• Goat Song

    Posted on March 23rd, 2014 mollyo92 No comments

    I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed Brad Kessler’s Goat Song. Kessler does an incredible job of making his story relevant and surprisingly, I couldn’t put it down as I read about the process of raising the goats, to getting them through heat, to the milking process. The part that personally interested me the most was Kessler’s use of socialist and communist theory in his narrative. On page 59, Kessler discusses the theory of political theorist Friedrich Engels:

    “…the domestication of cattle was a pivotal point for human society. Once the wild bull was broken and used to plow fields he could also be used for trade. Some humans inevitably accumulated more cattle wealth than others….led to a growing inequality between those who had and those who hadn’t…”

    I’m less familiar with Engels than I am with Karl Marx, but having read the Marx-Engels Reader almost from cover to cover, I understand that Engels and Marx somewhat coincide, and I can say with confidence that the passage Kessler uses is describing the original commodification of  goods that ultimately led to our current capitalist society. I was so thrilled to see Kessler use this idea, partially due to the fact that I’m somewhat biased in my favoritism for Marx, but also because I really enjoy seeing Marx’s ideals used in such a modern way. Many argue that Marx and Engels are outdated, but Kessler gives us the reminder, with this passage and with his overall message, that our society has too great of a focus on goods, trading, and capital. In this particular passage, I believe Engels isn’t necessarily arguing against the whole idea of domestication, but rather the way that domestication led to the creation of another good; something else that people could own and therefore trade to collect wealth. Kessler’s message seems to be that the bond between humans and domesticated animals, that perhaps never really completely existed everywhere, needs some work.

    Kessler brings up Marx several more times, including his mention of the fetishism of  commodities, which is part of Marx’s theory that basically describes what happens when the labor used to create a product is added into the exchange value of the product, meaning the laborer also becomes an exchangeable good or commodity. I like that Kessler described the strenuous and meaningful process of bonding with his goats and putting the labor into creating cheese from their milk, and then brings up this idea of the fetishism to emphasize how this important process has turned into something meaningless in our society today. Although it wasn’t Marx’s original intent, I believe this idea can be applied to the animals as well. We have stopped (or perhaps never really did) valuing the animals that provide us with food and labor. We have added them into the mix of trading commodities. Kessler avoids changing his farm in order to be able to legally sell his cheese, only because he believes it will take away the meaning of what he’s doing, and I think he’s right. As Kessler so perfectly explains, “Largeness curses everything too; smallness was key” (p. 238). Our booming society, with its focus on mass production and rolling out goods to meet demand, has created a disconnect between our consciousness and how our food is really created, thus leading to a loss of appreciation for what the earth provides for us. I don’t mean to come across as some tree-hugging hippie, but I do think our society could really benefit from having a little deeper understanding of our connection to animals, like Kessler’s goats. As Kessler says, “Animal domestication is often thought of as a symbiotic relationship,” (p. 148) meaning it should be mutually beneficial. Animals have lost their benefits in our society, and our human benefits have lost meaning. Animals are raised in short and brutal lives and used as commodities, and if you ask me, it’s time we humans start living up to our end of the bargain.


    2 responses to “Goat Song” RSS icon

    • I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written, as well as the connections you’ve made to the communism-capitalism debate.

      I do agree that our society would be better off if people had more awareness and connection to the animals we exploit. Our mindlessness about or indifference toward how our food products come to be is a problem. However, I don’t think this awareness has much change to really come about. Documentaries and policy changes certainly help, but ultimately, in my opinion, the trend the U.S. is toward a complete separation from animal life even beyond what is currently going on. For instance, the synthetic meat we spoke about a few weeks ago. And, frankly, if new technologies like this can give us food that is healthy, I’m all for it, because that means we can let go of our exploitative practices and produce our food without harming animals.

    • What a terrific post! It can be difficult for us to appreciate how the shift in human-animal relations that came with domestication informed and was shaped by the emergence of economic relationships and attitudes that remain salient today. I really appreciate how you read contemporary attitudes toward food animals back into the emergence of the commodity and capitalism. And I agree that we need to do a better job of living up to the bargain we’ve made with the domesticates we use as food.

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