Getting Straight About Love and Hate

To love something is to hate its opposite.

Posted Jun 16, 2017

We talk about loving, not hating, but I don't think it works like that.

Love and hate are a ratio—strongly preferring this compared to that. Loving this 10 times more than that means hating that 10 times more than this.

"I love you" by definition means I'd really hate losing you. Sure, you can prefer this and be okay with that, but that's not going to have the intensity that love suggests. To get a sense of it consider the absurdity of this exchange:

"Darling, on this our tenth anniversary, I can declare with all my heart that I am devoted to you, committed and intensely in love with you."

"I appreciate that, but I'm leaving you. I'm madly in love with your best friend. We're leaving tonight on a dream vacation alone together."

"Oh. Well, okay, cool. Have a great time and it's been nice knowing you."

All preference is rational, a ratio. To prefer one thing, by definition, means aversion to its alternatives. The stronger the preference, the stronger the aversion to its opposite.

The Tao To Ching recognizes this:

  When people see some things as beautiful,
  other things become ugly.
  When people see some things as good,
  other things become bad.

We treat love and hate as separate objects. We say that people can either have love or hate in their hearts. We say "choose love not hate." That's like saying choose numerators, not denominators. It's like saying that on a see-saw, no one should ever be down, only up, or like saying always keep your biceps and triceps contracted, never extended, or like saying that when making sweet and sour soup, always make it sweet, never sour.

Failing to notice that love and hate are a ratio leads to a whole lot of tribal hate and conflict. A tribe declares itself loving, not hating, and proves its embrace of love through loving loyalty to tribe members and the tribe overall.

The tribe members set out to spread love to unloving tribes because they hate the unloving. They even hate for love. They say, in effect, "If you think we're unloving and ungenerous you're wrong. We love our loving fellow tribe members and think they, deserve way more than you unloving people who don't love us."

They're like the clingy, jealous, imprisoning partner who says his fierce demands for loyalty are merely an expression of his deep love.

Many people would hate this reframing of love, but I think it's still worth considering. Like many moral rules, "Love is the solution," becomes hypocritical or paradoxical when rephrased. Consider these other examples:

* Do not be negative.
* One shouldn't be judgmental.
* Be intolerant of intolerance.
* Commit to flexibility. 

"Hate unloving behavior" has the same paradoxical ring to it. As such it makes a great koan, an irresolvable question not a complete answer. Love is not the answer; it's the question. The question isn't whether, but what to love and to pretend otherwise is to cede our responsibility to choose wisely.