Sebastian Zearing

how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal

Compare & Contrast: Genetically Modified Organisms

This post was originally published at

Genetically modified organisms are any lifeforms (typically plants, animals, or bacteria) that have had their genome changed via a technical method, as opposed to selection. The goal in genetic alteration can be anything, but the controversy regarding GMOs typically concerns their usage as food. GMOs can be engineered to have higher yields, faster maturation, more nutritive content, better resistance to pests, etc.

From the introduction:

The liberal worldview, as currently conceived in America, holds that humans, in their natural state, are equal in character, virtue, intelligence, beauty, aptitude, and worth, and that actualizing that equality constitutes the noblest political pursuit. Entwined in the worldview is the perspective that the natural is essentially good, and that actions to change the natural constitute corruption, and not improvement.

The liberal sees clearly that GMOs are not natural. And unlike concrete-and-steel unnaturalness, they are unnatural in a way that intrudes on biology itself. There are next to no excuse to use GMOs, and any other method that accomplishes the same end should be used. Costs or risks associated with GMOs can be discussed without referring to benefits, since any reason to not use GMOs is a sufficient reason.

The conservative worldview, as currently conceived in America, holds that humans, in their natural state, are basically savages. This perspective holds that the natural is essentially suspect, and that the noblest political pursuit constitutes advancing and strengthening those social structures that enable man or woman to overcome, restrain, and master nature and become stable, civilized, and content.

The conservative understands that GMOs represent the latest development in mankind’s mastery over nature. We have “broken the code,” so to speak, of the inferior forms we rely on for our existence, and can and should use that mastery to improve our lot. As with any other engineering pursuit, care should be taken, and proper quality controls should be developed. Whether organisms should be genetically modified is not a pertinent question. Of course they should. Any considerations bear on when and how fast they should be developed and brought to market and what kind of oversight the FDA should have in the process.

The libertarian believes producers of GMOs have every right to practice their craft, caveat emptor being the only stipulation.

As may have been palpable, I strongly endorse the development of GMOs. I think genetic modification should be understood as a breeding accelerator, capable of delivering life forms that would otherwise have taken decades, if not millions of years, to create by selection alone. As a biologist, I greatly appreciate the immense power of genetic modification to solve many human problems, large and small. I think liberal opposition to GMOs is nothing but a silly ideological irrationality that harms humankind and our environment by fostering anti-science attitudes towards biological engineering. I do realize that GMOs carry risks, but I view these risks as problems to be solved and not as deal-breakers. Finally, I think the issue of GMOs vindicates the importance of the “natural” in the liberal/conservative divide.


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