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On Love and Lennon, The Political Stupidity of the Jews and more.




On Love and Lennon
TO THE EDITORS:
Zeev Maghen, in his charming piece “Imagine: On Love and Lennon (AZURE 7, Spring 1999), writes that the will to love and be loved is the sole true motive for human behavior, and that love means isolating an object from and preferring it over everything else. The pretense to love everyone equally means eliminating distinctions among people and among groups, something attainable only by means of a Procrustean bed—which is why regimes based upon universal love are murderous ones. From this Maghen draws a conclusion about the kind of group one “should identify with: That of ones national origins. Only our own people deserve our greatest love.
For purposes of the discussion, I am willing to grant the claim that love is the only motive, to skip the question of the origins of love, and to call into question the assumptions of his essay, all by way of a single question: How do we determine the object of our love?
When dealing with love directed at a single person, the first condition for love is availability. We do not fall in love with someone whom we do not know about; rather, we tend to fall in love with people who we have reason to believe will reciprocate. Rejected love hurts, and people who tend to fall in love with those who cannot love them back are condemned to tragic lives. The likelihood of falling in love and receiving love in return depends on any number of individual variables, but also on how many opportunities the two people have to meet. A peasant who has never left his isolated village will fall in love with a local girl, while a nomad may fall in love with someone who lives far off. This is why a common bit of advice for the broken-hearted is to create a broad network of social contacts.
The second condition for falling in love is the power of imagination. We project upon the object of our love positive qualities which we think will act in synergy with our own. The old line about the masochists longing for the sadist contains a great deal of truth. Love disappoints as soon as we discover that we have been deceiving ourselves with regard to the traits of our beloved, or to our own, or that the partners to the tacit agreement have themselves changed over the course of time. The point is that love is fluid; it derives from self-definition, and it is liable to change its object.
What is true for interpersonal love is no less true for the sort discussed by Maghen. An individual may replace the group of people to whom he casts his affection with another group, or narrow or widen the existing one. A resident of Piedmont who loves his city may love its Italianness—that is, he may identify with a group that came into being during the last third of the nineteenth centuryׁor he may love its own unique qualities. In the latter case, he may support the secessionist Northern League and feel a greater affection for people from Vienna than for those from Naples. A man from Barcelona or St. Sebastian may see himself as primarily Catalonian or Basque, or, alternatively, as Spanish, French or European. His preferences will depend upon the circumstances which shaped his world-view: Someone shaped by a tribal world will tend to prefer his own tribe, while someone shaped by a borderless world in which a billion people speak in English and eat at McDonalds is likely to adopt a far broader identity.
Maghen thinks that he can identify the “correct level of identity. If we follow his line of thinking, we reach the conclusion that the best love is that which is restricted to the smallest group. The correct object of ones identity is a nation, and certainly not a social class, a profession, the human race or ones Internet “chat group. But if “smaller is better, why is the nation the basic unit of identity—and not ones ethnicity, city, neighborhood or family?
The young Israelis whom Maghen met at the Los Angeles airport, followers of this swami or that, are depicted by Maghen as fools, because they choose to love the cosmos as a whole. He correctly observes that they misunderstand the teaching that they have embraced, but he has missed something more important about them: They did not fall in love with a vulgarized Eastern religion, but with the role that they have found for themselves—the sense of mission, the feeling of camaraderie among the members of their sect, the saffron outfit, and their release from the Israeli identity. They fell in love with an object that fit their emotional needs at this stage in their lives.
One can “redeem them (I understand that Maghen is an expert in this) and bring them “home to “proper love, but why do so? The only answer is that we need everyone we can find who will help strengthen our own group. But to reach that conclusion, there is no need for Maghens neat, yet untenable, theories about “love.
Yaron London
Tel Aviv
 
TO THE EDITORS:
I recently encountered Zeev Maghens beautifully written essay, “Imagine: On Love and Lennon, in the Spring 1999 issue of AZURE, which I found on the desk of a friend. I took it home, read it, and my brain was on fire. The author took a strand of thought, a linear logical and emotional progression running through my mind, and clearly articulated it on paper. I thank him. It is an intellectual celebration, as well as a relief, to have an emotional and cerebral struggle translated into rational and linguistic clarity.
However, I am not writing to praise the author for a praiseworthy piece, but rather to challenge some of the very foundations of his pyramid of logic, pillars of his articulate architecture without which his symmetrical structure crumbles.
I think that “man can be crudely divided into two compartments: The internal, distinct, personal consciousness, and the interaction of the self with the environment. Im not saying that they are two separate entities; of course not—the internal consciousness reacts to stimuli from the world through physical senses in a continuous, spiraling, interdependent relationship that makes man man. Im simply suggesting that there exist both the distinct “personality, on the one hand, and the self that perceives the environment and is a part of the environment, on the other—the same abstract separations used to defend either side of the nature-versus-nurture arguments.
Now, tentatively adhering to this simple model of man, I have immediate problems with the authors conception of love. I agree with him that loves a thing.When he asked, “Why do you get up in the morning? my body screamed, “Love, dammit, Maghen! And when I saw those pretty four capital letters on the top of the next page, I knew that the author and I were sharing a moment. My disagreement arises with Maghens belief that love is preferential. To a certain extent, of course, love is preferential: We relate to people who share pieces of ourselves—sympathy and compassion are founded on our abilities to imagine our own emotions in other people, as if that person were an extension of the self. So inevitably, we will be able to love and sympathize with those human beings with whom we share most characteristics: Family, friends, lovers, etc. All of this does indeed create the hierarchical love that the swamis in Maghens essay were so afraid of: The preferential love that values specific human beings over others based on their personalities, their existing characteristics that relate to you.
But I think thats only half the heart. Preferential love feeds the part of man that is his internal consciousness, his recognized distinct self. It is a practical love based on the ability of other individuals to tap into and extract personal emotions from your body, a practical love based on existing real characteristics between two people that attract each to the other, based on the realization that you can only meet and share experiences with so many people. Fine. Yes, I love my daddy more than your daddy and yes, Rabbi Akiva hit the bulls-eye.
But another part of the individual, the individual that is not so much an internal, distinct consciousness but a being that interacts with its environment and perceives itself as a piece in a larger puzzle, also feels a type of “love. It is a being that feels unified with strangers—of course based on the same assumption that strangers can feel my emotions and share my thoughts and experiences—good old beautiful human imagination. But this type of love is one of potential. It is the love of the imagined human potential in strangers. And this love manifests itself ideally in the child. Every man looks at a child and feels what I would call love for it, and it is not a nostalgic love; it is a love of the potential of that child, the inherent potential of innocence to feel any emotion. This is the basis of universal love.


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