Mutant Chickens in the Modern Age

Sometime ago when I was in college, I became familiar with a story of which I’m sure many individuals are familiar. The story regarded a well-known fast food franchise and its featured poultry fare. Somewhere along the way, it was said, the franchise had embarked upon a genetic experiment to cut costs and streamline production. The result was a plump and tender organism that tasted a lot like chicken, only there were no feathers that needed plucking, no beaks that might involve pecking, and no talons that might result in injury to some unfortunate poultry plant worker. It was, in essence, just a glob of flesh fed essential nutrients through a series of attached tubes on its way to being happily consumed by an unsuspecting public.

Of course, the story was complete bullshit—an urban legend concocted by some imaginative college student or animal rights activist, who knows, but it’s taken its place among fast food lore, nonetheless. In any case, the story serves as a great analogue for society as a whole in our modern day economic system. Not that I think a select few humans are destined for processing at the Soylent Green facility, but we are remarkably conditioned to feed the economy in a multiplicity of other ways—all of which is the manifestation of a very American type of capitalism that has, perhaps fatally, spread over the world entire.

Economists tell us that we are the all-mighty consumers, but it is the economy that often consumes us. Evidence of this can be seen on the faces of the unemployed or those who have lost their homes in this latest economic downturn. And while this economy consumes anyone willing (or unwilling) to buy into it, it is the bottom half that is most often served up, apple in mouth. We are the hapless lambs offered to the haut monde. Yet, even in this sacrificial status, many of us continue on with our lives, spending unabated if credit allows. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also quite useful in a system that’s trying to squeeze every last drop of life from its hosts.

And squeeze it does through our spending habits—habits that have been very purposefully and meticulously shaped by a culture dominated by the need to sell massive amounts of often quite useless stuff. Not a single aspect of our behavior—of our lives has been considered without this in mind. Our spending is the lifeblood of the economy and, like that imagined fleshy glob of poultry product, nourishing our desire to spend, to be differentiated from our ability to spend, is essential.

As such, this perverse society in which we live touches on a variety of basic human emotions and urges to provoke our desire to spend. Like some inverse papal edict issued from the highest capitalist authority: envy, want, and pride, for instance, are considered to be virtues of a quasi-religion, whereas plain-old need and frugality is the stuff of the unenlightened masses, or, better yet, those not preordained for success in this temporal world.

Frugality, indeed, might be subconsciously thought of as our original sin and absolution can only come about through consumption. With each successive new generation of lambs (or chickens), the standards of such consumption are elevated. For instance, a time traveler from 1980 might find it hard to accept that we are only 30 years removed from his or her world. The “need” for gadgetry in our day and age has rendered us a collection of technologically dumbfounded addicts. So much so that our concern for safe driving has been subverted in favor of endless, if largely pointless communication with our fellow junkies. I can’t help but think that the break down of civil society is at least partly owed to the blank, unempathic stares of the cell phone throngs. With mindless elements of television, movies, and the Internet aiding in the pathosis—yes, zombies do exist.

Not that I should dwell on the technology hordes. God knows that there are X number of other material goods out there that we have been nurtured to believe we must have. Nor is technology the primary source of our debt (we can thank health care and real estate for most of that burden). But technological gadgetry might be the most inescapable of our addictions, and that alone might make it the most obnoxious. It is an efficacious conveyor of the faith. It’s also a market that, by itself, has remained affordable in some form to even the lowliest of individuals—a true opiate of the masses. One might be just as likely to see a drug dealer carrying the latest cell phone incarnation as they would the young professional on-the-go. Interestingly enough, the former might have a better need-based argument for using such a device round-the-clock.

Technology, more pointedly, is how we are bombarded 24 hours a day with images and sounds imparting the righteousness of frivolous spending through the most deceptive means advertising can offer. It has our devoted attention while, ironically, it distracts from the truly essential things that life has to offer: family, friendship, love, some measure of verity. It provides, instead, a surrogate means for maintaining a connection to those essential aspects—if only to encourage us to spend more, to make us more efficient consumers. Call it conspiracy, but I suspect that we are all just some experiment meant to nourish an economy from which only a few will ultimately find joy. I can’t help but think that there is some better alternative.

Sam Wellington is a freelance author whose work can be found at his website, Midnight in the Land of Plenty. He has an MA in International Affairs from American University and a BA in History. Read other articles by Sam, or visit Sam's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hayate said on August 25th, 2010 at 10:26am #

    “Call it conspiracy, but I suspect that we are all just some experiment meant to nourish an economy from which only a few will ultimately find joy. I can’t help but think that there is some better alternative.”

    For a long time now, I’ve considered that 90-95% of all production in capitalist oligarchies is of rubbish. Low quality things produced just because they make the system money. Consumerism is the successful result of psychology integrated into marketing and advertising. The capitalists have been going at that for a long time and as with most other things, practice improves performance. It’s a nice little scam. You keep the wad occupied with harmless stuff and they don’t demand things capitalist oligarchs hate to see among the serfs, like control over their own lives. Works much better than the army and the police force in maintaining control. And there is an added bonus in that all these people buying stuff they don’t need enriches the oligarchs more, increases their own standing among their select group.

    I’m kind of surprised the author of this piece never mentioned televisions. Probably the most important building block in this consumerism/zombie mind psychological programming. If anything, this item has been the most destructive toll used by the capitalist plutocracy in maintaining an easily controlled, docile, and receptive population. Besides all it’s usefulness in promoting consumerism and propaganda, the television also isolates people, discourages communication, and therefore makes people even more vulnerable to indoctrination.

    This is one of the main purposes of pre-school “education” television programmes. They indoctrinate the kids early to seek the tv for their information and entertainment. The useful schooling they get from Sesame Street prepares them mentally for the brainwashing they will receive later on from the same box.

    On the other hand, the cell phone and SMS, are sort of the opposite. That item brings/keeps people together, at least. They are constantly communicating. It encourages communication. The internet, when used actively, serves a similar function. One has to actively participate. Devices that make communication easier are very useful and they should be easily available for all.

  2. kalidas said on August 25th, 2010 at 1:50pm #

    Disillusioned words like bullets bark
    As human gods aim for their marks
    Made everything from toy guns that sparks
    To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
    It’s easy to see without looking too far
    That not much
    Is really sacred.
    -Dylan

  3. Deadbeat said on August 25th, 2010 at 3:04pm #

    Our spending is the lifeblood of the economy and, like that imagined fleshy glob of poultry product, nourishing our desire to spend, to be differentiated from our ability to spend, is essential.

    I’m tired of these “blame the victim” reactionary article sprayed with some “left-wing” varnish. Why can’t these authors do some research before they spend time writing the same lame Chomskyite ABC (axioms, bromides, cliches) pieces.

    The writer clearly fails to take into account Elizabeth Warren masterful examination of where the money went. The “spending” went to take care of BASIC needs not frivolity and not luxuries.

    Here’s where the money went.

    * Housing
    * Health Care
    * Child Care
    * Education
    * Transportation
    * Regressive Taxation on labor income over progressively taxing unearned income and wealth.

    Debt was needed in order to keep pace in a modern society as worker’s incomes stagnated.

    Also the typical “iconic” culprit of our “frivolity” — electronics — saw in real terms declining price points. In other words electronics was about the only affordable “luxury” for workers yet our demand for these “things” are typically pointed to as representative of our “consumer” lifestyle.

    Get REAL and get the facts straight before blaming “our” spending. In other words people were being RESPONSIBLE. I’d suggest that the author find another foil for his ire. It ain’t “us”.

  4. swellington said on August 25th, 2010 at 4:00pm #

    Two things:
    First,
    “With mindless elements of television, movies, and the Internet aiding in the pathosis—yes, zombies do exist.”

    Second,
    “Nor is technology the primary source of our debt (we can thank health care and real estate for most of that burden).”

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Warren’s assessment (although her numbers are based primarily on singular data obtained from the Department of Labor, of which we have little transparency with regard to its methodology for obtaining that data). She is absolutely right with regard to stagnate wages and the erosion of progressive tax structures having an ill effect (we don’t yet have nominal regressive taxes, per se, but we will undoubtedly see them in the future).

    Further, this article is anything but about laying blame on the consumer; on the contrary, we the consumers are largely the victims. Though, as Elizabeth Warren points out in her study, many did aspire for too much in houses that were beyond their means. Nonetheless, manufactured culture (which is what the article focuses on) dictated the type of American dream home that so many aspired to have over the last three decades. This is evidenced by the fact that the average new single family home size in the U.S. since 1950 has doubled, while the average family is much smaller (median home-size shows similar drastic shifts).

    More to the point, technology, while it has been portrayed as the great emancipator, has, as many studies are now showing, done much to isolate us from one another– in fact it may be reducing our intellect (see Nicholas Carr’s in-depth study on technology and U of Michigan study regarding social websites and the demise of empathy). In general, we text instead of talk, call instead of meet face to face; evolution is ill-prepared to deal with such de-humanized communication so quickly, and it is probably subverting our ability to assemble in ways past civil societies have done. In short, though we speak much more often to one another we do it without real interaction and, often, with little to say of any substance other than what we saw in TV the night before. Sociologically, one can communicate as I’m doing right this moment with thousands of people a day without so much as hearing the sound of a human voice. Thus, we are further becoming isolated in ways that we do not yet understand. The Internet, as well, and its gradual evolution of ownership (see net neutrality) is becoming simply a more beefed up version of television in its targeted advertising.

    Lastly, the piece is largely written from a satirical angle.

  5. Maien said on August 25th, 2010 at 4:15pm #

    Deadbeat, perhaps the author was referring to basic needs which could have been met at home… i am assuming that when there was an adult in the home maintaining, and creating/resolving some of the daily needs. I agree that the author has not addressed changing labour (no one at home for childcare, food security or shelter maintenance, social/community relationships etc.) and perhaps he didn’t need to… after all, two parents, out working for cash creates such a number of wonderful markets to offer a family with children. And such a more convenient way to control the general population.

    I agree that technology is not the problem but rather just one more characteristic of the dehumanisation of the general population. Technology is not bad. The way it is being used currently, to also distract humans into becoming dead ends is rather visible in todays’ world.

  6. Deadbeat said on August 25th, 2010 at 4:35pm #

    Maien writes …

    Deadbeat, perhaps the author was referring to basic needs which could have been met at home…

    I didn’t assume that. I responded to what he actually wrote.

    Here’s what he wrote …

    Frugality, indeed, might be subconsciously thought of as our original sin and absolution can only come about through consumption. With each successive new generation of lambs (or chickens), the standards of such consumption are elevated. For instance, a time traveler from 1980 might find it hard to accept that we are only 30 years removed from his or her world. The “need” for gadgetry in our day and age has rendered us a collection of technologically dumbfounded addicts.

    Really. The reason why the parents of the baby boomers where “frugal” was not only did they live through the Depression but also their generation was extremely RADICAL and spoke openly about replacing Capitalism. This is why the U.S. needed a war to “nationalize” the citizenry for one and also after the war maintained a hugely PROGRESSIVE tax structure. The decimation of Europe and the Cold War permitted a window of time for the U.S. to redistribute some of the national income to workers. Therefore the parents of the baby boomers were blessed with a more “egalitarian” economy than were boomers and post boomers.

    Of course someone from the 1980 would be dumbfounded by the gadgetry of 2010. In 1980 an early IBM PC cost over $5,000.00 now you can get laptop for $500.00. In real terms gadgets are cheap even with stagnant wages. However the transplant from 1980 would be astonished by the enormous distribution of wealth to the rich and the power and influence of Zionism in the United States today.

    If the author wants to blame “us” it is as hayate pointed out yesterday how racism induced the working class to support Reaganism. Now that brand of neoliberalism has come back to bite those same supporters in the ass.

    Capitalism is what is dehumanizing and we need to stop dancing around that fact.

  7. Deadbeat said on August 25th, 2010 at 4:41pm #

    Sam Wellington writes …

    More to the point, technology, while it has been portrayed as the great emancipator, has, as many studies are now showing, done much to isolate us from one another– in fact it may be reducing our intellect (see Nicholas Carr’s in-depth study on technology and U of Michigan study regarding social websites and the demise of empathy)

    You got that wrong. It is not technology that isolates us. It is DEBT!

    If you want a shortcut on this check out David Harvey. He makes it clear that the Congress wanted people to get into debt (especially mortgages) so they would unable to go out on strike. Debt permit the state to ATOMIZE us via the court system. It is the state and the way Capitalism is configured for us to have to use money to pay bills for the necessities of life that I outlined in my previous post. Are you going to pay my bills? HELL NO! I have to do that on my own. It is not a collective endeavor.

    Get rid of money and get rid of guns and maybe we’ll have a chance at a less atomized society.

  8. Deadbeat said on August 25th, 2010 at 5:59pm #

    SWellington writes …

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Warren’s assessment (although her numbers are based primarily on singular data obtained from the Department of Labor, of which we have little transparency with regard to its methodology for obtaining that data). She is absolutely right with regard to stagnate wages and the erosion of progressive tax structures having an ill effect (we don’t yet have nominal regressive taxes, per se, but we will undoubtedly see them in the future).

    What you say may be true about the “transparancy” but the large data sample makes the numbers difficult to fudge. The sheer vastness of the national sample and the duration of the data collection is what makes it extremely reliable.

    Further, this article is anything but about laying blame on the consumer; on the contrary, we the consumers are largely the victims. Though, as Elizabeth Warren points out in her study, many did aspire for too much in houses that were beyond their means.

    That sound very close to the reactionary blame-the-victim rhetoric surrounding the sub-prime mess. That the minorities were “irresponsible” for not knowing what they were buying and bought homes beyond their means.

    Nonetheless, manufactured culture (which is what the article focuses on) dictated the type of American dream home that so many aspired to have over the last three decades. This is evidenced by the fact that the average new single family home size in the U.S. since 1950 has doubled, while the average family is much smaller (median home-size shows similar drastic shifts).

    Clearly the folks with the biggest homes are the wealthy who possess way too much of the national income. Much of that income went untaxed. I’m not going to dispute that the average home is larger today but the average home cost way today more than it did in the 1950′s. You’re implying that the rise in home prices is correlated to the larger home size rather than rampant inflation due to wealth disparities. More and more debt was needed to fuel home price inflation regardless of home size because this is how the bank profited and how debt works for the Capitalist state as a social deterrent.

    While you say you are not trying to lay “blame” your arguments say otherwise.

  9. Don Hawkins said on August 25th, 2010 at 6:17pm #

    … the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. Huxley

  10. bozh said on August 26th, 2010 at 7:39am #

    I was going to say that people amass things. But this would amount to a partial truth. It would be by far more instructive to note that we had been taught to feel ashamed for not having things.
    Who taught us to feel shame, inferiority for, say, not having land, which peasantry desired so much and from which sustenance was obtained?
    Well, if you do not know the answer or have not even postulated the causative factors for feelings of debasement, then, you’re beyond redemption!

    Lacking this nowledge or avoiding search for this knowledge, 99.99% of all scribes on internet and MSM blame the victims.
    It is like one would say: shit happens! Except it does not! S’mthing happened before and after that.
    Scribes note only what an event IS, but not what went on before or after! But most of them get paid not to say anything! tnx

  11. Don Hawkins said on August 26th, 2010 at 10:17am #

    Bozh glad to see you back.

  12. hayate said on August 26th, 2010 at 11:29am #

    swellington said on August 25th, 2010 at 4:00pm

    “Two things:
    First,
    “With mindless elements of television, movies, and the Internet aiding in the pathosis—yes, zombies do exist.”

    You did mention tv. My error, I forgot about that one sentence and I should have written that you didn’t go into it very much. It wasn’t really intended as a criticism, though, neither was the rest of my comment. It was just my own thoughts on the subject.

    About what you wrote about dehumanised communication in your reply, I’m not so sure that because people communicate more remotely, this is making interaction less of substance. I remember as a kid, being nervous talking on the phone, but that quickly passed. It seemed so alien at first, but the conversions didn’t remain that way and I learned to talk on the phone as I did face to face. We adapt fast to these kinds of changes. I wouldn’t say remote communication has lessened communication depth, I think it has increased it – by allowing more outlets for people to communicate in. The web, for example allows me much more opportunity to converse about serious things now, than I ever had before. Most people talk fluff. When you talk serious subjects, most are not interested. Talk gossip, and they’re all ears. This is nothing new, btw. Fluff has been the dominant subject of conversations from time immemorial.

    I think there should be a distinction between activities that require active participation and those that are passively done. A good old fashioned example would be playing a sport vs watching it on tv or listening to it on the radio. A more recent example is a blog such as this, and watching/listening/reading the news in the media. In the passive examples, no effort is required and there is no human interaction involved at the viewer’s end. In the active examples, people are involved with each other, either face to face, or remotely, and they are working together, or at least actively thing about what they are involved with and what others are doing/saying. That’s a huge difference and these two different sorts of activities should not be lumped together.