The problem of love.
This blog post is meant to be an in depth look at love. In specific, the problem of love.
A: I love you!
A: Because I just do. I love you!
Kiran: rolls eyes, this is all wrong. This is all so wrong! Why can’t people understand that love is a tad bit more complicated than that?
In order to understand relationships in their elementary form one must understand the nature of self consciousness and specifically the development of self consciousness. An individual first gains consciousness of objects in the world through basic interaction with them. One sees flowers and trees, feels rain against her skin, hears birds chirping and smells freshly baked cookies. In order for one to achieve a heightened sense of self one must negate and destroy the things that she comes into contact with. By negating and destroying physical objects one is able to prove her independence and presence in the world. It is in our human nature to desire, we naturally desire certain thing and become gratified when we overcome them. For instance, we “devour” food. When one sees a banana, one instinctively desires to peel away the peel and eat it. We “demolish” objects such as banana peels after we’ve eaten the banana by throwing them into the garbage. We “dominate” animals by taming them so that they can become our healthy house pets and companions. By overcoming objects human beings fulfil their desire to “conquer” our physical surroundings, to prove to ourselves “who is boss”. Our goal is to master the object around us.
By simply coming into contact with objects such as trees and flowers, smelling freshly baked cookies, one is not going to develop “self consciousness”, therefore it is imperative that one encounter another self consciousness. When one self consciousness stands in front of another self consciousness she realizes that she is no longer the only one in the world. The self consciousness is now aware of itself because it has recognized the existence itself in the other. Before this, one was not aware of itself as a self consciousness. Each self consciousness acts as the mirror for the other. Hegel says “self consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it exists for the other; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged”. When I look at the other, I immediately understand myself and see what she has that I do not. I am the subject and the Other is an object. Conversely the Other is thinking that she is the subject and I am the object. Hegel says when “self consciousness is faced by another self consciousness; it has come out of itself.” What this means is, when one stands in front of the Other, each self consciousness only sees the other as a body not as a mind, one will never see the other as an “I” or subject, only ever as an object. Therefore what we have here is: you and I both recognize ourselves as mutually recognizing the other.
Here is the problem: seeing as we know that self consciousness likes to negate and destroy objects, what if the Other wants to destroy me? I have no desire to be negated. For if I am negated then I lose my ego in front of the other self consciousness. Furthermore, I need the Other because I see myself reflected in the Other. If the Other desires to destroy me then I must also attempt to master and negate the Other.
Here is another problem: now we have 2 people trying to dominate one another, or as Hegel calls it, they are both “struggling unto death”. In order for there to be a victory one must defeat the other and the other must recognize the defeat. Obviously this is not going to happen as neither self is going to let itself be defeated and nor does it make sense for the self to destroy the other as the other is necessary for the others self understanding. It is impossible for both self consciousnesses recognize each others individuality because that requires that each self consciousnesses is “giving up” and compromising. Compromising is a defeat. Here is the interesting part in all of this! If the Other successfully defeats the other then the other is also eliminating itself, because the other is itself. That is, the other is the source of self hood. When the other is killed, there is no relationship. In relationships there is an existential dependence on the other because the other serves as a mirror for which I can see myself. The irony in all of this is that I depend on the other to get self understanding also, I submit myself to the other, I cannot kill the other for then I lose myself.
What is one to do??
It is in the best interest of the self not to kill the other, instead to let the other live since the death of the other would kill my self. The problem with others comes down to existential freedom for Sartre. We have established that the other is necessary to self consciousnesses. The existence of others however is limiting to our existential freedom because we see ourselves in our own facticity (what we are). We do not see ourselves in transcendence (what we would like to be). In our existence on Earth we have the power to choose what we would like to be, we define ourselves and decide what it is that we want to become through our actions. However the existence of others affects our existential freedom severely from many angles. When another person walks into our space we are always and constantly changing ourselves for them, we are changing our lives for them to “fit” into our environment and this is evident from our behaviour, how we interact with others and our overall actions. People want and expect us to act a certain way. Therefore we define ourselves through our own perspective and the perspective of others. We begin to define and redefine ourselves by the people we hang out with, the people we admire, the people who look up to, aspire to be like and even the people we do not like. When all these others see me, they are judging me, categorizing me and thereby limiting me and my freedom. All of a sudden, through the existence of the other I have expectations placed upon me by myself and others. We have all experienced this, our parents have certain expectations of us and what it is that we should do and should not do, become when we go grow up (a doctor) and not become when we grow up (an artist/whore).
I reach self awareness when I become aware of my own body as others perceive it, I become fully self aware when I am aware that I am an object for someone else. When people look at me, I become aware of my body and myself in the way that others perceive it. This is because I am aware of myself as an object for somebody else (not myself because I am a subject to myself). Of course I am aware of myself because I am submerged in a world of objects that are distinct from me, but I become fully conscious of myself when I realize that that I am an object, a body for someone else, a body that someone else perceives, a body that is looked at, a body that can be touched when felt. All of this restricts and limits our existential freedom. Remember, we do not become self conscious until the other enters the picture, if the other didn’t enter the picture and you were sitting in front of a canvas painting in the nude you would never feel embarrassed. It is by being self conscious that we are in the presence of the other and therefore an object for the other that we can feel embarrassed or ashamed or have a feeling of being “caught”.
Where does love tie into all of this?
Now I must jump forward because Sartre’s problem with love builds on everything I discussed above. Each self consciousnesses sees itself through the eyes of the other, the other is an object for the self consciousness. As soon as something is pointed out to you (verbally or from the gaze of the other) you become aware of yourself as an object. For example: if someone says that you are cute, you feel aware of yourself as a thing. When someone says that you have lovely eyes, you become aware that you are visually pleasing to them. When it comes to love the problem lies in the fact that both self consciousnesses have freedom and want to maintain that freedom however one can only maintain freedom at the expense of capturing the Other’s freedom, limiting the Other’s freedom. Consequently, if the Other loves me, then I thereby lose my freedom. When I love the Other, the other loses his freedom! In love, the Other’s freedom is captured and their freedom is limited and the Other is enslaved. When one becomes a slave (a non-subject) then one is no longer “free” and lets face it, we don’t want a slave for a lover. We want to be loved by someone who is an unrestricted self and has freedom. But how can one love me freely if I have possessed his freedom with my presence? Possession is not love. You may have been in a situation where you have heard: “if you love me you will not throw your socks on the floor but place them in the hamper where they belong” and since you cannot fathom losing the person that you love (or her/him being mad at you) you try your very best to remember that the socks go in hamper when all you really desire to do is throw them on the floor after you take them off (because in the moment it feels so liberating!). Or you might find yourself going to a Blue Jays game not because you want to but because it makes your partner happy. So in order to keep your love, you restrict your freedom to do what you desire to do. Here it is clear that freedom is what we are exchanging in love but we cannot love unless we have that freedom. How can we be possessed and free at the same time? On one hand we want the other consciousness to be a free consciousness and love us freely but at the same time we desire to posses the Other! The problem then becomes that no one can be both free and possessed at the same time. Love is therefore not a selfless act. It is manipulative and a means of controlling the other.