Love is a Blank Check

“Sandra Simpson didn’t keep the suffering of the world at a distance. She invited it into her home and made it family…To believe in the power of adoption is to believe that the most profound way to help someone isn’t through large-scale structural change or foreign policy, but by opening up something as intimate as the family unit—by committing to love a kid you’ve never met.”

—”The Forest Hill couple who adopted 30 kids.” Toronto Life. August 2020.

For a long time, I wasn’t sure what it meant to “love” someone. Is love a feeling one has toward someone? Is love a verb? Is it not so much a feeling, but something we do? How do you know when you love someone? Or, that they love you?

But, merely asking these questions also suggests a poverty. Don’t most people know that their parents, siblings and extended family love them? Isn’t it a given?

I cannot speak for others, but for me, right now, the key to understanding love is to look at those moments — when we chose to get married, have a child, and so forth — where we make a commitment to put someone else before ourselves over the long haul, over a life, without any guarantees that it’ll work out well, and a virtual certainty, that, for some period, it’ll be a bad bargain. Love is what transforms a bad bargain into a good one, where you give someone a blank check, the ability to ask for and get more than you have, and by some miracle, at the moment it is needed, you find there is enough in the bank to cover it, money you never knew you had.

Liberalism is the Incubator of Authoritarianisms

“‘Are you against the ‘liberal order’ which guaranteed peace and stability, and other wonderful things for so long?’ The obvious answer is that your much-cherished liberal order was the incubator for Trumpism and other authoritarianisms. It made human beings subordinate to the market, replacing social bonds with market relations and sanctifying greed. It propagated an ethos of individual autonomy and personal responsibility, while the exigencies of the market made it impossible for people to save and plan for the future. It burdened people with chronic debt and turned them into gamblers in the stock market. Liberal capitalism was supposed to foster a universal middle class and encourage bourgeois values of sobriety and prudence and democratic virtues of accountability. It achieved the opposite: the creation of a precariat with no clear long-term prospects, dangerously vulnerable to demagogues promising them the moon. Uncontrolled liberalism, in other words, prepares the grounds for its own demise.”

—Pankaj Mishra in an interview with Francis Wade, “‘The Liberal Order Is the Incubator for Authoritarianism’: A Conversation with Pankaj Mishra.” The Los Angeles Review of Books. November 15, 2018.

The fact that authoritarians are propped up by other authoritarianisms is commonly understood. Pointing to terrorists, pirates, criminals, and The Other in all their manifestations has always been a way to legitimize the rule and draconian practices of the elite.

But, liberal ideas like “human rights,” “rule of law,” and so forth are given a free pass on a more critical review of when they are applied and who benefits. What do these terms mean in a society where 1/3 of black men spend some time in prison? What do they mean when the bombs dropped by Saudi Arabia in Yemen are made and dropped from planes sold by the United States?

When you understand that concepts like human rights and rule of law don’t apply equally to everyone, as is suggested by the name on the tin and how it is used, then it is easy to see the relationship of liberalism with other forms of fundamentalism. Free market fundamentalism is one obvious manifestation. But, rule of law and legal positivism is no less of a fundamentalism, one that doesn’t track well with reality when one can get past the surface and take a more critical look.

It’s an interesting point that liberalism is the fertile soil in which authoritarianism grows.