Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Amputated Love

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We all need some comic relief. Fortunately there's the opening sentence of today's David Brooks column, "The Building Blocks of Learning":

The ancient Greeks had different words for different kinds of love — like Ludus (playful love), Pragma (longstanding love) and Agape (universal love).
That's a Radio Yerevan joke:
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that the ancient Greek words for different kinds of love included ludus (playful love), pragma (longstanding love), and agape (universal love)?
Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, ludus is Latin, not Greek; second, ludus meant "game, sport, play" or in the plural "public entertainment", and pragma meant "thing done, fact"; third, when they are used nowadays to mean a kind of love, pragma means "practical" or "convenient love", and agape means "love that is altruistic towards one's partner"; and fourth, these uses come not from the ancients but from the Canadian psychologist John Alan Lee's Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving (1973).
Ludus is one of Lee's primary "love styles" (mapped out like blue, red, and yellow on the traditional color wheel) alongside eros (passionate love) and storge (family love), and pragma and agape are secondary styles, like green, orange, and purple, together with mania (love accompanied by madness and obsessiveness). There are also nine tertiary styles, but we're not getting into those today.

Should we go on?

Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine argued that the essence of a good life is choosing the right things to love and loving them well.
Augustine definitely did regard choosing things to love as a supremely important component of a good life, though only one choice counts, and it's really not a choice, as Professor Payne explains it for the students of Bellevue College:
He identifies four kinds of things that people can love.  These are physical objects, other people, themselves and God.  In contrast with the Manichaeans, Augustine denied the existence of evil.  Since all things are created by God and God is good, all things must themselves be good.  So all of the things we can love are appropriate objects of love.  All of the things we can love are capable of providing us with some measure of satisfaction.  But not all things can provide us with complete satisfaction.  Unhappiness and suffering are the result of disordered love.  When we expect more satisfaction from an object of love than it is capable of providing, we suffer.  What we need more than anything is the infinite satisfaction that comes from loving God.  When we fail to recognize this and seek complete satisfaction in finite things we are ultimately unhappy and our unhappiness may result in harming others.  All that we perceive as evil, according to Augustine, is the product of disordered love.
You should choose to love God. You can love other things if you want, but  it doesn't especially matter which ones you pick as long as you don't do it in a disordered way. I guess if you love things in a disordered fashion you're not doing it very well ("David, are you going to clean up your love? It's a pigsty in there!"), so Brooks gets partial credit for that. Thanks very much, Gus, that's extremely clarifying.

But over the past several centuries our models of human behavior have amputated love. Hobbes and other philosophers argued that society is a machine driven by selfishness. Enlightenment philosophers emphasized reason over emotion. Contemporary social science was built on the idea that we’re self-interested, calculating creatures.
This philosophical shift has caused unimaginable harm, especially in the sphere of education.
Hobbes famously remarked that schoolboys in the Middle Ages were nasty, brutish, and short. The sphere of education immediately began to decay. I'm not clear whether love lost its limbs in this industrial accident or is a lost limb itself from the unimaginably harmed model of human behavior, but we don't really care, do we?

In any case, as long as Brooks's notion of a model of human behavior with love in its proper place comes not from ancient Greece but from 1973, the situation is probably not quite as dire as he thinks it is, so cheer up.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.


Dr Pretorius said...

I don't know about the rest of what he says about Augustine, though on first principles I'd go with "a lot of bullshit". But he would have talked a lot about the good life - and you can actually see him doing it in that quoted bit.

Or, specifically, you can see him talking about what is not a good life, namely the one where you love the wrong stuff. We often use "happy" to mean a particular feeling in the short term, but using it to mean a truly good life overall (whether or not that included a lot of cheerful feelings would depend on your view) is standard as well and especially in moral philosophy and especially especially in moral philosophy from before the enlightenment. (It's still occasionally a listed meaning of the word in (comprehensive) dictionaries too, and a reasonable understanding of what the word means in some contexts, so it's not that crazy.)

Victor said...

Love, apparently, is beyond Bobo's ken.
It's outside of his area of expertise. *

After all, his specialty is humility.

*So, apparently, is Google.

Yastreblyansky said...

@Dr. P.: Edited to meet your first objection. Payne, however, specifically states that there are no wrong things to love, since all are created by God and therefore worthy of love ipso facto, and I'm pretty sure that's a good reading.

@Victor: He gave up on humility after his book turned out to be about something else. He's very big on love just now because he's either converting to Christianity or looking for a date. Or possibly both.

Ten Bears said...

What's love got to do with it?

Yastreblyansky said...

Ha TB. David Brooks is all about second-hand emotion.

BKT said...

Brooks is unintentionally hilarious. It makes one wonder: if he had any self-awareness, might he be a satirist on par with Voltaire or Swift, simply mocking the positions of staid, self-aggrandizing conservatives in a decades-long performance art project?

Nah, that's a bit of stretch.

Tom Hilton said...

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Feud Turgidson said...

“... turns out I had a hyper parathyroid gland that was undiagnosed - because the symptoms mirror the exact same symptoms an older Jewish man would have, which is: you feel lethargic, you get puffy, heavy, and you think you kind of want a divorce even if you're not married.”

For a while now, from time to time Krugman posts comments on his NYT blog to this or that particularly inane assertion Brooks has written - which is fine; but IMO as much or more public good could have come from the Times having Shandling pen to a brief emetic to every Brooks column

aimai said...

I relish this entire post but I've just been put into a boot for a stress fracture in my foot and I'm feeling too gloomy for a long response. I do want to say that this is really the only way to approach David Brooks,at this point, with a firehouse of better academic and philosophical references, and a truckload of heavy, weaponized, snark. Because otherwise you'd just sit down and cry at the thought of how all the great thinkers, philsophers, scholars, and academics who have gone before us are being used in service of this petty, anxious, tedious little hamster of a man. Its like seeing someone painstakingly collect the jewels of a great, lost, royal family in order to melt them down to make a shoe tree. For Donald Trump. I mean--that is what Brooks does: he takes sociological or philsophical writings, that he approaches through some bowlderied, bastardized, synopsis, and reduces them still further until their significance is so mangled and gummed that they can be used for the benefit of (with apologies to Bernie Sanders) the oligarchs. I used to amuse myself with trying to determine, within the first three sentences of his column, what the conclusion would be. That was kind of amusing--if he starts out with Sartre he will end up with "Democrats should not pursue gun control" or if he starts out with The Bible we'll soon find out that charter schools are a good thing. But after a while the retching became too strong and I just abandoned reading him alltogether.

Never Ben Better said...

LOL aimai, even when you're off your game, you're still faaaaaaaaaaaabulous!

"...petty, anxious, tedious little hamster of a man..."

"...to make a shoe tree. For Donald Trump..."

Never Ben Better said...

Oh, and bummer about the stress fracture, also OUCH. I hope it heals quickly.

aimai said...

I can't complain--this is nothing to what poor Victor has had to go through! And its psychologically important since it makes me more aware of how any (literal or figurative) impediment just kind of makes your day harder. I'm starting my MSW (Social Work) in the fall and they may give me as my first practicum working with a local legal clinic on getting services for their clients. Its good to be reminded that every person I meet is going to walk through the door having had a shitty day, with health care problems, money problems, and social problems that inform the way they deal with me.

Never Ben Better said...

Oh, aimai! I'm thirsty right now and I have all these lemons.....

Victor said...

I got through it, so will you!

My sympathies, though. If anyone can relate to you and you current predicament, it's me!

Thank goodness it's not a hand, or you'd be less likely to ieave your fantabulous comments!

Ken_L said...

Augustine should of got a dog. You get unconditional love, unlike all the strings God puts on his.

Yastreblyansky said...

Aimai, that sucks. Hope you can allow yourself to complain a little bit.

In this column he actually ends up realizing that all kids should have high-quality pre-K programs, but nobody's told him it will take taxes to pay for it--he imagines it's just a question of having more love in the policy.

aimai said...

Yas, the end of the Brooks column (which you quite rightly realized I wouldn't read) is such a classic right wing dodge. We have to change hearts and minds before we do anything structural, but we can't change hearts and minds until we have done this structural thing, so we might as well give up. Its why, at heart, there is such a strong similarity between Brooks (who thinks of himself as a middlebrow interlocutor of great minds in philosphy and sociology) and McArglebargle, who thinks of herself as the translator of hard numbers to the innumerate masses. Both basically toil all day in the Rhetoric mines of the Reaction, digging up nuggets of futility, jeopardy, and perversity to discourage others from trying to make things better.