October 29, 2012, 9:47 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , ,

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the conditions of love

In his book Love: A History, professor of philosophy Simon May makes a distinction between conditional and unconditional love.  Unconditional love is what we believe in today:  the selfless, giving prescription that is rooted in an arriviste secular theology of love is all.

Conditional love on the other hand – for which May is making a case – is messy, grounded, engaged and emotional; a personal longing and search for a place – embodied in a person – to call home.

Unconditional love – ungrounded and selfless – can cause us to want to be godlike, to have unreasonable expectations, and will erode away our relationships.

Here is May on the difference between conditional and unconditional love:

all love (very much including romantic love) is thoroughly conditional: it is a desire for one whom we experience as indestructibly grounding our life, as a harbinger of ‘home’; so that to see it as the opposite – as entirely unconditional – is to infuse our relationships with false expectations and so to sabotage them from the start.

Love’s tremendous capacity to give and to sacrifice arises not from ‘disinterestedness’ or ‘selflessness’, but precisely from the rapture we feel for those people who inspire in us the hope of such an indestructible grounding for our life. This is the rapture that sets us off on – and sustains – the long search for a secure relationship between our being and theirs.

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Bruno Barbey Fez Street Scene
October 20, 2012, 3:03 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags:

cannot buy red ink
October 20, 2012, 2:55 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

A good illustration of how there is the perception of freedom – a constitution, abundance of goods and services, a shot at life, etc – but not the whole story of our relative freedom.  Not only is the whole story not a part of our daily existence but, more critically, we lack the language to begin to tell it:

Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: “Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: “Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.” This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink.

Slavoj Zizek, The Spirit of Rebellion

Homo homini lupus

Eros and Thanatos are the instincts for life and destruction respectively.  Here are two passages from Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, in which he describes our viciousness to each other and the struggle between the instinct for life and the instinct for death.

But surely we love each other!  Not according to Freud, who sees people as fundamentally aggressive who will use others for gain monetarily, materially, sexually, and will even humiliate and even kill to get what they want.

Our natural aggression comes from what Freud calls the death drive, which is one half of the fundamental forces at play  – the counterbalancing force is the life instinct Eros – in the evolution of civilization:

“The element of truth behind all this, which people are so ready to disavow, is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness.  As a result their neighbor is for them … someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him.  Homo homini lupus.”

― Sigmund FreudCivilization and Its Discontents

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escaping to some wild west

Everyone has an opinion about freedom these days, it seems.  Those who screech loudest about it are compensating for something, we begin to wonder.

Here is a view of freedom by the novelist D. H. Lawrence.  He sees true freedom in a movement inward:  religious belief and community.  He doesn’t see it in outward displays from the class that claims freedom loudest: the frontierman, lone wolf, claim staker.

Freedom for him, comes by obedience and not by escape:

“Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom.”

D.H. LawrenceStudies in Classic American Literature


Are we coming out of a postmodern age into a new social and cultural paradigm?  Here’s a chart that shows the last shift – from modernism to postmodernism – and predicts what the new emerging paradigm may look like.



  Modern Deconstructionist Postmodern Ecological
Meta-narrative Salvation and progress None (They’re all power plays) The cosmological unfolding
Truth mode Objectivism Extreme relativism Experientialism
World A collection of objects An aggregate of fragments A community of subjects
Reality Fixed order Social construction Fragmented
Sense of self Socially engineered Fragmented Processual
Primary truth The universal The particular The particular-in-context
Grounding Mechanistic universe None (total groundlessness) Cosmological
Nature Nature as opponent Nature as wronged object Nature as subject
Body Control over the body ‘Erasure of the body’
(It’s all social construction)
Trust in the body
Science Reductionist It’s only a narrative! Complexity
Economics Corporate Post-capitalist Community-based
Political focus Nation-state The local A Community of communities of communities
Sense of the divine God the Father ‘Gesturing towards the sublime’ Creativity in the cosmos,
ultimate mystery
Key metaphors Mechanics and law Economics (‘libidinal economy’) and signs/coding Ecology

table adapted from The Resurgence of the Real by Charlene Spretnak