The Origin of Love ft. Mika

When I was 21 I believed the world was a clock. I thought nature was a very complex machine and humans were just walking, thinking robots. Everything ticked, clicked and slotted into place. But there was one problem – consciousness – y’know, all those feelings and experiences we have, whether it’s the colour red, a surge of love or the taste of chocolate. How could a glorified wind-up toy experience these things? It took a thoroughly irritating philosophy tutor of mine (like, so irritating) and a genius biologist to upend this mechanistic view of the world. The philosophy tutor tried to convince me that the mind was immaterial (i.e. not mechanical) and mental experiences (like sights, thoughts, sounds etc) couldn’t be reduced to material things (like neurons, particles and clockwork). Meanwhile, the biologist, who I liked a lot more, told me that even though he did not hold the same view as my philosophy tutor, it still couldn’t be disproved. Maybe the mind really was immaterial and the world was so much more than a clock. Cue epiphany.

The soundtrack for my ensuing epiphany was Yael Naim’s song, Brand New Soul, and as I walked the sunny streets of Oxford I suddenly had this feeling that I was opening new eyes to the world. I no longer saw everything as predictable and mechanic but immaterial and spiritual. I visited a Church, did some Buddhist meditation and generally felt like my heart was exploding. It really was an epic experience and the closest I’ve ever come to a religious epiphany. There may also have been some correlation with the fact that in a few months time I would be experiencing my first bout of severe depression and feeling that my world was crumbling around me (more on that anon) but during the fun bit of my epiphany I had this sense that there was one force governing the universe – not clockwork, or the laws of physics, but love. I believed that love was at the centre of everything we did (hence the hanging out with Christians and Buddhists). I came to believe that even the most heinous acts had their origins, somewhere, in love and if only we could be allowed to connect with this powerful, universal force. Love was the origin of everything.

That was some nine years ago and, now, I no longer believe love is at the centre of the universe. I think gravity, atoms and other such things are very important and I think hate, anger and despair are also woven into the fabric of the human condition. But something I have been doing since reading lots of philosophy books at university and having minor epiphanies is getting out more. I have planted my feet into a foot of freshly turned soil, I have swum in very cold Welsh rivers and walked up a mountain. And it’s there – in nature – that I find soul (maybe just another word for mind), not way beyond my earthly condition in some immaterial plain. Love is still a part of this, not the only part, but a vital part. It is a both a source of energy – something that powers me in the good I do and in the better I try to be when I do bad – and it is a choice – I can choose to act in a loving way or not, and bear the consequences of my decision. As for the origin of love – I believe it’s us, in all of us, mirrored in the acts of the creatures we have evolved from and metaphorically represented in each nourishing ray of sun. Love does not have to be a literal constituent of atoms, as I once thought it might be, but it can be the guiding force for all that we do. Not a law of physics or a diktat from the heavens but a choice borne of mind, heart and soul. Not an easy choice either but one worth making if we can.

Advertisements

Do You Deserve To Be Loved (feat. Regina Spetkor)?

We often think that we deserve to be loved. For example, take the person who has been in the ‘single wilderness’ for so long, y’know, the place that smugly coupled folk tell us is the worst place ever. So, we’re there, in that forest battling the brambles of loneliness, the ditches of bad dates and the poisonous berries of awkward-pauses-in-conversations-with-friends until we see them, the one! Suddenly the dates are fun and we’ve got so much to talk about and then it’s six months later and we’re partnered, hurrah! And after all that time of being single, as we lay down our head next to that of our partner’s we might engage in an indulgent sigh and think, “I deserve this.” But what if we don’t?

In a previous post I wrote about doing away with the concepts of earning and deserving, and now I’m going to apply that idea to love. The verb to deserve comes from the Latin deservire, ‘serve well’, itself made from de-, ‘completely’ and servire, ‘to serve’. And all this talk of serving just makes me think of servitude and slavery (which was very big back in Ancient Rome). Deserving requires at least a two-way relationship between the person who has done something of merit and the person who owes them something in return. In other words, to deserve something means you’ve got to earn it. Yet all of these words are inherently and historically economic, they are about transactions and I’m not convinced that love can be rendered in a spreadsheet. Love is not a calculation.

Of course, love does involve give and take: we all make changes in our lives to suit our partner/s and the hope is that they will do the same for us. But underneath all this there is a different sort of love: love as an intense, wonderful, biological and metaphysical experience. Love as that feeling when our whole body scintillates at the presence of the person or people we care for. Love as something that sends us to the moon and back. And there is something else that love is: a choice. It’s not just about feeling amazing it is also about taking responsibility for our actions, keeping promises and ensuring that intense feeling translates into something our loved ones can cherish. Or at least that is one way of looking at love should you choose to drop the ideas of deserving, earning and owing. Love is too great to be reduced to a calculation and whilst the idea that we all deserve to be loved is very prevalent I think we can drop the economics and instead choose to love, as simple (and difficult) as that. We can make love a fundamental part of the human experience and hope others will do the same. And I reckon it starts with the  simple act of standing in front of a mirror, looking ourselves in the eye, not flinching and saying those three magic words. And we’ve got to mean them too (and if we struggle, we can get a friend to help).

Little Mix And The Truth About Love

The song Black Magic by Little Mix promises so much: how to make your fella notice you more, how to get him on side and how to make him stay. “All the girls on the block knocking at my door,” sing the band, “Wanna know what it is make the boys want more.” This all female pop quartet is offering the answer to true love – the Holy Grail of relationships. When it comes to finding Mr Right Little Mix know exactly what to do, they possess the secret to finding true love. It can’t get much better than that right? Well, it doesn’t, because Little Mix’s sneaky satire reveals that hopeless romantics are hopeless for a reason and the chorus tells us exactly why.

For those seeking love Little Mix offer a “secret potion” and “a spell that can’t be broken”. All you need is one drop and a single sip will ensure the drinker falls madly in love with you. And the name of this recipe, well, it’s called Black Magic.

That’s right, magic. It turns out that magic is the only way to produce true love. Of course, Little Mix, being the great 21st satirist’s that they are, know magic doesn’t exist which means that the logical conclusion of this song is that true love doesn’t exist either. It’s a bleak take on romance and relationships as Little Mix deny the very existence of that thing so many people crave and seek. All those adverts, posters and films about romance and love are rendered terrible lies now that Little Mix have exposed the truth – love makes about as much sense as reading tea leaves.

We live in dark times – climate change, a Conservative government, Mission Impossible 5 – and now Little Mix have added yet another cloud to the storm. Their nihilism jars with the catchy nature of the song but the bitter truth is there in the words – true love is nothing but a fantasy. To quote a fellow cultural commentator, “this is the moment when Little Mix looked into the void and the void looked back.”

Tinder In The Time Of Mass Extinction

The sixth mass extinction has begun and this time the cause is not a giant asteroid colliding with the earth, it’s us, human beings. And as the animals, plants and sea life die at a rate 200 times greater than if humans did not roam the earth my smart phone buzzes to reveal I have a new Tinder match. Shall I message them or ‘keep playing’? I’ll keep playing.

Tinder first, then the mass extinction. Tinder is a dating app that lets you view a few photos of people as well as a short paragraph about them. If you like them you swipe right, if not, left. Then onto the next one. If you both like each other you match and then you can start messaging one another, so at least you won’t have to send speculative messages to people who aren’t interested. So, it’s a simple way to connect with possible hook-ups, dates and lovers utilising the latest smart phone technology. But I think it’s more than that.

I think it’s an app that could only have come about in a time of great loneliness and isolation. As our means of communication increase so our means for community diminish. Local pubs, shops, clubs and libraries, to name but a few community centres where you might bump into a potential mate, are vanishing as rampant consumer capitalism punches its marks all over our cities, towns and villages. And these consumerism hubs aren’t about spending time they are about spending money – as many paying customers in the shortest time possible please. Public space is being privatised to facilitate shopping, making it increasingly hard to ‘bump into’ a potential lover (instead there’s Happn, another dating app that uses GPS technology to introduce you to people you’ve crossed paths with). In essence, these apps are trying to fill the gaps that are left behind when community vanishes. So I comb my hair in the best possible direction, turn to the light and angle my camera phone to take as flattering a picture as possible, hoping someone’s going to swipe right.

And now for the mass extinction. Well, it’s linked to that relentless consumer, capitalist society that I mentioned earlier. Not only does it depend on people being lonely and dissatisfied so they buy more things to compensate, it also depends on an endless supply of natural resources to make the things from. Resources including clean water, clean air, rare minerals, fossil fuels etc. So as we chop down forests, eviscerate mountains and pollute our oceans and atmosphere it’s no surprise that things keep dying – animals, plants, fish, etc. Consumer capitalism doesn’t just threaten human communities it undermines biological communities as well, whole ecosystems are razed to the ground for profit. Where exactly will the Amur Leopard hang out so she can meet a potential mate if her home is being destroyed? There’s no Tinder for endangered species.

So, it turns out that Tinder and the sixth mass extinction do have something in common: they both reflect a loss of community. Whilst the former is an attempt to deal with this loss, the latter is a very tragic consequence of living in the Anthropocene – a time that began when human activities started having a big global impact on the earth’s ecosystems (probably when industrialisation kicked off). Of course, there’s much to criticise Tinder for – namely, for reducing love to a smart phone app. But I think beneath the simple swipe of a finger there is a deep yearning to connect beyond the brands, logos and selfies and meet someone or someones we can truly come to know, someone with whom we can build community. We yearn to connect with others and I believe, so long as this yearning persists, there will always be a desire for more than this, more than the world of consumer capitalism. A world in which humans flourish as part of larger, thriving biodiverse ecosystems. So I swipe right hoping to find someone I can share the highs and lows of the sixth mass extinction with…

Tinder