Pope decries that ‘wealthy few’ feast on what belongs to all
By FRANCES D’EMILIO
Sunday, November 18
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Championing the cause of the poor, Pope Francis on Sunday lamented that “the wealthy few” enjoy what, “in justice, belongs to all” and said Christians cannot remain indifferent to the growing cries of the exploited and the indigent, including migrants.
Francis invited about 6,000 poor people as well as some of the volunteers who help them to the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica where he celebrated Mass on a day the Catholic Church dedicates to the needy. Later, he sat down with 1,500 of the indigent for a lunch of lasagna, chicken, mashed potatoes and tiramisu in a Vatican auditorium.
In his homily, Francis said “we Christians cannot stand with arms folded in indifference or with arms outstretched in helplessness” about those in need. He cited the “stifled cry” of the unborn, of starving children, “of young people more used to the explosion of bombs than happy shouts at the playground.”
He also drew attention to the plight of abandoned elderly, the friendless and “the cry of all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future. It is the cry of entire peoples, deprived even of the great natural resources at their disposal.”
Francis said the poor were weeping “while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all. Injustice is the perverse root of poverty.”
“The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but every day heard less,” he said. That cry is “drowned out by the din on the rich few, who grow ever fewer and more rich,” the pontiff said.
Last week, doctors, nurses and other health workers volunteered their time to offer medical assistance to the homeless and other need from morning till night in St. Peter’s Square. The initiative reflects the Francis’ determination that the Vatican promote by way of example priorities for rank-and-file faithful.
Francis said during Mass Sunday that “it is important for all of us to live our faith in contact with those in need.”
Later, in remarks to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square, Francis spoke of the futility of making riches one’s goal. He noted that with at the end of each life “the power of money and of economic means with which we presume with presumptuousness to buy everything and everyone won’t be able to be used anymore.”
Lies, damn lies and post-truth
November 19, 2018
Research Fellow Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University
MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Most politicians lie.
Or do they?
Even if we could find some isolated example of a politician who was scrupulously honest – former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps – the question is how to think about the rest of them.
And if most politicians lie, then why are some Americans so hard on President Donald Trump?
According to The Washington Post, Trump has told 6,420 lies so far in his presidency. In the seven weeks leading up to the midterms, his rate increased to 30 per day.
That’s a lot, but isn’t this a difference in degree and not a difference in kind with other politicians?
From my perspective as a philosopher who studies truth and belief, it doesn’t seem so. And even if most politicians lie, that doesn’t make all lying equal.
Yet the difference in Trump’s prevarication seems to be found not in the quantity or enormity of his lies, but in the way that Trump uses his lies in service to a proto-authoritarian political ideology.
I recently wrote a book, titled “”Post-Truth,” about what happens when “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence. Looked at from this perspective, calling Trump a liar fails to capture his key strategic purpose.
Any amateur politician can engage in lying. Trump is engaging in “post-truth.”
Beyond word of the year
The Oxford English Dictionaries named “post-truth” its word of the year in November 2016, right before the U.S. election.
Citing a 2,000 percent spike in usage – due to Brexit and the American presidential campaign – they defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Ideology, in other words, takes precedence over reality.
When an individual believes their thoughts can influence reality, we call it “magical thinking” and might worry about their mental health. When a government official uses ideology to trump reality, it’s more like propaganda, and it puts us on the road to fascism.
As Yale philosopher Jason Stanley argues, “The key thing is that fascist politics is about identifying enemies, appealing to the in-group (usually the majority group), and smashing truth and replacing it with power.”
Consider the example of Trump’s recent decision not to cancel two political rallies on the same day as the Pittsburgh massacre. He said that this was based on the fact that the New York Stock Exchange was open the day after 9/11.
This isn’t true. The stock exchange stayed closed for six days after 9/11.
So was this a mistake? A lie? Trump didn’t seem to treat it so. In fact, he repeated the falsehood later in the same day.
When a politician gets caught in a lie, there’s usually a bit of sweat, perhaps some shame and the expectation of consequences.
Not for Trump. After many commentators pointed out to him that the stock exchange was in fact closed for several days after 9/11, he merely shrugged it off, never bothering to acknowledge – let alone correct – his error.
Why would he do this?
Ideology, post-truth and power
The point of a lie is to convince someone that a falsehood is true. But the point of post-truth is domination. In my analysis, post-truth is an assertion of power.
As journalist Masha Gessen and others have argued, when Trump lies he does so not to get someone to accept what he’s saying as true, but to show that he is powerful enough to say it.
He has asserted, “I’m the President and you’re not,” as if such high political office comes with the prerogative of creating his own reality. This would explain why Trump doesn’t seem to care much if there is videotape or other evidence that contradicts him. When you’re the boss, what does that matter?
Should we be worried about this flight from mere lying to post-truth?
Even if all politicians lie, I believe that post-truth foreshadows something more sinister. In his powerful book “On Tyranny,” historian Timothy Snyder writes that “post-truth is pre-fascism.” It is a tactic seen in “electoral dictatorships” – where a society retains the facade of voting without the institutions or trust to ensure that it is an actual democracy, like those in Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey.
In this, Trump is following the authoritarian playbook, characterized by leaders lying, the erosion of public institutions and the consolidation of power. You do not need to convince someone that you are telling the truth when you can simply assert your will over them and dominate their reality.
Why people become vegans: The history, sex and science of a meatless existence
November 19, 2018
Joshua T. Beck
Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Oregon
Joshua T. Beck does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
At the age of 14, a young Donald Watson watched as a terrified pig was slaughtered on his family farm. In the British boy’s eyes, the screaming pig was being murdered. Watson stopped eating meat and eventually gave up dairy as well.
Later, as an adult in 1944, Watson realized that other people shared his interest in a plant-only diet. And thus veganism – a term he coined – was born.
Flash-forward to today, and Watson’s legacy ripples through our culture. Even though only 3 percent of Americans actually identify as vegan, most people seem to have an unusually strong opinion about these fringe foodies – one way or the other.
As a behavioral scientist with a strong interest in consumer food movements, I thought November – World Vegan Month – would be a good time to explore why people become vegans, why they can inspire so much irritation and why many of us meat-eaters may soon join their ranks.
It’s an ideology not a choice
Like other alternative food movements such as locavorism, veganism arises from a belief structure that guides daily eating decisions.
They aren’t simply moral high-grounders. Vegans do believe it’s moral to avoid animal products, but they also believe it’s healthier and better for the environment.
Also, just like Donald Watson’s story, veganism is rooted in early life experiences.
Psychologists recently discovered that having a larger variety of pets as a child increases tendencies to avoid eating meat as an adult. Growing up with different sorts of pets increases concern for how animals are treated more generally.
Thus, when a friend opts for Tofurky this holiday season, rather than one of the 45 million turkeys consumed for Thanksgiving, his decision isn’t just a high-minded choice. It arises from beliefs that are deeply held and hard to change.
Veganism as a symbolic threat
That doesn’t mean your faux-turkey loving friend won’t seem annoying if you’re a meat-eater.
The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain famously quipped that meat avoiders “are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit.”
Why do some people find vegans so irritating? In fact, it might be more about “us” than them.
Most Americans think meat is an important part of a healthy diet. The government recommends eating 2-3 portions (5-6 ounces) per day of everything from bison to sea bass. As tribal humans, we naturally form biases against individuals who challenge our way of life, and because veganism runs counter to how we typically approach food, vegans feel threatening.
Humans respond to feelings of threat by derogating outgroups. Two out of 3 vegans experience discrimination daily, 1 in 4 report losing friends after “coming out” as vegan, and 1 in 10 believe being vegan cost them a job.
Veganism can be hard on a person’s sex life, too. Recent research finds that the more someone enjoys eating meat, the less likely they are to swipe right on a vegan. Also, women find men who are vegan less attractive than those who eat meat, as meat-eating seems masculine.
Crossing the vegan divide
It may be no surprise that being a vegan is tough, but meat-eaters and meat-abstainers probably have more in common than they might think.
Vegans are foremost focused on healthy eating. Six out of 10 Americans want their meals to be healthier, and research shows that plant-based diets are associated with reduced risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.
It may not be surprising, then, that 1 in 10 Americans are pursuing a mostly veggie diet. That number is higher among younger generations, suggesting that the long-term trend might be moving away from meat consumption.
In addition, several factors will make meat more costly in the near future.
Meat production accounts for as much as 15 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and clear-cutting for pasture land destroys 6.7 million acres of tropical forest per year. While some debate exists on the actual figures, it is clear that meat emits more than plants, and population growth is increasing demand for quality protein.
Seizing the opportunity, scientists have innovated new forms of plant-based meats that have proven to be appealing even to meat-eaters. The distributor of Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties says 86 percent of its customers are meat-eaters. It is rumored that this California-based vegan company will soon be publicly traded on Wall Street.
Even more astonishing, the science behind lab-grown, “cultured tissue” meat is improving. It used to cost more than $250,000 to produce a single lab-grown hamburger patty. Technological improvements by Dutch company Mosa Meat have reduced the cost to $10 per burger.
Even during the holiday season, when meats like turkey and ham take center stage at family feasts, there’s a growing push to promote meatless eating.
London, for example, will host its first-ever “zero waste” Christmas market this year featuring vegan food vendors. Donald Watson, who was born just four hours north of London, would be proud.
Watson, who died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 95, outlived most of his critics. This may give quiet resolve to vegans as they brave our meat-loving world.
A sharing economy for plants: Seed libraries are sprouting up
November 19, 2018
Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Affairs, College of Liberal Arts, Colorado State University
Michael Carolan receives funding from the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea, the National Research Foundation of Korea, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture .
Colorado State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Thanksgiving may be uniquely American, but its core spirit was exported from harvest festivals stretching back for millennia. Its essence is being grateful for what one has, while noting a duty to share one’s good fortune.
In my new book, “The Food Sharing Revolution: How Start-Ups, Pop-Ups, and Co-Ops are Changing the Way We Eat,” I look at sharing from a variety of angles – good, bad and downright ugly. One example is the custom of seed sharing, which can be traced from indigenous societies and the earliest fall festivals that ultimately inspired American Thanksgiving.
For centuries, people in agrarian societies shared seeds to help each other subsist from year to year. Today, thanks to intellectual property rights and often well-intentioned laws, our ability to share seeds is restricted. Realizing this, food activists, garden enthusiasts and community leaders are trying to make it easier by making seeds available through libraries. Surely there’s nothing controversial about that, right? Actually, there is.
Free seeds by mail
Until the early 1800s, U.S. farmers either saved seed from their own crops or obtained it through personal networks. Then in 1819, Treasury Secretary William Crawford called upon all ambassadors and military officers stationed overseas to collect seeds and bring them home, where they would be shared freely.
Initially this program was informal, but in 1839 Commissioner of Patents Henry Ellsworth persuaded Congress to appropriate funds for it. Ellsworth owned large tracts of land in the Midwest, so his motives may not have been strictly public-minded. Soon his office was distributing 60,000 seed packages annually through the U.S. mail. By the turn of the 20th century, the Department of Agriculture was shipping a billion free packages of seed each year.
This was relatively uncontroversial until 1883, when a group of representatives from mostly vegetable seed trade firms formed the American Seed Trade Association. No business model can work if the government gives away for free what private merchants want to sell.
After decades of lobbying, the group convinced Congress to end the free seed program in 1924. Without granting ownership rights to plant breeders, members argued, there would be no incentive to “improve” seed for qualities such as yield, tolerance, germination length, root depth or aesthetics. As two plant breeders put it in 1919:
“The man who originates a new plant which may be of incalculable benefit to the whole country gets nothing – not even fame – for his pains, as the plants can be propagated by anyone.”
The 1930 Plant Patent Act was a watershed. It initially applied only to nursery plants propagated through cuttings, such as roses and apple trees. Soon, however, breeders of agricultural commodities pressed to expand the law in recognition of their labor. As a result, the majority of commercial crops and garden plants in use today were developed by agricultural companies, to the point that three companies – Bayer Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – account for roughly 50 percent of all global seed sales.
Today the seed industry is highly controlled. Every state has laws that require suppliers to obtain licenses, test seeds to ensure they are the variety advertised and properly label them. And the federal government regulates seed sales across state lines.
These laws exist for good reason. If farmers buy seed that turns out to be the wrong variety, or doesn’t germinate, their livelihood is at risk. Seed laws hold providers accountable and protect buyers. Some laws apply even to those who offer seeds for barter, exchange or trade.
Seed sharing redux: Seed libraries
But another community pillar is distributing seeds without charge: Libraries. The process works much the same as with books. Patrons receive seeds and plant them, then allow some of their plants to go to seed and return those seeds to the library for others’ use.
According to some proponents, there are more than 660 seed libraries in 48 states. Public libraries, universities and secondary schools are getting involved. Their motives range from preserving plant diversity and local history to enhancing food access and building regional agricultural resiliency in the face of climate change.
One of the nation’s first seed libraries is the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library, or BASIL, which opened in 2000 at the Berkeley Ecology Center in Berkeley, California and is run by volunteers. Sascha DuBrul, its founder, is said to have came up with the idea after wanting to find a home for seeds that were left when the University of California, Berkeley closed its campus farm.
A librarian from the Tulsa City and County Community Library in Oklahoma explains their seed program.
People who I interviewed for my research say the seed library movement has grown exponentially, starting with a few pioneers but expanding rapidly in the past five years. The movement includes food and community activists, gardeners, lawyers and citizens who support the idea that everyone has a right to seed.
Libraries don’t test seeds or place expiration dates on packaged seed, so some states have moved to regulate seed libraries. For example, in 2014 the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture informed the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg that it was violating the state’s Seed Act of 2004 and needed to follow the same stringent requirements as agricultural supply companies.
Labels had to be in English and clearly state the plant’s species name or commonly accepted name, and the library had to conduct germination and purity analyses. Failure to do so, one county commissioner asserted, could threaten local food supplies through what she called “agri-terrorism.”
The seed library eventually reopened after officials agreed that patrons would not be required to bring seed back to the library, and that seeds it provided would be commercially packaged. It now hosts seed swap events to encourage person-to-person sharing.
Defending the right to share
Seed sharing advocates believe, as one who I will call Barry told me, that “people ought to be able share seeds without being treated like they’re Monsanto.” Many are alarmed by government crackdowns on seed libraries.
I met Barry in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was advising state officials on adding an exemption to the state’s seed law for seed libraries. “I’ve made the rounds”, he confessed when asked how many states’ revised seed laws have his fingerprints on them.
Since 2015, states ranging from Minnesota to Nebraska, Illinois and, more recently, Alaska have adopted such exemptions. In North Carolina, seed libraries are legal thanks to a blanket seed sharing exemption that applies to all nonprofit oganizations. Alabama exempts any providers who sell up to US$3,000 worth of seed.
In September 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1810, known among activists as the Seed Exchange Democracy Act, into law. The measure amended state law to exempt seed libraries from burdensome testing and labeling requirements.
Despite these successes, a number of activists I spoke with fear that agribusinesses seeking to protect their intellectual property rights will push back if the seed library movement keeps expanding. The hard reality is that sharing is not a right, even in this age of the so-called sharing economy, if the thing people want to share is a valuable commodity.