There are many forms of Love....and English is so poor a language in describing it. Agape, Filial, Eros, Storge, Narcissa...to name but a few of the different forms of love that are available to us, or the different manifestations of love. I speak now though, directly of a kind of love, Eros, that is the basis of Romantic Love, for it is this, that i have in mind when i speak in relation to unrequited love. I should also define my terms. I do not wish to enter into great dialogue about what i mean by the use of the word Evil in this article, suffice it to say that i will use the good vs evil distinction merely in a pleasure vs pain context in relation to personal and interpersonal Intention. Thus an evil act would be one that intentionally elicits pain, and a good act would be one that intentionally elicits pleasure. Fairly basic definitions, but good enough for the purposes of this article.
I had recently become quite interested in the notion of Unrequited love, and having written over 50 poems last year on the subject matter from the subjective perspective, i had become intrigued by the notion of what Romantic Love , or Eros was all about. Now i differentiate Eros, from mere Lust or sex appeal, this is quite a different phenomena, and so too is the kind of Love that couples often drift into later in a relationship, the peaceful comfortable love of life long companionship. What i wanted to directly attend to was the Romantic love, that couples often crave, the passion that evolves to compassion in later days. The feeling of being head over heals in love, passionate unremitting love, the giddy joy, the desperate plight, this is the love i will speak of here. It might be useful to watch the clips and read the articles i have threaded through this piece in order to get the full flavor of what i speak of.
So to Start, i will leave the introduction to Dr Helen Fisher, and her wonderful lecture and insights into the Brain in Love, before i ask you to think about the question, 'Is Romantic Love Evil'?...(tongue firmly ensconced within cheek!).
Dopaminergic excitation of the The Ventral Tegmentum, seems to indicate that, when love is unrequited, it becomes a form of torture. An extremely effective, and possibly malefic artifice. Much like the searing pain experienced by sufferers who are unfortunate enough to suffer hyper-excitation of the Trigeminal nerve, a connection that synapses directly into the Pons area of the brain stem, with no intermediary synapse to meliorate the pain. So too the Dopaminergic effects upon the deepest part of the Ventral Tegmentum are not mollified by the unrequited nature of love, but rather augmented instead, as further connections, and neurochemisty, begins to hyper-exacerbate the feelings of love within the Tegmental areas, frontal lobe associative areas, and other deep centers of the brain including and especially the Hippo-campus and Ventro-lateral Hypothalamus. A form of psychosis can in fact be induced, so strong is the effect, and so augmentatively painful is the experience. It appears that Unrequited love is the evil twin, albeit an even more powerful and darker twin, to its more favored 'romantic love' counterpart. So the question is quite real....Can Romantic Love or 'Eros' be inherently Evil?
We don't for a second consider the dastardly actions of Lawrence Olivier anything but Evil, in the thriller 'Marathon Man', when he has Dustin Hoffman tied to the dentist chair, and asks the now infamous question...."'is it safe'?"....whilst creating a hole in his upper bi-cusped premolar, and poking a steel instrument into his Maxillary Brachiation of the Trigeminal nerve. This torture is acute and real, and makes even the hardy and empathically numb amongst us, cringe at its malefic odiousness. Why then do we simply not recognize that an actor who uses the Instrument of love, with its augmented, indefensible, neurochemical devastation on the deepest centers of the brain, eliciting an unmitigated visceral form of pain, to be any less evil than the Nazi torturer depicted in the aforementioned scenario? Evil it seems in this circumstance is directly attributable to interpersonal intention.The reason we do not make the connection between the aforementioned examples, is not because of the intention however but more likely because it is simply unseen, and a mere convention of ignorance. A convention that with modern neuroscience has laid bare just how malefic an action it might be, for an actor to use the device of unrequited love for malefic purposes.
Of course its unlikely that anyone would be so callous and careless as to use this tool of torture, cogently as an intentional act. As this would indeed be an act of malice, and one that can no longer be hidden behind the screen of social convention or mere ignorance. However it is interesting to note that certain cultures, glorify the use of such torture as an everyday convention, actively teaching young girls to use it as a form of feminine power, wielded like some instrument of Divine Justice. This cultural peculiarity, does lead one to question whether certain cultural conventions that facilitate and encourage such acts of unrequited love, as a form of power-play, aren't themselves party to a form of culpable social Evil, an evil that champions deep emotional torture.
The great Gamble is of course enjoined by all, but when the roulette wheel is fixed by the house we begin to wonder whether it isn't a systemic corruption from its dastardly inception. Maybe Huxley was right, in 'Brave New World' when he painted a picture of a futuristic culture devoid of the social torments, and mollified with pills (soma) that by eliciting a personal ecstasy, sustain a form of numbed interpersonal equilibrium. Is it more compassionate to save people from the possibility of this pain, or is that simply not humane?
So I come back to the original question, 'is romantic love evil'?, :P...(tongue, once again firmly ensconced in cheek!)....when one can not only suffer horribly by way of visceral torture at the hands of Romantic love, but in fact we are hard wired to do so. When one factors in that a person can be in three different neuro-biological states of love at the same time, but with different people, one begins to wonder whether the roulette wheel has been fixed from the start by the house! 'Romantic love', or Eros, is merely one of these states, the others being more life partner oriented , and lust or sex oriented. If however, you are unfortunate enough to be in a monogamous long term relationship 'without' mutually working on the romantic qualities, and then fall in love romantically with another, or are romantically connected to someone who is unavailable, and your love is thus unrequited, the exacerbated state of torture begins to seem like some awful natural loading of the dice. It then makes one question whether the social structures in place that ensure such torture exists aren't themselves out of date, or at best complicit in the crime. Of course it could also be seen as a pretty good prompt for couples to mutually work on the romantic qualities of the relationship so as to ensure neither of them suffer the torment of the unrequited Eros. This could indeed be the answer for those couples who seek to reignite the flame, by stirring the hidden embers hidden in the hearth. But this does nothing to solve the plight of those who suffer the anguish of unrequited love, be it intentionally orchestrated or not.
Sometimes the line between what we call Evil and what we call Good, of course, gets blurred over time, and isn't as clear today as it may have been yesterday. Past memories and occurrences, joys and disappointments, intermingle with present realities and create shades of gray. The so called evil turns out simply to be the internal manifestation of shadows and memories, unresolved guilt, or disappointments and unrealized expectations. Fantastical templates we construct, upon which we try to fit the world. When this fails, the frustrations and pain it may cause, can themselves be seen as a form of self generated evil; If these personal convictions and social conventions do not marry with biological or natural phenomena, and instead set up false templates, upon which individuals in a state of Romantic Love are bound to fail, then is that not itself a form of constructed and intentional evil?. As we begin to understand more fully the workings of the mind, and how social convention often squeezes us into moulds we were never biologically meant to fit, the question begins to surface, which is wrong, the social convention, or the biological necessity?
Sometimes of course, others 'Intentions' are less than favorable, and malice certainly exists, but for the most part we simply call evil those things that cause us pain. For many, sadly, Love, or Romantic love mixes and mingles with unresolved issues of abandonment, disappointment, shame, guilt or many other internal states of being, often remnants of bye gone days, perceived fantasies seen through less mature eyes, leaving remnants like dark foreboding skies, deep within the psyche. Sometimes malice rears its head in the name of love, but rarely i think, unless it is socially rewarded, or stems from a disturbed and unbalanced mind. Usually it is simply a perceptual aberration. Learning to let go of those shadows, and illuminate those dark spaces, releasing expectation, can certainly change the way we see those blurred lines of love and hate. Then again sometimes it just hurts when you love someone, and it isn't reciprocated, but then that's life, Evil it seems in such innocent circumstances, is simply a judgment call we make, dependent upon both our experience of the love we feel today balanced against the preconceptions and experiences we have had in the past.
It is a point of interest that, with the right dosage of Oxytocin delivered as a nasal spray to males, the same characteristics one expects to see in Woman who are in the early stages of pregnancy, can be elicited in males also. The heightened sense of empathy that is characteristic of many women, can easily be brought to light in men who otherwise were formally callous and unsympathetic.
So much is down to chemistry, and although we would like to believe that our behaviours, intuitions, moral code, and social contracts, are somehow separated from the mere hormonal neuro-chemistry that cocktailizes our brains, the simple fact that seems to be born out more strongly than anything else from recent Neurological studies using MRI's, is that these hard wired mechanisms, and neuro-chemical differences, dictate to a much greater extent how it is that we behave, act, and feel. Social institutions and moral codes that run contrary to nature run the risk in more enlightened times of simply being left behind in light of this truth, so digging ones heels in and simply saying, it is the way it is, when the moral and social codes were constructed in a state of ignorance, runs the risk of simply maintaining unjust and ignorant practices that fly in the face of truth.
So, 'Is Romantic Love Evil'?...i think, it can be, if it is used as an intentional device; or as a weapon of war between the sexes; or when social convention dictates an agony so profound it acts as an immoral torture, flying in a face of biological imperatives. I also think however, it can be one of the greatest gifts any person can experience in life, and when it is returned in kind, who can say it is not the birthing place of ecstatic joy. But it is not the only manifestation of Love, and it must be remembered that other forms of love should not be sacrificed upon the alter of an addictive search or a compulsive need for that ecstatic epiphany that so often accompanies mutual Eros.
There is a lot to be said for Agape Love. over and above the fickle and manipulative machinations of Eros. I wonder what the active brain states look like of someone in a state of Agape love?, it is an interesting question, because it's a completely different feeling, although kindred, like love x 10, but without the needs, obsession, addiction, or compulsion, just a sense of total connection and empathy, timeless, and all giving. A spiritual love, more akin to the compassionate Buddhist, or unconditional Love of Christ. The quality of which is remarkably different, as if you are a part of all things and they are a part of you, all giving, unfettered, and unremitting, quite a different manifestation of Love, and one with a far greater emphasis on the gift than the get.
Maybe though, all physicalist and reductionist theories fail to fully satisfy such questions. For they all miss the 'Qualia' of the event; the quality of what it is to be 'in' the event, and to be the someone or qualitative subject, that is experiencing the experience. We can know all the hows, what's, where's and when's we like, but in the end the cohesive state of consciousness, the collective wave function, simply escapes the reductionist explanation, and collapses under a Physicalist dissection...but then that's the Mystery of it, the Mystery of Love that i Love.
Is it Safe?....probably not, but then who'd be without it? :)
"No, this trick won't work...How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?"
© Richard Michael Parker 2009