The Art of Loving – Questions on Chapters 2.2-2.3

Jordan Peterson (45550029955)
Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Previously: The Art of Loving – A Ramble on Chapters 1–2.1

This post will be rather more disjointed than my first one, as these sections left me with more questions than conclusions.  Bear with me!

As for the picture – especially in this part, I was having flashbacks to 12 Rules for Life, and anyone who found value in that book should probably read this one (and vice-versa).

Chapter 2.2, “Love Between a Parent and a Child”

The big theme of this part was Fromm’s definition of fatherly and motherly love.  He describes motherly love as unconditional, forgiving, and organic to the mother-child relationship – C. S. Lewis’s “Gift-Love,” in other words, with no limit.  Motherly love and validation of the child is present whether the child “deserves” it or not.  Fatherly love, by contrast, is rules-based and must be earned in order to be granted:

Since [Father’s] love is conditioned, I can do something to acquire it, I can work for it; his love is not outside of my control as motherly love is. 

Either type of love can be abused or misapplied; the key is to achieve balance and a smooth transition from the emphasis of motherly love (in early life) to the focus on fatherly love (adolescence and up).  This concept ties neatly into Peterson’s model of Chaos (feminine) vs. Order (masculine) and the individual’s need to walk the fine line between them.

I am not sure I subscribe to this concept, though on the surface it seems to make sense.  If it is true, I would ask what does this mean for the present-day situation, where in the U.S. some statistics suggest there is a fatherhood crisis, leading to a sort of fatherhood renaissance ranging from the popularization of “dad jokes” to the Fatherhood.gov billboard campaign.  And if adolescents are receiving more unconditional motherly love than fatherly love, is there any correlation to the widespread depression, including a higher percentage among adolescents?  It could either indicate motherly love is not unconditional (which is what I would argue), and/or that the lack of fatherly order/rules-based system causes a deficit linked – in some inherent way, maybe – to self-esteem.

Chapter 2.3, “The Objects of Love”

In this section, Fromm elaborates on his theory of true love as an act rather than emotion.

One key concept he highlights is the idea of “paradoxical logic” – the idea that “X is A and not A.”  (Sort of like quibits, for fellow nerds.)   In a way that I found frankly a little difficult to follow, Fromm ties this into his study of man’s love of God.  He compares Christianity to Aristotelian (or binary) logic and Judaism to paradoxical logic: the former emphasizes belief and the latter emphasizes a way of living (though he does point out Christianity does not exclude the latter).  This goes back (obliquely) to his conviction that love is primarily an act rather than a thought or a feeling.  Again, there are echoes of Peterson, who – rather than say that he believes in God – said in a recent interview that he lives as if he believes in God.

I hope I have sufficiently emphasized how philosophical this section is.  Apart from the religious commentary, Fromm covers all kinds of love as well, including the necessity of loving one’s self in order to love others (completely agree!).  At one point, he acknowledges “erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people but not between all.”  This doesn’t quite appease my disgruntlement with the first chapter, but at least he acknowledges there must be Something other than pure formula or will-power.  🙂

This statement did raise questions for me: “In erotic love there is an exclusiveness which is lacking in brotherly love and motherly love.” I may have missed something but I’m not sure what the basis for this is.  Though frowned upon in Western culture, parental favoritism is common in other cultures, whether it’s gender-based or simply individual-based.

And here again, I do agree: “If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever.” I would put the emphasis on “only,” because again, I do believe some feeling is necessary, even if it is simply the primal affection we feel for other human beings because of our shared humanity.