Saturday, April 21, 2012

Born to Judge

Polski: Sąd ostateczny – ikona z 1 poł. XVII wieku, pochodząca z Lipia. Miejsce ekspozycji – Muzeum Historyczne w Sanoku, nr inw. MHS/S/3437.English: The Last Judgment – an icon of first half of the 17th cent. from Lipie, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland

Political correctness as artifact

While political correctness is--well, politically correct, it goes against the grain. Grain is used generically to refer to all grains, or all standards except the one known as "political correctness." That grain is, in  itself, continuously adapting to changes in political and other regimes. Political correctness is a flimsy grain standard.

The gold-standards for grain are the ones that emerge from the process of evolution, or what has proven over evolutionary time to work best and the most beautifully for the greatest number of species and ecosystems. The ultimate aesthetic is beauty. For the most part, the elements and links that make up this aesthetic change relatively little over time.

The current socio-political bias against being judgmental actually goes against both cultural historics as well as evolutionary aesthetics. Culturally and biologically, the apex predators in the cognitive niche (Homo sapiens) have honed the art of judgment to such a degree that its total opposite has arisen, according to the logic of dialectic materialism, to a point of sacro-sanctimoniousness:  the goblin of political correctness. There are always two parts to the dialectical equation. Opposing the taboo on being judgmental is the reign of the uber-expert, who functions not only as final judge in one area of expertise, but also as proxy for our own judgments and scapegoat for our own judgmental timidity, as well as celebrity or hero of our times. Judgment is heroic. And culpable.

Regardless, in an age of overwhelming complexity, experts provide mainstream consumers and producers an enormously valuable service: they create indicators of what is good, bad, ugly and best. They point the way. They help us manage complexity more beautifully.

So, on Earth Day 2012, to celebrate the Earth as the only judge that really matters in the long run, the next few posts will judge (rate) the raters of seafood sustainability and high-end Central Coast wines. As this blog aims particularly to help consumers and producers in the California Central Coast make ecologically sound, science-based, whole-systems decisions that "do right by the earth," all ratings of raters are relative to this context.

Rating the raters is great sport, not to be taken as more than its intention: to remind us that rating is a tool and that raters will always be rated, just as long as the last photosynthetic bacteria are still alive and kicking. Rating sustainability raters is a means of increasing the visibility of tools for would-be stewards, one of the most valuable of which is ratings. Consumers look to ratings for actionable information.

The peacock's tail: iconic of ultimate judgments.

Experts, judgments, and grains

Tomorrow most of us will be keenly aware of the ecological impacts of even the smallest decisions we make, such as whether to drive to Alameda Park in Santa Barbara to participate in Earth Day events, to car pool, bike, or walk. We may also make an exceptional effort to dine on only the most ecological of oysters etc. and drink only  those local wines created according to the best environmental practices. But how are we to know which is best?

The Robert Parker of sustainable seafood for California is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, though in a global ecosystem, any expertise in sustainability applies more or less to everyone everywhere.  But not everyone has a taste for Robert Parker-style red wines. Accordingly, there are perhaps a dozen or so possible sources of expertise a conscientious consumer might choose as his or her guide. One good example of how a market chain has assumed a lion's share of consumer responsibility for good decision-making is that of the Whole Foods Market, which was rated fourth by Greenpeace on its scorecard for supermarket seafood sustainability (for the more curious residents of Santa Barbara, Costco's was rated 11th and Trader Joe's 12th. Safeway was rated first.)

"We give you the whole story on the wild-caught fish we sell. Wild-caught seafood from fisheries certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is the top choice for sustainability and we offer the widest selection available.
The Marine Stewardship Council is the world’s leading certification for sustainable seafood. It is a non-governmental organization using a multi-stakeholder, international certification program to provide incentives for fisheries to address key issues such as overfishing and bycatch.

 We display the color-coded sustainability ratings of our partners, Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) and Blue Ocean Institute (BOI), on all wild-caught seafood that’s not certified by MSC to help customers make informed choices. And we only carry green- and yellow-rated choices. Red ratings typically suggest that the fish is overfished or caught in ways that harm other marine life or habitats. "

The Marine Stewardship Council is the world’s leading certification for sustainable seafood. It is a non-governmental organization using a multi-stakeholder, international certification program to provide incentives for fisheries to address key issues such as overfishing and bycatch."

  The Players in Rating Sustainable Seafood and Wine

Sustainability is an evolving concept. The key international organizations influencing this concept and its network of emerging values include the following: the ISO 14000 family of standards, Marine Stewardship Council, IPCC, think tanks such as SustainAbility, and many other NGOs, governmental agencies, and individuals who are together the leaders in the sustainability movement.

This series of posts will rate only those organizations that are likely to have a significant effect on the decisions of the target population of Central Coast consumers of high-end seafood and wine. The first posts focus on which raters will be rated for which markets and my own criteria for this rating process. The next posts rate the Seafood raters and the last will rate Central Coast raters of wine-making. Consumers here refer to the ones who eat the food, whether at home, in a restaurant, or otherwise. Obviously, every producer is also a consumer. I do blog series because they make sense, given the complexity of most topics.  If a concept can be contained in a nutshell, I'll tweet it.

This is the short list for seafood raters:

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Blue Ocean Institute
Seafood for the Future
FishonLine  (UK based)
SeaChoice (Canada)
Central Coast Seafood
Marine Stewardship Council


Rating Criteria

The mission of this blog--Reward in the Cognitive Niche (RCN)-- is long-term ecosystem vibrancy, or the highest possible quality of life for all creatures. The concept of global pleasure aggregates the individual pleasures of all members of all species.  Each individual is assumed to be pleasured by surviving, mating, and reproducing, and each species is pleasured by evolving the species.

The values selected here for this optimization are the following:

1. Quality of the overall rating indicators (simplicity-usability, timeliness, comprehensiveness, reach, and inferrable desired-effectiveness, third party certifiability, science-based metrics, and how well the indicator stands for aspects of sustainability)
2. Embodiment of evolutionary aesthetics, including evolvability
3. Global pleasure, or the sum of all the pleasures of all the species in all the ecosystems. Global pleasure is represented here by the indicator of deep biodiversity. For example: When genetic biodiversity decreases, as is frequent in industrial farming and aquaculture, global pleasure decreases. When the quality of the seafood decreases, as happened in the early days of salmon farming, global pleasure decreases. Given that over half of seafood consumed today is farmed, this third value of global pleasure requires inclusion of aquacultured seafood in its consumer guides. That said, if the rater only rates wild fisheries, the final RCN rating will reflect this as a low score.

Viewers may note that this optimization set is not the usual triple bottom line: profit, people, and planet, in that order. The Evolutionary Aesthetics framework is largely Darwinian, meaning that bad products and bad processes will tend to be weeded out in open systems in which opportunities to survive are more or less equal as established by the time and place under normal evolutionary conditions, meaning very long time-frames. More on this topic in a later post. Rewardinthecognitiveniche's optimization values reflect only indirectly more common sustainability criteria such as corporate social responsibility, transparency, networking inclusions, Return on Investment, stewardship, third party certification, reliable metrics, universality of indicators, Presence, sponsorship, methodologies and weightings, grace under pressures, and possible conflicts of interest in reporting, etc.

For a rich treatment of sustainability raters and ratings see SustainAbility's report "Rate the Raters."

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