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Unlimited Love Paperback – May 1, 2003
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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Almost 50 years ago at Harvard University, Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin started some of the first serious research into altruism and the phenomenon of Love as a force capable of shaping human events throughout history. While the force of hate has never suffered from lack of serious study, "Unlimited Love" has never been subject to much scientific scrutiny. Post picked up where Sorokin left off, investigating the mysteries of unselfish, altruistic love. In his book, Post devotes an entire chapter to the work of Sorokin.
Sorokin arrived at the study of love towards the end of his career. He is best known for the monumental work, "Social & Cultural Dynamics." Here, Sorokin puts forward a philosophy of history unlike those of Toynbee and Spengler. To Sorokin, the movement of culture is a cyclic flux governed by its dominant cultural mentality. He differs sharply with those who claim that mankind is on an upward trajectory towards terrestrial perfection. He notes that modern-day Western culture, despite its unparalleled wealth and monumental achievements in technology, medicine and government, is nonetheless, statistically more barbarous, less compassionate and generally less contented than cultures of the past. Despite its best efforts, mankind cannot end its suffering. Sorokin sought to determine the societies throughout history that were best equipped to handle the hardships inherent in existence. Here, his argument closely follows that of Henry Adams; analyzing the energies that mold unity within a society, the Middle Ages, roughly the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, would undoubtedly represent the crown and glory of Western Civilization. The form of the energy was not perfect, (a gratuitous love of the Virgin at Chartres); likewise, neither was society perfect. The key was that cultural authority was based not so much on law or power, but on "ontologically self-justifying, ideals that have a compelling inner power of persuasion, spiritual ideals that touch the mind's desire to transcend itself." Centuries washed away this societal unity, but the ideals did not completely vanish. Throughout history we witness individuals who engage in extraordinary acts of goodwill in defiance of all reason. These individuals seem to find a joy impervious to all external trials and toils.
There is much speculation that unselfish love, as a force, emanates from outside of the Self, and is received through some metaphysical part of the mind. In The Ways & Power of Love, Sorokin posed the theory of the human "supraconsciousness," (somewhere above the unconscious and conscious) as the pathway to the divine and source of inspiration for all creative achievement and unselfish love. A majority of human beings never gain a mastery of this part of the mind. Some of the lucky few that do, we recognize as creative geniuses like Bach or Beethoven. Others may never achieve creative genius, but instead find reward in a life of altruistic service motivated by a genuine love for humanity.
For believers in God, talk of a higher form of love necessarily evokes God as the source; "God is Love, Whosoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in that person" (1 JOHN 4:16). Yet, this is not a book about how to "find God" or any kind of defense of religious dogma. As Post points out, "Spirituality is not necessarily associated with any set of religious beliefs or experience. . . . True spirituality is characterized by only one thing: the manifestation of abiding love for others, which fully determines the meaning and goodness of our lives. Secular people who are deeply compassionate and other-regarding have achieved a high spirituality. Anyone who so abides in love is de facto spiritual in the broadest sense of the term. The extent to which we abide in love determines the freedom of our true being." Thus, while groups may debate the ultimate source of Love, no religion can claim a monopoly.
Post spends a significant amount of time on the role of the parental love. Parental love is important in that it is often a springboard to a life of altruism. However, Post is careful to point out the tendency for individuals in a loving home to confine unselfish love inside the family. This is an important distinction when one seeks to define the true nature of altruism.
Post concludes the book with summaries of funded research projects on Unlimited Love currently being conducted at universities throughout the U.S. I consider this work to be very valuable, but unlikely to elicit any great societal change. Sorokin argued that our present society is governed by a "truth of the senses" and therefore is not likely to find any truth in the super-sensory. Science and reason stand as much chance of opening hearts and turning our culture towards altruism as they do finding a cure for our mortality. If we follow Sorokin's historical model, our society will someday turn back towards this type of society, but only after a tumultuous phase that will strip away all of the material and sensual trappings that crowd the mind and rob it of its desire to seek Truth.
The belief that there is an absolute Truth, a unity in the chaos and multiplicity of this world, is a belief that many arrive at later in life. Sadly, many more will die convinced that the shadows on the wall represented the ultimate reality. Post and the few others dare to explore the mysteries of the soul; stepping out of the cave and squinting to see what lies beyond.