A paradigm is a framework for viewing reality. Paradigms shift over time as a natural result of changing societal values or new scientific information, but sometimes they are shifted intentionally, without a sound basis for change. Consider that brave, half-loopy sports announcer who first brought us the concept of "giving 110%" in a game, thus causing a major paradigm shift away from the absurd mathematical reality that 100% is the best that one can do. Of course, most paradigms relate to more serious issues, and shifts in these paradigms can have consequences.
One type of paradigm shift is when a problem is redefined so fundamentally that the original question is forgotten. For instance, it has become accepted as fact that chemical pesticides are a requirement for productive farm output, and that pesticide residues in our food are safe and acceptable. Neither of these things has been proven true. Studies have shown equal long-term (sustainable) output for organic farming, and most pesticides in use have not been studied sufficiently for the government to have determined that any amount of residue is safe. Most people have lost sight of the original questions about chemical pesticides; for example:
- Should we use toxic pesticides on food at all?
- If we do use them, should we err on the side of caution when approving pesticides for use?
Here's another example: The corporate giants of the agribusiness world are busy these days trying to
effect paradigm shift with respect to genetically engineered foods. The companies vociferously tout the potential benefits of genetic engineering while downplaying the fact that these new genetically engineered foods have not undergone the long-term testing necessary to prove that they are safe for the environment and for human consumption. The corporations, with agreement from some quarters of government, are trying to re-establish the baseline question as "How can we benefit from genetic engineering as soon as possible?" instead of "What precautions should we take before we plunge headlong into this new, unproven area?"
So, is paradigm shift due to some massive, irrepressible, unseen force like "Franklin Mint Commemorative Plate Tectonics"? Nope, it's just due to human nature. Corporations and their special-interest allies have a profit motive for general acceptance of some level of pollution; politicians are interested in reelection, and corporations provide much of their campaign war chest; the political appointees who run government agencies are often under political pressure from the top and sometimes have ties back to industry; and the regulators who actually write and enforce the rules are sometimes forced into the mode of less rigorous enforcement to ensure bureaucratic survival.
To be fair, there are those who sometimes argue for a new paradigm from a bona fide philosophical standpoint. But we should be ever-wary of paradigm shift when its motive is profit or power instead of science and the best interests of us all. As citizens, we are capable of voicing opinions that politicians and regulators will listen to. As consumers, we can make purchasing decisions that will get the attention of corporations and marketers. We hold the power to put the paradigm shifters in reverse—no doubt with a little unavoidable grinding of the gears. Ooch!