“Love nihilism” is a concept I came up with about a year ago. I realized I need something like this when I noticed love being inserted more and more in political activism. At the core, “love nihilism” means criticism of love as a universal virtue, refusal to place love above any other emotion a person may experience, and refusal to view love (or lack of it) as something that changes the nature of someone’s actions.
So, what’s my problem with love?
In my original nnia post on love nihilism (you may need an account to view), I argued that love is just a feeling, it cannot substitute respect for boundaries, knowledge how to be a good friend/parent/partner, and it should not grant you a special status of a person who “knows best”. All these things I protested were something I periodically hear in paraphiliac communities – zoo and, less often, map – claims that experiencing love towards children or animals makes us ideal caretakers.
This kind of rhetoric is doubly wrong. First of all, because, in context of orientations, we’re dealing with “love” as a synonym for “attraction”. Loving a child as a map means finding this child attractive – sexually, romantically, tertiary. This is different from wishing the best for this child in the same way male heterosexuality is different from being personally invested in supporting and uplifting some woman and helping her become her best self. Yes, it’s good when these things go together – but they don’t always do that, and it’s important to talk about the difference. And if you actually want to be a positive presence in the life of someone you find attractive, you need to know it will not automatically happen without any work on your part. On a side note, I don’t want to redefine minor attraction and claim people who can’t, or don’t yet, experience a strong emotional need to be good to children are not true maps. You’re a map if you find young people attractive. That’s the end of it.
Second, even loving someone in the most general sense, just wishing them to be well without any sexual or romantic components, does not mean you have the means to actually do good. “Love is not abuse, abuse is not love” is a mantra from “wellness” blogs that many people find comfort in, but real life has many examples of loving people turning into abusers – because they believe they know the other person’s real needs better than the person themself, because they don’t accept any feedback or criticism. Most abusive parents actually love their children, and that trying to make love and abuse into two incompatible opposites makes it harder to recognize abuse. I know it from personal experience.
Third, not only it is possible to love and still do wrong, you can also feel no love and do right. Because, again, good companionship is a skill you cultivate. Not an emotion in your head. This resembles my stance on empathy, as someone who has little to no empathy.
In other words, I protest dragging love into activism for these reasons:
- It’s shifting the focus from love-as-attraction to love-as-caring. This goes too close to thought-policing and claiming that maps whose thoughts are not virtuous enough are not real maps.
- It does not encourage loving people to look deeper into themselves and change what they’re doing. It allows abusers comfort to continue abusing and makes it harder for the victims to speak up.
I also invite everyone to read this rather good essay about why so much focus on love can hurt, written by a person who does not feel love and was abused for it by people who do. It was eye-opening for me when I first read it.
Finishing, I would also like to remind that attaching moral goodness and inherent virtues to identities (like orientation, gender, ethnicity) is never a good political move. It may bring you a temporary peace of mind if you’ve been told for years that your feature makes you a bad person, but it will not result in anything good long term. Just more denial, more lies, and hatred.