January 12, 2011


William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York & London: W. W. Norton, 1991) (From Chapter 5: Annihilating Space: Meat: "However impressive individuals like Swift or Armour might be, their real achievement was to create immense impersonal organizations, hierarchically structured and operated by an army of managers and workers, that would long outlive their founders. No one person was essential to such enterprises. . . ." Id. at 255. "The packing plants distanced their customers most of all from the act of killing. Those who visited the great slaughterhouses came away with vivid memories of death. Rudyard Kipling [in From the Sea] described being impressed much more by the 'slaying' he saw in Chicago than by the 'dissecting.' 'They were so excessively alive, these pigs,' he wrote. 'And then they were excessively dead, and the man in the dripping, clammy, hot passage did not seem to care, and ere the blood of such an one had ceased to foam on the floor, such another, and four friends with him, shrieked and died.' The more people became accustomed to the attractively cut, carefully wrapped, cunningly displayed packages that Swift had introduced to the trade, the more easily they could fail to remember that their purchase had once pulsed and breathed with a life much like their own As time went on, fewer of those who ate meat could say that they had ever seen the living creature whose flesh they were chewing; fewer still could say they had actually killed the animal themselves. In the packers' world, it was easy not to remember that eating was a moral act inextricably bound to killing. Such was the second nature that a corporate order had imposed on the American landscape. Forgetfulness was among the least noticed and most important of its by-products." "The packers' triumph was to further the commodification of meat, to alienate still more is ties to the lives and ecosystems that had ultimately created it. Transmuted by the packing plans into countless shape-shifting forms, an animal's body might fill human stomachs, protect human feet, fasten human clothes, fertilize human gardens, wash human hands, play human music--do so many amazing things. The sheer variety of these new standardized uses testified to the packers ingenuity in their war on waste, , but in them the animal also died a second death. Severed from the form in which it had lived, severed from the act that had killed it, it vanished from human memory as one of nature's creatures. Its ties to the earth receded, and in forgetting the animal's life one also forgot the grasses and the prairie skies and the departed bison herds of a landscape that seemed more and more remote in space and time. The grasslands were so distant from the lives of those who bought what the packers sold that one hardly thought of the prairie or the plains while making one's purchase, any more than one thought about Packingtown, wit its Bubbly Creek and its stinking air. Meat was a neatly wrapped package one bought at the market. Nature did not have much to do with it." Id. at 256-257. We are responsible for the killing of what we eat, even though we are quite removed and distant from the actual killing fields. We are responsible for the (ab)use of animals by pharmaceutical and cosmetic corporation, even though we are quite removed and distant from the actual research and testing facilities. It does not matter whether their are net benefits and what those net benefits are, the use of the drugs and the cosmetics is a moral act inextricably bound to the research, the testing, the abuse of animals. Distance does not reduce our moral involvement and responsibility. Our distance from the manufacturing sweatshop does not relieve us from moral responsibility in wearing the clothes and using the products so produced. Similarly, think also about the increasing mechanization of warfare (predator drones) which also places even greater distance between us civilians and our military personnel who actually "pull the trigger" and the human casualties of that "trigger pulling".).