Tuesday, December 27, 2016

All You Need is Love?

"The Beatles said, 'All you need is love,' and then they broke up." -Larry Norman

Love is the answer.  All we need is the air that we breathe and love. 

Love is great, everyone agrees.  The world would be different if we just had more love.  But give it a little thought, and it seems much more complicated than Augustine's statement, "Love and do as you please."

What do we mean by "love"?  Most of the songs speak about romantic love, and we, who are no longer teenagers, know that hormonal infatuation has a limited staying power, not sufficient for a single couple to stay together, let alone a universal norm.  And desire only works for people who are desirable. 

Do we mean a religious intuition, or worship of a higher being?  Experience will tell us that love of a higher being does not often translate to a greater love of people around us.  Some will say that love of a higher being provides a model of loving other humans, but the two loves seem remarkably different.  One is the placement on a pedestal, like a ceremonial king or celebrity, while the other is benefiting on a very different level.

Perhaps benefiting is a better idea of what love is.  A love event is to leave a being better off than before the event.  A simple example would be a hungry person.  Everyone needs to eat, to give a hungry person good food is to leave them better off, thus is an act of love.

But it is one idea to think that this is a model for an individual ethic, another to consider this a universal one.  

First, how do we know what really benefits another?  Think of how often a diagnosis session goes wrong.  A professional who has studied how best to love a person and the person themselves often does not know how best to benefit them.  The professional can mislead the individual who might know what they really need  ("You need this medication and you'll feel better", ignoring the side effects that might kill them).  The individual might ignore the professional's wise advice ("You should quit smoking," is more often ignored than taken heed). Or both the professional and the individual might be ignorant as to how to best benefit them. 

We could limit ourselves to what we know what benefits another, to Maslow's list of absolute needs.  Sleep, food, clothing, warmth, security, respect, human contact, achieving one's potential...  However, we can't all agree on what basic needs are.  The drunk says he needs a beer.  The moralist says he doesn't, and that he'd be better off without a beer.  However, the drunk is probably right.  All things being equal, if a drunk doesn't get a beer, he could have a seizure and die.  He doesn't need a beer once he's under medical attention, but apart from that we can't tell him what he really needs from our own limited experience.  A person of a non-normative gender says they need to be accepted for who they are, but the conservative world doesn't agree.  The non-normative gender person might commit suicide because of her society only gives her disrespect.  Normative needs aren't enough for love, not always.

Is love really enough? Having love as the only norm also implies that individual action is sufficient.  But if every single person worked at understanding the person in front of them, providing a need, then that would not be sufficient to meet everyone's needs. There are pockets of people who collect because of their needs, excluded from society.  For instance, a group of people who are isolated because they have a sexual deviant tag and so can only live in a certain part of a town.  They cannot benefit from a universal norm of love, because there are too many individuals they are separated from.  Love has to be more than an individual impulse, but an impulse in government, employment, the justice system and families.

But can love be a universal norm for all societies? What about those who do not act on an impulse of love?  Right now, love is not a norm and we are taught to live by competition and rejection or else we cannot function in society.  How can we have security unless we also ignore an impulse to love, at least to a limited degree?  Isn't self-defense a rejection of love, but isn't it also necessary?  What kind of safeguards would we have to put on a society that acts exclusively on an impulse of love?

Image result for love fear
What about fear?  Fear is the love-killer, that which forces us to ignore the impulse to love to secure ourselves, our families, our "loved" ones.  Do we have layers, in which we love certain people, but not others? Is it possible or positive to love everyone?  Or should we divide people into those we love and those we do not?  Do we have a moral obligation to love everyone? 

But if we leave anyone out of the moral norm of love, then do we not create enemies?  Even as we do not always know how to benefit another, we do not always know who we should fear and who we shouldn't.  If we exclude someone who does not deserve to be excluded, then we create an enemy that doesn't deserve it and then we are creating hate, not love.  How do we love people whom we have made an enemy?  Should we fear all of people, or only fear people in certain contexts?  Can we create a context in which we block them from our vulnerabilities, but love them in other areas?

What is our human ability to love?  Love is hard work, and we work against our impulses to fear and to rage.  How long can we keep that up?  How do we love when that love exhausts us?  Should we continue to love when love burns us out?  Do we get periods in which we do not love?  Should we prioritize love of ourselves, making sure that we are cared for before we put ourselves out to love others?  If that is the case, how cared for should we be?  If we are waiting to feel fully supported and full of energy, will we ever love?

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