Book Review: Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat

Highly recommended. Describes in detail the operation of an industrialized slaughterhouse, from the front office to the delivery of cattle and back again. While it is clear the process is inhumane and unsanitary, the working conditions of the employees are the focus. Even if the ethics of killing animals for food is not an issue for you, a system that has one person kill 2,500 cattle, every work day, in order to put meat on your plate has qualities reminiscent of the hypothetical posed in Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Horrifying, but a book everyone that buys and eats meat in cellophane packaging should read.

“Like its more self-evidently political analogues—the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, the execution chamber, the extermination camp—the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is a ‘zone of confinement,’ a ‘segregated and isolated territory,’ in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bagman, ‘invisible’ and ‘on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society.’ Close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might thus illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable but the ways distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives…

You may find the descriptions in the pages ahead both physically and morally repugnant. Recognize, however, that this reaction of disgust, this impulse to thumb through the pages so as to locate, separate, and segregate the sterile, abstract arguments from the flat, ugly day-in, day-out, minutiae of the work of killing, is the same impulse that isolates the slaughterhouse from society as a whole and, indeed, that sequesters and neutralizes the work of killing even for those who work in the slaughterhouse itself. The detailed accounts that follow are not merely incidential to or illustrative of a more important theoretical argument about how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in contemporary society. They are the argument.”

—Pachirat, Timothy. “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

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