Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Marriage and Morals, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 (pages 118-129): “The Place of Love in Human Life”

Love receives a lot of attention in literature but is wrongly neglected by social science and politics. Love is very important, and social systems should not interfere with its development. Love is deeply emotional, involving physical and psychological elements that can be intense. Love is more common in some societies than in others (p. 119), because of differing institutions.

“The three main extra-rational activities in modern life are religion, war and love… but love is not anti-rational,… a reasonable man may reasonably rejoice in its existence [p. 119].” Ascetic religions like Christianity result in an unnecessary tension between love and religion. But the greater enemy to love now (especially in America) is “the gospel of work and economic success [p. 120].” Neither work nor love should be completely sacrificed for the other, but men frequently let work overrun love. Russell paints a harrowing picture (pp. 120-121) of the life of a married workaholic and the associated negative social effects: “the lack of sexual satisfaction in both husband and wife turns to hatred of mankind disguised as public spirit and a high moral standard [pp. 121-122].”

“Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives [p. 122].” Further, Russell says, “civilized people cannot fully satisfy their sexual instinct without love [p. 123].” Nothing like “[h]appy mutual love,” by golly; without it, you are likely to become envious and cruel.

It is hard to distinguish physical desire from love, especially for women who have been taught that they could only possibly want to kiss someone whom they loved. The push for virginity at marriage gets women into traps, because without experience they mistake physical desire for love. Likewise, the idea that love is sinful can undermine the full benefits of love. It makes men bad lovers, who don’t understand that a woman should enjoy sex. Even married couples are quite bottled up by subconscious notions that love is sinful.

Some people are afraid that love will destroy their individuality, but individuality is meant to interact and develop with the world. “Love, children, and work are the greatest sources of fertilizing contact between the individual and the rest of the world [p. 126].” Work undertaken solely for pecuniary gain, like love that is merely possessive, doesn’t produce this fruitful effect. Full mutual love requires a union of egos, so that the beloved’s feelings are felt as intensely as one’s own. This is hard in a competitive society, and in a society that has developed a “foolish cult of personality derived partly from Protestantism and partly from the romantic movement [p. 127].”

The separation of love from sex can lead to an ascetic hatred of sex. Sex without love “has little value, and is to be regarded primarily as experimentation with a view to love [p. 128].” [Russell is simultaneously attacking traditional sexual morality and indiscriminate sexual license.]

With children on the scene, love cannot have the field to itself; the necessary ethic might require that passionate love sometimes be sacrificed to the interests of kids. But generally it is best for kids if their parents are in a state of mutual love, so we should seek to minimize interference with such love.

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