked like a
>gigantic recurrent selection system, and improved private germplasm always
>leaks out eventually into the public domain, to serve as raw material for
>new cycles. This is a public good. I think there is room for this to
>continue, but this big grey area is beginning to crystallize as we gain new
>molecular and statistical tools. Probably, companies don't mind such
>leakage occurring (via hybrids, with a lag time of several years). What we
>don't like (and what is in the courts now) is competitors chasing selfs in
>our seed, stealing the product of our labor.
IMO 'leaked out' and 'probably don't mind' are not ways of carefully dealing
with the problem of ownership. As far as the 'new molecular and statistical
tools' are concerned, the question is whether they're being used to better
(ethics!!) arbitrate the line between public and private, made and
discovered, 'natural' and 'human', or instead to simply extend private
ownership in space and time on the basis of its assumed universally superior
efficiency (efficient for what? feeding populations? polluting
Thanks for the insights, now I've got to go and pack,
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