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Wisdom of the uncivilized crowds

Picture this: A remote indian village in the Ganges delta a few hundred years ago. The farmer starts his day by letting his flock of ducks into his irrigated fields. The water from the river brings with it, besides nutrients and alluvium, some unwanted (for the crops) pests too. But that is not a problem - the ducks will keep the pests in control. Not only that, they will turn them pests into manure and drop it right inside the pool of collected water to be anaerobically decomposed under the water. Maybe the farmer doesn't realize it and thinks the Sun god and Nature godesses are helping him. But that's just a coincidence that's helping him continue his ways. They worship the arrival of the Stork (which, btw, even the Japanese and Chinese do. Coincidence? (I'm willing to bet Mexicans do that too!)) There are still pockets in India where people's lifestyles are frozen in time and haven't pretty much changed.

The saying goes Unity in Diversity and its true for stable ecosystems. Agriculture as it has been practiced in India over centuries has relied and depended on nature's forces and whether we evolved our practices, designed the system by hand or got it by sheer luck overnight... every Indian alive today is a proof that we survived in this region for several thousand years. The fertility due to the unique geographical structure of the sub-continent is a natural gift. Consciously/sub-consciously/systemically realizing it and living on it for thousands of years is wisdom.

The Great Change

Then came along the colonialists. We all kinda know what happened. I'd just like to place an exerpt from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd Feb 1835 (quoted elsewhere in various contexts on the web (typically nationalistic sounding ones). I first found it in Amartya Sen's book The Argumentative Indian):

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Several things changed after the advent of the colonialists. Some for "our" good, one could argue? For instance, the Colonialists left at the end of a major war (one of the root-causes was Colonisation itself!). India was Freed, right? That specific form of exploiting India's resources changed from that of direct occupation to a more subtle and effective form called "Free Trade". The Bretton Woods system ratified all Capitalist nations' interests in continued exploitation of natural resources by the still-ruling powers of the world (namely US, Britain, France, etc.,). Free Trade, in other words, is a system of exploitation of a so-called Third World nation's resources by someone with Little Green Pieces of Paper on the lines of "If you let me take your stuff, you'll get these little green pieces of paper using which you can buy the finished goods I produce using your nation's resources".

Female infanticide

Besides improvement in the quality of lives of _those people who accepted the little green pieces of paper_, there were arguably some other improvements. For instance, They 'taught' the peoples what it means to be "humane". Female infanticide, what a terrible and ruthless thing it is! But... it is also important to realize that this so-called "inhumane" killing of the girl baby is a very effective means of population control. (By no means am I justifying or arguing _for_ female infanticide here. Far from it.)

In the wild, many males go unmated. A male doesn't mean more individuals. A female that survives, however, very likely results in more children. Educating the females coupled with eradication of female infanticide would have worked. But with India, it was a half done job... and that's worse than not doing the job at all!

Take away that population stabilisation mechanism of Female Infanticide and add to it the joke called the Green Revolution, India saw her population rise and her once-stable ways of life completely changed forever. Today, we're a billion+ and to feed that growing population we had to adopt ways of agriculture that was previously not thought of. Today, India boasts of vast areas of degraded soil on the planet. It is only imperative that she would end up in this situation given the decisions that were made by the so-called Leaders of that Era.

Where be the Wisdom?

... The colonialists are back (strong statement, indeed ;) ) - under the name of Monsanto DuPont and several other MNC "Agri Businesses" who promise to solve the problem of world's poverty (does that ring a bell?). Last time, it was by releasing the locked up Nitrogen in a finite endowment of Natural Gas to create Fertilizers, developing an infrastructure of Farm Mechanisation that relied (and still relies) on Fossil fuels (specifically Diesel) and quickly releasing up water stored in deep Aquifers through the use of, yet again, cheap fossil fuels (a significant portion of Electricity comes from Coal + Oil + Natural Gas).

This time, they're back with the same old excuse of atempting to solve World's poverty by manipulating our domesticated life forms' DNA.

... so what exactly is their system of "solving world hunger"?

1. The company has had a successful herbicide product called Round Up. (remember, Agent Orange?) The herbicide kills just about anything in it's way. Earlier, farmers had to exercise care when spraying the herbicide because they ran the risk of killing their crops too. Roundup is a non-selective weed killer. The paradox with Life is that, the more we apply Selection Pressure, the more "evolved" the species we're trying to kill becomes. This is because those individuals that could be killed are already gone! The ones that remain are the ones who were difficult to kill in the first place and if they manage to leave their progeny, those progeny are likely equally difficult too! Over just a few generations, things become very difficult for one generation of humans. The use of just the herbicide alone didn't scale well. We talk "scale" only when we talk growth. However, Stability needs resilience. The job done by the frogs, the sparrows, the spiders, the lizards and the earthworms were now replaced by one single plastic bottle with a TradeMarked logo on it. How neat?

2. Since the Herbicide solution didn't scale they had to do a round 2 of their fight against nature - through Genetic Engineering. They "invented" a new "variety" of crop that were resistant to the herbicide (called "Round up ready $whatever"). All was good for a while, until recently (2 yrs ago) when farmers started reporting Super Weeds. Life evolves in amazingly powerful ways. This was just one example.

3. Genetic Engineering has two peculiar problems:

a. Bugs: If a Microsoft writes buggy code, they can send a "fix". But what happens when there are "bugs" in the Genetically Engineered code? How do you fix a plant? Today's Genetic Engineering methods are still crude. Its not like we insert a nano-particle that reads through the genes and 'modifies' the genes. They merely insert some other animal's genes that produces the desired proteins!

b. Intellectual Property: Life replicates. That's the equivalent of piracy, only naturally done by the bees.

To avoid these two problems, they introduced Terminator Technology. Simply put, the seeds produced by the GM crops aren't seeds. They cannot produce new plants when sown. They're merely grains for consumption. Seed saving - The very practice that brought about agriculture, will no longer be applicable since the seeds are all impotent. I'm sure we have all read about Farmer suicides and the wide-spread cause of suffering due to this very enslavement.

Ah, solve hunger by killing people? That makes sense! Oh wait, that "scale" requires farm machinery which, by today's infrastructure, is all designed to run on Diesel.

Now, I'd like to draw you to the end of this post by instilling a sense of hope through this real life story that I've been quite proud of...

In our farm, We decided to sow only native variety rice seeds (we picked two varieties namely "Garudan Samba" and "Gandakasala". We had to obtain them with much difficulty since the government makes only narrow-mindedly designed rice varieties from the IRRI available to the farmers). At first, the locals (having forgotten their own ways of traditional, resilient agriculture) laughed at us and even questioned if such things will be "practical" in today's world. Grace be to the all merciless, non-existent God!The rains poured and destroyed their crops at a completely unseasonal time. Our crops were damaged, but not destroyed completely. Now, they are beginning to see the advantanges.

They're curious to find out how to obtain these seeds. They're stlil using pesticides. But they're beginning to see the birds perched atop our now-growing trees helping with pest control. They're still using fertilizers but that's because 1. fertile, naturally rich soils aren't anywhere around. Our soil has just begun the recovery from the damages due to prolonged nitrogen fertilizer use in the past (ie., before we bought this land). 2. Fertilizers are still pretty much free flowing in this Peak Moment.

I've become pretty much cynical that most of the times its only the shock doctrine that helps bring the masses to Reality. Those very things can also be learnt by applying thought. However challenging or even depressing that might seem initially.

If you'd like to "take away" anything from this post: All I ask the reader is to switch to locally produced foods that is not GM. Every paisa is a profit that helps further their ways of enslavement and suffering. It kills our wisdom, however foolish and ridiculous it might sound to the "Free Thinking" west. Ridicule works and we must not fall prey to their old ways. Free Thought brings with it a sense of confidence and a dash of arrogance. Knowing that arrogance is Wisdom. Evolutionary studies today show that the genetic differences amongst the so-called "races" is totally insignificant and that it has just been mere chances that led to the rise and fall of several civilizations. The people of this sub-continent didn't use Coal in 19th century and Oil in the 20th century like what the "Colonisers" have been doing. But that's just a finite resource. The success of the west is only temporary and eventually they'll have to deal with reality in ways we've all come to accept in the past - thousands of years ago.

An American Indian quote to end the post:

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."


( 17 comments — Comment on this )
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)

My god bro' that has to be one of the most powerful posts I've ever read.

I'm going to link to it.
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:41 am (UTC)
Thanks for offering to boost up the page-rank. Please let me know where you link from :)

Edited at 2010-04-08 03:37 pm (UTC)
Jan. 28th, 2010 06:40 am (UTC)

My own journal only. Please consider refining it and submitting it for publication in an India newspaper or whatever else will be read by Indian intellectuals.

Can you reference the one quote of the English guy? Wikipedia maybe? Also adding another supporting example of relative wealth and general well being would make the argument stronger in American eyes. If there is one thing hard for an American to believe (can't speak for Western Europe) is that anything other than American capitalism can produce general well being. Yeah, we are that blind -- it is our myth.
Jan. 28th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'll try :)

But that "refining" will require removing everything that is politically incorrect including the names that have been mentioned, references to the "merciless, non-existent god" and so on. But I'll definitely give it a try. News paper == more awareness than this puny little blog.

Thanks for all the encouragement :)
Jan. 28th, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
Jan. 29th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
Very insightful Suraj. Kudos.
Jan. 29th, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
You might want to check ...
It's run by good friends of mine. They might be interested in buying your rice, etc. too ... :) If you want, I could drop a line.
Jan. 30th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
Its always nice to get to know someone on the same lines of thought! The introduction would definitely help :)

That said, w.r.t. selling the produce, I guess its a matter of supply limitation. The demand is already saturated (ie., I have enough people already willing to buy the produce locally within thanjavur/chennai/bangalore).
Jan. 31st, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
It is indeed quite thought provoking.(I am thinking about development, advancement and basic living).However, i consider my knowledge inadequate to comment further.

Feb. 1st, 2010 12:48 am (UTC)
Re: Powerful
Off late, I've realized how amazingly unique and "resilient" this region has been over ages - especially after reading Amartya Sen's "The Argumentative Indian" - a comprehensive "proof" of how India's diversity and "debate oriented" way of life was the secret behind it's success in stability and cultural unity amongst diversity. The evolutionary analogy I can provide is that of how forest ecosystems tend to be resilient and "self-protecting". Alexander the Great was considered a nuissance. The wealth we'd developed was that of biodiversity and a general sense of wonder about the world we lived in.

I can do a quick math and say that for whatever so-called poor-quality-of-life the people who lived here a few thousand years ago would have lived, they definitely passed on the same quality to the next generation for several generations. Their populations stayed stable and people have left good historical records of the fun ways of life they had (the book "The story of our food" is a good read on this topic (thanks thaths, for the book!)). Today's way of life is the side-effect of finding abundant energy from earth through 2000 years of sustained research and "progress". We've achieved what every species strives to achieve - diversity. 6.8bn combinations of us are around, as of 2010. It was an inevitable outcome. :)
Feb. 1st, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Post on TOD

I don't create comments on TOD anymore but I do read it time permitting.

I think your POST there today on TOD is very very good and needed badly as well.

Many there are not very much aware that what you describe in India is also occurring as well here in the USA. Likely at a higher rate.

I live on a small farm and I work with the equipment farmers use. The electronics mostly as well as Precision Agriculture.

Currently our waters are very polluted and becoming more so. Many aquifers no longer produce. The soils are mostly depleted and only produce if a very large dose of artificial fertilizers are spread on them as well as lime.

We are now almost totally into GMO. Our food is approaching the point where its becoming unedible and is filled with huge amounts of chemicals and additives.

An example. Breakfast cereal. I find I can no longer consume the supermarket grain cereals. I find them unplatable.

Today I cooked my breakfast of 'grits'. This is essentially ground corn meal. The native americans ate it profusely.

I have the unadultered variety. Stone ground from pure white homegrown corn. I grind it myself. I grow the corn. Its very healthy food and very tasty.

What you get in the stores is not the same. Its far far worse. And unhealthy as well.

So what is happening to India is also happening here.

BTW..Columbus used the phrase Indios in a religious vein and I think in Latin when he described the natives he found in the New World. He was not calling them Indios as referring to his desire to find India but as a phrase meaning something different. I cannot find the book where the anthropologist states this based upon the documents left by Columbus proving the above contention since I have so many I cannot lay my hands on it at this time.

I think it was more like 'in Dios'...Dios meaning God I believe. Due to the native american rituals and structures /mounds etc.

I have Native American ancestry. Perhaps most of my blood in my veins for the most part is Cherokee. Cherokee's were farmers. They intermarried into the Scotch Irish settlers in order to assmimilate with them and not be massacred. It didn't work.

Thanks for the Key Post on TOD. Its very good.

J. Crabtree
Feb. 2nd, 2010 09:24 am (UTC)
Adaptive landscapes
Got to your post via the Oil Drum: thank you for this, it's a great piece. You're right about GM: the issue isn't the technology, it's the wielder. I love the link to your farm - such a simple idea, but works so effectively.

I'm working on a theory of 'adaptive landscapes' that relates to what you're talking about. The idea of 'indigenous knowledge' often comes across as something mystical, too ethereal to be nailed down. Rubbish - apologies for my presumption, here's a bit of my writing on '3 adaptive landscapes' that argues this kind of 'wisdom' is likely a natural consequence of human production -

In economics, this kind of innovation is usually only attributed to high-tech - silicon valley being the most commonly cited. One example I discuss - Stephen Lansing's analysis of rice management in Bali - shows how such adaptive landscapes are often entirely invisible to colonialists. Bali got lucky, it seems - Lansing helped make that system visible.

On adaptive plant-breeding, I went to a talk by -

- who I believe may be doing work in your region. This stuff is much closer to the ideal of adaptive plant-breeding led by farmers themselves.

Also, have you seen 'We Feed The World?' Can be watched on Google Video I think. There's a brilliant section with an employee of Pioneer working in Romania - he clearly describes the pusher trick used to get growers off seed-saving and onto Pioneer's seed. I've transcribed him here (and there's a link to the video.)

To finish: a similar colonial quote from the US: Senator Dawes at the Lake Mohonk Conference in 1883, of the Cherokee -

"The head chief told us that there was not a family in that whole nation that had not a home of its own. There was not a pauper in that nation, and the nation did not owe a dollar. It built its own capitol, in which we had this examination, and built its schools and its hospitals. Yet the defect of the system was apparent. They have got as far as they can go, because they own their land in common. It is Henry George's system, and under that there is no enterprise to make your home any better than that of your neighbors. There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization. Till this people will consent to give up their lands, and divide them among their citizens so that each can own the land he cultivates, they will not make much more progress."

Well. Thanks again, from an armchair theorist.
Feb. 3rd, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
Lord Macaulay
I mostly agree with your thoughts on sustainable agriculture wisdom acquired over centuries of practice and the relationship between education and overpopulation.

You do not need the Macaulay quote, which happens to be a forgery, to help your thesis. The guy was in India 1834-8, so he could not have delivered this speech to the BP in 1835. Also, the the diction is indian. What he did say:

From his Minute on Indian Education, delivered in 1835:

"...We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population."

He also claimed "a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia".

This, of course, led to the pejorative term Macaulay's Children, the then and current civil service/ruling class who have adopted western language and culture. For more, see:,_1st_Baron_Macaulay

And, as the story goes, while drunk in some dak bangla, Macaulay wrote the entire Indian Penal Code that is still in use in the subcontinent and other east asia countries.

Keep up the good work.

Feb. 4th, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
Re: Lord Macaulay
Hi, thanks for the insightful comment. I researched much on the topic since that quote seemed too "exaggerated" to begin with. But then, so are many of the things we believe to be "History". I went through this lengthy debate on the quote and then "decided" to put up the quote. I'm still undecided on whether it was a forgery or not :-?

We must read what we read (especially on the web) with utmost discretion... so, skepticism is my guiding principle :)
Feb. 13th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC)
Great post

Thanks to a huge, super article.
Mar. 25th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
What I read about infanticide in your blog (unfortunately reproduced elsewhere) is utterly disgraceful.

In no way was fe;ale infanticide ever a technique of population control. It was mere gender control and that's why it's found only in parts of India which had the most patriarchal family system. these are basically the places where prenatal sex selection is rife today.

Population control before the XXth century was first abject poverty and extreme mortality conditions (life expectancy below 25-30 years etc.) and then somewhat restrained fertility (women marrying early had far less children than they could biologically have had). No real cause for nostalgia here.
Mar. 25th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: infanticide
Infanticide, whether you'd like to accept it or not, is a natural phenomenon of population control.

My views on female infanticide are influenced by Mr.Darwin's observations and accounts on female infanticide. Besides, infanticide (whether female or not) has been a wide spread, common technique to control populations - not only in humans, but also in other species.

Detailed references can be found in the following excellent books:
1. Descent of Man by Darwin
2. Tainter's Collapse of Complex societies mentions infanticide and other such homeostatic phenomenon by which societies manage low net-energy.

somewhat restrained fertility (women marrying early had far less children than they could biologically have had).

Why do you think women ovulate at a very early age and become sexually productive if its not beneficial? Afterall, the principle of populations should dictate that the 'fine tuned' age for sex must be in a goldilocks zone of 20+ or whatever which is optimal for producing as many offsprings as possible, isn't it?

Edited at 2010-03-25 06:04 pm (UTC)
( 17 comments — Comment on this )