Saturday, July 13, 2013

Love in Chaos

Suppose you lived in a world full of treasures that commanded your affection. It was not necessary for you to own them to love them, simply the fact that they existed made you happy. Like any love, however, you could starve or feed your attraction. Then suppose that these treasures just started shattering. You wake up one morning and some lovely statue that you would have happily sold your grandmother for now lies shattered on your feet; that night the most magnificent building ever created just sort of crumbled into a nearby lake. The rubble killed a lot of beautiful fish. The most gorgeous woman in the world let herself go at dinner last night and turned into Bruce Vilanch. The sweetest drink that would ever touch your lips got watered down and added to some Mountain Dew.

Living in such a world, what would you do with your love? Would you feed it? Would you let yourself get attached to all the stuff that was falling apart, opening yourself up to despair? Or would you starve it? Would you continue living due to some accursed Will-to-Live, but stoically trying to live without love or affection as though you were already dead to avoid the pain of loss?

Perhaps the world is not quite so chaotic, but then it is not entirely right to say that we do not live in a world like the one described. The things we love do fade - it is a certainty that any person we love will one day die and it requires the cooperation of a wide network of people in order to preserve any particular object through the ages. And neither option of starving or feeding love is exactly a winner. Indeed, it is very brave and noble and tragic to dare to love despite the inevitability of despair, but, from the point of view of the person who despairs, is it truly an enjoyable life? And a long, drawn out suicide-by-avoidance just sounds exhausting as hell to me. How could you get up in the morning if you viewed each day as an opportunity to try to avoid any attachments in life? So far as I can tell this worldview only really works if you do not acknowledge it - or only acknowledge it with feigned irony; by all means start on the porn at one in the afternoon when you finally wake up and finish up by the time you've exhausted yourself back to sleep, but how will you find the drive to even Google if you say that plan out loud?

Of course there is the Platonic/Jesus option:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21
Escaping the chaotic world for the sake of another world: a world of forms or a kingdom of heaven. Something general, something essential, something fundamental, something perfect, something incorruptible. Something that isn't falling apart.

Maybe it works for some people, but I find that this leads us to one of two positions, one of which is untenable the other of which I can agree with but do not find especially meaningful. 

Sometimes we create a picture of Heaven by taking our world and stripping out everything we dislike, leaving us with something two-dimensional and unsatisfying since it is, after all, a reduction of our own world. When I see people posturing on the internet by linking to some given immorality and then saying "come quickly Lord Jesus," I do not see someone who is speaking out of love for heaven, but someone who is speaking out of loathing for earth. In fact the desire for an Otherworld seems entirely based on a recognition of the inadequacy of our own world: any attempt to actually describe what would make the Otherworld so lovely tends to reduce to just cutting off the nasty bits of our own world. Those who do try to describe their Otherworld tend to start slashing at their membership roster as one man's utopia tends to be another man's hell.

Other times we acknowledge that if there is an Otherworld, it is a mystery to us. We have no appearances to form a picture of it from. We do not know what appeal it will have for us. I like this approach in that it does not try to say more than it can say, but we must still acknowledge that it does not say much.

What then are we to do?

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