Save the Wild Rice!

It’s not only the Vatican, of course. Perhaps I was too hard on the Vatican? No. I wasn’t. (I mean, apart from anything else – was their Jesus a huge fan of marriage and having children and family values? No. Was ‘Saint’ Paul? No. So what are they basing all that on? I mean, they’re not even consistent!) But that doesn’t mean I can’t be hard on other god-botherers and spirit-annoyers, does it. No.

PZ Myers has an excellent rant at Pharyngula about the latter group.

The editorial page of yesterday’s Star-Tribune was full of articles on a ‘controversy’, the sequencing of the wild rice genome. I read them all through twice, and I still don’t see what the problem is…other than that usual bug-a-boo of foolish religion…If you’re like me, you’re saying, “umm, what?” right now. For religious reasons, the Ojibwe are asking us to preserve their ignorance and to be ignorant ourselves. It’s a microcosm of the history of the conflict between religion and science—with superstition mixing up a stewpot of ridiculous slop, science lifting the lid and looking inside, and the religious getting all frantic and huffy about it…

Yes but they do it in such a profound, beautiful, spiritual way.

Today the traditional teachings of Anishinabe communities and Western science and genetic research are at an impasse. A tribal nation seeks to preserve and protect a sacred gift from becoming the next genetically modified agricultural crop redesigned for those who see wild rice only as another cash crop in need of modification so as to improve yield, pest resistance, uniform maturation, resilience and creating seed that assures these “improvements.” To Western science, the mere thought that something spiritual might impede scientific research is absurd, unnecessary and only would serve as an unnecessary obstacle to inevitable progress. To Anishinabe people, the sacred relationship with the manoomin is central and cannot be ignored in any discussion on the natural gift as it has been given.

Notice the non-mention of the fact that the sacred gift in question is, you know, food, and that improved yield and pest resistance for a food crop really isn’t such a silly idea – not so silly that it’s necessary to put inverted commas on ‘improvements’. But as PZ points out, a couple of academics do an even better job of spirit-stroking.

Should wild rice be considered as a crop to be domesticated for purposes of economic development, or as a sacred gift from the Creator? Is research on the wild rice genome a sacred obligation of our research universities or a continuation of five-plus centuries of colonizing? Is the role of humankind to subjugate nature with dominion and control, or to more humbly live in harmony with “all that is”?

What a bunch of idiotic questions! What’s with all this ‘sacred’ crap? Is that the only adjective these guys know? And as for living humbly in harmony with all that is – right, next time your fridge is empty, you guys will smile beatifically and live in harmony with that, right? Next time you’re ten miles from where you need to be you’ll just sit down and hope the Creator will give you a lift, right? Next time you want to watch a movie you’ll see that there isn’t one magically projected on your wall but you won’t turn the tv on because that would be dominion and control – right? You guys have no truck with modern technology whatsoever, right? Even to write that article for the Star Tribune, right? You didn’t use a computer, you didn’t phone it in, you didn’t scratch it on a piece of birch bark. I suppose you told a squirrel and the squirrel told the Star Tribune – yes? Or do you perhaps get some benefit from all this subjugation of nature yourself, but then you make yourselves feel in tune with The Wise Ones or some damn fool thing by talking this kind of nonsense. You and the Vatican have a lot in common.

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