Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Biodynamics & Nazism, Two Peas in Different Pods

Biodynamics, as I've mentioned, is a trendy topic in wine making. It's also a term whose specifics are pretty much unknown by the unwashed masses. Even wine purveyors belie their lack of knowledge when they say something to the effect of Biodynamic being "organic on steroids" or "extra organic."

That's patently false. Biodynamically farmed wine means that the vineyard's farming practices have been certified by the Demeter Association. In turn, the Demeter Association draws its criteria from a series of lectures and writings by Austrian Rudolf Steiner in the 1920's. In a broad sense, Biodynamics involves treating your vineyard (or any crop field) holistically as a self-sustaining entity with interdependent organisms. You farm so as to maintain that balance, through crop rotation, cover crops and natural pest abatement. Where Biodynamics starts to become questionable is in its use of geomantic soil preparations whose science is dubious at best. You can read about Biodynamic soil preparations here.

What Biodynamics do is require the farmer to pay closer attention to his crops and that, regardless of motivation, is a good thing. But Biodynamics is not organic, even if all Biodynamically grown grapes are effectively organic, since organic farming is based at least in part on legitimate scientific research, not the pseudo-scientific ramblings of a traumatized mad man.

Speaking of traumatized mad men, it's no wonder that Biodynamics came about in the 1920's, hand-in-hand with the emergence of Fascism, Futurism, Psychoanalytics and an increased attention to Communism and free-market Capitalism. These are all frameworks for understanding a confusing, dangerous world and all propose convenient but impossible solutions. Europe was devastated after World War I. Empires were destroyed, power dynamics shifted, and cities were devastated, entire villages razed. This left a strong psychological impact on the survivors that forced them to question the belief structures that they had so firmly believed in yet had led to such destruction. In these philosophies are one of two broad solutions: the world is flawed, let's go back to a better time or; the world is flawed, let's work toward a flawless future. Either way, existence and practice as we know it was irretrievably broken.

The common thread that these philosophies share is their purported foundation in legitimate science which is actually little more than unsupported conjuncture and steadfast faith. In the right balance in the right hands, most of these philosophies can be progressive and productive and in the wrong balance in the wrong hands they can be utterly destructive. Germany's bankrupt, let's blame the Jews. Modern farming is broken, let's bury some cow horns filled with manure in our field on a full moon.

They're all examples of the self-destructive and inauthentic adherence to "Bad Faith." They're philosophies that purport to understand the incomprehensible through comforting ritual and in most cases a hoped for Deus Ex Machina revelation.

As an entertaining academic and intellectual engagement, Biodynamics is a fun and interesting exercise. As the key to better grapes and better wines, however, it's substantively meaningless.

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