Postmodernism: what the heck is it and what does it have to do with cats and our perception of reality?

Having been taking photographs around Toronto lately using funky filters on my cheap indestructible smartphone camera (a knockoff Blackberry Motorola running Android)—no one else seems to own nor want to have—I have been enjoying the strange perceptions it’s given me, regarding light and how we view things–in my case the city, its architecture, its denizens and both its daytime and nighttime responses to light; or lack thereof.

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After posting some of these shots online, I’ve received feedback such as: “What a crappy filter!” “Stop, that’s not reality!” “Why do you do that?!” “Is your camera broken?”

I like the perspective they give, I am not trying to be a true photographer; nor even claiming any sort of artistic license–although I guess those are simply granted by others if they appreciate/are emotionally affected by, what I am trying to capture or show with what I take pictures of, and the manner in which I take them. A  ‘true photographer’ by my definition, is one able to replicate on demand, one who possesses the esoteric knowledge of depth of field, film speeds and what they alter, one who is capable of retaking the shot they took a year ago in almost any environmental condition, and the intelligence, education, skill and practice necessary for all of this. I possess none of these, and may never achieve this calibre of mastery, as I am one lazy sonofabitch.

Funnily though, I had been pondering how people online talk about cats–how stupid they are, or how nonsensical their behaviour be (or mystical or spiritual or…whatever). Living with a cat—one I consider pretty damn sharp—I’ve noticed similar behaviour; such as chasing things I can not see, or staring into the distance…

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But I understand that she has optical apparati completely different from mine.  Sometimes I’m able to catch a slight glimpse of something moving–perhaps a headlight on the wall, or a tiny flying insect, or someone a few blocks away opening a window and reflecting a quick flash of light from the sun through my apartment.  But at other times, I too am at a loss.  But this, to me at least, makes me aware of the limitations of my eyes, not the “stupidity of an animal”.  I’ve read in some places where people have spoken of folktales where cats were said to communicate with the dead–again, for the same reasons.  This of course just leads to my disappointment in humanity and people not using the gift of reason that we have evolved to possess.

Interestingly though, all of this has a lot to do with a metaphor I use regarding postmodern thinking and analysis.  Lenses.  Lenses provide us with a particular perspective, while limiting our vision at the same time.  This is true in most every human enterprise, but namely politics.  As I have grown older, I realize that I am accumulating more and more lenses of perception.  As I spontaneously meet and engage intellectually with more and more humans (something I love about living in downtown Toronto in 2013), I find myself able to identify with, if not agree with completely, many who hold very strong views about a multitude of issues.  Many though, seem to fail to understand that they may merely disagree with those towards whom they profess eternal hatred and enmity, due to a different lens or two..or ten.  Most every human endeavour, in my opinion, seeks excellence as well as the betterment of something someone (or some group) holds dear. Humans are not intrinsically evil, nor out to hurt others, without some sense of righteousness. Unless of course they are insane, but that is not to what I refer.

The video below too, (a small vignette of a great documentary series by Richard Hammond called ‘Invisible Worlds’ by the way) made me realize something about reality–so much of what we consider (perceive as) beautiful in this world (flowers for example), we are ONLY limited to perceive through a narrow band of the light spectrum.

This is also true for our sense of hearing.  This is a recording of cricket chirps slowed down so their lifespans match those of humans–they now sound like some sort of ethereal hymnal choir:

Our senses limit us in SO many ways, and yet we rarely, if ever, speak to this–we do not tell this to our children.  Human-conceived religions and gods and ponderances of our eternal purpose consistently have failed to mention, oh, by the way, most of this reality? —is not available with our software edition. This is actually one of the greatest reasons NOT to believe in God or Intelligent Design or whatever, but I guess the same explanation has been used throughout the world for the contrary argument.

Which all brings me to a vsauce segment. I am addicted to vsauce. It is such the intellectually pornographic injection of thought. He touches on so much, much of what I had been thinking and articulated above, and then some. I have actually made good friends with familiar strangers, just by saying ‘vsauce’ to them instead of hello, on a regular basis.

Postmodern thinking asks you to ‘think outside the box’ but it assumes that you have in fact perceived the existence of a box. This perception requires an awareness of lenses in order that one can become aware of all kinds of boxes, and bubbles and biases; outside of which may just be other realities and dimensions you are unable, or have yet, to perceive.

 

 

The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

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The above quote may or may not be authentic. It really does not matter.  Most feel-good kumbayaa (m’lawwwd) clap-trap does not really need to prove its provenance…as the masses nod along, hug and feel ‘inspired’ to another juicy apocryphal morsel.

…But, I used to wonder about Mountain Goats.

Do THEY know that life could be easier on flat ground?  Were they meant to just wander on 75 degree sloped surfaces eternally; with 1 or 2 kids falling to their deaths every now and then?

I decided, on the latter; that was indeed just their experience, their reality, their ‘nature’…and then they die–perhaps never realizing life was easier grazing on a prairie–perhaps even only a few hundred metres away– as other ‘prairie’ goats.

So perhaps homo sapien sapiens are just supposed to live the way we always have lived–and evolved–for millennia?  Our worry and stress and lack of vision involving complex internal chemistry…our very own ‘nature’…and billions of us (in every corner of the world) are the same way about these things…most of which, only in hindsight do we realize to have been for nought.

But maybe that just IS life.

When death or illness comes close, we ponder things, but otherwise we go back to our perceptual myopism–very much as mountain goats…but there be no mountain goat dalai lama.

Our ‘not having lived’ IS life.

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[VIDEO] SAM HARRIS DOESN’T TALK ABOUT THE DALAI LAMA OF MOUNTAIN GOATS AT ALL

[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S IDEAS: A 3-part series called “RETHINKING DEPRESSION” — After several decades of messing around, it may now be time to question the pharmacologicalization of melancholia and why the blues may indeed have an overlooked purpose in personal growth, self-development and brain-body communication

CBC IDEAS

“With the help of a number of local and world-renowned experts in the field, producer Mary O’Connell explores what we know – and what we think we know – about depression and the medications we use so often to treat it. The patient and interested listener (the entire series runs for three hours) will be rewarded with some really fascinating but often not well-publicized facts about the social, commercial and political factors that are conspiring to make psychotropic medications “a $20billion per year industry worldwide” and have led the World Health Organization to predict that depression will be the second leading caused of global disability by 2020.” Three Parts, 1 hour each.

what-is-depression

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PART ONE:

Depression. It has been called the mean reds. The blue devils. The black dog. And through history, treatments for depression have varied wildly. In the Middle Ages, depressives were caged in asylums. In Victorian England, wealthier patients were sent to seaside resorts for a change of air. In the 1930’s, procedures like lobotomies and electroconvulsive therapy were used. Psychiatry’s tools were crude and limited.  No wonder then, when the Age of the Antidepressant arrived, it was considered psychiatry’s triumph.  Prozac came onto the market in 1988, followed quickly by many similar drugs. But, since then, the number of people afflicted with depression has soared.  In this 3 part program, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell explores the short and troubling history of the antidepressant. 
CLICK TO HEAR

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PART TWO:

Over the years, the descriptions have varied: melancholia, the Black Dog, down in the dumps. The term most used today is “depression”. The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. An alarming conclusion when you consider the history. One hundred years ago depression was thought to be extremely rare, with 1% of the population suffering. Today it’s often called the common cold of mental illness. But just how effective are antidepressants in treating depression?  
Unpublished clinical trials have come to light and they reveal that the antidepressant was never the triumphant treatment many psychiatrists hoped it would be.  And we’re also learning that the theory that antidepressants restore serotonin in the brain could be false. However, despite this news about serotonin and sadness, the number of depressed people continues to grow. Now some researchers wonder whether the modern antidepressant has increased rates of depression instead of lowering them. In episode two of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell examines the debate around antidepressants. 
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PART THREE:

The World Health Organization says depression is set to become second only to heart disease as the world’s leading disability by the year 2020. More recent research over the past decade tells us that antidepressants do not work very well, if at all, for mild or moderate depression. And in severe depression, antidepressants only work in a small number of cases. 

So how can those who suffer from depression receive effective treatment and even possibly recover? In the third hour of Rethinking Depression, IDEAS producer Mary O’Connell brings us the stories of the depressed who are on the path to wellness and the methods that can be used to get them there.
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The Medicated Me 

written by CHRIS NORRIS; Mens Journal
 

It’s just after dawn, and I’m sitting on someone’s sofa in someone’s apartment somewhere in New York City. An attractive young woman I used to know is sleeping 15 feet away. Books I read, photos I took, CDs I reviewed as a music critic — all sit like props from a play I half remember. The sunlight looks toxic, radioactive. The murmur of distant traffic sounds alien, hostile, a predator’s low growl. Everything is exactly as it was yesterday yet feels totally different — in a bad way and down to a subatomic level. I feel like a character in some lame sci-fi novel who wakes up in a parallel universe or as a head in a jar. I’d skimmed over this sensation in nightmares and during extreme jet lag but never felt it descend as a full-blown totality, never felt it suck me down into it. I’d compare it with a bad trip if not for one terrifying irony now sinking in. This is my brain off drugs.

Six months ago, after 10 emotionally uneventful years on antidepressants — years that somehow included getting married, losing my job, and watching two skyscrapers implode from 20 blocks away — I began tinkering with my prescription, casting about for just the right med while the sturdy old Effexor trickled out of my system, a few milligrams less each week, a long goodbye to my silent partner of a decade.

Now, having decided to go off everything, putting my years-long chemistry experiment on pause, I am drug-free at last. For the first time in a decade, I am experiencing life in all its rich tones and vivid hues, and I’m about to throw myself in front of the 6 train.

I wasn’t actually depressed when I started taking antidepressants.

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The DSM-V reviewed as if it was a dystopian novel…

“Great dystopia isn’t so much fantasy as a kind of estrangement or dislocation from the present; the ability to stand outside time and see the situation in its full hideousness. The dystopian novel doesn’t necessarily have to be a novel.”

A new dystopian novel in the classic mode takes the form of a dictionary of madness

“As you read, you slowly grow aware that the book’s real object of fascination isn’t the various sicknesses described in its pages, but the sickness inherent in their arrangement.

Who, after all, would want to compile an exhaustive list of mental illnesses? The opening passages of DSM-5 give us a long history of the purported previous editions of the book and the endless revisions and fine-tunings that have gone into the work. This mad project is clearly something that its authors are fixated on to a somewhat unreasonable extent. In a retrospectively predictable ironic twist, this precise tendency is outlined in the book itself. The entry for obsessive-compulsive disorder with poor insight describes this taxonomical obsession in deadpan tones: “repetitive behavior, the goal of which is […] to prevent some dreaded event or situation.” Our narrator seems to believe that by compiling an exhaustive list of everything that might go askew in the human mind, this wrong state might somehow be overcome or averted. References to compulsive behavior throughout the book repeatedly refer to the “fear of dirt in someone with an obsession about contamination.” The tragic clincher comes when we’re told, “the individual does not recognize that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.” This mad project is so overwhelming that its originator can’t even tell that they’ve subsumed themselves within its matrix. We’re dealing with a truly unreliable narrator here, not one that misleads us about the course of events (the narrator is compulsive, they do have poor insight), but one whose entire conceptual framework is radically off-kilter. As such, the entire story is a portrait of the narrator’s own particular madness. With this realization, DSM-5 starts to enter the realm of the properly dystopian.”

Read the entire review by Sam Kriss in The New Inquiryepitomizing perhaps, the function of artful perspective

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The Dalai Lama of Mountain Goats

[PHOTOGRAPHY] Making Love To Toronto — Part Five: THE ROUGE RIVER VALLEY; the only national park located within a city

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These photographs were taken in October 2013.

The title references  how Urban Planners are encouraged to “Make Love to your City”, an exhortation to observe and appreciate it from different perspectives; physically as well as emotionally, intellectually and historically-well at least that’s my own definition. Continue reading

[BOOK] Michael Specter’s ‘Denialism’: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives

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CLICK TO HEARNPR

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Weekend Edition

First Broadcast: November 07, 2009

Refusing Flu Shots? Maybe You’re A ‘Denialist’

Nearly 20 percent of the families in Vashon Island, Wash., aren’t getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases. At the Ocean Charter School near Marina del Rey, Calif., 40 percent of the 2008 kindergarten class received vaccination exemptions. Author Michael Specter says the parents in these upscale enclaves are prime examples of what he calls “denialism.”

That’s also the title of his new book, . “We can all believe irrational things,” the author of Denialism tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “The problem is that I think an increasing number of Americans are acting on those beliefs instead of acting on facts that are readily present.”

The Motives And Consequences of ‘Denialism’

But the Vashon Island and Marina del Rey communities aren’t places where religious or cultural traditions argue against vaccinations —- like the Amish or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Instead, they believe vaccinations are harmful to their children, citing stories they’ve heard about mistakes by doctors or pharmaceutical fraud.

But, Specter says, when parents make that decision, they focus on the one-in-10-million chance that a vaccine could kill a child and ignore the one-in-1,000 chance that a disease will do so. “These people retreat into denialism,” he says. “It’s like denial, but writ large, [because] this has consequences.”

Those consequences don’t just affect the children who go unvaccinated, but everyone they interact with as well, Specter adds. He points out that diseases like measles, which had almost been eradicated in North America, are now coming back.

The Fetish Of Organic Food

“Denialism,” the author says, is evident in far more than vaccination rates. Take organic food. Specter considers himself a fan, but he draws the line at demonizing genetically engineered food.

“In other parts of the world,” he says, “a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Those people need science to help them. It isn’t about whether people want to go to Whole Foods or not … The thing that killed the most people in the history of the world — except maybe for insects —- was pure water and natural, untreated food.”

He argues that some people look at “natural” products, such as vitamins, and think that they’re automatically good. But, he argues, “it’s no different than anything else you swallow.”

“Someone told me they didn’t want to take a flu shot because they didn’t want to put a foreign substance into their body,” says Specter. “What do they think they do at dinner every night?”

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Excerpt: ‘Denialism’

by MICHAEL SPECTER

The most blatant forms of denialism are rarely malevolent; they combine decency, a fear of change, and the misguided desire to do good — for our health, our families, and the world. That is why so many physicians dismiss the idea that a patient’s race can, and often should, be used as a tool for better diagnoses and treatment. Similar motivations — in other words, wishful thinking — have helped drive the growing national obsession with organic food. We want our food to taste good, but also to be safe and healthy. That’s natural. Food is more than a meal, it’s about history, culture, and a common set of rituals. We put food in the mouths of our children; it is the glue that unites families and communities. And because we don’t see our food until we eat it, any fear attached to it takes on greater resonance.

The corrosive implications of this obsession barely register in America or Europe, where calories are cheap and food is plentiful. But in Africa, where arable land is scarce, science offers the only hope of providing a solution to the growing problem of hunger. To suggest that organic vegetables, which cost far more than conventional produce, can feed billions of people in parts of the world without roads or proper irrigation may be a fantasy based on the finest intentions. But it is a cruel fantasy nonetheless.

Denialist arguments are often bolstered by accurate information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts who often don’t seem fake at all. If vast factory farms inject hormones and antibiotics into animals, which is often true and always deplorable, then all industrial farming destroys the earth and all organic food helps sustain it. If a pricey drug like Nexium, the blockbuster “purple pill” sold so successfully to treat acid reflux disease, offers few additional benefits to justify its staggering cost, then all pharmaceutical companies always gouge their customers and “natural” alternatives — largely unregulated and rarely tested with rigor — offer the only acceptable solution.

We no longer trust authorities, in part because we used to trust them too much. Fortunately, they are easily replaced with experts of our own. All it takes is an Internet connection. Anyone can seem impressive with a good Web site and some decent graphics. Type the word “vaccination” into Google and one of the first of the fifteen million or so listings that pops up, after the Centers for Disease Control, is the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it’s just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.

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Fifty years ago, we venerated technology. At least until we placed our feet on lunar soil, our culture was largely one of uncritical reverence for the glories that science would soon deliver. The dominant image of popular American culture was progress. TV shows like Star Trek andThe Jetsons were based on a kind of utopian view of the scientific future. Even the Flintstones were described as a “modern” Stone Age family. We were entering an era without disease or hunger. If we ran out of water we would siphon salt from the seas and make more; if nature was broken we could fix it. If not, we could always move to another planet.

That vision no longer seems quite so enchanting. No doubt our expectations were unreasonable — for science and for ourselves. We also began to recognize the unintended consequences of our undeniable success. About a month before Neil Armstrong made his large step on the moon, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River erupted in flames near Cleveland, creating an indelible image of industry at war with nature. A few years later, in 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support, igniting the first horrific battle of the modern era over how we live and die. The end of the decade was marked by the ghastly accident at Three Mile Island, which showed more clearly than ever that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not all benign. The thalidomide disaster, mad cow disease, even the dramatic and sustained lies of Big Tobacco have all contributed to the sense that if the promise of science wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t exactly the truth either.

Today the image of a madman whipping up a batch of smallpox, or manufacturing an effective version of bird flu in his kitchen, while not exactly as easy as baking a cake, is no longer so far-fetched. Indeed, if there is anything more frightening than the threat of global nuclear war, it is the certainty that humans not only stand on the verge of producing new life forms but may soon be able to tinker with them as if they were vintage convertibles or bonsai trees.

Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, one in which accomplishments clash with expectations. The result often manifests itself as a kind of cultural schizophrenia. We expect miracles, but have little faith in those capable of producing them. Famine remains a serious blight on humanity, yet the leaders of more than one African nation, urged on by rich Europeans who have never missed a meal, have decided it would be better to let their citizens starve than to import genetically modified grains that could feed them.

Food is a compelling example of how fear has trumped science, but it is not the only evidence that we are waging a war against progress, rather than, as Peter Melchett would have it, against nature. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: we are either going to embrace new technologies, along with their limitations and threats, or slink into an era of magical thinking. Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States. Such is the opposition to any research involving experiments with animals that in scores of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards.

Excerpted from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter.

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New York Times

Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science

Published: November 4, 2009
 

“I always say that electricity is a fantastic invention,” the British economist Michael Lipton once told Michael Specter, whose bristling new book, “Denialism,” explores the dangerous ways in which scientific progress can be misunderstood. “But if the first two products had been the electric chair and the cattle prod,” Mr. Lipton continued, “I doubt that most consumers would have seen the point.”

Here is what they would have done instead, if Mr. Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, correctly captures the motifs that shape the stubbornly anti-scientific thinking for which his book is named: they would have denounced electricity as a force for evil, blamed its prevalence on venal utility companies, universalized the relatively rare horrific experiences of people who have been injured by electrical currents and called for a ban on electricity use.

The term “denialism,” used by Mr. Specter as an all-purpose, pop-sci buzzword, is defined by him as what happens “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”

In this hotly argued yet data-filled diatribe, Mr. Specter skips past some of the easiest realms of science baiting (i.e., evolution) to address more current issues, from the ethical questions raised by genome research to the furiously fought debate over the safety of childhood vaccinations. Continue reading

[AUDIO/VIDEO] Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind – NPR. Why Vilifying MONSANTO without perusing all the facts may not make much sense.

This post is not to claim that Monsanto is a force of good. I recognize the worry, the fear, the consternation of the many who profess antipathy for the actions of this corporation. I am not a supporter of Monsanto’s business practices nor am I on one side or the other on GMO. I remain agnostic. It does concern me however that so many are online today willing to help perpetuate ignorance and irrationality. A healthy debate and discussion in my opinion takes into account multiple perspectives and is not merely an opportunity to spread dogma. Monsanto, as with most human endeavour, possesses both positive as well as negative attributes. In the paranoid hysteria of the Internet today, it is portrayed as though Monsanto and GMO food technology is merely in existence to inflict pain and wreak havoc.  For these reasons, I sought to extract  some unbiased, neutral, perhaps surprising facts about this emotional issue.

–t.i.

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All Things Considered

First Broadcast: January 20, 2013

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“For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.

His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.

Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in Britain, Lynas apologized for helping “to start the anti-GMO movement” and told his former allies to “get out of the way, and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.”

He spoke to Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about his change of heart.”

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In defense of Monsanto

Written By HUDSON LOFCHIE
Science Editor
Published On January 16, 2013

I want to talk about something today, and I hope that it does not result in my office getting burned down. But I work in a basement, so I guess its not that much of an issue. Genetically modified crops — devil incarnate or world savior? Solution to the hunger problem, or a capitalist venture? Each of these holds a little bit of truth, and I want to explore a side of the debate that isn’t normally discussed in the press — GM crops as the good guys.

When talking about genetically modified crops, Monsanto is, for the most part, the centerpiece of conversation. Debates, if they can even be called that, are riddled with hearsay, rumors, myths, “I read this” or “I heard that.” It seems to me that most people simply have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And those who do have some knowledge on the subject are focusing on all the wrong things.
As bad press and political heat goes, Monsanto is on the sharp end of it more often than not. The “liberal” media paints Monsanto as a mean, heartless company, set on destroying any and all competition.
So Monsanto has some rather shrewd business practices … all successful companies do. They have some of the most consistently stable stock prices on Wall Street, and have earned massive investments from both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. So what is it about Monsanto that the public finds so appalling? Most of the arguments I have heard against this company are that Monsanto destroys the small farmer. While many small farmers are bankrupt by lawsuits with Monsanto, it is merely the result of Monsanto defending its intellectual property … to the death.

Monsanto makes a large percentage of its money from licensing patented genes to other companies. They have contracts with Dow Chemical, Syngenta, Novartis and many others. Monsanto is truly ruthless in its negotiations when licensing out its patents, and it should be. Continue reading