eco-chic, green-wash, and bio-piracy

Free yourself from this, and the rest will follow

I’m not going to name names—I’ve done that before, we all know who the usual suspects are, JM and TH and EH and all—but anyone who’s been into health-food stores, has shopped online, reads blogs, and/or hangs out on MakeupAlley’s Green Board will probably have observed a certain phenomenon.

Rich beautiful person starts up company (or a company is started up with a beautiful person as its front-of-house), selling stuff to aspirational people who’d like to be, well, rich and beautiful. There’s a variant featuring a model / celebrity spokesperson. The stuff sells itself like hot cakes to any fool who seriously thinks either or both of the following two things:

  • buying stuff from a beautiful rich (successful, etc.) person will somehow make them be like them: beautiful, rich, etc.
    That worked in more primitive belief-based societies. See for further details: sympathetic magic, gift-rituals, cults, and indeed any organized religion.
  • the person selling them that stuff, or selling it to them c/o their image, actually uses that stuff themselves.

So there’s your basic model of beauty-associated folly.

Here’s some others in the news recently. 

Much of such products’ appeal is to the “my body is a temple” purity-nutcases, the anti-science ill-educated / illiterate, and others of the sort of giddy yoga-bunny brood-mare sillies who clog up the aisles of nice places like Whole Foods, thwarting me in my quest to buy something nice and simple on my shopping list. Yes, I’m one of these old-fashioned freaks who makes shopping-lists and budgets, rather than just going out to play with a credit-card. And that might be part of why I have no debts, have savings, and have surplus income to donate to charity; being lucky in having a job helps too, and guys, in this day and age, only a real fool would argue that luck has nothing to do with that. With apologies to I’m-sure-otherwise-super-nice southern neighbour Republitards. I’ve been lucky, and am grateful for it.

But back to the point. The crème de la crème of Vancouver: rich and thick. And spoiled. Seeming to think that producing offsring proves to the world that they’re grown-ups. When they’ve been able to play and do what they want their whole lives, including saying at school: “no, I don’t want to study that (= math, sciences, history, anything involving analytical reasoning, etc.), it’s hard and makes my brain hurt. So it’s bad. Because I am a special precious brilliant snowflake, everyone always tells me that, and it can’t be my problem, it’s its fault and it’s wrong.” And the school system (and all too many parents) lets people do that. So we end up with well-off people with rights to vote who are vacuous and vain, socially and morally irresponsable, functionally innumerate and, for most purposes beyond really basic ones the length of a text-message, illiterate.

There’s a fabulous ad been running recently in the Georgia Straight for a cosmetic-surgery company that sums up the whole Van-bunny thing beautifully. This is a very poor photo of it; I can’t find it online anywhere:

one small step away from virginity-reconstruction surgery

Individual moral responsibility and proving one’s a socially well-adjusted person come, of course, through buying The Right (and Right-On) Stuff. Which may be, and often totally is, ripping people off. Low-paid sales assistants. Lower-order people working for a company. Farmers and other producers of (organic, sustainably-produced) raw materials, in their idyllic exotic locations (makes for good publicity-shots). And yes, even if it is fair-trade, or equal-trade, or cooperative, or UNESCO all-women peace-building co-ops in post-conflict zones: there’s still one issue remaining.

Intellectual property vs. consumerist late-capitalist cultural imperialism.

Is your product giving due credit for how it works? Especially if using traditional remedies, including those from non-Western medicine? This is often a way to appeal to the anti-scientific (or, illiterate ignorant but moneyed). “No, it’s not science: it’s a parallel thing.” Add in a peculiar anti-reasoning anti-science branch of feminism—weird as it often combines with strongly anti-feminist and patronising / pro-patriarchy pseudo-thought—and mix in some good old-fashioned cynical desire to make money, and you end up with:

  • it’s traditional (whatever the tradition) so anyone can use it; no intellectual property rights, as no individual invented and patented it. Huh? So that’s applying the modern Western standards of creativity and what counts as a scientific invention, whilst being all non-Western and anti-science. Nice one.
  • or claiming an ingredient, extracted part thereof, or formula as being your invention, when you used an ingredient long-used in a traditional practice; then claiming the intellectual property, or in extreme cases proprietary rights, on “your” thing.

All too common, here in Vancouver, with all things labelled “Ayurvedic” and “yoga.” Classic cases: hoodia, kava, neem, turmeric (see more on this c/o the link further down to the TKDL). Plus application to food (see also GM, Monsanto, etc.): for quinoa and rice. For more on that and where it might lead, see the futurist fictions of Paolo Bacigalupi.

That’s not only theft, it’s cultural pillaging. It’s grand theft on a social, national, and regional scale. Against whole peoples and their entire accumulated past histories.

And that, my friends, is bad.

Are you old enough to reproduce, vote, have a bank account, have a credit card? Did you graduate high school and can you read, at least at a basic level?

Right. You’re responsible for your purchases, and for checking them out. Ingredient-lists on the back, to minimise your risks of irritation, breakouts, etc. Ingredient sourcing, being cruelty-free and otherwise ethical. The small print. And checking against bullshit and cultural theft. OK, let’s be fair: we’re all human and make mistakes, and compromise is part of normal life in the real world. If you’ve got a product that’s guilty of cultural theft and you love it dearly, it is possible to stay with it and also to balance things out: why not donate some money to an appropriate charity? or substitute another product that doesn’t matter so much to you with an ethically “better” one when it runs out and you’re next out shopping for a replacement? And meanwhile, put that mind and your writing-skills to good use. Whatever level they’re at, they always improve with practice, so this is a splendid excuse for practice. Write to the makers of your fave product you can’t live without, admonish them, ask them to consider change, threaten them with public embarrassment. Great way to get into blogging too: with its twin pros of being free and being public.

The final item on this post is what got me all riled up about this other global perspective on green-washing. I admit, it probably caught my eye because I’d been so grouchy about beauty-bullshit. My own “routine” is basic and minimal, but works for me and my skin, and I’d like to think that I have no delusions of grandeur or illusions about what your looks (and what you spend on them) and the looks of your bathroom / vanity say about you. Well, your vanity does say something about you. What it says is exactly the same in every case, every time, for everyone. And it says the same thing to everyone:

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall: who is the fairest of us all?”
An elegantly minimalist approach to the vanity: no chair, no drawers, no mirrors, three products only, and all of them multitask in this shrine to the contemplation of self. “Vanité (Still life with skull)”: Philippe de Champaigne, early 17th c. Musée de Tessé, Le Mans, France.

It’s OK, though. There’s more to life than that sort of stuff. That does mean, though, that Gingerrama / Praise of Folly may be spending increasing amounts of time on folly, and less on beauty. And, as in the last few weeks, a slower rate of posting. As on MakeupAlley too: I just can’t be bothered with most of what I read there. It’s old and stale, or repeated and we’ve been there twenty times already (see: at least 75% of MUA posts on the green and skincare boards). Most could be answered by:

  • DO A FUCKING BOARD-SEARCH YA EEJIT
  • YOU HAVE AN ELECTRONIC DEVICE? YOU’VE ABLE TO POST A QUESTION ON MUA? WELL, WHY AREN’T YOU CAPABLE OF GOOGLING?
  • THIS WAS NEWS LAST YEAR / 5 YEARS AGO / MY MOTHER, GRANDMOTHER, ETC. KNEW THIS. OLD HAT. IN OTHER NEWS, QUEEN VICTORIA IS DEAD.
  • OOH, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TEACHING ME HOW TO SUCK EGGS! —with much love from Granny xxx

Aside from the posts from unfortunate teenagers with unhappy skin (and hormones, and more on both of them on the ever-delicious Cafe board), for whom advice isn’t going to change much, and the main thing is to dole out supportive (((hugs))) and hope they understand that things will get better and that you ARE more than outside appearances. Anyone should have time for them; even if you can’t give an answer, or if there are no answers (apart from time: on which, see image above). And for every single unhappy person who’s put up a photo there, they’ve always got at least one attractive feature—by any standards, restrictive Western or otherwise—and you can see something friendly and human in their face. They all seem like lovely people. Yeah, OK, I may be compensating for being bitter and twisted and cynical by being resolute in my optimism about human nature. That everyone’s either basically nice, or has the potential for it. And hence the (((hugs))). Surely, the best policy anyway: if you don’t know, assume niceness. It’s human, and that approach is quintessentially civilised-human.

So: sorry… especially for fewer posts… but that’s life with an amateur leisure-time hobby “bit on the side” blog. And with old age and grumpiness about the world. Let’s not forget that it’s a free world (more or less, in places) and a free internet (free-ish), and that you, dear reader, are free to read or not as you wish. As free as I am to write and click “publish.”

Bio-piracy of traditional knowledge (the TKDL):

Traditional knowledge has always been an easily accessible treasure and thus has been susceptible to misappropriation. The traditional knowledge, particularly, related to the treatment of various diseases has provided leads for development of biologically active molecules by the technology rich countries. In other words, traditional knowledge is being exploited for bio-prospecting.Also Traditional knowledge is often misappropriated, because it is conveniently assumed that since it is in public domain, communities have given up all claims over it. Traditional Knowledge includes both the codified (documented) as well as non-codified information (not documented but may be orally transmitted).

Bio-piracy of codified Indian traditional knowledge continues, since, this information exists in regional languages, and there exists a language barrier due to which the patent offices are unable to search this information as prior art, before granting patents. Formulations used for the treatment of human ailments from traditional knowledge are time-tested since they have been in practice for centuries. The reliability of the traditional medicine systems coupled with the absence of such information with patent offices, provides an easy opportunity for interlopers for getting patents on these therapeutic formulations derived from traditional medicine systems.

[…] The grant of patents on non-patentable knowledge (related to traditional medicines), which is either based on the existing traditional knowledge of the developing world, or a minor variation thereof, has been causing a great concern to the developing world.

[…] a need was felt to create more easily accessible non-patent literature databases on traditional knowledge of India.

TKDL targets Indian Systems of Medicine, viz., Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha and Yoga available in public domain. This is being documented by sifting and collating the information on traditional knowledge from the existing literature existing in local languages such as Sanskrit, Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Tamil in digitized format, which will be available in five international languages which are English, German, Spanish, French and Japanese. Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification (TKRC), an innovative structured classification system for the purpose of systematic arrangement, dissemination and retrieval was evolved for about 5,000 subgroups against few subgroups available in International Patent Classification (IPC), related to medicinal plants. The information is being structured under section, class, subclass, group and subgroup as per the International Patent Classification (IPC) for the convenience of its use by the international patent examiners. Information comprising about 2 lakh formulations has been transcribed for realizing the objective of TKDL Project.

Each Sloka is read and converted into a structured language using Traditional Knowledge Resource Classification by subject (Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha or Yoga) experts. The codes are then filled into the data entry screen. The Slokas are also saved in the database. The translated version of all the TKRC codes is ported in the database. The abstraction is done by the subject experts. The codes once saved in meta data directory are converted in different languages based on Unicode technology. The formulations are presently being converted into English, German, French Japanese and Spanish languages. The converted format of the formulation is readable and can be understood by a layman though it is targeted towards a patent examiner.

TKDL software with its associated classification system i.e., TKRC converts text in local languages into multiple languages as mentioned above. It may be noted that the software does not transliterate, rather it does a knowledge-based conversion, where data abstracted once is converted into several languages by using Unicode, Metadata methodology. Software also converts traditional terminology into modern terminology, for example, Jwar to fever, Turmeric to Curcuma longa, Mussorika to small pox etc.

TKDL includes a search interface providing full text search and retrieval of traditional knowledge information on IPC and keywords in multiple languages. The search features include single or multiple word searches, complex Boolean expression search, Proximity search, Field search, Phrase search, etc in the form of simple and advance search options. Simple search lets the user search a combination of keywords. Advance search lets the user search using Boolean expressions, using the expressions like “near”, “and”, “and not”. Searches are also available on IPC and TKRC codes.

TKDL acts as a bridge between formulations existing in local languages and a Patent Examiner at a global level, since the database will provide information on modern as well as local names in a language and format understandable to Patent Examiners. It is expected that the issue of the gap on lack of access to prior art traditional knowledge shall get addressed.

One comment

  1. mej5s

    Bien dit!! I couldn’t have said it better myself in reference to the “my body is a temple I shall achieve the highest levels of purity through credit and trustafarian adventures in entitlement and faddish pseudosophistication”. (the whole concept reeks slightly of classist eugenics) My jaunts to Whole Foods have ceased for the most part as I no longer find that they carry products of interest (barring the staples, Everyday Shea Bodywash [hand soap chez moi] and the odd food purchase) ye olde local co-op has surpassed WF both in utility, with ample bulk choices (and a blind eye to the Ontario law prohibiting one from using outside containers for bulk food purchases *grumble*) and more locally produced items than WF can be bothered to investigate. WF really is the WalMart of green distribution-wise (price-wise not so much) and while I appreciate its presence, I try to not view it as some sort of Mecca which defines my “green” experience as some of the mommybabyspecialsnowflakeyoga crowd do.

    I will say that the co-ops back in Republitardlandia often surpass both in selection and quality what we have here in Toronto. I view this as an opportunity market – were I not already on my career path (and quickly trying to abandon it for something more fruitful) I would explore ways to connect the GTA consumer with a better co-op experience.

    I still need to come out to Vancouver and experience the situation there. Like Seattle and Hong Kong in a cataclysmic crash, or so I’ve been told.

    Keep up the good fight!

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