The Supremacy of Subjectivity: Why Objectivity is a Contingent Truth

The modern age is full of humans who trust in nothing but the so-called “objective” scientific method. In the past, the Pope handed down to the majority of the world what was deemed respectable, absolutely true, and dogmatically certain. Today, with a few name changes and a swapping of terms, we have the scientific community handing down religious dogma shrouded in the cloak of scientific truth. In the past, as history shows us, one could not question the Pope. Martin Luther attempted to do this and faced a council, retaliation, and essentially, social suicide. He was a marked man the moment he called into question the ruling authorities of the day. One does not need to be a genius today to know who or what is the domineering authority today. In fact, there is no use in my telling you. You already know. Science prides itself in being able to hand down something that is warm, fuzzy, and absolutely cozy to modern sensibilities. If a scientist told you anything—and I mean anything—you would do everything he or she (or it) commands you. Science’s commands are absolute. There is no escaping both the beauty of science and the horror of it. It hands you nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. Its only truth, in this particular case, is the reality that mass equals energy. And where lies the truth of science? That may or may not be debatable. On the one hand, it is a fact—an empirical one—that mass equals energy. “How so,” one may ask, “Is it fact?” “Well,” one may respond, “It is fact precisely because more than one person agrees on what he or she is subjectively experiencing—in other words, there is an agreement between two or more subjectivities.” What matters here is to note that objectivity arises out of that awful, abstract, misunderstood notion of subjectivity—that bastard of a thing! How could the world’s most glorious idea—the idea of objectivity (and it is merely a metaphysical idea and nothing more)—come out of of such a putrid thing? How could objectivity be grounded in the very thing it is attempting to deny? How could objectivity arise out of the confrontation of two or more subjectivities? Objectivity responds by denying the reality of subjectivity, like a daughter who denies the reality of her body housing her mother’s genes. Science’s response, in some circles, has been to suggest the idea (again, a very metaphysical “thing”) that, in fact, subjectivity is merely an illusion: all that really is real is the material, the neuronal, the scientifically attainable. Nothing outside of objectivity really exists—the rest is an illusion. “Yes,” some scientist shrouded in his religious white cloak and thick mystical goggles might say, “We have discovered that the only thing that is real is that upon which two or more subjective beings agree upon—so long as there is scientific consensus, we accept that as empirical fact, infallible (relative to the day) truth.” In the past, they had councils and synods; today, they have peer-review journals and scientific consensus. Same shit (for the most part), different day. But where art thou, Subjectivity? What happened to thou? Were you, too, persecuted by the scientific community? Did the “men in the white religious cloaks” banish you from the precincts of society? Were you, too, crucified like the Messiah, outside the streets of Jerusalem—err, outside the halls of the university laboratory? Did they annihilate you and reduce you to nonsense? In their religious zeal—for what more could it be?—did they take away individual freedom. No longer are certain aspects of the world considered “free to roam.” We cannot entertain thoughts questioning them. We, the individuals, have exchanged freedom to think whatever the hell we like for a scientific consensus. In return, we had been given health, electronics, modern and lonely society, etc. In fact, I heard we will be taking flights to the moon soon. Maybe we will even colonize it. So long as nobody questions the terrorists in the white lab coats; the ones in bed with big government, corporate America, and anything that smells of money. So long as they get their tax-sponsored government grants, for their all-important research (such as how to perfect torture, brain wash people, dictate people by means of mass-psychological manipulation, create weapons of mass destruction, mass surveillance, etc., etc.)—paid by, you, the tax payer. In the past, yet again a parallel, the Church collected so-called “tithes.” The Pope needed the palace built in Rome. Today, it is not much different. Your landlord has changed, his beliefs have changed, his weapons of mass destruction have taken on a new “flavor.” Back then, the peasants had the Crusades; today, you have drones striking down Pakistan civilians. (But, please, listen to your sensible Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of our Nature [2011]: the world is a much safer place to live than in the past.) Back then, we had court-sponsored prophets, like Micaiah, tickling the ears of King Ahab; today, we have Pinker tickling the ears of the modern elite inhabiting the upper echelons of Harvard society. “We have made progress—we are becoming (almost) angels!” The modern court prophets tickle the eardrums of people who like to hear “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. But Pinker’s ass isn’t the one being fried by American drones in Pakistan. So, it makes perfect sense. Enough about court prophets. We are dealing with the irreligious elite who dictate what we should and should not do. It’s time to say the “f-word” to the Ten Commandments. We need the bazillion mandates that the scientific community is now imposing upon us. Ten is a bazillion commands too little. For every laboratory experiment a white coat terrorist performs, ten pills and ten vaccines are manufactured; for every idea entertained in the lofty courtyards of science halls in a given university, ten mandates are handed down to us—no, you—the people. The Pope’s reign of terror was a bunch of bullshit compared to this. It’s coming. The fact that I would disagree with the elite maybe never struck them as something that is valid. I mean, God, it is a subjective appraisal of an objective truth. Who the hell cares what I, a mere human being, thinks? Right? It is not like I have  some sort of white robe on. I am not a pope, neither do I have access to bishops or cardinals. I simply do what I am told. Because a white coat terrorist told me so. He terrorizes my freedom to think, to believe, to do anything that would allow me to be human. If freedom is a cardinal truth, then scientists are its terrorists. But we have already strayed too far. From whence does objectivity arise? Objectivity arises when two or more subjective individuals, limited as they are by their limited experience, successfully observe, record, and/or experience a given hypothetical noumenon, in which the noumenon is understood to be subjectively and phenomenologically similar to what is being observed by the Other. That is, when Einstein observed that E=mc2, this observation was confirmed and found to be similar to what other subjective human individuals experienced. As this subjective agreement increased in number, its truth increased proportionally. If E=mc2 only for Einstein—and not for the subjective world at large—it would not be considered an empirical fact, it would not be an objective truth, neither would it have scientific consensus. And so, we have come full circle. Objectivity presupposes, first and foremost, the cardinality and supremacy of subjectivity. Apart from subjectivity, objectivity doth not exist. And, hence, objectivity is a contingent truth; it is contingent upon the necessary existence of subjectivity.

But what do I mean that “objectivity does not exist”? Surely if there is a tree falling in the forest with no one to observe it, there remains a tree falling, right? By “objectivity” I mean that noumenon which exists outside of the mind (i.e., being mind-independent) but is, at the moment, being observed by an observer. All observers are, strictly speaking, subjective; all observations made are, strictly speaking, subjective. It is usually out of this chaos of subjectivities that we come to “objective” truths. They exist “out there,” so to speak—but in being perceived, they become “in here” (in our minds). But the object is never really “known” by us, is it? We may doubt its existence. We may need another human individual to confirm our suspicions. In any case, we are dependent upon the human mind. And the human mind is not a perfect machine. We are just as error-ridden as, well, anything else. Even if, theoretically speaking, we were able to have an objective object before us, and we were able to spend much time observing it, the object would never cross our subject-object barrier (just like certain medications cannot cross the blood-brain barrier). It would always remain, forever, unattainable and “out there.”
Epistemologically, I am merely restating the limits of human reason. Nothing more. Along with Thomas Kuhn, I myself do not claim to be a relativist. However, as it is quite obvious, I am certainly a subjectivist. That is, everything that I know—or claim to know—is thoroughly grounded in my own being, my mind, my subjectivity. As for absolute truths, I have little doubt in theoretically contemplating their existence. However, when it comes to empirically proving things, I am quite certain that this is easier said than done. Moreover, to be more clear, my main objection should be seen as a corrective to subjective approaches shrouded in the cloaks of objectivity. In other words, I am critical of a culture which claims objective knowledge of a given thing when no such objective knowledge exists. Anecdotally speaking, I hear the term “objective” thrown around quite often. It is to this abuse of the term that I am primarily reacting to.
Have I denied objectivity? I do not think so. I merely pointed out that objectivity (at the very least, some forms of objectivity) are reached by means of a democratic consensus amongst subjective human individuals. We might call this a “scientific consensus” or a “scholarly consensus.” That such forms of objectivity exist are, I believe, not really disputed. Finally, as a concluding comment, this writing is, as I see it, mostly to be read as a piece that helps us work together towards attaining absolute Truths. While we may disagree on how that is done, we should all keep our minds open to robust criticism and healthy disagreement. At times, one must step back and reevaluate one’s work: is it really as objective as one thought it were?

 

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Shadow Romance

Unfinished Abstract Thoughts on Love for Disorganized Times: Towards a Definition of Love

For some strange reason, in times such as these—where I feel perpetually bored to paralysis—I find my disorganized thoughts percolating between the fine borders of love and hate. I think myself into thinking that ambiguous ambivalence is, perhaps, the only road worth taking. I claim to know nothing at all—so I write about love. In a time such as this—where my mind is freely floating, carelessly caressing the oft-cited phrases of lover’s past—I awake to discover disentangled thoughts in disorganized times. In other words, I weasel-word my way into everything and anything—that being love.

I guess love needs no introduction, but I would like to pontificate, as always. In fact, pontificating on the subject seems to be the only thing I am currently capable of doing. I am, as a human being—by all means—incapable of loving. Which is why I find love such a bothersome and curious thing.

By all means, do forgive me! Language is incompetent where rhymes are necessary. I should have been a poet—then, and only then, would I have turned out to be a perfect lover.

I do sincerely hate languages. They are such an obtuse means of reaching something so profound as…love. I mean, you spend so much time deliberating about a subject in a language that is foreign to it. Love is—Oh, God, here I go again! (using words that don’t make much sense)—continuously evading definition.

So I won’t even try—but I will.

I must confess, my own obsession with the subject began a long time ago—before time began. In other words, before time immemorial. I was quite a regular child, nothing spectacular in my own childhood. Nobody—and I do mean nobody—would have thought that I would turn out the way I did. As a child, I spent most of my time building things, running around (like most boys do), getting dirty, and finding the opposite sex morbidly disgusting—but secretly fascinating. They were—and probably are—an entirely different species, of a different stock than men. I enjoyed sports up until about middle school. Somewhere in my early teenage years, I had begun reading more books than necessary. In fact, even while I was twelve years of age, I would finish reading assigned books light-years ahead of the entire class. Eventually I phased out assigned readings and began reading whatever interested me. By high school, I would be awarded all kinds of awards in the field of the “humanities.” By sixteen, in a single year of high school, I managed to check out six hundred forty books. It may have been two years of high school, this I cannot clearly remember.

At this point, one begins to wonder what it was that I was reading. To be frankly honest, most of my readings were in fiction. However, sometime around fifteen, I had begun reading scholarly literature, psychology, philosophy, etc.

And, inevitably, I fell in love. Sweet, sweet love.

I don’t exactly remember what it was that made be become so attracted to this one particular blonde girl in my class. She had big green eyes. Maybe that did it. I fell in love—madly. I wrote her a poem and had it published in some anthology. Unfortunately, after a bit of searching, I could not locate it. Whatever. This too shall pass.

I remember one particular day, in a health class, when I seen my friend writing something that resembled a poem. He kept looking in the direction of, well, my affectionate one. Apparently I wasn’t the only guy in class writing her poems. After that, I decided that if two people loved the same girl, I would be the first one to back out. And I did.

The only thing is that I never really stopped liking her. I still had to sit next to her in class. And so I became obsessed with love and romance, marriage and sex. In other words, I hit puberty.

At this point in my life, I had begun reading literature on love, lots of literature. I mastered marriage, sex, and pregnancy. I read books and even had begun writing my own approaches and thoughts on love. By the time I was sixteen, I had decided I would publish books on love and that my first book—appropriately titled “The Battle for Love”—would become a bestseller. The book—err, the 5-page gibberish document—luckily never saw the light of day, the ink of print, or the pixels of a blog. (Thank. God.)

I was, and continue to be, a thoughtless and eccentrically horrible writer. An elite few like to read anything I write—but only the insane trod that path (to quote myself—another characteristically megalomaniacal trait of mine).

After my non-existent literary agent failed to publish my fifteen-year-old mind’s magnum opus, I vanished into seclusion. And remained there until—today. (I’m eternally glad that you found me, you!) I discovered—and continued to reinforce—the correct view that one writes only after one has mastered a subject. But—due to the fossilized remnants of my postlapsarian genes—I tend to carry the remains of my ancestor’s “fallen nature,” so I often do enjoy having my cake and eating it too. Today sounds like a good day for cake, don’t you think so?

I shall write about love—though I have yet to “master” the subject.

Ah, where should I begin? Where will my thoughts lead me?

At this point in time, I have this to say about love: do it or do not do it, you shall regret both. Whether one loves or does not love matters not—one ends up regretting either choice.

I have regretted, and continue to regret…nothing. I am an anomaly. This is probably because I tend to be somewhat hopeful in a very sadistic way. Life is good. That is my motto.

But I do think about regret. I think about the possibility of regretting. What if I were to regret this or that situation? I ask myself these sorts of questions all the time. What if this girl—this particular girl, no, that one—were to be my lover? What if we wrote books together and talked ourselves through sleep? What if… God, I do live in the subjunctive mood…

I have become somewhat particular about my thinking on love. I have become what some may call a “subjectivist.” For me, as I believe it is for everyone, love is a subjective thing. One must—and I do mean must—refrain from resorting to scientific thinking on the subject. Oh, do not get me wrong, one could read the literature, but one must never forget that the subject at hand—love, that is—is never to be confused for something objective, something to be reduced by science’s all-grasping claws. We can examine some aspects of love, just like neuroscientists can examine the qualia—that is, the subjective experience—of color. But in the process of reduction and examination, one must never confuse the scientific data about the subject for the subject itself. This happens all too often in our modern age. To continue the color example, while a scientist may be able to reduce the sensation of the color red to a specific pattern that neurons follow, one is never any closer to the color red—and its all-too-important sensation—than when one started. Likewise it is with love, while some psychologists and philosophers may teach us a thing or two about love, we are never—and I really do mean never—any closer to the quale (singular for qualia) of love than when we first started. This is, quite obviously, a problem. A serious problem indeed! We write so many things about love, yet we fail to love; we think so much about love, yet we fail to practice loving. That is truly a dilemma. We have thousands of books lining our libraries and bookstores regarding love and loving others—yet I have been left untouched; one may add: loveless to the bone. So what is, precisely, the problem? What are we doing wrong? Can anything be done?

I have spent a lifetime thinking about the subject—even, on rare occasions, I have had the pleasure of passing as a loving person—yet I have not made much progress regarding the implementation of love in our society. How does one do it? How do we go about doing it? First and foremost: how do I love?

While there are many things one could say about love, one needs to start somewhere. One cannot merely write with the preconceived notion that that which one writes would be somehow complete, in and of itself. Nothing is truly complete. As Kierkegaard remarked, “Once you label me, you negate me.” I cannot write about love thinking that what I write is somehow definitive (perfectly packaged, wrapped, sealed, and labeled)—it is not. Moreover, as Kurt Gödel has shown, even logic and mathematics appear “complete” when they are incomplete. My approach to love is somewhat infinite—I could always say more. To be honest, millions could always say more. But speaking isn’t always enough—if only millions would love more. I write as one writing love letters in the  Second World War from the trenches of Germany; these letters have no particular beginning and no, hopefully, particular end in mind—I simply write because I am obligated to do so.

From such trenches, one writes with one’s blood; one writes with the ink of one’s soul, with the callouses of one’s heart. One sees with the eyes of living, warm-blooded life—raw and full of emotion. In fact, one writes with a sort of immediacy that is not always available in mundane times. One writes with one’s whole life behind, and death staring right back ahead. I write, at times, in such a convoluted manner. In order to write in such a way, I must subjectively subjectivize such a moment—I must become emotionally and experientially one with it. Only the future will determine if I have come close to such particular writing.

First and foremost, I choose to return back to that most all-important of topics: the subjectivity of love. Love is subjective. I’m sure you have all heard that before. I will merely repeat it again: love is subjective. Beat that into your hearts and head.

What may, at first, appear to be a selfless act—such as sacrificial love—may actually conceal something of more utilitarian sorts. Even the most wicked of demons could appear to love. Some people “love” out of convenience. Some people “love” out of necessity. Some people “love” out of fear. In all (or most?) of these cases, love is not really present.

But all such philosophizing merely evades the real question: what is love? I will not attempt to answer this particular question with the thoroughness that it surely deserves; rather, I will attempt to formulate a tentative, working definition.

Love is a verb that presupposes the existence of two human beings who think and act in such a way that to both subjective individuals the phrase “I love you” comes to mind upon the mere sight, thought, or mention of the Other. The act of loving the Other is holistic in the sense that both intention (i.e., the human will) is perfectly in tune and in harmonious relationship with the consequential act. When a human is in such a relationship, his or her thoughts and actions are subjectively loving and are interpreted—in most cases—as such by the Other (i.e., the one being loved). Such “loving acts,” as they are normally called, are usually self-sacrificial and reflect selfless behavior, immediate care, and concern for the well-being of the Other. Love, by this definition, may include other related acts (such as sexual expression, friendship, care, etc.) but does not inherently need to. In sum, in order for an act to qualify as being “loving,” the act must (a) be seen as loving by the subjective individual committing the act; (b) the act must be loving according to intent—and consequentially; and, finally, (c) the act must be interpreted as loving by the one upon whom such “loving acts” are acted upon. As a side note, it must also be noted that, at times, when the fruition of intent is impossible (e.g., a wounded soldier wishing to help another wounded soldier in enemy territory but inhibited to fulfill his intent due to his present paralyzed condition) such “acts” of love—though they have not been acted upon—are, nonetheless, to be considered acts of love.

The above is my current, working (limited) definition of love. It is not all-inclusive, and I do not claim it is. It is merely to function as a definition which excludes selfish acts and utilitarian acts, which may be shrouded in the cloaks of “love.” Some acts which appear loving are not so. If I love somebody because of some utilitarian good, such an act is not entirely loving. If I love my father (which is a good thing) because I wish to secure my inheritance, such an act is immediately to be excluded as an act of love according to my definition.

Now that I’ve “defined” love, back to the beginning: how is love subjective? Love is subjective because it presupposes the existence of two or more subjective human beings. Love presupposes the existence of—at least—two very different minds. Love, being a singularity (or, at the very least, an attempt at such a thing, as the union theorists would argue) encounters serious issues when presented with the issue of dual-ness: there are two or more attempting to love and be loved. Love, a single unity, encounters the problem of subjectivity. For example, if I attempt to love another girl—as I have attempted many times—such acts of love are not inherently seen as acts of love. The girl may very well see me as a threat—not as a loving person! If love is, as I do see it, an attempt at unification with another, an attempt to have an I and a You become a We, then surely love’s singularity is threatened by the existence of a mind who is not in harmony with the Other. If I love another girl, and she does not love me, such a thing, by (my) definition is not love. Love is threatened by subjectivity. We, as a species, are threatened by our subjectivity. We misunderstand and miscommunicate with others all the time. We start wars over mistakes. We hurt others due to misunderstandings. We attack others without attempting to understand them—we fail to taste the waters of their subjectivity. Love is constantly having war being raged upon it—by our very own subjectivity. Even the objective scientist (objectivity in this case is merely an illusion) cannot help but be faced with the immediate problem of love and subjectivity. Herein lies the problem of love: love demands a kind of conscious effort at organization and synchronization. For an individual to love another human, one must attempt to love the Other in the Other’s language; one must, then, be accepted as a potential human being with whom the Other could consummate love. This involves dual-wills (i.e., the wills of two different individuals), the wills of the lover and the one being loved, and, most obviously, this involves conscious synchronization—but not at the expense of losing the individuality of every individual involved.

In order for a We to exist—what some now call “we-ness”—there must be an I and a You—this is what I mean by “not at the expense of losing the individuality of every individual involved.” If the I is lost or the You (or both) then the We, too, ceases to exist. Love, then, must inherently find a fine balance between We-formation (i.e., the formation of we-ness) and the individuals involved. This, of course, is a problem for each and every subjective individual—I cannot tell you how to remain yourself. That is a job only you can do.

So how do we go about loving others? How can we increase love? Will education help? (If not, then what is the point of my writing this paper?) I do not, at the present time, have an answer. I am not sure how we are to go about doing things the right way (if such a way exists). Here I am merely reflecting on one thing and one thing only: the subjectivity of love. Love, for me, is subjective. I have offered my readers some thoughts on love. These thoughts are not definitive nor are they thorough—they are merely thoughts which, I hope, would stimulate thinking and discussion on this thorny issue.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

The Søren Kierkegaard You Never Knew: Unscientific Philosophical Fragments on “Love’s Hidden Life” in Works of Love

Works of Love is, perhaps, the greatest single piece of literature written in the history of humankind. Astonishingly, it has been greatly ignored by philosophers, laymen, and theologians alike. Unlike its predecessors, Either/Or, Fear and Trembling, or The Sickness Unto Death, Works of Love has largely remained unknown in the Western world. In an attempt to introduce my parents to this masterpiece, I discovered that the Russians had not even bothered to produce a translation to this very day! Reading recent reviews written by modern readers—a bare dozen or so—I recognized in their writings precisely how I felt about the book: mesmerized and changed. Most reviewers were both disturbed by the fact that such a life-altering book could have been given a cold shoulder, lasting a swiftly-approaching two centuries. I, too, could subjectively relate to that experience; I wanted to share my love for this work with someone—anyone—but there were none to be found. It is out of this frustration that I write; my presuppositions and inevitable biases are self-evident. I will mostly engage with the book’s profound first twelve pages (in the Hongs’ English translation). My purpose is modest: to briefly summarize Kierkegaard’s thoughts and provide some of my own unscientific remarks.

Kierkegaard begins his masterpiece by (re)introducing his reader—“that single individual”—to a well-known verse out of Luke’s Gospel: “Every tree is known by its own fruit, for figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (6:44). Immediately he launches an attack on all reductionist empirical physicalism: If “we should believe nothing that we cannot see with our physical eyes, then we first and foremost ought to give up believing in love.”[1] He wants nothing to do with naturalistic approaches to reality; he slams his book shut in the face of all such readers. If one is to proceed reading his book on love, one must first begin by assuming the critical[2] position that reality as we know it with our empirical senses should be doubted. This is not all there is to life as we know it. Kierkegaard clearly sees love as something that falls, in some mysterious way, out of the ordinary—it is not to be entirely reduced to physical processes which can be observed with the human eye and mind. This point must be pressed if modern readers, who are almost always grounded in scientific naturalistic approaches to anything and everything, are to understand where Kierkegaard stands on this issue—he would have atomically blasted the likes of Helen Fisher’s Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love[3] out of its turbid waters, no questions asked. Kierkegaard sees those who reduce everything to atoms as incapable of robustly understanding and subjectively embracing love. For such people, love is an “eternal loss, for which there is no compensation…”[4] Those who live such lives are ultimately “deceived.”[5]

Modern readers may find this anti-physicalism to be something which inherently makes Kierkegaard’s conception of love wrong-headed. Is not science the greatest asset humanity has had, well, in a long time? But Kierkegaard is very careful with what he chooses to say and what he does not. He foresees that his approach presupposes the existence of God and that Love is to be ontologically grounded in God. “[A] human being’s love originates mysteriously in God’s love.”[6] Love, which is in God, is the source which fuels all other so-called loves. Kierkegaard makes some further axiomatic statements: Love “connects the temporal and eternity” and is, therefore, “before everything and remains after everything is gone.”[7] Simply put: love is eternal. Why, then, cannot empirical physicalists (or, materialists, if you will) actually really love? Kierkegaard believes that because love is eternal—and since the eternal is what the physicalist disbelieves—he or she has “an enormous relief to cast off this bond of eternity.”[8] The physicalist, in his rejection of the supra-natural eternal, is, by inference, rejecting true love. Christian love, Kierkegaard argues, which is to be identified as the true form of love, has nothing to do with those aesthetic poets. Christian love is eternal and, therefore, never perishes. The poets write about a love which blossoms—if something blossoms, it must die. “What the poet sings about must have the sadness, which is the riddle of his own life, that it must blossom—and, alas, must perish.”[9] In a paradoxical way, in denying true Christian eternal love, the physicalist, who rejects eternity, is stuck recycling “blossoming love” in an ever-increasing state of “sadness”—while he rejects suffering and sorrow, he still ends up wallowing in it! (In this perfect example, one can paraphrase with Kierkegaard, “Do it or do not do it—you will regret both.”)[10] Granted, some of us may disagree with Kierkegaard, but that is all beside the point. (For atheist and theist alike can benefit from his through analyses of love.) However, Kierkegaard does consider these presuppositions important—despite what one ultimately chooses to do with them.

In several tightly-packed sentences, Kierkegaard comments, regarding the physicalist who gave up on love, “That he ‘has seized to sorrow’ we shall not deny, but of what benefit is that when it would be to his salvation to begin in earnest sorrow over himself!”[11] This sentence, if superficially skimmed over, can lead to disastrous results. Kierkegaard is clearly and concisely stating that love is equivalent to sorrow. This observation of his is not to be missed; it is one of the key marks of Christian love. Kierkegaard is here identifying for the readers what the physicalist knew all along: to love someone truly is to suffer, to have sorrow. But from whence did such an idea arise? Kierkegaard, as many already know, was a devout Christian, a reader of the Gospels. And in the Gospels, Kierkegaard saw what it cost God to love the world. He saw what it meant to lay a life down for somebody else. Somebody effectively unworthy. Kierkegaard instinctively knew the price one had to pay to really love. Love has an inverse relationship with power and control: those who have more power and control usually have less love; those who love most have the least amount of influence and power in a relationship. And where exactly does one find such a self-less love?

Kierkegaard insists that “Every tree is known by its own fruit.” He wants the readers to realize the importance of loving intentions, amplified by sound waves used to carry loving words, which result in loving actions. Herein lies the secret to Works of Love. In a similar vein, probably inspired by Kierkegaard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, and I will quote him at length:

“There is an old argument about whether only the will, the act of the mind, the person, can be good, or whether achievement, work, consequence, or condition can be called good as well—and if so, which comes first and which is more important. This argument, which has also seeped into theology, leading there as elsewhere to serious aberrations, proceeds from a basically perverse way of putting the question. It tears apart what is originally and essentially one, namely, the good and the real, the person and the work. The objection that Jesus, too, had this distinction between person and work in mind, when he spoke about the good tree that brings forth good fruits, distorts this saying of Jesus into its exact opposite. Its meaning is not that first the person is good and then the work, but that only the two together, only both as united in one, are to be understood as good or bad.”[12]

Like Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard is not entirely a Kantian deontologist, neither is he a J. S. Mill consequentialist/utilitarian; he is both. He refuses to dichotomize and pit one against the other. He refuses to call “love” that which results in evil. He refuses to call “love” that which is done out of evil, which happens to result in what appears to be a loving action. He refuses to take that step. He sees love as both being done out of a loving heart (deontological approach), spoken with loving words, resulting in loving actions (consequentialist approach). That, for him, is love par excellence. “Every tree is known by its own fruit.” Love must produce fruit; it must result in what is perceived to be a loving action. Kierkegaard, ever the skeptic, rightly delves into the subjectivity (or, inter-subjectivity) of love. What if one is deceived by someone into thinking the fruit is “love” when it is not? What if someone is self-deceived into thinking the fruit is “love” when it is not? How does one know what is love? Do not all of our subjective worldviews come into play? Kierkegaard is completely aware of such subjective elements. It happens “when a person makes the mistake of calling something love that actually is self-love, when he loudly protests that he cannot live without the beloved but does not want to hear anything about the task and requirement of love to deny oneself and to give up this self-love of erotic love.”[13] “Can love be reduced to a particular phrase or word?” Kierkegaard asks. “Words and phrases and the inventions of language may be a mark of love, but that is uncertain.”[14] He continues: “In one person’s mouth the same words can be so full of substance, so trustworthy, and in another person’s mouth they can be like vague whispering of leaves [with no fruit found on the tree].”[15] He believes in speaking loving words, but he is aware of two things: (1) the subjectivity of understanding the spoken and (2) the inability of any human to reduce love to a single word. Kierkegaard asserts that “you should not for that reason hold back your words,” for “ whoever is an object of your love has a claim upon an expression of it also in words…”[16] Kierkegaard sees duty-based (i.e., deontological) ethics at work here. He believes that if one is so moved inwardly to love somebody else, one is bound to express verbally his or her feelings. The object of your affection already has a deontological claim upon your words. What if love results in nothing but Taylor Swift’s lyrics? What if love is nothing but a love song, a poem, a whispered verse from Shakespeare in the ear of the beloved? What if love is only a word? “[I]mmature and deceitful love is known by this, that words and platitudes are its only fruit.”[17] Kierkegaard outright rejects any so-called Taylor Swift approach towards love, which is grounded in nothing but temporal sensuality, obsession with sex, and objectification of the “other-self.” Such verbalizations and erratic gesticulations are nothing but the bastard child of the whore, self-love.

“There is no word in human language, not one single one, not the most sacred one, about which we are able to say: If a person uses this word, it is unconditionally demonstrated that there is love in that person. On the contrary, it is even true that a word from one person can convince us that there is love in him, and the opposite word from another can convince us that there is love in him also.”[18]

Earlier, Kierkegaard remarked that love is “invisible” and that it must simply be “believed” in.[19] Precisely because of its “invisibility,” love cannot be reduced to a particular word or even action. When dealing with the question of reducing love to a particular work, Kierkegaard states that everything “depends on how the work is done.”[20] He rejects the idea that love can be reduced to one, single work.

“[E]ven in charity, visiting the widow, and clothing the naked do not truly demonstrate or make known a person’s love, inasmuch as one can do works of love in an unloving, yes, even in a self-loving way, and if this is so the work of love is no work of love at all.”[21]

Here, precisely, those who ignorantly accuse Kierkegaard of a pietistic works-righteousness approach fail miserably. For Kierkegaard does not believe that works in and of themselves are “good”; they must be done with right intentions, gracefully reflecting the “Initial Love,” which flows eternally from God Himself. Moreover, those who want to accuse Kierkegaard of strict consequentialism or Utilitarianism also fail miserably: no such thing is present in any absolute form here. No, what is of utmost importance is: “How, then, the word is said and above all how it is meant, how, then, the work is done—this is decisive in determining and in recognizing love by its fruits.”[22]

The question then arises: What if somebody’s love is not recognized as such? What if, in loving somebody else, that certain somebody misunderstands me and my actions, and takes them to mean something other than love? Kierkegaard believes that such a person must not “work so that love will be known by the fruits but to work so that it could be known by the fruits.”[23] He is not saying that your love, as such, will be recognized; he is saying that it could be recognized. This is not an imperative to make love known to the other; this is, rather, a statement in the subjunctive: works of love must be done in such a way that they might bring about works which are interpreted to have been done in love. There is no guarantee that such works will be labeled “love.” There is uncertainty here.

What if somebody reads the Gospels and then starts judging how much others love, is that appropriate? Kierkegaard responds with a resounding “No!” For “the one who is busily occupied tracking down hypocrites, whether he succeeds or not, had better see to it that this is not also a hypocrisy, inasmuch as such discoveries are hardly the fruits of love.”[24] In judging others, we are judging ourselves. The Gospel is not a weapon to be used against others; rather, it is a mirror in which one examines oneself.

We are, finally, back to where we initially started. “The first point developed in this discourse was that we must believe in love—otherwise we simply will not notice that it exists…”[25] Here, Kierkegaard insists that only the believers see love; only those seeing love believe.

“Therefore the last, the most blessed, the unconditionally convincing mark of love remains—love itself, the love that becomes known and recognized by the love in another. Like is known only by like; only someone who abides in love can know love, and in the same way his love is to be known.”[26]

Kierkegaard is insisting that love requires the acceptance of this axiomatic statement: believe that love exists. For only in believing that it exists will it actually spring into existence.

To conclude this somewhat lengthy look at only a few pages of the text, I would like to briefly reflect on the overall impression this particular chapter made on me. I am thoroughly convinced that Kierkegaard is right in arguing immediately that love is subjective. That does not mean that love is not absolute. It is absolute, and has its grounding in an objective God. However, love is subjective in the sense that we can all be hearing the same thing from a particular person and only one of us may react in a loving reciprocal manner. That is, only one may actually subjectively feel love being conveyed. Romeo may objectively be verbalizing feelings of love—feelings which none of us could subjectively relate to. An objective event may be taking place (in fact, it is) but not all of us have subjective access to that objective reality. We all know that Romeo directed his loving words, carried on sound waves, to one person and one person only: Juliet. While those sound waves could have been recorded and examined objectively by a team of empirical scientists, love would never be conveyed in their thorough analysis. Not a single scientist would fall in love with Romeo. Not a single scientist would intuitively and subjectively know and experience the love contained in those words. In this sense—in this thoroughly Kierkegaardian approach—the love which is ejected from the innermost part of a human being is specifically directed, like a beam of light, at a particular person in a particular moment. Apart from all of these tautological statements (e.g., statements such as “loving is believing, believing is loving”), at least that is how some may view them, Kierkegaard correctly observes that, paradoxically, love begins with belief. One begins by believing in love—one presupposes that love exists in the other human being. Once love is presupposed in the other, then love is experienced by the one presupposing. “Like is known only by like.” If you want to see love in another human being, first believe that he or she is loving. If you want to receive love from another human being, first believe that he or she is capable of loving you. In such a way, love is an act of faith. If there is one thing Kierkegaard wants you to walk away with from reading the first chapter, it is this: believe in love. Apart from belief, there is nothing but poetic “sadness.” If you want to remain stuck in a never-ending cycle of self-love and a refusal to really love, then you can feed on the “blossoms” of temporal “love.” As for me and my household, we are taking a leap of faith.

Works of Love goes on to develop other ideas about love. Kierkegaard deals with self-love and its inherent problems, the categorical imperative and the “You shall love” command, the problem with preferential love (such as erotic love and friendship), the importance in distinguishing between true “others” and the “other-self,” etc. He does all of this in merely the first few chapters of the work. If you enjoyed this paper, please go out, do yourself a favor, and buy a copy. Read it.

Written by: Moses Y. Mikheyev

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 6. Trans. by Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

Fisher, Helen. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Works of Love: Some Christian Deliberations in the Form of Discourses. Kierkegaard’s Writings XVI. Trans. and Ed. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/Or. Trans. by David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

Küng, Hans. On Being a Christian. Trans. by Edward Quinn. Garden City: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1976.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love: Some Christian Deliberations in the Form of Discourses, Kierkegaard’s Writings XVI, trans. and ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 5.

[2] Hans Küng correctly observed that naturalistic approaches, which deny any other reality other than that which could be perceived by the senses empirically, are essentially not critical enough. In an ironic manner, they deceptively believe and accept all that which the senses receive. On the other hand, the theist, generally speaking, believes in the possibility of another reality; this implies that the theist is more critical and, therefore, more doubtful—he is more willing to criticize and scrutinize the empirical data (something which the uncritical naturalist simply cannot a priori allow himself to do [for all we have is the natural world, he thinks]). “Belief in God as radical basic trust can therefore point also to the condition of the possibility of uncertain reality. In this sense it displays a radical rationality—which is not the same thing as rationalism” (Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, trans. Edward Quinn [Garden City: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1976], 76. Italics original.

[3] Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (New York: Henry Holt, 2005).

[4] Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love, 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 6.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 8.

[10] This quote does not occur in Kierkegaard verbatim, contrary to those who repeatedly cite it. It is found in Either/Or in the following form: “If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both…” [trans. David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971)], 37.

[11] Ibid., 7.

[12] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 6, trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 51. Italics original.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 11.

[15] Ibid., 11-12. Words in brackets are my own added for contextualization purposes.

[16] Ibid., 12. Italics mine.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., 13.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. Italics original.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 14.

[23] Ibid. Italics mine.

[24] Ibid., 15.

[25] Ibid., 16.

[26] Ibid.

Love is Irrational: A Short Example

A woman recently wrote to the local paper stating that the man she married six months ago was no longer the same man that she was married to now. She was contemplating divorce. 

I was thinking merely one thing: And your point is…?

The underlying presupposition that this woman had was that this husband of hers was not supposed to change. Hmmm. Change. Such an interesting word. A word half of us are afraid of. Are humans not allowed to change? Is that even realistic? Does it happen in real life, people actually do not change? What is change?

I believe in the fluidity of human nature. In fact, I think that it is an empirical fact. People change. Period. I change. What this woman needs to realize is that all people change. Change is a good thing and a bad thing; it can mean that people are becoming “bad” or it can mean that people are becoming “good.” 

What is of utmost importance for this woman to realize are two things: (1) All of love is an act of faith; and (2) people change. Because people change, it is inevitable that no conditions for love should exist. Period. If you are setting conditions which are unrealistic (for example, my husband will not ever become a police officer), you are predisposing yourself to disappointment. We all change. What you really mean to say is that you wish that people (like your husband) stayed the same—but they don’t. Because love is holistic this means a number of things. Love requires you to accept the person standing before you as existing in the past, present and the future. The holistic person is the person who is both the past and the future, the present and the future. People will be remembered for the sum total of all of their actions in the end. That means that the holistic person is only a true “person.” The only “real” person is a dead person; one who has been a person, one who left behind a history of his/her past, present and future. In other words, if you love somebody, you must acknowledge their past actions (or mistakes, if you will), their present actions, and their future actions (or plans thereof). This means that love is, by all means, very anti-rational and arational. Love is not rational. It falls into the realm of fairytale and make-believe. Why? Because love is based entirely—err, almost entirely—on faith. Love is an act of faith. This woman who is writing the paper is a complete idiot. Yup. She has failed her test exams in Existential Philosophy 101 class. This makes perfect sense—oh, the irony!—with God’s love, as revealed in the Scriptures. God’s love is covenantal. It is covenantal because people change but the words in the covenant do not. You swore to love this person, not based on rational reason, but based on faith. So, woman-who-wrote-the-paper, sorry, but you were duped into thinking that love was not an act of faith. (Not surprising, since science and pseudo-science had basically tossed the word faith out the window.) Well, I am ushering in a new age: Faith, meet People, and People, meet Faith. It’s about time!

How to “Know” People: An Introduction to Chaos Social Theory

All of life is chaos. One large act of chaos. We are born into a war that rages on endlessly and meaninglessly. We look for meaning at the mess that we are born into; we seek to find patterns and attempt to make sense of all that comes our way. Our very existence is chaotic. All humans must accept this. I would like to provide at least one simple example from everyday life. This will help establish what I am setting out to prove. 

Once upon a time there was a boy. He was 24 years old and he was a Christian. He was born in France and spoke French. He ended up coming to America and met a girl who was American. They both fell in love. She was a militant atheist. 

Now there are a few things with this scenario that must be examined critically. We must first step back and look at the data as nonchalantly and unbiased as possible. 

The boy is Christian and the girl is an atheist. These terms have meaning because society gave them meaning; it imparted meaning upon them. The girl, who was raised in America, who labeled herself a militant atheist, would probably believe certain things which society deemed she, being a “militant atheist,” should believe. But the boy, who grew up in a different country, would not be aware of all of the terminological baggage; in other words, he would be, right off the bat, misunderstanding her and creating an impression of her which does not exist. Because his creation of her is not what actually corresponds to reality, this means that he is creating an illusion of the girl. Because she is an illusion, this creates chaos. Hence my terminology.

From the moment that the girl met the boy, there was chaos. In the beginning there was chaos and nothing but chaos. What do I mean by that? Well, the boy met a girl who stood before him as an object. An object labeled “atheist.” This object he could only respond to via the senses. He would examine her height, her eye color, her hair color, etc. He would catch a scent of her and probably taste her lips at some point. He would talk with her and hear her speak words to him. These words would then be imparted to his brain where he would dissect the content and try to make sense of the data. 

What is going on here? 

What is going on is that this boy who met this girl is creating an illusion of her. I call this an illusion because outside of reality, he would never (and will never) truly “know” her in any meaningful sense (from an empirical perspective). All that he will know—in this life—is that illusion of her that he created, which exists only in his mind (and may, or may not, correspond to the historical figure [i.e., the girl]). This girl which this boy met exists—for him. But she exists in his mind. He communicates thoughts with her, he listens to her sing, he kisses her on the lips before bedtime, etc., but she is never his. She never is known by him.

She is a stranger. 

Now, this girl could love this boy very much. She could reinforce some of his ideas about her. She could verify and validate her feelings and he would then, I assume, toss her words into his cerebrum and make sense of the data (again). What is going on here? What is going on here is reinforcement of illusionary factors. First, the boy falls in love with a girl. Then he creates an image or illusion of her in his mind. This image is then reinforced or deconstructed by the girl. 

For example, let us suppose that the boy thought the girl was patient. However, upon marriage, the boy discovers that she is not patient. A number of things could happen. The boy could tell the girl what he thinks and she could either validate his ideas or deconstruct them. (Depending on which she chooses, he will create an illusion of her that resembles the historical figure either accurately or less accurately.) This process could be labeled “creation” or “formation.” It is here that people create illusions of one another. They create illusions that may or may not actually exist. 

But what do we mean by “existence” and “historical figure”? I take this to mean the actual human being. By “actual human being” I mean the human being that is the sum of all activities. Thus, for example, if a person is a pacifist in most situations—and only murders on occasion—then such a person is essentially a “pacifist.” Of course, one could debate this and stress the fluidity of human nature here (which I completely agree with) but, for the sake of categorization and (my very own) illusion formation, I will pretend that humans are somewhat stable and change minimally. 

What then does this boy “know” about the girl? Well, in my opinion, very little. It will take years of living with a person before you ever “know” the person. Before you ever come even close to creating an illusion that matches the historical figure in any significant way. This is why all of life is chaos. 

If marriage creates accurate illusion formation, then non-marriage relationships are pretty much all illusions that should be critically doubted. Of course, family members are probably safe at creating an accurate assessment of a given historical figure. 

This implies much for the world. This brief essay shows that it is impossible to really “know” people. The only people we “know” are people whom we have been with for years. And even then we may not know the person. Especially if any sort of “change” in personality is involved (a paradigm shift). A paradigm shift could be a religious conversion experience or something along those lines. 

What do we, as people, do once we have this basic knowledge? I say that we accept chaos. We should accept this and move on. We should realize that our relationships with other humans are very fragile—fragile indeed! Our loved ones must be cherished and we must move past our own inaccurate illusion formations. We must advance towards realizing what is real—what is reality. We crave reality. (Which is why virtual relationships almost never satisfy.) We crave to be known and we crave to know. I once wrote a song that had lyrics that went like this: “I don’t have to, if I don’t want to; I just want to hold you close, to know you and to be known.” I am arguing for a chaotic existence. However, I am also arguing that this knowledge presented in this paper forces us to look at life more critically and forces us to attempt to create meaningful relationships with people. We must strive to live an authentic life. A life in which we are known by people and known to ourselves; a life in which we act as we are and are known for those actions accurately. 

Elusive Love: A Theory About Why Humans Love Mystery in Inter-Sex Relationships

I have a confession to make: I can never keep anyone interested in me for more than two weeks. The opposite sex finds me boring after the initial interest levels off and falls below Dead Sea levels. I have a theory about this—as I have theories about virtually every other aspect of my miserable life. Virtually everyone I know has experienced the whole “honeymoon phase” both in marriage and in simple inter-sex relationships. I’ve been through it at least a dozen times and am getting over one right now. (Which is why I am writing this essay—great subjectivist that I am who “thinks with his blood”!) Moreover, I have yet to read a book written by a marital therapist that would not mention the fact that many marriages are only good for a year or two. And then the honeymoon phase ends. It comes to a screeching halt. Why? Well, everybody knows this: mystery fails. People like to have sex with strangers sometimes, too. (I couldn’t do that, but many claim to.) What’s so fascinating about mystery? I have a theory about that. Here it goes.
People are all subjectivists. Whether we like it or not, we all are. This is why existentialist thinkers are almost always ahead of themselves and their time; they realize that everything for the most part is being processed by our “meat-grinding” mind and everything on earth is subjective. A whole lot of people, dwelling outside of the existential-subjectivist camp, are entirely deceived. This is one reason, at the very least, why we have so many problems today: not enough existentialists around! (What happened to all of the Kierkegaards and Martin Bubers?) People—virtually everybody—who are not existentialists (in the Kierkegaardian/Buberian way) think they understand themselves and their actions (when they really do not). Why? Because they think they are rational objectivists who know love when they “see” it. And this keeps getting people in trouble. As we all are now aware that many marriages today end in divorce. So what’s so special about thinking subjectively versus objectively? And how is that related to mystery and love?
Love is irrational. Being irrational, one cannot use reason to comprehend love in its entirety. Love is completely— in its most purest, passionately beautiful, and covenantal forms—subjective. This means a number of things for the relationship. Let me provide an example. (I know you all love examples.)
Lily meets Mark. At some point in their relationship, Lily tells Mark that she loves him. She says the very objective thing that we all say: “I love you.” From an objective perspective, Lily spoke in English, the words flowed out of her very examinable-to-our-senses mouth, with a very certain amount of measurable sound waves that ended up triggering a neural reaction in Mark’s eardrum. This is all very scientific and matter-of-fact. When Lily said to Mark “I love you,” thirty scientists and a handful of marital therapists were all watching. They were all taking notes rapidly. One particular scientist had his love-o-meter pointed right at Lily’s cerebrum, where he thought the love molecules were most likely highly-concentrated. These scientists and researchers all concluded, independently, that Lily told Mark that she loved him. They packed their bags and left.

But then I came in to interview Lily. I was a nobody, just a subjectivist thinker familiar only with myself—even “myself” remained a no-man’s-land to me at times. I asked Lily if she loved Mark, and she said yes. Well, I wasn’t going to buy that. I later interviewed Mark and I asked him if Lily loved him and had, in fact, said those three words. He told me no. As far as Mark was concerned, Lily did not love him. “What was going on here,” I thought to myself. The more I dug, the more I discovered. Apparently, objective content given to individuals is not necessarily truth if it means nothing subjectively to them. Lily served Mark “love” on an objective platter. She expected him to respond in a loving manner and probably understand everything she communicated to him. Mark, unfortunately, did not buy into Lily’s statements. He felt that it was too soon for her to love him (as he had not revealed too much of his “true self”). He also felt that the words spoken were not authentic. For them to be authentic, Mark expected more time and a few other subjective things that he liked. Lily thought she told Mark “the truth.” Oh well. You see, truth is not as objective as we would make it out to be. Love, which is one of the most important things that mankind lives for, is completely subjective and irrational! What I had in fact discovered was that it doesn’t matter what is being said, it matters in how something is said. Objectively, the phrase “I love you” can communicate “love”; from a subjective perspective, it could also communicate nothing or even hate (think Judas and Jesus here). Truth does not lie in the objective content of what is said, it lies in the subjectivity of how it is said. In fact, I may not even have to tell my wife that I love her. She may subjectively “feel” it on so many different levels. Love is subjective.
So why do women put up with me for only 2 weeks? I have a theory: they are subjectivists who do not realize their biases. I believe that all subjective individuals love mystery because of one thing: the ability to project our loves upon an unknown person. We construct the “unknown individual” and make him/her out to be our best friend and lover. We create images of people that do not exist. Why? Because truth is subjective. The man that you met yesterday and believe you “know” objectively does not even exist. He exists in as many forms as there are humans that know him. I exist in as many forms as there are humans that know me. (The only qualification being that I am a quality versus quantity person and, therefore, I tend to hang out with few friends and tend to have people around me who actually “know” me in any meaningful sense of that word.) The girls that spend two weeks with me realize that I am not their charming prince. I am an honest individual who prefers quality time spent knowing and understanding people. I don’t bullshit anyone and don’t want people bullshiting me. This means that I am far too quick at breaking down girls’ constructs of me. Not that I am an “evil” person in any sense; I am only an honest person who refuses to be labeled by subjective people. I don’t want you to create a construct of me that doesn’t exist. If you want to create a construct, go find yourself someone willing to put up with your crap. Not me. I’d rather you hate me for who I really am than love me for who I am not, to paraphrase Andre Gide.
People love mystery because it gives them a sense of knowledge and control. Knowledge and control, you say? Yes. The reason I say knowledge and control is because unknown people who have ideals projected upon them are not actually “unknown” to you—in fact, the subjectivist who creates constructs of other people unknowingly, thinks that he or she is actually in love with someone or something they believe they “know.” Thus, when they claim that they “know” someone, they are claiming nothing more than knowing themselves and the things they like—since the things they like they have projected upon another individual (who, unsurprisingly, looks nothing but like a replica of their [very known] selves)! People like control and knowledge. Love is something that such deceived subjectivists (people are all subjective; some are deceived because they don’t know they are) truly fear. Love is fear for them because they are afraid of the unknown—the truly unknown. The unknown that scares people is what love is. Love is an act of absolute faith. It may begin with some form of reason, but it ends in absolute faith. Faith is believing in things unknown completely. When you truly fall in love with someone, you are taking an Abrahamic leap of faith into the unknown. You say that you love someone, and yet you hardly know them. How do I know this? Because I’ve spent a lifetime documenting myself and I don’t even know me—how much less do I know others!
The truly unknown is true mystery. The so-called mystery that modern lovers love and have wet dreams about is nothing but love of self. It is the “thrill” of discovering that the Prince Charming you met is a rapist who is wanted for raping parades of women. That is nothing but an adrenaline rush. Only when another individual human being approaches another human being on an individual and highly-personal level, can true love exist. Only when I approach I woman that I claim to love in absolute awe, admiration and complete faith—it is only then that I truly love her. When I consider that my life and hers is nothing by a split-second away from cancer, heart attack, car accident, or death. I only love her when I know that I know nothing about her. I only love her when I do not categorize her and accept her for who she is at any given moment. I love her holistically. A human being, by definition, is a being that is known by the sum of all activities. A human being is only truly human when dead—when we all know what he or she has accomplished. When I say I love someone who is still alive, I am claiming her past, present and future. I am saying that I love her holistically. I love the person she was, is and will be. I love her for who she is and will become as a dead human being. I put my love upon an individual who will change, grow and age with me. I do not know where this “change” will take me—it is all unknowable and irrational. I merely take a leap of faith and leap along with the love of my life wherever she takes me. That is true love. That, right there, is the whole of human existence. I love her because I have made a covenant with her—to love her no matter what. I love her because I have placed my faith in her. I don’t know where it’ll take me, but that’s what faith is. That’s what true love is.
As for the girls who love “mystery,” you will never be satisfied. You will only disappoint others and yourself—not to mention all the people who will be disappointed by you. I prefer to remain as elusive as possible because that is what I am. I have accepted myself and I hope I can accept others. This is life and it is all an act of faith.

Critique of the Abuse of the Scientific Method

The scientific method has been with us, at least, in defined form, since the 17th century. It is a group of techniques that are used to test out hypotheses, which lead to the development of scientific theories. One of the pillars of the scientific method is objective empiricism. In the natural world, objectivity is very important. Scientists working in the United States definitely would like to have proof that an antibiotic such as amoxicillin really does eliminate escherichia coli. Such “proof” would be offered if the same antibiotic killed the same bacteria across the world in different labs. This sounds fair enough. But most of science, or at least a whole lot of it, deals with objects, not subjects. That is, science is interested in atoms that constitute non-living things. For example, sodium bicarbonate will always react with acetic acid (vinegar). A black stone made of iron that weighs a single pound, will weigh the same, look the same, feel the same, in any other laboratory. The cornerstone presupposition in this particular form of science (with the possible exception of biology) is that the object being studied is (a) an object; (b) remains unchanged and constant; and (c) the experiment could be repeated, with expected similar, or rather, exact results. This so-called scientific methodology has carried its logic over into human relationships. Where two humans used to encounter one another in human relationship, now two humans examine one another beneath the scientific, critical lens of objective science. This basically means that humans are constantly engaging with one another on a very superficial level, though this “superficial level” appears, at least to us, very “scholarly,” “scientific,” “critical,” and “thorough.” We prize ourselves on being able to predict other’s actions. We give pride of place to the books filling our book shelves that begin with titles such as “Personalities in Love” to “Anatomy of Love.” Books such as these fill libraries in America, claiming to help alleviate all of our loneliness and all (or most) of our problems. The books cover topics such as the physiology of love, the psychology of males, the role of hormones in relationships, etc. One gets the picture, after reading such books, that everything which we have to learn about love and romantic relationships has been excavated, examined, catalogued, and reduced to print. Books, once read, could make you a better person and a better lover (which then implies that we would become, along the way, happier people). Amidst such an objective culture, one hardly has time to examine one’s own life. Life moves too fast. In fact, it moves so fast that books, even such as these, can only maintain popularity for a day or two before they are pushed aside and room is made for another book carrying a different title (more erotic, usually) with the same rehashed contents served to a dying audience that is never sated. This is post-modern America, from my perspective. A person brought up in this culture has no option but to read the filth that is perpetrated as truth – all in the name of so-called science and objectivity. People are taught that orgasm is nothing but the release of a couple of hormones along with oxytocin. That “bond” that you feel after sex? That’s nothing but the work of oxytocin. Those butterflies in your stomach? That’s just adrenaline! We, like the primordial Adam, have ceased power over the world by naming things. We have done nothing but gone out and named things. We have become a bureaucracy when it comes to love. We document, document, document. Everything is typed up and written down for the world to read. Scientists, who know nothing of love, catalogue love’s journey in a couple and write peer-reviewed articles about their findings. What astounds me the most is that nobody stopped to ask two simple questions: (1) Given the fact that we have so much written on love, why is our country continually being determined to have quite an unhappy and unloved population? and (2) If science works for objects, does it necessarily work for subjects (who change)? The perplexity of the issue only comes to those of us who subjectively think about such issues. Matter of fact, I would not be surprised if the courts of scientific law in this country found a way to refute all these argument in some lab at Harvard! Why? Who needs humanity when one has science? As long as a person dressed in a white coat said it, it’s probably gospel truth. In other words, we have come to a point where the individual in love no longer concerns us. We have completely succumbed to scientific-objective thinking when it comes to human-subjective relationships. We have somehow forgotten to use logic, at least subjective logic, to think about our needs and feelings. We have become a herd led by a few elite individuals who have claimed to have found the genetic code to love; they have documentary evidence, scientific theories, and peer-reviewed articles as proof. But for the subjective individual, love is still…far removed from the sterile environments of laboratory workers.

How is it that love has become the subject of the objective scientist? How is it that relationships have now evolved into a scientific test case? What happened to the subjective individual? The problem with the so-called scientific approach towards relationships is that it replaces objects in objective-scientific equations with human subjects. I want to briefly put this into example. In math, as in some forms of objective science, 2+2=4. This is pretty straight-forward stuff. In objective science, A=A. That is, sodium chloride=sodium chloride in Africa as in America or Russia. The objects in scientific equations such as these do not change. A still equals A. But in human relationships A does not equal A. A can equal a multitude of things: A=AZ. The subject in the equation is not static, nor is it constant, nor is it repeatable (as that presupposes a static existence and consistency). The subject in the equation can act a certain way and given a certain input may react differently each and every single time. Humans are not sodium bicarbonate molecules in a jar of vinegar—always reacting the same exact way, three centuries later. Human beings are complex individuals who are driven not necessarily by genes and hormones (all the time) but by the subjectivity of their own existence. What we see, in human relationships, is that love is not actually as simple as the scientist would have it. The scientist needs to have an object to examine. The scientist examines only one aspect of love at a time, be it oxytocin or some pheromone. The individual, however, has a million processes influencing him/her at the same time. No amount of studying a single hormone could possibly explain the complexity of the human subject. Scientists, psychologists, pseudo-therapists, or whatever, all these people will not help “solve” your problems. They may shed light on some very minuscule issues, but, for the most part, life is to be lived subjectively. One is to recognize one’s own subjectivity and attempt to live life according to the one rule of subjectivity: all is chaos. Instead of having a human being categorized, we have human beings being set free from their little boxes that we have put them into. Instead of arguing that a certain person always reacts in a given manner, we should probably expect that particular manner, but not expect it entirely. Humans are fluid creatures who are always in a state of “evolution.” Today I tell you that I love her. Tomorrow I tell you that I don’t. The same I is speaking, but it is no longer the same. It is not static in any way. The I that you have encountered yesterday is no longer the I that you are encountering today. This is what it means to be human. To expect, at times, nothing but the unexpected—especially when it comes to the subject of love.

The Great Gatsby and Existential Crises

Jay Gatsby fell in love with Daisy Buchanan. His love for her remains somewhat of an elusive mystery. What appears, superficially, to be a quite authentic love hides beneath its layers an illusionary passion. This love he had towards Daisy was based on an image he had created of Daisy which did (or, as I suppose, did not) correspond to the actual historical (and holistic) figure of Daisy. Gatsby loved this image so much that he had no time to reflect upon whether or not he actually saw Daisy for who she really was. Thus, in my opinion, Gatsby had before him an historical figure (namely, Daisy Buchanan) which was placed before him as an object. This subjective person (namely, Gatsby) placed his eyes and mind upon Daisy. She stood there before him naked and cold. And yet, as we all know, there is no such thing, for the most part, I should say, as objective truth. All truth appears before as an object (in the historical world) and is, thus, quite subjective. We never encounter the truth; we only process the “truth” with our minds. We only “see” the truth with all of our biases attached to it. What makes truth objective is our ability to agree upon a consensus (e.g., the ball in front of all of us is indeed blue and weighs 10 pounds)—further, we call objective truths objective truths when our subjective mental image corresponds most accurately to that objective truth. And so, in other words, Gatsby’s Daisy was strictly “Gatsby’s Daisy” and nobody else’s. She was his and his alone. And yet, his image of her may have corresponded to the historical person (or it may have not). For example, Gatsby may have imagined Daisy to be in love with him regardless of his financial status. He may have had this image in his subjective mind which did not correspond to the historical figure. What would we call such an image? Would we call it an objective truth? No, we would call it a subjective truth quite rightly. But what if he really saw her as a greedy and careless person? And what if, in “real” life, she really was a greedy girl? What if we all could agree on that fact? What if we all could agree that she indeed was greedy and only cared for money? Sure, we could label all of her lavish spending and selfish purchases as “greedy”; however, we could not really call this an objective truth in any meaningful sense. It is still a subjective truth because we never really “know” who the “real” Daisy really is. Only Daisy knows who Daisy is. What we encounter is a person who is an object and we create and interpret whatever it is that they do in our mind’s eye. Our subjective truths only become objective truths if they correspond to the historical figure accurately. And how could we prove that? We cannot. It still requires faith. Maybe Daisy isn’t greedy. Maybe she just wants to appear greedy. Maybe she is a kind soul who wants to have fun with a bunch of philosophers and wants to prove them wrong. Maybe. Thus, even with so-called objective truths, there are still large quantities of subjectivity involved. Does Gatsby really love Daisy? Let us review love for a moment. If I tell you that I love my mother because she raised me, and you find out that my mother never actually raised me, do you think that my love for my mother is actually real? What if, upon the moment that you revealed to me my lack of knowledge, and my “love” ceased to exist for my mother, what would that suggest? In other words, if the person you love is not actually the person you love then you do not really love the person you claim to love. Soren Kierkegaard hit this straight on the dot when he said, “When it is a duty in loving to love the people we see, then in loving the actual individual person it is important that one does not substitute an imaginary idea of how we think or could wish that this person should be. The one who does this does not love the person he sees but again something unseen, his own idea or something similar.” In my opinion, Gatsby only had two forms of love that would have been possible: informed and uniformed love. Informed love is love that knows the individual on an intimate level; uninformed love is commonly known as “blind love,” this is the love that, I think, Gatsby had. He simply chose to love Daisy despite her failures. He loved her because he chose her. He loved her because he was committed to the idea of loving her, whoever that “her” was so long as it was embodied in the actual historical figure of Daisy Buchanan. His love was covenantal, not based upon her current status, or her past status, but her status as it related to that imaginary covenant of his between him and her. She was the one he selected and chose to love. He could have, in theory, been informed about her “true” character. He could have loved her nonetheless, too. This would have been seen as an informed love but as a love that cast a blind eye nonetheless upon the other party’s failures. All of us are Gatsbys. We all have to deal with the problem of existential reality. We all have to come to terms with both others and ourselves. We all face the dilemma of meaningless existence and we seek to find meaning, if not in ourselves, then in others. Gatsby chose to find that meaning in Daisy. She was the one he chose to love. We all have to make choices. However, the real existential crisis occurs not in loving others but in how our love for ourselves relates to others. If I assert myself, and choose myself, what happens when I also chose others? If I choose to express myself and assert my individuality by being stupid—yet the one whom I love and have chosen to love despises my stupidity—when do I draw the line and cease to be myself? Do I accept criticism from the one I have chosen to love and do I chose to change myself? In other words, in asserting myself I am asserting my freedom as an individual—yet, sometimes, in making one choice, I automatically annul another. Thus, by choosing not to be stupid in public (though that may be a part of “me”), I have nonetheless chosen myself because this self of mine loves my wife dearly. This self has chosen that my relationship with my wife is more important to me than my ability to be stupid in public. I have lost a part of me, so to speak, but I have regained another. But where do we draw the line? When do we say to others, “Enough is enough, I will not change that aspect of me. That is who I am and you have swore to love me for who I am”? I think the line between “yourself” and “yourself” is very fine indeed! This “self” that has chosen to express itself has also chosen to engage with others—by choosing to engage with others, and by becoming a social creature, the self begins to integrate itself with other “selves” who influence the self to become a “new self.” (In other words, humans are constantly changing and evolving; this is the fluidity of human nature.) Where do we draw the line between the “self” of yesterday (who was angry and acting stupid in public) and the “self” of today (who, upon the wife’s request, chose to remain calm and serene during the dinner party)? Who am I? Am I the I of yesteryear or of today? That is the existential dilemma. The Great Gatsby did not love Daisy in any meaningful sense of the word. He had a one-way love that may be termed a “mono-love.” He “loved” her but she never loved him back. If, according to the Hebrew Bible, love is to be viewed as primarily covenantal, then Gatsby, sadly, never loved a single woman in his life. For a covenantal love would require an agreement between two parties. It would have to be a dialogue not a monologue. And so, the Great Gatsby is not so great after all. He is just another human being trying to make sense of the existential problem of existence. written by Moses Y. Mikheyev

The Legend of Marital Bliss: How Pleasure Conquered Virtue (And Other Whoredoms Committed By Modern Society)

People today get married because they believe a lie—call it a myth, fable, or legend—that has been propagated by scientist, therapist, televangelist, pastor and layman alike; a lie that many today worship: the myth of marital bliss. Young girls spend countless hours daydreaming about a prince in shining armor; young boys await a fair virgin with whom they’ll spend countless hours having mind-numbing sex. The girls wake up and read idiotic literature written by illiterate folk—think Fifty Shades of Grey here. The boys wake up and listen to music that objectifies women in almost a completely sexual manner; they help themselves to endless loads of pornography on a minute basis. Sex is seen as the cornerstone of marriage today. But sex alone is not the problem. In fact, in theory, it isn’t a problem per se. Sex is merely the byproduct of a society that has deeper issues: the myth of marital bliss. But what is this myth and whence does it arise from?

The myth presupposes at least one thing: pleasure. The belief that marriage should be a happiness-making-factory is believed by virtually everyone on the planet; even the so-called “marital therapists” who have PhDs in their respective fields. The current belief that our generation holds (and apparently the younger one too) is that marriage is all about pleasure. It is about making the individual happy. We get married today because we believe that marriage is about making you and me happy. Most of us would like to include sex into the “happy” category; it’s all about the touchy-feely, orgasm-like stuff that pleasure is made up of. We take pleasure in our K-Y Jellies and our ability to pop Viagra and have 8-hour erections. We read literature on giving women oral sex in hopes that they, too, would experience a pleasure-filled personal experience during sex. We take pride in our knowledge and our ability to give pleasure during sex and, inevitably, during marriage.

People divorce today for practically one sole reason alone: the unfulfilled pleasure-duties of the other spouse. We come into marriage thinking it’s all about my orgasm and my ability to balance a good birth-control-pill-taking diet.  In fact, people pretty much only divorce for pleasure alone these days! One spouse, or both, divorce because they are “unhappy.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Who said that marriage was supposed to make you “happy”? The presupposition all along—in our virtue-deprived society—has been that we believe that pleasure is the cornerstone of marriage. This is the myth of marital bliss. And I hate it. In fact, my essay is going to debunk it.

As a hardcore Christian existentialist thinker who is heavily influenced by Christian ethics and Kierkegaard, I believe that this myth is to be taken seriously and must be refuted and replaced. As an absolutist when it comes to ethics, I will be arguing that the myth of marital bliss is not only a crock of crap but also wrong. I will not be arguing in this paper that marriage cannot be happy or blissful—I will be arguing that the means can never be happiness itself, only the end. By making happiness the point of departure for everything, we have done away with what really makes marriages truly happy in any meaningful sense: virtue ethics. I believe in a happy marriage so long as it is based on virtues. This paper, then, will demolish the myth of marital bliss (which is based on sole pleasure) and replace it with the truth of marital virtue (which will result in true happiness).

Most marriages today end in divorce.[1] That’s merely an objective fact. Most people today believe that the chances of them divorcing are pretty much none. Most people marrying today believe that they have what it takes to get married and stay married. Most people never see themselves divorcing. Most people believe that marriage will make them happy. Many people coming into marriage think that their future spouse is perfect (or almost perfect). Despite what most people think, they do divorce. So what’s wrong with the picture? Why are so many people wrong?

I am saying that people are divorcing because they are entering marriage without a clue about what it really is. Marriage is, simply put, much more than pleasure—it’s friendship, loyalty, hard work, love, and covenantal union.[2] People come into marriage thinking that it’s a game that they know well; they have been trained by society to know all of the rules to the game. But the game they enter is completely different. The only resemblance between the game society taught them and the game of marriage that they have entered in is the sharing of the name “marriage.” The rules and regulations that society feeds us with (or should I say “shoves down our throats”) are mainly concerned with the individual: how to give and receive personal pleasures. We come into marriage thinking that it’s all about us. All about me. The underlying assumptions resonate well with an American society dominated by and subservient to individualism and egoism. The assumptions being that marriage is about the individual I. It’s all about how I feel in the fight; it’s all about how I feel when we raise children. The idea is that we must always be happy. The individual I, that is. It’s either the wife or the husband complaining about the other. Marriage is not seen as a joining of two individuals to form a unified whole; no, marriage is seen as a temporary partnership between two selfish individuals who want to be happy pursuing their highly-individualized goals. (Even the word “partnership” in my sentence probably does not reflect the true distance felt between these two individuals.) The you and the I never form a we. There is no us or we in the picture. When fighting, it is a “he said/she said” ordeal—never a “we said.” The focus is always on the individual. Not merely on just the individual, but on the detached individual. Existentialists—Christian ones—believe in individualism; but we don’t necessarily believe in egoism, self-centeredness, and selfishness. I, as an existentialist, believe in the individual but I do not believe in a detached individual. We should never remain disconnected from others; we should never be existentially alienated from our other half, whom we are bound to love. In our society, we have confused emphasis on the individual with narcissism. We have become obsessed with ourselves as detached beings. Instead of seeing ourselves as individuals influenced by society, we see ourselves as individuals detached from society. And society in this case is your spouse and family. They are your society; your most important form of society. By staying detached, we focus on our own goals; that is, a wife only cares about herself and a husband only cares about himself. They have not united; they have not become a we.

This narcissistic strain of individualism[3] is born out of a society that merely cares about what one feels and experiences as an individual. In contrast, in communal societies, people often care about what the people as a whole feel. Marriage is community. Marriage is to reflect what the we feels and experiences. When I have sex with my wife, it is not about how I feel as an individual but how we feel making love together. This aspect must never be forgotten. But enough about pleasures, even communal ones, what about marriage?

Marriage in modern America is merely seen as an extension of self-interest. We are all about the individualized I (contra the communal I). We are pleasure-driven creatures and we seek pleasures that benefit the individualized I alone. But pleasures are fleeting; and individualized pleasures, more so. For example, Mark and Lily are about to get married because they both make each other happy. They date for a year and believe that their happiness will last forever. They are marrying not because of finances or common goals; they are marrying because both are attracted to each other and make each other “happy.” But what is “happy”? In this case, it is merely a feeling, an emotion. It cannot be much more than that. But we all know that feelings can only last so long. We all used to love our childhood blankets—but we’ve outgrown them. Before long, all that ends. How do I know? Look at the statistics and at the amount of unhappy people sitting on antidepressants and seeking marital therapy. That does all the talking for me. The presupposition in this particular example is that marriage is about a feeling. We get married because we are happy and want to have sex with the other person. Guess what? I have news for you: there are many things that make us happy. And, moreover, just about anyone can have sex with anyone; it does not require a rocket scientist. Your ability to make someone happy and have sex with them does not make you marriage material. There has to be something more to marriage.

Marriage is, quite bluntly, something many of us think is important. According to Fowers, “[I]n contemporary America, the single most important thing you can do to enhance your physical and psychological well-being is to be happily married.”[4] So, marriage is a popular thing. Everybody wants to have a happy marriage. Many people write about it, too. But even those of us who write about it have been wrong. So much ink has been spilled on communication in marriage. People have argued that communication is pretty much the “one stop shop” and fix-all for marriage. If you have a problem in your marriage, it must be your communication ability. Again, the emphasis is not on the we but on the individual I. It is you that has a problem. What if I told you that we have nothing to communicate about? Maybe that’s our problem. (Notice my use of communal language.) But why would we have nothing to talk about? Well, no duh, because we had gotten married for selfish reasons. We married for selfish pleasures and fleeting feelings of happiness. Had we gotten married because of friendship and common goals (which would inevitably make an individual and a couple happy), we would have been communicating all along! People who get married for reasons other than happiness (reasons like common goals and friendship), stay together because their love is not based on simply being happy. It is based on much more.

A recent study showed how communication-promoters have actually failed to deliver their promises: happily married couples seldom used the so-called communication skills promoted by therapists.[5] The problem with therapists who use this as a sort of fix-all method is that this method has never really been tested out in the real world; it has mainly just been assumed that communication is a good thing. “Therapists did not begin their search for communication skills by studying successful couples in order to learn how they communicated with one another and thereby discover the skills necessary to a good marriage.”[6] So where did these theories come from? “The source of the communication skills favored by the trainers is their own training as therapists. There is a very high degree of overlap between the communication skills taught to novice therapists and the communication skills taught to couples.”[7] In other words, “therapists who teach couples communication skills are actually teaching spouses to be therapists to each other.”[8] But who are therapists? They are trained specialists who remain “objectively neutral” in their observations and remarks. They are taught to distance themselves. An individualistically-driven society produces individualistically-driven people just like an individualistically-driven therapist produces individualistically-driven “couples.” If couples actually really use what the therapists use, they’re bound to become more isolated and detached as individuals—there will be an even greater chasm between the I and the we. “If we accept that each of us is ultimately isolated, a completely independent individual, then marriage does seem like a way out of intolerable loneliness and despair. If we believe that our essential purpose in life is to feel happy, then therapeutic marriage provides an attractive path to that end. The problem is that our habit of seeing marriage primarily as a source of individual happiness has not worked out very well.”[9] I’m not saying that communication skills are not useful (they are), but to believe that they can salvage a marriage based on nothing but sex and pleasure/happiness motivated by self-interest is unrealistic. Two marital therapists who live together are not bound to stay married. Marriage is more than communication skills. Look at it this way: You may have the tools to build a house, but if there is no house to build, who needs the tools? Put another way: You can have the communication skills (i.e., tools) to communicate, but if there is nothing to communicate about (as there would be in a friendship-based marriage), then who needs the communication skills? “Look,” a couple may say, “we have nothing to talk about.” Exactly. At the end of the day, communication skills are probably not going to get you anywhere if you have no cornerstone to build your marriage on (a cornerstone like friendship, a common goal, loyalty, etc.). People who are not virtuous cannot lead virtuous lives. Moreover, if marriage is based on virtues, it requires virtuous individuals. What are virtues? Virtues in marriage are, at the very least: loyalty, generosity, justice, and courage. All of these are virtues of friendship. Before dealing with virtues, I would like to cover some ground in regards to how we, as a people, came to believe that the myth of marital bliss was actually scientifically-grounded.

Fowers writes, “I recently conducted a study of the terms that marital researchers use to describe marriage in their scientific reports. I found that satisfaction is by far the most commonly used term; in fact, it is used more than five times as often as any other term whereas other words indicative of a good marriage, such as commitment, loyalty, partnership, and teamwork, are almost never used.” In other words, the researchers had already bought into the lie that marriage is based on happiness (and pretty much nothing more), so they used the word “satisfaction” in their studies of “good” marriages. To be satisfied, in their opinion, meant that you had a happy marriage. “From the very beginning of research on marriage, social scientists have simply assumed that personal experiences such as happiness, satisfaction, or adjustment define a good marriage. Thus the most common indicator that social scientists use to identify a good marriage comes directly from our cultural belief that happiness is the core of a good marriage. In this way, through the emphasis on feelings about marriage, the myth of marital happiness is built right into the very foundation of marital research.”[10] The science has been flawed all along—and we were stupid enough to believe it. If we had believed in loyalty as the premise of a good marriage, we would have been asking our people whether their spouses were loyal to them. Then we would have calculated the number of good marriages in our society. As it is, we have mainly calculated the number of “touchy-feely” marriages in our society. Had we presupposed friendship as a key to a good marriage, we would have been concerned with asking the right questions. As it is, we are asking the wrong questions and we are getting the wrong statistics. “[I]nstead of discovering the truth about marriage, social scientists are simply documenting the myth of marital happiness.”[11] Moreover, “Social scientists not only fail to question the myth but also endorse it by conducting research that assumes the centrality of the individual and sees marriage primarily as a source of individual benefit.” [12]It is interesting for me to point out that much research has only reinforced what we already knew. Take John Gottman for example. His books are important and probably should be read (I’ve read many of them) but, in the end, he is merely documenting what we already know. How many of us would like to live with a criticizing spouse? Not many. Well, Gottman has a scientific answer: Not many. “It has now been scientifically confirmed that spouses who ignore, nag, criticize, or show contempt for each other are more likely than other couples to divorce. Yet how surprising is that?”[13] So much literature is spent on talking about gibberish and regurgitates what we already know. Now that I’ve spent some time criticizing our current approaches towards marriage and how we got here, I want to look at how things could be.

People need to base their marriage on virtues. Virtues are the acts of a good person who acts on the good not for the sake of anything else but only for the good itself. The good is seen as an end in and of itself. These good things are done so that the good human being may flourish; by flourishing, a human is led to happiness. (This is very much an Aristotelian approach towards ethics and virtues.) When we do the good, we hope that it would become habitual to us. The good must become a part of the virtuous person. To be brave, according to Aristotle, one must practice brave acts. To be loving in marriage, one must practice loving acts. The good is seen as an end in and of itself. We love our spouses not because they love us, but because we love them. If we love our spouses because they love us, then we love them because we love ourselves. (This would mean that our love for the spouse is a means to an end; we love the spouse as a means only for the sake of getting the true end, which is self-love.) It’s like giving a liter of water to a thirsty man knowing that he’ll give it right back to you. In giving the water, you are not actually performing a selfless act; you are actually acting in your own self-interest.[14]

What do virtue ethics have to do with marriage? I will provide one example which conveys their importance, used by Fowers. If a couple is fighting and arguing constantly, is communication really the problem? Fowers suggests that communication isn’t the root of the problem; it may be that self-control (a virtue) is lacking in the relationship, and that may be the actual problem. Aristotle remarked, “Anyone can get angry—that is easy…but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way is no longer something easy.”[15] Taking Aristotle’s quote, Fowers argues for virtue ethics. He believes—and I agree with him—that communication itself requires virtues. Virtues such as honesty are already presupposed in communication. For example, the moment we begin to speak, we are hoping to communicate something. If we hope to communicate something, we are expected to be honest. But if we lie, then we are not communicating; if we are not communicating, why are we speaking? To communicate is to convey something via sound waves. All communication presupposes truth and honesty. If the presupposition had been falsehood, one could never ask a simple question like “What time is it?” since one would know that the response would be a lie. Thus we know that communication presupposes honesty and truth (which are virtues; they are good in and of themselves). So why have we forgotten virtues? Why have we abandoned the greater goods? Fowers believes that our discomfort with moral and ethical absolutes has led to this. Most therapists don’t want to tell you that what you are doing is “wrong.” We have been programmed by our post-modern, pluralistic society to think that truth is not universal and that truth, really, does not exist.[16] In our hopes to please everyone, we have forgotten absolutes. Absolutes are universal truths like honesty. We presuppose that people are being honest with us when we communicate with them. But since most of us are afraid of absolutes, we are afraid of virtues. If we are afraid of virtues, then marriage is no longer our friend (which, if I am right, is grounded on virtues of friendship).

Fowers advises us to look at marriage from a virtue perspective. He presupposes that friendship should be the bedrock upon which marriage is built. (I, too, have argued this in my book Rants on Love.) Presupposing friendship as the bedrock, Fowers sets out to look at three forms of friendship from an Aristotelian perspective. Aristotle argued that there were at least three forms of friendship: advantage friendships, pleasure friendships, and character friendships. The first two are generic friendships that we experience. For example, an advantage friendship is like two people who work for the same organization who are friends. They are friends because it is an advantage to be friendly with a coworker. A pleasure friendship can overlap with an advantage friendship; the only real difference is that in a pleasure friendship the focus is on pleasures. So, a pleasure friendship can be a marriage or relationship that is based solely on sex. The couple that gets married simply for sexual reasons is operating according to the rules of pleasure friendship. A character friendship, on the other hand, is much deeper than the previous two. In summary, “The best friendships are those characterized by shared goals, the partners’ recognition of each other’s qualities, and teamwork.”[17] This is a character friendship; it is when two people with similar characters get together because of their strong affinity for each other. They both have a common belief regarding what the “good” is and they both seek to find it, together. A marriage built on this form of friendship is bound to last much longer than any other marriage. Why? Because, if all of that sex fails and so-called “happiness,” the couple can remain together because they are friends and share common goals. In sharing common goals, they will be truly happy working towards those goals in life. “A strong marriage is built on shared aims that provide a kind of blueprint for the marriage.”[18] Essentially, this form of marriage is built upon mutual love, too. I have defined romantic love as a romantic/sexual friendship. I maintain that friendship is union (I would, then, be labeled a “union theorist” among those who discuss love).[19]  A husband and wife who are both devout Christians working together for the same cause, with the same ideals, in an isolated part of the world as missionaries would, in theory, never divorce. A divorce would be unimaginable. How could two friends cease to be friends? Only if their common goals ceased to be common. However, if the couple remains Christian and embraces a Christian worldview, there is no reason for us to suppose that they would divorce. They would be heavily invested in each other’s interests and would have a “we-mentality” that is about reaching a common goal (in this case it would be the ushering in of the Kingdom of God). If the friendship remains—defined as a character friendship, where two or more people work towards common goals, etc.—then the marriage stands. “[M]arriage at its best is a relationship built on friendship.”[20]

Another virtue that modern marriages tend to often forget is the virtue of loyalty. Loyalty is generally developed towards a person or a group of people with whom we have shared a historical relationship with. Whether we like it or not, loyalty is almost always a “knee-jerk” reaction given to those with whom we spend real, historical time with. For example, if I spend half of my life living in with a spouse, I would probably develop some sense of loyalty towards that person. In fact, by choosing to spend time with an individual, I am acting out my loyalty. In an Aristotelian sense, I am becoming a loyal person by practicing loyal acts (i.e., returning to the same individual over and over again). “When a romantic relationship begins, the bond between the partners is often relatively shallow and id often based primarily on physical attraction.”[21] However, as we spend more and more time with that person, we develop loyalty towards that individual. But it’s not only all about spending time with that particular individual to whom we owe our loyalty; it’s also about sharing experiences. Many people who share a similar experience are loyal to each other. Why? From a philosophical perspective, the experiences that we experience make us who we are; therefore, whoever shares an experience that we have experienced is participating in an experience that has become a part of us—in a sense, the person has become a part of us too. My ability to “connect” to other people who love Jesus is because Jesus has become a part of me. When I meet individuals who have shared my experience of Jesus, they are also, in a very literal sense, a part of me and my history. They are participants of a shared history that has somehow shaped who I am directly. Moreover, when we become married, we develop ourselves in relationship to our spouse. The spouse’s loyalty to us contributes to our loyalty to them. Not only that, but loyalty is an important virtue because it helps us remain good humans. How so? Because our identities are always changing, we need people loyal to us who would be there through our character development. What I mean is this: If a person had no sense of loyalty, he would come home to his wife, find her on her period PMSing away, and divorce her right then and there. Why? Well, she “changed”—and he had no loyalty to see her through her “changes.” Human character is fluid and presupposes loyalty. When your father suffers from Alzheimer’s and no longer is, in thought or in deed, your “original father,” you still remain loyal to him; for he is your father, even in such a changed state. “Our identities are never completely settled or finalized, because if we change how we act, we are changing who we are. There really is no inner identity that exists separately from how we live and act. Our identity is formed by the choices we make, the way we act, and the life projects we undertake.”[22] Who we are in a given moment is who we are. Life is, by all means, in the words of the philosopher Heidegger, merely a “happening.” We are in a state of change all the time; life is happening. It hasn’t happened. It will not necessarily happen in some future sense. It is happening, right here and right now. Don’t categorize me. In the words of Soren Kierkegaard, “Once you label me, you negate me.” Don’t put people into categories—“They have a Type A personality and therefore must require such-and-such an approach.” This will never get you far in human life that is actually lived. What people need, because of their fluid characters, is loyalty—more than ever.

One could go on describing a whole ton of other virtues that marriage requires. (Fowers also deals with generosity and justice.) I am, at present, satisfied with giving just the two: friendship and loyalty. These two alone one could spend a lifetime discerning. Friendship is so important for marriage that it cannot be overstated. Loyalty, on the other hand, is just as necessary. So many of us jump on board when the ride is fun and easy, and get off when the going gets hard. Few of us have what it takes to remain loyal. Loyalty is a lost art. People like to divorce and move on. They like to forget their “attachments.” Marriage could be likened to pregnancy and labor. Allow me to set up a simple analogy. Those who enter marriage based on feelings and happiness, are like the women who get pregnant based on nothing but good feelings, sex, and happiness; when the going gets rough, they jump ship and abort the baby. On the other hand, those of us who enter the state of pregnancy based on friendship, loyalty, and love—when the going gets rough, we don’t jump ship and scream “It’s over”; no, because we are not basing our acceptance of the pregnant state on good feelings, we allow loyalty to our unborn child take over and help us pull through the long haul. In the end, only those who have placed their faith in the virtues give birth. Those who place their faith in feelings and happiness, jump ship the moment those feelings cease (in this analogy that would happen during labor). The key is what you base your marriage on. Both “couples” in this analogy experienced happiness and both had sex. The former had sex for sex’s sake; the latter had sex for friendship’s sake. Both were happy. But the couple basing their pregnancy on happy “feelings” was unable to carry the child to term. Why? Because once the happy feelings are over, the pregnancy is over. Happiness can never be used as a means to happiness; only virtues can be used as a means to happiness, true happiness. The legend of marital bliss based on bliss alone is myth.

written by Moses Y. Mikheyev

[1] Estimates vary between 42-60%. However, this number is not a fair representation because many couples that would have been married in 1900 are not marrying—they prefer to cohabitate. If everyone were to get married, as in the good old days, we would most likely have seen a larger proportion of people divorced   (since many who cohabitate do end up splitting up from their partners). For these statistics I refer you to Blaine J. Fowers, Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness: How Embracing the Virtues of Loyalty, Generosity, Justice, and Courage Can Strengthen Your Relationship (San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 2000), 11. Most of my paper will simply be engaging with this fascinating book. I recommend my readers read it.

[2] For a friendship-based approach towards marriage see Chapter 20 in Moses Y. Mikheyev, Rants on Love: Philosophical Fragments of A Dying Romance (Mustang: Tate Publishing, 2013).

[3] I do not believe that this kind of “individualism” should be confused with existentialism—which is arguably the most purest of philosophies, being one that encourages honest and pure approaches towards all human beings (read Martin Buber or Soren Kierkegaard on love and friendship).

[4]Blaine J. Fowers, Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness, 29.

[5] Ibid., 81. See his discussion of this issue at more length on pages 78-89.

[6] Ibid., 81.

[7] Ibid., 81-82.

[8] Ibid., 82. Words in original are italicized.

[9] Ibid., 88. Italics original.

[10] Ibid., 90. Italics original.

[11] Ibid., 95.

[12] Ibid., 97.

[13] Ibid., 96. This is a general—and completely dead-on!—critique of Gottman’s work.

[14] From a totally individualistic perspective, there is nothing wrong with this: you are only helping yourself. What’s inherently “evil” about that an individualist may ask? Well, if the presupposition is that we act only in self-interest, then, yes, this act is “good.” But if we believe that the individual stands in communal relationship to others, then such an act is selfish and is not good for the communal individual. By “communal individual” l I mean an individual who is both aware of self and the self’s relationship to other human beings. Human beings, in my view, then, are thoroughly social creatures. By acting only out of self-interest, the communal individual looses the “communal” aspect of his individuality and ceases to be “good” for the community.

[15] Cited by Fowers Ibid., 118.

[16] See his discussion of the issue on pages 120-122.

[17] Ibid., 129.

[18] Ibid., 130.

[19] I refer readers to my first book Rants on Love for an introduction to some of my views on love.

[20] Ibid., 142.

[21] Ibid., 151.

[22] Ibid., 157.