Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

On the Case Against Brotherly Love

Today at the Stone, Stephen Asma brings some post-holiday season grinchitude to bear on the concept of universal love. The call to love all the world’s citizens as oneself is based on a “radical misunderstanding about the true wellsprings of ethical care, namely the emotions,” Asma writes. It is, in his view, normatively corrupt as well:


In general we have circles of favorites (family, friends, allies) and we mutually protect one another, even when such devotion disadvantages us personally. But the interesting thing about loyalty is that it ignores both merit-based fairness and equality-based fairness. It’s not premised on optimal conditions. You need to have my back, even when I’m sometimes wrong. You need to have my back, even when I sometimes screw up the job. And I have to extend the same loyalty to you. That kind of pro-social risky virtue happens more among favorites.

Asma isn’t the first observer to cast doubt on cosmic love. For Freud, love brings individuals together libidinally and binds families, but it cannot unite multitudes. Nor should it. “The universal love of mankind,” Freud wrote, does not constitute “the highest standpoint which man can reach”:

A love that does not discriminate seems to me to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object; and secondly, not all men are worthy of love.

Love imposes duties, Freud explains, and if we’re going to sacrifice ourselves for someone else that person had better deserve our love. Lest this sounds too cold-hearted, Freud offers a dose of realism:

But if I am to love him (with this universal love) merely because he, too, is an inhabitant of this earth, like an insect, an earth-worm or a grass-snake, then I fear that only a small modicum of my love will fall to his share—not by any possibility as much as, by the judgment of my reason, I am entitled to retain for myself. What is the point of a precept enunciated with so much solemnity if its fulfillment cannot be recommended as reasonable?

This zero-sum conception of love as a substance to be ladled out sparingly to our closest kin and friends may be dispiritingly tribal, and we can agree with Peter Fraterdeus that it gives “unmitigated cover for first world ‘in-crowd’ privilege,” but it is hard to argue with the more general point: if we try to save the world, we will fail. No one can do it all. As individuals, we cannot stop the bloodbath in Syria, end starvation in Africa, heal inequities in the nation’s public schools or provide housing for every homeless person in our city.

But if we hear this message and throw up our hands, the result is an entitled tribalism at best and nihilistic laziness in the face of human suffering at worst. This is where Asma’s dismissal of universal love falters. Although Asma associates the “barrage of entreaties to nurture a sense of ‘good will to all mankind,’ ” with the “ethical utopias” proffered by Peter Singer and Jeremy Rifkin, he overstates the demandingness of the non-academic appeal to brotherhood.

When the Salvation Army rings the bell for donations, Sally Struthers asks you to send money for hunger relief or your clergyman encourages you to volunteer at a soup kitchen, no one is forcing a global ethical utopia on you. These appeals only encourage you to widen your circle of attention a bit: to remind you that there are people a few or more steps removed from your family and daily life who could really benefit from your help. Giving something of yourself does not require giving it all away or to abandoning those closest to you. And if appeals to universal love push you to care a little more for others than you did before, how bad can that be?

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie



 


Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

Why are these borders so weird?

New book focuses on some of the world's most peculiar borderlines.

The bizarre international border at Märket Island is just one of dozens highlighted in Zoran Nikolic's 'Atlas of Unusual Borders'.

Image reproduced by kind permission of HarperCollins
Strange Maps
  • Borders have a simple job: separate different areas from each other.
  • But they can get complicated fast, as shown by a new book.
  • Here are a few of the bizarre borders it focuses on.
Keep reading Show less

Education vs. learning: How semantics can trigger a mind shift

The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.

Education vs. learning: How semantics can trigger a mind shift | Gregg ...
Future of Learning
  • The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
  • Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
  • Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less
Culture & Religion

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast