Monday, April 23, 2012

The Privileged

I really enjoyed reading Chapter Nine of Every Twelve Seconds because Timothy Pachirat does a very nice job of bringing up and discussing a few topics we have tried to touch on the entire semester. The first one discussing the “politics of sight” and how sight is often knowledge that society hides from or is forbidden to see.  Pachirat believes sight can have a very powerful effect on people and “the impulse to link sight and political transformation is strong” (p. 242). Slaughterhouses are designed so very few eyes actually see the killing that takes place, both inside and outside the slaughterhouse. The public would never be able to pick a slaughterhouse out from a series of buildings. They do not have a special kind of look and they are secured and protected enough to not attract any outsiders. However, the surveillance of sight does not stop with the public. There are people who actually work in the slaughterhouse who will never see an animal get killed. Pachirat says, “The divisions of labor and space inside the slaughterhouse walls revealed by this insider perspective exemplified not only how distance and concealment segregate the slaughterhouse from society as a whole but also how surveillance and concealment sequester the participants form the work of killing within the walls of the slaughterhouse itself” (p. 236). This idea of surveillance and protection that is a common theme in this book and has become very important to our lives has stopped us from seeing the dark side of society. What if we did see the bad?? Pachirat brings this idea up by asking us to imagine a work “in which distance and concealment failed to operate, in which walls and checkpoints did not block sight, in which those who benefited from dirty, dangerous, and demeaning work had a visceral engagement with it, a world in which words explained rather than hid” (p. 240). What if we did have a world like the one he proposes where we saw first hand where our food, clothing, and any other luxury item we owned came from. Would we still eat the same food we do, buy the same clothing we do, and splurge with our fancy belongings?? I do not know the answer to that question because I would like to think we would be affected by something so traumatic and horrible but then again maybe we would experience something like Sontag brought up earlier in the semester, the CNN affect and how we would all just become knumb to the tragedy and continue living our lives as we had before.

The other point I wanted to bring up and discuss was this idea of privilege. We have talked a lot about privilege and privileged people in our society. We have had many debates to whether the privileged people can help change all the suffering and darkness in the world. Oddly enough I believed they could until I read this book. I have this idea that education brings knowledge and knowledge brings change. However, that is not the case.  I think it is safe to say that everyone that goes to this university is privileged. No matter what background or economic class they come from, everyone who can attend such an elite university has automatically been given an education and experience that not many other people can say they have experienced. It has always been my understanding that with this education Colgate has given us, myself and my fellow classmates are going to go out into the world and provide some kind of change. However, after reading this book I have come to realize privilege and education is not associated with change, it is associated with protection. The same people who are informed and educated about the sweatshops, slaughterhouses, war, torture, and all other darkness in the world are the same people being protected from such things. Even worse, they are usually the ones owning the means of production to run such torture chambers. The people who are actually affected by these horrific situations are the uneducated, less privileged people in society. So what exactly will it take to institute change in our culture?? As Pachirat explains the privileged ones are going to have to see the tortures of the world. They are going to have to open their eyes and expose themselves. Michael Foucault says, "  It was the dream of a transparent society, visible and legible in each of its parts, the dream of there no longer existing any zones of darkness, zones established by the privileges of royal power or the prerogatives of some corporation, zones of disorder. It was the dream that each individual, whatever position he occupied, might be able to see the whole society" (p. 242). Maybe he is right, maybe it is just a dream but maybe that dream could become reality. If it did, would it work??

Diminished Visibility As a Means of Preserving Consumer Interests

Two things that really struck me in today’s readings were the mechanisms that underlie the diminishment of visibility, and the way that our consumer society encourages this diminishing visibility as a means of preserving aesthetic interests. In what I found to be a very effective tactic used in Every Twelve Seconds, Pachirat sets up a thought experiment describing a world in which there is total visibility. This world would be “organized around the removal, rather than the creation of physical, social, linguistic, and methodological distances” and “ every zone of privilege would exist in full contact with the zone of confinement that was its counterpart” (240, 242).  In this way, eating meat would acquaint the meat eater with all of the steps taken to turn sow into steak. As I read this, I thought about how many people (e.g., small farm owners and workers) are privy to both the consumption side and production side of meat. Surely, there are many people who are involved in both the killing and eating of meat, and this underscores the larger objective of this argument. The argument and purpose of this book and module is not about eating meat, it is about visibility and accountability.
Pachirat goes on to discuss how transparency can generate transformational politics. He uses the phrase “transparent, literally or even figuratively” many times, which I found problematic. Although the idea that literal transparency (e.g., glass walled slaughterhouses) could engender political change is not implausible (though still most likely improbable), the idea that figurative transparency, in the form of this book for example, could engender political change seems quite far-fetched to me.  We are all reading this book and these articles, and I imagine that they have only catalyzed quantitatively and qualitatively paltry changes in our lives. It seems that the most tangible effect of figurative transparency is the creation of more excuses and rationalizations. So maybe literal transparency (which seems only viable in thought experiments really) is the answer, but how long until this literal transparency falls subject to compassion fatigue anyway?
Pachirat then explicates the ways in which divisions of labor serve to diminish the literal transparency, even on the kill floor. Yet, there is still some literal transparency there. In our consumer society, however, even this transparency can be effectively destroyed. According to Bauman, “technological progress has reached the point where productivity grows together with the tapering of employment; factory crews get leaner and slimmer” (313).  How will “more effective” technology streamline and further obscure industrial slaughter? How will “more effective” technology streamline and further obscure torture? Will we one day have the technology to perform all of our “dirty work” without anyone actually having to see what is going on? In many ways, this trend has already began. Without such technologies as airplanes and computers, outsourcing and cheap foreign labor would not be possible or efficient. I wonder how effectively technology will be used in the future to further distance us from the underside of our consumer society. This diminished visibility will help preserve aesthetic interests by allowing consumers, like meat eaters for example, to consume meat without anyone having to think about where this meat is coming from.
These aesthetic interests are the motivating force of our consumer culture, because “consumers [in a consumer society] must be guided by aesthetic interests, not ethical norms” (Bauman 321). So, is there a place for ethical norms in this consumer society of diminished visibility? Specter discusses how much of the green movement is “compelled by economic necessity” (44), and how many of the efforts of the consumers who buy into this new “green” trend are misguided. All of this makes for much superficial modification, and no effective or lasting change. I suppose it is a step in the right direction, at any rate. Still, it is clear that we have a ways to go. Maybe lasting change needs to begin with transparency and increased visibility.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pachirat, Beilharz, and Specter

I would first like to talk about Chapter 9, Pachirat.  In this Chapter Pachirat is concluding his research as an undercover worker in a slaughterhouse.  He is also most importantly talking about the politics of sight.  Pachirat suggest something that is very interesting when he says what if you were responsible for killing animals for your own use, would you be able to do it? What if every individual was responsible for killing animals for food, clothing, or anything else we need to survive.  I know if this were the case I would not be able to do it.  I could not shoot a cow in the head while looking into its sad confused eyes.  And because this fact is true for most people we have such things as slaughterhouses.  Where the majority of the killing is placed on the hands of one individual, the knocker.  This means that out of the 800 workers in the factory they actually believe that they are not apart of the killing that goes on every twelve seconds.  They are simply placing livers on hooks to be cooled in freezers, and exported to distant places (238).  Why are people so willing to put the blame on this one individual when in fact everyone who works in this slaughterhouse is responsible for the death of every cow that comes through the doors?  As I am writing this post I just thought to myself how easy it was for me to put the blame on the individuals who work at slaughterhouses for killing cows and other animals, when in fact I am also responsible for the death of animals.  I eat meat regularly and have not even hesitated while at the Coop to order a grilled chicken sandwich since we have started this topic in class.  Why was it so easy for me to put the blame on other people?  Is it the idea of distancing that Pachirat states that makes it so easy for me to put the blame of the slaughtering of animals on people other than myself.  “Distinctions between visible/invisible, plain/ hidden, and open/confined that, in theory keep repugnant activities hidden and therefore make them tolerable” (245).  I believe that because I am not on the kill floor participating in the actual killing of animals that I feel less responsible for the death of animals.  I am not saying it is right but that is why I feel less responsible.

When I think of the multiple numbers of advertisements I see a day and the amount of commercials one is exposed to it is hard to not be a consumerist society.  We are flooded with clothes and toys that we are told we must have.  Our favorite actors and actress promote these new and exciting items and suddenly we want them all the more because we feel like if we have these objects we will then be closer to them and feel more important.  When things such as advertisements and commercials are apart of our everyday lives one can get distracted.  “To increase their capacity for consumption, consumers must never be given rest.  They need to be exposed to new temptations in order to be kept in a state of a constantly seething, never, wilting excitation and, indeed, in a state of suspicion and disaffection” (314).  This quote makes me think of the movie What Women Want with Mel Gibson.  In this movie Mel Gibson works for an advertisement agency and was recently assigned a project where he will be advertising particularly to women.  Lucky for Mel he has the ability to read women’s minds and learns everything that he needs to know to sell them his products.  Catering the majority of his advertisements and products to the needs and desires of women in order to get them to buy his products.  The point I am making is that as consumers we are in a never-ending battle to fight off useless products we don’t need but are told we want.  Our every move is watched and studied in order to find a way to cater to us.

By definition a consumer is a person who consumes, and to consume means using things up: eating them, wearing them, playing with them and otherwise causing them to satisfy one’s needs or desires (311).  According to Beilharz to consume is to destroy.  In the course of consumption, the consumed things cease to exist, literally or spiritually.  In the article BIG FOOT by Michael Specter he points out the fact that brands our competing for our attention and will attempt any way possible for us to buy their products. “In Britain, Marks & Spencer has set a goal of recycling all its waste, and intends to become carbon natural by 2012.  Kraft Foods recently began a power plant if a New York plant with methane produced by adding bacteria to whey, a byproduct of cream cheese.  Not to be outdone, Sara Lee will deploy solar panels to run one of its bakeries in New Mexico” (44).  The key words I picked out of this sentence were not to be outdone.  This to me means that these companies are not becoming more environmentally friendly because they think it is good for the environment, but that they are hoping to attract more consumers to buy their products in doing so.  I’m not sure how I feel about this because yes they are becoming more environmentally friendly but they are doing it for the wrong reason; does this take away from the fact that they did it at all?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Fabrication of Distance

After rubbing the belly of a (large) sleeping pig and reading Pachirat’s second and third chapter, I couldn’t help but to realize that these animals are in fact (as the guy from Farm Sanctuary said) individuals. [I also couldn’t help but to think about how good the pigs shoulder would taste at Christmas dinner but that’s another story—just keepin’ it 100] I was entranced by the way my peers engaged with animals they’ve never had a chance to see up close or touch. Pachirat speaks to this. The fact that most have never interacted with or even seen the animal’s they have consumed throughout their lifetime is certainly one of the main concerns or issues with the way we treat and consume animals. With that said, Pachirat’s book is the door or window for those that do not have access to slaughterhouses in order to obtain the “insider knowledge about what exists behind the opaque” (28).

My favorite section of this reading (not that I find some delight in reading this kind of thing) is the in-detail description of the way in which a cow is killed (53-55). It’s of particular interest because of the incident that happened in the first chapter—the cows escaping and getting shot in the head, etc. I didn’t understand how the workers were so riled up about the fact that a cop shot the cow when the same thing happens in the factory; regardless the cow was going to get shot—so what’s the issue? What I mean to say is that the slaughterhouse keeps us away from thinking about what we’re doing to these animals and when we’re all of a sudden exposed to the realities of the harshness everyone wants to point fingers and place blame, or in this case become a vegetarian or vegan. Does that help any though? (No disrespect to the vegetarians) Not supporting the industry by a protest of vegetarianism doesn’t really do much, from my perspective, the cows, chickens, pigs, goats, *insert other animals*, are still being killed “every twelve seconds” (9).

It is evident that the distance between animal and man has seeped easily into our culture as we have desired meals that resemble those that we see on… the Food Network (my favorite channel). The good ol’ American meal, burgers, hot dogs and fries, is a prime (<- ha, carnivorous pun) example of how ‘the powers at be’ know our “weakness” and use it in order to manipulate the audience into contributing to the system of slaughterhouses and capitalism in general. Humans seek to be satisfied and the idea of what could be (through the use of imagination) becomes the priority in order to feed the eyes what the flesh wants (not necessarily the soul). In the case of “The Pornography of Meat”, the fulfillment we receive from the objects of desire make us content. Sex makes us content much like stuffing our face with food does (in a different way of course, I hope?)—so if sex makes us happy and meat makes us happy and relating the two is bad (as seen by Adam’s feminist lens at the end), what exactly are we supposed to give up in the grander scheme of things?

Pachirat and Adams

Pachirat’s “Every Twelve Seconds” and Adams’ excerpts from “The Pornography of Meat” both address the treatment of animals to show how notions of power and privilege continue to play a key role in our modern society. Pachirat provides an in depth description of a particular slaughterhouse in America to illustrate the reality of the processes that occur in this industry. Pachirat explains that this slaughterhouse is distant and invisible to the public. The slaughterhouse is physically deceptive because the building’s outer appearance looks like any other building in the community. Additionally, the people who are working within the walls of the slaughterhouse are the only ones who have true knowledge of what is actually going on inside. I found the first three chapters to be particularly informative since Pachirat physically worked in the slaughterhouse and can therefore offer a firsthand account. I personally gained a lot of eye-opening and disturbing information about what is involved in producing the meat that appears in grocery stores or at restaurants. Pachirat says “in many of our meat dishes the animal form is so concealed and changed by the art of its preparation and carving that while eating, one is scarcely reminded of its origin” (10). Before reading this book, I honestly did not think much about how a piece of meat presented on a plate at a restaurant got there. Pachirat continuously argues that “distance and concealment are at work as mechanisms of power” (31). I am able to distance myself from what goes on in the slaughterhouses, which reinforces how I, along with my classmates, am in a privileged position in our country.
I found it interesting to think about the appearance of meat in grocery stores in America compared to markets around the world. When I was abroad in Barcelona last semester, the famous market called La Boqueria had several meat sections. The meat on display consisted of items including pig bodies, cow legs, and duck heads to give a few examples. After seeing this meat, I told myself I would never eat it. The meat that is sold in American grocery stores on the other hand looks very clean and is neatly packaged. This example led me to question why Americans in particular are by and large blinded from the process of killing animals and preparing animal meat, which goes back to Pachirat’s description of the slaughterhouse.
Pachirat provides an explanation of all the different positions in the slaughterhouse to show how a hierarchical structure exists within the slaughterhouse as well. He gives the layout of the slaughterhouse and illustrates that people with superior, prestigious jobs are distanced from the actual process of slaughtering animals. For example, the front office and the kill floor are as far apart as possible. He describes how race, class, gender and education are factored in when examining the different workers. The employees who work in areas like the kill floor have beyond brutal and difficult responsibilities. As I read about the details of the kill floor, my stomach churned. Pachirat explains that those working on the kill floor face the most dangerous and unsanitary conditions, compared to those in the cooler or fabrication department. The kill floor is “where leaking fluids—from blood to urine to feces to vomit to bit of brain mater to bile—are a constant presence” (40). I cannot imagine the lives of these workers who experience haunting images of destroyed animals every single day. I began to wonder if they suffer severe mental and emotional consequences, like those soldiers experiencing PTSD. These workers are carrying out their duties as ordered by their superiors. Many of these people need these jobs in order to survive economically. Because our society has grown to be so competitive, people are willing to take jobs in places like slaughterhouses if necessary in order to strive toward success. These are the people taking the lives of the animals because our society is relying on them to do so.
In the "Pornography of Meat" excerpts, Adams discusses the overall structure of our society and how animals and women represent inferior objects. Women and animals are both seen as consumable or usable in different ways. Due to the dominant views that have been constructed in our culture, women and animals are expected to serve others. When thinking about animals, Adams asks a critical question, how did we come to accept that animals are destined to be no more than meat? (19). Humans have the power over animals and therefore often use them as meat. We strip animals of their individuality and uniqueness and turn them into our food, as seen in Pachirat’s description of a slaughterhouse. It is impossible for us to know what an animal is thinking or how an animal is feeling. However, it is clear that animals experience pain and pleasure. Animals are beings that do not exist to merely feed humans. Slaughterhouses, along with mass imprisonment, are examples of systems that illustrate how power and privilege function in our society. These systems symbolize larger structural issues in America today. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pachirat (2&3) and Adams

            Chapters two and three of Every Twelve Seconds, by Timothy Pachirat, begin to more directly challenge the reader.  Whereas Pachirat used much of chapter one to lay out his argument about the organization and opaque qualities of the slaughterhouse which effectively utilize and perpetuate “racial, gender, citizenship, and education hierarchies that coerce others into performing dangerous, demeaning, and violent tasks from which we all benefit,” he uses chapters two and three to provide graphic descriptions of the duty and consequence of each individual worker’s participation in two different areas of the slaughterhouse (9).  One of the major themes to which he keeps returning is the façade, or fabrication, of what events actually take place in the transition from life to kitchen table, which is the end goal of the whole meat-industry. 
Pachirat is very interested in analyzing the architectural organization of the site.  The layout of the building, which he says could pass as a local community college, successfully acts to “separate the industrialized slaughterhouse’s zones of privilege from its zones of production” (27).  Drawing on phrases like “mastery of perception”, he paints a picture of secrecy (32).  The reader is clearly meant to feel uncomfortable by having all of this killing hidden from sight, largely I would argue because for most people not knowing what goes on in the production of their food would be their preferred manner to go through life.  Chapter two focuses on the fabrication room.  The name alone underscores the innate deception involved in the way the meat is displayed to the consumer.  The whole goal of the fabrication department is to turn what was a living animal into something homogenized and unrecognizable. 
In chapter three, Pachirat focuses solely on the operation of what is called the kill floor.  Although the management attempted to sanitize the language by calling the action “harvesting”, kill floor stuck.  He lays out intricate floor plans for the reader, including an appendix of specific duties of each of the 121 jobs on the kill floor.  He devotes a large section of the chapter to a description of where exactly the animals are killed.  It becomes evident quickly though that there is not one definite location in which this occurs. Although “technically, it is the severing of the carotid arteries and jugular veins that kills the cow, which will die somewhere in the electrical stimulation and bleedpit area”, any cows that manage to escape the bolt gun are shot with a .22 rifle.  But of course, these animals are not wasted.  They are added to the assembly line (or I should say disassembly line) along with the cows that did not try to make a run for it.  The layout of the kill floor is such that many of the operators, and consequently actions that are taking place, are out of each individual’s line of sight. 
His descriptions of cuts and punctures generally are accompanied by a description like: “a narrow but forceful geyser of blood often spurts out, sometimes hitting the worker in the eye” (68) or “a drizzling red and green liquid screen of blood and vomit” falls onto the floor (55).  Made evident by these examples, Pachirat is clearly trying to do more than explain what happens on a day-to-day basis inside the walls.  He is always circling the idea that every single aspect of the slaughterhouse and what occurs within it is constructed in a particular fashion so that the minimal amount of people actually have to be involved in not only killing the animal, but in watching the carcass’ progression from a cow to a chiseled piece of meat. 
Adams’ article analyzes the overlap between the meat industry and pornography.  Along with describing the ways in which females are objectified not only within the world of porn but also in our everyday lives, he describes meat as being turned into a “mass term”.  Like Pachirat, Adams recognizes the crucial aspect of homogeny in selling meat as an object, instead of as a subject that was once alive and breathing.  The images he shows repulsed me from the second I looked at them.  But why, exactly? I think it really is all about females being objectified.  It’s more than just being compared to an animal.  There is a somewhat subconscious understanding that to be compared to an animal is to be minimized and disrespected.  So what does that say about our attitudes towards animals?  If this comparison is so distressing to me, why don’t I care more about the way chickens and cows are treated? When I argue that “I’m not a piece of meat”, what am I really saying?  I’m not intimidated by a literal cannibalistic consumption.  What I’m referring to is the homogenization and to some extent fabrication that both Pachirat and Adams refer to.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Coetzee : The Lives of Animals

"There are people who have the capacity to imagine themselves as someone else, there are people who have no such capacity (when the lack is extreme, we call them psychopaths), and there are people who have the capacity but choose not to exercise it" (133). 

Almost every topic we have discussed in this course has brought up the issue of responsibility and action. Sontag's analysis of photographs focused on the role of the photographer, the subject, and the viewer with regards to their participation in the picture taking/viewing process. The  act of torture raised questions about the responsibility of the torturer, the system which produced such viscous behavior, and of those aware that such instances are a common occurrence in today's military operations. And our final section is no different, introducing the responsibilities that are often neglected pertaining to issues of animal cruelty and the culture of slaughtering animals in todays society. 

Elizabeth Costello begins her lecture by comparing the concentration camps of the Third Reich to the treatment of animals in what she calls "production facilities". Costello claims that we lack the mental capacity to understand a mind other than our own, which explains how facilities of slaughter for human beings and for animals have existed throughout history. People living in areas surrounding concentration camps claimed to either have no knowledge of the cruelty around them, or explained that while they had ideas of what was taking place in these facilities, they did not jump to conclusions in order to protect themselves. According to Costello, "Only those in the camps were innocent", and all others were charged with the crime of treating human beings like animals. She ends her introduction by comparing the justification of killing animals for food with the killing of human beings for the production of soap and mattress stuffing. 

After reading the introduction leading up to Costello's main argument in the lecture I stopped to think about how I viewed the issue of killing animals for the production of food and other goods. I admit, I thought it was a bit overkill for her to compare the atrocities that took place in concentration camps to the actions that take place in slaughterhouses. Naturally I feel more empathetic for human beings, perhaps because I am one, or because I have grown up in a society that places me as superior to our animal friends. I have never challenged myself to understand what it means to be an animal, and have remained ignorant to my responsibilities up until now. I am troubled with the question of how I am to use this new knowledge. Many of the other topics in this course have brought up that same question for me, and Costello explains that our responsibility is to use this new knowledge, and to avoid being ignorant. Costello goes on to challenge the reader to "think their way" into the minds of others. As an author of fiction, Costello's books require her to create new characters with intricate detail. She explains that much like the way she thinks herself into the minds of these characters, we must think ourselves into the mind of animals. It is no longer acceptable to claim ignorance as a defense, because ignorance brings no punishment and no reaction, and without these results, the cycle will never be terminated. 

The last part of this lecture that I would like to touch on is a topic that I discussed in length in a course last semester, and that is the idea of possessing consciousness. In Religion and Disability Bio-Ethics we studied a man named Peter Singer who is famous for believing in assisted suicide and the right of the parents to cease life of their infant children if they do not possess the "will to survive". Singer claims that because young children are not conscious of their surroundings, they should not be considered human beings. In Costello's piece this same argument is brought up, comparing the idea that animals are not conscious of their surroundings, therefor it is acceptable to slaughter them. When the same argument is brought up about young children, everyone is quick to explain why the child should be saved and the animal should be killed. I think what Costello is trying to get at is the importance of treating both humans and animals on an equal playing field. She challenges us to analyze our own modes of thinking, and sets up a great introduction to our new section on the treatment of animals.