Jim Mcnelly jim.mcnelly at
Sun Mar 27 10:24:00 EST 1994

>Message-ID: <2n08t4$iip at>
>Newsgroup: bionet.general
>Organization: University of California, Berkeley

>In extracting the file, I lost all the header information...

>Brian Foley from the Molecular Genetics Dept. at the University of
>Vermont, I liked your answer to Bruce Murrell's question about why
>the public is so afraid of biotechnology. I am interested enough in this
>issue, and thought the exchange would make a wonderful article to submit
>to the University of California at Berkeley's daily newspaper. There
>are a lot of "health-food" and "all-natural" people here, and it was
>in Berkeley, after all, where the "no rBGH" milk was first labeled.

>If you and Bruce, who posed the question, would please send me an
>e-mail giving me permission to quote you, I would be so grateful. If
>they publish the article, I could snail-mail you (both) a copy
>of it.

>I'm just a graduate student here and have no affiliation with the
>newspaper in any way except as an occasional reader. It would be fun
>to stir up a few Letters to the Editor in response.

>Sorry for taking up everyone else's bandwidth.

Hi Heather,

I am a professional in the organics management field since 1975, and run
into individuals who express anti-biology sentiments as a regular
course of business. I have had seemingly intelligent people oppose all
manner of composting facilities and sludge application sites, with an
extra measure of chemiphobia thrown in for good measure.

You are welcome to quote me as I wax philosophic on my thoughts on the
matter why people are opposed to the discussion of biological issues,
specifically the biotechnology of modifying milk.

The primary reason why people are opposed to biology is that it is a
reminder that they are human, biological creatures.  This inherently
forces people to deal with the fact of their finite nature, and their
ultimate death.  The fragile ego is too fearful to deal with the issue
of its own mortality.

Another reason is the religious mythology of the "evil nature" of
humans.  The original sin concept implies that finite existence is a
form of punishment, that death is the consequence of this sin, and that
only in a spiritual (non-biological) form are we truly our "original
self".  Other examples of this include the notion that heaven is "up",
and that hell is "down".

This leads to a third issue which is the attempt to prevent the
biological decay of the body upon death.  The Egyptian and other death
rituals of mummification or entombment seek to prevent the return of the
body to its organic elements.  Our culture still practices embalming and
other toxic practices to placate this fear of dealing with biological

As we look further, we find the "cleanliness is next to godliness"
taboo which is enculturated into the child during potty training.
Simply stated, parent is happy when baby is not poopy or dirty.  Clean
baby equals a happy family.  Eating dirt and generally foraging in the
soil is frowned upon and the child learns that soil organisms are "bad".
This leads to squeamishness regarding worms, larvae, creepy, crawly
things, and hand to mouth contact.

Later, this cleanliness fetish is fully enculturated into the fifth
paradigm which is that shit is bad and that piles of organic matter are
also bad.  The fact that the word "shit" is even considered one of the
seven great swear words is further evidence of the "anti-biology"
enculturation process.  Our culture disdains the scavenger, the buzzard,
the maggot, the earthworm.  Garbage and wastewater treatment operators
are considered lower class individuals.  The person who works with the
soil is considered a peon or peasant.

The odor of feces and putrefaction and the abhorrent repulsion
response is a biological instinct from which many of these cultural
norms might be derived.  The gag reflex toward foul odors is a
survival trait that prevents disease and protects the species.  But the
memory imprinting process of smell association is much more primitive
and long lasting than memory fixation from visual, taste, sound, or
tactile stimuli.  Memories of bad smells are primal.

Our culture consequently incorporates these anti-death, anti-fecal
matter obsessions into social rituals which are another evidence of
anti-biology, which is organic pile management.  Humans simply can not
let organic matter just lie.  There is an obsession toward forcing
layers into piles.  We bag the grass, rake the leaves, sweep the
path, vacuum the carpet, and otherwise convert layers into piles.  Piles
of organic matter remind us of feces and their accompanying odors which
are a foreboding of our death and we try to bury them, dump them into
waterways, or burn them.  Unless people have gone through a
"bio-conversion" process, they will not turn a compost pile

I assert that pile mismanagement leads us to the mistrust of science,
because science tells us that the consequences of putting organic matter
into a hole (landfill) pollutes ground water, flushing it into the
waterway makes us sick and kills fish, and burning it causes respiratory
problems.  Science has yet to complete the loop and promise salvation or
eternal life through the proper management of organic matter, and
therefore it is not trusted.

Religion provided salvation because entombment makes death go away and
our molecules will eventually be recombined into a new body that will be
eternal and disease free.  Science is a stern parent that rubs our nose
in our mess and tells us that we are not yet good enough and that if we
keep doing bad things we will get sick and die.  Science becomes a
source of modern guilt, a repeating lecture about our biological
immaturity.  Consequently, whenever science messes with biology, it
is easy to tune it out as a means of denying biology's role in our life,
believing instead that it is *science itself* that is responsible
for death and suffering.

So when science presents an intrusion into our biological reality, it is
immediately mistrusted, lest it remind us of our mortality.  Science is
at its worst when it dares to intrude upon the essence of life, which is
the issue of genes and chromosomes.  For humans to come to grips with
their chromosomes, they have to admit their material nature and to
affirm the fact that they are biological creatures subject to the laws
of nature, which means to face their mortality.

Adolph Hitler provided fuel for the anti-chromosome, anti-biology,
anti-life rationalization process by associating the discussion of
genetics with racial issues, genocide, so called defective
individuals, and mass extermination.  The bonding of the
concepts of genetics with genocide was profoundly imprinted into
the cultural psyche.  It will be many generations before the discussion
of genetics in areas other than plant and animal husbandry will not have
racial or political overtones.

Even in plant and animal science, the topic will fuel debate whenever
the plant or animal under discussion somehow triggers the anti-biology
mythos, impacting the parenting bond, forcing us to deal with
decomposition, or reminding us of our mortality. Science has been
indifferent to the fear of death of the individual, seeing itself as
amoral and impersonal.  Religion has not modified its teachings
adequately to present a biology friendly model of the universe.  Only
in the past decades has there been new teaching about composting,
organic gardening, sustainable agriculture, the ecological process of
life feeding upon life, and natural cycles.

Science has continued to present images of intrusion of exploiters of
science into the culture.  People see science as a source of toxins, of
mutating thalidomide, of plutonium, of chemical warfare, and of death.
The advances of science such as medicines, healthier food, pollution
prevention, and 1001 other things mean nothing when people's basic fears
are not being addressed.

So when science intrudes into realm of genetics, which is evidenced
by recombinant bovine growth hormone, it became a symbol of our
culture's rejection of science as the imprimatur of social correctness.
Our fear of death is as great as it ever was, our guilt over mismagement
of biomass residuals is causing great social angst, the cultural pain
over the holocaust is just beneath the surface, and without relieving
our suffering, science is forcing us to look at the reality of our
genetic ancestry.

There is a survival instinct in humans that screams out in horror at the
thought of facing the double helix and the void around it.  Science now
smells as bad as rotten carrion to our primitive minds as we refuse to
eat what they are trying to feed us.  Milk is from the mother, the
essence of safety and life before we knew that we were going to die,
that our poop stinks, and adults get mad when children are dirty.
Humans are disturbed watching the dying biosphere.  They *know* that
something is very wrong, which is reinforced by the ancient fears
and smells around them.

To put is bluntly, scientifically modified milk has become the symbol of
our and the biosphere's seeming impending death at the hand of science.
There is no rationalization or association of facts that can alleviate
this fear.  Science has awakened people to hidden causes of illness and
that there are diseases from genetic tampering as much, if not more than
there are cures and benefits.

Science has not earned people's trust, and it is failing to deal
with personal issues, with real human fears.  People need a new
cultural world view that sees biology as an intrinsic force within
each of us individually and as the common denominator between
civilization and the environment.  This new paradigm must help
humans affirm their biological nature and to assume responsibility
for managing the biological consequences of our actions.

There will not be a new trust of science or manipulation of
genetics until civilization has learned to manage sewage, to feed the
world citizens, to keep organic matter out of the landfill, to stop
wasting organic material, to balance the CO2 in the atmosphere,
to practice sustainable farming, and to make peace with the decomposition
of the human carcass.  As long as we seek to prevent the decomposition
of the dead human body, it is the measure of our biological avoidance

Science must help people find that eternal life *is* biologically
possible.  The life plasm is eternal, never dying, living again in
our children and their children.  It is life itself that lives on, the
individual's survival an epistemological question for a different
discussion.  Science has a responsibility to teach the art of self
maintenance and protection of species that is characteristic of a
balanced ecosystem.

Once death is affirmed as a process of life, and organic decomposition
finds its proper place in the survival arts, then perhaps might people
trust science as its ally in making smelly piles go away, in
taking toxins out of the air, in making food vital, in cleaning the
water, in protecting species, and generally helping people feel good
about being alive.  At such a future time we might not even feel the
need to modify cows genetically.

There are so many other areas where science can be of service than
forcing more milk out of cows, it should not tread on sacred bond of the
child mother relationship and ancient burial grounds of the mystery of
the chromosome when it modifies milk.  Milk is the water of life, the
symbol of Gaia, the earth mother.  Science has entered a temple of the
archetypes where it is incapable of paying homage.  Somehow milk has
become associated with death as a result, and life on earth will never
be the same again.   Science must solve the mystery of death before it
can again return to the temple and be acknowledged as a knight in service
of the realm.

People are not followers of the teachings of science and will not drink
of the cup of the altered cow until the fields are green, the waters
clear, and barefoot children again play fearlessly in the pasture.

Mr Compost~~~

Jim~ McNelly
ReSourceNet and GardenNet 612-654-8372, 656-0678 v.32bis
jim.mcnelly at
 * March 26th - May you live in interesting times.

More information about the Bioforum mailing list