Saturday, December 12, 2015

Love Isn't Everything

A friend of mine writes erotica (or, as I prefer to say, "high-quality smut") and is currently working on a novel about a woman who joins a sex-positive new religion. As Rikki is not that familiar about such matters as ecclesiology and theology, I'm serving as her consultant on such matters. I drafted an outline for the "Free Spirit Connection," listing four "core values" for the group: love, truth, peace, bliss.

"Why four?" she asked. "Why not just say it's all about love, like the John Lennon song?" It’s likely that Rikki was asking rhetorically, fishing for ideas to incorporate in her work, but the answer is important in itself.

Very simply, love may be a universal value, and the emotional starting point to an ethical life … but it's not enough. Love devoid of other values is empty sentimentalism.

When Rikki heard this, she then continued to question (as an advocatus diaboli, perhaps?) why the other values I listed were not merely extensions of love itself. And my two-fold answer: I've not only seen people who loved without embracing these other values, but I've seen people embrace the others even when love was not present.

I've known people who sincerely loved, yet who were dishonest with themselves and others, even deliberately misleading people and ignoring facts. And I've also known people who were scrupulously honest, committed to accuracy and clarity, regardless of whether they had affection or compassion for those with whom they interacted.

I've observed people who, as much as they loved, still found themselves drowning in conflict, unable to resolve it, either because they ignored the reality of the conflict, or because they persisted in trying to intimidate and coerce others into subordination. And I've also noticed people who are exemplars at conflict resolution, as well as preventing unnecessary conflict, even with those whom they disliked.

I've been aware of people who would actually deprive their loved ones of joy and pleasure, or even inflict suffering, ostensibly "for their own good." And I've been equally aware of people dedicated to helping others to be happy, or at least not getting in their way, even for dispassionate utilitarian reasons.

And yes, I would include under the rubric of bliss the pleasures of erotic fulfillment. Too often traditional moralists have demanded that a high standard of romantic love precede any enjoyment of sex, even leading to a confusion of the two. We stigmatize sex workers for entering into provisional covenants with paying clients, no matter how honest or consensual or delightful they may be, simply because they involve sex without love, yet we don't demand love from the barista down the street or the online merchant who takes our order over the phone.

We could debate the configuration of these values – whether dedication to truth, peace and bliss proceeds from love, or whether each is a corner of a "quadrilateral of virtue" – but the fact remains that the mere evocation of love is not enough to create the life and world we desire. If I had to choose, I'd prefer those dispassionately dedicated to truth, peace and happiness, than to those who say they love me and nothing more. It's not just simple arithmetic that three-fourths is better than one-fourths. It is that living decently makes a better world than professing sentiment.

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