Sharing Some Intellectual Property

Sometimes property can get too intellectual, if you know what I mean.

According to Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, one  of the state’s rising industries is something called “agricultural tourism.” Says Kleefisch,

“Visitors from all over the world are coming to Wisconsin to view our advanced agricultural operations, to learn more about our hybrid biotech seeds, to tour our ginseng farms.”

Just who these visitors are we are not told, but if Wisconsin keeps losing farms at the current rate (8,700 from 2007 to 2012), it won’t be long before any sort of farm in the state will be a tourist attraction for urbanites seeking a glimpse of a quieter life. But ag tourists looking for greener pastures in Wisconsin will be disappointed. While farms are disappearing, “factory farms” or “advanced agricultural operations” are proliferating in Wisconsin and elsewhere, and there is little that is “green” or bucolic or humane about what they do. Exporting tons of milk means nothing if our pastures are turned into muddy feedlots and huge metal barns and our cows are mistreated.

As a writer I’m certainly in favor of reasonable “intellectual property” protection, but as a conservationist I am concerned about what is being done to actual property (land, water, air) and actual people in the name of protecting/blindly promoting corporate intellectual property and university-affiliated biotechnology research. Profiting at the expense of land and people (especially farmers and small business owners) is a recurring theme in American intellectual circles, so we should carefully consider just what sort of “property” we are protecting and just who (or what) is the true beneficiary. If Wisconsin doesn’t preserve its small farms, its pastures, woodland and clean water, tourists in general will go elsewhere. Like, say, Vermont.

Also in the news,  Oshkosh Corporation is developing some new intellectual property of its own: military trucks that need no human driver. The unmanned trucks would function as bomb detector/blast absorbers, thus sparing the bodies and lives of human soldiers in a military convoy. This follows a trend of using drones and possibly other automated weapons to replace actual soldiers, an intellectual/technological development that sounds laudable in theory but in practice will make war more likely, more dangerous for civilians and less open to human dissent. A human soldier can, upon experience and reflection, refuse to fight or return from war and, as many do, speak out against war. Some say that driverless vehicles and other unmanned machines will ultimately be as smart and potentially moral as people. I’ll believe it when driverless military trucks, drones and other robotic weapons profess to be conscientious objectors.

And, finally, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel continues to intellectually plumb the reasons behind our nation’s and state’s political “polarization” and to bemoan our “dysfunctional Congress” for failing to compromise enough to pass a bipartisan energy bill. Sometimes dysfunction is better than malfunction, which is what we generally have in Wisconsin from a progressive point of view under the all-Republican regime. The fine print in the editorial makes clear that it is the Republican pole of Congress that is at fault for failing to pass the energy bill after not getting its way on votes on the Keystone pipeline and power plant regulation. (But, oddly, the JS Editorial Board still supports building the pipeline.)

In our essentially two-party, polarized system, there has for a while now not been a true centrist balance but a rightward-leaning ideology that finally reached its illogical tipping point with “tea party” Libertarianism, a reaction to the surprising election of the supposedly socialist Obama and the supposedly socialist ACA. The Republicans as a whole veered hard right, which has subsequently caused some Democrats/liberals to rediscover their populist, progressive roots and put more pressure on the Obama administration to get a little radical.

Obama and Kerry put off the decision on the Keystone pipeline likely because they don’t want to approve it but wouldn’t risk saying so before the fall elections– in other words, a political cop-out, as was the Republican reverse on the energy bill.  Call it “dysfunction” if you like, but polarization is not a bad thing when matters of principle,  fundamental moral differences, are at stake. Political compromise is not always intellectually and morally desirable, and ultimately voters will determine just how much stalemate and stale intellectual property they want to endure.









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