nettime's_lamarckian on Sat, 19 May 2001 02:07:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> DNA 'bomb' digest [kurtz, wilding]

Steven Kurtz <>
     DNA bombs against DNA
Faith Wilding <>
     DNA bombs

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Date: Fri, 18 May 2001 11:59:02 -0400 (EDT)
From: Steven Kurtz <>
Subject: DNA bombs against DNA

>As long as you think that biotech has some usefulness then I can accept
>such tactics, as it was presented in the Village Voice to me, it
smacked >of a organisation of pacificists blowing up people to further
the cause >of non-violence.

I~m sure that there are those who want a totalizing ban on transgenic
research, but the people in the Voice article are not of that

>So my next question specific to this topic, is to ask; if all GM is not
>bad, why the opposition over transgenic crops? 

It~s not the creation of GM crops that is necessarily a problem. The
primary problem is that the usual suspect corporations are interested in
monopolizing the food chain from the molecular level forward. Designer
crops can be used strategically to accomplish this end.

>Biodiversity is already threatened by widespread agriculture regardless
>of whether the crops are genetically modified or not. 

This is another problem. GM crops are not likely to have a heavy impact
on biodiversity in general, but can have a tremendous impact on
biodiversity within a given crop. Control of a specific foodline seems
to require monoculturing. Not only does this have the potential to wipe
out given food resources due to lack of diversity (a doubly bad
possibility since corporations tend to go after nutritional fundamentals
like soy, rice, corn, and wheat), but it will disrupt personal pleasure
as well. For example, there used to be 1000s of types of apples, now you
can get red, green, or yellow. Industrial food--yuck. In other cases it
has do with environmental risk. For example, if some of the farm raised
GM salmon escape or are liberated, the destruction of river ecologies
populated by ~wild~ salmon is a very high probability. 

>Is it just the means of production that you protest? Is it just
>particular crops?

What is of political and cultural significance depends on the situation.
There is no general formula.

>Has it to do with the gene patenting issue? 

Another significant problem. The privatization of genomes is another
form of colonization (in this case on the bio-molecular frontier).

>Or is it on other grounds, like the encouragement of chemical use or
>unknown factors in human consumption of that genetic matter?

Yes, as an economic strategy it~s a problem. The use of one GM product
often links to another, making micro producers all the more dependent on
their corporate big brothers.

>Also , there are plenty of non-GM agricultural issues I see as far more
>important to the environment than GM. Land clearing. Factory farming.

I have to agree with you there. GM whatever in particular is not the
major problem, it~s how genetic modification is being used as a means to
consolidate power. Molecular strategies are new, and tactical mediaists
like CAE, Heath, and Natalie are trying to figure out how to respond
from within the molecular arena (as opposed to traditional or electronic
resistant means). GM food gets a lot of attention because its the first
way that bio-invasion explicitly enters the everyday life of the public.

>A question about the 'capitalist policies' if you will humour me for a >just
>short time more. Is the problem with the policies, the policies >themselves,
>or the fact that they are capitalist in and of themselves. Can any
>'capitalist policy' ever be an acceptable policy? Is any policy made in
>today's (Western) society not capitalist?

Yes, given that policies will always be capitalist in nature, there will
always be an alienating, exploitive component to them. However, some
policies are more desirable than others. No utopia is waiting;
capitalism has won the day. But we do not have to let the total
capitalist dystopia emerge either (which is what we will get if the
profit machine can run without friction).

>As to your comments about ethics, I believe you are wrong. No protest
>movement is outside of ethics. Ethics as it is practiced by what you >oppose
>may be constrained by the limitations of capitalism but that does not >mean
>if you disagree with capitalism you are free of all ethics. You might be
>free to say you are free of capitalist ethics but then I would say the onus
>is on you to articulate what ethics you then represent. You might wish to
>employ a different sort of ethics, or revise the ethics which exist; but
>frankly a protest movement requires some type of ethics as its base or I
>would say it's no better than the worst sort of authoritarianism.

You misunderstand me. Ethics as a spectacular _discipline_ is founded on
capitalist ideology. I am sure you have heard bioethicists speak at one
point or another. From CAE~s experience, the assumptions of these
specialists are that market economy is good, god bless western society,
so what is of value for the western  bourgeois subject? The ethicists
subject position is not even spoken because it is such a given. Instead,
there is generally a pretense of ambivilence and multiplicity, but it is
only the ambivilence arising from limited diversity that can be found
_within_ bourgeois culture. It~s to this discourse that Natalie was
saying ~ethics, schmethics.~ She was not saying that its fine to
surrender critical thinking, social responsibility, or personal


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Date: Fri, 18 May 2001 14:05:40 -0400 (EDT)
From: Faith Wilding <>
Subject: DNA bombs

>> And of course all agricultural crops and animals
> > >are 'GM' by virtue of selective breeding anyway.

this is not correct really. Bioengineered genetic modification is quite
different than selective breeding. For one thing it is much quicker. For
another, you can recombine DNA from different species in a way you can't
with hybridization and selective breeding. 

Yesterday I had lunch at a new biotech venture firm which prides itself
on not being venture capitalist but rather a venture catalyst--"where
life and computing converge." They are making it possible for professors
from universities which retain the rights to their faculties' research
results to team up with entrepreneurs, doctors, and independent
laboratories, in order to bring their inventions to market. Their main
thrust is of course the altruistic one of "human healing." We have seen
the birth of the bio/medical/military industrial complex and it is
powerful and ugly. This is driving what gets developed as consumer and
industrial biotech far more than any ethical or intellectual discussion.
I agree with Natalie Jeremijenko-- ethics-schmethics. Everybody is
waiting for the ethicists to pronounce (how do ethicists establish and
maintain their authority?). This lets entrepreneurs and the general
public off the hook of taking any responsibility to find out much on
their own. The call for tighter monitoring of biotech research from
scientists is also largely bogus. Who is to do the monitoring? Who is to
enforce results of that monitoring? How can we even know who those
monitors are and what their motives are?

The biotech firm I visited was puzzled by the fact that the announcement
of the  mapping of the Human Genome last summer had evoked so little
interest or response in America. "We thought it would be a hot-button
issue" they said, "we thought people would be picketing our offices."
Ha! America loves science and science loves America. Most folks don't
have a clue as to how the science or the economics of biotech work. They
have a vague notion that scary things are happening, but feel powerless
to grapple with it in the face of the juggernaut capitalist consumer
industry beginning to market biotech. They rest hopefully on the
assumption that scientists will do what is best for us and that the
government will make sure everything is safe. Meanwhile the fertility
industry in Assisted Reproductive Technologies is unregulated by the
government,and GM food does not have to be labeled as such.
Ignorance is bliss and it is easier not to face and understand the roots
of our fears. Activist artists who are taking on these issues are often
accused of doing the same bad deeds that the corporations are doing. But
this is a misunderstanding of much of this work. The point is that many
of the projects show people WHAT is being done and HOW it is being done,
and how it is being driven economically and ideologically. It makes
visible so much that is now totally invisible or so naturalized that it
is opaque. It is important to keep stressing (especially to biotech
artists) that artists must work critically with the spectacle and with
representation and ideology. In my biotech art work with subRosa and
with Critical Art Ensemble I have experienced how important it is for
artists (amateurs) to be engaging people in this discourse. People
approach it in a whole different manner than when they are confronted
with "experts" or the "authorities." Let's keep the pressure up on
theorizing and building critical practices around the biogenetic
disturbance. Then trampling down some GM corn will soon seem like small
(Monsanto) potatoes.
Faith Wilding 

cheerios, Faith 

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