Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sperm Banks & Meat-Markets: The Sexual Economy of Meat

"$uper Cow", $uper Profits: Cyber Chattel, $ex Exchange, and $perm Banks
In a recent National Geographic program on the technoscientific management of "nature," we get a glimpse at a very much neglected element in contemporary animal agribusiness, the sperm banks by which, animals are, according to Jacques Derrida (1997), "exterminated by means of their continued existence or even their overpopulation”:

Selective breeding is the first stop on our tour of how man is using science to control nature... In fact, selective breeding is all about managing sex...Over a hundred years, Farmers have only allowed the cows and bulls with the largest muscle mass to mate
The technoscientific sacrifice of animal heathcare for economic welfare is explained:
There is a gene that regulates the growth of muscles in cattle. These cows have been selectively breed from animals that contain a copy of this gene that doesn't work. As a result their muscles grow far larger than normal. To insure that the effective gene is passed on, sex for the Belgian Blues has been replaced by technology in the form of artificial selection
The men in the video discuss the homoerotic, predatory gaze:
The bulls are shaved to best display their muscles... so you can see where all the meat is...  because when you look at him, you cannot help but think of lunch

In another video, the bulls are hooked up to walls with nose rings, shaking to get free. When asked if the bulls are healthy living their entire lives in indoor pens, the operator says:

"the animals is as healthy as another intensive producing animal"
One bull, Rocky, is said to have sired thousands of cows. In the past they used electricity to incite ejaculate, but bull operations have since moved onto artificial cow vaginas with textures based on the bulls' preferences. As we watch the act, we hear the operator name a younger bull the "teaser bull", as he is strapped up and meant to "trick" the older one that he is female. The operator assures the interviewer that "he has never missed a female," because he has never seen one... ever. If the older bull produces a sheath-full of sperm, it is called a "successful jump." With enough of these, a bull will be a "good producer:"
they wanted some more of the good capital so artificial insemination gives the opportunity of being able to use more profitable bulls more frequently and get a lot more use out of them... so now we have the potential to deliver to farmers bulls with real genetic potential that can actually improve their farming system, improve their profitability and improve their way of life
Sperm is placed in liquid nitrogen, later to have DNA profiling in order for "genetic improvement." With contemporary technology they can predict the performance of a cow's body's productive potential, whether they will be "higher yielding cows", as soon as calves are born. With new techniques , farmers are learning to increase their chances of getting females, the more profitable bodies to appropriate labor from (they are worth 3-4 times that of the male calves). Each sheath of sperm is worth thousands of dollars. Big bulls, big business.

As Barbara Noske (1997) discusses, the bull is alienated from his species being in living a life fulfilling for a bull as well as the product of his sex work: his sperm and child. Like the dairy cow whereby the "milking is done to her rather than by her, as Joan Dunayer (2001) writes, so to does the bull become reduced to a machine to turn on. The operator summarizes up the entire industry:

He is a sperm machine, absolutely.
Through sexual exchanges, the operator's appropriate the bull's labor, keeping the surplus capital for themselves. Through this reproductive futurism, intensified by the institution of cloning, an unquestionable future of the same can be reproduced by sacrificing the jouissance of the present. Death is born here, or rather, the un-dead..

Meat-Markets: Capitalism & the Homosociality of Beef-Eating
Within the monitoring of  the Belgian Blues' bodies, we see the sexual and appetitive objectification of males. For men, beef-eating is above all a homoerotic and homosocial activity in which one performs masculinity through the physical and symbolic ingestion of male meat, muscle.
Through the homoerotics of beef-eating, one reproduces their heterosexuality. One, after all, must eat the self-same to retain one's identity if, as the saying goes, "you are what you eat."  Meat-eating is an activity in which males cum together to celebrate the privilege of Man/kind, Homo sapiens, over other beings (though, this is not exclusive to males).

Meat is then a site at which masculinity is bartered through a meat market--a market full of properties (i.e. virility, agency, superiority, intelligence) that have come at the cost of sacrificing Others (i.e. not only marginalized beings, but the properties they are assigned--ineptitude, passivity, inferiority, irrationality, etc.).
However, one does not eat the other; one sacrifices the Other, then eats oneself. In order for meat-eating subjects to become what they eat, to reproduce (or regenerate) their identities through appropriating the properties of Others (which, ironically, are denied to them as living subjects), they must make sacrifice a ritual.

In the West, Others must be sufficiently abject to kill, and by killing, butchering, and cooking their abject nature becomes sacred culture. Through culture, the abject is transformed: dirt to gold. The value of meat, however declines with its freshness; it has a short afterlife. Pretty soon it will return to nature, to the worms, and once rotten, will have become abject again. So continual sacrifice is needed to reproduce one's Self, one's privilege.

The sperm banks of the meat-markets are quintessentially about denying death through its repetition, a habituation, if you will. This reproduction of death, the extermination "by means of [animals'] continued existence or even their overpopulation” as Derrida says, is entangled in a response to death and decay, a certain mortification of Self that aspires to self-staticity.

Meat, then, is above all about the vivification of the dead, a symbol of a culture of zombies--the un-dead who eat the living to perpetuate their fantasy of infinite life. How often we hear of the alienation from one's food, the forgetting to have forgotten that animals must die for us to live (off meat), the absent referent. And what easier way to deny the death of one's Self--the locus of one's meaning, purpose, and properties, than to disavow the life and subjectivity of another (to be master to the slave), no matter how impossible it is in the face of their vulnerability.

To overcome death, to escape the death of Self and property, a phenomenon peculiarly punctuated in modernity and especially under capitalism, one must continually live (off others), and through doing so, "grow or die." The growth and abundance of herds, after all, marked the privilege and virility of ancient patriarchs. And it was the ritual sacrifice of the bull in Egypt that symbolized the re-birth of the King. The bull certainly has not died as a species, symbol, and affect. Now more than ever, the bull has become a symbol of infinite life, property, capital, emblemized on Wall Street.

It is no coincidence given that capital and cattle are etymological cousins and that the first coins had on them, not the heads of leaders, but the heads of animals--the monetization of animals, from gods to exchange with, to animals to exchange with gods, to mere units of exchange among humans. Rooted in the pastoral patriarchies of thousands of years prior, cattle culture has been one that thinks of itself as ever expansive, pioneering a land of frontier of potential capital accumulation. It has been a culture that sees things from the top-down, through the lens of hierarchy and colonialism, rather than focusing on the grassroots;  a culture, that is, no longer focusing on life and nourishment, but death and sacrifice; having moved from trust and cooperation to domination and competition.

The equation of "meat" and food with the flesh of animals is a cultural and historical specific event intensified and articulated in modern capitalism, with the enclosure of the commons and the establishment of a growing number of petty bourgeoisMeat is made, not born. It is a perception of animal others as objects to be managed in the most intimate aspects of their lives: childhood, sexuality, parenting, and "retirement." All social relations among animals and between humans and animals is reduced to the efficient squandering of life. Human-animal-food relations are linear, top-down, calculations. They neither invite participation nor sympathy.

The logos of meat, is equally applied to human others in the Global economic food chain. The meat-ification of the world is inseparable from the ethos of capitalism and technological rationality. As Upton Sinclair wrote in The Jungle (1906),

his new acquaintance showed him that a hog was just what he had been, one of the packers hogs. What they wanted from a hog was all the profits that could be got out of him and that was what they wanted from the working man and also that was what they wanted from the public What the hog thought of it and what he suffered were not considered and no more was it with labor and no more with the purchaser of meat... Greed. It was a monster devouring with a thousand mouths trampling with a thousand hoofs it was the Great Butcher it was the spirit of Capitalism made flesh
The class, sex, ethnic, and species struggle have always been one and the same in the sense of challenging a society based upon privilege/centrism, hierarchy/authority, and exclusion/othering.

Now more than ever, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and the looming global ecological catastrophe, such growth of these herds (for which the Amazon is being eaten) for a growing body of persons with accumulated (appropriated) capital threatens the survival of life as we are familiar, calls come from the United Nations abstain from meat. Perhaps this is an acknowledgment that we need to sacrifice sacrifice and to end the appropriation of others' labor and bodies.

No comments: