Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
knowledge: The choice of what should be done depends on what will happen if we do
one thing as opposed to another. If one begins with the normative premise that peasant
farmers are to be protected and supported globally, and agricultural biotechnology is
“suicidal, homicidal, and genocidal,” opposition to genetic engineering in agriculture
is normatively imperative.55 If genetic engineering offers potential for drought-tolerant
crops that could improve the prospects of poor farmers in ecologically stressed zones,
the ethical case becomes inverted. One network's suicide seed is another's silver bul-
let. In both cases, political implications of the same ethical stance vary with divergent
assessments of knowledge.56
The knowledge-intensive character of food politics then means that the effects of
advocacy networks will be strong, whether in screening, framing, or institutionaliz-
ing ideas. Networks reinforce the already strong effect of “information cascades”—the
“everyone knows . . .” phenomenon—even when what everyone knows is false (Heath
and Heath 2007). Interaction in networks likewise strengthens ideological commit-
ments and “biased assimilation” in a process dependent on cognitive consonance.57
Networks reduce information costs and can lead to social polarization around identities
that reinforce biased assimilation, confirmation bias, and information cascades. These
effects are magnified by the observable fact that interests produce knowledge claims to
further their interests—cigarette manufacturers find that smoking has no relation to
cancer whatsoever, just as coal companies find that particulate matter has no discernible
effect on health. Uncertainty is reinforced by the modern skepticism about facticity itself
and the absence of consensual institutions for knowledge vetting.58 Moreover, “infor-
mation” that produces strong emotions—disgust, anger, outrage—is more likely to be
noticed and to be disseminated. In her presidential address to the American Association
for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Nina Fedoroff said she was “scared to death”
by the “anti-science movement” that was “driving science into a dark era” (McKie 2012).
Federoff emphasized climate science, as well as attacks on the science of agricultural
biotechnology, but the point is more general. Food politics lacks not only the honest
broker that could provide a factual check on ethical reasoning, but also even agreement
on methods for getting there. A major reason for this cognitive, and therefore political,
divide in food politics involves pervasive cascade effects, biased assimilation, and group
polarization enabled by modern networking capabilities with deep interests in generat-
ing authoritative narratives.
Development North-South?
Questions of food production and sufficiency in modern times have typically been
relegated to studies of “development” as an intellectual enterprise and policy domain.
Development was conceptualized as a problem for “underdeveloped” countries.
Claims of authoritative knowledge concerning agricultural practices and policies in
poor nations have long been the provenance of people in rich nations. Restriction of
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