Love — universal, unilateral, unconditional, urgent

Love is a practical matter. It is the most practical matter. If we do not love, if we do not let love condition our actual behavior, both expressive and material, I fear that we will not survive.

The war in Ukraine is an atrocity. It must end, quickly. There are and have been many other wars, and they too are atrocities that it is to our shame, and my shame, to have tolerated them too distantly. Nevertheless, for all of these conflicts, love is not the answer alone, but it is essential to any durable answer.

In my world as constructed by social media, I see a lot of self-righteous hatred. War becomes permission to hate. Sometimes, it even makes a virtue of hatred, even recasts basic sympathy and affection for the human beings who constitute “the enemy” as betrayal, even treason. That is understandable, more than forgivable, among people under direct assault. It is not virtue even for them, but an excusable vice. For those with the luxury of distance, I think it is less excusable. I am not here to stand in judgment, it is not mine to excuse or not excuse. From what I find in my own heart, my own mind, I know you cannot possibly be worse than me. I only ask that you consider these words as you decide how you will be in this world we all share.

For a war to end before its combatants are completely exhausted, both parties must perceive something valuable, something desirable, in the future post-war. For Russia, as for Ukraine, there ought to be a world to gain. Because the world, in fact, is full of curious, sociable, loving people, and these partitions created by war, or even by smouldering political hostility, are scars upon the heart we all share. Russians should perceive, because it is true, that if these hostilities are overcome there is fellowship in the world more than open to receive them. Iranians should perceive that, Houthis, Americans, Germans, Saudis, Chinese, Tigray, Palestinians, Israelis, everyone.

This is not a claim about policy, or about details of economic engagement. Sanctions, the “economic weapon”, like war create a chasm, and their use should be minimized. But the claim here is not that peace, by enabling liberal free trade, makes everybody rich. Economic collaboration can and should be mutually enriching and so a material form of love. But trade and capital flows if misregulated can also yield coercive labor arrangements, unjust redistributions of wealth, unbalanced movements of activity and opportunity. Countries can and should regulate the terms of their trade, should see to their own and their citizens’ material interests, precisely to ensure that economic collaboration is in fact mutually and broadly beneficial, and therefore a form of love.

Similarly, this is not a claim about “splinternets” or different countries’ approaches to managing cross-border communication. As with economic collaboration, states have a right to regulate communications infrastructure in the service of social and political stability. You and I might prefer liberal democratic free speech norms to be reflected and protected in every form of mass and electronic communication. But not all states are liberal democracies. And even liberal democracies are currently finding it challenging to reconcile an expansive liberalism with the degree of stability necessary to sustain basic well being in a new technological environment. I hope we get better at it. Other polities will make different choices, and that is their prerogative. However, we can all hope for, and work to create conditions that enable, as much permeability and openness as possible, in order to promote interaction and culture and other expressions of love, consistent with states’ legitimate concerns about social stability.

We might see deficiencies, even practices that are deeply abhorrent to our values, in other states. But states are sovereign in a plural world. The people of a state, not outsiders, bear the consequences of revolution or repression. We should hope that beneficial change comes peacefully and gently, in other states as in our own. We can help other states to improve, but only if we do so openly, respectfully, on terms those states accept and allow. Often the best help we can offer is our own example. When our own example is not so compelling, we are unfortunately ill placed to help.

Love is unconditional. It is universal. States have policies, which we may find agreeable or terrible. But we are all impoverished, and endangered, if we let critique of policy or political leadership spill over into disdain for or diminishment of publics. We can always find reasons to hate. Citizens of every country are in some sense complicit in the worst behavior of their states, and no states are innocent of reprehensible behavior. We must love one another anyway. No individuals are free of sin. We must love one another anyway.

Judgment is necessary, but judgment without love is a dangerous vice. It gives us license to harm, punish, coerce, and hate while pretending to do justice. Judgment then becomes a dagger garbed in a costume of virtue. Love must be prior to judgment, and as much as is possible, the consequences of judgment should be inflected with and tempered by love, for victims, for the judged, and for everyone. We seek justice for war crimes, but if a consequence of insisting upon pursuing those crimes is prolonging the war and ensuring more bloodshed and atrocity, is that really justice?

Love is not a commodity in trade. It need not be exchanged. It is beneficial to the lover and the loved regardless of whether it is reciprocated. If we are judging before loving, we are doing a poor job of both. There are people who seem terrible, to us or in general. We must love them, even unilaterally. There are states that do genuinely horrible things. We must love the people even of those states. Love is hard, and it is not a replacement for the practical institutions, from gentle critique to courts to armies, by which we all help regulate one anothers’ behavior. But we must love first, or our regulation will become oppression or carnage.

We must, we must, we must, I say. And who am I, dear reader, to command you, to tell you how you should, how you must, be? I am just a person. These are just my words, offered with respect, offered with love. We are living through difficult and dangerous times. It is my view, just my opinion, that unless we put love before the passions of self righteousness, they may be more difficult and dangerous yet.

Every human has a smile to offer. I love you.

Let’s work together, with love in our hearts, to find and to build a just and durable peace. Quickly.

See also: David French on compassion.


3 Responses to “Love — universal, unilateral, unconditional, urgent”

  1. Sergej writes:

    Surgeons love as well. Lets cure the cancer first.

  2. Detroit Dan writes:

    This was a delightful read to start the day! Thank you.

    I also am sympathetic with Sergej’s allusion to “cancer” in society. I’ve been thinking along those lines myself lately. I detect an uncontrolled growth eating away at the basic systems of society. There is feedback cycle where agents point to a small or nonexistent enemy and are rewarded for fighting the imagined threat. The cancerous agents whip up hysteria and further funding for their cause, growing out of control in a feedback loop gone awry. The cancerous cells are human agents, so we can’t just get rid of them without going to war or engaging in some other horrific repression or destruction.

    We can encourage a loving attitude to both inoculate uninfected people and to treat those who have been caught up in the cancerous mass hysteria and compromised by the seemingly endless pool of money. Step back, clear your mind, and evaluate the situation. Obviously we’ll all be better off if we can understand the “enemy”. The Art of War says ‘Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a thousand battles without disaster.’ Cancers / enemies are real, but they can also be imagined and/or misunderstood.

    Thanks again for this message.

  3. glory writes:

    you allude to @jonst0kes admonition to, paraphrasing, ‘wage love‘ more competently. maybe winning civilization strategically through digital democracy as @glenweyl conceives it would have us slouching towards utopia — and love?