Love and Hate
By Keith Allen

In Association with

Love and Hate
25 August, 2010

Love is such a lauded emotion, and is often spoken of as the highest, most ennobling of emotions, but I doubt if more than the smallest number of people could articulate what precisely this thing is that they are praising. They might have some amorphous idea what love is, but they probably will not be able to define it in anything but the vaguest of terms. Nor, for that matter, could most such persons describe hate any more accurately, even though hate is often contrasted with love as its opposite, so that, as love's negative, it is given nearly as much importance as is love. What then are these emotions?

In fact, love is not, if one examines it closely, a single emotion, but a group of emotions: fraternal love, romantic love, parental love, filial love, sexual love, love of one's self, and even love of an inanimate entity. All of these are called "love" in English, but each of these, while similar to the others, is also distinct from the others. All of these emotions that are collectively designated "love" are attachment (which is their common element) plus something else (which is different for each emotion). In romantic love, there is attachment plus sexual desire, intimacy, and, ideally, compassion. In parental love, there is attachment plus a desire to protect, guide, and nurture the one loved. In filial love, there is attachment plus expectations of being protected, guided, and nurtured. In fraternal love, there is attachment plus a sense of camaraderie. Sexual love is much like romantic love, except that, being divested of any desire for emotional intimacy or the like, it consists merely in the urge to possess another human being as a sexual partner. Love of one's self, as it is the manifestation of that primal, utterly irrational, and often supremely powerful urge to survive, is perhaps the most potent of any kind of attachment. There are, additionally, various kinds of attachment to inanimate objects. A person can, for instance, love both a flower blossom, though his relishing of and attachment to it will endure but a moment, and a print hanging on his wall, which he hopes to preserve and enjoy throughout his days. Whatever the specific kind of love, it can be seen that the emotion is actually attachment connected by culture or biology to various other feelings or expectations.

Of course, our emotional lives are complex, and a given individual might direct two or more of the types of love I've described towards a single individual. A person could, for instance, feel for another attachment combined with both camaraderie (filial love) and a desire to have sexual relations (sexual love). The types of love are not, then, absolutely discreet. They are simply basic forms that, like primary colors, can be separated or combined together to produce an infinite spectrum of different feelings.

Hatred is also complex. When I examine what I feel when I am burning with hatred, I find that I can never discover a single thing, but rather a maelstrom of various swirling emotions. From this examination, I conclude that the word "hate" does not, in truth, designate a single emotion, but rather, like love, an aggregate of emotions: anger, repulsion, and sometimes fear, annoyance, or something else. Hatred, thus, is an agglomeration of emotions taken as a group, rather than a single emotion.

Having looked at what these emotions are, I can now ask whether one of them is somehow higher than the other.

Generally, love is more pleasant to experience than is hate. I am certainly happier to feel love than I am to feel hate, and, on that basis alone, I must declare love to be the better emotion. Of course, one could object to this by noting that a thing's being pleasant does not necessarily make it right. This claim is obviously true, so I will have to look not only at how love or hate enriches or diminishes my enjoyment of existence but also how it prompts me to treat others. Again, however, love is usually preferable to hate. Love, in all its forms, prompts us to treasure that to which we are attached, and its particular types lead us to displays of friendship, protection, compassion, the giving of sexual pleasure, and countless other things which richen the lives of others. Hate, however, when aroused by injustice, cruelty, or some other evil, can lead us to defeat and overthrow what is hated, and so better the world. Unfortunately, more often than not, hate is grounded in personal animosities and conflicts, in mindless prejudices and stupid bigotries, which lead us to actions that are anything but praiseworthy. Though I cannot say that hate is without merit, it does not add nearly as much to the world as does love and it does far more harm.

I should also say that while love and hate are intrinsic to being human, and that hate is something specifically human, love has a deeper grounding. It is (in its various forms) something we are instinctively driven to feel, as are (I believe) all higher animals. It is rooted in our mammalian heritage and pervades who we are in a way that hate does not. I have no doubt that my two year old daughter loves me (though my newborn son is, perhaps, too young to do so). Love is not, in other words, something that needs to be taught. Though the culturally specific expectations of a given form (as opposed to the biologically driven associates) do need to be learned, the various combinations of attachment with some other particular emotion appear to occur even among non-human animals. Even beasts nurture their young, enjoy camaraderie with one another, look towards others for protection, and so on. We are, it would seem, biologically driven to one form of love or another

We hate something, however, only as a result of being taught to do so. Hatred, as a complex of several simple emotions, must be taught. It is not something known to any animal other than man. I do believe that dogs, cats, and other mammals feel fear, aversion, and anger, but I doubt if any non-human animal would have the mental capacity to synthesize the agglomeration of those emotions into a category and then identify that category. In other words, I might, like a dog or cat, be afraid of a snake instinctively, or angry at the man who's trying to hit me, but I don't hate snakes or people (individually or as groups) unless I'm taught to hate them. Hate, then, is peculiar to human beings. It must be learned, in the sense that we learn to call a particular occurrence of several different emotions by that name.

Neither love nor hate is a single thing, and both are enmeshed in the complexities of existence, so that neither somehow transcends this existence, but, without a doubt, love is the more pleasant and, in most instances, the more beneficial of the two.

By Keith Allen

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