193. Love as unity in difference
In the preceding items in this blog I discussed the relation between the whole and the parts, unity in diversity, in difference between many. Here I propose that love is unity in difference between two.
This connects with Alain Badiou’s discussion of love as a hazardous construction of unity in difference, in the ‘tension between identity and difference’[i]. He denied the romantic notion of love as a merging, a smelting, a confluence with ‘the other half’, transcending all difference.
How can one benefit from difference without eliminating it? I argued that at length in earlier items in this blog. The highest form of freedom is freedom also from one’s own prejudice, and for that one needs the opposition from ‘the other’. Prejudice includes ignorance, self-righteousness, moral myopia, chauvinism, self-interest, self-absorption, solipsism, and narcissism.
Earlier in this blog, in items 120 and 121, I discussed the old notions of eros (passion, romance) vs. philia (loving friendship). Eros is the urge to merge, smelt into one, and philia is, indeed, a construction from difference. Philia is hard work, and remains work in progress, imperfection on the move. Often, and ideally, love starts with eros in the intoxication that impels the lover, willing because blinded, to leap into to the hazards of building the ‘fragile bridge’ (as Badiou calls it) between two solitudes, which is the challenge of philia.
In item 183 I rendered happiness as a combination of pleasure, or joy, with purpose, aiming for something beyond and bigger than the self. There, like Badiou, I pleaded for a transcendence that is ‘horizontal’, from human being to human being, and ‘imminent’, to strive for in life.
In love the purpose is the construction of unity in difference, and pleasure resides in fruitfully developing and employing one’s talents in that endeavour, and, of course, hopefully also in enduring eros.
Does love produce happiness? It can, in the pleasure of eros and in the purpose and joy of making philia work. But in may not. Eros may fade and rot away in distaste, the striving for philia may fail and drown in resentment.
Can one love a nation, a party, a leader? In nationalism that may take the romantic form of wanting to merge with the larger whole of the nation, in identification with the party and its leader.
The Nazi’s identified with Hitler. Was that happiness? It certainly had purpose, but that was the obliteration of difference. If love entails valuation of difference, then for happiness to include love it must include the valuation of difference. Did Nazis have pleasure? Perhaps they rejoiced in employing their talents in the destruction of difference. And perhaps their pleasure was loaded by the eros of violence and rape.
If philia is construction in difference between two, perhaps the wider classical notion of ‘agape’, as love of ‘the other’ more generally, can be seen that as construction of unity in difference between many.
So, perhaps, to the characterization of happiness as pleasure and purpose I should add the valuing of difference, in philia and agape, so that happiness may include love. And then the Nazi’s were not happy.
But if purpose entails dedication to something bigger than oneself, with respect to others (horizontal), and in this life (immanent), and pleasure includes the development and employment of one’s own, personal, idiosyncratic talents in that endeavour, that already implies acceptance and valuation of difference.