Re-wiring for Love

In a previous post, I wrote of “re-wiring” the brain so that the principle of natural selection operating through dominance and destruction is no longer one’s primary motivator or orientation, having been replaced by the primary orientation to love. Continuing to use Theissen’s evolutionary model, I want to consider now how that might be accomplished.

Obviously, the principle of selection cannot cease to operate; if it did, the human being could not exist, for every moment of human life requires the subjugation and sacrifice of other life. But it can become subordinate to love, which is already present in the heart, and the two principles can cooperate under love’s guidance, cooperation being love’s way, to achieve love’s ends as much as is humanly possible.

So it may be that what is needed, ironically, is that love become dominant over selection. The contradiction is only apparent, however, because, as our Quaker tradition tells us, love does not overcome by force: “it takes its kingdom,” as James Nayler wrote, “with entreaty, and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.” Love’s “dominance” would mean, I think, that selection would be more strongly influenced by love than love by selection, a condition reached not through internal conflict and violence (images such as Gal. 5:24 notwithstanding; I hope to address that sometime) but through the attainment of internal unity, of wholeness. For neither selection nor love can be destroyed or fully repressed; they must cooperate if the person is to be whole. But again, whereas selection (as we have been using the term) tends to operate primarily through competition, cooperation is love’s primary mode. Such cooperation is possible, therefore, when love leads, for selection can function fully, albeit differently (lovingly!), under love’s gentle direction, but love is badly crippled and repressed — trampled, as the first Friends would say — when tyrannized by selection.

But perhaps we need not picture the two as being in competition, which is to see them within a narrow paradigm of selection. Another way of framing the process is to understand love as an adaptational tool used by selection, so that, in the unified person, love does not so much dominate selection as become selection’s chief mode of operation. And yet another way is the obverse of that, one that Theissen might approve: to view selection as a tool used by love. That would mean that the primacy of love is the original (or ultimate) state of affairs but is subverted by our surrender to the powerful pull of the selection principle — a view that seems compatible with the Christian story of the fall.

Of course, in any case we’re reifying and even personifying love and selection (just as Christian myths have done), but we do so in order to think usefully about our metanarrative and its practical effects. However we picture the relationship between selection and love, the essential insight is that re-wiring for love the brain programmed for competition and violence is both possible and salutary (which is not to say that it’s easy). Primitive Christianity and primitive Quakerism testify to that.

The first Friends not only recognized the centrality in primitive Christianity of resistance to the violence and domination of selection; they also developed a new Christian metanarrative — or, as they believed, recovered the original one — comprising an inner process through which they turned their primary orientation away from that violence to love. We can follow their example. The first step, as they tell us in their writings, is to see and acknowledge where we are — which means, for us, to acknowledge our subjection to the principle of selection as well as our postmodern condition.

2 thoughts on “Re-wiring for Love

  1. What you are talking about, it seems to me, is an evolutionary process that has been going on for a long time and which Nietsche failed to appreciate in his perception of “Superman:” the development of society. It is a common feature of nature that individual organisms “compete” and improve individual characteristics which disperse in the species through natural selection. But there is a second common feature and that is that individuals associate to increase the survival potential of all members of the association from colonies of single celled organisms to development of multicelled organisms with specialized elements and so forth. Development of human society would be a part of that second element and responsible for much of the development of the human brain (Richard Leakey’s People of the Lake is a seminal work in that area of study). From that standpoint, the conflict is between natural elements of the individual competition and the need to be a part of the cooperative group, and selection would be for those who did better at working with the other members of the group. From the standpoint of “the Fall,” the point would be more a failure to learn to submerge individual desires (a perception of needs not enlightened by the benefits of cooperative effort)to the community for which we also have a certain amount of “hardwiring.”

  2. Thanks. I think that’s similar to Theissen’s approach, too: he writes of biological evolution yielding primacy to “a new phase of evolution,” cultural evolution, the ascendancy of which he ties to the eschatological aspects of New Testament (a title I wish I could avoid) teaching.

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