The Trading Value of Lobster

I just heard a radio news piece about President Obama eating lobster with Congressional Republicans as a way to break the ice in their doomed-from-the-start negotiations. But it wasn’t the hollow gesture itself that irked me. It was, rather, what the reporter said about the gesture, presumably to quell any ebullient class resentment: “And for those of you wondering about the symbolism of members of Congress fine-dining on lobster during the sequester, it should be pointed out that the trading value of lobster is at an all-time low, so those are some pretty cheap lobsters.”

The trading value of lobster. I shouldn’t really need to elaborate on the absurdity of the idea, with absurdity in this case meaning the full spectrum between silliness and unusual cruelty. I have to admit that the mental image of fishermen on some shore or in some sea-side village literally trading lobsters is not downright silly, for obvious reasons, but contrast that image with the idea of a global market, in the extreme abstract, in which lobsters have some value that can be exchanged for numbers on a screen, an abstract of the extreme abstract.

Is a lobster a living being with its own volition or a two-fold abstraction, of which we presumably have an infinite amount? This question of course made me think of Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, in which he asks, among other things: “Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero’s entertainments or Aztec sacrifices?”


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