Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Modern Love Is Wasteful And Sinful

It's that time of the year again. Millions of innocent flowers cruelly snatched away from the blissful countryside, to be delivered in bouquets at offices worldwide. Restaurants are fully booked weeks in advance. Diamonds glitter in the eyes of expectant ladies. For Valentine ain't cheap. Whilst weddings cost a fortune more. And that's modern love, honey - wasteful and sinful.

Wasteful Things

The fault lies both ways. Women define a man's love by the extent he spoils her with designer bags and lo and behold, a diamond ring! Men define a woman's worth by how beautiful she looks, from manicured toes to high-waisted skirts to flawless cheeks to lustrous locks. Both sides are compelled to set aside a generous part of their wealth to invest in courtship. No money, no honey.

Problem is, love is not just a solo quest, but a free-for-all contest. A man has to compete with his fellow brothers to win the heart of a desirable lady. Likewise, a woman is pitted against her sisters to catch hold of Mr. Right. The battle can lead to an arms race. Men buy faster cars and fancier houses. Women do regular expensive makeovers. The race incurs waste.

Consider the wedding ring. The question is no longer whether it should have a diamond, but how many carats. Why the obsession about diamonds anyway? It's not as if it's even a deeply ingrained cultural tradition - in fact, the myth of its romantic symbolism is manufactured none other than the diamond industry itself, barely a century ago. Aside from looking shiny and pretty, a diamond essentially has zero practical use (as opposed to, say, gold which is both a commodity and currency, and historically a valuable link in the world economy). Instead of dumping money on worthless diamonds, a couple is better off investing in things that truly matter in building a family - residence, insurance, education, and so on.

Before you splurge on luxuries in the name of love, ask yourself: "Do I really want this, or even need this?" Chances are, you don't. There's only so many bejeweled necklaces that one can wear over their necks and rooms that one can use in a house.

No happy family is complete without this, apparently

Image by Jerry Cleveland / Denver Post via Getty Images

Sinful Things

People of modern society are not stupid. They watch over their finances wisely, and think hard before they write a fat cheque. Yet, most still fall prey to careless spending, rich and poor. Why so? Blame inequality, says economist Robert H. Frank.

Firstly, he explains that "frames of reference matter". What amounts to a basic necessity differs if you ask, say, a Nepalese in the highlands and a New Yorker. In common parlance, the phenomenon is called "keeping up with the Joneses". When our friends and neighbours spent more to renovate and refurnish their houses, we feel pressured to do the same. The pressure starts all the way from the top, by the super-rich. The class below them gaze in awe at their lavish garden parties, and desperately tries to draw level. The process reverberates all the way down to the middle-class and the poor. In the end, everyone just races to spend more on froth and cream that they can really live without.

Next, Professor Frank follows up with this brilliant analogy:
"Consider the antlers in modern bull elk, which span four feet and weigh as much as 40 pounds. Because they impair mobility in wooded areas, bulls are more easily surrounded and killed by wolves. So why doesn't natural selection favor smaller antlers? Darwin's answer was that large antlers evolved because elk are a polygynous species, meaning that males take more than one mate if they can. But if some take multiple mates, others are left with none. That's why males fight so bitterly with one another for access to females. Mutations that coded for larger antlers spread quickly because they made any bull that had them more likely to win. But bulls as a group would be better off if each animal's antlers were smaller by half, since they'd be less vulnerable to predators, and each fight would be decided as before. The inefficiency in such positional arms races is exactly analogous to the inefficiency of military arms races. It's also like when everyone stands to get a better view: no one sees any better than if all had remained comfortably seated."

We all need to fight for love by locking horns, apparently

Image by Duke Coonrad

Professor Frank blames inequality as the cause for senseless excessive spending by lovers. I would go one step further, and suggest that people are wasteful because they are sinful. More specifically, people are driven by greed and envy.

Now, we turn to French anthropological philosopher René Girard, and his theory of 'mimetic desire'. Human desires, he believes, are not autonomous but in fact borrowed from others. There is always a triangular relationship of subject, model and object. The subject's desire for the object is provoked by the model's similar desire for the object.

Now take this theory into the context of love: A is provoked into courting B because of C's competing courtship for B. Even if A does naturally love B, the provocation causes A to step up efforts in courting B in order to get ahead of C (who may not even be a real person, and merely an imaginary rival). Alternatively, A may feel challenged by a totally separate couple. A worries that if efforts to court B does not match the level of C's efforts to court D, B may have second thoughts about A and run off to the arms of E.

Point being, love is often stoked by feelings of greed and envy, knowingly or unknowingly. Couples don't measure the level of their love within the four corners of their relationship. Instead, they constantly need to compare their love with others. And that's not a good thing. Love should stand on its own. Greed and envy are poisons that infect relationships into spewing out waste, not love.

This Valentine, women should seriously ask themselves this: "Do I want to receive flowers because I really like flowers, or because every other women is getting flowers?" Likewise, men should ask themselves whether it's worth courting a woman who expects a giant bouquet of flowers to arrive at her office so that she can flaunt them with a haughty "my boyfriend is better than yours" air.

Love Is About Prudence

It's easy to succumb into the intoxicating cocktail of love. Passions go wild. Reason ignored. Insecurities set in. Wasteful indulgences driven by sinful desires. Love becomes an excuse for pointless extravagance.

What lovers need more than ever - in these modern times - is prudence. Love is precious and pure, and nothing done out of love should ever be wasteful and sinful.

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