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    « How Trayvon Affects Even My Paltry Little Life | Main | From True Lies to Truthiness: How Plato and Stephen Colbert Illuminate the Marketplace of Political Ideas »
    Tuesday
    Mar272012

    Pandora, Prometheus and Pink Slime: How Politicians and Corporations are Waging a War on Knowledge

     

    There’s an old adage I often hear that has to do with sausage and laws. Supposedly the process for making either is just so downright disgusting that anyone unfortunate enough to suffer such revelation would soon flee, screaming.

    Implicit in the proverb, however, is the idea that there are things we shouldn’t know, that some knowledge is perhaps best left unviewed. Our mythology supports this idea: from the Tree of Knowledge to Prometheus’ theft of fire from the Gods to Pandora’s insatiable curiosity, we are surrounded from childhood by stories in which knowing too much has dire consequences.

    Well, times have changed. No longer can we remain unaware, because today—throughout the political sphere—there is a war on knowledge, one now epitomized not by sausage or laws, but by a new mascot—pink slime, that derogatorily named addition to much of our ground beef. Until recently, we didn’t even know it was in there, and it brings up a question: what else don’t they want us to know?

    For anyone older than thirty, you may remember the days before our current nutritional labels grandly decorated all those neatly shelved store items.  But it was only in 1990 that those labels became law, and not until 1995 that the law reached full flower. Back when I was growing up, businesses and politicians decided that I didn’t need to know how much fat or protein or calories were in my food.

    And there have always been more than just nutritional values that we’ve wanted to know about. Recent battles have included the origin of the fish and produce you eat and the calories in your oversized restaurant meals. Not many years back we fought against alar-coated apples. But even with those creepingly rare victories for simply desired information, we still don’t get to see what pesticides were used on our food or if, as in the case of pink slime, some caustic chemical was used in processing. And then there are the genetically modified foods—grains, fruits, meats.  How many of us have any sense of where and how those foods are entering our bodies?

    There are plenty of people who don’t believe that any of these things are harmful, who consciously choose to avoid organics, who happily grill up hamburgers of whatever construct, who drink milk from any old dairy cow.  And that’s fine; I’m not looking to convince anyone that they should or shouldn’t eat this or that, nor am I arguing for or against regulation—those are different discussions. I’m merely suggesting that they tell me what’s in there and let me decide. 

    The point is that I—and you—should be allowed to know, yet there are many out there who spend lots of time and money to prevent us from knowing; they are, in essence, restricting one of your key freedoms: the right to knowledge.

    The irony is that these are the very same companies and politicians who scream about a fair and free market. Yet their actions belie their words; in point of fact, they run scared of the free market.  They are afraid that if we actually do possess that knowledge we might not want what they’re selling. Fair and free markets are fine, I guess, as long as they don’t have to participate; that might be risky, might impact profits. That, I would argue, is the one thing—perhaps the only thing—we know too clearly.

    So I urge you to look around. Yes, it will be messy. Yes, the knowledge will be buried in a mass of lies, innuendo, and marketing, all shouted through the largest and loudest megaphones.  But that’s okay. You’re smart.  Sift through it and make your own decisions. They don’t have to agree with mine, or hers, or his.

    But to tell you you’re not even allowed to know?  How dare they?

    There’s another lesson from our mythology worth remembering in this context: after all of the harm and pestilence had flow from Pandora’s Box, what was left was the simple gift of hope. Hope, though important, won’t be enough in this war; our opponents are well-armed with money and influence.  We can win, however, if we repeatedly and religiously demand our right to know.

     

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