The Eros Effect
In Richard Gilman Olpasky’s Communism of Love: The Poverty of Exchange Value, Olpasky explores the fact that love reveals the limits of capitalism and the ill-fated foundations of human relationships in contemporary life, largely because exchange relations navigate the majority of human life. Furthermore, capitalist culture’s production of government influence and regulation, workplace micropolitics, and the broken nuclear family have all created ever evolving systems of managing love by transforming it into false forms that can be easily commodified or administered to. Many theorists from different schools of thought have come to the same conclusion regarding love’s direct binary opposition to capitalism, and it has informed their work in wide-ranging disciplines. Julie Kristeva has contended that psychoanalysis is a liberatory tool with the primary purpose of love:
“For what is psychoanalysis if not an infinite quest for rebirths through the experience of love, which is begun again only to be displaced, renewed, and, if not abreacted, at least collected and set up at the heart of the analysand’s ulterior life as an auspicious condition for his personal renewal, his non-death?”
Following the steps of a latter day Freud who saw the potential of psychoanalysis to aid in world conflict and harm reduction, by equating the goals of psychoanalysis to the enabling of love, violence and harm are understood as byproducts of cultural pillar points of the present late capitalist state. Similarly, bell hooks contends that a “love ethic” is that which amounts to a “return to love as attention, acknowledgement, care, respect, understanding, well-being, and opposition to domination.” A love ethic consists of the listening to and the acknowledging of others, the embrace of the unfamiliar, the attention to the others, and the resistance to any sort of crisis solution that calls for dominative practices. One can see very quickly that this type of ethic runs contrary to the ethics of the capitalist workplace, as well as the financial motivations of the capitalist system at large. Furthermore, hooks argues that love is not compatible with instant gratification culture, and that it in fact has its place outside of “the culture of exchange”, outside of the “greed” inherent in this culture. Greed is a human feeling that cannot be done away with, but it is one that we can work to manage as a society by recognizing its incompatibility with a love ethic. A love ethic stresses that the central concern of attending to the well-being of others is not a peripheral exchange but instead should be seen as a determinant commitment within global politics as a whole and everyday life.
Similarly, Franco Berardi finds a connection between protest rebellion and love. He argues that “solidarity has nothing to do with ‘altruistic self-denial,” and when it comes down to it, it is a self-fulfilling gesture. Love, on the other hand, is not about any sort of altruism according to Berardi, but instead, it is about the “pleasure of sharing the breath and space of the other.” Love is the space and time in which I can enjoy myself thanks to your presence, thanks to your face, thanks to your eyes. Love isn’t a charity, but at the same time, I resist Berardi’s comparison, and I would make the argument that love is both egoistic and altruistic at times, and at other times, neither of these things at all. Love is the return and recombination of people into a collective conceptualization, with interests that as a whole move beyond any of its parts.
George Katsiaficas, in his The Subversion of Politics, argues that the activation of feelings of disaffection in political upheaval and revolt is also the simultaneous activation of feelings of love and solidarity. He writes on the Eros Effect, a process by which “people continually activate their inner desire for freedom”, “in a contagious geographic spreading of human feeling.” For Katsiaficas, this is what makes us human, and furthermore, this is what keeps us from death. The mechanization of society, in this frame of thought, is the direct opposition to Eros, and when the Eros Effect is activated, the love for solidarity and with each other replaces dominant values and norms. Love and Eros is the crack in the system.
There are places where this abolitionist instinct has its roots in far older texts. Aristophanes, in his private writings, argues that “love is that which draws together the severed halves of our original state as we desperately try to make one out of two, to heal the human condition.” The healing power of love in this case would not be the unwell person, but rather, the healing of the human condition. The Greek tradition essentially prefigures an ontological point of severance, and the search for the glue to mend this break essentially becomes the point of life. While I do not find it useful to maintain this binary structure of being, or likewise, the heavy implication of monogamy, the formative nature of this ontological point clearly shows precedent for the psychological impulse to change society into something more just, and to recognize that the historical past of social structures have run amiss and part of the problem is that we have been driven apart.
Love might then be seen as an action, and in relation to the capitalist state, one that is distinctly different from an exchange relation. Love is not a matter of possession or acquiescence in the capitalist mode, but instead, a simultaneously liberatory and remissive act. Eric Fromm, in his The Art of Loving, argues that the loving act must come first from a place of self-love, which he makes a point to distinguish from selfishness. The capitalist mode of ethics reinforces selfish greed and scarcity while at the same time alienating individuals from their own needs and desires. When the world is seen as that which to plunder and people have been conditioned to see themselves and others as commodities of exchange, life becomes a process of returning investment and maximum profit. Furthermore, life in these conditions becomes plagued by the ghost of death and the overall shortness of life without ever actually coming to terms with either of these things, and we fall into a subconscious game of avoiding discomfort as much as possible in the hope of hiding away from this ghost.
As a counterpoint to the capitalist mode, love entails a mutuality of misery and joy, where feelings of both happiness and pain are shared, collective concerns. Simone Weil stresses, however, that this does not mean that we should expect people to be unhappy because we are unhappy. Instead, love ensures that feelings of joy and suffering that an individual experiences are shared experiences without ever actually insisting on any actual obligation. It is not that you should feel this way because I do, or you should feel differently because I do. This isn’t a moral dilemma. Love, on the level of basic human feelings, works as a subconscious connective tissue that may or may not be there. The absence of this connective tissue, the opposite of love, isn’t hatred, however. The absence of love is a total separation and indifference, a complete distance in the capacity of human feeling of another from your own. This isn’t the absence of pain or hatred; love can certainly draw toward uncomfortable feelings, and ultimately, the capitalist mode of accumulation and acquisition functions off the avoidance of these feelings altogether and the enforcement of indifference. One can start to see in this framework how a love ethic might inform the political possibilites of resistance and revolultionary impulse in our contemporary, late-capitalist moment.