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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Enduring Myth Of Romantic Love–An Outmoded Concept In An Age Of Virtual Reality

The idea of romantic love is not new. The Ancient Greeks used four words to describe different kinds of love: Eros, Storgé, Philia, and Ágapé.  Eros is sensual, carnal, romantic and erotic love, related to sexual desire and satisfaction.  Storgé is family love, based on natural affection and loyalty. Philia is brotherly love, based on friendship and mutual respect. Ágapé is divine love, based on selflessness and unconditional commitment.

The Bible mentions the four types of Greek love and relates them to God and humans. Love is at the heart of Christianity, say believers and and clerics alike.  The Gospels and the Johannine Letters in particular focus on God’s love for Man – and by extension, love in all its human forms.

Yet it was Petrarch who disaggregated the idea of Eros even further than the Greeks and raised romantic love into the primus inter pares of human affections.  Petrarch’s sonnets to his love, Laura, expressed poetic sentiments of longing, desire, loss, and emotional beauty.  The Age of Chivalry was born, women were no longer considered just mates contracted to produce children and extend the family line.  They were now to be revered, sought-after for their charms and allure, and kept for their own sake. The idea has persisted to this day.  We still fall in love thanks to Petrarch

Romantic Love

There are naysayers of course. Hinduism has stressed the concept of maya or illusion.  The world is but a figment of one’s imagination, not to be valued or trusted; and man’s only purpose on earth is to reject its temptation on his path to spiritual enlightenment. Contentious marriages, divorces, lawsuits, and endless recriminations of the Western world are good examples of how romantic love is perhaps the most seductive but most disastrous aspect of maya

Abortion, abandonment, disinheritance, estrangement, and abuse seem to confirm the notion that romantic love is nothing but a romantic, idealistic, overly Christian point of view.   Marriage is essential for reproduction and the economic and social benefits thereof, and should be arranged accordingly.  Those partnerships which have been concluded on the basis of wealth, status, health, and fertility, and legacy are the best – children to work, care for aged parents, and to light the funeral pyre.

What to make, then, of romantic pictures of 80-somethings walking on the beach? Do they still love each other after all those years? Mutual dependency is a kind of love after all; and there is every reason to avoid any chance of dissension or disagreement and jeopardize the arrangement.  Holding hands is the visible sign of an operational contract.

Image result for images old people holding hands on the beach

The point is that love is only a human construct, a romantic and exaggerated expression of it which, thanks to an efflorescence of poetry, a leisure class, the rejection of dark medievalism, and the prosperous Valentine’s Day industry has extended its life.   Billions are to be made on the idea of romantic love, marriages, and big weddings.

Image result for images greeting cards i love you

However it is about time that the whole notion of romantic love go away. While it has its adolescent charms, its youthful dreams, and happy beginnings, it turns out to be a disappointing distraction.  Why should such a fanciful, artificially-created notion interfere with what is already a difficult venture in a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short Hobbesian world?

There is an answer, of course, the melding of two traditions – the sensible, practical, spiritual Hindu one and the Western technological one. Once virtual reality becomes the only reality – when mind and computer are intimately and seamlessly linked and the created world of individual imagination replaces the rather unpleasant one of the streets – then romantic fantasy will be free to roam.

Why should anyone prefer the humdrum, prosaic, and entirely predictable world of brick-and-mortar experience when one can explore the jungles of the Amazon, dine with the Duchesse de Nantes in her chateau, stroll through the gardens of Versailles to the music of Bach played by Louis’ own chamber orchestra, bed Scarlett Johansson, Marilyn Monroe, and Marisa Tomei, travel to Mars, and sample concoctions of the most famous chefs that have ever lived? No one.

In other words, this communication between mind and machine will not be simply one of language but of experience – sights, sounds, emotions, spirituality, sex, and euphoria.  

Just as digitization has made much of the world’s knowledge available at the click of a mouse, soon the click will be initiated deep within in the brain, the search engine will be human curiosity, and the process will not stop with access.  

Once we are where we want to be whether in the elegant 18th century rooms of the Chateau de Versailles or in the bedroom of our own fantasy with an amalgamation of the most sensual women we can possibly imagine, it will be a unique, personal, inimitable experience.

Image result for images chateau de versailles

Love will be forever on our own terms, in our own space, with whomever and wherever. There will be no one looking over our shoulders, the gender spectrum will be a delightful, fantastical smorgasbord of treats to be tried, tasted, and reserved for later. We can be head-over-heels in love, as desperately besotted as Petrarch

Or, conversely, romantic love will disappear in the more hedonistic world of immediate, complete satisfaction.  We will become universal Casanovas and Lotharios for whom the virtual world will be one of Rabelaisian excess and Lawrentian sexual epiphany. Every sexual combination and permutation will be possible.

Life, alas, will require sustenance, and time off-world will have to be interrupted by Hindu practicality.  We must all be householders for a time before jumping phases and becoming sannyasis before our time.  Hindus have always had it right – soldier through the world of illusion in world organized to keep distractions to a minimum for the sake of eventual spiritual liberation. The new world of hyper-technology will do the same without the fasting, bed of nails, and monasticism.  At the click of a mouse we can be where we always wanted to be.

It might take some getting used to, this replacement of the ‘real’ by the virtual; but soon enough the distinction will disappear altogether.  In fact, once we realize that virtual reality is better than the real thing, thanks to the infinite personal adaptations possible within a virtual world, the easier it will be for us to drop our archaic notions of what is.  In other words, if one cannot distinguish between the ‘real’ and the virtual, then they are both equal in value.

So, romantic love will no longer be that fanciful, distracting, disruptive notion it has been since Petrarch.  It will only be a choice, a temporary, delightful one composed of beautiful imaginary lovers and set in magic kingdoms, a marvelous, endless Disneyland of moonlight, candles, cuddling, and breathless anticipation to be exchanged for tiger hunting or climbing Everest.

Petrarch | Biography, Renaissance, Humanism, Sonnets, Poems, & Facts |  Britannica

The comic and political commentator Bill Maher recently criticized Zuckerberg and Meta, urging young people to reject this fantasy virtual world.  ‘Get off the couch and get a girlfriend’, he said.  A real girlfriend.  But he and others who are desperately holding on to a fading, passé world do not get it, can never get it 

They are too wedded to the real taste of a cold beer, the soft touch of a woman’s breast, the bracing cold of an October morning; when the virtual representations of them will be even more exciting, more stimulating.  There will be no mediation in this new virtual world.  The bright red leaves of Vermont will be exactly the red we want to see – brighter, more vivid, more spectacular; or more subtle, muted, and nostalgic.  Fall will be our Fall, not Vermont’s.

Most importantly, our lovers will no longer be dowdy and plain – all that we can afford – but the best of the best, willing and able, delightful and tasty morsels of our own confection.  I can’t wait!

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