February 20, 2010
The past week or so I’ve been writing a lot about love. The first was a sort of philosophical inquiry about love, touching on various topics. Next I tried to make another post about love, dealing with practical issues, but ended up off track and talking about all kinds of other things instead.
Well, today I’m going to try to write up another little entry on love, but this time about what I believe is the highest form of love. This kind of love is found in very few people, mainly because it’s not ingrained in us biologically, and can only be cultivated in the mind. This type of love would bring world peace and joy to most everyone living, but considering it’s hard for humans to develop, the chances of that happening any time soon are slim.
Everyone’s heard of Plato, the famous Greek philosopher. He wrote a great dialog about love in the Symposium. In it we find the Greek sage Socrates talking with his “instructress in the art of love,” Diotima, who tells him that if a youth begins by loving a visibly beautiful form, “he will soon of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another,” and, therefore, “how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every form is one and the same.” He will then “abate his violent love of the one,” and will pass from being “a lover of beautiful forms” to the realization that “the beauty of the mind is more honorable than the beauty of the outward form.” Then he will be led to love “the beauty of laws and institutions . . . and after laws and institutions, he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty.” As Diotima summarizes it, the true order of love “begins with the beauties of earth and mounts upwards . . . from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions we arrive at the notion of absolute beauty.”
That’s my kind of woman. Speaking of beauty, I’d have to say to you Diotima, you are absolutely beautiful! After delivering words like those, I’d probably ask you to marry me! “Let’s study these laws which govern this world, figure out the nature of our social institutions, continually make them better, and build a world of equality, justice, and love, where all are one!” Then we ride into the sunset, off to the science lab and to private libraries to read and study. Then we explore remote sections of the world together examining the life there, studying all aspects of life, using the beautiful forms of this Earth as stepping stones to reach toward the heavens and understand the entire cosmos and our place in it … whew, it’s getting hot in here! I’m in love with a woman who’s been dead for 2300 years.
Any Diotima’s out there? Contact me!
This must be the equivalent of an intellectual’s romance novel.
The love Diotima is talking about starts with the family and your loved ones. You then use that love and apply it toward social institutions. Really what government is supposed to be is a big family unit. It’s extended family. Problem is, biologically we’re only wired to deal with our wife and children. The mind has a hard time keeping up with anything much bigger than a small tribe. We easily get lost in a sea of faces, and can’t emotionally attach ourselves to so many people. That’s what makes large government especially difficult.
The news doesn’t help either. They constantly show us horror stories, and it’s a huge problem. You see, our evolutionary instincts were devised to where if a fellow tribesman is injured, we feel compassion and go to help. The thing is, now our tribe is so massive, someone is having something horrible happen to them every day, and this is displayed on our televisions every night. It gets to where tragedies happen so often and to so many, we stop attaching ourselves to our fellow man, because it’s too painful.
Say within your life there’s twenty people who mean a lot to you. When one of them dies, it’s a big deal. But those deaths and tragedies which this world may inflict upon them don’t happen every day. Hopefully you’ll only have to attend a handful of funerals related to people who were really close to you during your lifetime.
But imagine having to mourn for people every day. You’d never have a happy moment. Your mind can’t handle that. It’s too much. It starts to shut down that emotional faculty of compassion for others.
We become like the doctor who sees people die in the operating room everyday. He’s been working in the emergency room for 30 years. He’s seen so many awful things, his mind has just shut it off. He does what he can, but never emotionally attaches himself to any of the patients.
It’s really difficult to extend the notion of family to millions of people. Really it’s impossible. That’s why we humans went from loving the individual to loving an abstract embodiment of a “good” principle. The notions of “good” and “evil” came along when men formed big societies. They needed to abstract a set of principles which could be applied toward all men equally. Hence came the notion of justice.
The mindset went something like this: We must find a set of “good” principles which we will develop, and we shall call them laws, and these laws must be applied to everyone equally, all men being the same and subject to them. If we follow these principles we shall all live in harmony and prosperity.
This type of love doesn’t have the biological satisifaction as say romantic love does, or even the feelings of compassion and love toward your children, or your parents. It’s certainly not as strong as our sexual bonds. When you’re with a beautiful woman, you don’t have to try to bond. Natural processes just take over. Yet this abstract love of laws, social institutions, and just principles is different.
You can take a young man to the movie theater, and he’ll see Megan Fox appear on the screen and his eyes are glued. You don’t need to nurture those passions. They take over. His sexual reproductive drives find her a suitable mate, and go to work.
The same can’t be said about say, the U.S. Constitution. I think it’s more beautiful than Megan Fox will ever be, and it certainly brings more people happiness, especially when our politicians respect it and follow it. But a young man can’t appreciate it without education and instruction.
Take economics for instance. I think the study of economics is love. Possibly the highest forms of love when it comes to society. Understanding why poverty exists, what can be done to eradicate it, what brings about our common success, and how to effectively work together and manage our scarce resources for the maximum benefit of all.
You may look at that stuff and think, “So, what’s the big deal?” Our economic policies literally dictate whether there’s food on the table. Whether there’s products on the shelves in the stores. Whether there’ll be jobs to work, and income to be made. Whether there’s money to send kids to school.
I mean, most everything related to human happiness is in some way governed by economics and money. You find the love of your life and want to marry and get your own home. How easy that home is to afford is completely dictated by economic policies. All that stuff about banks, interest rates, loanable funds, and all that, literally run your life, even if you don’t understand it all.
Or you and your wife are expecting a child. Is there a good medical system there to help with the birth? What if the child has complications and needs medical attention? What if your loved one gets sick and needs to see the doctor, and will die without proper treatment?
Economic policy dictates if there’s money to treat your loved one. Whether you have money in your pocket to afford it. Whether the state will fund medical care. I mean, this stuff is really core.
It’s beautiful to love your wife and family. But I think it’s also just as beautiful, if not more so, to keep a smooth running system, which protects the public, establishes peace, protects public property, educates all who are willing, and loves all equally under the law. We can’t build our homes without these things. You can’t establish a family without it.
And if we don’t care about politics and the world, future generations won’t be able to live the life we have. It’s an uphill battle, and the natural forces of this world want to pull us back down into savagery and barbarism.
Society on a large scale is incompatible with our instincts and is only held together by education. When education begins to falter, and people no longer understand what keeps the economy running smoothly, or how the complex machine which runs our society and our lives works, in at least some capacity, it all falls apart.
When it comes to romantic love, I don’t claim to know all that much. I’m not the most romantic guy in the world, though one day I hope I’ll be better. I’ve always been so busy and it’s not like I’ve had a lot of time to work at it. But as for the type of love we’ve been talking about, I think I excel. When it comes to practical concerns, getting things done, and making sure everything works out well for everyone else, I’m better than most. I can plan and organize much better than the average person. I like to take charge of a project, start delegating work, and organize. I’m good at being the “brain” behind a complicated project. Making sure everyone has what they need to get the job done.