Thoughts on Genetics from a Spinach Seed
My fingertips turn white in the cold as I carefully sort through the spinach seeds that are to be used for next season’s planting. Glass jars crowd the shelves in the seed storage room, with each jar neatly labeled so as to identify which variety of seed is in which jar. As the winter season approaches, preparations in the fields and in the gardens move ahead. It is a foresight that is needed now in order to be ready later. In other words, I save seeds now so I can plant them when prime conditions allow. In the community in which I live, nearly all of the foods eaten today are because of the seeds that were saved from last season, which is to say seeds are the very core of our community.
It is easy to be awed by the modesty of a seed, how something so small and insignificant can then rise to become a fashionable display of life, as if a vault of individuality is hidden somewhere beneath its tiny shell. I imagine the seed to be some starter point, an origin almost, which contains all the complexities of a living construct. Questions soon arise regarding the construct and composition of the seed—how it came to be, what it’s really made of, how it inherently knows to grow the way it does.
There seems to be a growing debate about these questions, a controversy really, in which the construct of life is called into question. Regarding seeds particularly, the gene structure seems to be the most controversial, in which science can actually manipulate the components of life, specify and modify them into an entirely new organism, or new lifeform. One side of the debate contends this practice is unethical, it is “playing God.” The other side counters that it is just a further exploration of science, and that it increases the yield and performance of crops.
The question in debate then becomes, Can the recipe of life be
Now, this is a fascinating debate, but neither side seems to really hit the core of the issue. In this case, ethics are purely subjective and relative, and a debate concerning them would be much too inconclusive to continue. And scientific understanding does not comprehend the full picture of reality. Or does it?
The question in debate then becomes, Can the recipe of life be scientifically compiled?
If two seeds of the same class were compared, one genetically modified, the other from a wild landscape, their differences might appear undetectable. Their physical properties—at least when superficially assessed—might seem scientifically identical with each other. Even after they grow, any differences would most likely be indecipherable. However, upon further study of what really makes a seed a seed and a plant a plant, the physical properties as well as the gene construct don’t seem to satisfy as the entirety of a living construct. This is to say that the seed from the wild landscape is comprised of such things as history, substance, and worldliness that the formalities of a gene structure fall short of. Take for example the history of the seed. The seed did not just come to be out of nothingness, but is the product of roughly two-and-a-half billion years of evolution. I don’t suppose that backbone of being is found in any gene structure.
Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, reminds us that scientific instruments cannot detect excellence, worth, or goodness. These qualities are underlying truths to the physical form, they are very exact existences to life, but they are unknowns to scientific understanding. So, what all this means is that any genetically modified organism is actually a physical projection of the lifeform. It is not an actual lifeform, but the image or the illusion of the lifeform. According to what physical observation can detect, the genetically modified organism can function normally, and perhaps even perform better to some degree than a non-modified organism, but the very underlying truths to the physical form will be missing.
Perhaps this is why we are awed by the tiniest of seeds—not because we know it is a complex organization of genes, but because it is a modest module of life’s worldliness. The physical properties represent life, and can be easily replicated, while the underlying constructs of history, substance, and worldliness define life.
Perhaps this is why every outbreak of e coli food
poisoning in recorded history was caused by a genetically modified
Now, we can plant these genetically modified seeds just as we can plant those from the wild, they can grow to become food crops just as any other, and we can fill our appetites just the same. So what really does it matter if one does not have history or worldliness? It matters for a couple reasons, and they are not of small importance.
When an agricultural field becomes a smooth composition of the image or representation of a living crop, but fails to achieve the real thing, the landscape then becomes a mirage from here to the horizon. It is a qualityless landscape without any living substance. Another reason of importance is when these crops are harvested, processed into any number of food products, and then consumed. We are then filling our appetites with a projection of nature’s sustenance without being fed true substance. Perhaps this is why every outbreak of e coli food poisoning in recorded history was caused by a genetically modified food product. There is no underlying quality in that food product. This is also perhaps why the leading manufacturer of genetically modified crops, Monsanto, was the same company to develop the disreputable pesticides DDT and Agent Orange—just the image of protecting crops from pests was replicated, the real thing was not. I don’t imagine Monsanto’s intentions were ever as harsh as the products turned out to be, the same as they may intend only good things for genetically modified. The problem is that their scientific achievements do not comprehend the quality of the living form.
So, this doesn’t follow the commonly themed argument, “genetically modified is bad,” for “bad” is a quality of substance. But rather, “genetically modified is a construct of illusion.”
Knowing this leaves us, the consumers, empowered to buy foods of substance, to demand which seeds are sown, and to decide which landscapes are to be grown.