We saw it coming—the polarization that has led bitter and bloody divisions. Well, a few saw it coming, many should have, and others just ignored it. An article in the current Smithsonian on public intellectuals made me curious about a 1968 debate between Canadian media analyst Marshall McLuhan and macho novelist Norman Mailer.
Mailer says, “Look Marshall, we’re both agreed that man is accelerating at an extraordinary rate into a super-technological world, if you will. And that the modes and methods by which men instruct themselves and are instructed are shifting in extraordinary . . . [interrupted]
Later McLuhan replies, “An electronic world retribalizes man, yes.” And even later McLuhan, leaving Mailer out of his depth, explains how the retribalization has begun and will proceed. “When you give people too much information, they resort to pattern recognition.”
What patterns stand out for us a half century later? The patterns that reinforce the goodness of our ideas and of the groups that want these ideas to govern the world. And we see patterns that confirm the existence of our enemies – people who want to run the world differently. In a world where so much is changing, and change is accelerating, these patterns are reassuring. At best they create cooperative communities energized for good causes. They also divide us into warring tribes.
Accelerating and radical change is very unsettling to anyone who wants to settle down with a comfortable perspective, a loyal family, a stable set of friends, a nurturing tribe, and a defensible faith. The threat of losing these cherished human comforts means that each group or tribe defends or asserts its identity with increasing ferocity. Discipline and peer pressure within a group become more and more important and dissent becomes more dangerous. The vilification and dehumanizing of outsiders also intensifies. The proof is everywhere.
It’s here in America and in the violence of the Middle East. At home Liberals demonize conservatives and Trump supporters as greedy, coldhearted, selfish, ignorant, and bigoted. Conservatives and Trump supporters demonize liberals as elitists, naïve ideologues, extortionists, big spenders of other people’s money, hypocrites, and bigots.
In the Middle East and Afghanistan enforced tribalism and demonizing outsiders has displaced millions as it fuels suicide bombers, slavery, and mass murder.
Both the good and the bad consequences of technology, of course, come in degrees. European and American divisions are not even close to civil war though people have been bloodied and bruised, and a few have been murdered.
Across the Atlantic the European Union is even more divided and close to falling apart after its first secession. America’s Brexit was the election of Donald Trump, though less of a Brexit than a Break-It.
The mainstream media gets a large share of the blame for the bitterness of our divisions. Politicized college faculties and curricula also bear a big burden. Fortunately, the Internet that serves the very social media and independent web sites that fuel divisive tribalism is also overflowing with new ideas, new patterns. We will get what we look for.
How serious are you about:
1. Feeding the world
2. Cruelty to animals
3. The destruction of the natural environment
4. Big reductions in green house gases
I predict a lot of people are not serious enough to consider answers that could succeed beyond their fondest dreams. Answers that would make livestock slaughter unnecessary, save hundreds of millions of acres of land, and make food shortages a thing of the past.
The answers require genetically modified meat, tissue culture, and capitalism. Below are a few excerpts from a recent summary of what we can do, how, and when.
By Tara Duggan and Jonathan Kauffman
May 3, 2017 Updated: May 3, 2017 12:00pm
The current goal of Finless Foods: to produce a simulacrum of bluefin tuna fillet to help relieve the pressure on the prized, but severely overfished, species.
Animals have little to do with the future of meat, milk and eggs, argue Selden and Wyrwas — and similar new companies and their funders. Instead, that future belongs to scientists who can hack yeast cells to produce egg whites, torque plant proteins into musclelike fibers and grow slaughter-free “duck” or “chicken” in factories.
. . . The money flowing toward alternatives to animal agriculture in the past four years has been notable: Impossible Foods, the Redwood City company that makes plant-based burgers, has raised north of $180 million from funders that include Bill Gates. Modern Meadow, a New York firm that cultures leather cells, has taken in $53 million.
Those are just the marquee companies. Operating on funding in the six-figure and low seven-figure range are newer enterprises like New Wave Foods (high-tech plant-based shrimp), the aforementioned Finless Foods (cultured seafood) and several “meat breweries,” including Clara Foods and Geltor, which ferment yeast cells to express egg whites and collagen, respectively. Most are based in the Bay Area; in fact, several, including Geltor and New Wave Foods, share office and lab space in San Leandro.
. . . The very company that lured Memphis Meats to San Francisco, SOS Ventures, has been a major factor in turning the Bay Area into the hub for animal-free animal products. Sean O’Sullivan’s $150 million fund operates six accelerators around the world. One of them is IndieBio, and 25 percent of IndieBio’s participating companies, says chief science officer Ron Shigeta, are working on food.
Among the technocrat billionaire set, Bill Gates isn’t the only one to invest money in high-tech meat alternatives. Google co-founder Sergey Brin helped fund the Dutch research that produced the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013. Obvious Ventures, backed by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, bought into Beyond Meat, a Southern California plant-based meat company. Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt told a group of investors at the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica think tank, last year that replacing livestock with plant-based meat is No. 1 on a list of technologies he predicts will change the world.
The payoff that they are chasing is almost unfathomably huge. “Almost everybody eats meat,” says Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, an advocacy group working to end industrial animal agriculture. “It’s a $200 billion market in the United States alone.”
At the moment, plant-based meat represents one quarter of 1 percent of that. Even if it reached parity with plant-based dairy (soy and nut milks), sales would be $20 billion a year — in the United States alone.
. . . raising animals for meat and dairy accounts for 14.5 percent of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report on livestock and climate change.
Perfect Day Foods, which is developing what seems like an oxymoron — animal-free milk based on yeast-fermented cow milk proteins — says it has the potential to use up to 65 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and 84 percent less energy, 98 percent less water and 91 percent less land than traditional dairy production, according to an analysis by the University of the West of England.
Memphis Meats claims that its cultured meat eliminates the risk of e. coli contamination on the slaughter floor, as well as widespread antibiotic use on farms, which has been shown to contribute to antibiotic resistance.
The future that many of the Bay Area’s faux meat producers envision — meat grown in a lab, gelatin made in a tank from genetically engineered yeast — is exactly the opposite of the pastoral idyll the sustainable food movement has been pushing for four decades: Small family farms where chickens and pigs cavort in the sun until the moment they are given a merciful death. Wild fish allowed to prowl the oceans until they’re snatched out of the water.
That vision, says the Good Food Institute’s Friedrich, may be a beautiful one, but it’s too limited, at far less than 1 percent of total meat sales. The vast majority of industrial animal agriculture involves confinement and giant manure lakes and stockyards that can be smelled for miles.
With factory farming, says investor Coller, “we’ve been treating animals as objects.” To those in the meat-alternative market, cows and pigs will soon become an outdated technology.
If these answers repulse you and you don't want to see these new products, then seriously consider if you are a change agent or a dreamer.