rn: Human Genome & Capitalism as Totalitarianism


Jan Slakov

Date: Fri, 7 Jul 2000 11:02:29 -0300 (ADT)
From: Martin Willison <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Human genome and capitalism (fwd)

Subject: Fuss about the human genome just hides the brutality 
of global capitalism  

This is a war of all worlds  

Fuss about the human genome just hides the brutality of global capitalism  

The ethics of genetics: special report 

by George Monbiot  
Thursday June 29, 2000  The Guardian (U.K.) 

Nearly everyone debating the mapping of the human genome now agrees on one
thing: that the identification of our genes invokes an unprecedented
danger, as it might assist a handful of companies to seize something which
belongs to all of us. I wish this were true. 

Terrifying as the impending capture of the essence of humanity is, it is
far from unprecedented. The attempt to grab the genome is just one of many
symptoms of a far graver disease. We are entering an age of totalitarian
capitalism, a political and economic system which, by seizing absolute
control of fundamental resources, destitutes everyone it excludes. 

On Saturday I met a campaigner from Kerala, in southern India, who told me
that, to the tribal people he works with, the ownership of land is as
inconceivable as the ownership of air would be in the northern hemisphere.
I told him the bad news. In several American cities, blocks of air, which
(once  legally transferred to a suitable site) allow their owners to build
skyscrapers, change hands for tens of millions of dollars. There have been
a number of legal disputes over the ownership of clouds, as firms battle
for the right to make them drop their rain where they want it. Companies
are now claiming they own asteroids and landing spaces on the moon. 

None of these presumptions is any more absurd than the claim to possess
exclusive control over part of our own planet. But, as property rights
proliferate, almost everything which once belonged to all of us is being

In Britain, for example, despite repeated pledges by the government,
playing-fields and allotments are disappearing faster than ever before.
Public squares are being turned into private shopping malls.  Traditional
stopping sites for travellers, some of which survived for five millennia,
have nearly all disappeared during the past 15 years. 

Knowledge is rapidly becoming the exclusive preserve of those who can
afford to buy it. Intellectual property companies are monopolising image
banks and picture archives, while academic publishers, concentrated in
ever fewer hands, are able to charge outrageous prices for access to the
work they publish. 

Companies are asserting ownership in perpetuity of the material in their
electronic databases. A firm called West Publishing has tried to insist
that it owned the entire archive of US federal law. 

The biotech companies have been empowered to seize the human genome by the
very people - Tony Blair and Bill Clinton - who are now begging them not to
do so.  Blair's government helped drive through the European directive on
the legal protection of biotechnological inventions, which enables private
companies to claim not only human genes, but also plant and animal
varieties and even human body parts. 

Every asset, once secured by the new totalitarian regime, is surrounded by
a Berlin wall equipped with border guards. There are ranches in the United
States in which you would be shot on sight if you tried to take a walk.
Disproportionate responses to the feeblest threats are assisted by the
private prison and security industries now seizing control of another
fundamental asset: human freedom.  We cross the economic frontiers at our

The worst global inequality in history is a direct result of this
totalitarian capitalism. Two hundred people now own as much wealth as half
the world's population, for the simple reason that they have been
empowered to steal it from the rest of us. 

This empowerment emerges from an unwholesome union of neoliberal economics
and feudal law. Our legal framework, which pre-dates democracy, protects 
property above individuals and individuals above society. We can't expect
our governments to address this inversion of democratic priorities. The
three men who could begin to reform our legal system - the home secretary,
the lord chancellor and the prime minister - are all lawyers, and all
wedded (literally in the prime minister's case) to the profession which
benefits from its iniquities. Property-based law favours the interests of
the rich, which, in turn, favours the interests of its practitioners. 

The walls rising around us are beginning to look impregnable. But before we
can decide how they might best be demolished, we must first recognise that
the enclosure of the human genome is just a single cell in the privatised
global prison the new regime has built. 

NOTE from Jan: The following address was on the original message I got. As
you may have noticed, Larry Haiven is NOT the author of the article above.
However, he must have sent this article on at some point. I have decided to
leave his name below because it is encouraging to me that professors
(including the person who forwarded this article to me) are taking this
article seriously.

Also, there is a web address for the Sakatchewan Eco-Network (part of the
Canadian Env. Network - CEN) below as well. I am involved with the CEN too.

Larry Haiven, PhD
Associate Professor
Dept. of Industrial Relations and Organizational Behaviour
College of Commerce, University of Saskatchewan
25 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, SK
Tel: (306) 966-8451
Fax: (306) 966-2516
Website: http://www.commerce.usask.ca/faculty/haiven

Saskatchewan Eco Network
#203-115 2nd Ave. North
Saskatoon, SK
S7K 2B1

phone: (306) 652-1275
fax: (306) 665-2128
email: •••@••.•••
SEN website: http://www.econet.sk.ca

The Saskatchewan Eco Network is an 
affiliate of the Canadian Environmental Network
CEN website: http://www.cen.web.net