June 30, 2009 On Desire
Desire is the topic today. I just finished reading On Desire by William B Irvine and found it very interesting and thought-provoking indeed.
Many people do not the desires that drive their decisions. Much of internal process is subconscious, which means there isn’t much logic or rational thought behind our actions. And as Irvine points out, even when we are aware of desires, it doesn’t always mean that we can control them. The best we can do is learn to live with our desires by mastering them. Mastering them does not mean eliminating them all together, but learning what to act on and what NOT to act on. Christians pray for relief, Catholics confess their sinful thoughts or deeds and Buddhists meditate and seek the middle path between hedonism and aestheticism. There needs to be a balance then between pleasure and perfection.
Two particular desires tend to create problems for everyone—the desire to be accepted in society and the desire to seek sexual pleasure. Irvine mentions that Nietzsche thought outsiders to society were “godly beasts” or “philosophers.” David Weeks prefers to view outsiders as eccentric. The eccentric, by definition, is someone who lives outside of society. They are often financial failures, but happy nonetheless. Not only are they nonconformists, but they are curious, creative, intelligent, idealistic and opinionated. They are also obsessive and passionate. Eccentrics posses a childish delight with things that many people envy. Their obsessions tend to bring them joy rather than misery because they can be intense without being consumed.
As far as sex goes, one can practice free love until such an intimate act becomes as commonplace as a handshake or one can become celibate. Again, most people practice the middle way, but there is something to be said for those who choose the extremes. Those who practice celibacy say that it allows love to be free of possessiveness helps one to focus on helping others. Sex tends to lend itself to people trying to take advantage of one another. Irvine compares celibate love to the love a parent feels for a child. It is supposed to be about selflessness.
I’ve always been drawn to Thoreau and other such eccentrics. As a teenager, I complained bitterly about being forced to conform. It was particularly painful in High School due to peer pressure. I felt unpopular and unloved, but I was unwilling to sacrifice my sense of self or my identity in order to fit in. I had to find a way to exist in society as an eccentric because I didn’t have the option of dropping out of society all together. Although, I did drop out of school in an effort to regain some of the control I’d felt I’d lost. As an adult, I find it easier to exist on the fringe without being punished too severely for my unconventional views.
I suppose my views on desire and love are particularly unconventional. I don’t believe sex should be as freely given as a handshake, yet I do not believe being celibate is the only source of liberation from selfishness. Ideally one could desire others without being possessive or selfish. Sex should be somewhat selective, but not necessarily exclusive. Love making is sacred, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love more than one person at a time. You can love many people just as a parent can love many children. Sex shouldn’t mess up a perfectly good friendship, but instead enhance it. If you truly love someone then you can give them the freedom to love and help others. Your fears shouldn’t prevent your loved one from loving and supporting other people. Certainly when one enters into a relationship one would not demand that you give up all your family and friends! That would be selfish of them. I know it is a bit different where it comes to sexual relationships, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. Unconditional love is what we should strive for. Relationships may have their boundaries, but love itself does not. Desire has no boundaries either, even if society does.