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Acts of Love

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Posted on Feb 19, 2012
Illustration by Mr. Fish

By Chris Hedges

Love, the deepest human commitment, the force that defies empirical examination and yet is the defining and most glorious element in human life, the love between two people, between children and parents, between friends, between partners, reminds us of why we have been created for our brief sojourns on the planet. Those who cannot love—and I have seen these deformed human beings in the wars and conflicts I covered—are spiritually and emotionally dead. They affirm themselves through destruction, first of others and then, finally, of themselves. Those incapable of love never live.

“Hell,” Dostoevsky wrote, “is the inability to love.”

And yet, so much is written and said about love that at once diminishes its grandeur and trivializes its meaning. Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School, cautioned all of us about preaching on love, reminding us that any examination of love had to include, as Erich Fromm pointed out in “Selfishness and Self-Love,” the unmasking of pseudo-love. 

God is a verb rather than a noun. God is a process rather than an entity. There is some biblical justification for this. God, after all, answered Moses’ request for revelation with the words, “I AM WHO I AM.” This phrase is probably more accurately translated “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” God seems to be saying to Moses that the reality of the divine is an experience. God comes to us in the profound flashes of insight that cut through the darkness, in the hope that permits human beings to cope with inevitable despair and suffering, in the healing solidarity of kindness, compassion and self-sacrifice, especially when this compassion allows us to reach out to others, and not only others like us, but those defined by our communities as strangers, as outcasts. “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” This reality, the reality of the eternal, must be grounded in that which we cannot touch, see or define, in mystery, in a kind of faith in the ultimate worth of compassion, even when the reality of the world around us seems to belittle compassion as futile.

“The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt,” wrote Paul Tillich.

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Aristotle said that only two living entities are capable of solitude and complete separateness: God and beast. The most acute form of human suffering is loneliness. The isolated human individual can never be fully human. And for those cut off from others, for those alienated from the world around them, the false covenants of race, nationalism, the glorious cause, class and gender compete, with great seduction, against the covenant of love. These sham covenants—and we see them dangled before us daily—are based on exclusion and hatred rather than universality. These sham covenants do not call us to humility and compassion, to an acknowledgement of our own imperfections, but to a form of self-exaltation disguised as love. Those most able to defy these sham covenants are those who are grounded in love, those who find their meaning and worth in intimate relationships that cut through the loneliness and isolation of the human condition.

There are few sanctuaries in war. Couples in love provide one. And it was to such couples that I consistently retreated. These couples repeatedly acted to save those branded as the enemy—Muslims trapped in Serb enclaves in Bosnia or dissidents hunted by the death squads in El Salvador. These rescuers did not act as individuals. Nechama Tec documented this peculiar reality when she studied Polish rescuers of Jews during World War II. Tec did not find any particular character traits or histories that led people to risk their lives for others, often for people they did not know, but she did find they almost always acted because their relationship explained to them the world around them. Love kept them grounded. These couples were not able to halt the destruction and violence around them. They were powerless. They could and often did themselves become victims. But it was with them, seated in a concrete hovel in a refugee camp in Gaza or around a wood stove on a winter night in the hills outside Sarajevo, that I found sanity and peace, that I was reminded of what it means to be human. It seemed it was only in such homes that I ever truly slept during war.

Love, when it is deep and sustained by two individuals, includes self-giving—often tremendous self-sacrifice—as well as desire. For the covenant of love recognizes both the fragility and sanctity of all human beings. It recognizes itself in the other. And it alone can save us, especially from ourselves.

Sigmund Freud divided the forces in human nature between the Eros instinct, the impulse within us that propels us to become close to others, to preserve and conserve, and the Thanatos, or death instinct, the impulse that works toward the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves. For Freud these forces were in eternal conflict. All human history, he argued, is a tug of war between these two instincts.

“The meaning of the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us,” Freud wrote in “Civilization and Its Discontents.” “It must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle is what all life essentially consists of.”


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By litlpeep, February 20, 2012 at 10:14 am Link to this comment

Thank you, Chris Hedges!

Let us all send links to this extraordinarily poignant article to everyone we love!  Let us all remember in this act that we love that best in everyone we know!

May we love one another as the primary pursuit of happiness we have ever discovered.  For it is.

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By balkas, February 20, 2012 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

i think that sigmund freud was wrong in splitting [dichotomizing] human nature into just two instincts,
tendencies, impulses, works of nature [or will of god if you will] or whatever you want to call it:
gregariousness and nongregariousness or in his language: eros and thanatos.
for one thing, i suggest that not a single human could ever understood what eros and thanatos mean.
nevertheless, defying all logic—for how did a klan, say, of 100 or 1k people survive some 30k years ago—
if these two ‘insticts’ existed to any degree, if at all?
the fact is that we are all gregarious to quite a degree or should have been if not previously
dehumanized/molested/hurt or brain injured.
the desirable truth [and, of course, never manufactured one; usually by pushed on us by priests]
requires of us to strongly evaluate that we could become once again gregarious; of course, never perfectly
so but to the degree that satisfies every last human among us.
i do expect that ALL pious people and every monk, priest, minister, imam/mullah, guru, ‘teacher’, would
vigorously reject what i just wrote.
the DESIRABLE TRUTH cannot serve their special interests—only lying, deceiving, hating does!

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By diman, February 20, 2012 at 9:19 am Link to this comment

And just to add up and I know it is going to piss off some of you whiny guilty liberals but Hedges’s credibility is somehow tarnished (at least in my eyes) by his belief in some invisible supreme being whom supposedly we have to praise since it was him who taught us love and compassion. When are we going to retire this stupid bullshit about god - the thing that keeps us from evolving as species.

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By diman, February 20, 2012 at 9:01 am Link to this comment

By kerryrose,

‘Hate is too great a burden to bear.’ John F Kennedy

That is why to ease the struggles of the presidential administrations, hate has been evenly distributed throughout the American population, hate for gays, hate for intellectuals, hate for foreigners, hate for countries who constantly “threaten our way of life”

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By balkas, February 20, 2012 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

in connection to the pavlovization of children in, say, saudi arabia, just imagine
the harvest of lunatics that ulema reaps there. so, am i afraid of these lunatics?
that lunatic i am not not to be much afraid of and shocked beyond words by them.
and i am learning daily that i am not alone in this evaluation.

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By balkas, February 20, 2012 at 8:35 am Link to this comment

“I AM WHOM I AM” i evaluate as yet another of those overgeneralizations which
means too little and too much all in one instant and is bound to drive you mad or
utterly confoosed/frustrated unless you saw it as yet another sacerdotal stupidity.

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By balkas, February 20, 2012 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

correction, i meant to say “monks” and not “monkeys”, i think monkeys are too smart [and we were once that way] to stand
godology and godologists.
and the proof for above assertion is where? in the fact the we survived!
===
love is just an overgeneralization—answers true-false and wrong-right do not apply to generalizations of whatever kind.
all we could honestly—and to the benefit of all of us—say, would be to aver that we can make them and that is ok—unless, of
course, they are posited in order to dehumanize us, lead us into serfdom, or abuse us in some way! 
in my thinking about ‘religion’ [cosa nostra gangs against cosa mias], ‘gods’, ‘godology’, etc., i try to stop ALL thinking about them
and simply replace it with: Bob, just let god or ‘god’ or goddevil start to believe in you, instead of you believing in them.
i wish s’mbody told me this when i was six y o. but i had been at that age tabula rasa just like every child. and we all have been
filled wit enormous evil by sacerdotal and noble class of people.
i am still much dehumanized and still at loss how to de-dehumanize and depavlovize myself.
and as long dehumanizing/pavlovizing schools exist, sacerdotal class and modern ‘nobles’ will continue to dehumanize children.
for only after accomplishing that can they treat you exactly like that- as a dehumanized biped!
==
re: psychology, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists? largely or completely just another ‘religion’ or a cosa nostra and in
service of the ONE PERCENT. thanks, bozhidar balkas, planet moon!

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By Wikileaks for Nobel, February 20, 2012 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

I love Chris Hedges, this article, and the cartoon that accompanies it.  A wonderful contribution.

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By balkas, February 20, 2012 at 7:42 am Link to this comment

CH: “god is a verb rather than a noun”. ok, that may be valid in his and other godologists’ thinking, but
in my thinking, the above idea or [godological] ‘teaching’, appears as deceptive, unnatural, unfair,
unjust, etc.
one would always deceive self and others if one talks about what ‘god’ IS. this linguistic structure leads
to never-ending hatred, fears, anger, mental and physical slavery/serfdom, conflicts, bitter and etern
arguing, etc.
and i don’t know what priests, ministers, ulema, gurus, monkeys have yet to do to you to prove that they
out there to make nervous wrecks of us all, abuse you, demean/dehumanize you, etc.

it’s not then what ‘god’ IS—it is what ‘god’ DOES. of course, i am talking about ‘god’ that sacerdotal class
‘teaches’ and ‘studies’. and we know what their ‘god’ [yes, folks, their invention of god or ‘god’] does and
did since the last 3.5 k yrs.

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By prisnersdilema, February 20, 2012 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

The picture reminds me of George Harrison’s song, I Me, Mine….

It’s also been my experience, that real love requires real responsibility. Real self
sacrifice.

Too many times I have seen people, after committing some sort of atrocity, crying,
about how much they loved their victim. But their tears were only for themselves.

What can love do in the face of madness? In the face of a break away civilization,
that knows no compassion?

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, February 20, 2012 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

Because of our “biology”, Thanatos usually rules the day. An awe inspiring articular indeed Mr. Hedges: you speak of things (as an atheist) that are “beyond my pay grade”. Now, there is an expression used and over used by many a government official who choose to look the other way while injustice were being done.

“God is Love”
“Love thy Enemy”

When I was 16 (I am 56 at present), my then girl friend who was into Buddhism tried to show me how to Love like a Buddhist Monk. When I would say, “I love you” to her, she would respond, “I love you too” and to my dismay would always add, “as I love all of humanity!” Being a self-indulged, hormonally impaired teenager at the time I struggled to understand why she choose to take our (teenage) love and spread it across all of humanity!

As an Atheist, I struggle with the idea that “God is Love”. In my mind, Love is an emotion (among many) and God is a function of our biology (wishful thinking). Evolution introduced an array of emotions that in one way or another worked over the eons to better our chances at survival. If we pluck out one of these emotions (love) and assign it to a deity (God), why not mimic the Hellenic tradition and allow the many other emotions a persona?

God = Love
Hate = Erida
Indifference = Crom
jealously = Phthonos  

Intellectually, I think I understand where Hedges is coming from; the meek may “inherit the earth”, just as our rodent ancestors survived and the mighty dinosaurs perished.

“The meek shall inherit the earth”, but in what condition?

Deep down, yet untouched by the corporate media and popular culture there is a part of me who wants to “love like a Buddhist monk. When I hear the term “interracial marriage”, my mind still “chuckles”, “a human and a Klingon?” I understand that “humanity” is my family, but like most I choose to sneak off in a Conner (in the dark) and indulge in that selfish, nasty, “dirty love” between me and my wife, immediate family and a small circle of friends. 

Thank Chris Hedges for allowing me to dip my toe in the warm waters out side of my cold box.

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., February 20, 2012 at 7:01 am Link to this comment

In the end, all there is, is love.
But it’s not enough…
Obviously…

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, February 20, 2012 at 5:46 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Chris Hedges:

“The isolated human individual can never be fully human.”
__________________

On the other hand, the more humans have united in common cause the less humane and more bestial they have become.

A supermajority 99% of American voters have been affirmatively voting for the sociopathic corporate person policies of the corporate (R) & (D) party.

Jill Stein for President:

http://www.jillstein.org

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

http://chenangogreens.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=498&Itemid=1

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By aacme, February 20, 2012 at 5:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

But what if the hate you first? I remember the day, early in his national radio career, when I still listened to him, Limbaugh asserted that Liberals were not the loyal opposition (this was the Reagan administration), They were the enemy. I was shocked, but after reflection decided that if someone calls you out as their enemy, instead of trying to convince them you are not, you’d best believe them.
Some thirty years on, I have long since discovered that he knew what he was talking about, even if I didn’t. He knew what the right had planned for the country.
But in doing battle with such an enemy, which must eventually come, Vasily Grossman, quoted here, has the answer.
“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious leaders, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it.”
The only way to fight a monstrous, but extremely powerful foe, is with nonviolence. They have the guns and the propaganda, we have the integrity and the truth.
They don’t have a chance. Guerrilla warfare is what they are trained to deal with. People power is the most fearful force on the planet.

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By kerryrose, February 20, 2012 at 3:58 am Link to this comment

‘Hate is too great a burden to bear.’ John F Kennedy

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