Love These Days: We Have to Like Each Other First

Love is totally nuts.  That’s really the only thing you can say about this concept that has bedevilled and enchanted humanity for as long as we could feel (which I guess would essentially be since the beginning of our time) and has been expressed for as long as we have written sonnets – and many have written better words on the subject than I ever could. But from a contemporary lens, especially from a political perspective (you might have noticed that’s my niche) we can look at how ‘love’ manifests itself or if the love has gone completely.

It’s safe to say that you don’t associate politics with love; certainly, you don’t associate politics with romantic love such as the way Valentine’s Day is sold to us.  But we can broaden the definition of love, as is often done when talking generally about the world and its people, to mean common decency, tolerance, and a general benign view of planet Earth and its inhabitants (think “Imagine” by John Lennon).

With this in mind, a quick look at the issues of the day, the back and forth of political debates, the way social issues often turn into personal attacks (consider debates around equal marriage or abortion) – it’s not a rosy picture: love is absent.  It is often forgotten that disagreement is not the same as hate, and debates about issues do not have to be personal.

So much political activity takes place on social media.  This virtual world is often far removed from the reality of life, but in many respects it can at least feel as though it represents what is happening in society and how people are really thinking and feeling about issues.

For individuals, social media can be difficult when it comes to artificial celebrations like Valentine’s Day.  Facebook is probably a place to avoid on February 14th if you’re a singleton; Twitter might make up for your woes with some wry humour.  Social media generally has a reputation for leaving us miserable.  This is something that Facebook bosses have acknowledged and, working with academics, studies have shown social media has light and shade.  There can be meaningful social interaction with friends, but too much passive scrolling can make the highlights of our ‘friends’ lives illuminate poignantly against our unhappier moments.

It’s evident that social media plays an important role in politics and is considered essential as a means of communication especially to reach younger audiences.  Again, as with individuals, the effects of social media on collective political debates in our public space are mixed – and arguably mainly negative.  All too often a 30 second browse of political topics on Facebook or Twitter reveals there’s really no love at all in politics – hate is now anonymous and succinctly under 280 characters.

To illustrate this point, during the 2017 election campaign, a study by Amnesty International found that one MP (Dianne Abbott) received nearly half of abusive tweets sent to female MPs, and that black and Asian female MP’s were 35% more likely to receive abusive tweets, even when Dianne Abbott was removed from the study.

These depressing stats put Valentine’s Day in a grim light.  We certainly fail to meet the most general definition of love: we don’t even like each other, never mind any sort of love.

It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy such as the murder of MP Jo Cox to remind us of the importance of love (that it still exists) and make us realise, as she eloquently expressed “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

Maybe we first need to understand and build on our most broad ideas of love.  Valentine’s Day could be revamped from Cupid’s clichés and become more meaningful where people endeavour to do at least one positive and friendly thing for someone they know (or don’t).

It starts simply.  A robin somehow found its way into the House of Commons recently.  It was a strange thing – incongruous to the noise and tumult of the chamber – and it brought a benign flutter of nature into the Westminster bubble, innocent and untroubled by the arguments of man, swooping down as if to remind us there’s still hope.

By Chris Park