In this post, I want to talk a little bit more in detail about “love”. As I said, I basically did not give any definitions of the concepts I discussed on purpose. But here, I like to explain why. The most difficult problem with definition of any concept is, the more important the concept is, the more difficult to give a very clear definition, because at least in most cases, concepts are defined with not very clear boundaries. “Love” is this kind of concept. In fact, “love” is probably the most complicated concept in the world. We can different kinds of definitions, and probably no one definition could accurately represent everything about “love”. But the good thing is, we generally know what “love” is. So, I mostly talk about “love” when I try to make points about certain aspect of it, without giving a clear definition.
I want to say that I emphasize “love” because it is the most reliable things in the world to establish true connections and positive attitudes between people. Yes, what I mean is, altruism is quite unreliable to be used to establish fundamental structures in the world. In order to be an essential force, it must be something necessary, i.e., there is no other way around. I believe “love” is such a thing, if people act according to the principle of Love and Reason.
I want to point out this particular line of thoughts started with talking about the most essential thing about “love”, which is the ability to identify with each other. The purpose of this is to understand each other. I like to mention the only violent incident in “Emma” is caused by the Gypsies, who were deemed to be eternal outsiders. In essence, the main cause of violence is misunderstanding, and misunderstanding is the main cause of all conflicts, including problems with gender, race, and class tensions.
But the function of “love” goes beyond this point. I think in the end, “love” probably is the most effective driving force of everything, or in other words, the incentive mechanism of the “moral system”. As I have said in my prior posts, “Happiness” as incentive mechanism is quite problematic. But why would “love” be better?
Here, I want to mention another Jeremy Northam movie “An Ideal Husband” (based on Oscar Wilde’s play). I think the point of this story is, “love”, or the expectations of the “loved one” is the incentive for each other to be a better person, and it is the incentive that makes the most sense.
I don’t know if I can fully explain what I meant very clearly here. I will certainly come back to this point later to explain further. First of all, everyone has a very personal interest to find a person who acts according to the basic principles of Love and Reason, and full of “virtues”, because one would likely benefit from it, and would most likely suffer if there are problems with this person. And, because of this, people could be very diligent in finding the person who truly is this kind of person. So, the demand for this type of person could cause social incentive for people to want to be this kind of person.
I want to emphasize it is “love” between two people that could make people better persons, and go beyond the limitations of animal instincts, to really be “civilized” people. But we cannot expect anybody to have the same kind of “love” for everyone, because “love” is in essence very targeted and selfish. One would only want to and should “love” one person at one particular time, because human has only one brain (one central decision making mechanism at one particular time), which means one could give very close attention to one person only at each particular time. And since humans are made of memories, giving attentions and especially emotional attachment to different persons not only would not enhance the “love”, it could cause confusing emotions.
This point is illustrated very clearly in “Emma”. I want to point out that the “love stories” in “Emma” is very clear cut, even in the case of “Emma” and Harriet Smith. With Harriet Smith, the time line is very clear. With Emma, she is very clear about whether she is “in love” with Frank Churchill or not. And, there is basically no emotional entanglement at all beyond the clear cut lines. As we can see, this makes life easy. But in reality, it is often not as simple.
I don’t know about other people (and in literature, this effect is not mentioned clearly as well), but I often noticed some strange things. In the past, I noticed that my emotional attachment to certain person often goes well beyond the point that I am very clear I am not “in love” with him. In other words, from rational point of view, there is no “love” existing. But emotions could still linger around, although they could lead to nowhere. I think this is at least somewhat related to societies’ attitude towards religions. There is basically no rational bases for them, but somehow they are still around and causing many problems in the world.
The question of whether one is “in love” or not could be very complicated. We basically just accepted that Emma is not “in love” with Frank Churchill. But why? Jane Austen did not quite give us an explanation. But can we rationally explain it? Probably not. Perhaps the question about “love” can only be asked directly to feelings, not explained by reasons. But reason can be used to exam feeling to determine whether one is “in love” or not.
If it is not already very complicated, it gets even worse. I am talking about the question of how much one is “in love”. I think many people are very interested in the question, and it is probably the most difficult question to answer. As I think about it, the answer to this question probably has a lot to do with making choices. Probably different people have different thoughts and approaches to this question. I will give my answer now, but I think it is probably not the only answer I could give about this question. I think we probably should not focus on how much one is “in love”, because the kinds of “love” one experienced could be quite different, so it probably does not make too much sense to quantify “love”.
I think the emphasis and anxiety about this question is probably misplaced. Much of discussions about the subject is about who is the right “one”, myself included. I think this question is very much related to the desire to find “forever lasting love”, which often becomes a myth, unattainable in people’s mind. I think I should dissect this problem. In one scenario, one can feel very strong “love” (emotions) with someone that is “incompatible” in some ways. In another scenario, there could be “love” not as strong (am still simplify the problem by quantifying “love”) with someone who is quite “compatible”. Of course the best case scenario would be to have strong “love” with someone who is very “compatible”.
But does it guarantees the “love” that could last “forever”? In other words, how could we know if the “love” we feel is the strongest, and the “one” is most compatible? At least in practical sense, there is no answer to this question. But I think it is not important to have an answer to this question.
I think the question we should ask is how important is for “love” to last “forever”? I think generally speaking, if there is a strong “love” between two people who are very “compatible”, because of the lingering emotional attachment, the incentive for anyone to find another “love” is very low. In other words, one would not very likely to “trade in” a very strong “love” with a very “compatible” person for a little stronger “love” or a little more “compatible” person. I think changes would most likely occur if the “love” paled or people grow apart, and I do think it is possible. But I like to emphasis if people act based on the principles of Love and Reason, it is not the end of world.
I think the question we should ask is, does it matter what kind of “love” that lasts “forever”? In fact, there are many factors that could determining whether “love” could last “forever” that might not have much to do with the quality of “love”. I cannot deny that there are many “real world” benefits for “love” to last “forever”. And, even from pure emotional point of view, a love that lasts forever is the most preferable. But my point is, one should not focus too much on stability and certainty. In fact, I think the desire for certainty is the fundamental cause of many problems in the world. In fact, at least most of the epistemology problems can be traced back to the desire for certainty.
If you think my goal is to turn everything upside down, you are wrong. I am simply following my thoughts, finding out where there could be problems. As you can see, many “conventional wisdom” are very questionable.
For example, the reason I emphasize that we cannot take “forever love” as the “ultimate goal” is because then it could contradicts what I said that “love” is about judgment and choice.
Let me explain it further. There are at least two types of problems could be caused by taking “forever love” as the “ultimate goal”. One would be to make “safe choices”, meaning people making their choices solely based on who would be more likely to “stick around” and not go “off the trail”. Needless to say this is a very defensive type of approach about “love”. And one can imagine passion would be left off the equation. If as I have said, passion is the driving force for changing the world, we are not left with much hope, because if people cannot even be passionate about “love”, how can we expect they would be passionate about anything else?
Another problem would be people could tend to be either focusing on making the other happy or focusing on being happy with the “one”, meaning one could be either too demanding or too accommodating. What I am trying to say is, if people are focusing too much on making sure that “love” would last “forever”, then the result might often be “taking each other for granted”. As I have said, if we admit that the current “moral system” does not have a real enforcement mechanism, and if we think “love” could be the foundation for establishing the new “moral system”, then people “in love” or people want to be “in love” would be the new enforcement mechanism for each other. The reward could be the ever lasting great love.
The complication with this system is, people who enforce these values could also be the “losers” themselves if the other failed. Often people are not strictly equally situated, that there could be advantages in maintaining the relationship, other than emotional attachment. In fact, I think in general there always seems to be advantages for women to stay in a relationship than not. So, in reality, using “love” as enforcement mechanism to establish a new “moral system” is not easy.
But do we have any other choices? I don’t think. So, it seems to me we should not abandon this mechanism but instead should change the social conditions for women instead.
Well, I did not talk about the “rule of governing” in the post. I will do so in my next post.
November 5, 2016