by Jacob Silkstone. The Browser on... is a weekly series of selections from our archives on a topic of interest.
“On or about December 1910, human character changed,” wrote Virginia Woolf, heralding the arrival of Modernism. A century later, according to Sophus Helle in Aeon, the character of love changed just as radically. The catalyst wasn’t a new artistic or literary movement, but the release of Disney’s Tangled:
the ideal of heterosexual romance has been dethroned by a new ideal: family love. The happy ending of our most-watched childhood stories is no longer a kiss.
Just a few centuries ago, romance held a much less central position than it does today: love was primarily a question of family allegiances and controlled reproduction. This changed with the advent of modernity, where romantic love acquired the cultural acclaim that it commands today. And if the nature of love has changed before, it can change again. Disney’s depiction of love over the past decade might be a sign of what’s to come.
Paradoxically, the end of a relationship is often the time when we feel most in love, as Alain de Botton points out in The School of Life:
We start to realise something at once deeply puzzling and not a little embarrassing too. We acknowledge that we have started to find our about-to-be-ex-partner — from whom we have struggled with every sinew to separate at enormous cost and inconvenience — distinctly charming.
De Botton’s explanation is that “crushes are secretly fuelled by the lowest of expectations.” Falling back in love at the end of a relationship, we are “merely enjoying an artificial rush for someone because we have – in a deep part of our souls – finally given up hope of ever trying to live with, or be happy alongside, them.”
Meanwhile, Scott Barry Kaufman studied attraction to psychopaths in Scientific American:
Both males and females on average were about equally unimpressed with psychopathic characteristics in a potential romantic partner… [but] those with higher levels of psychopathic characteristics were more attracted to those with psychopathic characteristics. Those with higher levels of traits associated with Self-Centered Impulsivity were particularly likely to find psychopathic traits attractive in a mate.
Hybristophilia, a powerful attraction towards someone who has committed a crime, isn’t common in the general population, and tends to fade over time:
research shows that female's attraction to Dark Triad traits tend to decrease with age, and for both men and women, psychopathic characteristics are a strong predictor of divorce.
Many crimes, of course, are ostensibly committed for love. In n+1, Sean Williams profiled Jovie Espenido, a police chief in the Philippines who also happens to be a Christian minister. Adhering to an ultraconservative moral code, he advocates bloodshed (almost exclusively targeting the poor) in the name of love:
Before his arrival in Ozamiz, Espenido oversaw the death of a mayor in Albuera, a small fishing town 200 miles north. Upon reassignment he quoted Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”
Everybody in Ozamiz invoked God. Jun Fernandez, a lawyer who worked closely with Espenido, told me he had questioned Espenido’s ability to wipe out the KB before witnessing his piety. “His abiding faith in God is so strong that every time we meet, we pray,” he said. “Before we leave we pray. We leave for somewhere, before we start traveling we pray. We come home, nobody steps out of the car, not until we have prayed, that we arrive safely.” That innocent lives have been lost to the drug war is “unfortunate,” Fernandez added.
Thousands of miles away in Kansas, the Westboro Baptist Church also view their religious conservatism as an act of love. Hillel Gray interviewed several members of the church for a profile in The Immanent Frame:
To casual onlookers, their protest signs appear to be motivated by pure hate. Yet church members see the picketing as an act of love. They insist that they do not hate those condemned, but rather that they are conveying God’s hatred. It is the Bible that requires them to love their neighbor by means of exhortation and rebuke. To the WBC, the picketing—the act of rebuke—is a message of tough love. As Margie Phelps told me recently, they are “pleading the case for repentance.” WBC members repeatedly claim, we are your best friends because real friends would not leave you stuck in sin.
Virginia Woolf wrote in The Waves that “love is simple”, but it’s hard to think of anything as complex.
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Featured Browser articles:
Sophus Helle, Love Isn’t What It Was
Scott Barry Kaufman, Are Psychopaths Attracted to Other Psychopaths?
Sean Williams, In The Name of Love
Hillel Gray, Who Deserves To Be Hated?