Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Morning meditation on enemies and love

"Love your enemy." But who is "your" enemy? And how can an enemy be loved?

On a national level, "enemy" can be fairly easy to define. Almost without argument, the one who attacks you is your enemy. The nation has a duty to defend itself. The nation exists, as a legal or political concept, to "provide for the common defense." So it is in the definition of a nation, to defend its existence against those who would destroy it. And those who would destroy it, are the "enemy."

How enemies are created, is another matter. Some attacks seem to be unprovoked; clearly that is a matter of perspective. Even then, the enemy can be the provacateur, although few nations stand outside the cycles of violence and retribution, and none stand so far above it as to claim absolute innocence. But those are moral questions; sometimes applicable to the situation, and enlightening; sometimes not applicable, and merely inappropriate. Usually they are somewhere in between. But "enemy," at its simplest meaning, is the one who wishes to do the nation harm, and who must be stopped if the nation is to persist in its existence.

So nations may have enemies; but nations can never be called on to "love" their enemies. Nations, to begin with, cannot love. People can. And one of the questions about love is, can people love entities? Or can they only love individuals?

Nations cannot love, because nations have no existence, have no ability to have a relationship with another entity such that the relationship can be properly understood as one of "love," under any definition. A nation is merely an idea, a construct, an agreed upon set of political boundaries, of laws and traditions and agreements about governance. In the simplest terms, a nation is merely a social contract, and it is preserved as much by adhering to the general terms of the contract, as by its armies and navies and air power. Nations cannot have relationships. Only people can.

People have relationships; with other beings, clearly: people or animals. With institutions, too? Only through people. No one has a relationship with a corporation, a church, a school. They have a relationship with the people of that corporation, church, school. Some of those people may symbolize the institution, but the institution does not exist apart from the people who uphold and adhere to the idea of that institution. We may say our love is for the Church, or the alma mater, or "Big Blue." But it is for the ideas of those things, and those ideas are only known through other people, only realized and made accessible to us, through the actions of other people. If someone says they have a relationship with an institution, and truly mean apart from any person who represents it, we don't consider them more insightful than us; we consider them delusional. Our relationships are with beings: with people, with pets, with animals. Our relationships are never with ideas alone.

So we alone can love, can give love and receive love. It is a giving and a receiving, is love; that is why it is, and requires, a relationship. Unrequited love is mere fancy; it is, in fact, self-love. We love other people. And only other people, can receive our love.

So how do we "love" our "enemies"?

To have an enemy, first, is to have a relationship with another people. Nature may be my enemy, in some cases; or time, or circumstance. But I can't have a relationship with those things. They are indifferent to my problems, don't react to thwart my plans, don't plot to bring about my destruction, don't act on will. And I cannot love nature, time, circumstance. To have an enemy that can be loved, the enemy must be a person.

But not merely because it must be capable of receiving love from me. The enemy is willful. The enemy is the one who acts against me, either over a long-term, or on a sudden impulse. The enemy is the one who can be held responsible for what occurs. Nature, time, circumstance; all are fundamentally irresponsible. An enemy, in order to be an enemy, in order to be considered my adversary, must be responsible for what occurs, must be accountable for its actions.

Now, the question is: how do I hold my enemy accountable? In love? Or in justice?

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