Many years ago, The Beatles taught us that all you need is love, all you need is love, all you need is love, love is all you need (as if chanting something over and over will make it true… *white male patriarchy, anyone*).
But I would like to have a rational discussion about love, and how in fact it is NOT all you need. I would like to argue that you cannot have love without an equal amount of hate, and that your love is empty and meaningless without hate.
As always, it’s good to discuss definitions first.
Most people I encounter consider LOVE to be some kind of inexplicable spiritual force, perhaps a gift from God, or a “cosmic energy”, or some other such thing that cannot be quantified or qualified, so must be left to the realm of the intangible, the spiritual, the superhuman.
Some say love is a noun – a thing you have or give – others (like John Mayer) say “love ain’t a thing, love is a verb”, and I think John is on the right track here.
We certainly can’t hold love in our hand, or measure it in the body – unless you’re of the school that believe love is purely chemical, that the mind is an illusion, and that objective reality doesn’t exist. If this description fits you, please kindly close this website right now and return to the cave in which you belong.
Love is physically, empirically intangible.
So how does it manifest? Well, it manifests in our behaviour. What we say we “love” is what we are attracted to, and what we wish to create or draw more of into our lives. For instance, I often say I love activated roasted almonds made by my good friend Sven Löwe down at ActivEarth Food. What do I love about these? Well, they are crunchy, salty, have a hint of olive oil – they’re delicious – they feel great in my guts, and they make me believe that I am making a healthier choice by snacking on these instead of chocolate or cheeseburgers. So therein lies my VALUE. Two, in fact.
I value pleasure. That pleasure is experienced when I taste delicious things, like Sven’s almonds.
I value my health.
And this can be boiled down even further to a fundamental value – I value my life! It may seem like this has little to do with eating roasted almonds, but on the contrary, it has everything to do with it. My senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing all provide me data about my experience of consuming these delicious little brown parcels of pleasure: The look of them, their shape, their colour; the way they feel in my fingers, the way they collapse under the closing of my jaws; the taste, smell and texture of them as I chew and swallow. My senses provide me with data about what is pleasurable and what is repulsive. If my mind and body are well calibrated, it stands to reason that I should receive pleasure from the things that I know will offer me health, sustenance and longevity. If my mind and body are not well calibrated, then I will take pleasure in things that do me harm – like chocolate and cheeseburgers. And as a hedonist I seek to indulge in the things that give me pleasure.
But I value my health, because I value my life. I want to live as long as possible, and by fully taking ownership (thanks to philosophy) of my right to live and my right to take pleasure in living, my supreme value is now that of my life itself. So things that support, enrich, and lengthen my life give me pleasure.
And so I love Sven’s almonds. And because I love them so, I want more of them. They are virtuous little drops of pleasure and of health. I love them because they are virtuous, because they are good. The love itself is not a thing. The love is the behaviour I enact towards the almonds, because of what I perceive as their virtue.
Which brings me to the definition of love that I accept as rationally true. This one came from my favourite modern day philosopher, Stefan Molyneux from Freedomain Radio.
“Love is our involuntary response to virtue.”
– Stefan Molyneux
Love is a response. It’s a behaviour that emerges from us as an involuntary response to the things that we perceive as virtuous.
We love kindness, because we believe kindness is good. When we meet a kind person, we want to be around them more, we want to meet more people like them, because we know that kindness is good.
“But love should be unconditional!” – said many, many people in my life, and probably in yours. These words are dangerous – they are manipulative and untrue. In fact, the only people who will make this claim are afraid that they have nothing to offer other than a demand. They desire the unearned, which as my nut-activating friend has established, is The Root Of All Evil.
Love is, most emphatically, NOT unconditional. Any involuntary responsive behaviour is highly conditional. It is a response, which means that the correct conditions have to be in place for the response to occur. Therefore without virtue, there can be no love.
Many people call many things love, many relationships are described as “loving”, but this is not true in so many instances. If you want to know if you really love someone, look within and be honest with yourself – what is the feeling when you see that person’s name appear on your phone screen as they call you. Is it joy? Excitement? Attraction? Or is it repulsion, fear, anxiety, or lethargy? Our emotions are the body’s way of telling us what we need to know about the people, objects and situations around us. They help us find the correct things to love, based on their virtue – and virtue (as I established earlier in my discussion on nuts) is nothing more than qualities that further our values.
If we value trust, we will love people who are trustworthy.
If we value honesty, we will love people who are honest – even when it hurts.
If we value our very life, we will love people who enrich our life-force, not diminish it.
So what of hate?
I would argue that hate is the equal opposite of love. For everything we love, we must logically hate its opposite. For example:
- I love virtue, so I hate vice.
- I love honesty, so I hate lies.
- I love freedom, so I hate tyranny.
- I love my wife, so I hate the idea of her non-existence.
- I love integrity, so I hate flakiness (except in a good activated muesli!)
- I love winning, so I hate losing.
The last one there is worth unpacking a little, so as to illustrate the ever-so-important function of hate. I hate losing, but that doesn’t mean that when I lose at something I collapse in a puddle and ask others to throw money, time, labour, or unearned compliments at me to prop me up again. I hate losing, so when I lose it hurts, and I want to return to the feeling of winning again – the pleasure of winning. It’s important to lose though, and to fail. In losing and failing we are able to identify and viscerally connect with the feelings that we want to avoid, and in doing so we take ACTIONS to prevent future failure. We get BETTER at what we do. This is evolution, this is self-knowledge, this is the very essence of LIFE.
But isn’t love all you need? Wouldn’t life be better without the hate?
So many people I know revert to “#LoveIsAll” or “just spread love” as the catch-all answers to any discomfort they feel in the wake of a terrorist attack, a personal relationship conflict, or a loss at some competitive venture. It’s a convenient irrational null zone in which to fall, where by depending on the “spiritual power” of love and rejecting everything else, you can effectively strip all virtue, vice, success, and failure of any distinct consistent meaning. In a world where nothing is concrete and “truth is relative”, people can check out as it were, and feel good again that they do not have to hold consistent standards.
And that’s what love and hate are all about – STANDARDS. When we are self-aware enough to understand the true nature of love, to experience it fully, and to lean into it with pleasure and pride, we are setting standards for ourselves. In order to maintain these standards, we need to also be aware of their equal opposites (the things we hate) and be prepared to say NO to them, or if necessary, to fight them.
Of course, nobody wants to fill their lives with things and people that they hate – but the whole point of hate is to discriminate (i.e. use your rational judgment) and determine the difference between what is good and what is bad.
A number of years ago I wrote a song called “Hate Won’t Bring Us Together”. I was quite a staunch leftist, moral relativist, and otherwise irrational and unhappy person in those days. I had not yet discovered philosophy and while I had a good sense of the general notion of the Non-Aggression Principle, innately, I had not yet honed my understanding of such principles and why they are so essential. I often look back now at my songs from those days and cringe a little, at how much I was missing the mark in some ways, philosophically speaking. This song, however, I think I got right.
As the song’s very title suggests, hate won’t bring us together – hate is a divider. And this is true.
The song is about the barbarity of war, about governments sending young men off to kill or be killed. The truth is, invading another land and killing people for a political agenda is wrong, immoral, bad and it needs to stop happening. But… there is a righteous time to kill, and that is in self-defence. When attacked, we are granted the moral right to defend ourselves. This doesn’t need to go so far as killing of course, but we have a right to take violent action to prevent any aggressor from harming us or our possessions because we each own our bodies and the products of our labour. We own our things, and we have a right to defend them if people wish to destroy them or steal them from us.
When we meet a known thief, we do not invite them into our home, or even tell them where we live and what times of the day we tend to leave and not lock the doors. We discriminate. We hate theft, we hate the injustice of it, and so we use that hatred to help us make the choice to say NO to the things that are not aligned with our values, in order to protect the things that are.
There are so many ways this conversation can expand outward into politics, “social justice”, conservatism vs. “progressive” liberalism, but I will leave it here for now with one final thought:
Love is not all you need. All you need is rationalism. Because if you are rational, you argue with reason and evidence in response to the empirical reality of the world around you, and the emotional world within you. With your sharp blade of rationalism, you can defend that which you love from that which you hate. You can create your world in the image of beauty, truth, integrity, virtue and pleasure, and keep at bay the beggars, thieves, looters and moochers who wish to take from you what you have earned.
Love virtue, hate vice.
Defend that which you love, speak up against that which you hate, and you will find yourself surrounded by more beauty, virtue, joy and pleasure than you ever imagined possible.
Take it from me, I’m doing it right now. *bites down into a handful of delicious almonds*