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Liberty vs Justice

Just read an article in The Atlantic by Kaveh Waddell entitled “The Information Revolution’s Dark Turn.” A thoughtful piece based on an interview with Scottish philosopher Alistair Duff. The article reminds me that, in this age where technology, especially information technology, dominates the world economy, we need the arts and philosophy more than ever.

We need artists, philosophers, ecologists and other deep thinkers to observe and articulate trends in society, pointing out the opportunities and pitfalls that lie in wait for the world, striking a balance between the mindless daily diet of horrors and disasters served by the media and the treacly reassurances spouted by politicians in search of votes. The two following sentences resonated with me and I’ve shared the text in italics below.

The ultimate value is not liberty: It is justice. Liberty has to fit within the context of social justice. And where it violates justice, I’m afraid justice trumps liberty.

The first thought that comes to my mind is: try telling that to the Donald. In his case, liberty (donald) trumps justice!

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.
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Seeds of Inequity

What could be more principled than companies that work to genetically modify seeds, breeding out negative traits and selecting a mix of desirable qualities that make them resistant to pests, hardy enough to withstand droughts or floods as desired? After all, farmers have been doing this for hundreds of years, patiently crossing varieties and developing superior strains of the world’s crops. Enter the profit motive. Still no harm done, we thought! Selfish interest is the lever used by civilizations to lift their peoples to prosperity, with the profit motive as the fulcrum on which this lever rests.

Strains of wheat

Strains of wheat

The world has generally accepted the truth of this principle ever since Adam Smith pointed it out in his seminal work, first published in 1776. Except for a relatively brief interlude when some nations experimented with communism and socialism in a failed search for social justice and equity, the world has broadly accepted Smith’s premise that wealth creation is a good thing and ought to be encouraged by enlightened governments that simply move out of the way and allow entrepreneurs to do their stuff. By and large, this is what seems to have happened in the case of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Basically, some large corporations have copyrighted and distributed their seeds (sounds fair enough; respect for intellectual property rights sets the basis for innovation and prosperity). The problem is, these corporations have also made the rules about what happens to the seed generations that follow. They have decreed, and governments have accepted, that farmers may not retain a proportion of seeds from their crop for planting the subsequent season, but have to buy the seeds from the corporations again.

As Lizzie Wade points out in her Science article “How Syrians saved an Ancient Seedbank from Civil War”

…Maize, for example, was created by ancient Mesoamericans by painstakingly breeding more and more appetizing teosinte, a stubby grass with tiny, tough kernels that has so little in common with modern maize that archaeologists dismissed it as a possible wild ancestor until genetic tests revealed the surprising truth. The problem in the short run is that conventional breeding can be s…l…o…w. Teosinte was domesticated in central Mexico between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago, but farmers only managed to create a variety that tasted good a mere millennium ago 

They can plant and reap, but they can't sow again without buying seed...

They can plant and reap, but they can’t sow again without buying seed…

As S. Grant points out in his article “10 Problems Genetically Modified Foods are Already Causing,”  once they plant GM crops, farmers can no longer legally harvest their own seeds and are in danger of entering an era of perpetual bondage. Thus serfdom re-enters the world in the 21st century, this time clothed in the language of high-tech and carrying the false promise of freedom from hunger. Lawmakers are all too often ignorant and dazzled by technology, so they fail to realise the problems with GM crops are more to do with social and juridical issues rather than with the technology itself.

“In India, seeds are taken as a symbol of God’s blessing. They keep it, they store it, they know what is good seed and bad seed.” “Control oil and you control nations. Control food, and you control people.”

The above two memorable quotes are from a must-see 9-minute video about Natabar Sarangi, a village farmer who distributes free seeds to poor farmers out of the deep conviction that the thousands of varieties of seeds bred and developed over centuries should not be lost. In the process, he helps many of them to modest prosperity.

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

Saving the Tiger

Ranthambore National Forest and Tiger Reserve is a stunningly beautiful place that spreads over 450 sq. km. Writers like Jim Corbett and Rudyard Kipling have painted vivid portraits of Indian jungles for readers in the English speaking world. On a recent visit to Ranthambore, sitting in an open jeep, slowly winding its way along rutted jungle trails, tales of Mowgli, Bagheera and Balu the bear seemed to come alive. She expected to see a barefoot boy in a loin cloth peering out from among the tall grasses. Instead, she came face to face with …Shere Khan.

Shere Khan. Her real name, said the guide, is Noor...

Shere Khan. Her real name, said the guide, is Noor…

...or Mala, or more prosaically, T-39, the mother of 3 healthy cubs

…or Mala, or more prosaically, T-39, the mother of 3 healthy cubs

The moment was so unexpected, so pure, so anti-climactic that there seemed to be magic in the air. Noor is also known to the park rangers as Mala, a name that means ‘necklace‘ for the decorative, beadlike stripes on her flank. She had apparently just fed at dawn, the remains of the kill lay somewhere in the grasses nearby, her belly was full, and she was tired and too sleepy to investigate the little open jeep with three occupants parked at a respectful distance.

These magnificent animals are under threat from us humans. Ironically, one way to save them might be to bring more humans to visit them in their natural surroundings, just like the passenger in the jeep who watched her in awed silence for nearly two hours. For every tourist who comes to see them here, there are perhaps two or three locals who earn a livelihood, people who have been displaced from their own natural habitat in the jungle, displaced by the need to preserve wildlife. The villagers who used to live in Ranthambore forest were relocated when the tiger reserve was set up. These displaced people had to carve out a new existence in small settlements surrounding the jungle that was once their home.

We met one of the displaced people, a Rajput by the name of Dharamveer. He was proud of his forbears who had built forts and castles in these hills and jungles, and today he was one of the lucky ones; someone who had done well by doing good. When he was displaced from the forest, Dharamveer had trained as a tiger painter, painting iconic portraits of Shere Khan with the finest of strokes using delicate brushes that were a mere three or four hairs thick. This fine work gave the tigers in the paintings a lustrous lifelike glow that seemed to move as they caught the light. Buoyed by this success, he assisted widowed women to retrain in other handicrafts and has created a thriving business selling their work.

A Rufous Treepie

A Rufous Treepie

IMG_1555

the entrance to the reserve is through the old Ranthambore fortress gate

the entrance to the reserve is through the old Ranthambore fortress gate…

the sambhur belled, once, twice, and again... (Hunting Song of the Seonee Pack)

…the sambhur belled, once, twice, and again… (Hunting Song of the Seonee Pack)

We visited his store after the safari and were welcomed by the artisans who proudly showed us their wares. There was exuberant patchwork art, as well as many other fabrics, woven on rural handlooms, carvings, tribal paintings and animal protraits. As usual, there was more than one person could buy, but an American friend is exploring the market for these attractive products outside India. More on that will follow in a later posting.

Exuberant patchwork, handloom fabrics, carvings and nature paintings

An exuberant patchwork of Hathi the elephant; handloom fabrics, carvings and nature paintings

 

For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.

 

Books on Google Play

Available on Google Play

Available on Google Play

To all Android users: The above 4 books are now available on Google Play.  The first 20% of each book can be downloaded as a free sample. For the owner of a not-so-new smartphone (3 year-old Samsung) like myself, the text was surprisingly easy to read in both vertical and landscape modes. Downloads were almost instantaneous using a reasonably standard wi-fi connection. To access the books, select the “Entertainment” header on the Google Playstore app, and then open the category “books” to search under author or title. Hint: The entire title story of the Ironwood Poacher collection can be downloaded and read as a free sample.

Forthcoming: All 4 of the above titles coming soon to the iTunes store, plus Desert Dreams, an illustrated travel guide to the fascinating and history-laden state of Rajasthan that will be published only as an e-book on Google Play, iTunes and Kindle. Additionally, a brand new website (aviottjohn.com) designed by a young professional based in Munich, plus a subsequent post on some small steps to save the iconic Indian tiger. Follow this blog for automatic notifications of updates.