Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" - FLNWO #35

05/31/201613 Comments

junglesquareYou've probably heard all about Upton Sinclair's 1906 expose of the turn-of-the-century American meatpacking industry and the Chicago stockyards...but everything you've heard about it is wrong. The book wasn't an expose of the meatpackers, the legislation it inspired served to help the industry it sought to punish, and Sinclair himself hated the end result of his book, which aimed for the heart and hit the stomach by accident. Join us for this month's edition of the Film, Literature and the New World Order as we learn not to trust what's on the label of mainline history.

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The Jungle (Free Audiobook)

Upton Sinclair - Spartacus Schoolnet

History Brief: Teddy's Food and Drug Regulation

Horse Meat, Hanford Leak, Obama’s Oscar

Genetic Fallacy: How Monsanto Silences Scientific Dissent

Why Government Regulation is a Lie (and what you can do about it)

Excuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism

Meat Packers Rape You – And You Love It

Meat Packing - Mises Wiki

How the Wholesome Meat Act Gives Us Less Wholesome Meat

Last month’s episode and comments: Three Days of the Condor

Next month: The poetry of F.R. Scott

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Comments (13)

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  1. Corbett says:

    Sorry about the distortion on the intro to this one. I do plan to correct it, but as it’s 1:30 AM here in Japan I think I’ll do that tomorrow.

    EDIT: The intro has now been corrected so if that first 5 seconds was killing your ears you can re-download the file for the corrected version.

  2. p.kokesh says:

    fiction becoming fact? how about “Sophie’s Choice,” or, ” The Diary of Anne Frank”…?

  3. Phillip says:

    Thank you, James, for this particular FLNWO. BTW, I believe that more people actually read the books that you assign than the comments indicate, e.g., The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I just didn’t know what the heck to say about that amazing book that I would otherwise not have read.

    This is a preliminary comment. I plan to read the suggested links and possibly comment further.

    Was The Jungle a propagandistic novel? Certainly. Were the conditions in Packingtown and the processing plants exaggerated? Government reports and Austrian school propagandists say yes. Sinclair himself would have admitted that some things were played up for effect, but were not exaggerated to a large degree. The argument that many consumers of the meat (by)products as described in The Jungle would have died is surely an exaggeration. We also haven’t apparently had massive die-offs from consuming GMO food, but that doesn’t mean it’s not bad for you.

    When Jurgis started paying attention in the socialist meeting, I wasn’t sure at first if he hadn’t stumbled into a religious revival meeting. That was pretty extreme, and also probably not exaggerated. Sinclair would not have won any converts with that heavy handed approach, if indeed he meant for people to be swayed by it. I think he was probably describing socialist gatherings as he experienced them, just as the book describes the living and working conditions he encountered.

    I am not a socialist myself, but I am a career-long trade unionist, just to put my cards on the table. Workers have never gotten an even break. Marx was a tool of the bankers and industrialists. Communism is a transparently fraudulent system, pitting the little people and the slightly more prosperous people against each other, with the elite getting off scot free. Socialism has always had fraudulent leaders like Eugene Debs to foul things up, not to mention infiltrators, as described in The Jungle other Sinclair novels, such as The Flivver King.

    The Capitalists, on the other hand, always get the breaks. They own the factories and the press. A few scandals and exposés here and there are mere chump change to the O(i)ligarchs.

    The Capitalists also get a break from the Austrian School economists and government self-reports, as indicated from the links that James provides. The only reason that labor has made gains over the past century is because they organized themselves in the face of infiltration, and opposition from Capitalists, the press and the petite bourgeoisie in the form of small businessmen and shopkeepers.

    I suspect that the direction taken by James in his comments and suggested links is not leftist, and not anarcho-neutral (not a real word) but more in the “right” direction. This seems to be a trend in the anarchists and voluntarists I have observed.

    I will follow the links and try to prove myself wrong here.

    • Mark K. P. says:

      Hi Phillip, there’s no particular reason a trade unionist should be a Socialist, and a pretty good idea if not — allowing more of a focus on the genuine interests of workers. Namely working and living conditions, and freedom from usury (compound interest on loans). I’d submit that even Capitalists are the workers’ allies, or can be, under the right conditions. Those conditions are no privately owned banks, no usury, small government, government supervision of all credit facilities, including credit and money created by the working class. An example in point : a lazy rich Capitalist inherits ten factories and all his money, sees a big profit gain in doubling his factories. In the present system his loans to expand are usurious and the banker who creates this big money need not have inherited a penny ; he has the right (though its not so much a right as the greatest privilege ever enjoyed by any group in any place at any time) to create the entire loan from nothing and demand repayment with usurious interest calculated in advance. Naturally the Capitalist will try to screw the worker before losing any of his profit or assets. But is the banker really the natural ally of the Capitalist or his foe? The Capitalist might like this money creation privilege too, if he thought it through. So too the unionists and workers. Ideally all should have a piece of it and be forced to rely on one another’s capital, and negotiate its sharing, to expand and get things done. Excepting bankers owing to their demonstrable historical abuse of the privilege. But the chief focus for everyone should always be this privilege and the current distribution of its possession. Everything else is a misleading, and deliberately so.

      • Phillip says:

        Right-o. A workers’ union can simply be a group of workers organizing in order to collectively bargain with an employer or group of employers. There’s no need to have any particular ideology other than trying to obtain the best working conditions and compensation for their members. Naturally, an employer may well try to infiltrate or otherwise corrupt the union and the bargaining process.

        My experience tells me that smaller unions (or at least small bargaining groups who belong to a larger union) tend to get the best results. That makes it easier to spot malevolent attempts by employers or their agents to corrupt the negotiations. Oh, the stories I could tell! Nothing as dramatic as The Jungle, though. 😉

        • Mark K. P. says:

          You’re probably right about the smaller unions being more effective. Big unions are also targeted by the financiers. In Australia we’ve had national union bosses become Prime Minister (Bob Hawke), a very eloquent tongue for high finance ; a lawyer with a Rhodes scholarship and thorough training in England. Once in office he even resorted to the military to break unions and strikes.

          I’d suggest that what really matters is the big picture of who creates the money, and the corrupting influence of the Anglo-Venetian finance model on every institution, including govt and Capitalists. Think of the magnitude and importance of the advances in workers’ conditions in 2nd Reich Germany, where the Anglo-Venetian model didn’t apply, or at any rate didn’t predominate. Like the invention of retirement pensions and govt funded medical care. Not because the German ruling class were inherently progressive (surely the opposite!), but because their more natural and much less corrupt form of capitalism generated spectacular levels of wealth and enormous technological advances. This is why the Great War was organized and fought to the bitter end — to eradicate the alternate and far more successful form of capitalism capable of generating abundance for an entire society.

          In the digital age there’s no need for banks at all. An entity so organized and permanent as a union should be able to provide for most of the financial needs of its membership, and insist upon a piece of the money creation pie. The magnitude of the latter will always depend upon the success and health of the economy as a whole, where technologically driven capitalism is the key.
          But the main point since the victory of Anglo-Venetia in WW1 is that the money creation power bound up with usury rights and vested solely in banks is the fundamentally corrupting influence upon society as a whole, from govt to unions and every size and type of enterprise in between. None of them function effectively because all serve the financiers. Once the influence of the latter is excized the positive possibilities are limitless, as they were before the Great War.

          A more political way of viewing the same issue is that the French Revolution and the rise of modern representative democracy began as a rebellion against royal & aristocratic privileges. Yet if all the feudal and renaissance privileges enjoyed by every prince and organization throughout the globe were piled one on top of another they would still plateau a long way below the Olympus mons of the money creation privilege vested in the modern financial institutions.
          How can the greatest privileges ever enjoyed by any group in any place at any time be consistent with democratic institutions and aspirations ? They can’t. They are a complete corruption of them. Even an inversion.
          This issue of unexampled privilege and the role of representative democracy in protecting and fostering it is the key political topic today. Until and unless it is articulated and becomes the primary focus of unionists and every form of political activism nothing will change.

          • generalbottlewasher says:

            Mark K.P., bravo, excellent thought! This needs reading twice and understood forever. Even as old a post as it is its timeless.

  4. asra736 says:

    I think that Phillip is right about how many read the books or watch the films you assign. I can confirm this because despite not commenting I read the books and watch the movies, but I don’t comment either because I sometimes do those things after the FLNW episode is published (sometimes things come up so i am forced to postpone in some cases) or I don’t feel I could contribute that well.

    I really appreciate your work James, please keep up doing this series.

  5. cat says:

    Other examples of films that led to direct results:
    * China Syndrome – gave the public a contextfor not believing official reports coming out after Three Mile Island (e.g., “meltdown”)
    * Silkwood – gave the public a context for seeing skullduggery behind the death of Karen Silkwood and the role of Kerr-McGee
    * Erin Brockovitch – gave the public a context for not believing big utilities companies
    * The Insider – Helped exposed Big Tabacco
    * It’s a Wonderful Life – exposes banker perfidy

  6. Steebs says:

    I can think of one film that led to a direct result. Top Gun. Top Gun led to an increase in military recruitment.


  7. VoltaicDude says:

    Sinclair’s bit about competing trusts is truly great, and defines the rest of the novel. His utopian (unwittingly totalitarian) socialist drivel is a bit of naiveté stemming from his contemporary misunderstandings about the democratizing effects of technology (Guttenberg, industrial textiles, etc.).

    One should sort-out the various mixed-up issues here:
    – Business principles
    – Food aesthetics
    – Food safety
    – Political realities

    Business principles revolve around honest, full-disclosure. “Beef” should be beef. Should that exclude miscellaneous beef parts? It should definitely exclude horse meat.

    That doesn’t mean horse meat is “bad” – a matter of opinion. Steak tartar is especially delicious when made of fresh (“sushi-grade”) horse meat – generally leaner than beef (so it gets tough when cooked), and to some it’s healthier for that same reason.

    Food aesthetics dictate traditions – what can be eaten? Horse meat? Guinea-pig? Roasted grubs? Grubs are a popular fast food in some parts. Grubs are arguably the most sustainable, all-around healthiest, and the future of protein sources! But again, canned “potted beef” should be beef, not 20% grubs – but not because grubs are gross or unhealthy.

    Safety issues have been greatly impacted by technology. One of the logistical strengths of Napoleon’s armies was the period’s revolutionary invention of “canning” as applied to military provisioning.

    The commercial canning process, like cooking in general, doesn’t just preserve meats; it can actually transform unsafe or unpalatable meat into a “food-stuff” safe for consumption. Is Sinclair’s version of the canning firm (not a “dressing” slaughterhouse) more accurate than he’s being given credit for, and are the contrary claims by the day’s regulating agency credible?

    What about GMO foods? I want to avoid them, in fact see them banned – a pretty extreme standard! (Would legislation actually ensure a ban in the marketplace? That’s another question.)

    Corruption is the issue, and it seems there is no magic solution – no system is incorruptible. Seems it’s always a constant struggle.

    Analogously, is it better that torture should be unregulated? As an illegal activity it can occur surreptitiously, but at least it also can be ferreted out. If it is actually legal – ?

    An entrepreneurial Parisian whose firm includes two employees is taxed at about 60%! French social services are meaningfully well-delivered to the average citizen, but still 60% seems onerous, and especially when large corporations evade taxes same as in the U.S. Barring the elimination of taxation altogether, the above example is exactly the opposite of how it should be.

    Corporations are by their natures “socialistic,” so socialistic regulatory standards should be applied to them. Individuals need to be freed from such burdens. But can that relationship, free-individuals/representative-government/well-regulated-corporations, be sustained, or will it always be corrupted? (OK, “representative government,” don’t laugh too much.)

    The Corporation – Full Movie

    Working Undercover in a Slaughterhouse: an interview with Timothy Pachirat

    The unspoken mental disorder effecting slaughter house workers

    FDA sued over approval of genetically engineered ‘frankenfish’

  8. beadbud5000 says:

    It is amazing how quickly this idea was corrupted though in the big picture it was a good thing through the 1960s except the cereal, tobacco, etc. Ugh!

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