I don’t remember where I read the “Allegory of the Best Farmer and Community Corn,” but it made enough of an impression that I saved it. I guess it was the contrast with our modernist illusions that got my attention. We live in a world that is culturally detached from the factual world of physical, biological, and ecological reality.
A global catastrophic convergence of existential crises confronts us—resource shortages, accelerating inequities, economic instability, global pandemic, and climate emergency, to name but a few. Typical modernist responses tend to separate us further than ever. Our cultural detachment from both physical and social reality prevents us from recognizing where we really stand in the world. Read this short allegory and I think you will see what I mean:
There once was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn in the county. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew his corn. The reporter was surprised to discover that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So it is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…
We live in a world in direct opposition to this fundamental principle. This story stands in stark contrast with the relationship of small independent farmers to the giant industrial farming that dominates agriculture today. I recall that one farmer whose fields were close to those of an agribusiness operation that used patented GMO seed stocks, found that the wind blew GMO pollen from the agribusiness crops onto his fields and contaminated his crops.
The corporate response on becoming aware of this cross contamination was to sue the small farmer for infringing on the corporate patent for the GMO seeds. The court ruled that the small farmer was illegally using the patented corporate material! This drove the small farmer out of business because he couldn’t afford to fight the corporate state.
But there is an even deeper issue than the outrageous corporate oppression of small business in similar incidents in all economic sectors that such abuse represents. In another example, the dominance by Monsanto of Indian farmers by required use of pesticides with their Roundup-resistant hybrid seeds. Not only were traditional seed stocks destroyed by adopting corporate seeds. But growing costs and mediocre crops led to pesticide-caused toxic illness, extreme poverty, and impossible levels of debt, leading to many cases of “suicide by Roundup” among peasant farmers who could not find a way to escape their downward spiral.
In the Best Farmer allegory, the wise farmer recognized the interdependence of humans with each other and with the land. Modern industrial agriculture recognizes neither. That is broadly true of the entire extractive industrial consumer economy that now spans the globe. In every economic sector, people and their communities become more and more separated from each other and made dependent upon complex systems over which they have no control. Under the guise of patriotism and the ideology of individualism, propaganda blames the victims of institutional abuse for their problems.
The result is Koyaanisqatsi. It’s the Hopi word for “Life out of Balance.” The loss of community and our relations with the natural world result from the rise of giant institutions that destroy the individual’s ability to relate to his neighbors as humans, instead of as subordinates within giant institutions. It is increasingly difficult to do well by doing well for others. Yet, that is the essence of community—self-interest in harmony with compassion and with Gaia.