Friday, April 13, 2012

The Elementary Forces. IV

If we consider the mechanism of love from an engineering point of view, the mechanics of love could best be described as a contingent positive feedback mechanism. Contingent, in the sense that a "good" is required to activate it,  and once activated, the mechanism continues to stay connected to the good because of the pleasure associated with it.

As mentioned before, this mechanism fails if:

1) The "good" fails;  Beauty fades, people betray, character changes and there's always the inevitable physical decay.  This is one of the themes in Houellebecq's books. The materialist interpretation of life makes permanent love impossible since all physical things start rotting from the moment of their inception. Entropy is a bitch.

2) The mechanism fails to elicit the appropriate response. Here, the good, over time, fails to elicit a response and phenomenon of boredom sets in. Houellebecq illustrates this by having his characters engage in all sorts of sexual variations or constantly coupling with new partners.  The endless search for novelty an attempt to escape the habituation mechanism of the mind. Each novel act an attempt at a new psychological "high".

Hoellebecq's engineering solution to the problem of love is technological. Firstly, he advocates cloning and and a genetics which resist decay. With this technological solution, the goods which activate the love mechanism are constantly renewed. Entropy wins in the end but at least the love mechanism gets to run a lot longer.

His second solution to the problem is to re-engineer the love mechanism, through genetic engineering so that individuality disappears, there is no need to connect because there is nothing that wants to connect. Personality is killed and the mechanism is by-passed. Instead a disposition to connection replaces the "goods recognition mechanism". Goodwill rather than joy becomes the way society interacts.  His new man resembles those who belong to "ethical societies": connection but no warmth.

Curiously, another group of people had arrived at the same engineering solution. Buddhism advocated essentially the the same approach:
Normally we think our happiness is contingent upon external circumstances and situations, rather than upon our own inner atti­tude toward things, or toward life in general. The Buddha was saying that dissatisfaction is part of life, even if we are seeking happiness and even if we manage to find temporary happiness. The very fact that it is temporary means that sooner or later the happiness is going to pass. So the Buddha said that unless we understand this and see how pervasive dissatisfaction or duhkha is, it is impossible for us to start looking for real happiness.
Nirvana comes with the elimination of desire, with the bypassing of the love mechanism. Houellebecq recognised the resemblance between his solution and the Buddhist one, In Atomised (The Elementary Particles) he writes:
Hubczejak was certainly the first and, for many years, the only defender of the most radical of Djerzinski's proposals: that mankind must disappear and give way to a new species which was asexual and immortal, a species which had outgrown individuality, separation and evolution. It is superfluous to note the hostility with which such a project was greeted by the defenders of revealed religion: Judaism, Christianity and Islam were for once agreed, and heaped derision and opprobrium on work which "gravely undermines human dignity in it's unique relationship with the Creator". Only Buddhists demurred, noting that all of the Buddha's teachings were founded on the awareness of the three impediments of old age, sickness and death, and that the Enlightened One, if he had meditated on it, would not necessarily have rejected a technical solution.
Buddhism is not the solution to problem of love, rather it is an escape from our personality and humanness. In Nirvana,  man is completely aware........... and alone.

It's interesting the Houellebecq recognised that it would be the Abrahamic religions who would most oppose the technological solution. Because they had already worked out their own. Now, I'm not so read up on Judaism and Islam to comment on them,  but the Christian solution to the problem takes a totally different approach. Instead of trying to to tinker with the love mechanism, they left it alone and added another one. Not being limited by materialism, they introduced a force which did not rely on biology for its operation and was thus free of biologic constraints.

In fact, the new force was not a bonding force at all, but a force which kept binding forces bound. It was a kind of anti-entropic power that did allow good things to corrupt once they were established. In fact, the force directed the love mechanism to bind itself to everything, insofar that it was good. Unlike Buddhism, which was a withdrawal into the self, resulting in eventual nothingness, this force was was it's polar opposite; self realisation in its expansionary action and an affirmation of reality. In the Christian Nirvana, man was aware of his glory and all around him things shone like stars. He was not alone.

But it would be a mistake to think that the Christians worked out this solution. The early Christians, like the rest of men, were way too dumb. It had tried to it reveal itself to the Jews but seemed to have just missed taking root amongst them.  In fact, in the end, the force literally had to sit men down and explain to them what it was. The force was a gift of itself given to men, repairing the privation of the world. For it flowed from the nature of its being:

Deus caritas est.