Human Nature; Love and the Law
Why do we love? What is it to love? Percy Shelley postulated that it ‘is the bond and the sanction which connects not only man with man, but with every thing which exists’1. Love for the Romantics of the early 19th century was a force that bound you to everything in the world. Shelley was a devout atheist, love was religion to him, it was a natural force that makes us good people. Shelley, along with his fellow Romantic poets, was interested by anarchy and the need, if any, for a government. Is Love a natural thing? Is it enough to guide us to be better human beings? And if it is, what happens when we impose laws that forbid us to love?
It seems an odd question to ask ‘do we love?’ We all love, don’t we? Love our families, our partners, our friends; we feel it would be impossible not to love these people. Love comes from the brain; it is a series of chemical releases and pulses. It is not the spiritual entity that surged through Shelley and his fellow men – we can track Love, measure it even. All literature characters and famous writers who have wailed against the moors and moon in declaration of love returned or screamed against it for a love lost can all be seen as experiencing serious episodes of hormonal imbalance. It seemed rather derivative to take all of art and boil it down to an over active putridity (is a pituitary gland meant?!) gland. What does it do to make love seem more real, less forceful, less godly if it is only a human reaction? I would argue that it makes love more personal, more of our human nature. Love is as natural as fear, as human as laughter and as universal as the feeling of a beating heart in our chests.
Love is natural then, it is a part of human nature, but does it have a place in politics? Love makes people violent, it clouds judgement and makes people do things that they normally wouldn’t. One out of four women and one in six men will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Two women a week are murdered by their current or former male partner2. These statistics really take the romance away from the misread passion of Heathcliff crying to Cathy ‘I love my murderer’ 3. What is means to love romantically has often been misinterpreted or directed with an energy that is dangerous. However love does connect us to others, it opens us up to empathy and to caring for other people.
Love can cloud the mind and make us ‘mad. Mad in pursuit and in possession so’4. Shakespeare wrote this line. Shakespeare is the writer with whom it is believed holds the most credence in the world of universal human emotion, love being a principle theme in this works. He shows the bad side of love, but also the gleaming possibilities of the beauty of respectful love. He shows us Love that is eternal and love is sometimes capable of crossing the heteronormative boundaries of our society;
‘ My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.’
Before the 1885 Act that listed homosexuality as a criminal act of indecency, men were a lot more free to express their love for each other. Just look at the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle’s epitomes detective stories. It was not until 19675 that homosexuality became less criminalised and it took a further 36 years until homosexuality was deemed no longer a crime in 2003. Taking away laws that restrict people to love and marry leads to a more equal society. It goes without saying that informed consent is the most important feature of a healthy society, that people need to be of above 16 before they engage in sexual relationships goes without saying. But allowing people to express themselves and commit to each other creates a more open and generous world. It allows the discussion of human commitment and an open discussion on what love is, how it is best to love and how important respect is to a relationship. A country whose laws respect their citizens only serves to create citizens who respect their country.
Written by Lucinda Weston, Edited by Michael Higgs