Tuesday, 5 September 2017

What is Love? Not cohesion but Polarity

I have had considerable difficulty in conceptualising Love - but I keep trying because it is at the heart of Christianity, and because false conceptions cause trouble; especially in a society like ours, where The Good is under continual attack; and all Good things are subject to subversion, corruption, inversion.

Obviously (to a serious Christian) Love isn't a feeling-just; and obviously also it isn't a justification for sex - it must be a metaphysical (structural) reality of creation. But if one makes a serious formulation of Love along the lines of its being 'cohesion' (as I have previously done) then Love comes-out as being something like the imposition and preservation of 'order'...

And if order is achieved then love will stop, because everything will be frozen, static. Most Christian metaphysical understandings of Love do exactly this, and therefore end up trying to assert that something which is unchanging and eternal - all knowing, omniscient - is also-somehow dynamic, generative, and the primary motivation.

Yet, to conceptualise Love as expanding, always changing - open-endedly and forever - is to fall into something akin to the sexual revolution (as approximated by a free love commune or 'bath house' culture); a continuously-expanding appetite for variety, intensity and transgression.


In fact, Love turns-out to be the best example of polarity (or polar logic) as described and proposed by Coleridge as the fundamental metaphysical reality. Once this is grasped, we can see that the usual way of dividing up the world into alternatives - as, for example, the division used above that Love is either static or dynamic - when what we actually get is alternatives neither of which is true.

The idea of polarity asserts that at the very heart of things is a principle (or are principle) that have the character of being indivisible; so Love must be envisaged as containing stasis in terms of its poles of cohesion and expansion - but the things itself is living, dynamic and continually re-creating itself; re-creating its differentiations (into cohesion and expansion) and recreating the tendencies (of cohesion and expansion).

(I picture this polarity, metaphorically, as a swirling, dyadic, bipolar 'star'; in which each different star that constitutes the system orbits the other, and the orbit oscillates in diameter - now larger, now smaller - but growing over time, in which energies are continually generated and continually thrown-off. The stars are complementary - each differs from the other and needs the other. The two-fold and orbiting nature of the system is perpetuated forever, but/ and the other features of the system may change open-endedly by expansion, contraction, combination etc. It's only a metaphor and breaks down it pushed, but it helps me.)

If we can suppose that the heart of reality is a polarity of love-as-cohesion ad love-as-expansion, then we can understand how Love may be perpetual - because creative. Love as a polarity is the kind-of-thing which might make the universe, the kind of thing which might keep it alive even while holding it together.

And creativity itself has to be understood as polar - because it includes preservation as well as novelty. And Life, likewise.


This is a profoundly different way of understanding reality than we are used to - it requires a fundamental change in assumptions. And one reason that polarity has never become normal (although the idea has been knocking-around since Heraclitus) is that - taken seriously - it destroys the established way of understanding things, including mainstream-established Christian theology.

And like any metaphysical change, polarity doesn't make sense when considered in the light of a different and habitual metaphysical system, such as we deploy in public discourse.

Plus there are distorted and misleading versions of failed-polarity knocking around; such as the idea that the ideal is some kind of balanced-mixture of opposing forces - for example the common modern trope that Order and Chaos ought to be in balance. Yet the Order versus Chaos idea is typically one in which the opposition is between static-states, not between forces or tendencies; and is often poisoned by the dishonest attempt to destroy order and allow something otherwise forbidden (sex, drugs, unconstrained pleasure-seeking etc). Order-Chaos might be conceptualised as a true polarity, but in fact it very seldom is.

(It is always possible to reject metaphysical discussion as too theoretical, but it seems to me that in an age such as this one (an age of questioning) wrong metaphysics will sabotage the Good, even when the attacks on it are incoherent.)

A further problem with polarity and Christianity is that most Christians attempt to be monotheists, and are very concerned to assert the one-ness of God. Whether they are successful (given the full deity of Christ) is moot. Non-Christian monotheists such as Jews and Muslims (and common sense analysts) would say that Christianity is polytheistic - but Christian philosophers have regarded it as metaphysically crucial that God should ultimately be one, However, if God is ultimately one then polarity is not profound - only superficial.

Therefore a metaphysics of polarity implies that deity be polar - and Coleridge argued this using the Holy Trinity as polar components - although I find that I cannot follow his argument. Nonetheless, for a mainstream Christian to believe in polarity as primary, it seems necessary the Holy Trinity somehow be understood as a polarity. 

For those, like myself, who believe that Mormon theology is correct, the answer is obvious - that God is a polarity of masculine and feminine, that the ultimate basis of polarity is God conceptualised as a complementary dyad of Heavenly Father and Mother; and this primary polarity creates all others.

This idea of polarity at the root of everything fits with the Mormon understanding of reality as evolving, because evolution is also a polarity of continuity and newness. Evolution is a transformation, a changing of form in a retained entity, not the substitution of one entity for another different one. Evolution is about eternal lineage as well as here-and-now difference. 


It is not easy to grasp; but I have found that the idea of polarity as the fundamental metaphysical reality is one of great clarity, strength and power; and I recommend it.

(Further reading on polarity is What Coleridge Thought by Owen Barfield, 1971.)


lgude said...

Well, I am not sure I follow the twists and turns of your particular argument here - some parts better than others, but the general problem of monism and dualism goes back to the day at about age 8 that my father explained to me that some people - philosophers - said that everything was really one big thing. I decided right then I wanted to be monist!. Things, of course, have gotten more complicated since. I encountered the idea of opposites at university, which I take as similar to what you call polarity. One evening as I was washing my hands in a cheap dorm room hand basin that had separate hot and cold water taps and no plug I observed that what was wanted was warm water but what was delivered was hot and cold together that chilled and scalded one's hands simultaneously. I recognized that the experience connected to the problem of 'the opposites'. That experiencing opposites was being torn in two directions simultaneously and life was definitely not a lukewarm experience. Hot and cold together. Case one is that we unarguably have this life and it is equally unarguable that we are going to lose it. Case, two, after a lifetime of thought, seems to be the tension between the individual and the group. Since that cold starry night I have understood the opposites in Jungian terms, and am only now beginning to study Coleridge and Barfield. Jung sees the opposites as something we live through and experience and finally come to terms with in the process of human growth. The opposites lie at the centre of his psychology of maturity and coming to terms with them is the road to wholeness. At the end of the process is the inner marriage between one's masculine and feminine nature. Also a major turning point in Jung's thought was his encounter with Taoism through Wilhelm's Secret of the Golden Flower which is a Taoist Alchemical text that had a profound effect on Jung and marks the dividing line (1928) between his earlier work and his mature work. Taoist metaphysics are of course based on a whole divided into masculine and feminine, Yin and Yang. It is hard to say across the differences in our intellectual background precisely how these ides and your discussion are parallel but I suspect they are profoundly parallel.

lgude said...

I too struggle with the word Love in Christian theology. A Christian mystic friend of mine quotes Eckhardt thus: Love is stronger than Death, harder than hell. Death separates the Soul for the body, but Love separates all things from the Soul. She then adds "I know no other way to grow toward God; terribly painful, but potentially very fruitful if you are prepared to pay the price in soul blood."

In the end one is stripped of everything - there is only God. It is not a small thing to accept that. Again Eckhardt gives a clue when he says there is a place "deeper than Hell, and here I sit me down." It is at some point like that in the process of this life that divine Love just might make all things possible. Anyhow that's the way I tend to think of it - for what it is worth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Igude - Barfield cncluded that Jung retained materialist metaphysics, which created contradictions in his system - I agree. Jung is a halfway house, but not the full thing, and therefore he can be confusing unless moved-on-from.