And yet labor continues.
Image Credit: Kirk Livingston
Just after a storm. Just before a storm.
More on “edge” here.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
How talk of an acre became talk of an industry
Here’s a story seemingly about not knowin’ nothin’: two friends from Boston decided to figure out why we grew so much corn in the U.S. So, naturally, they went to Iowa and hired an acre of land to grow their own corn.
As anyone would, given a compelling question.
In King Corn, friends Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis found their grandfathers both came from the small town of Greene, Iowa. In this documentary (a form we know as dedicated to a version of a story rather than seeking objectivity), the two friends plant, fertilize, weed, and then harvest their acre of corn. All with the help of local farmers. But this is not the gotcha-style documentary that Michael Moore practiced. These friends seem genuinely interested in all aspects, ask the dumb questions that any of us (non-farmers) might ask, and make connections with the farmers, families and communities along the way. They let their questions propel them and others join in, though we have a strong hunch where the questions are going.
As they tell their story, they identify Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under Nixon and Ford. They note how Butz initiated a government policy shift that turned small farmers into big producers (especially of corn) rather than keeping them as small producers (that is, paying them to not produce to keep prices high). The friends also talk with Michael Pollan and a number of other fancy academic big-shots with opinions and research on food and agriculture. What they found turned the conversation.
- Massive feed lots that have dialed up cattle production by letting them stand and eat corn nearly constantly. So: faster to market. The cattle continue to eat toward an upper physiologic limit and must ingest a constant stream of antibiotics to continue eating. That would be our beef industry.
- A high fructose corn syrup industry spawned from the great quantities of corn produced. High fructose corn syrup seems incredibly malleable and shows up in a high percentage of the produced foods we buy. And high fructose corn syrup, as we are learning, is just more sugary, empty calories that help contribute to our nations struggle with obesity.
What’s odd is that raising corn, on its own, is a money-losing endeavor. But with the subsidies our government kicks in, it becomes profitable for farmers to set aside enormous sections of land to grow it. And the resulting industries and practices have a problematic relationship with our culture and health.
King Corn ends up as an uncomfortable look into an industry we all partake in. And like all documentaries, there is a clear point of view, which was fun to watch. I’m certain the beef and high fructose corn syrup industries have excellent and solid rebuttals for the conclusions any viewer might form from the film.
We’re all happy with cheap food, but the film helps us ask about the long-term cost of our cheap food.
What I appreciated about the tone of the film was just two guys just asking questions (yes, I bought into that portrayal of the friends). And rather than Michael Moore-style bombast, the filmmakers presented a couple sides to the story (though certainly not all sides) through conversation. The result helps me begin to rethink the low-priced, easily available food that surrounds us and for which I am grateful.
The Case for Not Knowin’ Nothin’
Pity the expert: the Ph.D. who knows everything there is to know about a certain insect that preys on a certain crop. If she finds the right academic position—fantastic. But there are only three such positions in the U.S. and only one of those (tenured) people is close to death. So…a waiting game.
Feel sorry for the writer whose first novel got rave reviews or the artist who sold a massive installation on their first go-round. Expectations are steep for the next project and the pressure is on.
In conversation with a friend at work, I heard my younger self admit to a life-goal of wanting to, finally, know something. But knowing with certainty becomes harder with every book read and every conversation you have. In fact, the more you read any philosophy or wisdom literature, the more you get the sense of “knowing” as a shy and elusive pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
That’s why it’s good to attempt the impossible while still young, before you realize it is, in fact, impossible. Quick—try that thing you want to do before someone sets you down and sets you straight about how ridiculous it is you are even considering it.
Another alternative is to cultivate a young and dumb attitude no matter what your age in dog years. Even the Ph.D. is a beginner at something. The beginner just wants to try it for themselves.
Let’s cultivate the joy of a small hand with a big fat crayon, exploring the world.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
Or should we call a prayer meeting?
“Agency” is a word for getting something done. In a philosophical sense, it is the capacity to act in the world. It has to do with choice-making and accomplishment and focus—especially focus. We hire an advertising agency when we need to offload some critical marketing element and make sure it happens. That agency accepts the mission and acts. And so we pay their fee.
Why hire agency? Because we don’t have the capacity to do it ourselves, whether that means talent or headcount or time or interest or focus or all of the above. But the critical thing needs to be done and must be done. So we get someone we can trust to do it. There is an entire industry set up around the notion of getting things done. Time management is always a hot topic for any gender in business or academia and in the rest of life.
But agency has a tricky theological side. Even non-theists debate determinism versus free will. And Christians, well—we’ll kill each other over our views of how the world works. Just find an Anabaptist and ask how their minority voice was received by their determinist rulers, way back when.
Why bring in theology when talking about getting things done in real life? Isn’t theology the useless opposite of getting things done here on earth?
Because while we can accomplish much with our time-management techniques, there is much outside our ability. Like changing someone’s mind. Or opening long-closed doors. Or protecting oppressed people from their brutal dictator. Or helping a nation care about all its citizens (versus just the privileged ones).
What the time-management industry does not answer and cannot answer is how to work with these very large questions that deal with agency in the larger world. So we back off and shut down and feel guilty.
Can we pursue agency that sees and acts on larger things? Some of my heroes are doing this and their agency consists of some combination of prayer and action and faith and presence.
Image credit: Kirk Livingston
“Factory infatuation” maybe a thing?
Yesterday’s post drew a comparison between liminal spaces and the work that happens in a good conversation: how we help each other explore a topic, which often opens a route to a conclusion and even action.
Along the way I confessed that I am drawn to those more industrial parts of the city. Artist Michael Banning said that particular bent is starting to look like a thing people do. At least in Tokyo. He pointed me toward this:
Via BBC World News