Saturday, 24 January 2015

Jealousy

Jealousy is like rage ... a fact of experience. But, like rage, it might also be taken as a signal of an underlying issue relevant to one's dealings with a person who is being emotional. Yet it is not a justification for accepting their emotional world view as yours simply out of fear of their emotion's effects on you. Respect does not mean acceptance of their world view, just acceptance that they have this world view. It is just a fact that must be taken into consideration.

For a strong emotion not to be respected, recognised and even (without compromising oneself) accommodated to the extent that one can is a sign of callousness and even of stupidity but to allow another's strong emotion to dictate terms to you on fundamentals is a sign of weakness on the one side and of bullying on the other. At its worst, low level permanent jealousy, anger or misery become a form of psychic vampirism by which one person becomes increasingly defined by the mental chemistry of another person. Thus can we define the worst of relationships.

All emotions have this quality either of potentially enhancing dialogue and personal growth or of being agents of control and attempted ownership but jealousy is the most interesting of all. It is the most explicit in its central claim - that X, in some way, has (actually almost certainly unjustifiable) ownership rights over Y. In fact, X can never own Y unless Y permits ownership (at its worst a form of masochism and at its best love). If the ownership is not freely given and that gift sustained on free terms over time but only depends on the fear of the effects on X's biochemistry of the intensity of Y's biochemistry, then the ownership implicit in X's jealousy is simple bullying. Acquiescence is then little better than slavery and may be cowardice or stupidity.

This is why an intense emotion is a major testing ground for a relationship and should strengthen it whereas chronic emotional pressure will either weaken that relationship or turn it into something neurotic and perverted - into the 'autism for two' referred to in 'The Coming Insurrection'. The two sins of emotion in a relationship lie at the two extremes of emotional perversion - not to express emotion strongly on the one hand and to use emotion as a controlling tool of ownership on the other. We all know from observation that struggles for power and dominance in personal relationships are as intense as that of States for energy resources. The fear of the righteous use of emotion - the explosion designed to communicate the otherwise incommunicable - is looked at with fear and loathing in our culture and for good reason.

First, an emotional explosion has to be seen in a context of distrust that the other party will respect the outburst, listen, learn but stand their ground on essentials while conceding ground on inessentials - and be acute enough to understand that the essential is not in the detail and that compromises are possible in many directions and most of the time. Second, our culture is made up of people who fundamentally lack self-esteem, of any pride in themselves, and who live in a world of zero sum games where a relationship is always won or lost like a game of poker rather than developed, expanded or shared like a game of chess.

The typical type in our modern culture has invested so much of themselves in the mirror of the other that they dare not show an emotion that might break that mirror (even if it is just as likely that it would strengthen the relationship), while 'chronic emotion' can be used as a weapon to constrain, hem in and define the other as fenced property. Instead of seeing another relationship (perhaps of simple friendship) added to the whole as an opportunity to redefine and strengthen the primary relationship for the long term, to improve its quality, the 'jealous' reaction would rather pull down the whole pack of cards and walk away. Is this not the case in so many destructive divorces, destroying the lives of children, where one party is simply too proud not to demand all-or-nothing?

The acute emotion of jealousy (or rage) is vital in pre-empting the death grip of convention on a relationship and, if not causing unhappiness, then promoting its decline into formality, role-playing and even the status, sexually and socially, of being a zombie, the sort that can have no conversation beyond house prices, pensions and what each does for a living. Western humanity lives in a permanent state of feeling threatened. The saddest aspect of it all is that we feel most threatened of all by the loss of an 'other half', another malign intervention of Platonic mythology. That fear ends up at the very root of a deathly conformity that leaves us functioning robotically or depending for salvation on secret vices.

The paradox is that our cultural obsession with 'cheating' (not so much in Europe where the matter tends to be dealt with as a form of cultural blindness but certainly in the US) creates the very crisis that it fears. By setting down absurdly 'perfect' relationship standards in the first place, we are driven as a culture into secrecy and fetishism and towards a lack of accountability - indeed anything and everything is done that is possible to avoid a confrontation over meaning in a relationship, one that might involve the expression of positive or negative emotion.

The misery lies not only in any actual loss (though people may have been living a limerent lie for a long time, one that needed to be faced) but in the constant nagging fear of loss and of loneliness. 'Autism for two' raises the stakes by making couple-dom central to the culture in a way that ensures that there can be no intimacy elsewhere. Above all, personal potential may be constantly defined in the terms of another emotional centre, one who casts themselves as successively victim or inadequate when they are neither of these, just different and to be respected as different. New distrust emerges as a result of misplaced past trust, based on an illusion of perfection, whereas a truly sound relationship would have involved a proper dialogue over emotion, under conditions where both parties would trust each other enough to allow truth-telling.

Think on this. How is it even possible that one party 'cheats', that is, is unable, because of our culture, to share with their primary partner the needs and desires that led them elsewhere?  Why are so many women and men frightened of telling the truth to what are, in effect, their best friends if they are, indeed, 'perfect soul-mates' which, of course, they are not. No such thing can exist without compromises that may prove too hard to maintain over long periods of time. The answer is obvious, people 'cheat' not because their primary partners are not soul-mates but because soul-mates are never simply simulacra of the partner and things do change - and should change if we are not to be zombies. No one can take the burden of being a perfect soul mate without subsuming themselves under another and denying all individuality. People 'cheat' because they cannot have a 'perfect soul mate' conversation about not being 'perfect'.

The cultural assessment of all this soon descends into a dim-witted bar room gut sense that a 'cheater' is a slut (if a woman) or weak and inadequate (if a man) but it might equally be said that the 'cheater' is simply a terrified coward in not standing before their primary partner and expressing desires and needs about which there may indeed be an accommodation. Jealousy is not envy but these alleged vices are close and if we look at envy (by, say, one woman of another's looks and attractiveness) we see similar central problems of self esteem and resentment and similar ambiguities over the expression of feeling.

Like jealousy and anger, envy is a fact. To condemn it morally is absurd. A wise person avoids jealous, angry and envious persons if they can but that may not be possible in an existing relationship so it is the contrast between the acute and the chronic that we have to look at. An acute burst of envy sends a signal that seeks reassurance just as an acute burst of anger is the first statement in a negotiation and jealousy is a call for dialogue. Chronic envy or 'ressentiment' is a soul-destroying absurdity, like chronic anger or jealousy. It calls for either an acute moment of catharsis or a fundamental breach.

How many people go through lives of resentment, depression (which is just rage turned inward) or unhappiness and self-doubt because they were unable to ball up their feelings and throw them at their partners as a demand for dialogue? Yes, economic and social entrapment (the fine business of holding things together with a mortgage or having a bunch of relatives who have pre-defined you) may make this difficult but not to do so is to allow oneself to be trapped and defined not only by the other but by all the others behind them. In effect, you will be socialised into chronic misery.

Negative emotion is thus essentially conservative. A person has land-grabbed a bit of social existence and now wants to keep what it has (jealousy) or resents someone else's lucky or more skilled land-grab (envy). Such conservatism is at the root of all that is nasty in politics, society and culture. It is corrosive. But all these emotions have their purpose. We are told that they arose out of evolutionary conditions to ensure that a man did not waste resources in raising others' offspring and a woman had the resources to raise her own but evolutionary biology as justification for jealousy is a cop-out. These are unscientific assumptions but they are widely believed and so become true.

The issue is not jealousy at all but being deceived or lied to, yet our culture has created the conditions for continuous deception because of the zero sum game most of its frightened, isolated players are engaged in. The discovered can lose everything and be subject to barracking and intolerable shaming and socially enforced guilt so it is no wonder that he or she lurks in the dark instead of expressing themselves responsibly in the light. The social has constructed its own dark and dreary underworld.

What is more interesting is the psychological truth that, whilst resentment, depression and misery result in the almost complete de-sexualisation of couples as they spend more time together, high emotion will trigger passion and sexual intensity. It might even be argued that a determined compliance with each other (generally, sado-masochistic in that one party is dominant) is tantamount to the slow murder of a relationship by strangulation, whereas a sense of danger and risk, but above all, dialogue, paradoxically maintains the bonds that brought two people together in the first place.

To do all this effectively, however, requires an acceptance that no person can ever be owned, that they are dangerously unknowable free agents and that risk and loss are challenges that enhance life - and, then, since all is paradox, the dead 'autism for two' might well be replaced by an unbreakable bond between persons and misery might be replaced with 'joie'.