Monday, July 03, 2006

On Love and Jealousy

a typical writing sample from Los Angeles

Jealousy is the most misunderstood of the human passions
, wrongly thought to be a perversion of love. Rather, as Hegel observes, whereas animals want and negate things directly like cattle grazing in a field, it is most human to want what others want, especially if only because others want it. More things are done out of jealousy and revenge than out of love. This is because, despite optimistic and well-meaning testimonials to the contrary, love is actually quite scarce. I know, I know, it is taken as a piece of elemental wisdom in our day, as our General Relativity, the principle of equivalence that the love you take is equal to the love you make. However, unlike General Relativity, this turns out to be an article of mere faith, that is, like all aspects of what is called faith, a piece of wishful thinking no different from other forms of denial, which is why people get so desperately angry when it is challenged.

From a Restricted to a General Economy: The Scarcity of Love

In actuality, even the briefest examination of the economics of love and affection reveals that not only is there not enough love to go around, but that there never will be. There are only a finite number of people capable of expressing love. Likewise, there are only so many people who are really lovable (if you doubt this, you are either more fortunate, or more self-deceived). There is a wholly antithetical line of thinking that says that everyone (or even everything) is capable of love and deserves love. We imagine this infinite capacity for love, as we might infinite possibilities. But let’s face it: have you ever been to a video store? It’s hard enough to rent something worth watching. Yes, you can say to yourself, but given an infinite number of people and an infinite amount of time, surely every film is worth watching. But an infinite amount of time and people is precisely what this world lacks, and even then when the last fundamental particles in the universe are too far away and too cold to interact, even then, the assembled bundle called Secret Window will not be worth watching and will receive no thumbs up in a thumbless universe. Most feature films last only eighty minutes or so; some relationships are known to go on even longer.

So mutatis mutandis there is not enough love to go around. Love has to express itself somehow, in looks, in glances, and preferably in expensive gifts and sexual extravagance, and these things are finite resources deployed by finite people: this is why the more love you give, the less love you have. People sometimes mistakenly think that their love comes back to them with interest; in actuality it is habit that accumulates but this is the subject of another essay entirely. Parents often tell their children they love their children equally. If you have a sibling, you know this is simply not true. The history of siblings from Cain and Abel onwards demonstrates this. Parents are probably where the whole unlikely adage that everyone deserves love idea got started. God is often imagined to be some sort of ultimate parent with infinite patience, time and resources to love everybody. His behavior, however, seems to indicate that either he hasn’t or doesn’t. If parents want to be honest to their children, they will say that they love each in their own way, which is to say, some more than others and others only at their parole hearing. In the absence of God, if every human being were capable and worthy of love, then after 500,000 years of humanity, by now things should have sorted themselves out in to some sort of symmetrical steady state and everyone should love and feel love: this is clearly not the case.

If this simple math and honest theology does not convince you, I would suggest you make an honest and frank examination of your own experiences and see it is not horribly, awfully, inconveniently and incontrovertibly true that there never was enough love to go around. And never will be, for whereas there are only plans to make more and more people, there are no plans to make them any more lovable. Indeed, the more people there are, the less lovable any of them can be. Nobody in the Black Hole of Calcutta was heard to exclaim: “I love people!” (N.B. This is why “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world” -because there are so many of them).

The universal human convention of kinship demonstrates the scarcity of love, as does the contractual form called monogamy, a direct and long standing refutation of the notion that “if you love someone, you should set them free.” Indeed, it is not enough to love someone and have them roped into some sort of long-term contract to regularly dispense with said love. Ideally, you also have some sort of back-up. These are generally people you have no real respect for whatsoever and are hence readily available and emotionally inexpensive. These are the people you turn to should your primary love resource fail, in the event you’ve done something stupid, like set them free. True, they don’t really have the same oomph as the loved one, but they will serve you well in your times of need as some sort of human shield against the elements, and as someone who has somehow become immured to your complaining and whining which is what happens when love is interrupted. These highly disposable and interchangeable people are known as “lifelong friends.”

Jealousy is the Human Condition

So, given that love does and must exist in a condition of scarcity, the default, the most likely, the most common human experience -what you might as well call the human condition itself, is jealousy. It is logical to feel jealous: the love you once has is now going to someone else. There is less love for you and less love in general because you’re just going to feel sorry for yourself.

Architectonically, there are only three logical possibilities that define how jealous you will be and what you will be jealous about. But first, it is sometimes possible that one should be rejected by the loved one in favour of nothing. Though logically it should really be the most upsetting, since it effectively indicates that nothing is preferable to one’s company, somehow people are never jealous of nothing, perhaps because we are all half negation anyway, but it does not constitute jealousy and hence falls outside our discussion.

First Possibility: Dumped for An Equal

The most one can hope for in jealousy is that one is dumped for someone much like oneself that one actually likes and respects. This is flattering and the least deranging to our sensibilities and feeds our narcissism. Céline wisely observed that in the end what makes a person lovable is their love or need for not us, but the whole class of people like us, in Céline’s case his girl’s love for dirty Frenchmen. This blessed case of being dumped for the better man, that is, someone exactly like ourselves is naturally limited in its cases, chiefly occurring where there are good friends, clones, identical twins, time travelers and other freaks of nature. It is accordingly quite rare.

Second Possibility: Dumped for An Insect

The second and most common case is that one is dumped for some sort of completely inferior insect. This would seem to be almost universally the case, not for the least of which reasons being one of the few saving graces of our existence is our ability to lie to ourselves (see faith and denial, above). Indeed, if we are at all healthy, we will be saying to ourselves, “I cannot imagine what she sees in my identical clone, he’s a total loser.”

In some cases, regrettably, one’s successor is authentically quite inferior. This is infuriating and all-too common. It leads to all kinds of wishful thinking that has little to recommend for it, aggravating one’s natural desires to run other people’s lives (“she’s wasting her time with that jerk”) with one’s own capacity of neediness and self-pity, an unbeatably unpleasant and pernicious condition that usually can only be resolved by the violent death of some if not all of the parties involved, (particularly if the new person is, in fact, an old person, one’s immediate predecessor: this has a disquieting effect of essentially repudiating whatever love feelings and experiences one has had with loved one. One might as well put one’s picture in a frame and join a candlelight vigil for one has become “disappeared”, a non person vanished in non events).

Final Possibility: Dumped For a Superior

As unpleasant as this is, it is not nearly as unpleasant as when one’s successor is authentically more worthy, more evolved and superior to oneself and more pleasing to the loved one in ways that one could not. If the successor, in particular, possesses qualities that the the individual himself lacks -and the individual knows it, then the presence of the new person and the formerly unattainable mutual happiness of that person and the loved one goes from being a mere repudiation and critique of the love relationship to being a referendum on that person himself, a critique of their very existence. Then, not only has one lost, but one has lost because one is authentically not worthy, for things one has always struggled to be, but failed. Worse, this last case is totally indistinguishable from the second.

Worst of all, in reality, every case is more or less this third case, for the new person is capable of something one is not; engaging the loved one.

absit iniuria verbis

TURN #69: WEEK 55; WORDS: 61,348

NEXT BY 12 JULY 2006