"The Triumph of Death" - Pieter Breughel the Elder
Merchants of Doubt
It's said of the English speaking peoples that we're the world's great masters of politics and warfare ; but that we'll let a problem build up in our own backyard until it becomes a catastrophe.
Merchants of Doubt shows these "talents" at work in the worlds of science and government in ways that threaten to grow far beyond our own backyard and - eventually - spread our catastrophe to the whole earth.
Recommended : watch in Fullscreen ^
Science Has a Toxicity Problem
There's a large and strange process at work in our world today - one we don't notice as a pattern, but that's actually a mega-phenomenon of our times :
Again and again, science creates a product or technology that's truly useful or helpful to us. With the help of some economic entity - a corporation - the invention is produced and circulated, and our lives become in some way easier and better. In an amazingly short time, it's implemented all around the world - but then something else is discovered : namely that the product or invention has certain harmful effects - even ones that are deadly to us, or the natural world. Examples of such unintended harmful effects include those of
- Agricultural chemicals - pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc.
- Chemicals in our foods, skin and body care products, and any number of other products in our homes and workplaces.
- Our use, extraction and transport of fossil fuels.
- Widely used pharmaceutical products (overused antibiotics for humans and animals ; our intensive, extensive, increasingly mandatory use of vaccines).
- Electronic and telecommunications technologies and
- Unnoticed collateral effects even of "green" technologies (wind, solar) through their "smart" and WiFi tracking features, dirty electricity etc.
Most often, unfortunately, these effects are noticed only once people become sick, or they badly harm our natural environment. At this point science awakens to diagnose, and at best, find ways to solve the problem ; but paradoxically, this often proves near impossible to accomplish. This is a second great unseen pattern and mega-phenomenon of our times. How is it that a problem can be seen clearly by some portion of scientists, even a majority, protested adamantly by those it affects - but nothing can be done about it for long periods of time ; while damage from it accumulates steadily ?
It can be asked, fairly, why science so repeatedly wreaks harm in the world of living things - this is a fair question. Some things made with the help of science clearly have few benefits - cigarettes are one example. Others, like the dependence of our farming on toxic chemicals, beg changes to our basic thinking. But for their greater part, defects and downsides in our technologies can be corrected with the help of science. Yet activists in the realms noted above - and more - assure us they're not corrected, even where they easily could be.
Dismissal and Denial
Rather, activists report frustration, a sense of impotence and despair that work done competently and diligently to stop obvious harm, is blocked, blunted, ridiculed, attacked with baffling vehemence ; and themselves with it. Worse, they see one activist cause set against another (e.g. climate change and vaccine safety) ; in a fog of confusion and acrimony that consumes decades of precious time. Perhaps worst of all, they see scorn heaped, and calls made to restrict products with virtually no history of harm, and against which virtually no credible complaints are ever made, such as natural supplements, or homeopathic medicine. For the public, this may lead to attitudes of cynicism - or simply confusion ; and at the level of action, aggressive anger - or at the other extreme, apathy.
What drives this chaos and social warfare ? Merchants of Doubt lifts the curtain on an aggressive, well funded shadow industry, tasked to bend public opinion, research findings and government policies for the sake of corporate profits - at the expense of almost all else. The film traces this with a light hand, but is systematic, connecting actions to effects firmly, in three historical cases.
What strikes the mind, on reflection, are not just the scale and consequences of these tactics for humans and the environment ; but how many such problems exist today, stamped with just this pattern. For this reason it becomes urgent to bring these methods to more realms where these merchants operate, to know the full effects of their practices - and exactly where they're leading.
As humans, we can sometimes go a long way before the consequences of our actions catch up to us. Clever and confident, we seize the materials of the mineral world, arrange, combine and bend them to our will. It was to this world that our science first turned its attention, and that it still knows best. Cause and effect are straightforward here ; and its substances are durable. Do what we will with metals and minerals, we can hardly injure what was already dead !
The world of living things, plant, animal, human, is also robust - but has limits. It thrives under many conditions, adapts and adjusts, bends and bounces back ; but it can also be injured decisively, and driven past the point of no return. And yet we bend this world to our will too, as we would the metal or mineral. Thinking it inexhaustible, we tear this web of life.
Progress - or Destruction ?
As humans our nature includes the potential for error ; but also the potential to notice and correct it, on our own or at the advice of others. This is a process not just of learning, but of progress - progress in terms of our humility and integrity, our knowledge of the world and even our practical expertise. At best our errors teach us, even if painfully - and in the end, lead us forward.
As humans our conditions of life also include the possibility of illness, and the certainty of death. They serve us reminders in our own bodies when we're in danger, have erred or gone too far. They warn us of error, and the need to correct it, and can in this way also lead us forward.
If we don't or won't notice and correct mistakes, however ; if we ignore or reject warnings from others, our errors tend not just to deepen, but multiply. Mistakes in our thinking play out in our technologies ; the flaws in the our technologies, in our lives.
When harm a technology does is in turn concealed, the danger is that we know neither why we suffer, nor even that we should protect ourselves. The only remaining questions now are the amount of harm we're at the mercy of, and how much we can endure.
Multiplication - and Magnification
Science, as noted, brings us comforts and benefits that in most cases make our lives better. In the normal course of events it also corrects it'sAt best that in most innovations Our normal recourse - and hope - in times of danger would be that those only remaining questions are how great the harm is, and how long we can bear itbefore it's irreversible.
Of all roles government may take in the world, its core and most legitimate task is to protect us from coercion, bullying, fraud ; and not least, from undue harm and injury. When bound too closely with economic interests, however, it falls deeply prey to conflicts - so that instead of protecting from harm by unsafe products and practices, it comes to protect products and practices that do the harm. practices that protection from harm or coercion single most important and legitrole and task is correction with The colossal scale of our world economy means that once freed from these restraints restraints Beyond lost opportunities lies the realm of real and cumulative we do.
The only thing that can truly help, agaist this organized duplicity, is the hard and unromantic work of science : the resolute deployment of laws and facts, meticulously ordered and fully penetrated with understanding by those who present them. There's no way around this work - which must next be shared, not just with large numbers of people willing to listen, but with massive numbers. Each such person has some insight or ability to bring to activism, even if small ; and some part of a cause closest to his or her heart. These are the small units by which any activism succeeds, when it succeeds - or fails when it fails.
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Jeff Smith RN, born 1950. A registered nurse since 1984 - but holistic in my outlook to health since probably around 1968. Living Waters Wellness considers not just the health of the physical body, but our soul and spirit, our social forms, our environment - and as a matter of fact, our whole earth. It's a new website, and a work in progress - but by all means, have a look around !