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Are Americans Stupid?

Phil Bowermaster has some thoughts:

See how deftly it's done? Stupid religious Americans, clever "heathen" Europeans. Unfortunately, in the context, this doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense. Americans are opposed to stem cell research because we're ignorant religious bigots. Okay, sure. But we're opposed to nanotechnology for the same reasons? And GM foods?

GM foods? Now wait a second...a lot of Europeans are opposed to GM foods. I bet they would even say it's on moral grounds! Yet somehow, they manage to pull that off without being either 1) religious or -- more importantly -- 2) stupid. Personally, I think being morally opposed to GM foods is kind of stupid, and being "morally" opposed to nanotechnology is idiotic. However, I don't see how American stupidity is dumber than European stupidity; one may be informed by religious belief, the other by a paranoid superstitious dread of scientific progress. Advantage: Europe? If you say so.

I just hope that Americans aren't stupid enough to fall for Obama, as the Democrats currently seem to be.


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Anonymous wrote:

I thought opposition to GM foods more like opposition to nuclear power/nuclear waste. It is about fear of birth defects and cancer rather than fear of God. They may be luddites, but at least they are atheistic luddites.

Rand Simberg wrote:

What difference does it make whether they're stupid religious people or stupid atheists? Why is being an "atheistic" luddite better than being a religious one?

Anonymous wrote:

I misread Bowerman's text -- I apologize for my confusing comment.

I think Bowerman meant that Europeans are oppsed to GM foods on ethical grounds, rather than moral ones. Either way, he thinks that's stupid. I think it is less stupid to be afraid that producing GM foods is unethical (because they might cause cancer, etc) than it is to be afraid that GM foods are somehow immoral (against nature, against God, etc).

Rand Simberg wrote:

I assume you mean "Bowermaster."

I think that fear that GM food will cause cancer is simply a different form of stupid--there's no rational basis for such a belief (at least any more than there is for non-GM food). And even if it does, which is worse: to have a risk of cancer, or a certainty of starvation, which seems to be their prescription for Africa and the Third World in advocating against GM food for these areas?

And in fact many Europeans buy into nutty luddite notions (like Rifkins) that species have a "right to integrity" and that GM food is somehow immoral. That's just a different form of religion, even if God isn't involved. It's a paganism and worship of nature, at the expense of humanity.

Jeff Mauldin wrote:

I've thought the fear of genetically modified foods is irrational. I think it's mostly fear of the unknown and fear of the "not understood."

It seems easy to envision ways GM foods could be immoral--for example, somehow modifying the food (without telling people) so that it also produces mind altering substances or contraceptive substances. But making the food more insect, disease, or drought resistant hardly seems like a threat to anyone.

On the flip side, it's probably healthy to have a fear of unintended consequences. "Whoops, we didn't know that making the plant resistant to weevils that way would make it contact poisonous to 1% of the population," "Whoops, we didn't realize that if we made the wheat that hardy, it would overrun the country and kill all the coffee crops!" From my understanding of GM foods, such fears as these are unfounded.

But the fear of unintended consequences is a good one. Especially when it comes to government programs.

Nick B. wrote:

>>But the fear of unintended consequences is a good one. >>Especially when it comes to government programs.

True enough, but fear of government programs is definitely not something most Europeans possess.

Peter wrote:

If you accept human life as having sacred value, and the fetus as human life, fetal stem cell research has unavoidable ethical complications, which proponents of such research seem unwilling to address.

Fear of nanotech and GM foods both flow from ignorance.

Are Americans stupid? I think all to many hinams in general are stupid. Not so much lacking brain power as lacking inclination or skill to use their brain power effectively.

Bob Hawkins wrote:

Actually, European opposition to GM foods has the same basis as support of the Kyoto Treaty -- economic. In both cases, the policy that hurts the US more than it hurts Europe is favored.

Well, that's why European elites push the policies on the masses.

The real difference between Europe and the US is that, in Europe, the masses tend to listen to the elites, while in the US, the masses tend to ignore the elites. The elites describe this situation by saying that Europeans are smart and Americans are stupid.

mz wrote:

I've head claims that of course never feature here (we have just the Europeans Are Luddites / Sheep memes and no real analysis whatsoever) - that GM crops are a power mechanism in various ways like making seeds that produce infertile plants so the farmers have to buy new seeds every year. (Of course, they don't HAVE to buy that brand originally anyway, so it's a bit of a mystery to me why someone would, unless it's so much cheaper.)

I haven't looked it that closely myself.

For example, if some crops are intellectual property then you have to pay some companies even if you use them by accident if they spread among your crop from the neighbour's field and you harvest and sell them. (Afaik this has been settled in a court already.) So via various mechanisms (that I don't really grasp) people claim farmers then will end up having to pay the GM companies money constantly no matter what. So it's perceivably about power and control.

Of course, there are doubts on medical and environmental effects too. History is full of new technologies and products that were rushed to use and their bad sides were only discovered (or were only *published*) after significant harm was done.

Leland wrote:


If you haven't researched the information (like you didn't know what "regulated capitalism" meant), then why are you commenting at all? Aren't you the same zealot that attacks Rand at every opportunity for posting half-truths or unsubtantiated claims. So what are you doing now? Being a hyporcrit by posting "claims" that you "haven't looked it that closely myself". If you haven't taken the time, then why comment?

First, there is a patent for this technology in 1998 that was purchased by Monsanto. The technology is banned by the UN in 2000 and 2006.

Second, you jump subjects from GURT to enforcement of seed use. The second issues deal with farmers buying seed, harvesting new seed, and then reselling the new seed to there neighbors (or spreading through natural means). I'm not sure why that is a reason against GM Food, rather than a complaint about how to regulate IP related to GM Food.

GURT can have a potentially bad side effect of killing off crops. However, it is a capability (not currently in use) of GM food, but not a necessity of GM food. Your other concern sounds like a socialist concern of how capitalist companies might screw the poor farmer.

If you are really worried about farmers, then I hope you oppose "estate taxes" that allows the government to take land from farming families, who cannot afford to pay confiscatory taxes on land owned by families for decades or even centuries. Perhaps you have a good reason why the government should get a winfall because of someone's death?

Carl Pham wrote:

Fear of GM foods going Jurassic Park on us is not utterly irrational, but given how genes work, it's kind of like fearing that if you start tinkering with your car engine before you completely understand how it works, then you might just accidentally create a Transformer killing-machine robot that will terrorize the neighborhood.

I mean...yeah, you might, conceivably, but making a random accident in which part you bolt to which is much more likely to simply turn your engine into a heap of scrap metal. Roughly speaking, ignorant modifications of complex machinery are enormously more likely to result in less rather than more functionality.

Edward Wright wrote:

Fear of GM foods going Jurassic Park on us is not utterly irrational, but given how genes work, it's kind of like fearing that if you start tinkering with your car engine before you completely understand how it works

Genetically modified foods have been around for thousands of years. Almost everything we eat has been genetically modified by selective breeding.

Old-fashioned selective breeding really is "tinkering," often done by farmers who do not "completely understand" how genetics works.

Recombinant DNA is more selective, targeting only those genes which engineers want to change.

The "medical and environmental effects" that MZ alludes to should have shown up centuries ago, but they haven't. Randomly changing thousands of genes through cross-breeding has never resulted in a single case of "the attack of the killer tomatoes." So, it's unreasonable to think that selectively changing a smaller number of genes in a controlled fashion will do so.

As for intellectual property, that too has existed for a long time. Seed companies developed proprietary strains long before Watson and Crick, so the issues MZ worries about have been around for many years, if they're real issues at all (which I doubt).

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Heh, I support the Bush policy on stem cells and generally find the social conservative opinions on a range of matters of interest even though I'm no social conservative. In addition I'm incredibly skeptical towards GM foods (both genetic/biological "unintended consequences" which have already been seen, economic consequences which have already been seen, and "intellectual property" consequences which have already been seen --and I'm not even a luddite!). I'm also worried about true nanotechnology in the original (it has changed) sense of it. I'll top it off with my skepticism of AGW or at the very least the science of it. No wait a second I wasn't done yet: for good measure I'll throw in a dismay at the free pass macro-evolution (and too much science in general) gets from too many. Perhaps I should add my support for the wars against radical islamism too.

I sure hope I get some sort of cash compensation for being the stupidest person on Earth ^_^ (or alternatively a prize for being wary of hubris --and yes that part even goes for Afghanistan/Iraq/etc.: the hubris of thinking one could deal with those issues as they were without using violence is enormous).

Edward Wright wrote:

In addition I'm incredibly skeptical towards GM foods (both genetic/biological "unintended consequences" which have already been seen, economic consequences which have already been seen, and "intellectual property" consequences which have already been seen --and I'm not even a luddite!

Fine, as long as you don't eat beef, pork, lamb, or poultry; wheat, corn, rice, and most other grains; orange carrots (a color that didn't exist until carrots were genetically modified by the Dutch in the 17th Century); beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onions; apples, citrus fruit; berries; dairy products; and most other foods found in a modern supermarket -- all of which have been genetically modified by humans for centuries.

Not to mention their wild counterparts, which have been genetically modified by evolution far longer (unless you're a creationist, too).

If words like "genetically modified" scare you, you'd best avoid food entirely because they don't mean what the "organic" food industry tells you they mean. (By the way, all foods are organic, except for salt -- as we learn in Chem 101.)

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Yeah breeding animal or plant traits compares directly to mixing genes/features between phyla in the same way as traditional chemistry compares directly to massively parallel and/or serial direct manipulation of individual atoms or like an old-fashioned bicycle light dynamo compares directly to nuclear power plants.

mz wrote:

Hey, thanks Leland for injecting some facts. You probably know much more about the GM subject than I do (no sarcasm).
The original subject was speculating on why Europeans don't like GM food.
I don't pretend to be any expert on this or hold any very strong views.

One more thing, it's again just a rumor that I haven't checked and again I don't pretend it is absolutely true: The way the genes are injected via a virus, they are still more mobile and can "jump" again to some other species? Is this just another myth?

Fletcher Christian wrote:

One possible reason for Europeans not liking GM food (and, for that matter, for Americans not liking it either, when given the choice) is that one of the purposes of genetic manipulation is to allow agribusiness to soak crops in even more poison than normal (e.g. Roundup Ready soya).

Of course, in the USA, there is extreme resistance from the GM lobby to the idea of allowing consumers to decide whether to eat GM food or not; in other words, there is intensive lobbying to ban the labelling of food as being either GM or GM-free, on the doubtful grounds that this is an implication of the inferiority of GM food and hence a libel against (for example) Monsanto.

American agribusiness is also trying to impose this nonsense on Europe as well, through the auspices of the WTO. If GM food has nothing wrong with it, why not let the consumer decide?

Actually, there is earlier precedent for this sort of thing. One example is the use in the USA of cattle growth and milk secretion promoters banned in Europe. The citizens of the USA eat food that has been mucked about with more than the food anywhere in Europe; us Europeans would rather keep it that way, thank you very much.

Anonymous wrote:

why do Americans always have to bring religion into everything?...It's like its their only argument. heh...

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 26, 2008 7:04 AM.

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