Bad arguments for GMOs

•29 September, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This is part of the Bad Arguments series. Hopefully I will continue with this series regularly.

When it comes to a scientific (usually technological) topic, many skeptics will assume that if their position is pro-(specific technology) and your position is anti- or at least skeptical of said technology, then you must be ignorant in that field of science. The example I will use is my biggest pet peeve: How viciously skeptics not only defend the genetic modification of crops, but their assumption of how biologists and others in the field view GMOs.

I will start with some of the commonly used arguments I have heard from skeptics. Honestly, I really wish I could get paid for listening to these repetitive arguments because at least I’d be compensated substantially for my irritation.

1. “But what do you mean by GMO?”
Let’s begin by talking about language. I know skeptics who acknowledge the descriptive nature of language, but will whole-heartedly stand by their bizarre interpretations of what scientific terminology is.

Everybody knows that humans have been indirectly genetically manipulating crops for thousands of years. Everyone. You know exactly what we mean when we say GMO. You know what laymen who know nothing about biotechnology mean when they say it. You know what people with a background in biology mean when we say it. And assuming that somebody DOESN’T understand biology just because they use that term is a serious mistake. In fact, many skeptics have no background in biology and insist that they somehow have expertise in this field.

Here’s the thing: GMO is a term used by many mainstream biologists to specifically refer to organisms that have been directly modified by having the gene sequence of another organism inserted into their genome. Look at the the way the term is used and/or defined in the following peer-reviewed journal articles from respected scientific journals [1] [2] [3]. Or if scientists are a bit too hippie-dippy for you, check out Monsanto’s definition of Genetically Modified Organism.

So why, then, do so many self-proclaimed skeptics – defenders of all things science – insist on pushing a biological definition that isn’t accepted among biologists? I don’t know for sure, but it is certainly part of a larger trend of trying to make an opponent look wrong in every way possible. Which brings me to my next point.

2. “Genetically engineered crops are exactly the same as selectively bred crops.”
No they aren’t. This is unequivocally false. The best you could argue is that cisgenic crops are exactly the same, due to the fact that their genes are altered with the genes of related (sexually compatible) crops. In fact, that is what this journal article argues. But keep in mind that that same article is arguing very strongly that transgenic crops are categorically different from selectively bred crops, because you cannot selectively breed a plant with an unrelated organism. This is generally why transgenesis is used, and transgenic crops are the more common form of GMO crop.

3. “If you say you’re against GMOs, you are against the genetic engineering of all organisms for all purposes.” That’s not what most people mean, and you know it. When laypeople and even many scientists refer to GMOs, they are talking about genetically modified crops. They are specifically talking about the way food is developed and grown…food that we put in our mouths. Assuming that somebody against BT corn is also against the biosynthetic production of insulin shows ignorance on the skeptic’s side. Sure, there are those who oppose all genetic modification because it’s “unnatural,” but they are in the minority. My most New-Agey, pro-natural, anti-“chemical” friends still support genetic engineering for life-saving, medical purposes like insulin. Pay attention to people’s actual reasons for opposing GMOs.

4. “Arguing against GMOs is just like arguing against vaccination.” This one makes me kinda violently angry. How exactly is a world free of genetically modified crops the same as a vaccine-free world? Anybody who understands how food is globally distributed realises that GMOs are not going to solve world hunger. If you want to talk about morality, I think it’s pretty damn immoral to be pouring millions of dollars into “combating world hunger” by reinforcing an already dying agricultural system, when we have the tools and knowledge to alter our global cropping systems to be more efficient and less ecologically destructive. Have a pest problem with your crops? Don’t try already proven integrated biocontrol methods in conjunciton with pesticides! No! Just buy seeds that are resistant to pesticides so you can dump even more pesticides onto your crops and feed further into the cycle of pesticide resistance (and contamination of aquatic ecosystems). That way you can continue to grow fields and fields of the same dying crop with absolutely no genetic diversity!

And yes, while the idea of combining GMOs with sustainable agriculture has been brought up, it is not commonly discussed, and it is not what people mean when they talk about solving world hunger with GMOs. GMOs are a quick-fix technological “solution” that can do no wrong in the eyes of the many skeptics I’ve spoken to.

The fact of the matter is that people are concerned, and they have the right to be. Skeptics frequently jump on the health claims and ignore or downplay the ecological concerns regarding GMOs. I find this extremely opportunistic, as the former are easier to shoot down than the latter. Yet the ecological (and autonomy) concerns are frankly far more terrifying on a global scale and need to be addressed seriously. Please, listen to what people are saying and WHY they are saying it.

The mythology of the fallacy

•3 December, 2014 • Leave a Comment

As a veteran Internet arguer, I have now come across false claims of fallacies so many times I’ve lost count. The most common ones: Ad Hominem and No True Scotsman. The People of the Internet seem to understand the Strawman fallacy a bit better than the other two, so I won’t address that one.

First of all, what is a fallacy? A fallacy is an argument that lacks logical consistency. As I will discuss later, it is not simply being incorrect.

Ad Hominem specifically means “to the person.” However, the fallacy doesn’t simply involve attacking the person. That may fall under the category of bullying or verbal abuse, but simply calling somebody names does not make your actions fallacious. A fallacious argument essentially requires the assumption, “therefore you’re wrong.” So saying, “you’re a dipshit,” is name-calling. Saying, “You’re a dipshit and therefore you’re wrong” is an Ad Hominem fallacy. Also, the “you’re wrong” part has to be dependent on the “you’re a dipshit” part. So saying, “you’re  a dipshit, and also you’re wrong” is also not a fallacy. Name-calling by itself does not make an argument any weaker or less logical. It just makes the person making the argument less likeable.

No True Scotsman. This one is my favourite, because it completely infuriates me when people use it. It is almost always used incorrectly. When you state that somebody does not belong to a group  simply because they did something unfavourable (but unrelated to the definition of that group), you are making a fallacious argument. The most common example used:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”
Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

The most important detail of this example, that many people fail to notice time and again, is that whether or not somebody puts sugar in his porridge is irrelevant to the definition of a Scotsman. If, for example, the argument was, “If you have no Scottish ancestry or don’t live in Scotland, you are not a Scotsman,” it wouldn’t be a fallacy, because you are literally referring to the definition of a Scotsman. Similarly, if you said, “peppers aren’t types of broccoli,” this wouldn’t be a No True Scotsman fallacy either, because of how both peppers and broccoli are defined*.

Now let’s get to the arguments I personally hear time and time again in my corner of the Internets.

1. “Saying that the USSR wasn’t socialist/communist is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Let’s follow this logically, shall we?
The definition of socialism: A wage-less socio-economic system where the workers own and control the means of production.
Communism: A stateless, classless society.
The USSR: A state-run country (therefore not communist) where government elites owned and controlled the means of production and dictated wages for workers (therefore not socialist).
Even Lenin referred to post-revolutionary Russia as “State Capitalism.” The Bolsheviks founded the Communist Party under the hopes that the region would eventually become communist (i.e. stateless and classless); not because they saw it is communist then. Similarly, Green Parties aim to create environmentally sustainable countries, but that does not mean that if they were to rise to power, the country/ies they oversaw would automatically (or even in a few decades’ time) become completely green. Whether or not forming a political party for the purpose of creating a communist region is a good strategy is up for debate (I would say no, seeing as how I’m an anarchist). But that’s a different discussion.

2. “Saying that ‘anarcho’-capitalists aren’t real anarchists is a No True Scotsman fallacy.”
Anarchism has always been a political philosophy that opposes the two arms of capital: The state and private property. This is the very basic definition of anarchism. It makes utterly no sense to call yourself an anarchist if you support private property or capitalism.

And while you’re at it, stop calling peppers broccoli.

And now my favourite. The Fallacy fallacy. Way too many people assume that an argument with poor logic directly means that the conclusion of that argument is untrue. In reality, anybody can make a fallacious argument. You can have all the facts in the world to back you up and still present your argument poorly. The converse is also true: You can make a completely logically consistent argument and still have an incorrect conclusion.

Knowledge of fallacies is important for critical thinking, but fallacies have become abused because people are too quick to shout “fallacy!” at somebody rather than actually looking at their argument. It has ironically become a way of avoiding critical thinking altogether.

*Note: Dictionary definitions are rarely sufficient for defining complex socio-political concepts (or any words, really). Instead, an understanding of historical context is needed.

“It-Could-Be-Worse” Syndrome

•15 September, 2014 • 2 Comments

Lately, I have come across a lot of people suffering from It-Could-Be-Worse (ICBW) Syndrome. Symptoms include:

  • Dismissing socio-political concerns due to the fact that worse problems exist somewhere in the world
  • Putting issues on a hierarchy based on what “deserves” attention and what doesn’t
  • Belonging to single-issue causes only
  • Denying the larger socio-political and historical contexts of issues

For example, according to some (mostly white) pro-Palestinians, the regular murder of Black people in the USA should not even be considered a problem, due to the fact that people in Gaza are being killed at a faster rate. They actually argued against Palestinians showing solidarity towards Ferguson because of this. I don’t think they went far enough. Wait! No, forget Gaza, because millions of people worldwide starve to death every year. But forget starving people! Because climate change will soon wipe us all off the earth, killing billions! It’s exhausting, and always comes to one inevitable conclusion: Only the worst of the worst problem in the world deserves any attention by anybody, and there is of course a clear hierarchy based on number of dead bodies/value of the lives taken/etc.

The argument can be used against people with mental illness too, and it is especially personal then. “Get off your ass and stop being depressed; there are starving kids in Africa” is one that I’ve heard and read so many permutations of, it’s hard to count. Note the reference to the entire, diverse, second-largest continent in the world as a homogeneous “country.” Africa is a favourite scapegoat of people with ICBW Syndrome. Mental illness is perhaps the most poorly understood category of illness, and even the most aware of individuals can succumb to ICBW Syndrome when mental health is being addressed.

I was recently talking to a guy about the elections in New Zealand, discussing the recently exposed corruption of our current government, which has now made world-wide press. He said it didn’t matter, because things in Iraq were much worse. People killed to be in political power there! He then went on to say how spoiled New Zealanders were because we have a benefit system and public healthcare (which has, ironically, been cut significantly by the current government).

This is, of course, ignoring the larger problem: In this case, that corruption exists at all, and infiltrates even the most “stable” democracies. But another problem with socio-economic and historical context was revealed by that conversation: That even in the countries in the world with stronger social protections in place, poverty is still a problem. By claiming that Kiwis are spoiled, this guy was blaming the poor for their poverty in New Zealand, because they couldn’t cope even in a system that wasn’t as horrific as what some have experienced in Iraq.

This argument is one I see more from well-off people who are from wealthier countries, especially those who have visited poorer countries. They insist that the poor here need to suck it up because at least it’s nothing like [insert poorer country here]. Instead of acknowledging that things are bad here too, it’s an either/or kind of logic. People with this syndrome cannot connect issues across borders, and therefore it is impossible to understand how a global system like capitalism or imperialism could be a causal factor. They cannot see how liberal reforms act as Band-Aids that mask some, but not all, problems with capitalism in wealthier countries.

ICBW Syndrome is a very dangerous disease. It causes not only apathy, but actual victim-blaming and brings sometimes otherwise liberal people to adopt surprisingly conservative ideologies. Initial acknowledgement of the insidiousness of capital is an effective treatment and can stave off the worst symptomes, but it is not a cure, as even socialists aren’t immune. Only a constant, critical analysis of the interconnected effects of capitalism, racism, and imperialism can protect an individual from the antisocial verbal vomit associated with ICBW Syndrome.

A note to liberals about good corporations

•20 February, 2014 • Leave a Comment
A lot of liberals try to separate the good from the bad corporations.

What is a good corporation?

A good corporation is a corporation where the workers are self-determined and have complete democratic control of the means of production and their wages.

A good corporation is a corporation that doesn’t make a profit or have a profit motive.

A good corporation is not a corporation.

Anything else is just different degrees of evil.

I learned an important lesson today.

•28 June, 2013 • 2 Comments

No, it wasn’t “go to sleep at a normal hour.” That will be a lesson for another day, unfortunately.

But I did learn how to conserve my energy when debating. Just one step at a time.

See, I got a couple people’s attention on Twitter when I criticised somebody for retweeting something with a homophobic and sexist slur in it. I was lucky that they were respectful enough and simply started debating me (instead of insulting me). I responded to some, but selectively. Here are examples of what I responded to:

“But I’m not homophobic! I love gay people and women!”

“You’re being a bit touchy. You shouldn’t let things get under your skin.”

Things I didn’t reply to:

“This really pissed me off. Bitch is just a word, who cares.”

“Bitch you should have to repeat yourself bitch.” (Referring to the fact that I had to repeat myself on a couple occasions)

Note the vitriolic undertones in the second lot. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I usually bite when I see anger thrown at me. This time I decided not to respond, and it worked out well. The three who responded to me less angrily (I won’t say politely, because one of them did call me “illiterate”) all left the argument in a neutral way. “Good luck with your endevours,” “I respectfully agree to disagree,” and “It was nice knowing you. Take care.”

Now, this is not to say that other people can’t get into more anger-laced disagreements, or that you don’t have the right to stand up against oppression in an aggressive manor. It’s just that I cannot handle that kind of confrontation. It burns me out, and then I can’t work to contribute to society the way I hope to.

So I really hope that this is the beginning of a less angst-ridden path for me, on the subject of debating and disagreeing.


***If you would like to contribute towards preventing further angst, please read my comments policy before commenting.***

Just an illustration

•11 June, 2013 • 4 Comments

I had a lot of difficulty finding an American political spectrum to my liking on the Internet. This is probably the closest:


The “space available” would be where socialists sit. What I refer to as “liberals” are: “progressives” (those who would be in the “center” on this spectrum) and Democrats, on the center right.

A better spectrum, that I created, is this one:


Just in case you didn’t know that liberals irritate me

•29 May, 2013 • 31 Comments


From Being Liberal‘s page on Facebook.

I’ve written before about why I do not consider myself a liberal. I rejected the label many years ago.

I want free healthcare;
Healthcare is a basic human right and free healthcare is entirely attainable.

I don’t want money for nothing;
But fundamental human needs like food and shelter should be met for EVERYBODY.

I don’t expect any election to bring the result I want;
I want the entire system to change to bring about real, direct democracy.

I do want businesses to be unprofitable;
As the profit motive breeds sociopathic behavior.

I don’t want the wealthiest Americans to pay for everything;
I want there to be no “wealthiest Americans.”

I do not understand why liberals spend so much time apologizing to the Right. They try so hard to find common ground, as if finding common ground with people who have sociopathic beliefs is a good goal. “No no no, it’s not that I want FREE healthcare, god no, how silly!” No, it’s not silly. It’s not even particularly liberal, in other countries. In many countries, free or almost free healthcare is just a given, and it is appreciated by people on the Right and Left.

There’s this tendency for liberals to waste their energy distancing themselves from socialists as much as possible. “We don’t want money for nothing.” I don’t know very many people who think that everybody should get money for nothing. Ironically, money is so abstract nowadays that it is the wealthy, the people who invest and speculate, who receive money for literally nothing. It drives up the prices for food and housing – you know, those non-abstract things that people actually need. It is these basic necessities, the resources themselves, that should be shared, or in terms that neoliberal economists can understand, be “free.”

The idea of an election in any country having the results I want is ridiculous. I don’t think countries should exist. They’re just territories marked by militaries; the human equivalent of pissing in the dirt. Elections are essentially frauds; democracy in Western “democracies” isn’t participatory or direct; it is an authoritarian rule of one of a handful of (or two in the US) parties that are at the beck and call of the wealthy. Choosing between a couple corporate puppets is not democracy.

Lord, how liberals love to go on about how much they love capitalism! “It isn’t capitalism that’s the problem, it’s unregulated capitalism,” they say, or “corporatism.” Despite the fact that the profit motive is what causes everyday human beings to behave like sociopaths, it isn’t the profit motive that needs to change, just how much the profit motive is controlled. God forbid anybody have the radical idea of getting rid of the root cause of our problems!

What exactly would be “their share” when it comes to the wealthiest Americans? Is there something inherent about them that means that they deserve more wealth than the average American? History suggests no. Wealth in our current system is primarily obtained through luck and privilege, by benefitting from a long history of exploiting other people, so why should we allow some people to have it while others don’t? There should be no “wealthiest Americans.”


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