Love and Society
by Dominic Blackwell
Many people say modern people are atomised, isolated and lonely. Some people say the solution involves society and communities and a sense of belonging. However, I would say what is needed is love, different from belonging and connection, different from society or community.
Society is structured, hierarchical and rule-based. When someone talks about ‘British society’ they do not mean personal, loving relationships between tens of millions of individuals. They mean a structural relationship based on laws, history and customs.
One society may be better to live in than another. A society which provides for its members and can be changed by them is better than one which enslaves its members and oppresses them. But even a society with a fair legal system and freedom of expression and a just political system is still a system. It still has leaders and still only includes some people.
Love has no hierarchy and no borders. Any person can love any other person and any person can do good for any other person. If we are talking about real love and not social game-playing, loving actions are done purely because someone believes they are good things to do, not for gain or to enhance status. Love does not know boundaries of citizenship or law.
Community can be used just to mean shared experience. This is not in itself good or bad, and can lead to connections between people. However, ‘a community’ tends to mean a mini society with community leaders and community rules and borders between who is member and who isn’t. Members of a community may love each other but that is not because of the community. Indeed the community may form because of the love. But the challenge is then to preserve the love and avoid the rules and structure getting in the way.
Someone who you don’t know is a stranger. People can show love towards strangers in small and large ways. If it is love, it does not depend on shared membership of a society or community. It is based on something common to all people — our humanity.
Love may even go beyond humanity. It is not absurd to suggest a person may love an animal or a garden or an activity. It is the caring of an individual for something outside themselves. It is a connection.
And connection is different to belonging. Property belongs to an owner. Slaves are said to belong to their masters although morally they cannot. Free people are not owned by each other. They freely choose to give and receive the love of others. People do not belong to states. Nations are tools which belong to people. A government cannot ‘do something to its own people’. The acts are being done by the leaders or the police, or the army to other people, using the state as a tool.
Belonging also has another meaning, being a part of something, a member of it. On the one hand it says something you belong to is incomplete. More problematically it says that you are incomplete without it. This tends to go more one way than another. People can be criticised for not being part of society, while no-one says society is now incomplete if someone emigrates or dies. The exception is for families and close friendships, that is where there are genuine loving connections between the individual members. The more common notion of people belonging to a greater unit leads to a view that people are dispensable, and not valuable while society, the nation, the group, the collective is. So if you believe human beings and their lives are valuable you will treat belonging with a careful scepticism.
Structures and hierarchies and rules are not bad things. They are tools which people make to help themselves. Some are good, some not. But if a structure prevents love, it is a bad structure. If we are to be people and not cogs in a machine, love must come before structures. Structures are there to let us do good and if we see that they are not good, we have a right to replace them with better things.
If we are to be connected, we must love, be loved and do what we believe to be good. And that requires freedom. A religion of society binds us to a a set of imperfect rules. If we want to do better, we must release our bonds.