Frank Perdue, Aristotelian

Donald Elliott

March 15, 1993|By Donald Elliott

IT IS possible that Frank Perdue doesn't realize it, but an Aristotelian he most assuredly is.

Aristotle says at one point in his "Politics" that ". . . it is undeniably true that [nature] has made all animals for the sake of man," and also that ". . . plants exist for the sake of animals, and brute beasts for the sake of man."

Now Aristotle, as did the Greeks in general, venerated man above all other creatures, and he venerated some men -- those with the "deliberative faculty" -- above others. It would have been exceedingly difficult for Aristotle to consider animals as having any "rights" or to allow many rights to the "natural slave" -- the inferior human being.

Frank Perdue, the "creator" of millions upon millions of chickens, would probably have seemed to Aristotle as having admirably taken over the task of nature and as having, as a matter of fact, elevated to an art the process of producing chickens whose sole purpose in life is to be eaten by humans.

Indeed, the notion of any sort of "reverence" for life, as such, would have been to Aristotle an obvious absurdity, particularly, I should think, in reference to chickens, which are arguably among the dumbest of animals. It must also seem so to Frank Perdue, who tosses chicken carcasses around on his TV commercials as if they were a pair of shoes.

Dispassionately, he culls chickens based on the amount of breast meat, size of drumsticks, yellow color and, in general, on the degree to which they can be eaten. The chicken has become for him a nearly inanimate product of his factories, and he feeds his creations things like marigold petals only because this creates a more meaty and tastier chicken.

It would be difficult if not totally mad to expect Frank to handle his chickens with any sort of delicate appreciation for the fact that they are living creatures. And yet, it might be a bit more in the nature of civilized and sentient human beings to feel a certain uneasiness, if not guilt, that we do the things we do to chickens and that we do these things from the moment of their conception, generation after generation of chickenkind.

There is an enormous difference, of course, between Hitler's reduction of human beings to numbers and Frank Perdue's reduction of chickens to assembly-line production. But there may yet be a kind of parallel, and it is this that makes me just a bit restive about Frank and Aristotle.

Old Aristotle certainly had very little, if any, sense of the sanctity of life. Perhaps it should be a bit comforting that our sense occasionally represents a kind of evolution toward an understanding of the place of all things in the cosmic scheme -- even those things we eat.

Donald Elliott teaches at the Garrison Forest School.

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