1/15/09

Romantic Love and Society Addiction to Triviality

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/science/13tier.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

We are starting the year with news about the terrible economic moment we are either living or about to live if we still have jobs to fear of losing. After my trip to Mexico I had not posted anything new into the blog, and when I was preparing an article on the wonderful new country that the United States has become after electing Obama, I found this article about love, among the new year resolutions, and the grim stock market reports. This news piece written by John Tierney, describes how romantic love acts on us as a drug, and how now neuroscientists in their search for making life happier or duller at best, are working on a "magic potion" to fall in our out of love, and recover from infatuation. In fact Tierney, celebrates the possibility of a drug that prevents you not to "make an infatuated ass of yourself." That is not necessarily bad if there is somewhere a willingness for an institutional grand design, that will reengineer that weak and terrible institution that is the family, and that supposedly is the basis of our social and political arrangements.


In the area of sex, doctors such Dr. Larry Young, the neuroscientist that has developed a grand unified theory of love out of his primary research on autism, has performed experiments placing oxytocin into people´s nostrils to develop trust and empathy. According to the findings, people under the effect of oxytocin do feel more attached. Apparently love hormones do improve our social skills!

The most hilarious comment on the article is Tierney´s question regarding a love potion involving neuropeptids shooted into your nostrils : Tienrey says: "Even if the effects could somehow be targeted to the right partner, would you want to start building a long-term relationship with a short-term drug? What happens when it wears off?"

Well, what happens is exactly what has historically happened with weak bonds based solely in romantic attachment: they wear off by themselves, and you do not need to worry about any artificial stimulants. To be truthful modern western marriage, and therefore modern western family are precisely based in this short-term drug or romantic love with no need of artificial potions. Fueled by society, and popular culture, current expectations for romantic love have grown out of proportion. Couples are expected to keep the supposedly base of society solely on the enchantment of hormones, while society and its institutions fall apart. Even if we develop the perfect drug for couple attachment, what about the mores of a most flawed institution such as the family? what about uneven distribution of labor inside the household, the roles for males, females, and children in both public and private spheres? what about respect and equality among the romantic partners? does a permanent romantic attachment prevent violence, and disfunction? Given our social conceptions of romantic love, would it be possible to develop friendship and solidarity among permanently infatuated couples? Is there a material arrangement for this to happen, or are we going to economize on human relations expecting to obtain everything from a romantic partner and a nuclear family? What about friendship and social bonds?

I am not trying to say that discoveries made by scientists are to be disdained upon, but there is much more to society than romantic love, and its neurotransmitters. The current distribution of labor, the fact that there is less and less time to socialize for married partners, and in general for everybody due to jobs that demand long working hours, the frightening economic crisis that threatens even more the fair distribution of work in the domestic sphere. The incredible high expectations to obtain every social need from the partnership of marriage, along all the other factors are loosening crucial social bonds enacted to solidarity and social and political action. Perpetual romantic love will most likely not solve the uneven arrangement of the family structure. What about working on genetic design, and also working on social design to come up with better institutions for human life and happiness?

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