Love and domination and anger and activism and whoa hey I have a blog

Hallo internet. I noticed that my Facebook posts were getting really long, so I thought I’d blog some of them. I’ve been reading Communion: The Female Search for Love by bell hooks, and this part I liked:

If feminists had continued to talk about love, then we would have needed to speak about the extreme lovelessness that is at the heart of domination…We would have had to break through the wall of denial that seduces us all to accept subordination and domination as natural facts of everyday life. We would be telling everyone, especially the men in our lives, again and again that domination and love do not go together, that if one is present, the other is not. We would not have allowed our fathers, brothers, male comrades, or lovers to believe they love us when they hurt us again and again.

Women and men who are still seduced by domination cannot know love. Yet everywhere we turn, our culture tells us we can still know love even in the midst of relationships charged with coercive pain and domination. The time has come to tell the truth. Again. There is no love without justice.

It’s kind of bizarre when looked at, this social paradigm wherein people can justify straight-up abusive behaviour by saying it’s because they care about the other person. But caring about and caring for are not necessarily the same thing. Of course, caring for someone can involve behaviour that is not, on the surface, particularly pleasant, and doesn’t produce immediately nice results. For example, you might have a fight with your partner to try convince them their alcoholism is doing the family harm. You do it because you have faith that it will produce positive results later on. I once saw an evangelical preacher on stage saying that love is an action, not a feeling. (I got scared for a bit that I was converting to Pentecostalism, because he had actually made sense. Later I learned you can take useful bits from an ideology without subscribing to the whole, but I was 15 then and a grumpy atheist. Shrug.) But too often, trying to direct a person’s behaviour happens not because the behaviour does any real harm, but out of one’s internal insecurity manifesting in control and domination. It’s happened to me before, and I think I’ve done it before. (Sorry.)

So we look the other way at abusive behaviour when it happens in the context of a relationship, since relationships are meant to be the ultimate manifestation of love. We’re willing to believe that even rather horrible emotions like gut-souring jealousy and fear, or blinding fury, or even boredom can represent love. I recently talked to a polyamorous man who slurred earnestly that “polyamory…it’s all just about love.” I said I agreed in principle, but that loving wasn’t as straightforward as you might think, given that it is not easy for oppressed people to love freely. But not to worry, he assured me, there were no really oppressive systems in New Zealand these days. (I laughed in his face and said “you’re flat-out wrong, pal.”) And sure enough, later than night he greeted me by slapping my ass. Had I bothered to get angry at this, I would probably have been accused of disrupting the love buzz or what have you. The idea that love can be represented by many different emotions is abandoned when convenient for privileged people.

The idea of love as a feeling rather than an action has formed a notable trend in liberal activism. Much of this is carried out by middle class white people who have a certain level of indignance about the state of the world, but are rarely forced to feel anger and fear very personally when attacked by oppression. The idea of using The Power Of Love in order to end oppression has been co-opted by capitalist-friendly entertaining activism that can comfortably be advertised. This is not love; this is The Power Of Niceness. At a same-sex marriage rally (not a protest) last year, we were told to smile at our detractors and applaud the police for showing up–the mood had to be celebratory, and the upset, resentful and/or fatigued queers would just have to smile through their teeth. Apparently getting openly angry or miserable about structural oppression is too alienating for the majority, who must now be handled with kid gloves lest they oppress us more. (Or, more cynically, lest their offices of power be destroyed so that certain liberal activists cannot one day ascend into them.) Somehow these privileged people have become our first priority to convince of our positions, even though they are usually the hardest to reach since they have the most to lose.

When did love become so polite? I agree that the overall aim of leftist activism should be to spread love, but we cannot do this without acknowledging the material and structural constraints that currently stand in the way of loving. Most of these constraints will not be pushed out of the way within our lifetimes, so we don’t have time to get every single individual wholly on board before acting. Loving humanity doesn’t mean you have to like all of them–who has time to get to know and get on with everyone? The idea of leftist activism is more about balancing scales to bring about justice, and hence enable love. And if you are to build a new world order based on love and fairness, you have to destroy bits of the old world that are taking up space. Destruction isn’t always a bad thing. More often than not, this process only happens when people get furious enough to put themselves in some personal discomfort for wider goals. I take a line from the brilliant 1976 film Network, where an anchorman having a nervous breakdown on air shouts to his viewers that “You’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!” Was there ever a statement more positive, more self-loving? And yet it’s intimately tied up with anger. Love may sometimes be tied up with other feelings that are generally characterised as unpleasant. Love is grief and pain and fear too.

Anyway I gotta go out and belatedly get drunk with people, but yeah. Love is complicated and messy #breakingnews. Pulp wrote a wonderful song about it (fuck I don’t know how to hyperlink properly: TL;DR: everyone should listen to Pulp and read bell hooks. ❤


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