Archive for April, 2009

Becoming a Neighbor

April 29, 2009

Becoming a Neighbor (Luke 10. 25-37)

We live in a world of pluralism-of cultures, of religions, of worldviews. Every attempt to question this undeniable diversity is suspect. The biggest challenge we face today is to practice and propagate the inclusive ideas at social, political and cultural level, the ideas and values which unite people cutting across religion, ethnicity and language.

One of the virtues that bind people of diverse cultures is compassion. Jesus, in the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan, links compassion to neighborliness. His response in the form of the parable of the Compassionate Samaritan is provoked by the lawyer’s question: “Who is my neighbor?”

The identity of the neighbor is logically prior to any proposed normative actions towards the neighbor. Otherwise, how can we assess the adequacy of actions toward the neighbor apart from some knowledge of the identity of the neighbor, the neighbor’s needs, his/her life circumstances? For much of human history, questions about the identity of the neighbor have been considered within the narrow contexts of blood ties, the familiar boundaries of commonly shared cultural traditions, or the tight confines of geographical proximity. Due to the challenge of ensuring group survival and strategic requirements to maintain group security and self-interests, mistrust of the stranger or alien came to occupy a central place in the evolution of group consciousness, which perceives the world as binary: “insiders” and “outsiders”. The categorization of people as “insiders” and “outsiders” would lead to discrimination and marginalization. It is important to note that the negative evaluation of “outsiders” has nothing to do with what the marginalized are. But the discriminators conceive of the discriminated in such a way that their negative evaluation of “others” is always justified.

The above worldview underlies the question of the lawyer in the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan: “Who is my neighbor?” For him, knowledge of the limits or boundaries of his love is important, because neighbor, for him, is the object of love. As long as the neighbor remains an object, the issue remains legal: what are the limits of my responsibility, how far does it extend? One who asks thus is not at liberty to action, but bound by compunctions and the need for interpretation.

Jesus’ answer moves away from the lawyer’s understanding of neighbor as the object of love to neighbor as the agent of love and compassion. Jesus turns the focus inward with a view toward cultivating the dispositions of persons whose character will always predispose them to treat the neighbor as one would treat oneself. This turn inward makes all the difference in the world, not only in terms of how the neighbor is identified, but also in terms of the resources that people bring to this task. Cultivation of character, the seat of values, positions a person to be sensitive to the particular circumstances in which any neighbor is placed. The integrity of the act of showing neighborly love can never be realized fully until one becomes disposed to be a neighbor. By being disposed to be a neighbor, one will embody the virtue of neighborliness. Commenting on the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan, Augustine observed that focus must be on becoming the neighbor before any genuine moral acts toward the neighbor can ensue: “For the word ‘neighbor’ implies a relationship: one can only be a neighbor to a neighbor. Who can fail to see that there is no exception to this, nobody to whom compassion is not due?” Jesus’ final question to the lawyer – “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” – makes it clear that “‘neighbor’ is not a category that the lawyer is authorized to apply to others, instead it takes the form of a challenge and recoils back upon him as a moral agent capable either of being or of failing to be a neighbor to someone else.”

Shifting our focus from identifying the neighbor to that of becoming the neighbor helps us to invest our energies, not on defining precisely who deserves the status of neighbor, but in developing requisite virtues, character traits and predispositions such that we will act as the neighbor. This also prevents us from playing the “Compassionate Samaritan” by condescending acts of charity and aid, and deluding ourselves into a false “good conscience”. The natural response of the Compassionate Samaritan to the particular needs of the wounded man is because he acquired an internal disposition to be neighborly. Notice that Jesus, in the parable, did not mention the ethnicity of the wounded person. This seems to be intentional. For the Compassionate Samaritan such distinctions are irrelevant. His compassion transcends “insider” “outsider” barriers. For the Samaritan there was only one response: he saw the wounded man and “he was moved with compassion”.

Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for people. It does not mean pity. Compassion means to suffer with, to put oneself in others’ shoes, to enter into the other person’s experience. Compassion is not done “on” people or “to” them from a position of invulnerability. It is the capacity to identify with the one suffering.

Compassion is the primary characteristic of the incarnation. God in Jesus Christ identified with human beings. God became vulnerable. This vulnerability and identification with the weak, vulnerable and needy is seen in Jesus’ association with the poor, the sick and the marginalized.

In the story of Jesus healing the leper, Jesus expressed compassion by touching him and healing him (Mk. 1.40 cf. Lk. 5.13). By touching the leper, Jesus was subverting the dehumanizing dominant system that had deviously deprived certain groups of people of human dignity and value, and marginalized them. Jesus used his kingdom power and authority to serve the weak, vulnerable and marginalized. His message of the kingdom of God proclaimed through words and deeds signifies service and inclusion. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is described as touching the hand of people in the context of healing: a leper (Mk. 1.41 cf. Lk. 5.13), Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk. 1.31), the dead Jairus’ daughter (Mk. 5.41 cf. Lk. 8.54), a deaf man (Mk. 7.33), the blind man (Mk. 8.23), and the dumb and deaf boy (Mk. 9.27). There are also several instances of people touching Jesus: the woman with hemorrhage (Mk. 5.27-28 cf. Lk. 8.44) and the crowd seeking healing (Mk. 3.10, 6.56). Among these healings by touch, several concern people generally considered unclean. Defilement constructs a barrier between the unclean person and the rest of the community. The transmission of defilement from the unclean person kept him/her away from the community. The bone of contention between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities is the unregulated contact with the unclean. Jesus refused to recognize such boundaries that excluded certain groups of people.

Also, Jesus’ ministry does not confine to Jewish dominated areas. His ministry of exorcism, healing and teaching includes the Gentiles. His ministry of the kingdom of God is an inclusive ministry, not an excluding one. Jesus associated with tax-collectors and sinners and ate with them (Mk. 2.14-17 cf. Lk. 5.27-32). He exorcised a person in Gerasenes, a Gentile territory (Mk. 5.1-20 cf. Lk. 8.26-39) and healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk. 7.26), thus demonstrating that God’s compassion has no boundaries.

Into the world where the poor and the marginalized are regarded as despicable, dishonored and ugly, and treated with contempt, Jesus Christ brought a social ethic of human dignity and value. In the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan Jesus refused to engage in the processes of group differentiation and stereotypification. He formulated a new principle: “Act as a neighbor to people in need.” In the words of Gandhi, “act as a friend”. Gandhi wrote: “Independent India as conceived by me will have all Indians belonging to different religions living in ‘perfect friendship’.” For Gandhi “perfect friendship” was not based on tolerance or equidistance, but on an active involvement in each others’ lives as full citizens. Neighbor or friend ignores caste, class, race and gender boundaries, when expressing neighborly love and compassion to fellow human beings.

Commitment to a new civilization of love and compassion, and human dignity, value and rights is fundamental to Christian missions. The Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan exposes any religion with “mania for creeds and an anemia for compassion.” The poor, weak and marginalized become a test for the authenticity of one’s religion. The Christian mission recognizes full humanity, dignity, rights and equality of those historically marginalized, oppressed and exploited. Their socio-economic state is imposed on them by the rich and powerful. In the present times, one of the major causes for the imposed socio-economic situation of the poor and marginalized is globalization and “free” trade, which caters to the greed of the rich and powerful. Commenting on globalization Pope John Paul II wrote:
The ethical implications (of globalization) can be positive or negative. There is an economic globalization which brings some positive consequences such as efficiency and increased production and which, with the development of economic links between the different countries, can help to bring greater unity among peoples and make possible a better service to the human family. However, if globalization is ruled merely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, the consequences cannot but be negative. These are, for example, the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the environment and natural resources, the growing distance between rich and poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations in a situation of ever increasing inferiority.

Let me share the impact of globalization and free trade system on one sector in India, that is, agriculture. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there have been 166,304 farmers’ suicides in a decade since 1997 in India. Of these, 78,737 occurred in five years between 1997 and 2001. The next five years – from 2002 to 2006 – proved worse, seeing 87,567 take their lives. That means, on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 30 minutes since 2002.

What was the cause for these innocent deaths? Economic poverty? Yes. However, the deeper question is: why were they poor? Only this question would make one to see the root cause of their poverty. Some of the major causes are the international trade agreements and the policies of the International loan agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF, which are usually designed to enhance the capital of the transnational companies. In 1998, the World Bank’s structural adjustment policies forced India to open its seed sector to transnational corporations. As a result of this adjustment, traditional farm saved seeds have been replaced with genetically engineered seeds which are non-renewable. So the farmers have to purchase seeds for each growing season, which is a costly investment for them. In most cases this has led to poverty and severe indebtedness. In order to relieve themselves of debt, some farmers have even sold their own organs. When these attempts have failed to rectify their financial situations, many farmers committed suicide.

This reality reveals that the problem one needs to address is not just economic poverty, but also the structures or systems that cater to the greed of the rich and powerful. These systems or structures deprive the poor of human dignity, value and rights. To people in such situations, Christian mission as an expression of neighborly love and compassion means atleast three things: first, an awareness of human dignity, value and rights; second, sharing with them according to their need; third, addressing the systemic or structural causes through identification, advocacy and participation in the local self-determinative action. Christian community not only identifies with fellow victims of various forms of violence, but also listens to and reports their story shared by them. In her book Shattered Voices: Language, Violence, and the Work of Truth Commissions Teresa Godwin Phelps cites the poem of Antjie Krog. Antjie Krog reported the painful experiences of victims during the South African Truth Commission. She wrote: “Beloved, do not die. Do not dare die! I, the survivor, wrap you in words so that the future inherits you. I snatch you from the death of forgetfulness. I tell your story, complete your ending – you who once whispered beside me in the dark.”

Becoming a neighbor has a bearing on one’s eternal life. Remember that the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer started with the latter’s question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer was to become a neighbor to the one in need. Francis of Assisi had realized this truth. He said: “It is the poor one who saves: Middle-class rich boy that I was, I never would have thought that it would be the poor who would be my salvation. Owing to the upbringing I had received at my mother’s hands, as well as the attitude of the church I had been attending up until that time, I had always thought that it was we rich and well-to-do who would be the ones to rescue the poor. The latter depended on us, it seemed, and our generosity was their salvation. Without us they would have been destined to death. What blindness was ours and mine! The truth was just the contrary, and now life was demonstrating this to me. It was the poor who would be my salvation, and not I theirs. It was they who would put me back on my feet.”

He further said: “Basically I was giving the middle class a slap in the face. My poor garments said, “Don’t you see that it is you who are the thieves? That it is you who reduce your fellow citizens to poverty? You, Peter di Bernardone, you have grown rich only by squeezing the last drop of sweat out of your workers, and you live and thrive on the tears of those who worked for you before and who now, unemployed and enfeebled, lie begging alms on the steps of the churches of Assisi.”

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Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

April 28, 2009

 

Monsanto and Its Philanthropy

 

Over a period of several years Monsanto, a multi-billion dollar transnational corporation (TNC), has worked very hard to build its image as a champion of the poor. To legitimize this image it is engaged in a high profile effort through giving grants to some established NGOs such as the World Vision.

Monsanto established “Monsanto Fund” in 1964 as the charitable arm of the company. It states that “our philanthropic goal has been to bridge the gap between people’s needs and their available resources. We want to help people realize their dreams, and hopefully inspire them to enroll others in their vision.”

Monsanto has also Monsanto Fund Matching Gifts Program. This program “gives permanent Monsanto employees and active members of the Monsanto Board of Directors an opportunity to join Monsanto Fund’s support of not-for-profit institutions.” Monsanto makes it candid that the request for support of an NGO is honored “if the recipient organization adheres to the guidelines of the Matching Gifts Program.”Eligible organizations include, but are not limited to:  Colleges and universities, private and public elementary and secondary schools, organizations that serve youth, museums, libraries, health and human service agencies, environmental, community and cultural organizations.” World Vision is one of the recipients of the “matching gifts”.

Monsanto’s philanthropic activities are meant to not only improve its image, but also provide key relationships. It understands better than anyone that relationships, partnerships and network are the key for success of the company.

On November 1, 2006, in his 2006 IBM lecture at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, on “Sabina Xhosa and the New Shoes: Introducing Technologies into Developing Countries”, Hugh Grant, Chairman, President, and CEO of Monsanto, focused on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. He took Malawi as a model. Agriculture is the primary industry in Malawi. According to him, “seventy-two percent of the people’s caloric intake depends on maize, or corn.” Maize or corn is the staple food in most Sub-Sahara African countries. 

Monsanto was seeking a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. Grant said:

We haven’t broken through in Africa in any of the Sub-Sahara African countries. So what do we need? We need one African country to say yes. One African country to start field trials. We need to start the field trials and start testing this in African soil, and at Monsanto we’re ready to work with an array of partners to make happen.

The opportune time for Monsanto arrived with the arrival of severe drought in Malawi in 2004. Any predator looks for a vulnerable prey. Malawi, after the drought, was just the kind of prey predator companies like Monsanto look for. According to Grant, Monsanto held “a discussion with relief organizations, non-government organizations, the Malawi government, and some of the relief agencies, particularly an agency called World Vision. We got together and said this is going to keep on happening unless we take a different approach. And that’s what we did.” On December 20, 2005 Monsanto announced its intention to donate 700 metric tons of “quality hybrid maize seeds” to farmers in Malawi. This “high quality seed” was “donated” to the farmers through “some of the NGOs and government and relief agencies working on delivery and distribution systems.”

U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Alan Eastham praised Monsanto for its donation. He said, “The donation of hybrid seed to local farmers will potentially have a significant impact on the quality of next year’s harvest and represents the best tradition of socially responsible giving by the U.S. private sector.” A representative of World Vision Malawi, one of seven members of the NGO consortium, said, “This donation is addressing both the short-term and the long-term needs of the people in Malawi, and fits very well with our programs in this country.” The nexus between the US government and Monsanto is evident by not only the statement of the US Ambassador to Malawi, but also a highly positive report given by Charles Corey, Washington File Staff Writer. The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State (Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov).

Therefore, Monsanto’s “donation” of seeds to Malawi farmers through its partners like the World Vision was to get a foothold in the Sub-Sahara Africa. What are its interests? 

Monsanto pledges “Growth for a Better World”: “We want to make the world a better place for future generations.” Increased yields are the core of this agenda. To achieve this Monsanto provides “the products and systems” to farmers. Its main product is Roundup herbicide. Monsanto also produces GM seeds. The GM crop is resistant to the herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. These are known as Roundup Ready Crops. The genes contained in the GM seeds are patented.

Patenting means that farmers who buy GM seeds enter into a licensing agreement with Monsanto for the use of that particular gene. They are forbidden from saving seeds for the next season.  They must buy new seed from the company each season. This denies farmers’ right to save seed. The implications of this are huge for poor farmers. Saved seed is the one resource that the poor farmers depend upon to carry them through the year. Denial of this right will greatly impact them economically. For they have to pay more each season to buy new seed. Although Monsanto purports to help farmers “improve their lives” through the supply of GM seed, the reality is that it places unbearable economic burden on the poor farmers. Teresa Anderson says, “Social and economic risks from GM crops are equally weighty. They will increase dependence on outside technologies, marginalize farmers from R&D, and consequently exacerbate the social and economic difficulties….”

The implications of patenting of the gene in the GM seed go further than forbidding seed saving.  If a GM crop cross-pollinates with a neighboring crop through the movement of wind, insects, birds, or accidental seed mixing, the neighboring harvest would be likely to carry the patented gene also. Monsanto could then claim that the neighboring farm has infringed their patent. The farmer, who was unintentionally contaminated by somebody else’s GM crop, would be breaking the law if he saved his seed and planted it. Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers or anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. Ever since commercial introduction of its GM seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers.

All this boils down to the dreadful result, that is, Monsanto controlling much of the world’s food supply. Control of food supply leads to control of people.

Genesis of Monsanto

Hugh Grant says, “As an agricultural and technology company committed to human rights, we have a unique opportunity to protect and advance human rights. We have a responsibility to consider not only how our business can benefit consumers, farmers, and food processors, but how it can protect the human rights of both Monsanto’s employees and our business partners’ employees.” However, this statement needs to be verified with the “gene” of Monsanto.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny as a saccharin producing company. Giving his wife’s maiden name Monsanto to the company, he called it the Monsanto Chemical Works. His steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Later Monsanto extended its list of products to vanillin, caffeine, drugs used as sedatives and laxatives, plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto produced PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment.

In the 1960s, Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange, a poisonous chemical toxin. Agent Orange is the code name for a powerful herbicide and defoliant. This is “a chemical that strips trees and plants of their leaves and is sometimes used in warfare to deny cover to enemy forces.” The US military used this toxin in Vietnam War. It sprayed an estimated 21,136,000 gallons of Agent Orange across South Vietnam to defoliate jungles. This chemical has been reported to cause serious skin diseases as well as a vast variety of cancers in the lungs, larynx, and prostate. Children in the areas where Agent Orange was used have been affected and have multiple health problems including cleft palate, mental retardation, hernias, and extra fingers and toes. According to Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange, resulting in 400,000 deaths and disabilities, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

In February 2004, the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit against Monsanto in a New York court. On March 10, 2005, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who defended the U.S. veterans affected by Agent Orange, dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.

During the 1970s, Monsanto shifted more resources into biotechnology. In the 1980s it decided to become one of the key players in the worldwide agricultural biotechnology market. In 1981 the company created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. Over the next few years, it developed genetically modified seeds of cotton, soybeans, corn and canola.

In the late 1990s after reorganization of the company, Monsanto was rebranded as a “life sciences” company. A new company Solutia was named for the chemical and fibers operations. Then after additional reorganization in 2002 Monsanto officially declared itself an “agricultural company”, dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations”.

Reality Check

GTM (“Monsanto: Profiting without Conscience”) gives a short list of grievances against Monsanto:

  1. 1917 US government suit against Monsanto over the safety of saccharin;
  2. 1965-1972 UK landfill illegal toxic waste dumping;
  3. Agent Orange chemical warfare; 
  4. 1979 dioxin chemical spill Kemner v. Monsanto longest civil jury trial in U.S. history;
  5. Responsible for 56 contaminated Superfund sites;
  6. Anniston, Alabama mercury and PCB-laden waste discharged into local creeks over 40 years;
  7. Terminator seeds that lead to world food shortages, poverty, and death;
  8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone Posilac (rBST) (rBGH);
  9. Using coercive tactics to monopolize world markets;
  10. Pursuing 500 cases annually against customers for “seed fraud”;
  11. Andhra Pradesh Government vs. Monsanto on India seed price fixing;
  12. US Department of Justice and US Securities and Exchange Commission criminal and civil charges for international bribing;
  13. False advertising for “biodegradable” Roundup weed killer;
  14. India child labor abuse in the manufacture of cotton-seeds;
  15. Farmers suicides in India;
  16. Corporate tax evasion at Sauget, Illinois facility;
  17. Campaign against dairies which do not inject bovine growth hormone from advertising.

On March 11, 2008 a documentary was aired on French television (ARTE – French-German Cultural TV channel) by French journalist and film maker Marie-Monique Robin, entitled “The World According to Monsanto” (Le Monde selon Monsanto). Over a period of three years Robin has collected material for her documentary, through numerous interviews with people of different backgrounds. She traveled widely, from Latin America, to Asia, through Europe and the United States, to personally interview farmers and people in influential positions. This documentary dealt a severe blow to the credibility of Monsanto.

The destructive effects of genetically engineered crops are worldwide, but the extensive damage done in India has been widely documented by Vandana Shiva, a physicist and environmentalist. She is an activist and author of many books concerning the nefarious consequences of GM farming as opposed to the wisdom of traditional family and biological farming. Commenting on the consequences on farms and human life in India due to the use of hybrid seeds, she said,

Recently I was visiting Bhatinda in Punjab because of an epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt and despair. Vast stretches of land have become waterlogged desert. And, as an old farmer pointed out, even the trees have stopped bearing fruit because heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators — the bees and butterflies…And Punjab is not alone in experiencing this ecological and social disaster. Last year I was in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, where farmers have also been committing suicide. Farmers who traditionally grew pulses and millets and paddy have been lured by seed companies to buy hybrid cotton seeds referred to as “white gold”, which were supposed to make them millionaires. Instead they became paupers.

In India as well as in China it has been proved that the promises of Monsanto that Bt cotton (genetically engineered cotton) would produce a far higher yield and prove less costly in terms of herbicide and fertilizer required has been proved devious.

Monsanto (and its partners like World Vision) is not held back by any considerations of ethics. Monsanto does its business exclusively with the intent of increasing its own profit at the cost of farmers worldwide. If left to its own devices it will most certainly destroy not only the livelihood of millions of farmers, but also their very life.

Conclusion

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. The company has produced GM seeds for soybeans, corn, canola and cotton. More products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output.

On April 25, 2009 Monsanto announced in India a special fellowship program for research on rice and wheat plant breeding. Under the program, the company will allocate $10 million to encourage young Ph.D. scholars to pursue their research in rice and wheat breeding. Edward Runge, Director of Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, told that the company was looking at attracting students from India and China, two of the fastest growing economies and the largest populated countries. Also rice and wheat are staple food in these countries.