Master’s Research: Theoretical Foundations, Part 5

Politics & Science

When thinking about the Peruvian moratorium on GMOs it is important to consider the relationship between science and politics. Specifically, Habermas (1970) writes about the scientization of politics. This process, similar to Weber’s (1958) ideas on bureaucratization, goes one step further by politicizing the issue. The scientization of politics highlights a shift towards a technocratic model of governmentality in which politics is replaced by scientifically rationalized administrations (Habermas 1970). It is crucial to note that this process can be somewhat self-destructive. Leaning on scientific claims in order support political ideologies is risky because scientists struggle to elucidate definitive answers (Beck 1992). This may result in a collapse or ‘detraditionalization’ of scientific power due to the porous and controversial quality of the findings or arguments (Lidskog & Sundqvist 2010), therefore generating gaps in which alternative voices and lay perspectives may insert themselves into the debate, weakening expert scientific prowess.

Nonetheless, scholars interested in the sociology of science and technology argue we operate within a scientized political hegemony. This ideology stands on the grounds of scientism, and dominates the production, implementation and regulation of transgenics. According to Kinchy, Kleinman and Autry (2008), scientism “is the belief that policy is best dictated by scientific reasoning, since science is presumed to transcend human values and interests and to provide answers upon which all can agree (p. 156). The authors further politicize their argument by writing, “scientism contributed to this project [of neoliberalism] by delegitimizing messy political debates in favor of “value free” assessments of risks and benefits” (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008 (156). In other words, the dual discourses of neoliberalism and scientism rationalize a position of minimal regulation of GMOs by squelching the voices outside the scientized political field, making any sort of decision about the regulation of GMOs seem scientifically sound and inevitable. This process is a major issue, especially for developing countries like Peru, because it bolsters policies that subordinate the cultural and economic interests of small farmers while favoring biotech corporations and the governments who are interested in those companies’ investments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008).

What we have then is a rift between two opposing modalities of knowing and decision making—scientific, expert knowledge and laymen and traditional environmental knowledge. This clash of two oppositional “politics of knowledge” (Goldman & Turner 2011) can be examined by applying Anderson’s (2002) conceptualization of post-colonial technoscience. This vein picks up on the back end of the scientization of politics. In other words, post-colonial technoscience can be viewed as the end, or result of an increasingly scientized and neoliberal hegemony— particularly when dealing with the relationship between two nations, such as Peru and the United States. Knowing this, it is argued that post-colonial technoscience seeks to expand the boundaries of Western scientism engaging with the complex reconfigurations of knowledge, violence, culture and scientific characteristics that transcend the boundaries of nations-states, and instead become embedded within an “emerging global order” (Anderson (2002: 643).

By applying the post-colonial technoscientific framework to Peru, critiques of the neoliberal hegemonic rhetoric can be elucidated. It can be argued that material violence is occurring to Peruvian farmers and environment through the implementation of biotechnology (funded and implemented by top-down pressure from the Peruvian State and Western multinational corporations) which then has the potential to degrade traditional, often indigenous environmental knowledge and lifestyles. Taken one step further, violence can also occur “epistemologically by denying the legitimacy of other ways of knowing and managing nature” (Goldman & Turner 2011: 17). In a commentary on biotechnology, Shiva (1995) echoes this argument by writing, “ecological erosion and destruction of livelihoods are linked to one another. Displacement of diversity and of people’s sustenance both arise from a view of development and growth based on uniformity […] In this process of control, reductionist science and technology act as handmaidens for economically powerful interests” (p.198-199).

Fortunately, thanks to the moratorium on GMOs, this type of neo-colonial and epistemological violence has been postponed for the time being. A lot of energy and effort—on behalf of activists, scientists and government officials—has been placed into enacting the moratorium. Goldman and Turner (2011) argue that environmental knowledge is “embodied in local contexts” and that it “is framed, funded and publicized in widely different social arenas” (p. 3). Luckily for anti-biotech supports in Peru, these knowledges from various social arenas have coalesced into a unified social movement. By doing so, they “fight to ensure that expert discourse does not overshadow citizens’ perspectives on environmental, social, economic, and moral issues in decisions about scientific and technological developments” (Kinchy 2012: 16), because after all, “opposition to [genetically-engineered] crops is a struggle over material resources […] These struggles are, at the same time, battles over meaning, classification, and cultural rules” (Kinchy 2012: 12).

The moratorium on transgenics in Peru reflects an important pushback to the industrialization of agriculture sustained by the entanglement of neoliberalism and scientism. Despite the moratorium being only a buffer for the potential future introduction of transgenics on a massive scale (assuming the Peruvian government solidifies a proper governance apparatus), it represents the power of social movements as well as the weakness of a scientized and neoliberal hegemony. “If we acknowledge that neoliberalism is a policy discourse, the ascendancy of which was by no means inevitable, it is analytically possible to see that neoliberalism”, along with inequitable and scientized political debate, can be confronted by utilizing the appropriate mixture of social, cultural, economic and scientific arguments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008: 154). Where these arguments come from and how they are arranged into a unitary voice is contextual and will change depending on the country, type of government power and citizenship participation. What is important to include in whatever case, especially for countries where rural lifestyles are still a major part of contemporary life, is the perspectives these individuals, and in the case of Peru, of the indigenous voices.


Master’s Research: Theoretical Foundations, Part 4

Theoretical Foundations

Certain theoretical frameworks or “currents of thought” (Schram 2006: 63) will inform this proposal and the eventual research that is to be completed in Peru. By beginning with a discussion of neoliberalism, the paper will present the political hegemony that dominates the following sections—governance, politics and science, and rural (often indigenous) lifeworlds. In other words, neoliberalism, and its ability to permeate into, and influence the myriad of spheres contained within the social world, applies top-down pressure on each of the theoretical discussions presented below. This understanding of neoliberalism, along with its various conceptualizations and critiques from scholars in the field, will extend outward from the presence of neoliberalism in Peru specifically, to the neoliberal world-system, especially agricultural system, more generally.

Neoliberalism in Peru  

According to Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry (2008), “neoliberalization is an explicit political project not a structural inevitability” (p. 148). While for Bourdieu (1998), neoliberalism is “a myth in the strong sense of the word, an idee force, an idea which has social force, which obtains belief” (p. 34). Combining these two ideas, we see that for Peru, this is absolutely true. The neoliberal hegemony that took control of Peru during the Presidency of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) was made possible because of a series of specific and deliberate policy changes that supported a certain belief about the future. At the time, Peru was in the middle of the “deepest crisis ever faced by the Peruvian nation-state” (Drinot 2014a: 2).  Four-figure inflation, declining GDP and per capita income, along with violence and terrorism from the guerrilla movement “Sendero Luminoso” were just a few of the State’s major problems (Graham & Kane 1998). Drinot (2014a) explains that “these two processes overlap in time” and can be seen as “interconnected” (p. 2). Drinot (2014a) goes on to explain, “it was the depth of the crisis generated by the internal armed conflict (and the economic mismanagement of the governments in the 1980s) that created the conditions for neoliberal reforms to be implemented with little to no opposition” (p.2).  Because of this, in what has been described as complete “authoritarianism”, Fujimori’s new government, in conjunction with the World Bank and International Monetary fund and inspired by a progressive belief about the future, began a “shock therapy” style structural adjustment plan (Drinot 2014a). This program has been perpetuated throughout the following Presidencies, and continues to dominate the political sphere in Peru to this day. However, Law No. 29811 —although largely a maneuver to give time in order to create neoliberal governance strategies for transgenics—is an example of pushback against this neoliberal narrative; suggesting, perhaps, neoliberalism’s ideological and political vulnerability.

What occurred during the Presidency of Fujimori, and the resulting socio-political ideologies that manifested, aligns with Brenner & Theodore’s (2002) definition of neoliberalism: the “belief that open, competitive, and unregulated markets, liberated from all forms of state interference, represent the optimal mechanism for economic development” (p. 350). Much of what Fujimori did, along with the following presidents such as Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and Alan Garcia (2006-2011), supported massive privatization of State resources such as minerals & natural gas (Bury 2005), and paved the way for immense foreign direct investment from developed nations. Despite the neoliberal readjustments initially leading to a more profound recession in the first two years, they did achieve some improvements in terms of macroeconomic stabilization (Drinot 2014a; Graham & Kane 1998). For example, by 1994, inflation had fallen to 15.4% and in 1997 it was in single figures again (6.5%). GDP began to rise again from 1993; in 1994 it reached 13.1% and remained positive in the years that followed (INEI, 1998). These economic improvements produced welfare gains for the country and helped reduce the poverty level. One way the adjustment achieved this was by enlarging the Peruvian middle-class and developing new consumption patterns that transformed large parts of urban Peru (Drinot 2014a).

These examples of neoliberalization, rationalized through the idea that macroeconomic development would serve as a panacea for Peruvian poverty and inequality, also had adverse effects on Peruvian women (Hays-Mitchell 2002) and particularly rural Peruvian farmers in the Andean highlands (Drinot 2014a). Crabtree (2002) argues that the “consequence of economic liberalization seems to have been to increase rather than diminish inequality” in Peru (p. 133). In fact, it has been found that the neoliberal restructuring of the Peruvian economy (and emphasis on biotechnology) has led to “a concentration of economic power among larger and more efficient producers and to the detriment of small-scale producers” (Crabtree 2002: 155). Such much so, that small-scale Peruvian farmers have “had to weather the impact of adverse macroeconomic policies that reduced the demand for food, trade policies that encouraged competing imports, and sectoral policies designed to remove the state from active involvement in agriculture” (Crabtree 2002: 155).

Neoliberalism in Peru has led to dichotomized outcomes that run parallel to the macro and micro heuristic ways of thinking. In other words, the neoliberalization of Peru has led to some macroeconomic improvements, while also creating some problems on the micro or individual levels. Rural Peruvian populations in general, along with women and farmers specifically, have struggled to keep up with the rapid neoliberalization of Peru. All the while, the Peruvian elite and country as a whole, as well as other developed nations responsible for pumping investment into the economy, continue to benefit. Knowing this, and by ‘extending’ outward, in Burawoy’s (1998) sense of the word, we begin to see how what is happening in Peru connects with what is occurring on a global scale. Specifically, we begin to see how the controversy over biotechnology and the use of transgenics in Peru, inundated by and embedded within a neoliberal political and economic hegemony, relates to the wider academic and international discrepancies over the governance of GMOs.

Biotechnology Governance

According to Winickoff et al. (2005), there are two divergent regulatory philosophies that dominant the controversy over governing transgenics: the ‘products approach’ and the ‘process approach’. According to them, the fundamental question that divides the two is “whether to assess genetically modified risk on the basis of the products themselves, or on the basis of the underlying production processes” (Winickoff et al. 2005: 87, emphasis in the original). Winickoff et al. 2005 explain that “the products approach to regulating GMOs assumes that no untoward risk occurs merely from applying this technology to agricultural production (p. 87). In other words, the products approach for regulating GMOs assumes that no risks are involved in the process or application of transgenics. If the science and product itself is well-designed and an appropriate regulatory apparatus is put into place, then usage of transgenics is considered safe.

In contrast, the “process approach rests on the idea that genetic engineering itself may entail novel and unique risks to human health or the environment” (Winickoff et al. 2005: p. 87). This regulatory philosophy is inevitably more precautionary. In other words, the process approach assumes that a certain level of unknown exists about the process of using transgenics and that this process may include hazards, to both the environment and humans, that modern science does not yet fully understand. This regulatory mindset falls in line with Beck’s (1992) conceptualization of the risk society—that as an industrialized society, we create risks, and combat those risks, with technologies whose ramifications have yet to be fully flushed out.  In general, the United States has embraced the products approach for regulating GMOs, as it parallels more closely to the neoliberal ideology. This thinking places the upmost power upon modern science and trusts that regulation, no matter how intense or shoddy, will keep the environment safe. In support of this idea, Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry (2008) explain, “we continue to find close links between neoliberal policy ideas and scientism; the two discourses work together to promote a policy of minimal regulation of biotechnology” (p. 168). The European Union on the other hand, and other developed nations, have historically approached the idea of transgenics with more caution (Winickoff et al. 2005). Knowing this, and understanding that constructions about the importance of science and legitimated knowledge can differ, it is important to take a look at the role of science in creating governance techniques over GMOs.

Similar to the dichotomized arrangement of the ‘product’ and ‘process’ regulatory philosophies, Quark (2011) arranges her thinking around two important foci: the ‘world polity’ and ‘world-system’ ideologies. In doing so, Quark (2011) attempts to address the involvement of science in the construction of governance arrangements. Using the world polity framework, culture becomes the emphasis rather than the economy, politics or power (Pellow & Brehm 2013). Science becomes the most widely accepted, and global means for measurement and action.  This idea is based on the cultural understanding that science is universal, and most importantly, value neutral. In other words, the world polity ideology assumes an essentialist and scientist mindset when it comes to the creation of governance strategies for transgenics.

On the other hand, the world system ideology understands science as a mechanism for the global elite to dominate the world system (Quark 2011). This Marxist understanding, informed by Wallerstein’s (2004) arrangement of the capitalist world system, sees global governance occurring through the creation and application of certain types of science.  Quark (2011) explains, “this competition for legitimating knowledge”, between the world polity and world system ideologies, “helps us to understand how new governance networks are constructed that draw diverse actors together to legitimate certain constellations of science, technology and power” (p. 913). She goes on to say, “struggles over standards are thus shaped by the access to resources and research legacies, as well as the competition to define what science will be accepted as legitimate” (p. 913).

The world polity and world system approaches both acknowledge the important role that science plays in the governance of transgenics. Similarly, they both intersect with the product and process philosophies presented by Winickoff et al. (2005). The world polity ideology aligns with the product approach for regulation—both subsume a legitimized and essentialist power into modern science. In other words, both the world polity and products approaches support a scientist mentality for governing transgenics; each informed by and created by neoliberal tendencies to generate markets for genetically modified products themselves (i.e. seeds) and to decentralize regulation from State authority while simultaneously shifting the onus into the privatized and third-party realms of transgenic governmentality. “Traditionally, it was predominately government agencies that were responsible for monitoring food safety standards and food quality attributes. However, the globalization of the agrifood system, the consolidation of the food retail industry, and the rise in private retailer standards have precipitated a shift in responsibility for this task to third-party certifiers” (Hatanaka, Bain & Busch 2005: 355).

On the other hand, the world system and process approaches towards governing transgenics complicate the issue. Each is embedded with a more intense precautionary principle. [DM1] In other words, both the world system and process approaches understand the complexity and risk involved with both the usage and regulation of GMOs. These ideologies agree that the process from a transgenic product to implementation and regulation are laden with unavoidable power dynamics and inequitable constructions of legitimized (and therefore alienated) knowledge systems. The world system and process approaches understand how scientism and scientization can directly impact how transgenics are governed. Quark (2011) sheds light on this influence when she writes, “first, scientization can formalize existing power inequalities given the uneven terrain of research legacies. Second, as scientization channels politics through science, powerful actors are better situated to legitimate their own interests in scientific terms and to define what makes science legitimate” (p. 895). This intersection, between science and politics, proves to be the means through which a governance strategy comes to fruition, both in Peru and in the world system more generally.


A Lesson Learned: Culture Shock and Birthdays

Two days ago was my aunt’s 50th birthday party. I was invited by my host-dad to attend. He was excited to introduce me to his side of the family and eat panchamanca. About a week ago I was all for it. However, when the day came an interesting thing happened.

The best way I can describe how I felt about going to the party was unexcited and demotivated. I felt this way for no apparent reason; I wasn’t sick and I didn’t have other (more exciting) plans. But for some reason I was apprehensive about going. The closest I have felt to this was when I was living in Costa Rica. My roommate and I wanted to attend a friendly soccer match between Costa Rica and Paraguay. The same thing happened. A week before the event I was stoked to go. But when the time came to go buy tickets and leave for the game, I was almost scared of going. And I LOVE soccer so that’s saying something.

What these two moment have in common are how I felt leading up to an event and how I felt right before. It took me sometime to figure out why I felt the way I did, but after some reflection I was able to get a better understanding of what was happening to me. The simplest thing I can call it is culture shocked. And this is interesting because technically, I wasn’t even in the cultural experience yet. Normally, those feelings of culture shock strike right in the moment of something particularly jarring—something that flies in the face of how you were raised and understand the world. But when it came to the Costa Rican soccer game and my aunt’s 50th birthday party, I was shocked—almost debilitated to the point of making excuses (lying) in order not to go— before it even happened.

Culture shock does that to a person. It transforms seemingly benign moments, even moments that you technically enjoy such as birthday parties and soccer, into scary and culturally intensive experiences. So much so, that it feels better to try and escape the situation as opposed to face it head on. In my case, my excuse would have been that I felt sick. When in reality, I just wanted to stay in my community, play soccer after school and retire to my bedroom. I felt this way because the idea of traveling somewhere I hadn’t visited, meeting people I didn’t know, being the only gringo at the party, and balancing a group social event in my second (and third) language was entirely stressful. These reasons, among others, are why some cultural experiences in other countries feel daunting and not worth the headache. Moments of culture shock tell us that the experience will not be worth it and that we should create excuses not to experience it— ‘it’s too expensive, it’s unsafe, I don’t feel well, I’ll get home after dark, I have other plans’ etc. What I’ve learned however, is to question this process.

When culture shock hits, the best thing I can do is question myself. I turn inward to decipher why I feel the way I do. Unfortunately, however, this process sometimes happens after the fact and I miss out on a wonderful opportunity. However, when it happens in the moment, and I push through feeling debilitated and demotivated, I am often rewarded with a really fun and culturally enriching experience.

Knowing what I know now, I like to think that for every excuse I create in order not to experience something the more reasons there are to actually go. I balance each excuse with a reason to attend—a reason to defy my culturally shocked sentiments. Now, of course, take this with a grain of salt. If red flags are flying everywhere, and the thing you are trying to avoid might actually turn out to be dangerous or a bad decision, go with your gut and stay home. But hopefully, this introspective process will help guide that decision.

Like a lot of things, this process is easier said than done. But when it works, all the feelings of being timid, apprehensive and scared of something transform into being empowered and proud of oneself. You wrestled with culture shock and maintained enough autonomy to not let it rob you of an experience that enhances your life. You felt the pit of culture shock, crawled out (however slowly), and reached the peak of an entirely rewarding and beautiful experience. That is what happened to me in Costa Rica and with my aunt’s 50th birthday party. And It will surely happen again (culture shock comes in waves of peaks and valleys). However, with this process and more success stories because of it, I hope to never miss out on a culturally enriching experience ever again (but let’s be honest, I’ll probably miss one or two).

And now, a quick description of why I enjoyed my aunt’s birthday party so much!


At about 1:30 a car arrived at my school to take me, my younger brother and baby sister to the party. On the way, we stopped by the farm to pick up grandma. With more family I began to feel better about where we were going. At least I could play with the kids or talk to grandma if I really didn’t want to meet anyone new. With the windows down we bumped along the dirt road to the highway—a cool breeze and warm Andean sun guiding us along. Within about 15 minutes we arrived to the small community where the party would be held. I thought, “maybe we aren’t so far from home after all”. We found my host-dad waiting along the highway to meet us. He loaded into the car and we went down another dirt road towards the house. My nervousness about finding where we were going by myself slowly melted away.

We descended down this road about 15 minutes. I am constantly impressed with how Peruvians handle these types of roads in 2-wheel cars—some with rattling so aggressive that I swear the car is about to fall apart. On the banks of the Rio Santo we got out and finished the journey on foot. A small path following a tributary guided us to the home. We were greeted by cousins laughing and playing in a watering hole. “Hola” they said casually, without staring feverishly through my soul. “Hmm…” I thought, “maybe it won’t be so weird that I’m the only gringo here.”

The party was to be held in a recently constructed salon de baila (dance hall). The wood still smelt fresh from being cut and the roof was still shiny. Slowly I made the rounds with my host-dad. In Peru, it’s customary to greet everyone upon your arrival, one by one and even if the room is full of people. My dad introduced me as hijo (son) and referred to the people he was introducing me to as my aunts, uncles and cousins. I was so thankful to be welcomed warmly and with curiosity. My “hijo gringo” jokes worked perfectly—the laughter of my family continuing to assuage my nervousness of being there.

We sat and waited patiently for everyone to arrive before lunch was served. While we waited, the family set up speakers and a musician slowly prepared his harp. Soon a traditional Peruvian lunch was served. First comes soup, second comes panchamanca. The soup was good but the main course was better. Panchamanca is a dish that’s been cooked in the ground using really hot rocks and wood. The translation from Quechua roughly signifies ‘earth pot’. A proper panchamanca dish comes with comote (sweet potato), papa (potato), humita (sweet bread tamale), haba (lima beans), choclo (corn), queso (cheese), ahí ( hot sauce), and some sort of animal protein. In this case we had “dos sabores”— pollo (chicken) and chancho (pig). You eat it with your hands and don’t stop until you are done. The bones and leftovers get tossed to the dogs and pigs.

After lunch, the real party started. Wine was served and some of my aunt’s children and siblings gave palabras (speeches). After each we cheered to the birthday girl and took a sip. After the heartwarming speeches, the guests presented their gifts. With hugs and kisses the gifts are given and received, only to be opened sometime after the party. Then it was time for photos. Each person or groups of persons all take turns taking a photo with the birthday girl. I went to take a photo with my aunt, and as always, jokes and laughter about how tall I am erupted. Once the presents and photos are out of the way, the dances begin. Beers were immediately opened and passed around. The musician armed his harped and played a traditional Peruvian tune. One by one, the party guests took turns dancing with my aunt. And yes, I got out there and danced. Once again, culture shock was telling me, “play it safe, don’t embarrass yourself, you don’t know how to dance.” However, I remember specially thinking in my head, “fuck it.” As my turn finished and I returned back to my seat, the applauses and smiles from my family helped me realize I definitely made the right decision.

From that point the party guests, including myself, continued to drink and dance. We switched off from live music and music from cellphones so the musician could take breaks. After all, he wanted to drink also. We sat, talked, danced and passed bottles of beer around and around in circles. I sat next to one of my cousins and my grandma. Each time she warned me only to serve myself a little or else I would get drunk. I remember thinking, “thanks grandma, but I got this.” I was invited to dance a couple times. Each time my footwork got smoother and smoother. In reality, the Peruvian style of dance is rather simple. But finding the beat was hard for me sometimes. One time, after the song had finished I thanked my aunt for the dance and tried to sit down. However, she didn’t let me. She said, “uno mas!  tienes dos ojos no?” (one more, you have two eyes don’t you?).

After a couple of hours, my host-dad had called us another taxi and it was about time to go home. I made my rounds again, saying goodbye and thank you to all the people I had met. They each were so kind. My aunt made sure to invite me back for the next party. Our walk back to the car was much more adventurous than our journey to the party. At this point, it was getting dark and there was more water from the river on the road. We hopped, skipped and balanced our way through the puddles to where the car was parked—blocked by a pile of dirt that definitely was not there earlier in the afternoon. At one point, grandma just decided to bite the bullet and take her shoes off. Walking through the deeper puddles was easier than trying to shimmy off to the side. We loaded the car and bumped our way back to the highway. My buzz was definitely settling in at this point and I sat back to enjoy the short ride back to my community. Once we arrived home, I sat on the porch in front of the house and shared stories with my host-mom would didn’t attend the party. She was pleased that I went to meet the family and spend time. I was also. Looking back, trying to avoid the party was really quite silly. I was proud that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. And like most experiences in that uncomfortable realm, I learned a lot and was more empowered because of it. FELIZ CUMPLEANOS TIA.

Chicos swimming

Cousin, birthday girl auntie and grandma

Massive speakers were hiked in for music. Unfortunately the generator broke and we resorted to cell phones.

My two younger host siblings, Justin and Brittany, with their aunt.

The house was tucked in amongst it’s farm.

The dance hall and drinking circles forming.









Los Lunes Son Para Libros: 4th Edition

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

-Robert Wright


I picked up this book (or I guess I should say ‘downloaded’) because it was recommended to me by fellow Peace Corps Trainee sometimes during site exploration. Robin and I were at the hostel conversing while we prepared homemade lentil soup. Our conversation quickly approached spiritual realms and I went to bed that night with new items on my reading list. Robin is quite some years older than me (and much wiser) and so it’s safe to say I took her recommendations rather seriously. Lucky for me her first recommendation worked out great! SPOILER ALERT: I am not enlightened after reading this book.

Why Buddhism is True, written by Robert Wright, is an interdisciplinary crash course of evolutionary psychology and Buddhism. Essentially what Wright tries to do in this book is expose the reasons, or truths, of Buddhism based on his personal meditation practice as well as psychological science. This combination, of secular science and religion, was extremely paradoxical and fascinating from the get go.


Wright starts his book talking about how natural selection has created humans to be inherently delusional. What he means by this is that natural selection, and its only job of spreading our genes into the next generation, prepares humans to behave in ways and react to behaviors that don’t necessarily make the most sense or make a person feel the best that they can feel. Natural selection has designed us to avoid things that might hurt or dissuade us and move closer to things that make us feel “better”. Because of this Wright argues that humans rarely see the world clearly, which leads them to suffer themselves, and to cause suffering to others. It’s with this illusionary process—of clinging attraction to things and aversion to other things—that Wright creates a bridge to Buddhism.

Without being able to ever completely do this book justice (or completely understand it for that matter), I’ll pick out some “truths” of Buddhism that Wright outlines and their connections to evolutionary psychology. Then maybe I’ll talk more depending on if I feel smart.

(1.) “Humans tend to anticipate more in the way of enduring satisfaction from the attainment of goals than will in fact transpire”. This illusion of perpetual aspiration is described in many Buddhist texts. Wright also argues that it is a product of natural selection because if we weren’t anticipating and we weren’t searching for satisfaction, we would never reproduce and create the next generation.
This concept also does well to explain why humans have so much conflict. Since we’re all inherently delusional and on selfish missions to make ourselves feel good and say “fuck it” to all the rest, it makes sense why we get in arguments and fist fights. Multiply that by millions of people, and well, you’ve got our current global situation (and every conflict in the past and those coming our way in the future).

(2.) The concept of ‘suffering’ that Wright talks about in his book comes from the word dukkha. Which could also be translated as “unsatisfactoriness”. We as humans are programmed by natural selection to search our environments for things that make things better. In other words, we are constantly “scanning the horizon for things to be unhappy about, uncomfortable with, unsatisfied with.”
The source of our dukkha is tanha which is translated as “thirst”, “craving” or “desire”. From a natural selection point of view, along with evolutionary psychology, tanha is what is instilled in animals so that they are never satisfied for too long. The lion, after all, only enjoys the hunt. The Buddhist concept of tanha then, is not only our desire to cling to pleasant things but also to escape from unpleasant things (such as the lion nipping at our heels).

(3.) Wright then goes on to explain how our constant struggle with dukkha and tanha need not enslave us. In fact, Wright argues, using both psychology and anecdotes from his personal life, that meditation can help lessen their grip upon our lives. And in the ultimate form, even help us reach nirvana. So how does a meditation practice help us do this? Well in general what it does is make us more aware of our feelings. During medication, the task is often to observe. To observe how we feel, where we feel it in our bodies and perhaps why we feel it in the first place. This introspective process however is not our normal game plan. Genetically we do very little observing and a lot of acting, sometimes following feelings down dangerous rabbit holes that ruin our days or even ruin our relationships with other people. Buddhism ascertains, along with Wright, that mediation can help us be more selective with which feelings we experience to fully engage with. Meditation does this precisely through allowing us to observe them first, and later, choosing to identity with some and not with others. In his book Wright shares many anecdotes where the accentuation of certain feelings—including wonder, compassion and a sense of beauty—present themselves in his life more often when a mediation practice is present. And if you don’t want to take his word for it, then take mine because I too have experienced this. And if you don’t want to take my opinion, well then, here’s some science…
Humans have what psychologists call “the default mode network.” This is essentially, according to brain scan studies, when our minds are active even when we are not doing anything specific—such as talking to people, reading or writing. “It’s the network along which our mind wanders when it’s wandering.” When this is happening our minds go many places; to past memories or some looming crisis in the near future. Where our minds don’t go is the present moment; the sounds of birds on our walk, the smell of pine trees and rain before a storm, or the spider camouflaging on a nearby flower. Meditation has been found to quiet and even slow down the speed and intensity of the default mode network. This obviously happens in the act of meditation but here’s the kicker, even after meditation or during the normal day of a person who frequently practices mediation, the default mode network is less noisy, less stirring. This then allows the brain to be more mindful, to be more observant of the beauty in the present moment and to be more in control of the feelings that serve well and let pass by the wayside the negative feelings that consume us.

(4.) “Our intuitive conception of the ‘self’ is misleading at best. We tend to uncritically embrace all kinds of thoughts and feelings as ‘ours’, as part of us, when in fact identification is optional. Recognising that identification is optional and learning, through meditation, how to make the identification less reflexive can reduce suffering.”

In other words, we have more autonomy over identifying with certain thoughts, emotions and facets of our ‘self’ than we originally thought; and mediation helps strengthen that autonomy. And yes…this is entirely paradoxical. How do we exercise autonomy and identification of ‘self’ if ‘self’ doesn’t actually exist? Well according to Buddhism, the concept of ‘not-self’ helps us reach this realm. To exercise discretion is to follow one of Buddha’s famous sermons on ‘not-self’. It’s at this point in Buddhist philosophy gets really heady. In fact, according to Buddha, the stuff our body is made up, its form, is not actually under our control. Buddha writes, “Form is not self”. We are not our bodies.

All headiness aside, Wright approaches this idea from a more digestible viewpoint. Taking all of Buddha’s ideas of ‘self’ and ‘not-self’ into consideration, Wright encourages his audience to “be open to the radical possibility that your self, at the deepest level, is not at all what you’ve always thought of it as being.” This much I can grasp. Step #1: To detach from ourselves and become not-ourselves (through meditation). Step #2: To observe ourselves from an external viewpoint (during mediation). Step #3: To pick, choose and identify with feelings, emotions and facets of ourselves that make us feel whole. Step #4: To let the negativity and ugly parts pass by. Step #5: To feel empowered in your new autonomous control of self by becoming not-self (after meditation).  Easy right? I don’t think so. But be careful with all this and don’t think too hard. According to Ajahn Chah, a twentieth-century Thai monk, “to understand not-self, you have to meditate” and if you simply try to understand via “intellectualizing” alone, “your head will explode.”

monk meditation

(5.) To expand further upon the Buddhist concepts of ‘self’ and ‘not-self’, and ground them in modern day science, Wright throws in some really interesting psychological research. Wright explains that our brain does not function as one entity. The idea that there is a “doer of deeds” or “thinker of thoughts” is actually another illusion. Instead, it’s more accurate to think of the human brain as ‘modular.’ In other words, there are different modules of the brain (more complicated than just the two hemispheres) that do the thinking and make the decisions for us. “Thoughts think themselves”.
Natural selection has shaped the brain to operate in this way. There are modules focused on short term decisions and goals while others are more long-term focused. A rough taxonomy of the modules has been developed by evolutionary psychologists. Examples of modules are: self-protection, mate attraction, mate retention, affiliation, kin care, social status and disease avoidance. These modules essentially compete with one another for our conscious recognition. In other words, when faced with a certain decision, the different modules of our brain compete for power, each trying to push their own agenda. It’s the interaction of these modules that shape our behaviors and how we react to certain situations.

(6.) In Buddhism there is doctrine about ‘essence’ and ‘emptiness’. On the road to enlightenment there is the goal of experiencing emptiness. In other words, essence of things is an illusion and must be mitigated– often times through mindfulness and mediation. Ideally what happens is that you stop attaching essence to things, therefore they are empty and therefore you see more clearly. A clearer vision of the world helps us avoid creating our own suffering and inflicting suffering on to other people. In this sense, Wright explains, “seeing the world more clearly can make you not just happier but more moral”.

The human capacity to attach social, cultural and perceptual essence to things makes sense from a natural selection point of view. It is by creating essence for objects and people that we decide what we are going to eat, who we are going to interact with, what situations we become involved with etc. On the flip side, it is also how we decide what things, people and situations to avoid. This process of essence attachment, according to an evolutionary psychological perspective, occurs so that we can continue to protect ourselves, thrive throughout our lives and create a new generation.

The Buddhist idea, accomplished through mediation, is to become aware that essence is a perceptual construct; that it has no real meaning outside of the socio-cultural context in which it is created, given and perceived. Becoming aware of the illusion of essence (beyond just an intellectual understanding of it) permits selective engagement with it. Much like becoming aware that thoughts think themselves, we can selectively engage with thoughts/emotions that serve us, and disengage with thoughts/emotions that negatively impact our lives.

This portion of Wright’s book made a lot of sense to me. It is, in other words, the sociological concept of social constructivism. In a way, it packs social constructivism with a deeper and evolutionary background—expanding the concept from just a cultural idea to a concept with history and purposeful, naturally selected importance. However, the idea of stripping essence from the things in my life seems a bit much. In certain contexts, I see why it would make sense. For instance, essentialist ideologies that attached bigoted essence to race, ethnicity, gender, nationalism etc. should completely be eliminated. This no doubt would help alleviate some suffering in the world. But the essence I prescribe to my loved ones, to my favorite places, activities, foods, drinks, etc.…well I’m not so sure I’m ready to stop acknowledging that. But since I’m not enlightened, I guess I don’t have to worry about it.


To wrap up, I’ll just leave you all with his awesome quote found at the end of Wright’s book:

“Mindfulness mediation involves increased attentiveness to the things that cause our behavior—attentiveness to how perceptions influence our internal states and how certain internal states lead to other internal states and to behaviors. This attentiveness includes an awareness of the critical role feelings seem to play in the chain of influence—a role shaped by natural selection, which seems to have calibrated feelings as part of its programming of our brains. Importantly, the meditative practices that bring awareness of these chains of influence also empower us to intervene and change the patterns of influence. To a large extent, that’s what Buddhist liberation is: a fairly literal escape from chains of influence that has previously bound us and, often, to which we had previously been blind.”


Master’s Research: Introduction, Part 3

The Development of Law No. 29811

On December 9, 2011, under the Presidency of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), the Peruvian government approved Law 29811 enacting a ten-year moratorium on GMOs. The moratorium was the product of a 20-year process that began in the early 1990s. It included a multitude of stakeholders, including anti-transgenic activists, scientists, non-governmental organizations, farmers and the Peruvian government. It is important to know that up until 2006, the discussions of transgenics were limited to Peruvian political leaders, International Conventions and resulting legislative maneuvers. It was not until 2006 did the debate over transgenics become more inclusive (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Each of these groups participated in the convoluted process, some specializing in scientific and political debate, while others focusing the on preservation of Peru’s biodiversity, and protection of rural, often Indigenous, farming lifestyles.

The debate over the varied impacts of transgenics began to take form in 1992 with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Interested in the CBD, Peru sent a committee to participate. Having agreed with parameters of the CBD, concerning the safe handling of, and potential impacts from the transfer of GMOs, the Peruvian delegation signed the convention. The CBD would prove to be the first international instrument focusing on biotechnology—followed up later by the Cartagena Protocol on the Safety of Modern Biotechnology.

Continued progress towards the usage of the transgenic in Peru was made in 1994, under the Presidency of Alberto Fujimori. President Fujimori, along with the National Environmental Council (CONAM), enacted Law No. 26410 which was designed to formulate, coordinate, and evaluate a new environmental policy. Shortly after, in 1999, Law No. 27104, or the ‘Biosafety Law’ was also put into place. This law established the necessary provisions and Peruvian agencies—such as the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) and the Directorate General of Environmental Health (DIGESA)—that would be in charge of biotechnological governance in Peru (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). It was designed to run parallel with the parameters launched by the CBD in 1992, providing guidelines and creating methods for acquiring approval for the regulation and release of transgenics within Peruvian borders.

In 1999 a committee was formed within the CONAM to deliberate about biosafety. The committee included experts from the field as well as members from civil society organizations. Included in the CONAM committee was Dr. Alexander Grobman, a renowned supporter of biotechnology, consultant to the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG), and president of PeruBiotech—a private association for the development of biotechnology. Grobman openly argued that biosafety measures, and other anti-transgenics regulations, would “hinder” Peru’s development and prevent the country from escaping poverty and debilitating food insecurity (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).

Just four years later, in 2003, the Peruvian Association of Consumers and Users (ASPEC), a NGO designed to protect consumers’ rights, carried out a campaign to raise Peruvian awareness about transgenics. Much to their chagrin, the initiative was unsuccessful due to the lack of participation from major civil society actors, as well as limited media attention. Despite the shortcomings of the ASPEC, the association represented a deliberate expansion of stakeholder voices in the debate over GMOs.

In July of 2004, the Cartagena Protocol, which was signed in 2000, was finally approved by the Peruvian Congress. It is important to note that during the debates of Protocol, the Peruvian delegation openly opposed and voted against the binding instrument—a tool designed make corporations responsible for the potential negative impacts of GMOs (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Their outright voting against this portion of the Protocol crystallized Peru’s support of transgenics. Despite the Peruvian delegation’s opposition to the binding instrument, a consensus was reached in favor of the binding agreement, solidifying corporate responsibly for any negative externalities as a result of transgenics.

On July 11, 2006, Peru’s Congress approved the General Law for the Development of Modern Biotechnology. This new law provoked vehement opposition from NGOs and other anti-transgenics activists. The big problem revolved around the issues of patentability of biotechnological inventions (intellectual property) and the rights of indigenous peoples over their traditional knowledge and practices related to their biodiverse cultural heritage (Martinez & Pinzás 2014. For the first time light was shed upon the epistemological dichotomy of different types of knowledges. Due to this controversy, the CONAM was increasingly cautious about the outcomes of the new law, however, other agencies such as the MINAG and INIA, were openly in favor of allowing GMOs into the country. Later that year, after many arduous debates, the Peruvian government signed a Free Trade Agreement (TLC) with the United States. This maneuver, symbolic of the increasing neoliberalization in Peru, created a path for the entry of transgenics into Peru’s borders.

From 2006 to the Moratorium

Up until 2006 much of the debate over transgenics, and the laws resulting from the discussions, were largely exclusive. To a large part, many civil society organizations (CSOs) and other NGOs were not included. As Isabel Lapeña of the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA) and a member of the committee for the discussion on biosafety points out, “we had reached a point where the (position) seemed won by the protransgenic sector because the whole legislative landscape had been modified to favour the entry of transgenics into Peru” (Martinez & Pinzás 2014: 10). The second stage of the debate, beginning in 2007 and running up until the moratorium in 2011, was characterized by the amplified involvement of NGOs and CSOs in the controversy over transgenics in Peru.
Much of that increased participation began in 2007 with an important allegation on behalf of Dr. Antonietta Gutierrez, a biologist from the National Agrarian University La Molina and director of the Sustainable Environmental Development Association. Gutierrez reported that GMOs had been found in multiple sample sites in the valley of Barranca.  The allegation was quickly picked up and reported by leading newspapers such as El Comercio and La Republica, further increasing the level laymen participation and number of people aware about GMOs in Peru. Due to this, in October of that year, the platform group Peru Transgenic Free Country (PPPLT) was formed, consolidating multiple organizations who argued for sustainable and organic agriculture, and against the entry of GMOs into Peru (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). One year later, in 2008, Dr. Gutierrez published more results from an extended sample of the first test she carried out in 2007. In her new research, Gutierrez included the departments of Lima, Piura, Lambayeque, La Libertad and Ancash. She found that samples from Lima, Piura and La Libertad contained GMOs—confirming once again the introduction of transgenics in Peruvian agriculture (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).
All the while, Peru’s economy was continuing to grow. The economic growth during this time was no doubt a result of the economic restructuring that occurred during President Fujimori’s stay in office. During his ten years of presidency (1990-2000), the neoliberal hegemony began to reach Peru and dominate Fujimori’s economic and agricultural policies. Inspired by the Washington Consensus, President Fujimori moved towards the privatization of public enterprises and liberalization of foreign trade and labor market regulations. In addition, Fujimori placed a heavy emphasis on garnering foreign direct investment (FDI), especially from exploiting natural resources such as metals, oil, gas and agriculture (Bury 2005). Since then, Peru’s participation in globalized agricultural markets has continued to grow. So much so that the Exporters Association of Peru (ADEX), have expressed their commitment to organic crops and Peru’s incompatibility with GMOs. Their worry is that an agricultural system reliant upon transgenics will only offer economic benefits for the few corporations that own the intellectual property embedded with genetically altered crops. Organic agriculture or non-genetically modified agriculture on the other hand, would benefit a wider array of Peruvian farmers and agricultural markets (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). This economic argument, in conjunction with the arguments to preserve Peruvian biodiversity and livelihoods of farmers, coalesced into a more robust argument in opposition to GMOs in Peru.

In 2008, the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) was created and Dr. Antonio Brack was appointed as minister. Dr. Brack, an ecologist, teacher and researcher of biodiversity, publicly spoke out against the usage of transgenics. For Brack, the major issue was the potential contamination of Peru’s endemic agrobiodiversity by GMOs. The MINAM, and Brack’s appointment as Minister, helped to balance the debate over transgenics in Peru’s governmental agencies (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).  Outside of the political realm, PPPLT’s anti-transgenics actions continue to intensify. Public displays of opposition—such as marches, public statements, fairs and conferences—continued to achieve media traction. In 2009, the PPPLT proposed a measure for a 5-year moratorium on the entry of GMOs and the labelling of any product containing genetically altered material. In addition, other NGOs joined the Platform, such as the Fair Trade and Ethical Trade Network, the Avantari Naturist Centre, and the National Convention of Peruvian Agriculture (Martinez & Pinzás 2014).

Despite this growing opposition to transgenics in Peru, in April of 2011, President Alan Garcia’s administration issued Supreme Decree 003-2011-MINAG. Just three months before the terminus of his Presidency – one that had always supported the economic interests of multinational corporations—Garcia’s decree allowed farmers and corporations to acquire permits to legally use GMOs in agriculture or forestry.  These new parameters were drafted solely by the MINAG, an agency historically in support of transgenics, and without any participation from MINAM, an agency opposed to the usage of transgenics (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Due to the lack of equitable participation, MINAM and other anti-transgenics groups responded quickly.

In response, MINAM evoked its constitutional and legal mandate to protecting Peruvian biodiversity and its endemic genetic resources.  Their argument was that an abrupt decision like the Supreme Decree 003, and the exclusion of MINAM in drafting the piece of legislation, violated their constitutional power (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). Until a collaborative agreement could be reached or a moratorium on GMOs enacted, MINAM would continue to stand in opposition to President Garcia’s last effort to allow the widespread usage of GMOs in Peru. MINAM was not the only governmental group in opposition— lower level governments and municipalities issued ordinances declaring their jurisdictions “transgenic-free territories”. In total, thirteen of Peru’s regions, including the Municipality of Lima, had done so (Martinez & Pinzás 2014). This type of widespread mobilization, from multiple strata of government, helped shrink the existing legal dichotomy between pro- and anti-transgenic supporters, as well as represent the will of lay-citizens to preserve their country’s biodiversity.

In late 2011, Manuel Pulgar Vidal was appointed the new minister of MINAM. Vidal, much like his predecessor Antonio Brack, opposed GMOs in Peru and was in full support for a moratorium. By this time, multiple pieces of legislation had reached Congress and begun the process of enacting a moratorium. Finally, on June 7, 2011 Congress adopted Law No. 28911, declaring a moratorium on the entry of transgenics into the country for a period of ten years, On December 8, 2011, under the new Presidency of Ollanta Humala, the new law was officially authorized.

The objective of Law No. 28911 is clear: to prohibit the entry—from both external importation and domestic production— of transgenics into the environment. However, this excludes GMOs that are used in confined laboratory spaces and for pharmaceutical or veterinarian uses. The moratorium goes beyond just prohibiting and sanctioning the usage of GMOs, in addition, it is also designed to develop the Peruvian government’s capacity for biosafety. According to Martinez and Pinzás, this part of the moratorium is two-fold: “to enhance regulatory and capacity building, involving the construction of programmes for the knowledge and conservation of endemic genetic resources, biotechnology and competitive development programs, as well as projects to strengthen scientific and technological capabilities; and to create a multi-sectoral advisory committee to develop tools and skills for the regulation of biotechnology, biosafety and bioethics such as technical reports, proposals and monitoring functions” (2014: 22). In other words, the moratorium is designed to give the Peruvian government more time to regulate and prepare for the eventual entry of biotechnological products within their borders.

The future of GMOs in Peru hangs in the balance. Peruvian farmers and biodiversity are protected for at least another five years. Where the country will decide to move next once the moratorium expires is not certain. The sense is that the usage of transgenics on a massive agricultural scale is somewhat inevitable. Other developed nations, interested in the economic boons of biotechnology in developing nations such as the United States, are already mobilizing to make this possible (Nolte 2016; Nolte & Beillard 2014).  Despite this, the Peruvian government wants to slow down the growth of transgenics. It is important to them to ensure that the necessary regulations and governance technologies are in place beforehand in order to mitigate the potential risks to biodiversity, the Peruvian economy, and perhaps most importantly, to Peruvian farmers and their respective lifeways. However, if this is not the wish of the Peruvian citizenship, then it will be up to the continued resistance from anti-transgenic activists, farmers and scientists, along with support from certain agencies within the Peruvian State, to continue to preserve Peru’s rich biodiversity and long agricultural and cultural history.