What is love? The ancient notion of love, the Eros Plato talked about in the platonic dialogues, is a love that affords an intelligible grasp on reality. A love you con-form to, a love that transcends and guides the soul. A spiritual and deeply rational love in which you participate, enact and create. Indeed, today’s love reveals the a great distance. The contortion and nonexistent resemblance. The ancient Eros is a withering dream. As Byung-Chul Han writes in The Agony of Eros (2017): “Today, love is being positivized into sexuality, and, by the same token, subjected to a commandment to perform. Sex means achievement and performance. And sexiness represents capital to be increased. At the same time, the Other is being sexualized into an object for procuring arousal. When otherness is stripped from the Other, one cannot love—one can only consume. To this extent, the Other is no longer a person; instead, he or she has been fragmented into sexual part-objects…. Today, love—inasmuch as it is supposed to amount only to warmth, intimacy, and pleasant arousal—points to the destruction of sacred eros.”
A lot of what takes up space in the landscape of love today and besets our modern culture is copious, thrusting bullshit. Which has led to among other things, what John Vervaeke calls decadent romanticism. Bullshit in a positivized consumer culture where all bets are off and nonsense is the new normal leaves us unable to recognize both when we are deceived and how we ourselves contribute to the continuous bullshit. Harry Frankfurt distinguishes between a liar and a bullshitter, and with that gives an excellent description of the phenomenon of bullshit. “Both the liar and the bullshitter represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. But it is impossible for someone to lie unless they think they know the truth. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and they are to that extent respectful of it. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. For the bullshitter, all bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”
It is facile to assert the fact that you know when you are in a bull session without concern with the truth, but how do you really know today? What’s more, the very same machinery that makes us humans intelligent, are the very same machinery that makes us so prone to bullshit. In a modern world like ours we are essentially trapped, existentially. Bewildered and stucked. The corollary is our world appears to be one huge sinking ship were you just have to grab the goodies (e.g. nonsense, sugar, money, sex) while you can because you don’t know for how long (or short) it will last.
Nietzsche famously voiced a contrary; “if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you“. In our modern circumstances the sageness of Nietzsche indicates a capacity to cut through the immense bullshit that besets our culture and depart from the narrative of decadent romanticism. Not as a nostalgic flight, or a shame-and-blame-game, but because it is no longer apparent that what we are doing to ourselves is making us better. Indeed, it’s becoming ever more clear that it’s making us worse; sick on so many levels, both mentally and physically. Even though we can do everything we want in the name of freedom and happiness, it doesn’t mean we should. And even though individuals can and will, it doesn’t mean cultures and societies should encourage it.
Coming of age as a young woman in the the modern world is like entering into a hornet’s nest. From every angle of society you get a distorted depiction of men and women. You encounter the one’s who tell you that men and women come from separate planets, and that this is just some fact you have to accept. Furthermore you come up against the other side that completely denies biological differences between the sexes which is also something you are told to welcome with open arms. Navigating further into the landscape, you are told that all men walking this earth, are pervs who you should regard as pigs, because all they want to do is spread their genes as widely as possible, like pollinating plants. This leaves you questioning how you can ever really love a man, when you constantly have to remind – if you don’t, society will – that this is a biological fact about men. This fuels further bewilderment, if you, as a woman, also is reduced to your genetic purpose – a birth machine – who only cares about babies, babies, babies. Fortunately for you and everyone else in modern societies, we have evolved tremendously since your great grandmother gave birth to 14 children (no judgement of your great grandmother since you would not have been born if it weren’t for your grandmother who was the 14th child). Nevertheless, women’s liberation with equal rights and values for women is a huge, historical win on all fronts. This is something to be tremendously grateful for.
However, a huge, historical win doesn’t mean that all personal, societal and cultural problems between and related to men and women will be erased momentarily, especially not problems as complex as this. The biological differences between the sexes will emerge into a new light and new problems will possibly arise. It further fuels the possibility for emerging problems when we (and third wave feminism in the forefront), induce and commit to leave, among other things, biology in the dark. Couple that with a consumer culture, plugged into the market without boundaries, purely optimizing for efficiency and single measurable metrics, and you will start producing reductionist approaches to all emerging problems. This leaves a serious dissonance, both individually and culturally, whether conscious or not. The fact that men are reduced to their biological pollinating-plant-strategy, yet shamed for acting out the strategy, and women are encouraged to willfully blind themselves to the possible limitations of their biology (i.e. the risk of getting pregnant). In some cases women are even embolded to completely erase the fact that they are born biological women. To cope with the dissonance, the culture will hand you á la carte of identities to choose from. Notice; your identity will become your secret weapon to meaning, since many of our our historical meta-meaning systems have dissolved and are unviable (religion being one of them).
At first when you enter into the modern identity game, if appear to be the way it’s promoted: a perfect freedom to be the woman you feel like without any judgement. In reality, we all find ourselves in a race to the bottom. As Han (2017) writes: “Achievement society is wholly dominated by the modal verb can—in contrast to disciplinary society, which issues prohibitions and deploys should…. The achievement-subject is free insofar as he or she is not subjugated to a commanding and exploiting Other. However, the subject is still not really free because he or she now engages in self-exploitation— and does so of his or her own free will. The exploiter is the exploited. The achievement-subject is perpetrator and victim in one.”
The á la carte of identities manifest on a continuum where most women find themselves comfortably in the middle, often because it seems to be the less bullshit position. Extremes reaches from barbie doll who only cares about her look and sex appeal, all the way to the opposite end where you will find the absolute abandonment of being a woman and adoption of every masculine feature you can think of. Most of the time to get to the powerful top of society. Throughout the continuum women are encouraged to act as the worst men has done for centuries. When you are a woman applying “men’s tactics” in a “womanly fashion”, you will be cheered on, for being such a cool and powerful woman. Nobody will admit the serious contradictions, at least not out loud.
A culture that encourages women to behave like men at their worse will also promote casual sex and hook-up culture as a thing that makes us all thrive. Downplay the significance of traditional families and favor being a single women or a single mother. Encourage pornography as something the culture absolutely needs to fulfill sexual pleasure, fantasies and quench the constant erotic thirst. Nurture the heedless urge to scratch an itch 24/7 with guilty pleasures, stalking, bragging, fakeness and bullshit, and be sure to present it as a culture without taboos and shame. Moreover, embolden women to claim victim status when they don’t want to play the game anymore. That is, the game of competing against men in a game where men play their worst selves. “Believe all women” throws everything into an even deeper, dishonest vortex and begins to undermine and erode the real phenomenon of victimhood. The corollary is a cultural cesspool of narcissistic dating, infidelity, divorce, addiction, virtual exodus, nihilism and intense forms of cynicism. The latter is often camouflaged as a modern hubris of this culture being a manifestation of freedom and happiness.
A cultural example of decadent romanticism is the the burgeoning movement of “Love is Love”. It manifests our hunger for the experience of real love in the world, but the slogan actually exhibit and signifies “Sex is Sex”. This reveals the contorted notion of positivized, sexualized love, the reduction of Eros into a commodity to be consumed. This irrational exhibition of love, a perfect example of decadent romanticism, painfully disclose the atonality of modern existence. There is no rational reason not to welcome diversity of love in a genuine sense in modern societies today. Yet with our pornographication of society this manifests as diversity of sexuality, i.e. love for performance, achievement and consummation. Desperately wrapped in starvation and suffering for the real thing. The upshot is furthering of the same perverse, permeating feedback loop of bullshit. It ends up producing more of the same cynicism and nihilism, which probably led people to the movement in the first place.
There is no way to escape the inevitable that follows in an identity-game that manifests as a race to the bottom. Escalating unhappiness, anxiety and despair. In a consumer culture where bullshit is the new gold, predestined to become part of every corner of society, in a world without an overarching meta-meaning system, where individual well-being is completely plugged into the market – you are bound to loose. The hypernovelty of our modern world makes us unable to rationally navigate a way forward, and we are left with emerging complexity, no real intelligent solutions and no where to look for answers. Throughout human history intergenerational communication has been a tool for generating wisdom, but in a world where everyone, young and old, has landed in a completely different world from the one they grew up in, this way of cultivating intergenerational wisdom is withering. Today, you often find two typical approaches from the elderly; the naive utopian who encourage everything in the name of freedom because they didn’t experience it and that automatically makes it a fundamental good. Or the willful nostalgic solution that constantly beat the drum of everything being better before and the only way forward is to go back. Neither is of course helpful, only more troubling, and more likely than not feeding back into cynical bewilderment and disillusion.
Indeed, the more salient way to go about your life in the 21st century is to “bullshit your way through”. Take the easy way out. Avoid risks. Claim knowledge you didn’t earn. Assert certainty to conceal fear. Declare yourself victim. Indulge. Be cynical. For every step in this direction, you train the mind, to require more and more compulsion and addiction. It numbs, stupify and zombify us. Remember the sinking ship? It keeps you floating, soullessly, at the expense of real love.
This is an incomplete, biased account of course, I cannot not be biased. Still, it is as elaborate as needs to be to understand the detriment of decadent romanticism and the perverse, permeating feedback loop of bullshit. Nothing I will say in this essay will change your worldview. The point of writing is that of Nietzsche. The abyss will start to gaze back into you, but it requires the insight of Carl Jung – looking where you least want to look – in our language; cutting through the bullshit. There is no real love in decadent romanticism. There is simply bullshit. To be sure you will not find «your better half». You will not find someone who worship every aspect of you. That is narcissistic self-love. There is no love where you expect to be “affirmed but not corrected, adored but not improved, loved but not transformed”. Perfection is not a thing. If it were, you would be bored quite fast. Playing games are ultimately about power, not love. Moreover, you will do tremendous amount of mistakes. You will be hurt and you will hurt. You will have bad discernment and be a disappointment. To others and yourself. That is maturation. Personal reckoning and integration of your failures, the knowledge you acquired, will make it less plausible to make the same mistakes again. Last, but not least, you can never know for certain if you’ve chosen the right thing (e.g. partner, career, job, friends). Certainty is an illusion in and of itself.
Having said that, falling in love with reality again, finding back to the Eros Plato talks about, is recognized as one of the best responses to nihilism. A truly transformative experience, which affords an ancient awakening and re-membering. As Iris Murdoch writes; “love is when you can really recognize that something other than yourself is real“.