Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What Must Be Earned And Can Be Lost

Interpersonal relations surely aren't my forte -- I'm a grump, a curmudgeon, and a natural isolate -- but certain assertions about human basics, even when clearly and indisputably made from good intentions and with the best will in the world, incite me very nearly to apoplexy.

Take the old canard about "unconditional love." That one's love toward any particular person should be awarded and maintained free of conditions is about as absurd a notion as I've encountered. At least, when the subject is love as I define it -- the elevation of another's well-being and happiness to a priority equal to one's own. -- I can't escape the conviction that there must be conditions. Otherwise, it would be obligatory to love everyone, unreservedly, and despite whatever any particular person might say or do.

Love is not and cannot be causeless. We love, in the sense above, because we recognize in another person something we deem valuable enough to equate to our own happiness, well-being, and survival. I could never have felt that way about Jeffrey Dahmer. (If you think you could, kindly keep your hands where I can see them and move very slowly.)

Consider the following passage from Freedom's Scion:

    “Efthis,” Althea said in a carefully controlled tone, “Vellis is mute, isn’t he?”
    Efthis frowned again. “Of course. Isn’t it obvious?”
    There’s too much obvious stuff going on here. I shouldn’t have relaxed.
    Althea nodded, holding the agitated male firmly away from her. “Is it by accident, or was he born that way?”
    The Loioc’s frown deepened further. “Born that way, of course.” She emitted a whistle of elaborate modulation. Vellis immediately ceased to struggle against Althea’s restraint. She relaxed her grip, and he returned to Efthis’s side reluctantly and with a look of frustration.
    “Well,” Althea said, “you must love him very much.”
    “Love?” Efthis said. “How does one love a nonsentient?”
    “Vellis is incapable of rational thought. He’s been conditioned to be loyal to me. He knows nothing of love, no more than an animal of the field.”
    “But...” Althea groped for words. “Your husband?”
    The Loioc woman nodded. “Yes. He husbands me. He fertilizes my eggs, when and as I permit. He need not be sentient for that.” She leaned forward to peer more closely into Althea’s face. “All our males are nonsentient. Just as yours will be, in time.”

Omit consideration of the evil inherent in the Loioc women's deliberate reduction of their menfolk to nonsentient sexual pets. What quarrel could we offer to Efthis's casual dismissal of the possibility of loving such a creature as Althea loves her own husband Martin?

God's love for Man is deemed unconditional by the Church. I'm willing to accept that, as the meaning of love in this context must diverge from the definition I gave above. God is of an infinitely higher order than Man. To Him, we're ants, every one of us from the lowest to the highest. We cannot win His esteem; we can only gain His acceptance -- and only by humbly admitting our faults and weaknesses and pleading for it.

So "unconditional love," and its companion notion of "universal love," must go into the conceptual trash bin. But they won't be the only fallacies in there.

Matt Walsh, a writer I've only recently encountered but have come to admire, throws a clinker with the following:

Often, people will say that a husband should only be respected if he “earns” it. This attitude is precisely the problem. A wife ought to respect her husband because he is her husband, just as he ought to love and honor her because she is his wife. Your husband might “deserve” it when you mock him, berate him, belittle him, and nag him, but you don’t marry someone in order to give them what they deserve. In marriage, you give them what you’ve promised them, even when they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

In one sense, Walsh's error is understandable: husbands and wives are obliged to treat one another with respect, at least for as long as the marriage lasts. But that's not quite the same as feeling respect for one another. Indeed, there are many ways in which one can legitimately forfeit the respect of the other, sometimes permanently.

The emotion of respect bears comparison with love in several ways. To be respected isn't an inherent right of every human being alive. It's awarded by others, on conditions. Should those conditions lapse at a later time, the respect previously awarded should be withdrawn...and usually will be. This is even the case between husbands and wives.

Respect is one of love's preconditions. For example, in the passage from Freedom's Scion above, it's perfectly clear that Efthis could not respect her nonsentient "husband." She might "love" him after the fashion of a normal person loving his dog or cat, but that's obviously a great distance from the love we expect between normal husbands and wives.

Spouses' love and respect for one another are not permanent conditions. They can fail, and when they do, they usually take the marital bond with them. Ironically, even when their mutual respect has failed, spouses can still treat one another with respect...and as long as they stay together, they must do so, for reasons too obvious to require explanation.

There is nothing quite as futile as decreeing that persons must and shall feel certain emotions toward one another. Beyond the fatuity of the demand, the attempt to make oneself feel an emotion alien to one's psyche can have destructive effects both on oneself and the object intended for the false emotion. The same is true for demands that one not feel certain natural emotions toward another.

When emotional control is desirable, it must proceed from an assessment of the facts: the objective conditions that give rise to the emotion to be elicited or suppressed. If the facts are unsuitable, perhaps they can be changed. If the facts cannot be changed, we can do no more than strive to behave morally, ethically, and with restraint appropriate to the circumstances.

All else leads directly to Real Housewives of New Jersey territory.

1 comment:

Xealot said...

It occurs to me that the modern Feminist movement would like very much to force men to the level Efthis has. Indeed, many already treat men as nonsentient.