Updated: Feb 17
Now you may already be thinking that we live pretty much in a dog-eat-dog world without love. Maybe so!
But suppose some evil monster wanted to finish the job. Make this truly a world without love, without caring, without empathy, without pity, without generosity. What would be the rules for how to govern oneself in such a world?
We know what these rules are. There have been countless critiques of communities ranging from families to nations that look very much like such worlds. From Nazi Germany to highly dysfunctional workplaces to toxic families.
So what would be the rules for creating a world without love?
All you need is for people to act on the following four principles:
There’s not enough of anything to go around
I’m better than you are
My needs come first
I know what’s right and true better than you do
That’s it! Throw those ingredients together and boom! you’ve got hell!
Now here’s the thing. We don’t need to plan or intend to follow these rules for them to actually rule. They don’t need to be our bumper stickers.
Let’s say you’re just a simple community of two—a couple—and you proclaim your love for each other. You feel it, too. But let’s start with the fact that maybe you also both believe, deep down, that there’s not enough to go around. This is something you feel in your gut. Not enough time, energy, affection, money, patience...you name it. And so if you’re both running on empty, then it’s hard to escape the conclusion that if you don’t get yours first, before your partner gets his, you will lose out.
And so the generosity of love erodes down to the bare rocks of selfishness, however hidden they are by the fog of romantic pretensions.
And since you’ve seen each other as you truly are, and, as they say, no man is a hero to his valet, it’s all too easy for us to add up our partner’s flaws and conclude, yes, I really truly am better than they are. We might never admit that in so many words—or maybe we’d be delighted to proclaim to whomever would listen!—but it’s how we feel.
Which means, as we see with any country or community with a caste system, that our partner has less standing than we do in the community. They have, or certainly should have, less power. Meaning, we are justified in having more power.
Don’t like the way that sounds? Well, then don’t look in the mirror, because that’s how millions of couples actually operate, and it’s far from impossible that you’re one of them.
And if you’re better than your partner, then it’s obvious that your needs come first. Duh! The better people get the better stuff. When has that not ever been true!!
And of course being better means that you know what’s right and true better than your partner. Now this is something all too many of us really do feel in our bones. Therefore, not only do I get to sit at the top table when it comes to stuff and power, but also when it comes to respect and influence.
And if our partners disagree with this, which they always do, clownish inferiors claiming to be our superiors, we have to fight to slap them down, which we always do.
Is this a caricature? Well, only in the way real caricatures tell a kind of truth by emphasizing extraordinary but real features of real people’s faces. These rules for a world without love aren’t officially subscribed to—except by followers of Ayn Rand and by out-and-out racists. But if you define “rule” as something that can allow you to usually predict how someone will act, then yes all too many of us follow these rules all too much of the time.
And it makes life hell. Like the hell of two homeless guys rolling around on the ground punching each other in the face over who’ll get to eat the last slice of pizza in a pizza box they found. Lots of the stuff we do is barely more exalted than that.
And yet heaven is just around the corner. All you have to do is flip those rules around. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in the rules of a world of love. You just have to act on them.
If we take a deep breath and look around a bit, we see that there IS enough to go around
I’m not better than you are, whoever you are
My needs are important, but they don’t come first
You are just as likely to know what’s right and true as I am
That’s heaven. Waiting for us. We just have to live it.
I didn't do images of hell. You're welcome! The images here, of heaven or just heavenly, are...
Baglione, St. Catherine Carried up to Heaven by Angels
Devas (Buddhist angels) in heaven
Muhammad's paradise, a Persian miniature
Dore's etching of Dante and Beatrice about to enter Paradise
Cover picture: Pissarro, Rainbow at Pontoise, 1877.