This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About This Issue
In this issue we present an article on automating food production, “No Hands Touch the Land,” originally a pamphlet by the California Agrarian Action Project. The article documents how publicly funded research at the University of California is used to further the interests of a handful of large growers at the expense of almost everyone else: the farmworkers displaced by the new agricultural machinery, the taxpayers whose money ends up in a few private pockets and who have to fund public assistance for the displaced workers, the consumers forced to swallow new varieties of vegetables bred for mechanical processing rather than eating, and the small farmers ruined by competition with large-scale mechanized production.
Though the research is largely funded by the public, its direction is strongly influenced by a few corporate sponsors with clout in the university administration, the state legislature, and local government. Systematic exclusion of the concerns of the people—workers, consumers, small farmers—results in a technology incompatible with human needs and the natural environment: inflexible, energy-intensive, pest-prone, over-sophisticated, polluting and large in scale.
This Western, capitalist technology is large in scale for a reason: large-scale technologies tend to concentrate power and control in a few hands rather than with the majority of people. One could conclude from the article that a community or nation using such technologies should be strongly aware that decision-making comes increasingly under the influence of a small number of technical and managerial personnel—and the capitalist or bureaucratic elite whom they serve. Thus when a country such as the People’s Republic of China intensifies its policy of mechanization of agricultural production through the purchase of sophisticated machinery from the West, it is natural to wonder whether that technology will continue to serve the workers and peasants of that nation.
However, one should not go overboard with this argument. Anyone familiar with heavy work in fields or factories appreciates the importance of labor-saving devices. ·For this and other reasons, most Third World countries—capitalist and socialist—are mechanizing agricultural production as fast as they can afford to. A number of these countries are rightly suspicious of efforts by liberal foundations to foster “intermediate technology”—small-scale production using simple tools and local materials—seeing this as an attempt to widen the gap between rich and poor nations, and a hedging on earlier aid commitments.
Thus, before condemning the practice of other countries, one should realize that intermediate technology begins at home. While it is legitimate to wonder if automation and meachnization will be ultimately liberating or repressive in a situation such as the People’s Republic, it is more pressing to confront technology that has long since run amok: that of the U.S., Western Europe, and the Soviet Union. This confrontation requires careful analysis and dialogue to separate the valuable or liberating aspects of a certain process or machine from those that alienate or limit. “No Hands Touch the Land” is a worthwhile resource in this struggle.
Some new and intriguing insights into the politics of the U.S. drug abuse problem are discussed by Mike Smith in his article “The Lilly Connection: Drug Abuse and the Medical Profession.” The latest response to heroin abuse, which has long been a major social problem, is an increasing reliance on methadone maintenance clinics. Smith argues that these clinics, rather than effectively coping with the heroin epidemic, have only created a new problem, the methadone epidemic.
This has not been the result of policies developed by well-meaning but naive or uninformed physicians and social workers. In an historical analysis, Smith describes the role that drug companies and the medical profession have played in the abuse of both heroin and methadone. Doctors, who have been instrumental in developing U.S. drug policies, have facilitated illegal drug sales and participated in the cover-up of dangerous side effects. Even more alarming is the potential use of methadone maintenance programs for social control through extensive computerization and the “therapeutic” use of the addictiveness of methadone. Rather than freeing people from heroin dependency, addiction is merely transferred and a new dependency created—on a new drug and on the agency that dispenses it.
There are alternatives to the chemical and psychoanalytic approaches to drug abuse, alternatives that have helped patients take more control over their own lives. Acupuncture, herbology, improving basic health care and programs that invite community and ex-addict participation have been effective in this way. Why haven’t these programs received more attention and support? Why have their advocates been repeatedly harrassed and threatened? The implications are only too clear that there are powerful interests behind maintaining these drug “treatment” programs.
As work within the field of sociobiology develops, it is only human nature for the practitioners to want to promote their work to a more general audience. One method of doing this has been by film. The movie “Sociobiology: Doing What Comes Naturally” is such an attempt to disseminate the more vulgar aspects of the field.
In Tedd Judd’s article in this issue, features of the film, the theory, and practical political applications are discussed. He shows on numerous occasions errors in the film and harmful consequences of its popularized use.