Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Let the Stupid Grow the Food

oranges everywhere

The New Agriculture

Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? Those who are not smart enough to do anything else, let them grow the food we eat. Intelligent and talented people should be doing things that require talent and intelligence, not wasting their lives doing stupid things like growing food.

Some aspects of food are admittedly important, requiring skill and training, but growing it is not one of them. An intelligent person, should they wish to be involved with food, could run a grocery store, or become a food broker, or own or manage a restaurant. They could go into government and make rules and regulate food production or food safety. A talented and creative person could be a chef, run a catering service, design menus, make fancy pastries and decorate cakes; these are all respectable occupations and often well paid ones, unlike farming.

One great thing about the free market is that it clearly lets us know what is important and what isn’t: Important work is well-paid. If producing food were an important occupation, it would be a well paid one. Agriculture is pretty much the lowest paying job worldwide, which clearly shows its lack of importance.

Growing food is perfectly suited for stupid people, as all it consists of is driving a tractor around, putting some seeds in the ground, and then harvesting the plants that grow from the seeds. Any moron can do that, and there is nothing sadder than to see talent and intelligence wasted on a boring, unskilled and dead end job like farming. Luckily our modern society has long since seen the truth of that and young, intelligent, creative, and especially ambitious people know better than to waste their lives in agriculture.

There’s a reason that people tell “dumb farmer” jokes, you know. Let’s face it, though farmers are a minority, they certainly don’t rate minority status and protection like women, colored people, or homosexuals do. It is not nice to make fun of those who can’t help what they are, but farmers can decide what they want to do, and if they are too stupid and lazy to find anything better to do, they should expect to be made fun of.

It hasn’t always been as clear and straightforward as it is today. Back in the days before modern education and communications, lots of people simply didn’t know any better than to be farmers. Much of the ignorance and misguided choices of the past can be forgiven because not only didn’t people know better, in a lot of cases they didn’t have much choice. There were no such things as supermarkets, and in most countries there weren’t even that many big cities to provide decent and respectable employment for smart people. Most people were born on farms and they needed to grow food just to be able to eat and maybe sell a few things for money. They had little education and relied on printed books and newspapers for information, and what sort of books would one expect to find on a farm? How to Grow Corn? Milking Cows for Fun and Profit? Ha ha.

Sadly, even those who should have known better seemingly didn’t. In the USA even educated men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were farmers. Both men went on and on in their journals about their farms, what and where and when they planted, how they fertilized the crops, incredibly boring subjects. Jefferson even had some wacky idea about the “yeoman farmer” who was self-sufficient, sovereign, and free. As if anyone digging in the dirt for a living cared about such lofty things. Whatever was he thinking?

Throughout the 1700s and up to the late 1800s countless brilliant minds were wasted on the dead-end of agriculture. What marvelous and truly useful inventions would Jethro Tull, John Deere, Eli Whitney, or Cyrus McCormick have come up with had they not wasted their time on farm equipment? The delusion got so bad during the mid-1800s that respectable scientists actually discussed agriculture in science journals. There were even whole magazines with names such as The Gentleman Farmer. Now there’s an oxymoron for you.

Luckily for us, the 1800s also brought the Industrial Revolution and the rise of corporate capitalism. Smart and ambitious people were no longer imprisoned in dead-end jobs like farming. Opportunity beckoned in the new factories and bustling cities, where one could work for real wages and buy the things they wanted and needed. Those in other hopeless careers benefitted as well: village carpenters and blacksmiths, weavers and seamstresses were no longer confined to purposeless obscurity in the countryside, no longer forced to make things one at a time for ignorant bumpkins. They could now move to the city and get a real job in mass production, tending the machines that made such better and more uniform products, perhaps even rising to the level of foreman or manager. These former “hicks from the sticks” were no longer at the mercy of the vagaries of weather and climate; they could rely on the comforting security of a paycheck at the end of every week.

By the early 1900s, some benefit came to those still stuck in agriculture from the tinkering with farm machinery and the invention of the steam engine and later the internal combustion engine. Farmers were no longer limited to using smelly, sweaty horses and oxen to pull their plows and their wagons. The self-propelled wheeled tractor came into its own, as did the threshing machine and later the combine. The equipment dealers selling the machinery offered incentives to modernize, often accepting a team of work horses as a trade-in on a new tractor, quite a kindness on their part, as all they were able to do with the now-useless animals was to sell them to the slaughterhouses and pet food factories, but at least the farmers didn’t have to feed them anymore.

A single farmer could now farm a large acreage, sell the crops, and use the money they earned to pay back the bank and the farm equipment dealer and often still have money left to buy food, fuel, seeds, fertilizer, and whatever else was needed or desired that he was no longer forced to grow or make himself.

Even some of the work of the nineteenth century agricultural “scientists” paid off eventually with the invention of new synthetic fertilizers that could coax bumper crops out of the most worn-out soil and new hybrid plant strains that didn’t need anything but modern concentrated fertilizers to thrive, along with marvelous insecticides to handle the bugs that seemed to be strangely attracted to the new crops.

The lone farmer now cultivating hundreds of acres and raising thousands of bushels of grain almost singlehandedly naturally benefited almost everyone as the price of crops fell, and there was need for far fewer farmers. The farmer’s children, the smart ones anyway, got the message and went to the cities where they could live a civilized life far from the dirt, sweat, and smells of their primitive forebears. They learned to be clerks and accountants, shopkeepers and secretaries. They lived in clean apartments with electric lights and running water. No longer did the girls need to perform degrading jobs like baking bread or sewing clothes for the family, no longer did the boys need to work at demeaning tasks like plowing and planting, or learn about greasy machinery or building or taking care of animals. In the cities they could earn money and buy the fruits of machine labor, marvelous and shiny and modern. Food and meals came from the supermarket or the restaurants without sweat or effort on their part.

Many of the smarter farm kids even went to college or University and learned how to do important things that could make them a lot of money in the city. The dumb ones mostly stayed on the farm, but there were a few who desired some education yet weren’t quite bright enough to understand that simple and unskilled tasks like growing food were best left to those who weren’t capable of anything better.

Back in the 1800s many state governments had created something called “agricultural colleges” and they still existed up ‘til the mid-1900s, more or less as a place where the farm kids smart enough to read and write but not bright enough for real colleges could go and get degrees in cow science or plow theory or something. Around 1950 the big chemical, fertilizer, and seed corporations saw an opportunity there and were kind enough to fund whole new programs where those students destined to return to farming could be educated in how to farm more efficiently using pesticides, weed killers, concentrated chemical fertilizers and hybrid crops. Thus the corporations were able to make the best out of an unfortunate situation: the semi-intelligent farm kids could at least be trained to buy and use the right things when they went back to the farm, and they could pretend that they were part of the important industrial economy and not just dumb farmers.

In some ways the whole process has worked as a speeded-up Darwinian selection program: over the course of a few generations we have managed to free the intelligent and valuable members of our society for truly productive and important jobs like being lawyers, business executives, and government bureaucrats while leaving something to do for those lacking in such vision, intelligence, and capability.

A few Luddites have raised the “alarm” by noting that there are now so few family farms left that the US Census Bureau no longer counts farming as an occupation, or pointing out that the average age of US farmers is over 65, but obviously this is a false alarm. The multinational corporations will as always come to our rescue; actually they already have. Corporate agribusinesses are farming millions of acres using the latest high-tech computerized farm machinery and GPS positioning; they hardly even need a person to drive the tractor. The wonderful new Transgenic GMO crops produce their own insecticides to kill any bug foolish enough to try to eat them, yet we know these systemic insecticides pose no harm to us because corporate scientists have assured us they are safe. Really modern corporate farms needn’t even worry much about plant or soil diseases; they can cover the entire field with plastic sheeting, then inject soil sterilants and fumigants to kill off any pesky soil life. Wouldn’t you really rather have your food grown in nice, clean, sterile soil? Of course you would.

As for the ninnies who complain about this efficiently grown food lacking a few nutrients, they should be thankful that those more intelligent and farsighted than them are now staffing the pharmaceutical laboratories and hospitals and have things well under control.

Meanwhile, the corporations will still need a few unintelligent button pushers to sit in the cabs of that computerized GPS-positioned farm machinery, at least for a while longer. By the time the great day comes that all food production is fully automated and industrialized, the more intelligent among us who are now running the corporations and the government may have found some suitable make-work position for those simply unable to contribute to modern society and unable to “fit in” in the city.

The best and brightest have left agriculture for at least the past two hundred years, leaving only the dullards behind to reproduce; surely that lineage has produced about all the worthwhile offspring it is going to and we can only expect things to get worse. If nothing else, perhaps special reservations can be set up in some unneeded parts of the countryside where these sorts of people can be kept out of harm’s way until they naturally die out. It would be a kindness to all concerned.

[Disclaimer and Note: This essay is meant as sarcasm. The point I'm trying to get across is that growing good food is a very important task and art. It should (and does) attract highly intelligent and skilled people and those growing excellent food should be honored and well compensated.]


  1. . In the USA even educated men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were farmers.

    A number of years ago, I read a book that had letters from GW to TJ and vice versa.

    Can't remember the name of the book, but the letters were very interesting to read and look into these two fine men's thought processes.

    Especially the letters where they compared the raising of CANNIBAS.

    One was in favor of the Cannabis Indicus variety and the other, the Cannibas Africanus type.

    This coming from the so-called "Father of America," Washington and Jefferson, both of whom went on to be presidents.

    No wonder they wore that long hair, they were hippies.

  2. Interesting.

    I vaguely remember reading something from Mr. Washington's diaries which mentioned separating the female specimens of the indian hemp plant from the males....
    something about providing relief from chronic dental problems.

  3. wow, i thought i was one of the few hundred or thousand who've seen Astera's website! doesn't his site make you want to grow food! I know I feel empowered now. I just have to buy his book!