To be killed, is to die. To be wronged in love is to die every moment of your life thereafter, again and again, for eternity.
(Wondering what the relevance of this video games reference is? Go down the list and look at Number 9.)
This is a more personal post than most. However, its implications concern the public good, and thus it deserves open treatment.
What motivates us, to do the things we do? No, I don't mean crimes against humanity this time; I mean more generally. We each have our specializations, our skills, our fields of choice, our primary areas of concern. What draws us to that which may to others appear unusual, unexciting or unimportant?
Why, for example, when there are so many problems of our world to choose from, am I writing a Master's thesis on the persecution of sexual minorities? Or object so categorically to the gender norms of this world? Why, in discussing development issues, do I criticize the economic, material-focused paradigms that have dominated its approaches for so many ages and marginalized problems of how humans relate to one another as human beings? Why my emphasis on the normative, the ideational, the abstract?
We all have different answers to the question of what drives us. And on reflection, I find that one of mine is not simply a sense of injustice, or a will to improve humanity – though these are of course significant.
It is pain.
Pain, of a variety too many of us know well. Pain of a form rarely captured in analyses or indicators on the present state of humanity: because it has come to be considered inevitable. Its normalization: and thus, the alienation of those to whom it is anything but.
Something We Are
We humans are defined, literally and as a base for everything else, by two things:
-Our relationship to the Earth, from which we come, and our failure of which has produced our great sustainability crisis;
-And our relationship to each other, as creatures all sharing a genome, a journey, a baseline of form and essence, and the aforementioned planetary home.
And a key concept with regards to both of these but the second especially, is love.
On love, one hears few facts, many opinions, and a great deal of opinions disguised as facts. It has been called amazing, appalling, natural, constructed – frankly, two hundred thousand years of the human journey have not sufficed to give us a clue when it comes to understanding it: and perhaps that is as it should be. Its power springs from fundamental chaos. It is not supposed to be controlled, nor directed, nor disciplined into neat conceptual structures. It breaks all chains.
That is why, of course, I will not pretend that what follows is more than opinion. Opinion is the best any of us can manage on this; because in its current condition in our world, we are not equipped to reach for its facts.
I do not speak of love here as an emotion, or a romantic impulse, or a rational commitment. I consider it all of those and more a consummation of all that makes us human, in balance (or broken imbalance); one of those very few things that is not a construct. I speak of it in the broadest terms, as that thing which connects every human to every human. It is not something we have, something we do or something we feel. It is something we are.
I wonder if it is something this little comrade is too?
So what does it mean that so many of us, in our experiences, have cause to connect it with insufferable agony? What does it mean, that we see it to bring us such pain?
Abandonments; betrayals; manipulations; selfish interests, negative externalities, grief, excruciating rage and the surge of a vengeful drive, a hatred, a will to harm. Who's been there? Who knows it? Have you? The answer may more likely be yes than no.
As all are different, it affects all differently, and leads us to different conclusions. To some it is merely part of life: no doubt the fount of much cynicism towards love as a concept and humanity itself. Others find the fortitude to remain optimistic and try again and again, accepting it as part of the world but striving to triumph over it. Others still find it of little importance at all.
I reject these conclusions. All of them.
I too know these nightmares. A catalogue of practically all the ways that love associates with pain: a barrage, unyielding, recurring, of every means this world has found to shred the hope and crush the dreams of the heart. And though I have not experienced the pain of poverty, the pain of grave illness, or hunger, or thirst, or war, and so on, and thus cannot speak for how they compare, I can say this: that the pain of the failure of love embodies torments, agonies, horrors not surpassable at the pinnacles of all the pain the universe can harbour.
I came to know that pain, and decided that it was wrong.
Not natural. Not possibly natural. Created, by a species which has allowed terrible things to happen: whose structures, whose norms, whose established mentalities, have rendered it not socially accommodating of love.
Love is not harmful, in itself. Society breaks it. Breaks it to the point where its members must bear those unspeakable pains: and a world where that can occur, with such regularity that one can consider it "normal", is a world I must consider broken.
For this concerns not the sharp and rending pain of such episodes alone, but the perpetual pain of alienation: the politics of love. For that is the crux of the matter: "normal" is exactly what we have made it.
Not broken, they say. Love just hurts. It's life. We have to accept it. It's reality. Move on. And who can blame those who feel this way, when that pain has sliced through the tendons of all that they are?
Gender, for one thing. The creation of an artificial tension between male and female, a will to mutual exclusion and misunderstanding, as though these be conflicting species of aliens, rather than humans with more in common than in contrast. The expectation of special behaviours, attitudes, attributes and appearances from both, and the stigmatization of those who do not conform.
And another: the outright mess our species has made of sexuality, which we permit to obsess us while simultaneously terrifying us out of our wits. Thus, nonsensical norms of behaviour, rigid relationship structures and categories, prejudice against sexual minorites – all again concerned with the breaking of those who do not conform, under cover of a massive taboo against frank discussion of sex in the first place.
And other things too. Even some of the most established norms and expectations of human relationships, things so taken for granted that the language itself must struggle to critique them for inability to speak without their loading, I lament as the sorriest constructs. So much that is constructed, indeed, that represses the natural flow of heart and mind in balance; that denies and punishes the diversity of the human; that institutionalizes forces hateful of love.
Who is anyone, to tell people who they can or cannot be with, or to tell them how many, and of what sex, what class, what caste, what ethnicity or sexual preferences? Who is anyone, to separate those who love? Who dares to segregate male and female? Who dares stir conflict between them, imbalance their equal power, or compel them against their will? Who is anyone, to dictate to a person who loves that his or her love is not his or her own: that it is meaningless, or belongs to a god, or belongs to the state, or is "unnatural"?
Of course this cannot explain all the horrors. So many failures of loving relationships result from the triumph of selfishness: a betrayal of our own humanity which our species still cannot account for. But we will be challenged to ever do so, unless we can clear out all the pernicious layers of junk our least worthy interests and ideologies have piled upon the fields of love.
So why do I fight these things? Why am I so critical of human society, above all in its gender calamity, its sex taboo, its prejudices and normative, relational problems?
Because these are such things as derailed my journey in blistering pain to the point where all that I truly wish for, personally, is beyond my pursuit within the boundaries of this world.
Because both the norms of society and the norms of physics stand in the way of my dreams, and I must lash against both for meaning in this world.
Because I seethe at these wrongs we do unto love, and the soul-ripping anguishes visited upon our kindest people all over the world every hour, every minute, which we have deigned and dared too long to call "normal".
And because so long as there is fire in my heart and breath in my hide, I mean to strike against the ruination of love in this world in the hope, however remote it may be, that if this world endures, then at some point, even if long beyond my time, this planet will be a place where no-one must ever endure those hells again.
A world where love is restored and empowered:
-Restored, in that it brings only good to all whom it touches, and is no longer associated with harm;
-Empowered, in that it becomes its own justification, and the highest authority as a fundamental fount of what is ethically good: and thus cannot be legitimately overridden or harmed by any power or any purpose.
Think that sounds idealistic? Consider the alternatives.
If We Don't Fix It
The thing is, pain is not only terrible in itself. Now this does become relevant to crimes against humanity. The heights of pain obscure our reason, make our emotions turbulent, and thus reduce our power to control our own actions. Pain begets anger, hatred, a will to destruction, especially against those perceived to have caused that pain. Here's a consequence, and here's another. Until we learn we cannot build society upon the blood and tears of others, we will not put a stop to our violence problem.
Now here's a line of reflection we can explore, but perhaps should not.
Our world – whether "natural" or "broken" or otherwise. Imagine it going into the future in its current condition. Imagine the most horrific things you've experienced, multiply them as many times as the number of people going through such things now, and envisage that repeating itself from here to infinity: generation after generation, experiencing the agonies rife in our world today. Is it good that our world should proceed like that?
Now compare that with another scenario. An end to humanity.
Future generations, by not existing, would be spared that suffering. The net release of pain into the universe would be vastly lessened.
Yes, it is horrific. No, I have not reached such a conclusion, nor ever do I hope to. It is as much for this reason as any that I hold to the insistence that these sufferings are wrong, come not of a functioning universe, and can – must – be changed.
But there are more than seven billion of us in this world now, and sooner or later, if we continue to have them experience such things and tell them it's "normal" and to just get over it, then that pain is sure to start leading the most nerve-stricken among them in directions like these. Some of them, sooner or later, might just decide it better to consign the world to flames instead of abiding its nightmares to go on indefinitely. And with all the creations we've come up with to slaughter countless masses of people on an impulse, is this really a chance we wish to take?
I cannot envisage just what it will take to do away with this descent. All I can urge for now is this. As an individual: if nothing else, please, break no hearts – or if you absolutely cannot evade it, then proceed with all the kindness and care you can muster, then do your best to help repair those wounds. And if you hold political power, of any degree: do what you can – and this cannot be done through force – to make this a world where the breaking of hearts is the problematic exception, not the anguishing norm.
Perhaps this is still not clear. So if you haven't yet then go to the top of this entry, click the link to the video games analysis, and take a close look at Number 9. See that? It could be us.
We should consider this when deciding on what reality we want to choose. And that is all I wish to say on these matters today.
These themes are explored in a book I am currently writing, which I hope to seek publication for within the next year, and will certainly post about here when that happens. Therein, you can follow the progress of a visitor to our world from very far away, with a quite different conception of love to that of a humanity laid low by the consequences of its mistakes. What might such visitors make of these consequences – and to what might those consequences drive them?
Oh, and if any of you know of (or are connected to) a good publisher, I would be very much interested to speak with you...