Friday, May 31, 2024

On Modern “Love” – a Farce!


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By Deepa Majumdar

“Materialism and the capacity to love are mutually exclusive. For the presence of one implies the absence of the other. We turn to material things when the world fails us and we are starved of healthy and wholesome forms of love.”
Centuries later posterity will perhaps marvel at our frenetic search for love – a search that is also frantic and futile. Why frantic? Because people today are more lonely than ever before. A desire-laden age, modernity carves individuality – a superficial “I” that culminates in the selfie! Plotinus (204/5-270 CE), the philosopher of Lycopolis, would have been aghast at the selfie. According to Porphyry, he seemed ashamed of “being in the body.” Moreover, he “objected so strongly to sitting to a painter or sculptor” that he said:
Why really, is it not enough to have to carry the image in which nature has encased us, without your requesting me to agree to leave behind me a longer-lasting image of the image, as if it was something genuinely worth looking at?”
The sum result of this focus on the “I” is the cell of loneliness modernity traps the individual in. Hardly the abundant and profound solitude of the hermit who focuses on the highest verities, modern man isolates himself in a self-imposed cell of unwholesome seclusion, which is more about property rights than search for the higher self.
Materialism and the capacity to love are mutually exclusive. For the presence of one implies the absence of the other. We turn to material things when the world fails us and we are starved of healthy and wholesome forms of love. Conversely, we lose the ability to love others, when we worship material things and mammon. Needy and isolated, modern man seeks love in frantic ways. In love with soulless material things that cannot love him back, he loses his soul by succumbing to the appetites. Materialism, which represents this most unrequited of all loves, exacerbates his need for love as a measure of self-completion and self-knowledge. It adds to his inner emptiness. His need for love, therefore, cannot help but be frantic.
When selfish and deluded, his search for love is also futile. Two people cannot exist in a vacuum. Bereft of community and family, the modern individual turns to the beloved to satisfy all his emotional needs – which is more than what any one person can give another. Sometimes he looks for a therapist in the beloved. But a relationship of therapy is not friendship. If anything, the culture of therapy has led to parasitic relationships, wherein two people drain each other. Sometimes the relationship consists of intellectual discussions about the relationship! An “it” therefore intrudes – not the higher ideal that would bind the two persons into one, as the late Pope John Paul II suggested, but a third entity, or “it” – namely this discussion about the relationship. The couple therefore becomes he-she-and-it. Selfishness makes our search for love futile. A self-centered person does not have the love necessary even for ordinary attachment. With incapacity for attachment masquerading as detachment, couples today tiptoe around each other, ever fearful of breakups and walkouts. A deathly politeness replaces the banter and easy intimacy of true trust and friendship. Insincerity rules the day because modern hypocrisy is more fantastic than modern technology. Most of our human relationships today are about words rather than deeds. But words can lie. Words can beguile. Without deeds to match them, words are mere husks, with no substance to them. Insincere verbiage cannot satiate the thirst for love. Finally, our inordinate descent into the body has proscribed friendship, because lust and love move in opposite directions, defeating each other.
Modern man’s search for love is futile because he seeks it in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways – in soulless things, in superficial human characteristics, and in and through the body, which can never be the source of love. Moreover, he projects his desires onto the beloved, thus blinding himself through acute subjectivity that adds to the futility of his search for love. When selfish, love is inevitably blind, blinding, attached – even addictive. But when unselfish, love is detached, mature, and full of a spirit of service that teaches us this truism – to love is to sacrifice.
Love comes at myriad levels – from the highest agape, which manifests itself as compassion, to the lowest level, which is love of evil. Love, therefore, draws its moral quality from that of its object. Romantic love is somewhere in-between. Driven by a thirst for self-knowledge, romantic love is really a form of self-love. We need the other as a mirror for our self-knowledge. But when it sublimates infatuation through unselfishness, even romantic love reaches beyond the self. Now sincere and stable, it becomes capable of fulfilling the fundamental purpose of love, which is to know the other – a knowledge easily thwarted by lust and selfishness. To love, therefore, is to know. A faint mimesis of agape, this level of love, therefore, promises both self-knowledge and knowledge of the other. Love is the relational knowledge of the other. Yet, because romantic love can be intoxicating in its infatuation – or state of limerence – and because falling in love comes laden with hidden motives, romantic love is often deluded, subjective, and narcissistic.
The capacity for higher love comes from unselfishness. To love another, one must first glean love through unselfish, ethical actions towards others outside the couple – then bring “home” this love to offer one’s family. Moreover, the monogamous relationship demands great moral discipline. Not long ago, marital love meant self-sacrifice. Couples spent a lifetime serving each other. Mothers and fathers gave their all for the sake of their beloved children. No labor was too much, and no sacrifice too great. In turn, children took care of their parents, prioritizing them above all personal desires and pleasures. Love took the form of a profound and unshakeable sense of duty. Neither institutional, nor contractarian, love was personal – because it was sanctified by duty.
This was the stoic generation I saw – a child-centered generation that did not divulge their problems or shed tears before their children. Rarely, if ever, did they use the word “love.” Instead, they read it in each other’s eyes and proved it through actions. Perhaps they understood (better than we do) that to give love is far greater than to receive it. But perhaps we understand (better that they did) that it is better to be hurt than to hurt another – a sad truism imposed on us through heartaches and mistakes.
Hopefully, in a few generations, we will return to the child-centered ideals of our forebears, but now improved by greater equality.

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