In the factory farm, a diabolical blend of human supremacism, cold rationality and the hyper-production of capitalism all come together, and are responsible for the slaughter of some 80 billion land animals per year. In these sites, food animals are systematically contained as a strategy of violence.
DINESH JOSEPH WADIWEL: Harry Harlow’s highly controversial experiments with rhesus monkeys are famous for their contributions to psychological knowledge, but they are infamous for the cruelty to the animals involved. One particular experiment conducted by Harlow and colleagues involved the construction of a ‘vertical chamber apparatus’: a device made of stainless steel, with sloping sides that funnel downwards to a wire mesh platform.
As part of the experiments, three-month-old baby monkeys were separated from their mothers and placed in the apparatus. Although the monkeys were fed and had some capacity to move, the researchers observed that the strict darkened confinement meant that within a few days the monkeys took on a ‘huddled immobilised posture in the corner of the apparatus’. The aim of this diabolical steel container was to induce depression, and it was accordingly described as a ‘pit of despair’.
For psychological sciences, these experiments helped to demonstrate the deep emotional effects of loss of parental connection and isolation. However, the experiments also tell us something about our relationships with other animals. We do a lot of containing of animal life, and frequently this involves containment as a form of violence…
Contemporary industrial-scale agriculture perhaps reflects the ultimate expression of human hostility towards animals. In the factory farm, a diabolical blend of human supremacism, cold rationality and the hyper-production of capitalism all come together, and are responsible for the slaughter of some 80 billion land animals per year. In these sites, food animals are systematically contained as a strategy of violence.
Concentrated animal-feed facilities segment animals into tight enclosures and cages. Deep controls are exercised over movement, food intake, sociality, sexuality and lighting. All reproduction is forced reproduction. Animals are birthed into enclosures and constantly move between enclosures. They will spend their life shuffling between these sites of containment until they are eventually prodded towards the stun gun when it is economically useful for their life to end.
Opacity is essential in this regime of containment. As animal rights activists continually remind us, a condition of animal agriculture today is that what goes on inside is shielded from public view. Across the world, the animal agriculture industry has been pressuring governments to introduce so called ‘ag-gag’ legislation to criminalise the work of activists who try to unveil the horrors within factory farms. To an extent, these attempts to prevent scrutiny must be treated as an attack on our democratic right to know what happens in our food systems.
But the deeper problem is that many of us just don’t want to know what is happening inside the facilities. The container helps us to forget this violence. Australian artist Yvette Watt’s 2012 photographic series, Animal Factories, highlights this horrific yet seemingly banal reality. Watt’s images depict long anonymous sheds in rural Australia; they appear peaceful, inconspicuous, mundane and lacking friction, despite the mass violence contained within…
Beyond the factory farm, there are other sites of animal containment that are important to consider. While our relationships with companion animals do not betray the same hostility which we direct towards animals in our industrial food systems, they are also marked by domination and violence. These animals we love in our homes, we also seek to ruthlessly control. We dictate their sexuality and reproduction. We typically separate them from their families, and limit their interactions with their own kind. We regulate their nutrition.
These are also relationships of containment: in intensifying urban spaces, we constrain these animals in ever-shrinking enclosures in our homes and gardens. Some cats enjoy freedoms to wander, though increasingly these freedoms have been curtailed, and thus many cats spend their lives incarcerated within the family home. In some countries dogs are free to roam through cities; however, at least in the Global North, freedom from containment for dogs means an occasional walk tethered by collar and leash, interspersed, if they are lucky, with a moment of freedom in an ‘off-leash’ dog park.
Today, the reality of human relations with other animals is increasingly mediated by the architecture of mass containment. Billions of animals are held within carceral confines in food systems, zoos, experimental labs and family homes. Feral animal hunters and urban shelters provide a means to mop up any leakage from this mass interconnected containment system. Animals that cannot be contained are ruthlessly extinguished.
When French philosopher Michel Foucault described the ‘carceral archipelago’, he was interested in how institutional forms of containment such as schools, hospitals and prisons are used to discipline and make human bodies docile. But the carceral archipelago is also a useful way to describe the interlinked containers which today segment, conceal and orchestrate our mass violence against other animals. SOURCE…