There have been plenty of occasions where I have criticised people on the political right for their rejection of scientific ideas. But those on the extreme left are often just as bad. Although I am moderately left politically myself, I do recognise that it has its own issues and I certainly don’t automatically agree with every traditionally left belief.
One major place where I have criticised the right is for their rejection of global warming but the left reject science and rationality as well and the latest example I have seen involves genetic modification.
Many on the left have what has become almost a religious belief in natural things being better. There are many problems with this attitude. The first is that there is no good definition of exactly what the word “natural” means. It seems to be a word which is used mainly to promote a particular belief instead of being part of a reasoned discussion. For example, I recently heard a podcast where a US beef farmer claimed that beef feed lots were natural.
The second problem is that even if we can define the word natural it exists on a scale of “naturalness” and I don’t think anyone would want to return to a completely natural life which would presumably involve no technology at all (no housing, no heating, no communications, no clothing, only wild food sources). I can almost guarantee that no one who promotes a natural lifestyle would really want to have one when they experience the reality of this.
So if no one wants a purely natural lifestyle it becomes a matter of how much technology (or lack of naturalness) is best. In other words its not a matter of whether we should be natural or not, its a matter of how far should we move from being natural.
The third problem is that natural doesn’t always equate to good anyway. I read about a Hollywood star who is on a raw food diet which he thinks is more healthy because its more natural. Well he’s wrong (as most Hollywood stars tend to be). It is more natural but its not more healthy. Humans have actually evolved to the point where we can’t survive on unprocessed food. Raw food is not good for many reasons.
What about the more extreme ends of the spectrum where we might use technologies which are clearly far from natural? Genetic modification and nuclear energy would be two of the more obvious examples. All new technologies should be evaluated based on their advantages and disadvantages but how “natural” they are should not be part of the equation.
If people don’t want genetic modification they should tell us why, and saying that it isn’t natural isn’t good enough unless they are prepared to give up all technology (which they never would). A genuine reason for rejecting GM might be the possibility of new organisms escaping into the environment and causing damage, or of new organisms having unexpected negative characteristics. If anyone can make an argument based on these ideas I would listen but they would need to be able to see the threats balanced with the advantages.
Everyone is already eating genetically modified crops which are being grown in very unnatural conditions. Current food crops bear almost no resemblance to their wild predecessors. For example, many people would hardly recognise the original crops which corn and bananas were developed from. If we didn’t have these the world would starve and the only way to continue to minimise starvation (we will never eliminate it until the overpopulation problem is solved) is to continue with genetic modification.
The same applies to nuclear power. There is simply no way that future energy demands can be met without nuclear energy (at least not without much worse environmental consequences than those involved with nuclear). I agree that the effects of a disaster involving a nuclear power plant are very harmful but the chances of that accident happening to a well run, modern reactor are close to zero. It does involve a risk but that must be compared with the potential benefit and the risk associated with other energy sources. Arguments involving how “natural” it is have no validity.
So I do reject the loony left and their illogical ideas and that’s why I don’t fully support organisations like Greenpeace (although I agree with some of what they do). But there is one way that the left beat the right in this area. The left tend to be motivated by a genuine (but misguided) concern for the planet and for people whereas the right are more concerned with corporate profits and maintaining the control of the privileged classes. They’re both wrong and they’re both potentially dangerous, but for different reasons!