Revenge of the Weeds

Today's big
news stories - the wars, the eco-disasters - all seem to have the same
gaping hole in them. This hole is lack of awareness, and its thrum,
once you begin to hear it, soon becomes deafening: We can't go on like

We can't
keep playing conquering fool, arrogantly ordering the world to our
liking by killing everything that doesn't fit into it. We can't keep
throwing more of the same at our problems. We can't keep fighting
nature, or one another, and expect somehow to win in the end. We can't
keep buying time at an increasingly horrific price. Time is running
out. And petroleum isn't the only thing we're addicted to.

"Just as
the heavy use of antibiotics contributed to the rise of drug-resistant
supergerms, American farmers' near-ubiquitous use of the weedkiller
Roundup has led to the rapid growth of tenacious new superweeds," the New York Times informed us several months ago.

"To fight
them . . . farmers throughout the East, Midwest and South are being
forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides. . . ."

The Times
goes no deeper into the matter than this, affecting more concern for
Monsanto, the manufacturer both of Roundup and the genetically modified
cotton, corn and soybean seeds that are resistant to it (and are now no
longer must-buy products for frustrated farmers), than it shows concern
or even curiosity about the environmental consequences of the practices
it writes about, including monoculture - the devotion of vast tracts of
land to single crops and completely at odds with the extraordinary
complexity of natural ecosystems.

But time
appears to be running out on monoculture and many other standard
practices of agribusiness, just as it is on so many of the thoughtless
ways the civilized world does business. One clue to this: When a
problem arises, we fight back with more of the same, except in higher -
more lethal - doses. Indeed, that impulse, to fight back,to
turn everything into a war, rather than to study, ponder and revere our
obstacles, is the ultimate manifestation of our unawareness.

Thus to
eradicate the "superweeds" that have evolved in response to the
widespread use of Roundup, other chemical companies are scrambling to
develop alternative herbicides and genetically modified seeds that can
resist them, including, the Times notes without irony, Dow Chemical
Co., which hopes to market seeds resistant to 2,4-D, a component of
Agent Orange - the defoliant we used to ravage Vietnam between 1962 and

Yeah, we're still at war, and not only in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We're so hell-bent on maintaining our voracious consumption habits, that we'll engage the services of the defense industry," Firmin DeBrabander
wrote recently, in an excellent essay published on Common Dreams.
"We'll use Agent Orange to fight off weeds and ensure the delivery of
cheap corn to Frito-Lay, Coke and Kellogg's. . . . All in the name of
productivity, efficiency, convenience - profit."

This all
reads so much like a war story, it's as though a template had been laid
over the data, making it come out as another version of the Great
American Myth: Once again, the valiant American little guy, in this
case the noble farmer (and his ally Monsanto), takes on inscrutable
evil, an herbicide-resistant form of pigweed that can grow three inches
a day, reach heights of seven feet, choke out crops and wreck farm
equipment. If we throw a little Agent Orange at it, we're back in
another era, fighting commie pigweed.

As I read
the Times story, which seemed like a dispatch from the front ("In an
attempt to kill the pest before it becomes that big . . ."), I couldn't
help but think about some words of Rupert Ross, who delves deeply into
the Aboriginal worldview in his book Returning to the Teachings. The Lakota, he wrote, "had no language for insulting other orders of existence: 'pest' . . . 'waste' . . . 'weed.'"

This starts
to explain why we are the way we are, and how we've reached the zenith
of our arrogance: Whether geopolitically, agriculturally or in the
privacy of our relationship with ourselves, we come out fearful and
fighting. (I will sometimes, for my own amazement, count the number of
"wars" we're waging: on drugs, terror, crime, cancer, illiteracy,
ignorance . . . weeds, etc., ad infinitum).

Is there
another way? Can we retire the myth that we've created, and that has
created us, which depends for its sustenance upon a perpetual enemy and
dozens, maybe hundreds, of fronts?

transition to peace will be as slow, complex and backlash-prone as our
transition from monoculture to sustainable farming practices, such as
the permaculture movement, which seeks to partner with nature, not use
it up and throw it away.

sensible answer," writes Mary DeDanan, "is for humans to ally
themselves with nature instead of trying to control nature. . . .
Permaculture insists on the whole picture, from soil microbes to global
weather patterns. It takes advantage of every relationship and synergy.
It uses local resources, or grows its own. It wastes nothing."

Our transition begins with awareness, evidence of which I long to hear when I tune into the mainstream voices of my culture.

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