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.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coetzee- The lives of Animals

Hi all!
I was, and still am, so nervous to post the main blog for this week. One of the reasons is that eating and killing animals for human ends has never been a problem in my country and in my life. I am afraid of saying something ignorant or stupid. I just don’t know, and should I be sorry? On this topic, I have the inclination to use ignorance as an excuse, and I will try to suppress it, but still, I do not know, and I have never thought about it. So please excuse me if my argument is naïve, shallow, or illogical.
Firstly, I would like to talk about how this topic is related to the previous topic, mass incarceration of people of color. There was a time in history that white American truly believed that black people were less than human, just a little bit more than a beast. Aristotle said that slavery is natural because there are two types of beings: one that cannot use reason and can only work with the body, who deserves to be the natural slave, and the other can use reason and logical thinking, who is by nature superior and should be the master. European colonizers used this logic to argue that black people, since they were savage and could not use reason, they should remain as slave of the white men. Moreover, the notion of teleology—everything is created for an end, a reason, a purpose—is deeply ingrained in the mindset of the European, so this is the logic: Black people are created, and they are natural slave, so we are entitled to use them for our purpose, if not, what else are they good for? And can I say that we use the same reason to talk about our use of animals for food, clothing, safety, and medicine? However, I am unwilling to say that we are doing any great injustice to animals, and even if we do, it is a different kind of injustice that we cannot, and should not, compare it to what happened to the Jews and people of colors. (now, I start to sound like a horrible person! But it’s fine. Call me out and criticize me! That’s fine. Don’t be nice!)
Even though I understand Elizabeth Costello’s logic, I cannot agree with her. To me, there is still something special about human being that I hold above everything else. And the comparison between the Holocaust and the slaughter house Costello used is just absurd to me. That comparison is wrong because, as Mr. Stern the poet put it, “the inversion insults the memory of the death. And it also trades on the horrors of the camps in a cheap way.” I am not saying that there is no similarity between the two, but the comparison itself is just wrong. Since I don’t understand religion, I don’t want to use the religious argument that we are made in the likeness of God so that we are superior to animals. I also hesitate to play the technological advancement card to prove our superiority because that is just a wrong Westernized standardized measurement that even I will lose the game myself. We just do not know about animals and what really is happening in their minds, so that any assumption and comparison is just not enough and is just another iteration of human arrogance and imposition.
I am identified most with Norma in the story, especially when Norma said that relativism leads to intellectual paralysis. If we started to think about animals’ perspectives, should we start thinking about plants’ too? What do we know about any of them, or any of us any way? And now we should ask: where to draw the line? We are trapped in the concerns about those philosophical questions and the different unfathomable supposedly existing perspectives of plants and animals. Yes, we can try to put us in their positions and feel their pains, but I refuse to think about those pains all the time. It is exhausting. It is not because I am lazy, or maybe I am, but I just want to save my energy for other things, like the pain and suffering of other human beings. To me, the use of animals for human’s purpose should not be a moral question.
People eat everything in my country: grasshoppers, rats, animals’ intestine, and partially shelled balut eggs, one of the reasons is that we were starving, and another is that we can. My neighbor used to herd pigs, and at night, they killed the pigs. I cannot count how many nights that I slept in that horrible sounds, and how many times that those sounds truly sounded like human’s call for help and mercy. I grew up in that environment, based on your standard, is my soul messed up?

Coetzee, "The Lives of Animals"

            “…we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty, and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing [animals] ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them” (119).  This excerpt, taken from Elizabeth Costello’s lecture, “The Philosophers and the Animals” illustrates the idea that humans are committing violations equal to that of the Third Reich, in their harsh slaughter of animals for food purposes.  She makes an interesting and valid point when she maintains that we deemed the Germans inhumane because of a kind of “willed ignorance” on their part about the slaughter of the Jews, and then argues that the major crime of the Holocaust was the way in which the Nazis treated humans like animals.  However, Elizabeth formulates a controversial argument when she compares all humans to the Nazis in our slaughter of animals- that we mercilessly raise and kill innocent animals, and then walk away feeling that our conscience is still clean.

At first, I was a little taken aback and somewhat angered by her comparison between the Nazis treatment of the European Jews and our treatment of animals, because it was hard to imagine that in eating meat, I was helping to perpetuate a process that was equal, or worse, than the Holocaust.  However, upon reading more of the lectures, I realized that this was probably due to this accepted philosophical belief that humans are, in a sense, morally superior, because of the notion that humans have abilities that humans do not have, such as abstract reasoning and fear of death (144-145).  Some of the audience even used the religious argument, that man was the only being created in the image of God, to prove man’s superiority and therefore the acceptability of slaughtering animals. 

Elizabeth Costello counters these arguments.  She maintains that using the inability of animals to speak/reason as a justification for their inferiority and prove that humans are the only people over which we don’t have the power of life and death highlight the falsity of the argument (151-152).  She asserts, “…in history, embracing the [superior] status of man has entailed slaughtering and enslaving a race of divine or else divinely created beings and bringing down on ourselves a curse” (154).  This quote seemed especially interesting when looking at previous subjects and atrocities committed through out history. We can argue that the slaughter of animals does not matter because of their inferior status, but haven’t humans used this justification all through out history to legitimize the torture and destruction of entire groups of people?  The “inferior intelligence” and “unclean” argument that we use when justifying the slaughter of animals seems awfully similar to that used by the Nazis in exterminating the Jews, and in genocides committed through out history.  The idea of a superior status has been utilized in justifying the Americans’, and other groups’, atrocious treatment of entire groups of people through out history.

When looking at it this way, it does not seem so ridiculous to compare the daily massacre of animals to that of the Jews in the Holocaust.  Each day we raise animals and herd them into abusive conditions only to kill them later for our own enjoyment. We too close our hearts to sympathy for these creatures, just as they did so many years ago.  

We claim that humans are superior because of our reason and intelligent skills, but we seem to be the only beings that terrorize and kill other members of our own species because of ideas like “ethnic cleansing” and as a source of entertainment, as in the torture at Abu Ghraib.

While I felt the comparison was a little far-fetched in the beginning, I was surprised to find myself recognizing the reason behind her arguments.  However, I wonder how much of an effect these arguments can really have on people.  The process of killing animals has become so institutionalized and accepted, as have other forms of mass violence through out history, that I wonder if it is possible to really get people to change their views and habits. Is it a fight worth fighting?  While I accept her arguments, I realize how easy it would be to continue to close our hearts to sympathy and just go on with life eating meat, because it tastes good and provides nutrients that we are told we need.  I recognize the atrocious conditions in which we subject animals, but found myself struggling with the right action to take after this acknowledgement.  

Friday, April 6, 2012


 I found the Coetzee excerpt extremely confusing at first but it gained clarity as I read. I felt similarly about the character of Elizabeth Costello who seemed pretty much crazy for most of the piece.  Although I do agree with her argument that testing animal intelligence and consciousness through human standards is limiting, I felt like her stance on reason was hypocritical. I agree with the comment on page 152 that “the very fact that you can be arguing against this reasoning, exposing its falsity, means that you put a certain faith in the power of reason, of true reason as opposed to false reason”. It is quite possible that I am missing something here because honestly I was pretty confused by her for about the first half of the reading. This may also have to do with the fact that I am generally not really an animal person. I like most dogs and that is about it.
On that note, I found it very insightful when the son mentioned that animal rights had to focus on jaguars and other beautiful, exotic, or cuddly animals to reel in support when in reality they are mostly fighting for chickens, cows and pigs. This propaganda idea was really interesting to consider because it focused on appearance. I wonder if this has something to do with the argument against killing human babies- not only are they helpless but also beautiful in some ways, maybe? I completely and totally agreed with the argument on 143 against self-consciousness and shamelessness as traits which set humans apart from animals. Instead, the speaker said that we found it unacceptable to kill and eat babies because we must protect our own. Clearly humans are disgusted by the idea of cannibalism. This point was in juncture with the idea that we are not separate from animals because of our level of thinking. Their mental capacity does not necessarily change the importance or significance of their lives. I think that Elizabeth agreed with this argument but took it a step further; she viewed their deaths not only against morality and ethics but as acts of genocide, mass murder.
When Elizabeth first mentioned the connections between the holocaust, death camps, and mass killings to animal slaughter I agreed with the poet who wrote her the letter that this comparison was too far and in fact insulting. In the end, however, I did find myself horrified for a moment at her description of lampshades and soap made of human parts as metaphors for what she felt about the use of animals in our society. This attitude, her battle with the “am I crazy?” kind of question was present not only in these last pages but throughout. Whenever asked really what she was arguing or why she couldn’t really answer, it was just instinctive. I think this was a really interesting way for the author to set up the story, leaving it open to the reader to grapple with each argument and consider the underlying ethics or reasoning despite her denouncing those concepts.  
Norma’s argument that people who categorized themselves by what they did not eat were doing so in an effort to create a hierarchy amongst their peers was interesting. She argued that by saying that they could not eat one thing or another it was presumed that the reason had to do with cleanliness and therefore they could be considered elite because they were cleaner. I also thought it was interesting that groups define themselves by what they do not eat rather than what they do. When these things were brought up over dinner Elizabeth also happened to mention that in eating animal flesh (I hate that word) we are turning it into our own, that in fact they are part of us and we are part of them. I found this extremely disgusting to think about, especially because I am already pretty squirmy and specific about the meat that I eat, unfortunately more so in terms of the idea of eating body parts rather than animal rights related reasons.
I would like to finish by connecting to our past subjects. I had never considered why it is we use prisons as punishment, only accepted that it was the way we punished. Elizabeth says we use prisons because “the freedom of the body to move in space is targeted as the point at which reason can most painfully and effectively harm the being of the other” (132). I found this extremely interesting not only in terms of human confinement but also in animal confinement. That in confining bodies we are somehow confining minds, not ideas necessarily as Jackson argued, because those can flow freely always, but just the sheer effect that incarceration of any sort has on a living being.
Humans treating animals as POW’s was also very interesting in relation to our focus on war crimes and how we hold those criminals accountable or not for what they have done based on the dehumanization that took place. The article argued that we treat our animals with contempt and without law the way we may have thought those criminals treated POW’s in Guantanamo etc. Lastly, I thought the idea of all animals being programmed to fight for their lives was really poignant. I liked the story of the chicken screaming in death and how it had “spoken”. It reminded me of Jackson maybe not textually specifically but just in his nature.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Alexander, Jackson, and Newton

This week’s readings dealt with the elaborate systems of control in place in our society, which are embedded, discriminatory, biased, and powerful suggesting that we need to move away from ideas such as reforms or reorganizations and towards a revolution. Alexander discusses this system of control through the criminal justice system, claiming that it is wrought with political disenfranchisement and legalized discrimination in multiple realms. (Alexander 191) Although these ideas have been discussed throughout Alexander’s book, what became apparent in chapter 5 and the other readings is that these systems that perpetuate racial discrimination are not new but rather have adapted to modern times. These systems, such as The Jim Crow Laws and the present justice system, have consistently defined race in different time periods. Black once meant slave, but now means criminal (Alexander, 193). The issue remains then that not only do these issues exist, but they are so embedded into our society and culture that they continue to morph and change in order to get around the new laws created to attempt to eradicate racial discrimination. By having prisoners “out of site, out of mind” both within the prison and the places they tend to be released to afterwards, our society becomes blind to the reality behind what our criminal justice system is doing: using its power, in ways that are not explicitly discriminatory, to keep blacks repressed (Alexander, 183) Alexander discusses Young’s birdcage example explaining how each wire represents a different way of oppressing an individual, and the multiple wires woven together build a trap almost impossible to escape from (Alexander, 184). In my opinion, one main issue that keeps perpetuating this birdcage of oppression, and therefore allowing discrimination of different races to occur, is the ignorance of our society. Perhaps we claim knowledge of overarching problems like the rate of mass incarceration, but the level and numerous subsystems (how arrests, prosecution, imprisonment etc. works) that deepen the discrimination often remain invisible. This is not to shame anyone for not knowing, for I myself am naïve in many areas. So what then needs to happen if these systems keep getting “fixed” and then resurface? Jackson would state that a revolution, not reform, should to occur.

Perhaps the issue with our solutions to fix inequalities is that we just rearrange systems in place, when what we need to do is completely change them. As Jackson states, “revolution within a modern industrial capitalist society can only mean the overthrow of all existing property relations and the destruction of all institutions that directly or indirectly support existing property relations.” (Jackson, 7) Reform, he claims, is merely reordering and reshaping the systems that are already in place. What needs to happen is the creation of a completely new form of economics and culture, built from a recognition that it is not only the actual practices in place that are discriminatory, but the systems themselves. Jackson calls for an appreciation of improvements from the past and the attempts made to fight for equality, but also demands new actions that do not rely on old practices; actions that tend to hold more force and violence, as it is time to stop using words and time to fight. (Jackson, 12) In order to deal with some of the ignorance I mentioned above, people need to work on raising consciousness not only on the discrimination and oppression that is occurring, but also the idea that each person is part of a universal action and interaction. (Jackson, 22) Revolutions rely on the connectedness of all those involved to challenge and expose the discrimination such as the criminal justice system. However, revolutions are not always pretty things, and there also needs to be an acceptance that systems need to completely change, an idea that will inevitably be met with large resistance.

What strikes me the most when discussing ideas such as the discrimination embedded in the criminal justice system and the revolution needed to change these systems is how easy it is to forget the fact that you are talking about people and the treatment they are receiving. As Newton discusses, people are not inanimate objects but are beings that are filled with human spirit, beliefs, and ideas of freedom. When we discriminate and incarcerate people in prisons, we are not just locking up a body behind bars, but a mind as well. This is where our criminal justice system becomes problematic if people who should not be behind bars are put there. Newton claims that, “the human whole is much greater than the sum of its parts” and “walls, bars, and guards cannot conquer or hold down an idea”, yet those same bars that trap someone and give them a prison label can break down that human spirit. I begin to really see the importance of not just looking at these discussions as ones involving themes, systems, and policies, but directly affecting the lives of many human beings.

Alexander, Lind and Jackson

            In doing last Thursday’s reading as well as this weeks reading, I began to form a connection between Lind’s article Imprisoning Women: The Unintended Victims of Mass Imprisonment and Alexander’s chapter “The New Jim Crow.” The connection I formed was how the unintended imprisonment of mass amounts of women consequently affects black youth and ultimately leads to the continuation of the caste system. Alexander has consistently made the point the majority of people in jail are black men; however if we are to consider Lind’s point that the War on Drugs has also led to substantially more women ending up in jails, ultimately many black youth are left without families. Therefore Alexander’s argument that, “throughout the black community, there is widespread awareness that black ghetto youth have few, if any, realistic options, and therefore dealing drugs can be an irresistible temptation (Alexander, 2010, p. 209),” is just the inevitable out growth of a system that targets all people residing in inner cities and creates a pattern in which others are forced into drugs to survive. Alexander goes on to argue that, “for ghetto youth, drug sales…are often a means of survival, a means of helping to feed and clothe themselves and their families. The fact that this “career” path leads almost inevitably to jail is often understood as an unfortunate fact of life, part of what it means to be poor and black in America (Alexander, 2010, p. 209).” This should not be a fact of life. In a country that promotes equality for all, it should not be that the fact of life for most white suburban kids that they will get an education and go to college, but for others the fact of life is a bad education with the better option being to start a life outside of school. Therefore, the connection I am beginning to make is that the new caste system is a multi-faceted system that perpetuates and builds off of it’s many different sections.  
             If one were to stop and think about the implications of this system, it becomes evident that it is not just mass incarceration, but a total system that allows mass incarceration to go unquestioned. For example, we know that the majority of black men are in prisons, but as more black women are ending up in jail, black youth are forced into situations in which getting involved with drugs is not necessarily something they want to do but something they need to do to survive. While we could argue that if they were to stay in school and get an education then maybe the system could change, it is hard to think about staying in a failing school in which the odds are also against you, as a solution to the problem. Furthermore as Alexander uses Tommie Selby’s argument, “individuals are forced to make choices in an environment they did not choose. They would surely prefer to have a broad array of good opportunities (Alexander, 2010, p. 217).” Therefore people are being forced to make decisions they do not want to make as a result of the conditions the rest of society has provided them with. As Alexander says, “the genius of the current caste system…is that it appears voluntary (Alexander, 2010, p. 215).” It is genius precisely because it seems voluntary and therefore it goes unquestioned by those in positions of power, predominantely whites who are unaffected by such conditions. If those in power do not see a problem, then there is no need to “fix” anything; however there is nothing voluntary about a system that has been created to promote one group’s status in society and take away from others. Furthermore, it is easy for outsiders to say they should just not sell drugs or be involved in crime if they know the negative outcomes, but is that outcome worse than the conditions of inequality that are already being subject to? And what happens when the only option many of the black youth are left with is crime?  
            Our capitalist society is built off a need for an underclass. It is easy for this to remain true under the current system in which blacks end up in jail a disproportionate amount. Ultimately this leads me to consider Alexander’s use of Tommie Selby’s question of who’s responsibility is it to provide a better set of circumstances to people suffering in this caste system? And furthermore to what extent is this actually possible? This is inevitably a question of morals. My argument would fall into a category of we are all to some extent responsible and also are all responsible to provide better circumstances; however this is not an easy task as we would not be competing with individuals, we are competing against a system that has been embedded within the structure of our society. Furthermore, the changes that would need to occur, as Jackson argues, would involve a redistribution of the properties, which inevitably means a change in elite status. Therefore, after reading Jackson, it seems as though the only real answer is for a mass change to occur, but the likely hood that mass changes will occur is slim. Therefore my closing question is, to what extent are those in positions such as ours (educated, in college at a private university) responsible for changing these conditions? While I am a proponent of education for all, merely changing who can and will be educated does not seem like enough in this situation. But would reallocating funds from prisons to education be the realistic start for change in our society? 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Alexander, Abu-Jamal, and Brown

This week’s readings focused primarily on the ways in which the criminal justice system perpetuates its own flaws and weaknesses. Although the percentages of people of all races involved in drug crimes are relatively equivalent, African Americans and Latinos are targeted far more than white Americans. Alexander provides evidence of this: in a report done in 2000, white students use cocaine and heroin at a rate 7 times higher than black students and crack cocaine 8 times the rate of black students. This study also found that white youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are a third more likely to have sold illegal drugs than black youth (Alexander, 99). However, regardless of these statistics, prisons are undeniably populated by minorities. Black men have been admitted to state prisons on drug charges at a rate 13 times higher than white men (Alexander, 100). Of all people imprisoned for drug offenses, three-fourths have been either black or Latino (Alexander, 98).

These disproportionate rates are made possible by the fact that law enforcement officers are given free rein in the War on Drugs. There are far too many cases of illegal drug use throughout the country; at least 10% of all Americans violate drug laws every year (Alexander, 123).  These levels of offenses force law enforcement officers to narrow down their search into specific areas and onto specific targets. They are given immense amounts of discretion regarding who to “stop, search, arrest, and charge for drug offenses, thus ensuring that conscious and unconscious racial beliefs and stereotypes will be given free rein” (Alexander, 103). Many departments turn their attention, therefore, to the inner cities, arguing that these are the most compacted region for drug offenses; more people in a smaller area allow officers to spot drug offenses easier and more efficiently. What this results in, however, is the ability for law enforcement officers to use racial biases whether intentionally or not to determine who to target and stop.

The targeting of minorities within inner cities results in the disproportionate percentage of minorities incarcerated. Regardless of the evidence provided to the courts, the justice system itself makes it impossible to prove racial discrimination. Through a string of court decisions, the Supreme Court has consistently closed the door to challenges of racial discrimination within the judicial system.  With Whren vs. United States the Court was able to determine that police officers are able to use minor traffic violations as an excuse to stop motorists for drug investigations (Alexander, 108). This legalized the ability for police officers to use race as a reason to stop and search motorists as long as another explanation for the stop could be provided. In McCleskey vs. Kemp, the Supreme Court determined that racial bias in sentencing could not be challenged under the 14th Amendment without clear proof of conscious, discriminatory intent (Alexander, 109). As long as no one explicitly stated race as a reason for the sentencing chosen in a case, racial discrimination could not be argued. In Purkett vs. Elm the Court ruled in favor of an attorney’s ability to remove a juror from a case for any reason, regardless of how trivial it may seem (Alexander, 122). This drastically limited a defendant’s ability to be tried by his peers; a right granted to him in the Sixth Amendment. Black defendants no longer had access to a jury of people like himself, but in actuality would be tried by people who may very well seek the worst punishment regardless of the evidence of the case.

The McCleskey case made it possible for attorneys to choose punishment for a crime for whatever reason they may find. This results in uneven punishments between black, white, and Latino criminals committing the same crime. In 2000 a study found that among youth who had never been to a juvenile prison, black kids were more than 6 times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison for the same crimes (Alexander, 118). In Georgia prosecutors sought the death penalty in 70% of cases involving a black defendant and white victims, but only 19% involving white defendants and black victims (Alexander, 110). These numbers indicate an obvious difference between the ways in which attorneys approach cases involving black or white defendants. They are far more likely to ask for a far more severe punishment of a black defendant than a white one.

What all of this creates is a cyclical process within the justice system. As the former New Jersey attorney general said, law enforcement officers point to the racial breakdown within our prisons as justification for targeting minorities, but the numbers of blacks and Latinos within the system are in fact the product of racial profiling, not a justification for the behavior (Alexander, 134). African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately in our prisons because of racial discrimination and bias. The numbers are not a reflection on the actual facts of crime rates; they are evidence that the justice system perpetuates its own misguided behaviors.