Somehow the spirit of the original Declaration of Independence carries an invitation to revisit it often. It is a living legacy whose potential is ever emerging in the unfolding of history. Like all visionary proclamations, it draws in its wake the unfinished aspirations of those early founders who shifted the human venture into new dimensions of possibility and choice.
In a certain sense “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” was an agreement to quit. To quit believing and assenting to a way of thinking which was no longer consistent with the self-evident truths the new colonists held. Those truths were that all people “are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that to secure these rights, people would institute governments which would derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Since the states had suffered a long train of abuses and usurpations, they felt compelled after a prudent period of time and with a careful sense of duty to dissolve their political bonds to their former systems of government.
They quit believing change would happen by waiting.
The Declaration of Independence cited twenty-eight reasons why the colonists should quit believing that their repeated injuries and usurpations would be heard or honored by the King of Great Britain. They quit believing, not just in their monarchy, but in the idea that it was a proper form of government for people who believed in the “self-evident truth” that people had inalienable rights endowed by their Creator.
Months earlier, in January of 1776, when Thomas Paine wrote his 48-page pamphlet Common Sense, the decision to seek independence from England had not yet been finalized. Writing anonymously, Paine described in plain language, for ordinary people, why they should quit believing in old forms of thinking such as the divine rights of kings, or hereditary monarchy. He also spelled out the consequences of continuing to live as though conflicting sets of beliefs about human rights could be accommodated. He cited seven well-documented reasons for the colonies to quit being colonies and declare their independence as a new union of self-governed states.
It is now 237 years since both Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence affirmed the rights of humans to individuate themselves from an oppressive ruler and pursue the freedoms to which the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”
On June 10th, a decision on a motion to dismiss in Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto, the case in which Genesis Farm is a co-plaintiff, was handed down. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, DC, ruled that the plaintiffs, a group of about eighty organic and non-GMO farmers and seed companies, cannot pursue a lawsuit to protect themselves from Monsanto's transgenic seed patents because — and this is an important statement — Monsanto recently promised to take no legal action against growers whose crops inadvertently contain traces of these seeds.
In the ruling, a panel of judges affirmed the New York trial court’s previous decision to dismiss our complaint due to our lack of standing. In that sense it was disappointing. However, it did so because Monsanto made repeated and legally binding commitments during the lawsuit to not sue farmers with “trace amounts” — defined as 1% or less — of crop contamination.
Our attorney, Dan Ravicher of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), views the decision as a partial victory. “Before this suit, the Organic Seed plaintiffs were forced to take expensive precautions and avoid full use of their land in order to not be falsely accused of patent infringement by Monsanto,” said Ravicher. “The decision means that the farmers did have the right to bring the suit to protect themselves, but now that Monsanto has bound itself to not suing the plaintiffs, the Court of Appeals believes the suit should not move forward.” Ravicher also noted that any farmer who is contaminated by trace amounts of Monsanto seed might now sue for that harm without fear of a retaliation patent infringement claim.
This partial victory against the international agriculture giant is certainly significant. But as the use of biotech crops continues to spread – about 50% of American farmland is now devoted to growing them – we must all come to terms with the possibility that farmers who are trying to protect their crops from any transgenic seed contamination are fighting what could become a futile effort.
This spring a farmer in Oregon discovered that his wheat field had become contaminated with GMO wheat, a product Monsanto field tested with USDA approval in 16 states from 1998 through 2005. The GMO wheat was never granted commercial approval, and Monsanto claims its use never became widespread. How far it has spread is anyone’s guess. As this story illustrates, once the altered genes are released from the laboratory, they are difficult, if not impossible, to contain. This kind of inadvertent contamination problem could end up disrupting the entire wheat industry since many international importers ban all GMO crops.
But there are far greater disruptions at stake. The genetic integrity of some of our most important food crops is increasingly at risk. If this continues, even the most conscientious will not be able to avoid eating GMO products. Furthermore, whether they’re approved or not, these foods have never been proven to be safe for long-term consumption. The necessary precautionary testing has simply not been done. We must all come to grips with this reality.
It must be asked: how could any business assume and receive the “authority” to act without our public or democratic consent and thereby usurp our own inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Are not the air, soil, water, oceans, birds, fish, forests and all living beings in the web of life essential to the health of Earth? And is not the health of Earth essential to the human pursuit of human life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
And how do we, the governed, protect ourselves against a violation of our right to health if we are not given accurate information about the basic nature of our food? Genetically engineered food is not labeled anywhere in these United States. This is the willful intention of its corporate producers, who hold sway over our representatives and laws. So even the freedom to choose to avoid eating this unsafe food has been preempted by this business “authority.” How can this be? We all have a right as well as an obligation to ask these questions.
The takeover of our agricultural system, our health, our governments, our prisons, our military, our airwaves, our privacy, and our universities and schools by a handful of corporate interests is assaulting many of the planet’s life systems. These systems, natural and human, are becoming increasingly volatile. People and nature are being forced to conform to patterns of control deeply inconsistent with five billion years of evolution, with our basic human instincts, with our deepest spiritual values, and with rigorous and objective scientific observation. Our government representatives are supposed to protect our freedom, health, safety, privacy and access to truth, and we pay them handsome salaries, pensions, and benefits to do this. But many of our expectations are wildly backfiring. The news is filled with bleak reports.
Nor can our kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, warlords, CEOs, regulatory committees, governors, czars, religious leaders, bankers, financiers, and public relations firms fulfill the assurances that our institutions once promised us. Too often, their old forms of thinking now directly conflict with the realities of everyday life. The many billions of dollars spent each week on propping up old promises and old ideas can only delay the inevitable. As the old nursery rhyme reminds us, Humpty Dumpty simply cannot be put back together again.
One of the most abiding of these promises is our right to freedom and independence. Independence is defined as a state of not being influenced or controlled by others; of thinking or acting for oneself; of not being dependent or contingent upon something else; or, of not relying on another for aid or support. Much could be written about how government and business interests have colluded to usurp the average citizen’s independence in society. But independence can also imply a false separation from the web of interdependence which holds the Universe together.
It is just this belief in separation that keeps pushing us further and further into crisis. Independence is a worldview held by a culture that has not yet made the distinction between independence and individuation. Individuation is the unique capacity of a living being to evolve within the interdependent web of life in which it exists. For humans, individuation is the unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable precious capacity to unfold one’s mind, body, spirit, memory, imagination, attitudes beliefs, choices and creative contributions in response to the unique conditions of one’s life.
The differences between independence and interdependence may at first seem small; it’s just one small syllable, after all. But the distinction can be life altering. One ideal celebrates individual human endeavor but remains silent about how those endeavors are derived from or affect other life systems. Independence is a fiction, a mental fiction born of human consciousness. Interdependence, on the other hand, recognizes that human fate is inextricably linked to all the other life systems on the planet. When our individual actions are mutually enhancing, the web of life is supported. But when we ignore the scientific reality of an interdependent web of life, we do so at our own peril and at the peril of the web.
Quitting old ways of thinking is like quitting any old habit – it is difficult and stressful. But in making the change from independence to interdependence, enormous freedom may be gained.
Humans share an indestructible longing for a meaningful soul life. In spite of appearances to the contrary, a mysterious ineffable domain of the human longs to give itself into something bigger than an individual’s small self, isolated from the whole. It is this search for deeper meaning that is often unsatisfied by the offerings of old forms, even though, in the past, they may have provided a deep sense of meaning. This search compels us to keep learning, to search for further perspectives, to discover what was not before realized, to honor the beauty and integrity emerging from these discoveries, and to constantly transcend the limitations of the present. The Universe is still expanding and becoming itself. Earth is a planet of highly evolved and complex living relationships intimately bound together. There is an inherent interdependence of all beings.
So at what point does a reasonable person quit? Quit believing in frozen ideas, in dying forms?
We might cite, as did the architects of the Declaration of Independence, a handful of powerful but ancient forms that can no longer, as they said, “provide new guards for the future security.” These include:
• the idea that human beings are separate from everything else in the world; or
• that a spiritual creator bestowed a spiritual nature exclusively on humans to the exclusion of all other beings, or
• that certain humans are predestined to be of more value than others, and are therefore entitled to special authority; or
• that the world is under the powerful influence of evil forces which, regardless of what humans do, will inflict ultimate destruction from which only certain favored humans will be rescued.
Some of these ideas have had a cruel history. In some instances, everything — common sense, common decency, and common good became collateral damage in their service. Even when people realize that some of their ideas are inaccurate, outdated and misguided, it is possible to remain committed to their defense. It may defy logic to remain loyal to them, yet history demonstrates that good, upright civilizations have sacrificed some of their deepest values to do just that.
So, when does a reasonable person finally quit believing that such restricted forms of meaning can be, or even should be, brought back to life?
Perhaps when the new forms speak to us and touch us so profoundly that we are drawn to pursue them wholeheartedly. The story of an evolving Universe and the mysterious dynamics that infuse Earth has illumined the imagination of countless legions of searchers whose gaze was caught by the outer and inner visions of deep time and space.
One of the most compelling voices interpreting these new revelations was that of Thomas Berry’s. He synthesized modern scientific insights about the nature of time, space, and the emerging processes of life with his uncommon appreciation of the spiritual wisdom of the world’s diverse human cultures and religions. His observations about how human behavior and ideas often collided with reality are inspirational, engaging and always challenging. They have become the bedrock of our defense and protection of the integrity of seeds and the genetic memory of all Earth’s diverse life expressions. They frame our commitment to the distinction between individuation and independence.
Inspired by Berry’s work, groundbreaking materials were created by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker (see sidebar on right) to deepen our exploration and understanding. The words and images in their Journey of the Universe series have truly made the concept of interdependence more accessible to the world. We can think of no better resources to help us re-weave our minds and hearts into its interdependent web of life.
The Declaration of Independence itself suggests that change does not come easily to the human race. “Mankind is more disposed to suffer,” it states, “…than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” But what lies beyond our present accustomed forms is a new frontier, full of possibility if only we consent to its existence. Finally we have the opportunity to consent to a new governance without leaving everything behind. We do not abandon the treasured essence of what we are, or the many-faceted wisdoms about living with the sacred legacy of our human ancestors. We can carry the many-faceted faces and names of the Divine into new depths of humility, awe and appreciation. Perhaps most importantly we can now grasp and embrace vast new glimpses into the nature of the world and the rare privilege of our own existence.