We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

The Sacred Messenger

By Keith Kloor
Mar 13, 2013 4:27 PMNov 20, 2019 1:42 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Once upon a time, long before a recent wave of ideological zealotry drove the Republican party to cleanse itself of moderates, appeals for GOP comity were often couched in Ronald Reagan's eleventh commandment:

Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican

In liberal and environmental circles, a similar dictate seems to now hold, with respect to those who are perceived as tireless defenders of nature and champions of social justice. If someone meets that criteria and is also credited with taking on evil, greedy corporations, a one-dimensional portrait of the hero is often painted by admiring media. This is the case with Vandana Shiva, the internationally famous activist and author. Her deified status is such that I can't imagine any of my colleagues working at progressive media outlets ever speaking ill of her. Besides, to do so would only undermine her message--her larger cause to save the earth from profit-hungry plunderers. That is likely the rationale of those who might not buy into everything she says. But I doubt that most progressive or eco-minded writers are even inclined to be skeptical of Shiva. She is the green world's Mother Teresa.  As I have previously noted:

Because she is a liberal eco-saint fighting the earth’s multinational overlords, liberals and enviros never question anything Shiva says, even when she endlessly repeats the urban myth about the thousands of Indian farmers who have supposedly committed suicide because of Monsanto. A rare case in which Shiva did raise some eyebrows occurred recently, when she compared GMOs to rape.

In fact, her many admirers treat Shiva with obsequiousness. In an interview last year, Bill Moyers introduced her as a "a rock star in the worldwide battle over genetically modified seeds." His first question:

It's an uphill battle you're waging. How do you keep doing it? What drives you really?

Her answer:

You know, we have this very beautiful text in India. We have the [Bhagavad] Gita. And there's a very simple lesson that Krishna gives. That you do not measure the fruit of your action. You have to measure your obligation of action. You have to find out what's the right thing to do. That is your duty. Whether you win or lose is not the issue. The obligation to do the right thing...

That is the framework that almost all discussion of Shiva's work takes place in. There is a sacred quality to it. If you're starting from this premise--of a selfless defender of the earth and downtrodden fighting the proverbial good fight--how do you, as a progressive challenge this person's hyperbole and false claims? You don't. You simply don't. There are outliers, but I dare you to find any examples in progressive media where Shiva is treated as anything less than a crusading, heroic do-gooder. That is certainly how she was treated this past weekend, when she gave a talk on ecological resilience at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens in New York City. Anyone familiar with Shiva's rhetoric would not have been surprised to hear her mention "terminator" seeds and Monsanto's link to farmer suicides in India (discussed in this post), or her sneering dismissal of the green revolution (apparently it's a myth) and the potential of Golden Rice. There was much more along those lines, including her claim that "genetic engineering is shooting a toxic gene into whatever plant there is." I think you get the picture. The capacity crowd, most of who I'm sure were well educated, ate it up. They cheered and gave Shiva a standing ovation at the end of her 45 minute talk, which on the whole was a rambling but spirited defense of organic farming and a repudiation of all things related to Monsanto, multinational corporations, and genetic engineering. In the brief Q & A period that followed, the first questioner asked Shiva how she was able to keep battling, after all these years, against the dark forces of the world. It was the same kind of trite, softball question that Moyers served up at the start of his interview with Shiva. She hit this one out of the park, too. UPDATE: Bernie Mooney uncovers something pretty interesting. Via Twitter, he writes: "Back in 2001, Before GM in India, Shiva claimed 'trade liberalization' was the cause of farmer suicides." Ironically, he discovers this in an article reproduced at an anti-GMO site. UPDATE: Some additional information on a related note has come in via Twitter:

Here's @drvandanashiva GMO>suicide meme in Google Scholar: scholar.google.com/scholar?q=Vand… & rebuttal scholar.google.com/scholar?q=rona… See @keithkloor for more — Andy Revkin (@Revkin) March 13, 2013

Troubling to see scholars adopt V. Shiva's false claims about GMOs & suicidebit.ly/Wnr9Ms , bit.ly/WaRWwy @alicebell — Matthew C. Nisbet (@MCNisbet) March 13, 2013

.@keithkloor Shiva also argued that #GoldenRice was a hoax; none of her arguments withstood scrutiny, p. 27: nature.com/nbt/journal/v2… | #GMO — Alexander J. Stein (@AJStein_de) March 13, 2013

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.