The Rational Destruction of Love
In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls writes, “Institutions and actions are appraised from the standpoint of securing these ends; and therefore pointless principles, for ex- ample, that one is not to look up at the sky on Tuesdays, are re- jected as burdensome and irrational constraints. In the original po- sition rational persons have no reason for acknowledging standards of this kind. But secondly, it is also the case that the sense of jus- tice is continuous with the love of mankind. I noted earlier (§ 30) that benevolence is at a loss when the many objects of its love op- pose one another. The principles of justice are needed to guide it. The difference between the sense of justice and the love of mankind is that the latter is supererogatory, going beyond the moral require- ments and not invoking the exemptions which the principles of natural duty and obligation allow.” In a world out of balanced, and perspectives on the relationship between people become diffuse and corrupted, self-interested, it makes acting collectively in a practice of a just morality difficult if not impossible under a system for which postmodernism is a required presence in its interest, and that this interest is meant to thrust individuality as a first principle.
We’ve discussed the utility and importance of art in representing more just worlds, and ones that overcome limitations created by, and oppressed by, postmodern thought’s influence on the material world. Namely, the postmodern art’s view of social change, its influence on how we feel about ourselves, and productive use of art for the personal enrichment through social-collective material analyses that is often denied in a dialectical process for use by the public. For those unfamiliar with Rawls' theory, it is based on the idea that justice is determined by a "veil of ignorance," in which individuals do not know their place in society or their personal circumstances, and must come to an agreement about how to allocate resources and opportunities in a way that is fair to all— essentially the postmodern condition is that this veil is used to prevent the latter part of the theory, leaving people isolated and manipulable. This idea is evident in shows that represent this condition and, again, sublimation of experiencing it into a stronger loving world, such as HBO’s "The Leftovers" and Netflix’s "Maniac," as both shows seek to confront contradiction in which individuals must grapple with their own biases, limitations, and loss of intuition over sincere feeling in order to create a more just society. These two shows, I believe, demonstrate how this influence on a social morality has not only been so corrosive to interpersonal relationships, but that we’ve not only not realized it, it becomes potentially devastating to the mental health of individuals when they are put back into perspective that this sort of care for another person or community is a void in their lives.
In "The Leftovers," the main character, Kevin Garvey, is faced with the task of rebuilding his community in the aftermath of a mysterious event known as the "Sudden Departure," in which 2% of the world's population suddenly vanished. Throughout the series, Kevin is confronted with difficult moral dilemmas and is forced to make tough choices in order to keep the peace and ensure the well-being of his community. In the final season, Kevin may become a deity-like figure, but only if he is willing to sacrifice his own life. In this moment, Kevin is faced with a choice between his own personal desires and the needs of his community. Ultimately, Kevin decides to make the sacrifice, demonstrating a deep commitment to Rawls' idea of justice and the common good. But particularly relevant is that in the series finale, this relationship reaches a climax, as Nora and Kevin must grapple with their own desires and the needs of their community in the face of a rapidly approaching apocalypse; Nora and Kevin's relationship represents in the struggle against postmodernism, and how it ultimately reflects a deep commitment to the idea of the common good. Nora loses her family in a “Sudden Disappearance” and despite being committed to Kevin, uses an experimental to find them, only to learn they moved on without her, and too embarrassed to return, goes into exile. Kevin, we learn in the finale, spent the intervening years searching for her upon her return, and finds her, choosing to behave as a new acquaintance, to start over. Their relationship, and devotion to their community as a piece of it, is a testament to an endurable love and connection in a world that is often fractured and disconnected, where Nora found a void with her family before the disappearance, and Kevin as well, despite both being in relationships that suffered gravely from such a disconnection that traumas would go undiscussed, suffered privately, and in isolation. This is I think representative of what the distinction is for possibilities of love and community and collective love for mankind.
Postmodernism extols the fragmentation and deconstruction of traditional narratives and values, which, as a premise, has merit as the basis of a material analysis, however, this never occurs in postmodernism; it is lost in the chaos and confusion of conflicting perspectives, ending in disconnection from others— this is the role of love in a conception of, both, love for other individuals but also your society in the abstract. In times of social chaos, this kind of love is productive, it’s the motivation for the material analysis, to become better citizens for each other, better friends, better neighbors and spouses, this is why you bother. The use of this conception of love to counter certain negative effects of postmodernism provide this purpose, that in a world that is often focused on the individual and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, love would then provide a sense of connection beyond the self. It can inspire people to look beyond their own needs and desires and to consider the needs of others— this does not occur individually and one-sidedly. This is the case in the above series, where through an interpersonal love, Kevin and Nora come to terms with the world they were given and what the leftover people were able to forge of it, solidarity with others under a banner of social disharmony.
Central to resolving the contradictions posed by the postmodern condition that cause this isolation, these voids, this loneliness, etc. is whether or not it’s innate for humans to seek each other out, that man is naturally self-interested, or if attraction, affection for others in any sense (as a neighbor, as a friend, as a partner, etc.) is self-serving, or can be human and representative of the same cultural values as social collectivized incentive for a better material world for a community.
"Maniac" follows two strangers, Owen and Annie, who participate in a mysterious pharmaceutical trial that causes them to confront their own traumas and psychological issues though a series of simulated changing life circumstances. Throughout the series, both Owen and Annie are faced with difficult moral choices and must navigate their own biases and prejudices in order to find a sense of inner peace and understanding. In the final episode, both Owen and Annie are faced with a choice between their own personal desires and the needs of others. In the end, they both choose to put the needs of others before their own, demonstrating a commitment to a Rawlsian conception of justice in choosing to act socially, rather than personally, in this way. This is an example of the innate good of human connection, but that it can be corrosive if it comes at the expense of, as Rawls terms it in the text, “the least advantaged” (a just society, in his estimation, seeks to benefit the least advantaged as a measure of how effective system of justice can be evaluated). Throughout the series, they are put into different situations where they should not be finding each other, but because of conditions outside of the simulation they are put into, they always seem to find each other, and it baffles the observing scientists who are forced to confront traumas of their own in solving the problem, while confronting the ethics of the exercise as well as the soundness of purpose for the project as a whole. Essentially, predicated on the belief that love plays a vital role in a collective struggle against postmodernism under social chaos— they found a sublimative comfort in personal connection, but that same impulse for love also can and is, at a certain level of thought, projected outward and to scale.
“To see human beings in agony, to see them covered in blood and to hear their death groans, makes people humble. It makes their spirits delicate, bright, peaceful. It's never at such times that we become cruel or bloodthirsty. No, it's on a beautiful spring afternoon like this that people suddenly become cruel. It's at a moment like this, don't you think, while one's vaguely watching the sun as it peeps through the leaves of the trees above a well-mown lawn? Every possible nightmare in the world, every possible nightmare in history, has come into being like this.” wrote Yukio Mishima, and it’s a comment on how we treat one another can be heavily influenced by something universally understood and empathetic, it’s when individualized that it becomes harder to practice, and this is what postmodernism seeks to do— commit the harm at scale, but condition society to react as discrete individuals, never relate as a human, practice a clinical distance about the misfortune of others, viewing them as individuals or representative of a type of individual, never as a class, and never, god forbid, someone you would otherwise be in solidarity with. Mishima believed that postmodernism, with its focus on individualism and the breakdown of traditional social structures, was leading to a dangerous increase in violence and social isolation.
Mishima saw love as a crucial force in protecting against and combatting the demonstrably negative effects of postmodernism. In his work, he explored many of the forms that love could take, from romantic love to the love of family and community while taking the position that risks were ever present if not disciplined and principled in some way as it could lead to obsessive behavior and even violence— he warned of a future for Japan where ongoing postmodern influences from western imperialism and American occupation, in the shadow of a government that was not blameless for its failure to serve its people while prioritizing some under discussed atrocities in its name during the war, would lapse into a kind of depraved and undisciplined culture that would instinctually begin to isolate its citizens from each other in the name of things beneficial only to very few . This is something I’ve written about before, and the effects on Japanese contemporary culture are manifestly as he predicted, issues with the rest of his ideology aside. Mishima's work is rooted in the belief that the struggle against the dehumanizing effects of postmodernism were crucial to functional citizenry and a strong coherent social culture, essentially that a society that values individualism above all else, it becomes horrifying and easy for people to become isolated and disconnected from one another to a disastrous end (and in the case of Japan, entire generations of people essentially able to be insulated out from society when unreflective of the prevailing postmodern social culture) . Mishima saw this as a major contributing factor to the increase in violence and social unrest that he witnessed in his lifetime. Mishima argued that people needed to reclaim their sense of connection to one another and to the world around them, which meant finding ways to build strong, supportive communities and to foster a sense of belonging and purpose. For Mishima, love was a crucial part of this process, as it could help to bring people together and give them the strength to overcome the challenges of postmodernism. Mishima himself fell victim to much of the thinking he warned about; he, as he is famous for, attempted a coup, and failed, because he fundamentally failed to understand that while the frustration with the postmodern order was real and scale, he had no connection to the prevailing community of those who could be persuaded, he essentially began a cult, rather than organizing the masses to understand this issue.
Again, we can look to materialism to explain how while motivated by love, without a love continuous with community in the material world, not just the one idealized by Mishima, despite his passion and conviction, Mishima's work was plagued by problems that can be explained by Adorno's mass culture theory. Per Adorno, mass culture is characterized by a lack of genuine creativity and individuality, and is instead driven by the profit motive. This leads to the production of shallow, superficial works that lack depth and substance— the latter is of course not true of Mishima’s work, but the former applies to the extent that it failed to understand real material conditions and the sentiment of the public he was asking to self-determine, and they did, by laughing at him. Mishima's work was not, as a result, immune to these problems. His novels and plays were often highly commercial, and he was known for his flamboyant public appearances, which critics took to mean that his work was focused on spectacle and not substance, this was interpreted not as rigor but as attention-seeking. You can, however, take from his work the valid, predicated insights into the dangers of postmodernism are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them, and his passion and conviction are an inspiration to all of us who believe in the importance of meaning and purpose in life— he arrived at the wrong conclusions, specifically, because of this postmodern condition isolating him from others, which led to the ideas and work lingering and metastasizing into something other than that which could become actionable.
Per Rawls, once again, a just society is one in which all members are regarded as equally deserving respect and concern in the eyes of the agreed upon society, this requires a sense of solidarity and shared values among the members of a community, as well as a commitment to promoting the common good, which centrally can be built with this sense of solidarity through the development of personal connections and relationships with others. When we form close bonds with people, we come to see them not just as abstractions or statistical categories, but as flesh and blood human beings with their own hopes, dreams, and struggles; forging empathy and seeing trauma as not a personal failure, but a matter of something that can be addressed as a material consideration. In the struggle against postmodernism, the importance of love and personal connection is especially clear; the bonds of love and personal connection help to bring people together and create a sense of shared purpose and meaning.When we feel connected to others and have a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, we are much more likely to be motivated to engage in creative and productive activities, rather than the impulse to feel disconnected and adrift, to be more likely to engage in destructive or self-destructive behavior. By channeling social and personal trauma into creative and productive outlets, we construct cultural expressions that can help to counter the nihilistic and relativistic tendencies of postmodernism; a psychological sublimation that can be among the most socially powerful tool for this struggle. Love is central to this; cultivating love and personal connection.
In Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace writes, “That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack. That concentrating on anything is very hard work.”— this is a lesson you learn through becoming less alone, and it’s an individual experience, but one taught and aided collectively-socially because you are just one person, of many people who experience the things you do, not the exact same way, but in a way that fundamentally means you are not alone, when everything about postmodernism wants you to believe you are, that the singular aspects of your experience make the non-singular, fundamentally empathetic part of it, irrelevant to others when its relevance would only be productive in a healthier, loving world. We need a sincerity, one that only caring about one another differently, better, more thoroughly, can attain, and we do this every day through art, through communities, through friendship, and the good news is, we have the information and we have the tools— per Mao, “What we need is an enthusiastic but calm state of mind and intense but orderly work” but he warns, “We hail from all corners of the country and have joined together for a common revolutionary objective.... Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other.”