Other people are unavoidable in our understanding and experience of ourselves within the world. Humans are notoriously social creatures and so the relationships we have have shaped human existence – political, scientific, and cultural – since the beginning. Plato detailed how best we should live in political communities in The Republic. (1) Indeed, if humans had not developed relationships with one another, the species would not have continued. And we are alone in that aspect; whilst other animals have particularly violent, aggressive or just downright rare meetings and mating rituals, human sex and love (in its most typical and ‘successful’ form) has always been based, at least marginally, upon liking another human.
The relationships we have come to define us: do we like our friends because they are like ourselves, or do we become more similar as the friendship continues? I would argue that identity is always a performance and so the relationships we exist within come to ideologically shape and define who we are, not just within that relationship, but in others too. And then in turn, define the ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves in relation to others – whether preformative or authentic.
Love in particular comes to define the self – by feeling acceptance by another (at least as far as the fantasy goes) we might begin to accept the parts of ourselves we initially saw to be flaws.
But in a neoliberal and late capitalist world which, as David Harvey suggested, has meant “in short the financialisaton of everything”, has the way we consider love changed? (1)
Whilst capitalist mindsets have commodified almost everything in our lives (or tried to) – from leisure time, to internet browsing, to science, medicine, our bodies and even art – love somehow remains untouchable. Love has no ‘purpose’, no ‘value’ whilst simultaneously being a priceless ideal to which we much strive. It unites us and can bring about realisation and potential revolution – in arguably the most famous dystopian novel of them all, 1984, who opened Winston’s eyes the inequalities of society if not Julia, and what was their sex but a symbolic act of resistance? (2)
However, has technology prompted and allowed the commodification of love as the final frontier? Dating sites are advertised all over the Facebook pages of those who have an undisclosed relationship status on their profile, like a one-stop solution for a romantic relationship we are persuaded we cannot be complete, happy or fulfilled without. So Isaac Newton discovered gravity, oh but he never married? That’s so sad.
In this sense, then, has love become commodified? Our search for it is tracked, every swipe left or right logged to ‘calibrate’ future potential pairings. And adverts adorn the margins.
If the immediate satisfactions of consumer society have meant “the pleasure is in the hunting, not in the prey”, has capitalism reduced love to hunt, thrill, sex, only? (3) Removing it of its long-term aspect and instead reducing it to match after match, date after date, fuck after fuck, like the inbuilt obsolescence we have become so used to everywhere else, particularly on the smartphones upon which we do most of this potential match-making. We always need the newest product, the upgraded model, and thus, our lives are dominated by the idea that the next best thing is always just around the corner. Mr Right could finally be around that corner too.
Capitalism has persuaded us that nothing is built to last, or indeed shouldn’t be. But still as a species, we cling onto the fairy-tale impossible ideal of a happily ever after:
“Our almost-instinct almost true: / What will survive of us is love.” (4)
- Plato, The Republic, (360 BC), <Available at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html> [Accessed 23/1/17].
- David Harvey,A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 33.
- George Orwell, 1984, (London: Penguin Classics, 1948).
- Zygmunt Bauman, ‘Consuming Life’, inSociety Under Seige, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2002), 180.
- Philip Larkin, An Arundel Tomb, (1998), <Available at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/47594> [Accessed 23/1/17].