Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tyson and Perdue: Our Two-Party System

An objection raised all too often against the idea of anarchist societies is that "human nature" is such that intrinsic greed and the desire for dominance will invariably work to subvert social harmony if given the chance, and, therefore, governments naturally arise as a matter of necessity to maintain a peaceful and beneficial society. This is also the point of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, a 1651 treatise on statecraft that proclaimed government's monopoly on violence a necessary evil to safeguard society from degenerating into a state of nature characterized by a "war of all against all" and that guaranteed lives that were "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". While relatively few people outside of academia have read or are even familiar with Hobbes, it is obvious that his philosophical specter still haunts and informs mainstream views on politics, albeit at such a fundamental level as to be confounded with "common sense" by most.

In fact, Hobbes' promulgations on human nature are inherently problematic because he bases them on observations of only historical or contemporary civilized examples. While Europeans had by this time already encountered the radically different indigenous cultures of other continents, it seems that Hobbes was either unfamiliar with reports on their societal structure or otherwise chose to dismiss this information as irrelevant to his writing, opting instead to draw universal conclusions about "human nature" only from a small, highly-domesticated subset of cultures, cultures that could only exist under authority, and which would indeed collapse without it. As government systematically undermines the two million year old instincts of humans to engage in cooperative and egalitarian society in order to pursue its own goals of dominance and resource acquisition, humans respond to these unnatural stresses and the result is, predictably, a degeneration of cooperation, trust, sharing, mutual respect, and psychological and physical well-being.

For example, one could make the point that black slaves in the 19th century were considered (and largely observed to be) more pathetic, less intelligent and more brutish than whites. Slaves, it scarcely needs to be said, weren't educated to the same degree, were made to labor under grueling conditions, were made to endure atrocious and dehumanizing treatment, and had inferiority essentially instilled into them their entire lives, thus predisposing them to conform to and confirm the expectations of whites. Such was the White Man's Burden that a black slave would scarcely be able to feed, shelter, or clothe him or herself if not for the slave owner. I would venture to say that the characteristics of these slaves can give us few useful insights into the nature of sub-Saharan Africans or black people in general, and one can easily find fault and bias (and an agenda) in the white slave owners who argued otherwise. Above all, I don't think there are many who would argue that the slaves' artificial dependence on slave owners for absolutely all their basic needs and protection justified the perpetuation of slavery. One could very well compare Hobbes' view on human nature to those of American slave owners on blacks and quickly conclude how flawed and biased those views are.

However, the more accurate analogy, I think, is that of an industrial poultry factory--the kind that produces the vast majority of chicken and turkey meat destined for supermarket shelves and restaurant kitchens throughout the United States. Tens of thousands of birds are crammed together in each windowless shed on your average industrial chicken farm, with total US annual production at about eight million birds. When they arrive, they will already have had their beaks partially removed to prevent them from pecking madly at each other out of sheer frustration. It hardly needs to be explained that this practice is not done for their own safety, but rather to prevent damage to their meat. Each bird will, at maximum shed capacity, get about 130 square inches of space. Not that they would be able to enjoy it if they had more, since broiler chickens have been bred such that their bodies grow far too quickly for their heart and legs to keep up with, rendering each one essentially immobile beyond just a few struggling steps at a time. Their whole lives are arranged around consuming feed and sitting in their own choking ammonia stench. Birds are fed antibiotics to keep them alive long enough for them to reach their slaughter weight (about forty-five days), and were formerly also fed growth hormones, a practice that was banned in the 1950s. Now, if one were to try and summarize the "chicken condition" or draw conclusions about "chicken nature" solely by examining factory-farmed chickens in isolation; that is, without considering the influence of their imposed surroundings, one would have to conclude that chickens are disgusting, inherently violent, inherently sickly, unable to attain decent health and hygiene on their own, and intrinsically incapable of producing social order on their own. Their observed tendency to hurt each other justifies the removal of their beaks and ought to be viewed as perhaps a necessary evil, but perhaps even a boon, a gift of sorts, by the higher authority. Their susceptibility to infection necessitates the use of antibiotics, which is also another wondrous gift. In short, the plain inability of these animals to provide for any of their own basic needs, much less to thrive on their own, practically mandates that they be kept and cared for in industrial factory farms. After all, what else besides an industrial scale operation could keep so many birds alive, however imperfectly? The necessity of an external source of domination is crystal clear.

Such an analysis is, of course, absurd. We readily have populations of wild and feral chickens for comparison. Wild chickens are not arbitrarily violent to their flockmates, and their penchant for cleanliness is impeccable. They are highly social and are particularly doting mothers and protective fathers, and have no trouble feeding themselves or in general staying healthy, even without the advantage of troughs of feed and antibiotics. If one were to seek to understand "chicken nature", the logical way to go about it would be to study chickens in the wild, i.e., in the environment for which they are evolved and in which their adaptations work perfectly for them, not constantly against them. It would be insane to consider the factory-farmed chickens anything even close to exhibiting natural behavior. What's more, no amount of external intervention in the form of physical alterations, veterinary care, antibiotics, dietary improvements, or environmental enhancements will improve the fundamental well-being of factory chickens, because their well-being was never the point of the factory in the first place.

As civilized humans, we, too, are similarly disarmed and confined, made to be utterly dependent for our lives on the very system that causes us misery in order to exploit us. The crowding that we endure in our urban environments, face to face daily with strangers, is mentally stressful for us just as the crowding in poultry sheds is for chickens. Crowding doesn't benefit either group, but is convenient for the dominant system, and that's why it persists. The chickens' obesity and excessive consumption, much like our own, likewise does not benefit either group, only the dominant system. Nothing of civilization benefits you or the world upon which all life ultimately depends, and to argue it as otherwise, to see it as otherwise, is to endorse your own ruin.


  1. Enjoying your blog. You've got some great thoughts, and you express them well. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Michael. I've got a few more entries lined up, but they might have to wait a few weeks. Stay tuned.