Sunday, September 24, 2017

Love, Attachment, Alienation

The desire for love is a modern phenomenon.

For most, if not all, human beings prior to the industrial revolution, the bond between a man and a woman began either as an arrangement or as a lustful courtship.  And after two people started living as a unit, children, practicality, social pressures, habit and dependence kept them together.  It could be called attachment, since it was scary to imagine a life without one's partner.

While lust, as well as attachment, have a pragmatic and tangible basis, love does not.  Love is more about one ego seeking validation, assurance, attention and admiration from another.  But since the adult "ego" is a construct, it is always fragile, and always in need of love.  It needs love, needs love desperately, but it is seeking it from a human being what has been taken away by the world.

Love is essentially to affirm to another that "You exist for me, and are precious to me."  What are the forces which make the need for romantic love today more insistent than ever before?  Why is it that though everybody is seeking romantic love, it so rarely lasts?  Is it worth asking, if we, when we desire love, are seeking something unrealistic from another human being?

Why is it that the desire for "fulfillment" is something that afflicts only the modern man?  If someone is chronically unfulfilled, he will seek emotional succor from what seems possible.  With all the billboards, screens and sirens blaring "Love is the answer" to the modern alienated and psychologically starved man, is it any wonder that he seeks in another human being what should have his natural state?

If we agree that the desire for love is the desire for emotional fulfillment,  and if we recognize that this feeling of being unfulfilled is quite recent in human history, then we have to ask: what has changed in the last few centuries that has left people perennially starving, psychologically speaking.

Why does the modern man feel unfulfilled?  Is it that this state of disequilibrium is because the social and economic conditions do not allow for us to satisfy our psychological needs in a normal, healthy way?

As the Unabomber wrote in his "Industrial Society and its Future":
We divide human drives into three groups: (1) those drives that can be satisfied with minimal effort; (2) those that can be satisfied but only at the cost of serious effort; (3) those that cannot be adequately satisfied no matter how much effort one makes. The power process is the process of satisfying the drives of the second group. The more drives there are in the third group, the more there is frustration, anger, eventually defeatism, depression, etc. 
In modern industrial society natural human drives tend to be pushed into the first and third groups, and the second group tends to consist increasingly of artificially created drives.
 It seems that for many people, maybe the majority, these artificial forms of the power process are insufficient. A theme that appears repeatedly in the writings of the social critics of the second half of the 20th century is the sense of purposelessness that afflicts many people in modern society. (This purposelessness is often called by other names such as "anomie" or "middle-class vacuity.") We suggest that the so-called "identity crisis" is actually a search for a sense of purpose, often for commitment to a suitable surrogate activity. It may be that existentialism is in large part a response to the purposelessness of modern life. Very widespread in modern society is the search for "fulfillment." 

Because modern society offers so little in the way of natural way to fulfill us emotionally, we seek another human being to fill that void.

But that is a tall order for any one to fulfill.  One hand is the entire machinery of the world, and on the other we are asking one human being to be its antidote.  Sooner or later, the world wins.  Either love is seen as "not the same as before", or it doesn't offer the same intense reassurance and validation, or the other person refuses to be its slave and work and work for this insatiable master.

And more than ever, adults are seeking from other adults what their overworked, lazy or ignorant parents were not able to provide: emotional nourishment.

Emotional nourishment, for children as well as for adults, was a normal feature of human societies.  Children felt cared for, and safe.  And adults felt autonomous, and fulfilled.  Urban and industrial life has blown away the natural conditions of man, family and community.  Is it any wonder that there is a sense of alienation, depression and emptiness?

As parents feel pressured to emotionally "be there" for their kids, in an era of working mothers, absent neighborhoods and an atmosphere of paranoia, so do adults feel pressured to continuously provide "love" to each other.  The frequent vocalization of "love" is needed precisely like the administration of caffeine or nicotine every few hours.

And leaving aside the modern adult's desire for love and fulfillment in the industrial desert, there are plenty of studies to indicate that an emotionally deprived childhood, for which the parents are only circumstantially responsible (they did not create the conditions in which they were solely, without the help of the community, responsible for a child's emotional needs, and the conditions in which both parents were catering more to the economic system than to their families), leads to a lifelong void of a parent that the adult continues to seek from another adult.  They seek from another adult the unconditional love and selfless attention of their idealized parent.

Separate a beast from its natural habitat, and though it may be kept alive for long, it will not feel energized or motivated.  One may say that there are more and more books and podcasts and whatnot available to administer help to oneself (the "self-help" movement), but isn't it alarming that the need for these is becoming more and more widespread?  Should we celebrate a motivational speaker, or reflect harder on the fact of de-motivation in the audience.

Love, as is understood today, is an unnatural desire, an unrealistic demand, and a fantastical solution to a set of deviant but pervasive social conditions which leave us psychologically empty and unfulfilled, emotionally barren, and existentially invisible.

We seek the kind of persistent fulfillment from a person ('make me feel loved, make me come alive"), a parent or a partner, for which the chronic need did not exist a few centuries ago, and which was to be provided in the natural course of one's life by one's community and working conditions.

I'm not pessimistic about love, but if we understand what we are seeking, we might be less emotionally taxing on our partners.  We might not end up nailing them to the cross for the sins of the world.

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