Of Love and Lust

Lately I've been thinking a lot about love. Like almost any human being, I've had plenty of encounters with love - but I'm not really sure I understand what it is. Love takes many forms. A parent loves a child, a child loves a parent, a sister loves a brother, a man loves his wife or partner, and people love their pets, etc. A person might love chocolate, or gardening, an automobile, a sport, sex, clothes, tools, wine or poetry - or a religion, an intellectual pursuit, a language, or physics.

Most people have loves of varying types - and often love feels like a positive thing, but not always. Love can feel suffocating, hurtful, toxic or destructive to the lover, the beloved, or both. Love contains a complex range of emotional possibilities - it can feel like a cuddly bundle of joy one moment and a howling terror the next. Love can gestate over months or years, or appear suddenly on an unsuspecting person's doorstep… wanted or unwanted. It takes love to provide a blueprint and job experience for a family.

I've known men who said they loved me, and a few whose actions demonstrated affection whether they professed love or not. At times I've believed that I loved a man, only to discover the illusory nature of the experience and the selective or deceptive nature of my perceptions. I suspect that men inflict as much harm on fellow men in the name of love as they do in the name of war, only subtly. Some folks speak of "tough love," and some people speak of a nebulous "love for humanity" as though love constitutes a God-given or universally recognized permission slip to inflict one's desires and demands upon others.

When a man forces his sexual will onto an unwilling partner, we call that rape - or a gang rape, when a group of men participates. Yet when a man or a group of men force their political demands onto unwilling people folks call that good citizenship. A group of men who demand a society free of drugs stop at nothing to achieve it - even when the old and the terminally ill suffer, and they may soon insist on regulating people's vitamin use too. "We'll hurt you and you'd better thank us for it" seems an apt motto for this sort of lusty fanaticism. A drug-free society means a lot of unhappy people forced to endure a lot of pain, or driven to black market dealers - that's brotherly unkindness, not brotherly love.

A group of men determined to free the world of other people's tyrannies will enslave the world for the sake of their own and call that freedom. They're good citizens, and when I exercise self-restraint by not voting, I'm a slacker. At least I'm still free to OD on disgust. If abstinence from casual sex is responsible, how can abstinence from sleazy politics be irresponsible? If I refuse to show up at the voting booth to take my marginal crap-shot at infecting an entire society with politically transmitted social afflictions, I'm irresponsible because I prefer not to inflict high-risk political behavior onto everybody else? Get thee away from my backside, Satan… please keep your dirty political leverage to yourself.

I'm ready to reclaim the word "love" for general usage by reclaiming the word "lust" for general usage as well. What does "tough love" mean, if not unbending lust for assuming positions of political dominance or moral superiority over other people? What does "love for humanity" usually mean, if not condescending lust to nourish one's ego at the expense of a bemused world which might prefer benign tolerance to inadvertent ego-stroking for smugly paternalistic philanthropists of any and all persuasions or orientations?

Lust gets a bad rap as one of the seven deadly sins, and for good reason - yet lust drives the sensible man toward admirable behavior, while love tows the silly man into foolish behavior. If lust can challenge a man to behave well while love can provoke a man to behave badly, does it seem reasonable to consider lust bad and love good? Maybe some deeper meaning got lost in translation… maybe so many tongues stirring the pot spoil the alphabet soup called language that people use to communicate. How can the dead letter kill unless people voluntarily or involuntarily swallow it as a poison? How can the spirit or the Word give life unless people ingest it as an antidote to dead letter poisoning?

I'm tired of seeing lust masquerade as love, giving love a bad name, when lust and love cohabitate along the same spectrum of emotions. Apparently lust - in the "deadly sin" sense - represents a debased form of love that ceases to observe conscientious boundaries and forces itself onto others in unloving, and not necessarily sexual, ways. Conversely, love represents a refined form of lust capable of elevating a mere human being beyond lowlier forms of lust, and above coercive expressions of human desire or affection.

Lust forces itself on unwilling partakers, in other words, while love doesn't - or what's the meaningful difference? It seems wise to preemptively master our own deadly lusts long before they betray us into attacking genuine forms of love that we may not be capable of recognizing because we can't accurately distinguish love from lust. Perhaps that's not our judgment call anyway. The forms of love that busybodies seem most eager to stick their uppity noses into appear to be consensual adult relationships where busybodies are least wanted - and that's obscene.

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