What, you ask, does the first paragraph have to do with the second, or with the ethical repercussions of any given endeavor, and what does any of this have to do with love.
The external forces we are subject to—the social, political, and economic structures we operate within—provide a set of conditions we are not at liberty to escape; one way or another, we must negotiate with them. Where religion is a driving force, all behavior is measured in relation to it; it permeates the perception. The same goes for a prevailing economic system: we speak, think, dream in its metaphors. We “spend” time, “invest” our energies in another person (or not), apply the laws of supply and demand or of diminishing returns as human encounters increasingly come to resemble, and be regarded as, “transactions.” And so here we are, locked as it were in an economic reality, and everything we see and do is contingent upon its laws, its language and expressions. What, then—when it fails to obey these forces—does love become? By its very definition, a transaction that does not yield profit creates loss.
And yet love has a way of bleeding through the balance sheet, of asserting itself in spite of its impracticality, of reminding us that the nature of being human does not, in fact, perfectly coincide with the circumscribed spaces we allot to its expression. The true mode of love is anarchy; to experience it, it requires that we abandon ourselves to it. We miss telephone calls, cease to be punctual. We are no longer able to manage things efficiently. Love demands time, it demands space; it plants its flag and asserts another code of law altogether. Those that come under its power have a choice: either to succumb to it, or to escape.
Free will? Pessoa remarked that the choleric individual, for instance, can only hope that he will not, upon provocation, explode in anger. It makes no difference whether or not an angry reaction is in his own best interests, or what he resolves to do or not to do ahead of time. The fact that his reactions are not fully under his control demonstrates the limitations of free will. We are driven by anger, by passion, by greed; we are also driven by the sheer force of habit. Propagandists, for instance, have learned to use these facts of human nature to exert influence over entire populations, to shepherd them into doing all kinds of things against their own better interests. Individual choice exists, of course, but it is a mistake to overestimate the power, or even moral imperative, of free will.
And so we give in to love, perhaps, when we have no other recourse. It asserts its larger truth as everything else pales in its presence. At first, lovers laugh at the absurdity of the human spectacle, feel magically free of limitations, lighter somehow; this eventually gives way to sorrow, to a fear that the world’s ways will conspire against their love and render it impossible. The state of grace circumscribed by love is a territory to be defended, a state with another system of government. One becomes a citizen of another country; takes on an allegiance to another flag. One learns that one must fight to keep one’s love.
Morality is a term unequivocal to those who purport to be its staunch supporters. Yet morality has little relevance when it comes to the irresistible urge to figure things out. Human beings are seekers of truth; this goes for art, literature, philosophy, science. The applications are secondary; the implications another field altogether. The main thing is to know, to take each question as far as it can go, to build upon discoveries and continue building upon them until the facts they reveal take us to the next stage, and the one after that. We are insatiable in our will to know. Genetic engineering, for instance, sets the stage for any number of potential scenarios ranging from curing incurable diseases to breeding a new, sub-human species to fight kamikaze wars or perform menial labor. It’s all highly interesting, and there will always be more than enough individuals keenly committed to solving the problem at hand, putting the next brick in place, paving the common path—but to where? Non-scientists tend to think of scientists as Doctor Frankenstein figures sewing cadavers together to create horrific monsters. But the truth is that every human endeavor harbors the full range of possible extremes. The monster, of course, is within. There are those who would search out the error of the species and reengineer Homo Sapiens itself.
What am I trying to say? What does any of this have to do with love? But couldn’t I just as easily counter this question with another: isn’t the very fact of existence enough to stop us in our tracks, to shut us up? Take a look around; pretend you’re an alien visiting Earth for the first time. What would you see?—Collections of individuals massed together according to specific complexes of organizing principles. But as we analyze these, we discover that they do not, as initially assumed, serve the overall benefit of the species; instead, there seems to be a parasitic force at work whereby some individuals enjoy benefits grossly disproportionate to the whole. Further analysis suggests that not only do the organizing principles governing the activities of these mass collections of individuals actually favor a disproportionate sharing of the benefits produced by the efforts of any given group; they are also implemented in a manner that harms and ultimately endangers the survival of the species. Closer study reveals that while alternative organizing principles exist, they are systematically repressed. What, then, would be your conclusion?
To be continued.