‘The Earth is currently suffering from a shortage of our love’, writes biophilsopher and marine biologist, Andreas Weber, in Matter and Desire: An Erotic Ecology.
It’s hard to disagree when all around us the body of the Earth is ransacked, raped and reduced to ashes by our insatiable desire for stuff. Might it be that this behaviour arises from a lack of love? And on that note, what exactly is love? Humans have been trying to define it since the dawn of time and yet no agreement has been reached.
Despite this, we ‘know it when we feel it’. I remember as a child asking the adults what love was, to which they responded, ‘you’ll just know’. I found this answer unsatisfactory, however as an adult I can see why they said it. Love is known to me, and to you I’m sure, but the task of defining it feels futile. If I know it when I ‘feel it’, does that then mean love is a feeling? Perhaps not, as Andreas writes:
Love is not a feeling, but the characteristic of a productive relationship… [It] is not a pleasant feeling, but the practical principle of creative enlivenment.#
Is it, then, an ‘experience’, a ‘phenomenon’, a thing which emerges? That doesn’t sit right, either. Love, that slippery, elusive, mysterious thing that is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, that omnipresent, incipient erotic force that sits at the core of human experience, that thing we hunger after, exalt in, endlessly seek, is, apparently, everywhere already, yet the Earth needs more of it. Perhaps, as Andreas says:
We love incorrectly. We love incorrectly because what we consider love does not enliven us, nor does it enliven the world.#
What the Earth needs more of, then, is a different kind of love.
It is not hard to believe that we love incorrectly when we look at the type of love sold to us by Christianity, Hollywood, and various other dominant Western institutions. There is, according to these authorities, one type of love that sits above the rest (aside from the love of God), one that is the ultimate acquisition, the procurement of which will allow you to become ‘complete’, validated, saved, redeemed and oh! liberated at last. Your sorry existence will finally have meaning, but only, only, when you ‘find’ this very special and rare kind of love…
Romantic love, the kind often depicted between white-cis-hetero-monogamous couples, dominates Western consciousness. Culturally, it is regarded as superior to the love of friends and even family, despite any taboos that may arise around neglecting to love the latter. It is certainly regarded as superior to the love of life and Earth. This type of love, while valid and beautiful in its own right, can often manifest in ‘toxic’ ways, and is often tethered to Capitalist aims.
The love partner in the Western mind, as Andreas says (to paraphrase), fulfils the deadly bargain of ‘relationship as resource’. This type of love promotes the consumption of the other, the devouring of individuality, and the absolute merging of identities as healthy and ‘normal’, which is somewhat ironic in our rampantly individualist culture. Still, acquiring love in the West is very much a solitary mission in our supposedly ‘dog eat dog’ world, and the love between two individuals is seen as greater or ‘better than’ than the love between the whole. As Andreas says:
Insistent striving solely for personal fulfilment in love amounts to an ecological tragedy. It follows the principle of taking from natural resources, rather than the principles of giving, sharing, and releasing.#
Western romantic love posits many harmful ideas that are out of sync with the enlivened characteristics of the natural world, for example, that jealously is a sign that you truly love your partner, and that ownership through formalities such a marriage, having children, and buying a house together are the only ways you can ‘validate’ your love, both publicly and privately. Much of Western romantic love in this vein orbits around a projection of the ideal saviour, Christ reincarnated, the redeemer of your loneliness, fragility, and self-loathing. This delusional, extractive and obsessive view of love is anathema to genuine connection and relation, and often we see the breakdown of relationships when this projection, along with the ‘honeymoon’ period, withers away.
It is my understanding that we in the West have been conditioned into believing that this is the only type of love worth striving for, or that love is a catch-all concept that neatly describes everything it contains and hence does not need to be questioned further. On the contrary, love seems to be pluralistic, multiplicitious, chimeric and ever-changing. It is (or can be), for these reasons and many more, a profoundly ecological force, one that acts as a relational catalyst antecedent to life itself. Love can also be, in the words of Andreas, a ‘practice of moderation’. This may sound uncomfortable to those raised in a culture that teaches us love is only ever real if it makes us lose our minds.
While love can transcend, it can also ground. Like gravity, love can draw us down to Earth. It can consolidate our atoms, longings, thoughts and so on. Equally, it can cause us to fragment, encouraging us to build ourselves anew. It is important to note that love, the kind of love the Earth needs more of, only ever breaks our heart with the view of making it more capacious and resilient, and more able to give to others so that they might give to us, and in the act of doing so, mutually enable each others’ aliveness.
This is, I believe, a more ecologically aligned view of love, one which chimes with the non-linear, interconnected, cooperative principles of nature. If, according to Andreas, ‘love is a practice’, then what we need is to practice more ecological forms of loving.
In Matter and Desire, along with his many other mind-altering books, Andreas lays out an ‘ecology of love’, an ecology which places eros and love at its centre, and which offers perspectives on the kinds of ecological love the Earth needs. Eroticism and love have often been confused with lust and desire, especially within the sexual frame at the centre of the Western mind, however in the context of Andreas’ thought, and from my own understanding, the erotic seems to be an inherently ecological force, one which brings bodies of all kinds together to form life-giving relationships (making babies, of course, being the most explicit metaphor for this).
Eros in ecology is all about tactility, sensuousness (and sensualness, sure), contact, porosity and feeling. It is about creating life through touch, through relationship. Andreas writes; ‘the erotic (as an embodied experience of being on the Earth) might be thought of as the bodily component of poetic experience’. In this vein, an ecology of love, or an erotic ecology, is one in which the meaningful experience of love, far from being a superfluous abstraction, becomes grounded in an embodied, tactile reality which integrates our existence as organic matter with the experience of the mystical. To wrap up, Andreas continues: