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??


  1. Heidi touches on two of the main foci of this book, as well as this class. Furthermore, she wrestles with a question (fear) that a lot of us, too, wrestle with: what will it take to see change? After reflecting on her post, I think that I can morph her two points into one. President Barack Obama is in a position of privilege and power, as comes with the title “President of the United States”. Therefore, his campaign slogan “Obama for Change” links privilege and power to change. Change, change, change was seen EVERYWHERE – on t-shirts and paraphernalia, as well as in the lyrics of popular music. So I would have to agree with Heidi – people naturally link privilege with education and education with making change. Isn’t that what we’ve heard all of our lives? “You can make a difference” was what I heard all throughout middle school and high school. We had endless opportunities to go to a Developing Country and build houses, schools, and hospitals. Somehow, this small step was going to make a huge difference. But now – I see it just as Heidi sees it. Privilege isn’t associated with education which is then associated with change. Privilege is associated with education which is then associated with protection. I find her point not only fascinating, but spot on. Because I’m privileged and educated, I will never have to work in a slaughterhouse, or a sweatshop. And chances are I won’t go to jail, either. From what we’ve read – the employees in a slaughterhouse are minorities and immigrants, the prisoners in a prison are African American, and the women and men working in sweatshops are minorities, as well. All of the aforementioned groups of people are marginalized in society, and are also seen to have no power and no privilege. A select group of these people witness America at its worst – on the kill floor of a slaughterhouse – and are forced to deal with it. As Pachirat points out, the employees in the slaughterhouse do what they do so they can support their spouses, their children… They do what any mother or father would do in an attempt to keep his/her family above the poverty line, to get his/her children into schools, with the hope that they can grow up and lead a better life… And for the 95% of people working in a slaughterhouse that are physically separated from witnessing the animals suffering, they are like the rest of us – distanced and protected. The slaughterhouses “internal divisions create physical, linguistic, phenomenological walls that often feel every bit as rigid as those marking off the exterior of the slaughterhouse from the outside world” (236). But even if the “internal divisions” that Pachirat speaks about were revealed, what would be done about it? Would there be a nationwide uproar? Doubtful. If a minority of people in this Colgate class (who are of privilege and educated) aren’t taking action on Pachirat’s words and the truths of the slaughterhouse, who will?

  2. I think Heidi brings up a critical question when she asks, “what if we did see the bad or the dark side of society”. As I was reading this chapter in Pachirat’s book, I kept trying to imagine a world in which “distance and concealment failed to operate,” as Pachirat discusses (240). What if you were randomly selected within society to participate in the slaughtering of thousands of animals a day in a slaughterhouse? Pachirat continuously brings up the question, for who could stand the sight? I personally could not stand to see the sight of cows being knocked dead, especially if it was my responsibility to be the knocker. As Heidi said, sight can have a powerful effect on people, and I agree with this. Just reading Pachirat’s book has made me think about the origin of meat every time I see it. For example, when I go to the coop now and see the stacks of deli meat, I cant help but think about how the meat probably came from a slaughterhouse similar to the one described in Pachirat’s book. While I have only read about industrial slaughterhouses, I am sure that seeing a video of the processes that occur within this business would have an even greater impact. The fact that most if not all students at Colgate will not have to work in an industrial slaughterhouse demonstrates how privilege operates in our society. I also assume that many students at Colgate eat meat, which leads me to the question of moral responsibility. We brought up this question in class last week about who is more responsible for the death of animals, the killer or the people who eat the meat? After reading Quincey’s post, I found that I had a similar reaction at first about moral responsibility. I feel less responsible since I am not physically doing the killing. I can distance myself from the murdering of the cows that occurs in this slaughterhouse. However, somebody has to take on this job in order to serve those who eat meat in our culture. Therefore, I am now beginning to think that those who kill the animals and those who eat the animals are equally responsible.

  3. As Heidi argued in her post, sight can have a powerful effect on people. Although I do agree with this point, to a certain extent I think the exposure of the truth behind slaughterhouses and their practices can only do so much. I believe that regardless of any transparency created between the practices and the consumers, people will still choose to either remain ignorant or would become spectators to the process. I personally have experienced that feeling of wanting to remain ignorant to the issues. The required reading for the Class of 2012 before coming to Colgate was a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book describing the gruesome process of slaughterhouses and farms that grow the livestock we consume. Many times while reading that book I felt disgusted and even considered stopping eating meat. I would constantly discuss the new things I’d learned with my parents (usually to their disgust and frustration). Regardless of how much of an impact that book had on me at the time, I still eat meat today. In fact I never stopped eating meat. To this day I’ll think of the things I had read about, but I quickly push the thought aside and bite into the cheeseburger on my plate. I know of the cruelties those animals go through, and I still choose to remain ignorant and avoid dealing with the emotions and consequences that come with acknowledging the information.

    Pachirat deals with this in his final chapter. He explains that most theories regarding making everything visible rely on the assumption that “making the repugnant visible is sufficient to generate a transformational politics: for who could stand the sight?” (page 247). They assume knowledge leads to action. However, he goes on to explain that this knowledge can lead to either cowards or spectators. People will either look away in disgust or become use to the horrors and find pleasure and entertainment in them. Those people who look away as cowards see the terrible acts but choose to turn away, attempting to avoid acknowledging the problem and trying convince themselves of their ignorance. Those who find entertainment in the repulsiveness encourage the behavior and perpetuate further atrocities. Shock “requires increasing stimuli to maintain itself.. [It] demands increasing intensification of its representations of suffering, pain, and the repulsive in its efforts to reduce their occurrences in the world” (page 253). This intensification then leads to compassion fatigue, a concept we discussed earlier in the course. These spectators will further the process by creating a market for those running the slaughterhouses to take advantage of the spectacle they themselves have created. Both kinds of people know of the horrors occurring before them, but while one acknowledges those horrors and the other pretends to remain ignorant of them, neither do anything about actually changing the issue.

  4. Blog Comment 24 April

    I think this is my favorite post on the blog thus far; Heidi tied in so many of my own thoughts that I had while reading (except she did it much better than I would have) and I don’t know where to begin!

    I wrote in the margin of my book: what would happen if we did know everything? Either people wouldn’t eat, buy clothes, or bother voting or they would become desensitized to it. Maybe it is good that so much is hidden from us because it keeps bad things from being the norm. I think that there is a very fine line between knowledge of something being productive and passive. Think about the Kony 2012 thing; as people were finding out about it, the video went viral and it was all people talked about. After a little while it simmered and we’ve moved on to something else (though I don’t have a TV so I don't know what exactly).

    Heidi also did an awesome job talking about privilege. Little aside: on the First Lady’s facebook page, under her favorite quotations heading it says “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)

    I have come to resent this phrase; we have seen throughout history and this class as well that when people are given privilege and power, they usually (though not all the time) do one of two things (1) what they want/what benefits them to gain more or (2) try to “help” in a way that they see fit without asking the population they think needs them what exactly help would entail.

    I think that as a society, we need to stop relying on this sort of mentality; we need to stop waiting for those with knowledge of the inner workings of society to create “change.” This whole idea of the politics of sight just comes to show how much we do not know even though we are the elite that Heidi talks about. So now what? Do we trust the people who are in power to make life better for us? They're not going to do anything. Their lives are good, why would they alter a thing?

    I am not quite sure what I advocate but after doing the reading for this week, one thing became clear to me. Austin and I spoke up about the need for an impetus to ‘do something’ a few weeks back. I realize now that the purpose of this class hasn’t been to get us to form political rallies or become angry college kids. The purpose was to understand the superstructure in which we live and the ways in which it operates. This class is meant to take down some of the concrete walls and replace them with glass so as we emerge from our class in Olin Hall, we conceptualize the world around us in a more accurate way. (I think this is right- Stern tell me if I’m super off base)