Cruel When Not Kind

The staff at the Copenhagen Zoo recently killed a giraffe who was deemed surplus to requirements, and they literally fed him to the lions. Much of the public response to their admittedly maladroit actions was angry and threatening, perhaps not surprising given that cruelty is often based on the kind of sentimentality on display here:

It is difficult to believe that, had the zoo acted thus with, say, a warthog, or a hyena, it would have aroused anything like the same response. A giraffe engages human sympathy because it has an attractively plaintive face and, above all, big brown eyes and long eyelashes.

Read the piece at City Journal

2 thoughts on “Cruel When Not Kind

  1. Benjamin Rossen

    Dalrymple concludes his piece with the claim that “Sentimentality toward some is often accompanied by brutal and unfeeling rage toward others. The sentimental are often cruel, and the cruel sentimental—a point worth bearing in mind. ” But is this true?

    Dalrymple describes a few examples, but these do not prove a necessary connection. And despite the fact that many examples can be found – Himmler would weep at the sentimentality of Mozart Operas, for example – no number of examples can prove that the connection follows in logical manner. Induction of this empirical kind cannot become deduction.

    Nevertheless, there may be a connection. The foolish disconnect from reality that permits sentimentality to dominate ones thinking may also unlock uncritical reactions of brutal rage toward others? That has not been demonstrated. We cannot conclude that the emotional nature of sentimental thinking leads to brutal rage. On the contrary, it could be argued that cold calculation can lead to systematic brutality, of which history gives many examples.

    On the other hand, Dalrymple has merely claimed that sentimentality and cruelty are often paired… just by chance, perhaps. Is that what he is saying? In that case, a better conclusion would have been: sentimentality does not exclude brutal and unfeeling rage.

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  2. Rob Martin

    Hi Ben

    I think you are setting the bar of ‘proof’ too high here. Perhaps only in Maths do we get the kind of irrefutable proof you are after. I think that when a writer suspects there is a link between sentimentality and cruelty and can list a couple of instances that seem to point towards a larger trend, that is good enough for an opinion piece in a magazine about social issues.

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