Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cosmic Love: The Gift that Keeps Giving (and Receiving)

A human being is of infinite value. That being the case, Pieper asks: if he "already exists anyhow, could we not say that it does not matter whether a lover finds this fact wonderful and affirms it?" In other words, how does loving another person add anything that isn't already there, since the person is, in his own way, a kind of absolute?

It reminds me of where we left off yesterday: You might say that love causes God to be in time. In order to flesh out and incarnate this lovely idea, we must investigate the cosmic dimension of love. As Pieper says, "we are basically asking what is the 'function' of love within the whole of existence; what is it supposed to do and accomplish in the world?" (emphasis mine).

From a Darwinian perspective, the whole question is absurd, since what we call "love" is just an illusion designed to fool us into reproducing. All other animals accomplish the mission without the illusion of love -- and also manage to raise their children without it.

But again, one of the first principles of the Raccoon is that the human being is the most significant fact of the cosmos, not some sort of irrelevant fluke of no metaphysical significance. Furthermore, we take seriously the idea that man is made in the image of the Absolute -- perhaps a bit more seriously than the average believer, since we also believe that it is not only knowledge of God that informs us of the nature of man, but real principial knowledge of man as such that can inform us of the nature of God.

In resembling his parents, the child is dependent upon their archeytpe; in other words, when you see a baby, you say "he looks just like you!," not "you look just like him!" Still, the child can convey a lot about the parent, and in a way, cannot avoid doing so. Just so, we don't say of man, "God looks just like you!," even though there is a certain family resemblance.

For example, since love is so central to human existence -- indeed, a human being is impossible without it -- I think it's safe to say that it must be central to God. In other words, for the human being, love is not accidental but essential. Without it we will die, if not physically, then mentally and spiritually.

We touched on this idea a few posts ago: "What matters to us, beyond mere existence, is an explicit confirmation: It is good that you exist; how wonderful you are!" We come into the world not just needing milk, warmth, and oxygen, but human love. "Being created by God does not suffice." Rather, "the fact of creation needs continuation and perfection by the creative power of human love" (Pieper).

Pieper reviews the heartbreaking orphan studies of René Spitz. It seems common sense to us now, but he observed that children raised by their mothers in prison did much better than motherless children raised "in well-equipped, hygienically impeccable Amaerican infants' and children's homes by excellently trained nurses." Not only were the latter more susceptible to mental illness, but to disease and mortality.

For a human being, meeting his physical needs is never enough. And the one thing the nurses could not give the children was maternal love and devotion. As Pieper says, they can give the milk, but not the honey. He quotes the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who said that he could always distinguish between patients who had received only the milk, vs. those who had received both milk and honey. I believe I can too. There is a palpable sense of interpersonal "deadness" in the former, which comes out in a variety of ways. For example, in order to truly be passionate in life, -- in all areas, not just interpersonally -- one must have been passionately loved.

Recall again our hypothesis that love causes God to be in time. Pieper suggests that "In human love the creative act of the Deity in establishing existence is continued -- so that the one who is consciously experiencing love can say, 'I need you in order to be myself... In loving me you give me myself, you let me be." More succinctly, "What being loved makes being do is precisely: be." Love causes both God and man to "be in time."

But of course, the preverbal infant cannot consciously say or think any of this. Rather, in loving the infant, you are confirming in them their very existence, to such an extent that their deepest sense of existence will be literally indistinguishable from love -- or, if things go wrong in attachment, other emotions and states of being. The infant who is rejected or doesn't bond for whatever reason may have anger, or depression, or emptiness, or alienation, or ravenous envy at its core, so that later development will involve transformations of these instead of love.

This is all covered in more detail in chapter 3.2 of my book, but even there we had to breeze over details and focus more on the principles. For those interested in deeper study, there are a number of hand-selected psychology titles in the Raccoon Store.

I remember a wise crack by Mouravieff, to the effect that we all must find that person without whom our being is not real. This is an arresting phrase, for it implies that it is possible for humans to be, but in an unreal way. Think about that for a moment. On the one hand, it is a truism, but the implications are quite astonishing. Of all the things in existence, only a human being can be false. But this is only an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fact that only the human being may conform himself to truth.

But various forms of the "false self" are the stock in trade of the clinical psychologist, including the "as-if" personality, narcissism, the schizoid personality, and other permutations. The false self is developed in order to cope with the fact that the deeper self was never confirmed in infancy and childhood (think of the narcissist who craves being "seen" by the camera as a replacement for being seen by the beloved, and who feels dead without it -- call it the "Norma Desmond syndrome").

The false self is not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother that protects the core from being hurt, rejected, and retraumatized. Thus, the false self can neither express nor receive love (although there are degrees; it would be more accurate to say that there is a deficit in the ability to give/receive love, i.e., to be an open system on a deeply emotional level).

Peiper makes the subtle point that in creating the cosmos, God confers both the milk and the honey, for after doing so, he confirms its being by declaring it to be "good, very good." Without God blessing his creation in this manner, it would just be "nothing," similar to the subjective sense of the infant who is not blessed by the love that proclaims how good it is that it is that you exist!

Pieper refers back to those studies of Spitz, which demonstrate that "mothers' love, no matter how heartfelt, would be no help at all to the small children if they could not be reached in some way, if they did not 'know' that they were loved."

And "in the same way, of course, the Creator's approval can only really affect and change man's life when he 'realizes' it believingly, that is, when he also 'accepts' it." I would say when we metabolize and assimilate it into our substance, just like honey. For love is "the 'prime gift' that makes all other gifts possible." Recall the beautiful passage by our unKnown Friend:

There is nothing which is more necessary and more precious in the experience of human childhood than parental love.... nothing more precious, because the parental love experienced in childhood is moral capital for the whole of life.... It is so precious, this experience, that it renders us capable of elevating ourselves to more sublime things -- even divine things. It is thanks to the experience of parental love that our soul is capable of raising itself to the love of God.

Or, you could say that our parents give birth to us so that we might give birth to God. See Eckhart for details.

22 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

Shrinkwrapped's post for today is a chilling mirror of this one.

Back to a lighter note, "What being loved makes being do is precisely: be."

This past weekend the baby was introduced to his paternal family at his aunt's 50th birthday party. I barely saw him for most of the evening, but it was fascinating to see the effect he had on the people holding him. Infants may not be able to demonstrate love, yet somehow it flows from them all the same.

7/14/2010 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Beyond chilling. A total cosmic inversion.

7/14/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

And re the love that flows from infants, Grotstein compared them to a psychic "poultice" that draws things out of us, both poison and honey, depending on the case.

7/14/2010 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"The false self is developed in order to cope with the fact that the deeper self was never confirmed in infancy and childhood. Therefore, it is not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother that protects the core from being hurt, rejected, and retraumatized."

That is a very interesting idea... pregnant even....

7/14/2010 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Excellent observation. Some psychoanalytic theorists put it exactly that way -- that the false self is "pregnant" with the true self, awaiting the conditions in which it will be safe enough to be "born" in the world. I don't want to give the impression that one is permanently screwed just because of poor attachment to one's parents, as it is eminently possible to have healing and transformative relationships later in life. Both Mrs. G and I would strongly attest to this.

7/14/2010 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Therefore, one should thank one's false self before discarding it, for it made the best of a less than optimal situation.

7/14/2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

From the ShrinkWrapped link,
"...the Death Eaters comes from the Harry Potter books. Death Eaters are wizards who have sworn allegiance to Voldemort. They despise their "inferiors"... abhor those things that bring joy to people, worship at the feet of a monster who himself attempts to defeat Death, and love nothing more than pure power ... The modern Death Eaters are the Islamists who "love death" and mock us for "loving life." Their cult is so powerful that it perverts the most basic of human desires... The Cult of the Death eaters will not be defeated until their acolytes in the West are routed, and this is a difficult job. Western Intellectuals have always had an attraction to dangerous and deadly "men of action", evil men who they admire for their ability to act, which shames men who only exist as passive observers of events..."

Wouldn't it be nice if the Harry Potter stories were fictional?

As Dumbledore tells Harry, "...there is coming a time when we will all have to choose between what is Right and what is easy..."

7/14/2010 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad siad "..that the false self is "pregnant" with the true self, awaiting the conditions in which it will be safe enough to be "born" in the world..."

It really is a fertile idea.

To noodle on just one implication, it lends a different perspective upon those who are so involved with themselves, who almost obsessively direct all attention to themselves. It becomes a bit more understandable with the idea that they maybe 'unconsciously' drawing attention less to themselves, than 'giving' it to their adopted Mother... I wonder, do you think they have any internal sensation of that? Of a mock sense of giving, rather than just continually taking and grabbing? It'd actually make it easier on me, in thinking of a few of those types I've known - a little tough to swallow, but it'd be nicer somehow to picture them in that light, rather than as their actions make them appear.

Still, at some point someone's got to help them to realize that they've gone well beyond the normal gestation period... bring on the Pitocin already!

7/14/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I'm not completely clear on the question, but such individuals can engage in a kind of mock giving that is mixed in with various "hooks." Also, certain narcissists are notorious for imagining that they are giving milk when they are really giving you poop.

Conversely, the more "schizoid" type cannot give love because deep down they think their love is hurtful or poisonous, or that it is so hungry that it will "devour" the other person. Therefore, they actually "protect" others from their love.

But in both cases, I think the more general principle is the failure to be an open system, that is, to either radiate love or to receive and metabolize it. One of the first papers I published in a professional journal was on this very subject.

7/14/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

"Some psychoanalytic theorists put it exactly that way -- that the false self is "pregnant" with the true self, awaiting the conditions in which it will be safe enough to be "born" in the world. I don't want to give the impression that one is permanently screwed just because of poor attachment to one's parents, as it is eminently possible to have healing and transformative relationships later in life."

What are some solid methods for giving birth to the true self from the false? If one has identified the false self, which seems to me to be life energy fed into a series of unconsciously held false beliefs, how to break the cycle? Is it just a matter of seeing the falsity of the thought patterns, or does it take authentic relationships to dissolve the structure? Is self consciousness sufficient, or is it relationships that heal?

7/14/2010 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "I'm not completely clear on the question..."

Considering that the notion struck me during a break from c++ hell, that's not too surprising.

It may be a bit too 'Freaky Freudie' for a Wodensday, but one of the possibilities that struck me from,

"...not just a persona or mask that is presented to the world, but a kind of substitute mother..."

, was that if they are somehow seeing this mask as a substitute mother, couldn't they possibly be intending to grab all that attention not for themselves, but as an odd way of trying to lavish attention upon their 'mother'? And if that's not too beyond the pale, could they in some way actually be experiencing the narcissicistic 'Look at me!' shtick as an odd way of saying 'Here you go ma, I reeeally luv you!'?

Or maybe as psychologising goes I should just stick to c++?

(groan)

7/14/2010 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"Of all the things in existence, only a human being can be false. But this is only an unfortunate but necessary corollary to the fact that only the human being may conform himself to truth."

This really resonated with me. It's a truism everybody knows deep down, too, and cannot help but act accordingly, even if they deny it consciously.

"How good it is that you exist!" That so perfectly sums up what every soul hungers to hear.

7/14/2010 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Van, maybe it's just me but that still sounds a little confusing. I don't know if people really experience their false self as a "mother" persona, necessarily. Not that I'm any more qualified to remark on it than you :)

I have seen the mock giving that Bob talks about, though, where the gift is often unwanted and the receiver is expected to be obligated somehow. The worst person I've known like that was a mother who could not handle her college-age kids gaining any sort of independence. The gifting was part of an elaborate skill set of manipulative behaviors, heavily dosed with guilt. If they tried to break away, she'd give them something, whilst making it clear that she was making a huge sacrifice so they owed her; if they did not pay up, they didn't love her enough after all she had done for them, etc. Of course, this wasn't limited to her kids, but they got the worst of it, and unless they were able to break free somehow they were all heading for a lifetime of depression and failure. It was awful to see, a kind of smothering desperation where there was a lot of love, but it was all warped.

7/14/2010 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's hard to explain, because "false self" is a term of art developed by D.W. Winnicott, who felt that it was put in place as a defense mechanism in order to protect the "continuity of being" of the true self.

So in that sense, it does what a "good enough mother" would do, i.e., preserve and protect the continuity of being from impingement and trauma.

At the same time, it negotiates with the environment, looking for situations and relationships in which the true self can express itself and "come out and play." Thus, it is not as if there is a radical distinction between false and true self, more as if the false self is a protective barrier for the true self.

Or, when there is a radical disjunction, that's when you've got real pathology, because it's as if the false self hijacks the whole personality, or as if one identifies with it. This seems to happen with a lot of celebrities -- as if their public persona is "real."

7/14/2010 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

...certain narcissists are notorious for imagining that they are giving milk when they are really giving you poop

Let's just leave Barack out of this.

I freaks me out that I used to have a recurring dream like that. Maybe I'm worse off than I thought.

7/14/2010 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

"What are some solid methods for giving birth to the true self from the false?

Really, that's like asking "how should one live?" Long answer.

"Is self consciousness sufficient, or is it relationships that heal?"

I don't believe self-consciousness is sufficient, certainly not for healing. For one thing as soon as you get into a deep relationship, you'll be flooded with all the deeper things that insight alone can't touch. Then the idea is to have insight into that.

7/14/2010 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Insight without relationships is a little like piano lessons without a piano.

7/14/2010 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Jason T. said...

The callings of my true self--reading, writing, meditating, performing poetry, taking photographs, attending group spiritual functions and discussions, learning about others' lives, dreams, and passions--have been the basis of learning how to love myself, to be alone and find peace and happiness connecting with ideas and transcendental realities. What I have found, though, is that I have a great deal of difficulty bringing that joy to other people, that I don't care for others as much as I should from the Heart, that there is always a hidden agenda. I am a user of others.

In other words, I thought I was fine because I 'escaped the insanity' (yeah right!) of the television absorbed hand-to-mouth culture of my up-bringing through personal practices, all the while I was ignoring the fact that I have a terrible time sharing with actual human beings--because I am not a whole human being. My false self is still there, and it appears whenever I try and interact in a situation that takes me out of my cultivated internal comfort zone.

Anyway, not really looking for solutions, just nice to share with others and know that it is not just me walking around with all this unconscious self sabotaging and fakery going on. I am incredibly thankful to have an ideal to shoot for, though, so thanks to you guys for expounding on the idea of Man As Such.

7/14/2010 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

Being a "user of others" as Jason says, that is certainly something with several levels. For instance if one decides to give love to others in order to improve one's own spiritual standing, holiness or whatever... that is also a love that takes, rather than a love that gives. Or that's what the voice in my head told me.

Ironically, I think it creeps out ordinary people that I have no interest in being loved by humans. Well, no noticeable interest at least. People who are not insane generally feel that there has to be some kind of balance, a give and take. If you never need cheering up, if you listen to praise and criticism with the same detached curiosity, people will feel that you are not on their wavelength.

7/14/2010 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Maybe you're just mostly an introvert, Jason. I think I could've written that post twenty years ago or so.

7/14/2010 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Magnus said,
"For instance if one decides to give love to others in order to improve one's own spiritual standing, holiness or whatever... that is also a love that takes, rather than a love that gives."

The other day I smoked this over at Mushroom's joint. It's similar to what Magnus says, but I think if it's true, there is a positive aspect to it.

"Funny, I was going to ask Bob, since he used the word charity today, if he thought or had read maybe that charity might actually be an act of love by God to the giver as well. Sort of a triune nature to it. In other words, does God (1) in a sense plea out of love for me (2) to give to another (3) for it will, say, fill the receiver of the charity and the giver with the Holy Spirit?
So that the "feeling good" about it by the giver wasn't just some by product - but maybe even the point?"

7/14/2010 06:35:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Gagdad said "So in that sense, it does what a "good enough mother" would do, i.e., preserve and protect the continuity of being from impingement and trauma. "

FIrst off, I should say, I've got nada to go on here other than what seems an interesting idea, and of course I would put the typical narcissistic ... what, symptoms? behaviors? and theories as the rules to follow (as if any blog comment by me could be taken as anything more than what it is... but... anyway).

Especially since I'm not going on anything here but the barest inkling, which without actual experience and evidence to go with, should probably be looked at as totally arbitrary (and being that that sort of top-down rationalist methodology is the hallmark of Descartes... you can guess how comfortable I am even mentioning it...). But. It's got a bit of a ring to it.

If it is so, that the persona, the mask is in some way seen as a 'mother' or protector to their protected self, it is, to me, an intriguing thought, and combined with the vast knowledge of attachment theory I have (which miiight fill a couple paragraphs)... the idea of someone who is a narcissist, who has the manufactured persona as mask for the unloved & perhaps unlovable self, I can see there being an underlying sense, a motivating niggle, with that other persona taking the place of mom, I can see them wanting to give nic-nacs and gifts to momma, as every child does, and with each new bit of attention grabbed for 'me', internally gathered in order to give it to the 'mom', for the purpose of immediately seeking from it a 'where's my hug?!'.

('Damn, still no hug, gotta get some more attention goodies, give those to ma' too, maybe that'll get me a hug....')

It might sound crazy, but I mean, sorry to be un-pc, but, crazy talk is sorta what you should expect from crazies. Right?

There may be nothing more to this than a kernel of a plot for an interesting novel... at best... but something seems right in it.

Ok, giving my 'The Doctor is in' sign back to Lucy to hang on her lemonade stand.

7/14/2010 06:52:00 PM  

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