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David Barnes
David Barnes

May, Rollo - Love And Will (Norton, 1969) ((TOP))

The book explores how the modern loss of older values, whose structures and stories provided society with explanations of the mysteries of life, forces contemporary humanity to choose between finding meaning within themselves or deciding that neither oneself, nor life, has meaning.[1] May argues that the core issue informing modern Western man's struggles is the failure to understand the significance, origin, and dynamic interrelationship between love and will.

May, Rollo - Love and Will (Norton, 1969)

The author proposes that love and will are interdependent processes that both influence and create new awareness within consciousness. Both involve the self-affirmation and self-assertion of the individual who allows themselves to affect, as well as be affected by, another. Their interrelated nature is emphasized by the fact that when they are not healthily and adaptively related to each other they can end up undermining each other's efficacious expression. While in the past they were consistently valued as the solution to life's problems, in our modern age of transition and uncertainty they have themselves become the most significant source of anxiety we must grapple with. (page 12) [2]

"The old myths and symbols by which we oriented ourselves are gone, anxiety is rampant; we cling to each other and try to persuade ourselves that what we feel is love; we do not will because we are afraid that if we choose one thing or one person we'll lose the other, and we are too insecure to take that chance." (Page 14)

May perceived the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as commercialization of sex and pornography, as having influenced society, planting the idea in the minds of adults that love and sex are no longer directly associated. According to May, emotion became separated from reason, making it socially acceptable to seek sexual relationships and avoid the natural drive to relate to another person and create new life. May believed the awakening of sexual freedoms can lead modern society to dodge awakenings at higher levels. May suggested that the only way to turn around the cynical ideas that characterized his generation is to rediscover the importance of caring for another, which May describes as the opposite of apathy. For May, the choice to love is one of will and intentionality, unlike the base, instinctive, drive for sexual pleasure. He wrote in Love and Will that instead of surrendering to such impulses, real human existence demanded thought and consideration. To be free would not be to embrace the oxymoron "free love" and the associated hedonism, but to rise above such notions and realize that love demands effort.

Although moral progress is not obvious in history in all dimensions, and never will be, this is not taken by Whitehead to signify that no progress, however partial, is possible. The serious and tragic nature of its lack can emotionally lead one to pessimism, but pessimism is a sentiment and has no necessary or obvious ontological justification. To achieve a belief in the possibility of creative evolution in ethical life as directed by human beings, one requires, according to Whitehead, a love or respect for men -- a minimal requirement, without which it is not possible to evoke the requisite faith needed in the face of the perennial confrontation with evil.

That the narrowness of the "lower experience" has been often considered the meaning of happiness by common sense while security and order in life are extolled as virtue is itself a tragic testimony to the folly of human timidity, as analyzed below. The view has been a remarkably successful self-fulfilling prophecy -- as Whitehead recognized, and as novelists never cease reminding us. The mistaken estimate that happiness can exclude growth or that survival itself can obtain by negating creative change is itself based on a mistaken definition of the self as analogous to a substance that reaches identity and survival through exclusion, rather than through relational expansion. To Whitehead, such expansion would ultimately include a relation of concern with the entire universe of values, ideal and actual. This choice is the meaning of love, freely willed; its moral significance is eternal and objective. To be sure, the desire for its realization, as for the realization of the subordinate value of order or harmony, is subjective. But all desires are inevitably subjective in their psychological origin, and the fact is beside the point.

The agony of such speculation does not seem unknown to White-head, who discusses the tragedy inherent in the loss of what "might have been and is not" (AI 275), a loss primarily to the individual and secondarily to the world. If psychologists combine to teach us that the achievement of genuine self-love (which is an achievement and not a given) is rare, this is not surprising -- although far too many of us will be surprised. If philosophers, including Whitehead, suggest a metaphysics of the self which can insist and explain why self-love is the very opposite of egoism, and happiness not in conflict with social relation, it is perhaps more comprehensible why evil may arise from psychological ignorance rather than some original moral depravity. 041b061a72


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