There's no better catalyst for new ideas than fiction, and speculative science-fiction is perhaps my favorite genre for that very reason. And recently, there's a sci-fi novel that I read which really made me think about love -- and reconsider what it means for me.
In the Charles Stross novel, The Glass House -- the protagonist is a member of a progressive transhumanist society deep in the 27th century -- where changing one's biological sex is as easy as changing one's hair colour today. The societal construct of gender no longer exists, and is regarded as a historical curiosity. It is a world where humanity has been truly been liberated from its physical existence, and one's appearance and genetics can be changed as easily as the software and code of today.
And in this realized utopia of an extropian future, there's love too -- but it's a different sort of love. Robin, the protagonist -- is in a loving union with 3 other partners, a marriage by any other word. And if there's any way to describe Robin's relationship, it would truly be a love of the mind. Love -- in the most complete and consummate sense -- where you love someone for their character, rather than anything else. Because surely, in such a society where gender and appearance can be altered at will, to do anything otherwise would be meaningless, and vain.
“It wasn’t so much a family as a superorganism, and it was a fulfilling, blissful state of affairs ... [my partners] were not simply important to me, not just lovers, but in a very real way defined who I was. A large chunk of my sense of identity was configured around this key idea that I wasn’t solitary: that I was part of a group, that we’d collectively adjusted our neuroendocrinology so that just being around the others gave us a mild endorphin rush — what used to be a haphazard process called “falling in love” — and we’d focused on complementary interests and skills and vocations”
This idea, of being a part of a greater whole -- is not entirely foreign to us today. When you marry someone, an very important subtext is that you are asking your significant other to be your partner in life. But that is not the reason I am so enamoured with this different sort of love. This love appeals to me, because -- fundementally, on an Aristotlean sense, this love is complete.
For one, it calls for a certain sense of mindfulness and willful rationality, where the the relationship is cultivated with active, rational thought. It is truly a meeting of the minds, where the lovers realize on a conscious level that they love each other for who they are, rather than what they can do for the other, or how they make each other feel. This is completely different to how teenagers are marketed love today, where unthinking passion and desire hold sway. The way our society has commercialized and commodified romance is unhealthy in it's focus on instinct rather than thinking, and relationships based purely upon passion would never be truthful, because you are loving someone for the pleasure you recieve in turn, rather than the person in itself.
Likewise, this is not a love that stems from one's ego, where one loves another to fulfill one's own selfish needs. It is not done out of esteem, for appearance is meaningless in this world, or out of nessesity, for there is no want in this post-materialist society. It is a love that isn't easily accomplished, because it is based upon self actualization, rather than any of the baser levels on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
It is a beautiful sort of love.
And truly, I hope I am able to love like so. Because to love someone on such a level is absolutely beautiful. It would be a love of the other person's character, a love of someone that's unmarred by the selfishness of one's materialistic world. And it is something I yearn for, for I fear I would never be able to do it myself, as it approaches a platonic ideal. For I am a product of my upbringing, scion of a world that’s flawed, jealous, and fearful in every possible way.
But I can hope.
Because ultimately, it is not up to society to dictate how we should love. But rather, it is a decision for ourselves. And as someone who's never followed what society dictated as "normal", I don't intend to start now.
Especially with love.