Saturday, January 15, 2011


 That's all I can say at the moment-- just, wow. 

From Casaubon's Book, an excerpt from a post entitled "On Sentiment...And Against Sentimentality":
 Sentiment officially has no place in agriculture, but I've met precious few smaller farmers who don't have a spot of it. Indeed, I've come to suspect that a sentimental attachment to things is in fact a requirement for good small scale farming - and that equally, keeping sentiment in check is a requirement for the transition from "a few pet chickens" to "agriculture."
 Keeping the sentiment in check is obvious - if you chickens are pets, it doesn't matter if they stop laying - you feed them and hope they start up again. If you make your living on your chickens, if they stop laying, your bottom line probably doesn't allow for extended periods of feeding chickens that don't provide any return. The sensible thing is to eat them or sell them and get some chickens that will lay - going bankrupt and seeing the farm turned into developments isn't worth the trade offs, no matter how much you care for any given chicken . . .

Here I would make a distinction between "sentiment" which is simply "emotion" and "sentimentality" - which is cheap emotion, the substitution of a weak thing for something deeper. I don't think sentimentality has any place in agriculture - in fact, I don't think it has much place in life. Sentimentality prevents you from experiencing real sentiment.

Sentimentality in agriculture would be the refusal to put an animal that is suffering and has no future down, because you love it so much or don't feel you can kill something. Sentimentality in agriculture is the dairy-drinking vegetarian who expresses hostitility to someone who dares to butcher a cute little calf - not realizing that that calf will grow up to be a large bull, that there is no retirement home for bulls, and that it is their milk habit that caused that calf to be born. These are sentimental emotions because they are cheap and weak - they don't require knowledge or love for specific animals, or a real understanding of the animals and their needs. Sentimentality is the meat eater who doesn't want to know anything about the animals their meat came from, because it is just too hard to think about - and thus enables factory agriculture because they don't want to know. . .

Sentimentality creates the CAFO farm - the sentimentality that says we are too weak to bear the pain of knowing animals and watching them die. This is what turns our food into styrofoam packages and allows CAFO agriculture, where animals are carefully hidden from our view, and the relationship of our purchases carefully concealed. Sentimentality allows us to care about the extinction of the preferred charismatic megafauna of our choice, ideally something with big eyes, but that we see no connection between our purchases, our acts and the habitat destruction of the animals in question. Sentimentality enables us to care about the child Pakistani-flood victim on nightly tv enough to send some money - but not enough to try and reduce the number of climate-related natural disasters by giving up some of our priveleges. Sentimentality enables the patriotic fervor that allows us to not know how many Iraqi or Afghani civilians die in the interest of our national "greater goods." Sentimentality is the emotion that emerges from the condition of not knowing - and it is what you have left in a society that conceals at every level real knowledge. It too is both cause and effect - it permits great evil, and it facilitates lack of knowledge of the real.
Sentiment - love, anger, attachment, affection - real emotions - these derive from knowledge, and they can't be faked. And when you know things, the choices you make get more complex. The realities you live in get harder and greyer. Sometimes love means you have to kill something. Sometimes one love means that another loved thing get sacrificed. Sometimes you have to go against your feelings. But the only way that never happens is when you substitute sentimentality for real feeling.

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