Against Love

My friend, Rodrigo Neely, has elucidated on his concept of love. The thing about Rodrigo is this: he is not only brilliant in his thinking but is unashamedly a better writer than yours truly. That should sound highly insulting to one whose prime source of life is English, in practice and focus and exposition, and has no secondary language to fall back on. Rodrigo, not only speaks English as another language, but writes it better than I could hope to.

I recall a post of his from The Edger (when it was still active – now it’s being renovated) which to this day sends shivers down my spine. We have supported each other during various outbreaks of emotional responses from colleagues, defending each other where appropriate. Oh and yes – he is also good-looking but beside the point here, ladies (and um gents).

Being a psychologist – well at least having a small degree in it – I was delighted that he had delved into evolutionary psychology. Of course it has had a somewhat sordid history of predicting everything from drinking milkshakes to why suicide bombers are most likely to be Muslim that somewhat taints this exciting field of inquiry. Rodrigo knows all this, saying as a disclaimer to a talk he delivered and citing the late Stephen Jay Gould: “we [must not] over step the predictive power of evolutionary psychology.” So my echoes of inquiry find a ripple in his trajectory of knowledge and thus our horizons have become eclipsed by the same value and honesty in our dawning enterprises.

However, the one area we seem to differ – by the end I hope to show we do not – is our view of love. Not only am I against marrying for love, I am against relationships based solely on love. I find pure love – or what it commonly known as romance – to be an insult to our sensibilities. Thus far, I hope most people can agree with me. There are as many definitions of love as there are positions in the Kama Sutra (so I have heard), but let me outline Rodrigo’s view of it.

His latest post is his synthesising of a naturalistic explanation with the poetical fomenting of an archetype. I much agree with his definition:

I have come up with a basic definition of love. This definition is up for grabs, I am still working on it. My main inspiration is personal experience.

I believe love is the hyperactivity of the nucleus accumbens deep in the limbic system of your brain. This is the same part of the brain employed by heroin, and other delightful addictions.

What I propose this feels like is a great joy and fascination with the other person.

The immediate critique this meets is that I am not describing love but infatuation.

I believe, as a die hard naturalist, this is a false dichotomy.

What people call infatuation is love unsustained.

Steven Pinker, in How the Mind Works, says that we should find someone to be with who is genuinely interested in us emotionally. Why? This is perhaps the most genuine form of affirmation, since there is no way to force one to fall in love with another. The fact that it is based on a very strong emotion indicates that this person really does like you for you. We should avoid people who love us for specific things – similarly, we should not say we are “in love” when we only like someone because she is, say, blonde and gorgeous. That would, according to Rodrigo’s definition be infatuation. As the great H.L. Mencken said:

[A man] succumbs to a pair of well-managed eyes, a graceful twist of the body, a synthetic complexion or a skillful display of legs without giving the slightest thought to the fact that a whole woman is there, and that within the cranial cavity of a woman lies a brain, and that the idiosyncrasies of that brain are of vastly more importance than all imaginable physical stigmata combined.

As previously stated, this is the opposite end of the spectrum. Somewhere in the middle lies the kind of love worth wanting: not premised on loving for specific characteristics but the skeletal framework itself which blooms these flowers of wonder we love to pluck and smell. At the other end of the spectrum – which might be considered a spectrum of rationality with all its iridescence throbbing like a pumped up rainbow – lies one that is too rational.

This is where I find myself.

Yates famously said that: “People who are sensible about love are incapable of it.” But what he means by sensible is not the colloquial use of correct judgment. What he means are those who are careful, tentative and judge according to the basis in reason. As previously said, the reason this is not the correct methodology for judging a partner is it removes the authenticity that arises from judging their emotional connection. It is this which is hard to fake and, if true, shows they love us for being us – not aspects which they can tick off that says “This will make a good partner”.

Please note, however, that many people can easily “fake it” and we will all usually come across this at some point in our lives. The greatest pain is realising that what we thought was love from the other person was not, yet our knot tying the bridge to him or her was. Watching it fray is a terrible thing but is bound to happen to us.

So the two ends of rational perspectives remain: either we are infatuated (we are enamoured by specific traits of the person, thus we have a crush or infatuation) or we are robotic (this person fulfills these requirements, therefore she is fine to mate and be with as a partner). Both are wrong. Suspended between both is the desirable position. This does not repudiate loving small things about your partner: I, for example, am fascinated by my partner’s eyes. I find eyes incredible but find hers to be bewitching in their power. And we can be glad they compliment aspects of ourselves: I am not a very attractive individual, whilst she is and has better social skills than myself. Perhaps they embody aspects we hope to attain: friendliness, charm, and so on. By being with them, it makes us more rounded individuals to learn how they are charming (at least according to our own standards). Since we know their movements and body better than most other’s, we can learn faster from them. (No doubt, all those with an evolutionary-ready mind are already picking up on the advantages of such a relationship).

Why then do I disagree with Rodrigo?

It is mainly along these lines, in which Rodrigo writes:

But even relationships between those who are responsible and kind sadly collapse. They fall as the two people cannot find the long lost yearning they once felt for each other. They search their dendritic forest inside their head and can find nothing that lights the torch.

The … torch is the state of being in love with the other person.

It assembles all the wonderful ecstasy you have known with this person who you have at one time enjoyed so much that they aroused all of your greatest instincts from antiquity. Your very genes sang their name inside your body.

To make love last with a precious being who beckons you, you must understand that the fuel for great intimacy in joy is … stored within your memories.

Here Rodrigo appears to be saying we must focus on the memory of various things, our own past, their past, to rekindle the flame long lost.  By remembering – and perhaps he means reiterating the emotions which lead to be enamoured – we light the emotions so that they burn us enough to ignite the shadows which underpin the relationship. This makes sense, but my disagreement lies in what I think should be the goal: To allow the relationship to evolve so that it no longer needs the spurring of first emotions. The relationship must fuse into the lives of the two people, such that it is no longer a matter of working out how to feel that way again but that the feelings have being diluted to work with the stream of everyday reality. Indeed, it seems that if we have to rekindle the love from the past – itself a ghost, tied to the future by a stake through the heart – it seems suspicious of the authenticity Rodrigo, myself and Pinker are advocating.

Also, I am suspicious of love for romantic reasons since it leads to deluded notions of sanctity, in marriage and the conception of children. I think both marriage and the creation of more people are mistaken enterprises and very poor reasons for wanting a long-lasting relationship. With the guiding hand of our partner, we should be learning how to help our fellow humans better, not how to create more (for the latest in the anti-natalist position, see Professor Benatar’s brilliant and mostly misunderstood Better Never to Have Been); we should be learning how to spread the wonder we have for the person we love, onto the universe and our species as a whole.

Now, don’t even get me started on romantic “literature” and movies… Can someone honestly be true to themselves and enjoy those insults to human sensibilities?


Answers in Genesis – the depravity of faithful thinking

“If you don’t matter to god,” says this advertisement for Answers in Genesis, “you don’t matter to anyone.”

Let us break down this non-sequituur. It states the following:

1. God determines whether your life has meaning

2. You must matter to god so you matter at all

C: Matter to god, or else you won’t matter at all.

I’ve chosen “at all” instead of to anyone for the present. But the underlying connotation of the video itself is one of a gun to the head, god being the bullet and meaning is the barrel. The entire project is riddled with cracks from a shaky foundation: a child with a gun? Pointing it at the camera? Shooting? And this is meant to confirm that life only has meaning with the god of the Bible.

It is an extension of the dangerous mindsets it allows to slowly boil over into the realms of madness. One need only think of cases like Paul Hill, who killed John Britton; or mullahs who beat women in Islamic countries. This disgusting affront to human sensibilities really rubs itself in the blood of the past to draw a crimson case for the present.

It is a threat, pure and simple. If you don’t matter to god, your life becomes meaningless. It means anyone, like this child in their advert with the “wife-beater”, can kill you – and no one should take a stand. Why? Because, well, you don’t matter to god, you evil amoral atheist. Adverts like this can only advocate discord in the echoing minds of the faithful. It can add and increase and reach a crescendo of violent actualisation, where someone takes this as a culpable inference to duty. It states that this person does not matter to my god, therefore, I can do what I want to him. Why? Well god obviously does not care about him – so why should I?

How can anyone watch this and not see this is almost reminiscent of racist propaganda? We don’t need this arbitrary god to be the one deciding what and who matters. How on earth can Christians have access to the mind of an ineffable deity?

We don’t need this tripe to decide for us, we need open mindedness, open dialogue, compassion and respect for each other. I don’t care about your views on god and you shouldn’t care about mine – that should not stop us from being able to engage as human brethren on the basis of our DNA, our fingers, our navels. When can we start laughing at the stupidity of our past, in a mutual clutching of glee, instead of clutching the myths and scavenging in the shadows of falling idols as most people do.

Answers in Genesis is no more disgusting than its advert, so perhaps for coherence’s sake the advert actually works. Gazing through this attempt at nonsense – because even nonsense will at least have the decency to not attempt to be science – one finds such nutshells of intelligence with: “evolution is actually contrary to the principles of science.” They constantly brandish their weapons of abstract bluntness against the side of evolution, never bothering to say how they plan on explaining what evolution does. See, one can not just poke holes in a theory – an entirely human theory and therefore fallible but one backed by what Richard Dawkins calls “mountains of mutually supporting evidence” – one also must establish ones own way of explaining the mechanisms involved. Thus, the Einsteinian revolution over the Newtonian; how astronomy seceded from philosophy and became its own brand of evidence based science; and so on.

Luckily, there are great websites fighting the attempt at nonsense, such as No Answers in Genesis and Answers in Genesis BUSTED! However, the important point to note about Answers in Genesis is their proliferation of the blood-in-the-mouth violence that can easily be given a spark from such an advertisement, how incredibly threatening and insulting it is, and, finally, how completely illogical the entire endeavour is.

And if I’m wrong, forgive me.

Perhaps It’s Beauty?

I want you to consider your favourite piece of music, song or artist. Let it waltz, drum, fade-in and ameliorate your current mindset. Be it the clash of cymbals, the baritone voice; the rhythmic pulse of drums or traditional percussion like heartbeats of an ancient era; the rising soprano with the quivering glass; the electric hoorah of the last chord in a guitar; or whatever fits the glove of your appreciation. Grab it, hold it, and shake hands. This, dear reader, is your projected beauty. And only one part!

If our bodies are temples, then longing for beauty is the stained-glass window. It is wonderful to appreciate those things we find beautiful: music, literature, art, dance, movies, engineering, sunsets. The list is as endless as a flowing microcosm. For that is exactly it’s point: It grows and shakes and moves.

Answer the question: How many people do you know who hate music?

I have yet to meet one, but I do not doubt there exists such.

Or perhaps: someone who hates literature?

I do not doubt our extent for hate, but it is my trust in what we can love that rises above the negative. And it is focusing on what we love, what we find beautiful, that often unites us. It is easy to raise our swords and words, our fingers are eager to point at a moving target. We are programmed to be ready with torches and baying hounds to lynch-mob a group, a person, an idea. And too often we forget that it is in fact easier to unite for the opposite reason: To replace the pitchforks with handshakes, the finger with the wide eye.

Who does not have an intake of breath at the awe, mystery and wonder of the universe? Who does not rejoice in our ongoing treatment and fighting of diseases: medical, political, or societal? We are quick to anger at the kidnapped child, yet forget the average happy child growing and living. The incredible network we have stepped into, a realised world awaiting our hands to mold it into something even more beautiful. With our brains and our awareness, we have a responsibility – not just to protect this world, but to love it, to cherish it. Loving is not the same as cherishing: We can all love our lives, but how often do we cherish that we are alive, are in a complex beautiful network of interconnected species?

Literature is my passion. I love asking people of their favourite writers. To be sure, my snobbery from my English degree has made me somewhat disdainful of trite, unthinking literature (Dan Brown, Jackie Collins, etc.) But the question remains and the value is retained. My love lies in Russian literature (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol) and Southern Gothic American (Faulkner, Morrison, McCarthy), with snatches of French classics (Sartre, Camus, Stendhal) – but it is ever growing. I am in awe of writing and language and the beauty it creates.

But that is my own stained-glass. It is ever shattered and ever remade. When is yours being remade? When do you look through your windows, into a multicoloured world and think: Where else does my beauty lie?

Op-Ed: Music of the Merging Sphere

From CFI Campus Inquirer, Feb ’09

There has been a merging of spheres within modern thought. Their harmony is conducive toward a continued enlightenment. The first is the Darwinian process of evolution by natural selection, while the second is the secular endeavors rising against the tumult of religious obfuscation, absolutism, and dogmatism. It is important to disengage the harmony to listen to the singular music of each sphere. By so doing, we are able to realize why it is that secularism and evolutionism as so intrinsically entwined.

To begin, it is necessary to give a general answer: “Darwin made it possible,” says Richard Dawkins, “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Though I find the term “atheist” superfluous, the meaning here is clear: those of us who see meaning, beauty and fulfilment of this life within this life, rather than from an external source, have a need to explain the diversity of the natural world. If one is shackled into a religion, the origin of species is easily explained by postulating a great deity. Without a deity, how on Earth (notice this pun) could this apparent design arise?

Arise, Darwin, to claim the mantle of greatness.

Darwin called his idea as overwhelming and shocking as “confessing a murder”. Why? The main reason for its tether to humanism is the removal of the godlike pedestal Man had stood on. It was from his great intellectual height and insight that he looked down upon other animals as “lower”, that he looked upon the earth made for his delight. But, placing Man squarely as part of the natural process-as just another ape-the greatness of existence, the egotistical focus on humanity’s “purpose”, crumbled into dust. Today, people are still revolted at not being “more special”, at being at base a “wild animal”. Darwin put it beautifully when he said, “Man still bears the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”

Given to superstition, sounds, faces, voices, conspiracy-theories, complicated over-analysis, ghosts, demons, humans want their lives to be part of something more: a battle between good and evil, governments focused on manipulating them, and so on. The natural explanations for all these things, including for the diversity and beauty of life, are somehow “less” interesting than “magical reasoning”. Science has demolished ordained knowledge, which crumbled with the edifice of Man’s egotistical “purpose” as part of a god’s “plan”. Hence, the reasoning why evolution by natural selection is often tethered with the hopes and exploits of Reason’s defenders.

The most incredible impact that something external can have on us is through the visual; thus something overwhelmingly (visually) breathtaking would have the greatest impact on us. And the natural world, surrounding us every day, demanding an explanation for its complexity, is just that.

Thus we struggle to say that something so beautiful and essential can be explained-in general, simply, and specifically, quite intricately. But it is part and parcel of the project to demolish the superstitious and supernatural and external sources of wisdom. Nothing is grander than the wonder of the world around us-and explaining it does not remove its beauty. Thus, my co-thinkers and I have a big job on our hands: fighting for natural explanations for all things (ghosts, life, nature), and instilling wonder and appreciation for life’s poetic qualities. This is all very humanist and why it is closely linked to the enterprise. Thus the sphere of evolution by natural explanation harmonizes with the enterprise to remove the supernatural and capture the present as most beautiful.

Works Cited:

– R. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (London: Penguin Books), p. 5
– D. Quammen, The Kiwi’s Egg: Charles Darwin & Natural Selection (London: Phoenix Books)
– C. Darwin. The Indelible Stamp: Four Essential Volumes in One. J.D. Watson (Ed.) (London: Running Press).
– S. Pinker, How the Mind Works (London: Penguin Books)
– Ibid. 211 – 284