by Alton C. Thompson
In an essay posted in 2013 Guy McPherson stated: “I know too little about love. But I’m pretty certain it’s all we have [left now].” What evidently motivated Guy’s “all we have [left now]” statement was explained a few paragraphs later:
A decade ago, as I was editing a book on climate change, I realized we had triggered events likely to cause human extinction by 2030. Notwithstanding neoconservative talking points (aka lies) to the contrary, burning fossil fuels that accumulated over millions of years within the span of a couple centuries is having expectedly horrific impacts on the environment we share with millions of other species. Recognizing the horrors we’ve triggered, I mourned for months, to the bewilderment of the three people who noticed.
Guy’s recognition that our species was on the road to extinction, with no way out—or, as he put it:
We’re done. Homo colossus has tripped several positive-feedback triggers, any one of which leads to near-term human extinction. The combination is truly lethal.
—led him to ask: “Now what?” Guy then described how he and his wife changed their lifestyle in response to the fact that near-term extinction appears to be our destiny as humans, and next stated the main point of his essay:
This culture will not know peace. It is much too late for love to extend our run as a culture or a species—too late to employ the wisdom of Jimi Hendrix—but love surely offers redemption to individual humans. (Earlier in the essay, Guy had quoted this line by Hendrix: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”)
That is, we have reached a point in time when Hendrix’s hope that the “power of love” would—or even could—overcome the “love of power” is a mere “pipe dream.” Recognition of that fact has, however, the potential of motivating one to ask: “How, then, given the strong likelihood that I will die a premature death, should I live the remainder of my life here on earth?” The answer that McPherson gave (in effect): “To honor the life of Hendrix and/or contribute to one’s own sense of well-being (as well as “redemption,” salvation?!), one should re-orient the direction of ones’ life: from an orientation to individualism, materialism, competition, and selfishness—i.e., the dominant values in our society—to one of love.
That recommendation, however, leads one to ask such questions as: “What is love?” “What does love involve?” Etc. It is questions of that sort—i.e., questions as to the dimensions of love—that are the focus of the present essay.
A useful starting point here is to recognize that that when most of us think of “love,” we have two rather different concepts in mind. On the one hand, there is “falling in love,”  which often involves an altered state of consciousness that one experiences in being attracted to a member of the opposite (or not ) sex. The “purpose” of that attraction is to consummate a sexual encounter with that other .
I have put “purpose” in quotation marks here deliberately, because sexual encounters are typically more a function of unconscious drive than of conscious choice. An implication of that fact is that the object of one’s attraction is often perceived not as an end but, rather, as merely a means—to the end of the (temporary) satisfaction of one’s own need for sexual gratification.
However, this first sort of love can be combined with the second sort, that one involving (a) an ability to empathize with others, to (b) detect—and (c) feel—the other’s pain,  to then, as a consequence, (d) feel compassion for the other, and next (e) become motivated to do what one can to (f) alleviate that pain, and then (g) do so, insofar as one is (h) able to do so.
Emotion is associated with this second sort of love, just as it is with the first sort, but a different quality of emotion is associated with each: The second sort of love involves “putting oneself in the other’s shoes,” and wanting to do something about the pain felt by the other. The actions associated with this second sort of love are, then, of an other-oriented nature, whereas those associated with the first sort tend to be self-oriented.
Both sorts of love involve actions, but the actions associated with the first sort of love are often of an exploitative nature, whereas those associated with the second sort are of a helping nature. The two types can be combined, however, as I noted above, a fact illustrated by this figure (left). 
It is safe to infer, I believe, from McPherson’s essay (quoted from at the beginning) that he was referring to the second sort of love rather than the first one. Thus, in discussing here the “dimensions” of love, I will limit myself to the “helping” variety of love.
In doing so, the first point that I would like to make is that in our society—in Western societies in general, in fact—there is a fair amount of agreement as to what does, and does not, constitute the “helping” sort of love. From cross-societal and cross-temporal perspectives, however, it must be admitted that this sort of love has been thought of in a great variety of ways, one way often being in direct opposition of other ways. I do not want to dwell on this fact here, but will note, regarding cross-cultural differences specifically, that a book by one of the “founding fathers” of the discipline of Sociology, William Graham Sumner (that role in Sociology surely being an embarrassment to many sociologists, given Sumner’s advocacy of laissez-faire economics!) illustrates this point. The book in question: Folkways (1906). This book, by demonstrating how attitudes and practices vary greatly from society to society, in effect presented evidence of the fact that that what was regarded as, and as not, loving behavior varied considerably cross-culturally.
As my interest in this essay, however, is less of an academic , than a quasi-practical, nature, I will next proceed—for the sake of expediency!—by eschewing discursive presentation in favor of outlining. Please forgive me!
- Loving behavior (of the “helping” sort) can take at least two forms:
- Physical actions.
- Communicatory behavior (writing, speaking—such as that engaged in by Guy
McPherson and various others!).
- So far as physical actions and communicatory behaviors are concerned, it must be kept in mind that several factors affect (a) whether one engages in them, (b) the degree to which one does, and (c) the form that one’s loving behavior takes, among those factors being:
- Physical/intellectual skills.
- “Possession” by an economic, religious, etc., ideology.
- One’s upbringing.
- The value system one develops.
- The nature of one’s friends/associates.
- One’s life experiences.
- Loving behavior can have at least two time dimensions (the characteristics listed above having relevance for the particular time orientation one adopts):
- Individual actions in the here-and-now.
- Individual actions with a future orientation.
- Loving behavior can have a societal orientation (the individual characteristics listed under B above having relevance for the sort of societal orientation one may adopt):
- Efforts to reform one’s society—which occur in the here-and-now.
- Efforts to convert—to remake—one’s society—which have a future
Given that my interest for the past few decades has been in the future (e.g., in 1984 I published a strategy/scenario of societal system change), I would like conclude my outlining effort by elaborating on my thoughts regarding the future—thoughts that also have a societal orientation:
- Ideas for the characteristics of the future society(ies):
- Human needs and their fulfillment (e.g., Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
- Human “design specifications” (a concept with an evolutionary basis, that also recognizes the role of the Agricultural Revolution in human history; see pp. 38 – 117 in this eBook).
- Societal design—referring here specifically to the vast body of “utopian” literature, discussed in detail in this book.
- Ideas for the creation of the Good Society:
- Create a “model” society on a small scale; as people learn about it, and the quality of life within it, they will copy it—and eventually everyone in the world will be living in such societies! (Robert Owen seems to have held such a belief.)
- The 5-“wave” strategy/scenario discussed in my 1984 article, referred to above.
- The “Structured Interaction Group” as a tool for planning communities, discussed on pp. 159 – 164 of the eBook to which a link is provided under A.2. above).
- Efforts to create the Good Society:
- Robert Owen and New Harmony.
- Charles Fourier did a great deal of writing during his life, but is especially remembered for his communitarian writing—which writing inspired the creation of a number of “model” communities. In the United States the most famous one was Brook Farm, the longest-existing one being the North American Phalanx.
When I wrote my 1984 article, I believed that there was still time to “convert” our society into an “eco-friendly” one, with the hope that other societies would then copy—or at least be inspired by—what we had done. And although I hate to admit it, Guy McPherson has convinced me that the conversion of our society is no longer possible!
I still believe that the only solution to our various problems as humans—including that of global warming, of course—would have been societal system change—rather than “reform” (which amounts to mere “tinkering”). My use of the words “would have been” in the previous sentence indicates my belief, however, that the sort of love expressed by ideas/efforts regarding societal system change will no longer “cut it”: It’s now too late for such ideas/efforts, they are now obsolete!
Guy McPherson is absolutely right, in my opinion: Love (of the second sort discussed above) is “all we have [left now].” Let us use it, keeping in mind the presentation under point B above! That is, do what you can, and be satisfied that that’s enough!
- This article claims that romantic love is a “hoax,” but I question that claim. It may be a cultural development, true, but that fact does not make it less “real.”
- Recognizing here that homosexuality is not a deviation from the normal (or “sinful”) but, rather, is natural—even though it is less common than heterosexuality.
- That encounter may, of course, result in a pregnancy, but the latter is often simply a byproduct of the encounter, not the “intention.” Although a function of sexual reproduction is to perpetuate a given species, there is such a thing as too much reproduction (“overshoot”), with the activities of those reproduced being of a suicidal nature, so far as the species is concerned! Such activities have been occurring with our species, especially since about 1850 CE! For evidence, see, e.g., Guy McPherson’s “Climate-Change Summary and Update.”
- Not that the recipient of this second sort of love is always in pain. (For example, what may motivate one’s coming to the aid of another is a desire to protect the other from suffering pain.) But when I think of this second sort of love, I tend to use the Good Samaritan parable as my model.
- Although the two circles differ in size, no quantitative interpretation is intended either for that fact, or for the size of overlap of the two circles. The meanings of the “1” and “2” here need no comment, of course.
- In doing a word search of “love” in the .htm file of the book, I discovered that there are over 100 matches.
- Using that word in a pejorative sense!
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McPherson was interviewed by Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio. The interview took place 22 January 2015, and it was broadcast last Sunday night on the Progressive Radio Network. Find it in the archives, here.
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Abrupt Climate Change: How Will You Show Up During Humanity’s Final Chapter?
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McPherson’s latest book is co-authored by Carolyn Baker. Extinction Dialogs: How to Live with Death in Mind is available. Electronic copy is available here from Amazon.
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