Benjamin Leider

Afterthought on “eat the person”


This article responds to Cat Pierro’s piece, eat the person.

Ad for vegetable shortening from Ladies' Home Journal, 1948

Love isn’t about eating, it’s about cooking. You note the remarkable difference between love and other forms of consumption, but you do not explain it. The reason for this difference is that love is not a form of consumption at all but a form of production.

You observe that the effects of consumption are uniform while the effects of love are manifold. Manifold effects are just what we would expect from production—where nothing becomes something, for there is a great variety of something—and uniform effects are just what we would expect from consumption—where something becomes nothing, for there is no variety in nothing. Love’s effects are its products, and these products are not completely distinct from love itself. These products are products of a number of mostly uninteresting factors, chief among which is lovers’ complementary characters (i.e., what an endless number of online compatibility tests claim to disclose). Love is the process of production, involving both products and factors, but identical to neither of them.

I think that your basic mistake is identifying love with one of its most salient phenomenal features, namely, the feeling of “merging” with someone. But this “feeling of love” is really just one of love’s many effects. If it were the essence of love, it would also be love’s sole effect, and then love would indeed be a form of consumption. For love’s effects are not effects of this feeling; they are, like that feeling itself, effects of the complementary characters of lovers. If you could push a button and undergo a sensation of the appropriate phenomenal character towards an arbitrarily chosen person, you would not then be in love with him, since that sensation would not be causally related to him in the right way: you would have the feeling because you pushed a button and not because you were influenced by your acquaintance with him. There is no contradiction in supposing that you might feel the right way towards him without also wishing to talk or eat or work or play or live or sleep with him. In our ordinary experience the feeling of love invariably accompanies these other effects, but in fact there is no direct causal relationship subsisting between them; rather, they are all joint effects of a common cause.

The Hypocrite Reader is free, but we publish some of the most fascinating writing on the internet. Our editors are volunteers and, until recently, so were our writers. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, we decided we needed to find a way to pay contributors for their work.

Help us pay writers (and our server bills) so we can keep this stuff coming. At that link, you can become a recurring backer on Patreon, where we offer thrilling rewards to our supporters. If you can't swing a monthly donation, you can also make a 1-time donation through our Ko-fi; even a few dollars helps!

The Hypocrite Reader operates without any kind of institutional support, and for the foreseeable future we plan to keep it that way. Your contributions are the only way we are able to keep doing what we do!

And if you'd like to read more of our useful, unexpected content, you can join our mailing list so that you'll hear from us when we publish.