Horrors we hide

From slaughterhouses to sweatshops, modern society is constructed to let us ignore atrocities

Topics: Poverty, Food,

Horrors we hideWorkers at a Seagate Wuxi factory in China (Credit: Robert Scoble / CC BY 2.0)

Would Americans eat less meat, and would animals be treated more humanely, if slaughterhouses were made with glass walls and we all could see the monstrous killing apparatus at work? This is the query at the heart of Timothy Pachirat’s new book, “Every Twelve Seconds” — the title a reference to the typical slaughterhouse’s cattle-killing rate.

Before you think this is a column merely about food, recognize that Pachirat’s question isn’t (only) about the immorality of the cheeseburger you had for lunch. It’s about the larger phenomenon whereby modern society has reconstructed itself to hide so many horrific consequences from view.

Calling this the “politics of sight,” Pachirat’s blood-soaked experience inside a slaughterhouse spotlights only the most illustrative example of how we’ve divorced ourselves from the means of producing violence — and how, in doing so, we have made it psychologically easier to support such brutality. Sadly, billions of factory-farmed animals dying barbaric deaths are just one subset of casualties in that larger process.

Today, for example, free trade policies that promote offshoring allow Americans to enjoy consumer goods at ultra-low prices without having to see that those low prices represent companies taking advantage of the developing world’s poverty wages, environmental destruction and human rights abuses. A veritable slave may have assembled the iPad you are reading these words on, but thanks to the supply chain’s geography and Apple’s lack of transparency, you can easily avoid dealing with the ethical implications of that reality.

You Might Also Like

Another example: Many Americans drive gas-guzzling SUVs, proudly slapping patriotic declarations on their bumpers. This seems perfectly reasonable, but only because many either don’t live near polluted oil-drilling sites or don’t have to personally experience the ramifications of our petroleum-focused military policies. Ultimately, by separating the consequences of gas consumption from the driver, we’ve created the psychological conditions for fossil fuel consumption to seem like an honorable statement of strength rather than an endorsement of environmental degradation and war.

Speaking of war, the politics of sight sculpt our martial policies. We ended conscription, separating most of our fellow citizens from the consequences of military action; we conduct combat via unmanned aerial vehicles that remove the pilot-shooters from the populations being bombed; and both the military establishment and the media themselves suppress photographs of coffins or battlefield viscera that might show us what war really looks like.

Some of this, of course, is an inadvertent byproduct of larger trends like globalization that stretch supply chains across the planet. Some of it comes from a culture narcissism that teaches us to consider only on our immediate surroundings and nothing else. Much of it, though, is a deliberate effort to hide the truth. From the Pentagon’s photo policy to agribusiness now championing so-called ag gag laws to punish activists who expose factory farm atrocities, vested interests are exploiting the fact that “out of sight, out of mind” is a default setting in the human mind.

For his part, Pachirat ends his brave journey unconvinced that, unto itself, removing the veil will be enough to make us a more thoughtful — if not moral — society. He’s almost certainly correct. The atrocities that power modern life are now integral to what we define as the norm. And whether that norm is eating meat, driving massive cars or flippantly waging war, changing the status quo warrants more than just knowledge — it requires the will to change once knowledge is available.

Fortunately, history proves Americans can summon that will. However, without knowledge — without an end to the moment’s deceptive politics of sight — the most important changes can never happen.

David Sirota

David Sirota is a senior writer for the International Business Times and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at ds@davidsirota.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>