Faith in the Human Touch – Julian Baggini
[In a very roundabout way, this cuts to an important problem with “the critique” as commonly practiced in which students and instructors are asked in some way to talk about the work as if they were conducting a blind taste test. Forget that you know the person that made this painting, forget that you had dinner with them last night, cut all affective ties and speak solely of the work. Galleries perform a similar severing function, much like supermarket displays, turning the entire process of aesthetic experience into a branding exercise, with a carefully constructed history devoid of anything truly human.]
Surely we appreciate the handmade in part because it is handmade. An object or a meal has different meaning and significance if we know it to be the product of a human being working skilfully with tools rather than a machine stamping out another clone. Even if in some ways a mass-produced object is superior in its physical properties, we have good reasons for preferring a less perfect, handcrafted one.
…We live in a world of humans, other animals and things, and the quality of life depends on the qualities of the relationships between them. Mass production, like factory farming, weakens, if not destroys, these relationships. This creates a kind of alienation, where we feel no genuine, human contact with those who supply us with what we need.
We are not simply hedonic machines who thrive if supplied with things that tick certain boxes for sensory pleasure, aesthetic merit, and so on. We are knowing as well as sensing creatures, and knowing where things come from, and how their makers are treated, does and should affect how we feel about them. Chocolate made from cocoa beans grown by people in near slave conditions should taste more bitter than a fairly traded bar, even if it does not in a blind tasting. Blindness, far from making tests fair, actually robs us of knowledge of what is most important, while perpetuating the illusion that all that really matters is how it feels or seems at the moment of consumption.
This might seem a simple, even platitudinous point. But it has profound political implications. For if it is true, then the whole way in which efficiency is usually measured is fundamentally flawed. Take agriculture. Proponents of organics and other non-intensive, less petrochemically dependent forms of farming are often drawn into the game of defending their approach only by measurable, objective results. So the battle becomes a statistical debate over yield, water usage, carbon footprint, soil erosion, and so forth. The trouble is that the kind of human-scale farming that people like does not always win when judged by these metrics.
…it is legitimate to prefer forms of trade and artisan production that maintain links between individuals, communities, land, and animals.
…because what matters is not just the result, but the process by which you get there. Humans are imperfect, and so a world of perfection that denies the human element can never be truly perfect after all.