January 17, 2004


It was of course only a matter of time: ABCNEWS.com : Suit Seeks to Block Sales of GloFish

The Center for Food Safety's complaint against the FDA has some truly hilarious parts. Among others:

Additionally, the imminent release of genetically engineered ornamental fish into the environment and the consumption of them by other carnivorous fish as part of the foodchain means that such carnivorous fish will be caught or purchased and consumed by CTA Board Members. Such results compel their involunrary consumption of genetically engineered ornamental fish that have not been approved as safe for use as human or animal food.

Just think about it. Out there there are fishes eating stuff that has not been approved as safe. Yucky stuff, dangerous stuff. Unregulated stuff. Just feel the anarchy accumulate in the fat tissue beside the mercury!

Of course, as pointed out in section 9, the deep reason is aesthetics. CTA doesn't like nature with modified creatures in it. So they are injured by them. Being an atheist 1/8th troll, I could probably claim being aesthetically and ethnically injured by church steeples had I lived in the US.

More seriously, this actually is the core of the issue. The practical risks are negligble (besides the potential for spread in the Mexican Gulf ecosystem, but that is true for the original zebrafish too), the antibiotics resistance genes are nothing compared to the plasmids already used by bacteria actively and of course eating something that has eaten a fish that had a fluoroscent protein is not much more dangerous than eating a fish that had eaten a jellyfish with the same protein. It is all about what kind of nature one wants. A nature defined by not having been affected or changed by humanity, or a nature where humanity is a participant in evolution. A glowing fish has increased diversity, something many view as desirable. The big question is of course if the FDA or some other agency (the EPA?) that gets to define that nature, especially since it is both local and global. Just as decency standards and aestetics varies, so does bioaesthetics and philosophical views on nature.

I don't know the likeliehood of a FDA banning the fish (the complaint seems somewhat arbitrary to me, but I know little US law tactics and some agency might want to extend its boundaries and funding a bit), but given that it is up for sale and easily bred this might be the start of a real biotech underground. In many ways it might be worse if fishes are spread in secret between individuals who are more likely to be disrespectful of the law and perhaps traditionalist ecology than if they were just mildly regulated and debated by aquarists.

Hopefully we can get away from a debate where the issue is that a species is genetically modified to a debate where the issue is whether this particular modification is bad, risky or doesn't fit our aesthetics.

Posted by Anders at January 17, 2004 01:44 AM

"Of course, as pointed out in section 9, the deep reason is aesthetics. CTA doesn't like nature with modified creatures in it. So they are injured by them. Being an atheist 1/8th troll, I could probably claim being aesthetically and ethnically injured by church steeples had I lived in the US."

Here's an argument I love pulling out:
"As a person considered to be at a 'gifted' level of intellect and of the INTJ personality type, I find stupidity to be extremely displeasing.

And yet far from being receptive towards my view that stupidity should be outlawed, most people believe I should tolerate it.

And so, why is it that I should tolerate stupidity, which is offensive to me, and yet you believe that (insert issue being argued about here) is utterly intolerable to you and thus should be outlawed?"

That argument is a classic mindfuck, and nobody has ever managed to come up with a logical and coherent response to it, usually they degenerate into arguments about eugenics and Hitler. It is usually at this point that I like to remind people that the province of Alberta in Canada (that sainted nation of supposedly infinite tolerance) had a policy of forcibly sterilizing violent criminals in the late 19th century.

People hate being reminded that Hitler was not the only eugenicist in history :)

Posted by: Korgmeister at January 17, 2004 01:54 PM

Tolerance is a key issue here. People are differently inclined to be tolerant about different issues, and often demand tolerance in an assymetric way - "tolerate me, but I don't have to tolerate you". Getting people to realize that one needs to have symmetric tolerance in the first place, and that if tolerance in one area makes sense it usually makes sense in other areas, that is an important humanistic education problem.

As for sterilization it is well documented that Sweden was doing it up to 1975. Eugenics is a natural result when a government thinks it owns people's bodies and needs to optimize something. Hmm, governments claim to own nature too, and look at how good they treat it...

Posted by: Anders at January 18, 2004 03:17 AM

I couldn't agree more. I mainly use mockery to prove my points, although as with most of my mechanism the "I am offended by stupidity" has some sort of basis in truth.

It's just a reality that because of the (nescessary) differences we all have in human beings, we all do things that annoy each other. We all have lines in the sand that we draw, but as one grows up one learns not to be so self obsessed as to demand that people stop doing things they disagree with without considering how that might impact on them.

And thanks for the tidbit on Sweeden as well. Many consider it an even more Holy And Sacred Beacon of Progressivism than Canada, so that will be fun indeed.

Posted by: Korgmeister at January 18, 2004 11:08 AM

The Swedish sterilizations wer eto a large extend founded in the progressive vision. One should recall that eugenics was very much a progressive cause in the 1800's and early decades of the 20th century, linked with the ideas of public health, racial progress and using technology to better mankind collectively (this is also why I always point out that i'm very much an individualist libertarian transhumanist - while Haldane and Bernal may be important predecessors to modern transhumanism they had some views that I find unacceptable). It is very notable that Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, the famous economist pair laying much groundwork for the "people's home" vision of wellfare also were supporters of the sterilization program (Alva coined the expression "the population bomb" if I remember right, and was one of the big names in UN population policy). The basic motivation appears to have been both sanitary ("keeping society healthy") and economic - it is expensive to have "defective" people around if you have to pay for them. In the end around 60,000 people were sterilized 1934-1974, mostly mentally challenged women.

Yet another reason not to trust governments even when they think they are helping you. Because this program does appear to have been run on sincere notions of bettering things, rather than hate or racism. Makes it far more frightening.

As C.S. Lewis said: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated: but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Posted by: Anders at January 18, 2004 11:38 PM

That is an absolutely killer quote.

Unfortunately it seems that there's something in human nature that seems to want to encourage the busybodies. I used to entertain fantasies that Americans still believed in rugged individualism, but it doesn't take too much of a look to see that's just a romantic notion I had.

Which rather annoys me, really. I'm the sort of person who above all wishes to do my thing without bothering anyone else, and to be not bothered in return. Unfortunately, most people's creed is "treat others as you would wish to be treated" which I find to be a pernicious and troublesome notion.

What happens is that people who want to be pampered and fawned other constantly bother me, while they get offended that I respond by leaving them alone. Classic Schizmogenesis, eh?

This also makes me wonder if Libertarians are ever going to be anything other than a noisy political minority. I don't think there's any nation, especially not in the present day, that appears to be libertarian friendly. Most people seem to want a "nanny state".

Posted by: Korgmeister at January 19, 2004 06:23 AM

If people want nanny states, let them have them. As long as there is an alternative people can move to.

The problem is that we might actually need busybodies to some extent. As was mentioned in the Hortator entry, even in a voluntarist society there are bad forms of behavior we want to minimize (going to work while having a cold, programming your children to always obey you, whatever), and for that we need busybodies. Too few of them, and the web of trust and shared assumptions we need to have a working society will tend to decay. Too many, and we get annoyed to death. The Hortator idea was attempting to formalize the busybodies into institutions, but clearly we need to think of ways of setting up self-regulation so that we get a close to optimal density of busybodies. Maybe a nag market or something?

Posted by: Anders at January 20, 2004 12:41 AM

Hmm, problem is I don't see many alternatives.

I live in Australia, that's a Nanny State. Europe seems to be wall to wall Nanny States (as a European, please prove me wrong on that statement). Canada's got a good deal of Nanny Statage going on (although British Columbia isn't too bad, I hear). And America seems to be going down that path because everyone else is.

So yeah, it seems that right now there's not a great deal of choice going on in this matter.

Posted by: Korgmeister at January 21, 2004 01:28 PM

I find this especially ridiculous, considering the far more dangerous toxins that fish eat which have in numerous cases actually been proven to harm people. One would think the center for Food Safety would have bigger fish to fry, so to speak.

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