Chemophobia

Chemophobia is a real problem among environmentalists.  I’m not against organic agriculture, but I’m not against chemicals either.  Chemicals are not bad.  On this, I side with Paracelsus, who was one of the first to introduce chemicals into occidental medicine.  Just like chemicals can have a healthy role in medicine, they can have a healthy or at least ethically justifiable role in agriculture.  

I disagree with chemophobic environmentalists, and I also disagree with free market environmentalists who argue that the unjustifiability of chemophobia entails that government regulations on chemical use should be loosened, as if current government regulations are too strict in their application of the precautionary principle.  Such an attack on chemophobia appears in the anthology, Crop Chemophobia (2011), published by the conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.    

Of course, the chemophobic and free market environmentalist both frame their arguments in terms of an apocalyptic either/or morality.  That’s disappointing, to say the least.  Equally disappointing is that so little attention is given to the chemicals themselves.  Some people dissociate from chemicals in favor of unadulterated organic “nature.”  Others assimilate chemicals into relations of economic “development.”  Paracelsus might have come closest to a concern for chemicals themselves, but even in his philosophy, individual chemical substances are undermined and reduced to a few underlying elemental principles.  If we can’t pay attention to the chemicals themselves, how can we possibly learn how to use and develop ethical relationships with those chemicals?  We should wonder more about what it’s like to be DDT or atrazine, or alachlor.

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2 responses to “Chemophobia

  • Matthew David Segall

    “It is curious to mark how certainly–I may say instinctively–the reason
    has always pointed out to men the ultimate end of the various sciences,
    and how immediately afterwards they have set to work like children
    to realize that end… So Alchemy is the theoretic end of Chemistry–
    there must be a common law, upon which all can become each and
    each all–but then it was turned to coining gold, &c” -Coleridge

    Part of the difficulty with the techno-capitalist chemical industry, as you say, is that its corporate/military owners tend not to pay attention to the chemicals themselves. These entities pay attention instead to the gold coins they can seal/steal using chemical power. Their chemistry is materialistic, focused on the ends of economic accumulation to the exclusion of the ends of ecological evolution. Alchemy is a way of relating to and creating with the many mineral and molecule species of earth, such that our shared presence here is enhanced. This is true medically (human body), agriculturally (earth body), and spiritually (human/earth soul). The spiritual implications of chemicals are well known, as the comic strip history of LSD in your last post details quite brilliantly.

    • sam

      What a spirited defense of alchemy from you and Sammy Coleridge (one of my favorite Sams)! Count me in…another devotee of the lapis philosophorum.

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