Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thoughts on natural beekeeping: A response

(Symantics: I'm not a fan of the term "natural beekeeping." I used to use it but have since found it to be a loaded word. Similar to "organic." It's trying to say something but doesn't mean what you think it means. I prefer the term "treatment-free" to describe my own method of beekeeping. But for the purposes of this response I'll use the term "natural" instead.)

On September 9, 2013, Rusty at Honey Bee Suite posted an article entitled Thoughts on natural beekeeping. (Update 9/25/2013: It looks like that article is now password protected...removed from the public eye.) I tried replying twice and was censored each time. At first I was just going to brush it off and let it go. Bloggers can be a weird bunch so why should I care if I get blocked. But then I learned that this was part of Rusty's M.O. And when I looked over her bio I learned how well educated she is and grew even more irritated at what happened. If there's one thing that well educated people should know it's that debate and open discussion are key to the marketplace of ideas. Then it hit me...this kind of attitude is exactly the reason natural beekeeping is just a niche.

But before anyone thinks I'm trying to start a war, I actually agree with much of the article, let me expound on a couple of those points first.
--"So if we all want the same thing, why all the dissension, name-calling, and derision? In my opinion, the division between natural beekeepers and unnatural ones is artificial. We have tried to divide them into discrete groups—right and wrong, black and white, good and bad—but it doesn't work.
I contend that we all fall on a line, a continuum that stretches from the very natural to the very unnatural."--
I totally agree. Every beekeeper wants the best for their bees. I'll admit that when I began I had, in my mind, unempathetically labeled many commercial beekeepers as "wrong" or "poor beekeepers." I have since come around from that opinion and now believe that commercial beekeepers, especially migratory ones, are doing the best they can in an agricultural system that, as it stands now, makes life difficult for bees and beekeepers. They have to deal with stresses and problems that I, as a backyard beekeeper, don't have to deal with.
--"(Although I have yet to understand how injecting beehives with refined and crushed table sugar is 'natural,' I will leave that for another day.)"--
Agreed! In my opinion putting anything in the hive that wouldn't naturally be found there is not natural.

So far so good. I was enjoying the article. Many good points were made. Then she wrote:
--"If you do nothing, if you put bees in a box, ignore them, and mumble something about 'survival of the fittest,' you are not a beekeeper—certainly not a natural one. If you are not willing to commit, you are simply enamored with the idea of beekeeping rather than beekeeping itself."--
--"I am very accepting of alternative ideas and methods, but the only way I accept a so-called beekeeper walking away from his responsibility and saying, 'let nature take its course' is if that person handles his own health and the health of his children in the very same way. If your child comes home from school with viral meningitis, and you just shrug and say 'let nature take its course,' then maybe I will understand when you do the same to your bees."--
Whoa there! What happened to avoiding "dissension, name-calling, and derision"? I responded with the following:

Screenshot dated Sept 16, 2013
(On September 10, 2013)
(Quoth Rusty:) "Some writers come across as arrogant or superior, others as naïve or apologetic."

Having been there myself I think it’s a defensive reaction to comments like this:

(Rusty:) "If you do nothing, if you put bees in a box, ignore them, and mumble something about 'survival of the fittest,' you are not a beekeeper—certainly not a natural one."

New beeks who want to try to follow a more natural approach to beekeeping are often flooded and feel attacked by experienced (and inexperienced) beeks who say things like the above. Or make absolutes like "you have to treat your bees" or "there's nothing wrong with feeding sugar."

Equating bees with children is a straw man argument. Bees have lived without human intervention for millions of years. Under the right conditions they can continue to do the same (and it is the goal of "natural beekeeping" to provide those conditions). Children are not like that and do require our care. When my children get sick and are in need of treatment I consult a doctor, who has years of education and experience who performs treatments backed by solid science. I am not a doctor. Most beeks, especially new ones, cannot reliably diagnose their hives. And worse, the chemical treatments in use today aren't put through the same scrutiny and scientific study that the medicines we put in our bodies have.

I do agree that there is a great spectrum out there and I personally don't have issues with people who don't do it my way. There are so many ways to keep bees and everyone is learning and adapting to fit their own preferences, philosophy, and lifestyle. I agree that it's important to bridge the gap, but I don’t think many of the statements made in the closing of this article really help.

After clicking the Send button the post was branded with a "Your comment is awaiting moderation" label. This is pretty typical with blogs that don't require any login or captcha. There are so many bots and spammers out there. Most bloggers will moderate the comments at least daily. The purpose is usually to filter out spam. After I made my comment a few other comments were posted and the next day I went back to the blog post to read and post a follow-up comment. And that's when I noticed my first comment was still "awaiting moderation." That seemed odd that some comments posted after mine cleared before mine did, but I let it go.

Rusty had replied to a comment with the following:
--"I believe once you take any living thing into your care, you have an obligation to it, whether it be a dog, a toad, or a bee."--
I replied:

Screenshot dated Sept 16, 2013
(On September 11, 2013)
Most of the time when we take in a living creature like a dog, cat, toad, pig, horse, cow, etc. we become the sole provider of all food, water, and forage space. With bees this is not the case, unless you're raising bees on the moon. Bees are wild creatures, and even in our unnatural, man-made boxes they continue to live as wild creatures and are not dependent on us for their sustenance.

Of course, migratory beekeeping is a different story. I’m speaking strictly about backyard or non-migratory beekeeping.

I contend that comparing bees to domesticated farm animals is the same fallacy as comparing bees to children.



"Your comment is awaiting moderation."

Wait...for 2 days.

I don't usually go back and check-up on my blog comments, but in this case I was suspicious that it may never clear moderation. And sure enough, by September 13th (and even to the present) it was still in the moderation queue. I contacted Rusty directly to ask why it hadn't cleared yet, and I was ignored.

I mentioned this censorship to a friend who was familiar with the Honey Bee Suite blog and he said this is pretty typical of Rusty. That if the blog comments don't support her position or give her the opportunity to reiterate her position they get blocked. She is not interested in debate.

Then on Sept 17th two more comments cleared moderation. One from Art dated Sept 12, which Rusty immediately replied to, and another from Sergey dated Sept 13. Sure enough, these comments kowtow to Rusty. Is that how you avoid censorship?

I also happen to know that another friend of mine, Jason over at LetMBee.com, posted a comment on Sept 16th that has also not cleared moderation, even though Rusty was obviously moderating comments on Sept 17th.

Hey, her home, her rules. She can censor all she pleases. But I do have strong objections to such tactics. To me this is a grievous sin to open discourse and the spread of ideas. If you want your opinions, philosophies, and ideas to be heard you should give others the same respect.

I feel that the reason natural beekeeping is just a niche is because of things like this. Self-labeled "natural" beekeepers often feel at odds with "unnatural" beekeepers. Almost to the point of feeling at odds with anything that's different. But if we are even shutting down and dismissing the opinions, ideas, and knowledge that our peers are bringing to the table, how can we expect anyone to listen to us and our opinions?

It's as if natural/treatment-free beekeeping is a crowded room of people all shouting the same things but with different accents and wondering, "Why isn't anybody like me? I'm all alone. You're saying it wrong." We're all on the same team, but I see factions and divisions even within the "natural" community. Langstroth vs top bar vs warre. Essential oils vs treatment-free. Foundation vs foundationless vs small cell. Oh, the list goes on my friend.

Perhaps, the division between "natural" and "unnatural" beekeepers is our fault. Not that we all have to do things the same way, but maybe we should stop treating people who are different as an enemy.

Rusty - Welcome to the internet, where information wants to flow, ideas want to be free, and censorship is met with more derision than unnatural methods of beekeeping. You can try to control the conversation, but it's really not in the true spirit of open-mindedness, and it makes you a bad host. I enjoy your blog, even if I don't agree with everything. I see you and I are on the same team, just playing different parts.

All opinions are welcome here, where I don't censor and am not afraid of a good debate.

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