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Friday, 21 November 2008

Lanark and the price of love

For some reason my mind keeps coming back to this quote from one of my favourite books, 'Lanark' by Alasdair Gray.

"The Thaw [the main character] narrative shows a man dying because he is bad at loving. It is enclosed by [Lanark's] narrative which shows civilization collapsing for the same reason"

Can a society and a civilisation collapse because of an inability to love? If so, then where is our history of public love that can show us where we lost it and how we might bring it back? Or even create it for the first time in our human story?

I believe it can and is happening in all capitalist societies, Western or Eastern, Northern or Southern. There is love out there in abundance, certainly, but it is not truly pervasive throughout the fabric of our society. The monotheistic revolution of the axial age has failed.

Where is the love in the market? A market requires profit, and without an overarching structure to regulate that market, then a market will always maximise profit above all else. In this world love is an extravagance unnecessary for business and is not part of that regulation.

Love is given freely and cannot be sold. In a world of finite resources, the market will always devour everything and will not give freely. It will not love.

Even public services are bound now by a loveless market and there are no economic quantifiers that tell us of the benefit or profit in giving love. Can schools be graded by how much love they give?

Our economic system is now facing up to including carbon and its emissions into its equations to understand and deal with climate change, and rightly so. But if overconsumption is part of the problem, can the economics of a carbon conscious market adapt in time? Oil becomes cheap again and so development into green energy slows again.

It may sound hopelessly drippy, but can an economy exist sustainably without love? Love does not exist in isolation but it seems more necessary than ever as our planet warms and we as a species harm our own children's futures.

But this is where a history of the emotions can help. To improve our understanding of ourselves and the depth of our natures and the actions that come out of those natures, we can include it in the account of our nature and make sure we profit from its addition, not suffer from its loss.


Charli said...

Hi Scot.

Very interesting post!

As a therapist, I am in the business of loving. Loving is not profitable but neither is it thankless.

I am so far removed from big money... I have school loans and little income. So I don't buy things and live very simply. Of course, I have to put gas in my car and heat my home. I need health care. So I am part of the system.

But I like to think that people are people before they are profit-driven machines. I like to believe that most people are lovers.

I am reminded of Freud's book "Civilization and it's Discontents". He argues that humans are greedy, violent creatures who must subjugate their true natures in order to live in a safe world.

I disagree with Freud. I think our commonality is CONNECTION and not lust, greed, and violence.

I hope I'm making sense.

Anyway, thanks for sparking some thought in me!

scot in exile said...

i'm not sure if i agree with Freud either but society certainly seems to be set up along those lines.

I don't mean it in a provocative way but your own work seems almost to bolster that idea, because society is inherently damaging to people and so follows a need for therapy to soothe the wounds. it's a noble thing to do against the backdrop of a society whose system of consumption is so violent and greedy...

Charli said...

Hey Scot...

I don't think society is damaging.

I think Buddha got it right when he said that to live is to suffer. It is not society's fault. Suffering's been around since the dawn of life. All of us creatures experience pain. And of course, the meaning of life (or the purpose) (for ME) is to ease that suffering. To love, if you will.

scot in exile said...

suffering is a fact of life certainly, but i feel the rapacious and relentless plundering of the world's natural resources in an unsustainable fashion allied to the monotony of much industrial and post industrial work is damaging.

i agree compassion and love are about alleviating suffering but a society that has love and compassion rooted in their core would not be so brutal in its treatment of its people and their environment.

rhinestonecatboy said...

I was delighted to see a reference to one of my favourite books, I remember being terifically moved by it and reading a good portion of it with tears streaming down my cheeks. As I was going through a navel gazing phase, I paid more attention to Duncan Thaw's personal plight than that of Unthank.

Maybe I should re-read it!

scot in exile said...

it's years since i read it rhinestonecatboy, i do hope i got the sense of it right... it wouldn't be the first time!