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?


  1. Quincey made a lot of good points in this post but there are a few I want to focus on. For starters, the idea of visibility of the suffering and violence (or more generally this theme of politics of sight) was definitely something that I feel connects all of the sections of this course. With the onset of modernity, and thusly this strive towards being the most efficient and most productive, this phenomenon of the division of labor (and displacement of responsibility that comes along with it) is something that definitely helps people justify his or her actions, one of them being eating meat. I understand the larger socio-political and moral issues that the institution of the slaughterhouse speaks to but in the same breath, although Quincey is unable to eat the very animal killed; I would have to say I would be able to. We tend to try and maintain this consistent, normative foundation in which we abide by in all contexts and granted it’s wonderful in theory, we don’t. I take responsibility for the meat I eat. But then again I also have this sense of a lessened guilt (may be due to the fact that as humans we have the ability to rationalize our actions) because killing the animal, mistreating the animals, misusing the animal, is not something I directly do every time I eat. I have the finished cutlet so nicely provided for me in the meat aisle when I go food shopping. Ultimately it comes down to each specific person in each specific context, and some people, can live with eating meat from an animal they just killed. I know my admittance of that creates a slippery slope but that is something I personally have to come to terms with.
    As per the article written by Beilharz, I think a number of important points were made. I’m not sure whether Quincey finds fault with the fact that these companies are almost competing to be more environmentally friendly to appease customers rather than genuinely caring for the environment. Are strides towards becoming more eco-friendly really that problematic because of the intent behind the change in company regulations and production? Yes, there is something wrong with not caring but I think there is something worse when you don’t care and you do nothing. In this consumer society, Beilharz states, “the role once performed by work in linking together individual motives, social integration and systematic reproduction has now been assigned to consumer activity” (316). In order for the intent to change, the mindset has to change and the apathetic nature coating our moral obligation towards each other and our environment (and everything that comes along with it, yes animals too) must change. That requires a whole removal of the current system—more simply put: a revolution. But until people are able to give up what they have, real sacrifice and fight for change, it won’t happen. So until then, why not use the system to begin to break it. Why not use consumption as the driving force towards efforts that are better?

  2. Quincy raises an interesting question when she says, “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?” Whether the motive degrades the action is a matter of opinion, but I think it’s very important to realize what agency the motive provides us. If the heads of companies made business decisions based on their particular set of morals, we as consumers would be entirely subject to those. But because consumer demand determines business decisions within capitalism, we have an opportunity to influence what is available to us and how it is produced. Our purchase power can act as somewhat of a vote. We all know that our one specific vote isn’t going to change an election, but still over half the country votes in presidential elections. If over half of the country chose to make a political statement by purchasing only products that aligned with their values, it seems reasonable to me that we could expect a response just as huge as the peaceful changing of our nation’s leaders every four or eight years according to our votes. When Tesco’s CEO discovered that “[c]ustomers want us to develop ways to take complicated carbon calculations and preset them simply,” he promised to do exactly that, even if a carbon label would not be as simple as one might hope (Specter 44).

  3. I sadly agree with you that we tend to put blame on other people and to find justification for our actions. However, I don’t think it is because of the distance, or at least it is not the main reason. I blame individualism (am I putting the blame on something else rather than myself? No, because I am individualistic, no matter how much I want to deny it!). Individualism teaches us that we are responsible for our own actions, and we actually have free choice! Thus, each of us is acting in our own bubble: the knocker chooses to be the knocker and to kill cows, so he is responsible for his action. Of course this is not the case at all. Long long ago, we learned that we are not ourselves’: we are vulnerable and are all participating in the system. Who is the knocker? What happened in his life that he has to settle as a knocker? Yet, the individualism is ingrained so deeply inside our consciousness that we still cling to that notion. Moreover, we, young innocent people, are not ready for facing the fact that we are not totally in control of our life and we actually can end up as a knocker, doing the awful killing. And we are also not ready to say that we belong to the group of people forcing the knocker to be the knocker (Why am I keep repeating this phrase? Because I don’t know who the knocker is? He does all the dirty work and we don’t even know his name! And we know Lady Gaga, not that I necessarily have a problem with her.)

    As Beilhart said, individualism also creates consumerism. The act of buying is totally an individual act, and the consumer is supposed to be responsible for the thing he/she buys. But I would like to say, do we really have a choice as consumers? We didn’t choose to be consumers! We are made to be consumers. We can only buy what are offered at the store within the amount of money we have. If we want to be sustainable by ourselves, we can’t because we haven’t learned to build house out of trees! Poor people are not free in this consumer society, and rich people aren’t either.

  4. Between our discussion last week in class and the conclusion of chapter 9, the idea of sight has played a major part in viewing the moralities and immoralities of slaughtering animals. We as the consumer don’t believe that we are not wrong because our view of the act is second hand. We are not in the Slaughter houses actually partaking in the acts of killing and preparing the animals for consumption therefore most of us, not all don’t have that connection with the act that would force us to change our views on eating meat. Personally I do believe talking part in the act of killing and preparing the meat would make me feel differently about eating meat but I feel like it simply wouldn’t be enough. I think the connection between me and the animal in the room wouldn’t outweigh my view of viewing an animal as nothing more than sustenance for me. I do believe with some of my classmate’s arguments who say that we are all responsible for the act of animal killing. The person physically killing the animal is responsible, the person cleaning and freezing it is responsible, and we as the consumer wanting the demand for meat are responsible. However I believe that demand for the meat that we eat will forever outweigh the option to not kill the animal, or go in different routes of becoming vegan or only eating properly raised animals. Now I’m not trying to offend anyone and I don’t think that there is anything wrong with being vegetarian but personally I love to eat meat. It could be because society has told me that eating meat is a necessity but whatever the case is, my view of eating meat will stay the same.

  5. I haven’t posted yet during this section of the class because I’m having a hard time figuring out my thoughts about everything we’ve read. I’ve been a pescatarian (vegetarian, but I eat fish) for the past year and a half, but I’ve never really eaten a lot of meat. One of the biggest reasons that I stopped eating meat was because it just grosses me out. Humans have skin, meat on our bones, fat, muscle- just like cows, chickens, and pigs. When I look at a piece of meat on a plate I can only see the living creature that it used to be. I think this probably stems from the fact that I’ve grown up with animals my entire life- dogs and cats, but I’ve also been horseback riding since I was 4. I think the “total visibility” that Pachirat talks about in chapter nine really speaks to this. If everyone were exposed to the killing of animals, or even made the effort to know what slaughterhouses were like, would things change? I think this idea of transparency translates to everything we’ve talked about in class thus far. If we could see what happened in slaughterhouses, or in prisons, or in torture cells, would there be political change? We have seen some sort of change in our torture policies and some change in the prison system, but still not enough. Do we need more transparency? Would it help? With Pachirat’s book, he is attempting to shine a light on the horrible nature of slaughterhouses and the meat industry in our country. But how many people will read this book? How many people will read this book and decide not to eat meat? I think transparency can only go so far- we are too set in our ways as a society to make a real effort to change.