Last spring we were forced to spend the entire year in confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of us, this confinement has been spent in solitude, which has revealed the privacy to develop our most vital and human needs, especially that of love, either by default or in excess.
This reminded me of a study I read some time ago by Freddy Canté, Doctor of Economics, on the different points of view of various experts on love. In it he shows that there are many researchers, economists, psychologists or sociologists who have theorized about love, about what it entails, or simply about its need in humanity. Many call it “the offer of love” and defend various theories based on their behavior.
For example, for the universalist thinker Hirschman (1985), love includes: morality, compliance with rules, trust and civic spirit. He insisted, against orthodoxy, that a social order can be more secure if it is founded on benevolence and love. He argued that the supply of love is not fixed and limited, and especially that love is not a resource but a skill (similar to knowledge or human capital).
Public virtue, and higher virtues such as love and altruism, at least in human specimens, are subject to scarcity. Hirschman showed that such behavior is not exhausted by use (as is often the case with exhaustible physical resources), nor could it be increased by persistent use (as is the case with skills and knowledge itself).
Love and similar virtues have a complex and compound behavior: they usually atrophy when they are not properly practiced and, for that reason, they are prone to disappear by the search of interests of a market that expands to all the confines of life. However, they can become exhausted when they are practiced and invoked excessively. In short, according to him, vicious extremes such as savage capitalism or Maoist cultural revolution can wither love.
However, for Elster (1999), passion is partly a visceral motivation, beyond the control of the individual and/or the group and directly driving to action. Passions include emotions (some rawer such as fear and anger, others with negative cognitive references such as resentment, hatred and revenge, and positive ones such as love). Within the passionate there is also hunger, thirst, sexual desire, states of pain, states of intoxication due to drug use, the craving for drugs itself and madness.
Elster has suggested that human beings are motivated by reason, passion and interest, and insists on placing love within the emotions. Emotions, unlike purely visceral factors (pain, bodily pleasures, thirst and hunger) have a cognitive background. There may, therefore, be irrational love when we persist in loving someone or something in open contradiction to our beliefs (knowledge that would indicate that it is not worth loving anymore).
Adam Smith (1976) showed that sympathy is an inherent capacity of human beings, it allows them to instantly identify with others, even at the risk of neglecting self-interest. Thanks to the imagination we can compare ourselves with other human beings and, therefore, we can put ourselves in their place and feel something similar to what they may be feeling (the so-called empathy). This is the first step in the formation of moral judgments and in the socialization of individuals. But society’s interest is very vague and abstract, so individuals sympathize with other individuals or with small groups close to them, but not with the whole of society, and this also applies to love.
Professor Sen (1977) emphasized that sympathy consists of a concern for others, which directly affects our own well-being: for example, he states that knowing that others are being tortured makes the one who experiences sympathy sick. And he does not hesitate to point out that sympathy can be a selfish behaviour, since our well-being depends on the well-being of others, and can be understood as an externality.
Sen preferred to opt for commitment: the action of helping or fraternizing, not mere sentimentality. He made it clear that commitment exists when a person acts to stop an injustice. Such conduct is unselfish (it implies a sacrifice, an action against one’s own well-being) and, in particular, it is an ethical meta-preference. However – Sen insists – commitments are not universal, but rather fragmented into groups such as: family, community, guild, company, party, class, country, etc.
Precisely, when studying cooperation or solidarity in collective or public causes, authors like Elster have shown the importance of altruistic individuals. For this philosopher the Christian commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” is basically equivalent to Kant’s imperative (unconditional duty): not to treat other people as means to our ends, to treat them as we would like them to treat us.
Be that as it may, what is evident in Canté’s work is the inherent need of human beings to love and be loved, as well as the need to be able to socialize and share our lives with those around us, and thus how last spring’s reclusion has made almost all of us think about our pre-VID-19 lives.
I hope that this has not left us with emotional scars and will not happen again, but if it did, I think that, on a personal level, we would not manage it in the same way.
This text may be reproduced provided that PROA is mentioned as its original source