Altruism: Love, Economy & Egoism
– or –
Love is Business and Business is Bullshit!

everywhere the hypocrisy, or rather self-deception, of an "unselfish love," an interest in the object for the object's sake, not for my sake and mine alone ...

The possessedness of love lies in the alienation of the object, or in my powerlessness as against its alienness and superior power ...

[On the other hand,] the egoist's love rises in selfishness, flows in the bed of selfishness, and empties into selfishness again. - Max Stirner

So is 'love' itself something one can possess? We're often said to be possessed by it, but for Stirner to suggest that "true" love is always selfish sounds harsh to us. But love is possessed, ("my own") only in the sense in which my hunger is also "my own". It is the subject/noun only in the sense in which 'hunger' is. This is a statement of a process, and the process is only a relation between objects (or subjects), not a thing in itself. Nominalized love is reification in the colloquial language, deification in the poetic. 'Love' and 'hunger' are 'things' only to satisfy the linguistic or even more specifically syntactic requirement that we can further refine or communicate our feelings of arousal, nourishment or connection between the self and other, between the self and food. Love, of course, is also a verb: we live to love, we love to eat and we eat to live.

As deprivation from food transforms epicurean pleasure into hunger, desperation, competition, theft and prostitution (or self-employment), alienation turns the lover into sacrificial victim or a slave to passion. It is not hypocrisy but polyphony which brings on confusion. It is not a logical contradiction to be simultaneously a slave to the other's and enslaved by our own passions. It is only a derogatory remark applied to one who loves to live as well as to one alienated from living – epicureanism and poverty are equally criminalized. Our categories of absolutes confine us to a small terrain of meaning, unaware of shifting levels of abstraction. We are confused when the fence has fallen and the cattle have gotten out. We are called to action, fencing pliers at the ready. Psychologists used to tell us hunger is only the state of arousal, the condition who's only function is to motivate us to eat and is brought on by scarcity or alienation. If we eat too much or too little, it is seen as an impairment, something like a grammatical error or a flu bug. It did not occur to them that eating is enjoyable in itself and like love, hunger is only a relationship. Those who have a zest for life, a will to live rather than a will to power, are said to live passionately, and we call them artists. If poets and painters did not starve in attics, we could not love them. That is the hypocrisy.

Love has no meaning without the object or referent, for then, like the hunger of starvation, it is unrequited and becomes a different "thing" entirely - it is sadness and remorse or longing. Hunger and love merge. It is no longer the relation between the subject (ego) and object of love (other). When I say "she stole my heart, then broke it", I have in fact lost nothing, not even my feelings. A relationship was denied. I have become alienated even from myself, since in this case, the self is not felt complete without the other, the one time when the mathematical equation, 2 = 1 is correct. One can indeed die from a "broken heart". And so Browning asked "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways".

Love then is also the behavior between lovers - the praxis of our feelings, the relationship (or its potential) demonstrated. Unlike the dimensions of a particular rock, relationships are infinitely variable because they are creatively, subjectively, emotionally valued. How indeed does one measure love? In the behavioral context of "lovers", love almost invariably implies sex. Through multiple entendre, the confusion between indice and unit of measure raises the spectres of both comedy and revulsion, and taboo and the allied joking relationship between in-laws are born. The Greeks were ahead of us, dividing the semantic territory of love ('relations of attraction, desire, care' etc.) into four autonomous states: eros 'sexual love;' phileo 'have affection for;' agapao 'have regard for, be contented with;' and stergo, 'familial love' of parents and children as well as that of a ruler and his subjects. Philosophers ('lovers of knowledge') well noted the larger territory, and glossed the generic Eros (with a capital "E") 'relationships', the source of universal flux rationalized in logos. Empedocles may have given birth to western dialectics when he divided all process into relations of love and strife: the smooth and the rough, flow and friction, life and death. Prior to the 17th century (that is, abandoned with the onset of the industrial revolution), lief was a word which bridged the semantic territories of live and love. Today, strife is often a synonym for (or at least a symptom of) marriage, a relationship bound only by monogamous sex and often a familial monopoly of cruelty – the tabooed "extramarital affair" (but not "strife") is sufficient grounds for divorce.

Sex is human. But biologists tell us it's also animal and in fact, vegetable. It is this generic sex which still reflects the universal cooperative relation which makes living possible, yet we speak of our employment as "how we make our living". We used to talk about gravity in terms of "laws of attraction", and chemists still use this metaphor from time to time. Those we're attracted to are said to have magnetic personalities. Or we say "it's all just a matter of chemistry". Poets tell us sex is the climax of love. Both medieval christians and pagan gnostics agreed, back when orgy referred to a profound and ritualized religious experience. As we get a bit of experience under our own belts, we see that, like all sharing relationships, sex and love actually enhance one another. Even our language demonstrates this: "It's pretty fucking important stuff!" But the very topic of sex in 'polite' conversation is taboo for a good reason: the taboo keeps us from seeing how connected life, the universe and everything just really is. It keeps us isolated. Even our "reactionary" endeavors in this forbidden territory serve to minimalize and superficialize sex. The separation of the behavior from the relation and equally, the supersession of the relation by the behavior generates the assessment "love is business and business is bullshit!" This fits well with the universalized prostitution of life revolving around the workplace in the interest of satisfying hunger. Unless egoistic ends are kept constantly in mind, an altruistic or "romantic" love only gets in our way and must be avoided or repressed. But doesn't psychic repression always seem to invite secret transgression?

Just as psychic repression should not be translated as 'oppression' so taboo indicates no more than limit and structure. Both of these aim to preserve coherence of identity, and retain sufficient energy within social activity so as to reproduce society in each successive generation. Just as structure is important in music, or so fendersen argues, so it is in other social activities.

The liberal critique of taboo is staged in terms of rationalisation, which aims to release all 'irrational' constraints on social relations. But in fact liberalism only manages to reassert a series of abstract irrationalities (based on infinite regress) but which are not accessible through lived experience. I think the liberal critique of primitive injunctions could not grasp their ambivalence - taboo invites transgression and thus supplies energy to society at the level of a tension between a transgressive desire and the taboo that invites/codes such desire.

All pre-capitalist societies are confronted by the meaninglessness of existence but taboo imposes a scale in which meaning becomes applicable and meaninglessness (or terror) is refuted. The question is, how to establish limits and form which must be experienced as real but at the same time which also must remain manipulable? [– Frere Dupont]

Sometimes psychic repression is merely oppression self-managed. Taboo is the scale which underlays our melody. My own song differs from that played these days, and I think in many ways mine is less healthy. My grandma, the monarch of our family, was twelve years old when Queen Victoria ended her reign and H. G. Wells had been questioning Victorian authority on sexual matters. Grandma was no fan of Mr. Wells. I still uncontrollably blush when confronting this topic, even though I understand the irrational nature of my reaction. If taboo (like any other cultural tradition) is not internalized, it always invites transgression. Some taboos have very good reason, for example restrictions against eating raw rabbit or post-partum sex taboos spacing births in situations where a rapid succession of births might impose on the ability to feed any. Constraints are viewed irrational when the conditions which brought them into being have changed, yet those taboos are maintained and reproduced by the "forces" of custom or tradition. To question the rationalizations behind restrictions on social relations should not be viewed as promoting the release of all so-called "constraints". This is not possible. There's nothing wrong with custom and structure. It need not be constraining. For example, polite discourse (rather than political correctness which today is replacing it), was not a bad idea. Custom and structure make us who we are. They do not need to inhibit improvisation, which is art. Sometimes they enhance it - harmonic structure differentiates music from the noise of fingernails on a chalkboard.

On the other hand, taboos which constrain public discourse on sexual matters may also help keep them private, and therefore more open to personal exploration or improvisation, without fear of other household members' inquisitions (e.g., nosy grandmas).

On yet another hand, we very often have taboos against behavior few would engage in anyway, "just in case". Such might be taboos against eating human flesh, particularly your grandmother's. Sometimes our personal taboos (a sense of 'revulsion' at our own imaginings) just happen to be everyone else's. For the analyst (psycho or otherwise), it could be argued that this only reflects the success of internalization - repressed desire. That is sophistry based on a view of human nature which is rooted in moral, ethical and legal transgression and must therefore be controlled. The circular reasoning here must be obvious - there must be rules imposed prior to their transgression. In the territory of sexual relations, such "transgressions" might be cross-generational incest or bestiality which are probably universally taboo. Another sort of analyst might as easily suggest that, like all societal rules, we only impose taboos against the unexpected or unlikely when there are obvious negative implications (functions) of its transgression. Ultimately, our analyses depend on our views of human nature. This is not to suggest phenomenological essence, but our generalizations attributed to the other (actually, to all others), based on our experience and education ("just so" stories told by teachers).

Only a paranoid culture would actively search out novelty and then proceed to criminalize it. Such is the basis of democracy – "keeping up with the Jonses". The complete and unabridged Oxford Dictionary of the English Language is dwarfed by the United States Criminal Code. Such a system of democratic constraint gives us the philosophy of pessimism of Schopenhauer, who in 1818, wrote "A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; ... if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free." Interestingly, "eros" and "freedom" are etymologically cognate in Greek and Old Norse (in as much as the goddesses Aphrodite and Freya/Frigg are cognate), but their semantic divergence had already paved the way for Schopenhauer's pessimism and later, Stirner's "selfish love". To their defense, private and peace also share in this etymology (from Proto-Indoeuropean *prijos 'dear, beloved').

When societal rules do inhibit, we are frustrated and prone to resist, or if well socialized, we feel guilt at the merest desire to live (freeplay?). Some taboos were created not by the conditions of lived experience, but to enhance alienation from lived experience. They are no longer called "taboo" but "edicts", "grammar", "the rule of law", even "nature". In this case, voyeurism and vicarity are our only [other] option, and we are demoted to spectator and imitator. This is also the basis of spectacular democracy. Critique allows transgression to reformulate itself as liberation, rather than transgression for its own sake. We simply cannot "destroy everything" and start over tabula rasa as some nihilist insurrectionists would have it: a five thousand year history of universal prostitution enframes all discourse. The word "discourse" itself inhabits the semantic terrain of strife – "competition".

In our language and culture, even clich้s of human relationships must be expressed in terms of economics and politics (and utility). It's basically a mathematical simplification of human relations to those of give-and-take or one-upmanship and one-downmanship. It is about exchanges and equivalences – the game has annihilated play. Is it even possible to imagine a merging or communication without the notions of addition, subtraction and subduction? A union or conciliation or interaction which does not entail dominance, theft, compromise and sacrifice? Perhaps our dialectical approach (that is, "conflict resolution") to social relations is why we have so much problem with the concepts of 'mutuality' and 'reciprocity' and even respect for 'diversity'. We bandy about the words, but only in relation to a sense of moral obligation or the management of our utopias and other fantasies. Although we might tolerate diversity, do we ever actually celebrate it? It would seem we are attracted to the safety and security of a transubstantiation of 'love' to mathematical (or chemical) reduction. We call this the application of 'reason' - our source of knowledge. This is a recipe for all behavior, accounting for our own separation and domination/subjugation as well as that of the other. My question: "Isn't there another kind of relationship?" In fact, don't we often embrace love, like an engrossing fantasy novel or chemically induced dream-state, as our only waking escape from the alienation of the world of time and motion engineering and cost-benefit ratios?

If love is maintained as possessedness, which is to say "my love which I am free to share with whomever I please", then how are we to get around issues of competition and therefore domination between lovers? Suppose we were instead to consider love as a form of non-mathematical value - what our friend Mr. Marx might call a use value sans instrumentalism? The "egoistic" relation can only be seen as a subjective relationship. Love realized then describes the relationship as a mutual value - a mutual appreciation more in tune with the archaic definition of "love". Value de-mathematized becomes "esteem". Without the notion of property, the zeitgeist which possesses civilized man, then marriage can only be seen as a community event. The community acknowledges and eventualizes the relationship with a feast, the sharing of "goods" - a sharing westerners have translated as "dowry" and "bride-price". When some thing is given "as a token of our appreciation", it is not the token (as "property") which is important. In fact it is no-thing beyond a reminder (symbol) of our esteem, or in the case of a marriage between families, our mutuality. But the spirit of economics demands that this is an "exchange" enforced by the authority of patriarchs, the community, the state. It is not too far a jump to consider our spouses - loved ones - also as property. It is only through property and its measure that we are bound.

But without the notion of property, where is there room in the world for the spirit of economics? Where also is there room for the spirit of politics, which gives rise to domination - force and withholding? What then would become of our relationships? Sharing is never an exchange, for nothing is lost or abandoned. Like the relationship between property and theft, could there be notions of piety, fealty or even adultery? If property can only be said to be that which is possessed, and is freely shared/circulated (rather than acquired, owned or given), then where is there room for competition? But poperty is more than mere possession. What can be the object of a "competition between friends" besides property or position, which is to say "domination"? Then 'friendship' becomes reduced to a master-slave relationship or sado-masochism:

masochism n.
  1. A psychological disorder in which sexual gratification is derived from abuse or physical pain.
  2. The deriving of pleasure from being dominated or mistreated. [After Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895).]
sadism n.
  1. Psychology. The association of sexual gratification with infliction of pain on others.
  2. Delight in cruelty. [After the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814)]
There is no doubt that the tyrant is never loved, and loves nobody. Friendship is a sacred word, it is a holy thing, and it exists only between good people, it is kindled by mutual esteem. It is sustained not so much by favors as by a good life. What gives you confidence you can rely on a friend is the knowledge you have his integrity: the guarantors of that are his natural virtue, his trustworthiness and his constancy. Where there is cruelty, treachery and injustice there can be no friendship. Evil men are not companions of one another, they are conspirators. They have no mutual affection, but a mutual fear: they are not friends, but accomplices. – Bo้tie

Competition and domination, the two conditions necessary to each and every tyrant, can only be described in terms of scarcity, and it is the imposition of scarcity which creates property The alienation of love itself, that mutual connection between the self and other, provides the ideological destruction of community. What sex is to love the gift is to altruism. "Giving it away for free" negates prostitution. It also negates economics. Like "the free market", a "gift economy" is an oxymoron – a phrase with no meaning.

The modern conception of altruism is bound up (enframed, if you will) by the language of economics. Everything is calculated according to a cost-benefit ratio, and that is our only concern. Economic justice is only a balance between sacrifice and theft. It's always a precarious balance. I much prefer language such as "radical empathy" (– orrior), which refers to a system of spontaneous flux. Reciprocity is an effect of a gifting society, not a driving motivation subject to measured calculation and transaction. Even in the most complex and ritualized form of the potlatch in elder days, exchange value was not a consideration. It may be true for some, but mostly we don't help a drowning person out of concern for the tit-for-tat anticipated payoff, but concern for the individual, the other. I'd rather see this as driving force behind the circulation of goods or services in a system of mutual aid than the notions of duty and responsibility, notions which demand hierarchy or power relations, notions which stand alone quite well apart from any implication of "empathy". The retort that this is utopian idealism is nonsense. It described the situation for thousands of years before and outside of civilization, and it was never associated with a nasty, brutal and short existence.

Heidegger's "saving power" for a world enframed by runaway technology (and, I would add, economy) is the world revealing itself between the lines. It is outside of the circumscribed avenues of logic, and that is in the larger territory of art. The praxis in the former is work; in the latter, it is play. I don't think there is a need to invoke human essence, humans are easy to spot. Humane, on the other hand, is a way of behaving or relating which is sometimes hard to spot and even harder to formalize, but it's lack gives us ample proof on a daily basis that something often called "humanity" is missing. We do, however, know it when we see it. Words such as "thank you" or "that was nice of you" are still meaningful to us, as are the actions which provoked those words, most notably, a gift.

By archaic definition, a proper gift has no strings attached. Anything else is a payment, a transaction, an exercise in authority. In modern usage however, "a gift" is "a good deal", and even "a steal". Walmart is our benefactor - everyday low prices. Today property is no longer theft but an essential attribute; it is the gift which represents anti-social behavior - getting "something for nothing". In accordance with the first principle of circumscribed logic (circular reasoning which underlies the self-fulfilling prophecy), "nepotism" and "corruption" provide all the proof we need! Therefore, all behavior is egoistically motivated and it is economic law and the police who would enforce it which protects us from the gift (it is, after all, in our nature as well as "our own best interest" to take!). So goes the standard argument of the kleptocracy.

For many, "gift" in its archaic sense is unthinkable outside the domain of sacrifice. It is only a synonym of transaction with the additional attribute of delayed gratification. It is an insurance premium. The same process of language-change over time concerning the terrain of "friendship" illustrates the primacy of egoism (more properly, "hedonism"). In modern usage, "friend" and "acquaintance" and "accomplice" are all semantically interchangeable. The archaic sense of "friend" implying a connection or bond of empathy is rapidly becoming unimaginable. And we wonder why our "romantic" relationships have no permanence (sex and love having merged semantically, the former colonizing the latter's territory). Economic thinking also saturates parent-child relationships.

My dad "sweat blood" (sacrificed) so that I wouldn't have to, or so he said (altruism can be a handy rationalization, a justification. A potent antacid, altruism relieves guilt: take two with meals for quick relief!). Because in economic relations, sacrifice cannot exist without theft, I became his property and this provided the basis for his authority, and so he also said. We are told that love is sacrifice, accommodation and compromise. When love is a payment and domination its return, love is theft. When this formula is transposed, love is guilt. Is it any wonder that love has become a four letter word amongst polite company?

The extreme reactionaries against this linguistic and cultural change some call the "Kumbiyah" crowd: altruistic hippy love, light and roses which often degenerates into the misery of democratic sacrifice via the destruction of the individual. This untenable position is why so many "flower children" went on to embrace smack from CIA factories in SE Asia in the '70's (and Afghanistan decades later). That these two sides (altruism and hedonism) result in "non-overlapping magesteria" (never the twain shall meet) is not due to an inherent contradiction and incompatibility, but to devotion to absurd Aristotelian logic on which modern language usage hinges. The very same logic which produces a george bush and his mother's "beautiful mind" provides the irreconcilability of reformist socialists, libertarian communists and insurrectionary anarchists, each of whom would embrace a "communist revolution" – the possibility of living is superseded by its rationalization and we remain enslaved to the real consequences of our unrealistic categorizations. This is the essence of self-fulfilling prophecy, and as our frustration increases, the criminal code grows like runaway cancer.

 


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