Andrew Kimbrell, Cold Evil
E.F. Schumacher Society lecture
Great Barrington, MA 2002
Pig number 6707 was meant to be “super”—super fastgrowing, super big, super meat quality. He was supposed to be a technological breakthrough in animal husbandry. Researcher Dr. Vern Pursel and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of Agriculture had used our taxpayer money to design this pig to be like no other, and to a certain extent they succeeded. No 6707 was unique, both in his general physiology and in the very core of each and every cell.
For this pig was born with a human growth gene engineered into his permanent genetic makeup, one of hundreds of thousands of animals that have now been genetically engineered with foreign genetic material. I met the pig and his creator over a decade ago while doing research for my book The Human Body Shop. Pursel’s idea was to engineer human growth genes into livestock in order to create animals many times larger than those currently being bred.
Pursel’s pig did not turn into a super pig. The human genetic material injected into the animal at the early embryo stage had altered its metabolism in unpredictable and horrifying ways. By analogy, imagine injecting elephant growth genes into an early human embryo and the physiological changes that would accrue. The human growth genes caused huge muscle mass in the pig, which made it crippled and bow-legged and riddled with arthritis. The genes also made it impotent and nearly blind. This deformed pig could not stand up and could be photographed in a standing position only with the support of a plywood board. When I asked Pursel about his purpose in creating this pathetic creature, he responded that he was attempting to make livestock more efficient and more profitable. As for his failure, he said that “even the Wright brothers did not succeed at first.” My attempts to point out the difference between the pig and a machine (i.e., airplane) were met with an uncomprehending shrug.
Pursel was motivated to genetically engineer no. 6707 by his belief in objective science, efficiency, profit and a mechanistic view of life. These ideologies have also become the central dogmas underlying the technosphere. They are modern credos born centuries ago of the minds of some of the enlightenment’s great thinkers. I am not suggesting that animals researchers or other purveyors of cold evil have read up on their Descartes, Bacon, or Adam Smith. Quite the contrary: I believe that certain basic tenets of these philosophers have trickled down from the scientific and academic elite to become habits of thinking and perception for the general public. These ideologies now go virtually unexamined, yet they provide the basic rationale for much cold evil.
Perhaps the greatest impact of Cartesian mechanism is its creation of the cult of efficiency. Efficiency—maximum output with minimum input in minimum time -- is an appropriate goal for the productivity of machines. Under the sway of mechanism, however, efficiency has metastasized over the past century into the principle virtue, not just for machines but for all life forms as well. We have undergone a kind of mechano-morphism, turning all life into machines and then judging and changing life utilizing the mechanistic value of efficiency. The effort to make humans more efficient began in earnest over a century ago when the eugenics movement became accepted public policy in the United states and led to the sterilization of thousands of the “unfit.” The cult of efficiency was further forced on humans in the years prior to World War I by the pioneering work of U.S. mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who began a managerial revolution to make workers more efficient in the newly developed assembly-line method of production.
Over the generations the tickle-down effects of the cult of efficiency have turned into a veritable flood. Efficiency has become our number one unquestioned virtue. A large part of our public and personal lives is constructed around this cult. As a society we repeatedly urge efficient government, an efficient and productive work force, efficient use of natural resources, and efficient use of human resource (that’s us!). Everyone is trying to become more efficient. We have all become “multi-taskers,” using the best-selling minute-manager manuals for reference (surely The Nanosecond Manager will be a bestseller of the future).
As demonstrated by the creation of pig no. 6707 the cult of efficiency is leading to enormous potential crimes against life. The great philosopher Owen Barfield in his seminal work Saving the Appearances warned that “those who mistake efficiency for meaning inevitably end by loving compulsion.” Now the genetic engineers such as Pursel are literally remaking the genetic code of the world’s life forms in order to make them more efficient. Humans are not to be spared, as indicated by a recent report with recommendations by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Science Foundation: altering the permanent genetic make-up of humanity to increase the “efficiency of performance” is now a top scientific priority. Even as the doctrine of efficiency is becoming the dictate for biotechnology, nanotechnologists tell us that they will soon be rebuilding all matter, molecule by molecule, to make it more efficient.
As with the cult of objectivity, if the efficiency principle is applied to private life, it quickly turns into the ludicrous. This should not surprise us, for efficiency is a machine value, not a life value. Is a father to treat his children efficiently, giving them minimum food, affection, and “quality” time for maximum good behavior or academic performance? Are we to treat our friends according to an efficiency calculation? Do we treat our beloved pets on an efficiency basis? Most pets produce nothing at all (my dogs specialize in spoiled rugs and chewed baseball gloves), but we lavish on the, our love and affection. In fact, all these relationships are based not on efficiency but on empathy and love. Yet the cult of efficiency has robbed much of our public life of the language of empathy. Thus, the cold-evil cruelties of the workplace, slaughterhouse, and research laboratory overwhelm the values that could reform and heal them.
If you think that there’s no difference between a river an a Buick—that they’re both just systems and the only questions is which is the more efficient one - then the only comfort you have is that things are as good as humans can make them. If you believe in a given good, on the other hand, there is truly comfort, for there is a Creator who is inherent in the given good, in which we can participate and which is within us.