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.