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alesnick's picture

Love as a Fourth Term

The Evolving Systems project is “an exploration of  the idea that form, meaning, and esthetics are interdependent emergent characteristics of an ongoing evolutionary process originally lacking any plan, intention, of purpose.  And of the implications of such an idea for both intellectual and practical life.” 

In addition to the absence of original plan, purpose, or intention, the project is informed by a belief that systems evolve in directions not conceivable in advance, not  towards pre-established goals or visions, but, as it were, on and on, with resonances and repercussions that themselves become sources for further evolutionary process.  So form, meaning, and aesthetics happen, as part of our inhabiting and changing the universe with and along with things like weather, schools, rocks, robots, coal, committees, baby formula, and knives. But something else happens, too.

Something is missing from the trio of form, meaning, and aesthetics. For this reason, I am writing to propose that we add love to the list of key characteristics of the evolutionary process under investigation. While any of the first three terms might be understood to encompass love, it is important to add a term that requires us to bring into central focus a range of meanings occasioned by particular human engagements: attachment, loyalty, engrossment, responsibility, care, and joyful regard for the distinctive being of someone or something outside oneself. It is not possible to consider the intellectual or practical implications of the ways in which systems evolve without working simultaneously from (looping between) singularity and connection, autonomy and affiliation, agency and suffering.

Without such simultaneity, such looping, we fall prey to what I will call the independent fallacy: an assumption that we are firstly, primarily, alone.  Bharath writes, “If there is nothing outside of us which is objectively real which each of us is trying to represent, then the singularity of each of our experiences is itself the most we can focus on.” I am hopeful that we can focus on more, that we create a meaningful zone of human existence in between an exclusive preoccupation with experiential singularity and an unwarranted belief in objective, universal reality. A non-foundational entry point needn’t deny this possibility; indeed, it is in part through human interaction, bodies and brains, that we need, and thereby become able, to recognize these poles and to transcend them. 

At our last meeting, we began to explore the idea that perception is radically perspectival and dynamic.  At the time, I was concerned about the possibility that this approach paid insufficient attention to the exigencies and pressures of attachment.   In response, Anne wrote

I felt that we were being offered a tale intended to liberate us from social conventions, from the scripts that bind us, into alternate possibilities. But what (@ least some of us) heard was the dark side of that tale. A script that separated us from one another. A script that might be freeing only to those who are already felt themselves free of such bonds. The challenge here was that those under more pressure, more stress, are less likely to be able to play with interpretation, less able to imagine alternative explanations. And they are the ones who may need that capacity the most.

At the same time, people under pressure and stress have a perspective, too. The central issue is not that some people are more stressed and some are less so (though that is surely true); it’s that everyone’s life goes forward within webs of love (though this is more obvious about and to some, at varying points, than others).   Of course webs of love are not the only webs in which we live, and we are not always sustained by them; but they are part of what makes human life happen and endure.

Thought and judgment are informed, even constituted by choice:  in association, location, livelihood, attention, language. They are also informed by attachment, which is a channel for choice. A newly joined group member introduces her starting point this way: “One reason for the delay in expressing my interest is a fear of commitment.  I am afraid that if I commit myself to a particular starting position, then I won’t ever be able to reach certain other areas.” So it is, but so too without commitment. You have to start somewhere, and you can only start somewhere. And you are already somewhere. Starting, you become engaged with others (dead, living, intimate, distant). They, together with much else, comprise your path. Like other paths, yours opens more clearly onto some views than others, and you can change both path and view in various ways as well as change your company, and work, along them. These changes, and those you refuse and long for, are matters of form, meaning, aesthetics, and love.

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