“We could say that love is a tenacious adventure. The adventurous side is necessary, but equally so is the need for tenacity. To give up at the first hurdle, the first quarrel, is only to distort love. Real love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.”
― Alain Badiou, In Praise of Love
As a child, we understand love on a deep level, if not explicitly, then implicitly. A touch, caress, hug, or loving hand transfers a sense of warmth and gratitude from one being to another, mother to child, friend to friend, stranger to stranger.
Today’s world, with all its pandemic madness, economic horrors, ecological ruin, and social decay, is a very unloving place. But you already knew that. You can feel it in your bones. Capitalism and Empire are the opposites of empathy and love. Capitalism subjugates. Empire kills. Domination in all its ugly and repulsive forms rejects the very foundations of love: trust, respect, compassion, mutual aid.
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These days, we don’t talk about love on the left. That’s for silly people. We’re serious. Very serious. Marianne Williamson talked about love. As a result, she was caricatured during the Democratic Party primaries as some sort of peace-loving-New Age-hippie who wasn’t to be taken seriously. And she wasn’t. What a shame. If any country would benefit from a lengthy conversation about love and respect, it’s the United States of America.
The left used to talk about love. Ho Chi Minh talked about love. Emma Goldman talked about love. Che Guevara talked about love. In fact, it was central to his emerging worldview, one cut short by CIA trained and equipped gunmen. In 1965, Che wrote:
At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality. Perhaps it is one of the great dramas of the leader that he or she must combine a passionate spirit with a cold intelligence and make painful decisions without flinching. Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, of the most sacred causes, and make it one and indivisible. They cannot descend, with small doses of daily affection, to the level where ordinary people put their love into practice.
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Growing up in the Midwest, Italian Catholic no less, I was taught to love my family, no matter what, under any circumstances. In hindsight, that’s not a very healthy approach to love, but I remember feeling very connected to my family growing up. I remember feeling protected and comforted. I didn’t worry about failing, which allowed me to try new things, because I knew I would always be loved.
I also grew up with a lot of ‘uncles’ and ‘aunts’ who weren’t really my uncles or aunts. They were close friends of my parents, but we considered them family. That sense of love grew from blood ties to social bonds. My parents introduced my brother and I to people whom they considered brothers and sisters, people they’d die for.
In some ways, death and despair is an ever-present force in working class neighborhoods and communities. Working people die all the time. Growing up, I remember one story about an old man who died at his butcher shop when he locked himself in the freezer and the emergency door release failed to work. My dad’s friends, both hoodlums and ironworkers, died all the time. Some were crushed by I-beams. Others fell off buildings. And some were murdered.
Then, of course, deaths from drag-racing, drinking and driving, drug overdoses, gang violence, domestic violence, workplace related incidents, and poverty. According to some reports, something like 130,000 Americans die every year from poverty. 117,000 Americans died in combat during World War I. I’m assuming we won’t be seeing any statues or monuments being constructed in the name of the 130,000 Americans who die every year because the American Dream has turned into the American Nightmare.
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Who loves the poor? Dr. William Barber Jr. is one of the few prominent voices in mainstream U.S. politics who consistently speaks up for the poor. Hell, most of us don’t even use the term ‘poor.’ How can so many Americans be ashamed of being poor when so many Americans are poor?
If you listen to corporate news or Democratic Party elites, everyone in the U.S. is Middle Class. Since most poor people don’t vote, they simply don’t count, at least not to those in power. After all, consultants only have time for reliable voters. How can they justify their six-figure salaries if they don’t produce votes? They can’t. And what a shame it would be if they couldn’t vacation at Burning Man this year.
Perhaps working class and poor people have so much love to give because love is the only thing that’s left when you’ve been stripped of your dignity, safety, and sanity by a system that considers you an extension of the iPhone, or “human capital stock,” as White House adviser Kevin Hassett referred to us. When you can’t buy shit, the only thing left is love, or anger, which usually results in violence, especially in poor and working class neighborhoods.
Poor and working class people have plenty of love to give, but we must extend our concept of love beyond our immediate families, beyond our circle of friends. As the philosopher Michael Hardt put it, “People today seem unable to understand love as a political concept, but a concept of love is just what we need to grasp the constituent power of the multitude. The modern concept of love is almost exclusively limited to the bourgeois couple and the claustrophobic confines of the nuclear family. Love has become a strictly private affair. We need a more generous and more unrestrained conception of love.”
The only way to combat reactionary views of the other is through a revolutionary reconceptualizing of love, extending love beyond the nuclear family to the political realm. Love transforms and challenges us. Love is powerful, scary, and intoxicating. Love is messy and dreamlike. Love, like politics, doesn’t have a beginning or end, but a process of change and, hopefully, growth, improvement, and understanding.
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Love is one of the key factors missing in today’s political-ideological landscape. When I found Karl Marx’s writings, I enjoyed them because of his praise for human beings, his compassion for workers, and hopes for the international working class. I already knew capitalism was a pyramid scheme because I grew up class-conscious (thanks, Pops).
I love Cornel West because of the deep love he conjures not only for black people and black culture, the soul twisting and heart piercing sounds of Coltrane, the blistering revolutionary rhetorical flourishes and love espoused by the likes of Fannie Lou Hammer and Fred Hampton, but also for human beings of all colors and creeds. Cornel loves poor people. Love is at the center of Cornel’s worldview, and it shows.
This system, (capitalism/empire/corporatism/neoliberalism) hinders our capacity for collective love. In fact, it destroys love. It eviscerates families and communities. Everyone’s a wage slave. Our future depends on the whims of Wall Street speculators and corrupt, ignorant, and cynical politicians. This system produces hate, despair, alienation, disempowerment, depression, and collective suicide, death by a thousand social, cultural, economic, and political cuts. This system destroys the human spirit. And that’s all we have.
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In the end, our purpose remains undefined. Human beings have the unique capacity to forge our destiny. As the great Jerry Cantrell once wrote, we’re all “gonna end up a big ole’ pile a them bones.” I look forward to the “long sleep,” as Socrates once referred to death. In the meantime, we should laugh, make love, create art, and fight with every fiber of our being for a better world. What we leave behind, the legacy future generations will endure, or enjoy, is of the utmost concern.
At this point, we really do have nothing to lose. The planet is burning. The republic is crumbling under the weight of its imperial hubris. And the elites have pitted neighbor against neighbor. Americans are killing each other in the streets, and things haven’t even gotten that bad yet. It’s a sad and maddening situation, no doubt.
The only proper response is revolutionary love. The love I have in mind does not imply pacifism or passivity. Love requires work and discipline. Love demands our attention. Love asks us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t do, under very difficult circumstances and without hesitation. Love is not a fleeting idea or idealistic endeavor. Love is both practical and utopian.
Humans have an infinite capacity for love and compassion. Let us not squander one of the unique and worthwhile features of our collective experience. Let us muster our collective love and pour it into the most important project in the history of mankind: saving the planet and species from certain peril.