A minority view

Norman Borlaug is credited with saving one billion lives, from starvation. He, who received the Nobel Prize in 1970, was the poster boy of the Green Rcvolution, said to have extended through the 1950s and ’60s. He is one of my heroes, from a previous life in which I was myself inclined to honour the men and women who had brought practical progress in many economic fields. Gentle reader will no doubt already know the story, or if he doesn’t he may read the quick boilerplate account in the Wicked Paedia. I see nothing in it that differs from what I remember. The facts, now, remain approximately as they were selected a half-century ago; right down to the nasal, Rachel-Carson whining against pesticides and fertilizers.

I do not personally object to the great mass of men being fed, or even to better nutrition. That the programmes — a kind of Marshall Plan for the “Third World” (Mao’s phrase) — was a chaos of overbearing government interventions, and wasteful, often fraudulent schemes, with routine environmental desecrations, tends to be forgotten; as in any war we won. Details, details. More significantly: in ten-thousands of locales, ancient social relations were busted up. People became more prosperous, and less happy. But where famine stalked, obesity now thunders.

The revolution was also a boondoggle for capitalist investors. The bigger the investment, the more likely to succeed, because it could more easily win the game of regulatory capture. Yet by some miracle of the (feckless) human will, the revolution succeeded. Farmers all over the world were pushed and prodded, into a vastly increased productivity, as much from mechanization as from improved cereal breeds. The more clever and ambitious farmers did not need the compulsion: they grasped the advantages of getting rich. (Their dispossessed neighbours could move into urban slums.) Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive; and to be an agronomist was very heaven.

“We” (in the vaguest abstract sense) call this the Third Agricultural Revolution — the first having been the transition from hunting and gathering to settled life, the second coinciding with the Industrial Revolution. In reality, however, the posters lie. This “third wave” of vast dislocation began just behind the second, and continues into a fourth at the present day. The “technologization” of agriculture was extended through laboratory genetic modification, and now developments in robotics, sensors, GPS, and nanotech. We can already, where the markets have been primed, turn abandoned mineshafts into underground farms, and grow fresh salads and other vegetable matter in former parking lots under cities, as well as up the sides of our skyscrapers. Our supermarkets already sell meat substitutes.

And with each of these endeavours, we remove ourselves a little farther from the possibility of personal freedom and independence; and with that, the apprehension of God. “Man” in the abstract has triumphed, we believe. Man in the concrete is elided.

It is generally conceded that progress requires trade-offs. Freedom, for comfort and safety, is the usual deal. The current Batflu “pandemic” (which it is not, by previous definitions) wonderfully illustrates the typical transaction. We agree to be regulated for the common good, merely chafing at the restrictions. Those who won’t wear a mask become targets of those who do, with a few choice reverses. Similarly, we are required to prostrate ourselves before public campaigns against (historical and imaginary) “racism.” Inoculation, and indoctrination, can be centrally imposed.

According, at least formerly, to the teaching of the Church, innovations on every plane ought to be voluntary. They should be adapted to the human, rather than vice versa; to his families, and to his little plots. The principle of subsidiarity turns on this point. It is still entirely possible to conceive of changes made voluntarily, out of self-interest, one person at a time; and thus on a scale that permits local continuities.

Change could still happen, but at less bewildering speed; adaptation to the change could happen more organically; and certain human qualities, such as decency, would be easier to maintain. Moreover, genuine improvements would become easier to distinguish from the lunge towards progressive barbarism.

Should we have a government programme for this? Or might it be advanced, more effectively, by the gradual annihilation of government programmes?


IN REPLY, to several objections, I would invite the anxious reader to consider the difference between negative, and positive. Traditionally, civil governments made laws. These were purely “thou shalt nots” against acts that were almost universally condemned as wrong, bad, evil, rotten things to do. The idea was to punish, or at least discourage, criminal behaviour. But Leftists, and other filth (by nature, criminals themselves), stretch this idea of law, to include positive, bureaucratic commands. They compel the citizen to do things, whether or not he wishes, and even if he thinks they are immoral. And if he doesn’t do as instructed (in long incomprehensible regulatory codes that require layerings of lawyers), they punish him. Note, the honest citizen gets punished; the “rights” of criminals they are eager to protect.