Lesson 17

Chain of love

The issue of love is something that holds a greater place in the human imagination. It is seen as a force that leads to the establishment of bonds between individuals and also as glue that provides a renewed sense of meaning in the lives of individuals. Although the perception of love that is portrayed in popular culture emerges in the background of a culture industry that tries to sell the idea of love to the masses, still it cannot be denied that the issue of love has remained important throughout generations. To love is regarded as the participation in a higher world that is not just tied down to the maximization of one's utility. Besides this, love also plays a crucial role in providing a common thread that establishes bonds between individuals who are coming from different backgrounds. My inquiry into the nature of love was motivated by a recent conversation that I had with Amara.

Amara was asking me about my grandparents because she never met them. She asked me if they were dead. I said yes, but in a way, they were still alive. Amara asked me if they were alive as angels. I said yes because I like her to continue to believe in a spiritual world, but of course, I meant it more in the way that my grandparents were living inside her and me, because, without them, both of us would not exist. So I started by saying, "Well you know Amara, you and I have something inside us from our ancestors, something that is passed down from generation to generation. It is like a chain that connects us and them." After thinking for a while, Amara said: "You mean it is like a chain of love?"

After thinking about it for over a week or so, Amara's innocent remarks made me realize that the question of love is not just a question of the relationship between two people, but is a far greater issue that engages in a quest for transcendence. Falling in love is not just an issue of showing momentary desires, but it is also making sure that we become part of a higher reality that establishes bonds across generations. These bonds assume a non-utilitarian form and allow human beings to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. As human beings that are finite and mortal, when we fall in love we are looking for lasting meaning in a temporal world that is ever-changing and in a state of flux. We know that there is an end to our existence and we want to attain transcendence by establishing a connection with others. This also shows that there is an element of transcendence and also immanence in the concept of love.

On one hand, love is transcendent since it is not determined by mere utilitarian reasons and allows individuals to overcome the obsession with their ego. On the other hand, there is also an element of immanence since love offers us the possibility of establishing a connection with different generations. This is what is reflected in Amara's characterization of love as a chain. Love is passed down in a chain-like manner since it serves as an animating force behind the establishment of families and this in return leads to the very survival of the human race. In entering into the world of love, individuals who would otherwise have only been immersed in the calculation of their gains and benefits, decided that they were going to participate in a higher cause that will liberate them. This in return led to the formation of a glue and chain-like relationship that expresses itself across different generations.

The chain of love shows that the end of love is making possible a new mode of existence. This one is not attributed to the pursuit of material goals and desires. In such a process love is serving as a common thread that is expressed in the lives of parents, their children, grandparents, and different generations. Love is a chain that makes possible the connection between individuals, and this has an element of unconditionality as it is not motivated by the instrumental rationality which sees others as a mere means to an end.

This finds expression in Soren Kierkegaard's idea of the highest form of love, the Christian love which is agape. It testifies to the fact that the transcendent feature of love that leads to the formation of a chain-like relationship with others is perfect and eternal. When love as a chain is formed across generations, there is an element of a sacrifice for others, rather than the mere attempt to gratify our needs and desires. As mortal beings, human beings want to establish a bridge across generations, and this is possible through the formation of a family. When the family is formed it rests on the conceptual foundation of love which is the force that led into such communion in the first place.

When Amara invokes the idea of the chain of love, she comes to a profound realization of a higher purpose to her life, beyond that which can be explained by the basic appeal of cost-benefit maximization. She realized that my parents and her parents all participated in the creation of a dream that is expressed at different moments in history. Although the chain of love led to the formation of families at different levels, still it is motivated by the desire to remain immortal and plant one's seed across generations. Such an assertion is supported by Jean-Paul Sartre who established the non-physical nature of love when he argued that there is a closer relationship between love and freedom. Applied to Amara's observations about the chain of love, this means that different generations participate in the idea of love as a way of attaining true liberation from their mortality. It is a way of keeping the human spirit and the hope for emancipation alive throughout the generations.

The idea of a chain of love shows that love has a Platonic and also worldly element. It is Platonic since it is a perfect idea that manifests itself in the world of day-to-day human affairs. As a perfect idea, it is not affected by particular human desires or the pursuit of the material necessities of life. At the same time, there is also a practical element in love as it leads to the realization of a set of relationships that are interconnected to one another in a chain-like manner. This is seen in the fact that two individuals willingly participated in the formation of an institution that in return served as a foundation for different generations. One thinker who would identify the quest for the formation of a chain with a life-denying concept of morality is Friedrich Nietzsche. He saw love as part of a life-denying concept of morality which he called slave morality. According to Nietzsche, to love is to develop a moral value that opposes the value of the strife, struggle, and competition found in the world. The greatest force in the eyes of Nietzsche is not the quest for love but the affirmation of the will to power. This would lead to the assertion that the values that are expressed in the chain of love, like compassion, care, and benevolence are negating our earthly existence and that they are standing in the way of our quest for power.

What Nietzsche's assessment of the concept of love fails to see is the actual utility of the chain of love. For the existence of a society, there needs to be a symbolic reality that can confer meaning on the lives of individuals. This love seen as a chain will motivate individuals to overcome their egos. For the community to exist it is not just the individual but the common good that needs to be promoted. For such a realization the members of a community must be connected through an altruistic morality that emphasizes the sacrifice for others. This is what Amara's chain of love expresses, demonstrating that different generations are not separated from one another and that for the good of the community, the ego's preoccupation with its own needs is replaced with the sacrifice for others.

Affirming that in the context of the community, love allows for the overcoming of the ego, Moral Philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that how we understand the nature of love must go beyond the realization of the needs of the rational ego. For Nussbaum, love is more attuned to feelings, passions, and the ability to imagine. When a person loves, it is not an instrumental form of rationality that is being utilized. The quest of love is not to control or possess the other object, but rather, to imagine a new reality where human relations are not measured in terms of utility. This is part of the human ability to develop an aesthetic response to the things that we encounter in the outside world. This resonates with the idea of the chain of love since it shows that human beings partake in the idea of love since we know that rationality cannot explain every domain of reality. For the progress of the human race, new generations must establish a connection with the previous ones. Conceptually, this is informed by the love of others while practically, it is made possible by the formation of the family and procreation.

When we love and dream of attaining a lasting meaning in our world, there is the realization that we are beings that live within a given historical continuum. We know that we are not immortal and that we live within a specific time frame. In recognition of this fact, we decide that the only way to be immortalized is to leave a part of us in the coming generations and this is facilitated through the emergence of the family unit that is dictated by the idea of love. When we love, as Political Philosopher Todd May sees it, there is the profound realization that we are mortal beings that are living in a physical world. What makes the experience of love so intense is the realization that there is an end to human existence. We are beings defined by the reality of death, and because of this, we are searching for that force that makes us immortal and transcendent beings. We see reality as something that is situated in a temporal continuum and because of this, the purpose of our existence is not just to indulge in momentary pleasure and satisfaction. In a world of physical realities, and cause and effect relations, we are searching for one principle that can add a sense of magic to our reality. This is possible through love and the longing for transcendence.

The conceptualization of love as a chain shows that there is no apparent contradiction between unconditional love and love as a way of attaining immortality. On one hand, love is unconditional since its objective is not the acquisition of a material object. It is not borne out of the desire to control the world or assert our dominance over the social and the natural worlds. At the same time, love is an embodiment of immortality since, for parents, the only way of beating the reality of death is by having children and making sure that there is a foundation for the new generation. Such a practical nature of love shows that human beings are historical beings that exist within the horizon of time, and that as finite beings, we are always trying to recreate ourselves in another form. There is a little bit of ourselves in our children and this guarantees that the human spirit can be renewed and immortalized. This can be demonstrated in the observation of day-to-day events through the application of a phenomenological inquiry.

Continental Philosopher Dorothea Olkowski contends that there is an element of phenomenology and the capturing of experience in our understanding of love since love is always characterized by an element of intentionality. There is always a conscious element in love, and it is a way through which the subject can make the experience of the world through self-initiated acts. When individuals enter into the family unit and decide to participate in love, we are seeking an alternative to the daily mode of existence that establishes an opposite relationship between the individual and the outside world. We are also looking for a form of existence that is not just constrained to a given historical context. We are participating in an experience that is so liberating that it is not confined in space and time. Love allows us to live forever and face our mortality. It is the chain that is informed by the idea of transcendence which leads us into relationships of giving and taking. Don't let the chain of love end with you.


© Marcel Emmenegger, CH-9100 Herisau
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