by Justin E. H. Smith
December 11, 2006
In his 1954 essay, "The Question concerning Technology," the philosopher and unrepentant Nazi Martin Heidegger wrote: "Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in the gas chambers and death camps."
The former rector of Freiburg has by now been (almost) universally
denounced for his equation of Auschwitz and agribusiness,
notwithstanding a few academic disciples who remain convinced that
their master could do or say no wrong. ...
The term "animal holocaust" has been making the rounds, in reference
to the mass slaughter of animals in factory farming. Is this an
impious mockery, worthy of Heidegger, of an event that was without
parallel in history? Or is it, on the contrary, a true and simple
description of what is happening? Surely we may agree with Norman
Finkelstein that to insist upon the uniqueness of the Holocaust to the
point of outlawing all comparison would be unscientific, and
irresponsible. Nothing human beings do is completely unlike other
things they do. We might then begin by noting that factory farming is
not carnivorism-as-usual in much the same way that the Holocaust was
not war as usual. We might also note that both systems of mass
killing can be traced back to assembly-line techniques initially
developed by Henry Ford and others not for the destruction of living
creatures, but for the production of machines.
To insist on waiting until all human problems are taken care of before we get around to animal suffering is nothing but an evasion. For the sort of society that can accommodate mass slaughter and torture of animals is one so skilled at positioning its blinders that these may just as easily be deployed to block out any inconvenient human suffering as well. In other words, if facing up to the suffering of animals is put off on the grounds that human suffering is more important, then it will be put off forever.
Justin E. H. Smith is a professor of philosophy at Concordia University and a frequent contributor to various publications. A partial archive of his writing may be found at: www.jehsmith.com