More Loving: intimate futures in a post-lockdown world
Updated: Feb 9, 2021
By Sean Chou
The future is an act of imagination.
I make this claim as a challenge to the mundane realities and dense, predictable routines many of our lives have become during lockdown. What appears first as a challenge then becomes an existential demand as we ask a fundamental question that recurs many times in our lives: What is the meaning of life and what do we do with it?
The answer lies in our relationships and engagement with the world. The existential self is involved in a process of moral becoming and inextricably tied in our relations with others.
This lockdown has seen many turn inwards and feel more reflective about memories and the past, filling the vacancy left by new experiences. I wonder if we can use this to our advantage then, and I use my curiosity to ask how boredom, time alone and reflectiveness can help us form, not only a relation with ourselves, but also an open attitude towards the world.
Love as a movement towards life
The possibility for self-actualisation rests within ourselves. Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of psychological ‘self-overcoming’, a concept he uses to describe mastering one’s insecurities and transforming them into one’s strengths as the “Übermensch”, or Overman.
Similarly, Hannah Arendt spoke of the importance of personal love as self-affirming and how it is a defining feature of our society, politics and culture and thus must be seriously explored. According to Arendt, love is the love of life: We desire things ultimately for life’s sake. When we love someone, we move towards them, but once we have them, desire is replaced by the fear of loss. The task of love, then, is to love generously and without possession, understanding that love is an aspiration that reality moves towards. To this, I add, love becomes like a prayer or wishful thinking - we love where often others fall short, and we risk accepting the burden of, in the words of WH Auden, becoming ‘the more loving one’.
Love is connected with fundamental ideas of our self and mode of being in the world. Martin Heidegger argues that care is the ‘first concern of being [Dasein]’ which suggests that care has an affective dimension (to care for something) and a practical dimension (to care about something you have a stake in). Without care, we wouldn’t know ourselves, and loving others becomes a task of life as it brings to the fore blindspots or hidden aspects of ourselves that we choose whether to integrate into our sense of self.
Arendt’s perspectives hints at the temporality of love as a movement towards life - but this reveals a certain contingency or fragility of human action. As Arendt says, the ‘doer is the sufferer’: once we act, we cannot guarantee the success of our actions, so to act at all is an achievement which requires careful attentiveness, lest we regret and suffer more.
Similarly, Heidegger’s attitude describes the ontological condition of humans as caring animals, but goes on to interrogate the supposed givenness of human experience as instead ‘thrownness’: we are thrown into a world which has preceded us for many millennia and will continue to do so for many more. If our individual lives weren’t just a small pebble thrown into a galactic ocean, we experience alienation and breakdown in our relations with others - we grasp our uniqueness in intermittent moments of reflection, before falling back into the infinite homogeneity of das Man (or everyman, which describes the inauthentic existence of an anonymous life).
The task of life, which love moves towards, concerns our temporal and intersubjective condition as human beings. But how does this relate to the task of building an intimate future, as introduced in the title?
Back to the future: temporality, action and ethical lives
José Ortega y Gasset remarks on the in-betweenness of human life. He argues we are ‘not-yet-being’, yet constitutionally ahead of ourselves, placed between the ‘not-yet’ of aspiration and the ‘already-there’ of prehension. Human becoming always risks engulfing human being-in-the-present, as we yearn for change and discount the present.
Ortega y Gasset was pessimistic about the potential for authentic living in the present and spoke of humans as auto-fabricators who force unhappiness on themselves to aspire towards becoming .
However, anthropologist Tim Ingold argues instead that perspectives on human action should shift from the intentional to the attentional. Ingold argues against the intentional view that fixed perspectives or rigid standpoints spur human action - we know these too well now, trapped in our homes during lockdown. Rather, to act with attention requires that we are displaced: like taking a walk, we assume an improvised attitude in a shifting environment as part of an ongoing being with the world.
Thus, Ingold transforms the negative association of life as liminal and transient into a fundamental condition of two ways of waiting. When we expose ourselves, we wait for the world. When we attune to others, the world waits for us.
Boredom then becomes less of a personal pain, and more an interpersonal task of oscillating between exposure and attunement as we find our place in an uncertain, constantly changing world. Boredom is not passive waiting, but rather requires courage to accept that we only belong to the austerities present reality affords us, but have the potential to work them into conditions of future becoming in the world.
Temporality, action and intersubjectivity inform a perspective about ethical becoming which is necessarily oriented towards the future. Arendt argues that the world is configured by natality: we are constantly confronted with new beginnings and the task of situating ourselves to change. To imagine a better future is less of whimsical fancy than an ethical demand, that each of us commit to action and take responsibility for our future lives and the lives of others we shall cross, because ultimately the meaning of our lives is found as much in the infinite possibility of answers to life’s questions as our finite, bounded existences on earth.
Sean Chou is a fourth-year BA Social Anthropology student at LSE, and Head of Partnerships at the Clare Market Review. "I enjoy reading in my free time and going out for runs. For me, writing is a tool of self expression and I intend my writing to explore issues which people feel strongly about, but choose not to discuss."
In this issue, he has also written the piece 'Mother and Daughter in the Garden' and 'Black is the Brightest Colour'.
Auden, W.H. 1960. The More Loving One. [online] Available at: https://poets.org/poem/more-loving-one [Accessed 9/2/21]
Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, John & Robinson, Edward, 1962. Being and time, Oxford: Blackwell.
Ingold, Tim, 2017. To Human Is a Verb. In Finite but Unbounded: New Approaches in Philosophical Anthropology. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, pp. 9–24.
Nietzsche, F.W. & Hollingdale, R. J, 1977. Thus spoke Zarathustra : a book for everyone and no one, Harmondsworth, England ; New York: Penguin Books.
Ortega y Gasset, José (1961): History as a System and Other Essays Toward a Philosophy of History. New York: W. W. Norton.
Popova, M. 2019. Hannah Arendt on Love and How to Live with the Fundamental Fear of Loss. [online] Available at: https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/02/25/love-and-saint-augustine-hannah-arendt/ [Accessed 9/2/21]