Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Unconventional Conventional

Over the past two weeks, students in my new "Biolaw" class have been presenting their own term projects.  These have run a wide gamut through the subject matter of biolaw, from blood donation to gender identity, patents on humans to management of the Antarctic, and behavioral ecology of criminal behavior to accounting for ecosystem services.

One presentation surprised me the most through its casual, though accurate, use of a word whose meaning has clearly been transformed over the past decade.  The subject was the role of law in settling conflicts between farmers growing genetically-engineered crops and those attempting to cultivate organic crops.  The presenter described GM-crops as "conventional."

When I first heard the descriptor "conventional," my mind reacted against the usage, initially deeming it inaccurate.  But, after I had let the meaning sink in for a few seconds, I realized that the world had linguistically shifted beneath my feet.  Genetically-engineered crops are now so typical as to be banal.  "Traditional" crops of the sorts favored by organic farmers are now strange and exotic.  Convention has rendered GM-agriculture conventional.