Love Power II: A Tradition of Hope and Freedom, Research Time, 20/05/2016

Continued from last post . . . I originally wasn’t going to continue yesterday’s post about the power of love. But then I realized there was a little more to say. At least before I get into the most surreal and meta-textual episode of Trailer Park Boys Season 10 in Sunnyvale Psychochronography tomorrow.

One thing Antonio Negri* is doing in his exploration of the political power of love is looking through the history of Western philosophy to create a new tradition. He’s tracing a path through the history of European and American ideas to find better alternatives to the cynical political ideas that have followed on from Thomas Hobbes’ capitulation to humanity’s worst impulses.

I've been listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield while I write
these last two posts. It's plain to see why.
* And the originator of this idea, Louis Althusser.

I mean, it’s almost to be expected that Hobbes, who lived through the English Civil War, would develop a political philosophy that understands humanity in terms of our most violent impulses. 

But Spinoza, the genesis of Negri’s history of a political philosophy of love, lived through the uprisings and repressions of the Dutch people through the turbulent rule of the House of Orange. Jan and Cornelius de Witt, leaders of the republican revolutionaries against the Dutch monarchy, were personal friends of Spinoza. Spinoza’s own life was in danger from the same royalists who murdered the de Witt brothers. 

You might think that suffering defeat as a democratic, republican revolutionary at the hands of brutal monarchists would have made Spinoza a pessimist about human nature too. But he was stronger than that. 

Belief in the power of love to be the fundamental principle of human society sounds corny as all hell. As Negri says, it sounds crazily naïve. It sounds especially naïve now, given our current political climate defined by hatred, resentment, and violence at so many different levels of human life. 

But believing in love as a fundamental political principle isn’t as simple as any belief that human nature itself is fundamentally good. That would fail to explain all the horrors and cruelty of human history. You’d be right to call that idea stupid.

But the idea that there’s a fundamental, unchanging human nature, and that it is evil, cruel, egotistical, and violent is just as naïve. Just as naïve and dumb as the belief that there’s a fundamental, unchanging human nature which is good, kind, open-hearted, and peaceful.

There being an essential human nature at all in this ethical sense is really the heart of the problem. Throw this belief away. 

Love will win.
But humanity isn’t a blank slate. We may not have a fundamental nature, but we still have our tendencies. And love is the active force in constructing human nature. The problems arise not through love or the privation of love. It’s the corruption of love.

There’s an old Christian idea that evil is the absence of good. Well, evil and cruelty is a lot more insidious than a sick call from our better conscience. Corruption isn’t the absence of love. It’s the power of love converted to make us cruel instead of making us kind.

Here's an example of what I mean. Understand nationalism this way. When it’s functioning properly, love leads us to care for our neighbours. We build relationships with them, look out for them, and help them out when we’re able. This is a good thing to do.

The problem comes when this drive for social solidarity becomes corrupt. One common way it becomes corrupt is when solidarity develops a boundary. When it isn’t an outreach, but a way to separate and divide people. That’s when love ends up creating nationalism and racism. 

When love and inclusion of one implies hatred and rejection of another, love itself is still driving you, but it’s become corrupt. Like any kind of malfunctioning organ or tool, love then has to be repaired so that the feelings and drives that used to create nationalism and racism lose their tendency to exclude. Until they become all-inclusive, as they’re supposed to be.

Philosophy is political medicine.

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