Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Poetry Break: "The Love Song of Hamel the Mammal"

René Magritte
The Lovers
Love is Blind Unless Transactional!

Over at the Marmot's Hole blog, folks are arguing about prostitution, and one of the regulars there, Hamel, commented:
All human relationships are transactional. They continue only as long and to the extent that both parties preceive some sense of value from them. This is true of sex in a marriage, an FWB [i.e., friends with benefits] relationship, or sex-for-sale.

I disagreed, and replied:
I think that prostitution ought to be legal, though I also consider it a demeaning type of human relationship, but you get what you pay for, I guess. I don't think the transactional model accounts for all kinds of human relationships. As Sperwer implied, we're born into some -- a web of relationships that we never chose to have. Nor do I think that falling in love fits the paradigm of a transaction. Nor do men and women interact in ways that are entirely reducible to transactions. Here's an example. Around 1990 in Berkeley, a disturbed Iranian man entered a restaurant and pulled a gun with which he effectively held the entire staff and clientele hostage. One of his demands was that the men present offer to die in place of every woman present. Each man had a choice: The woman dies, or you do. Every man present chose to take a woman's place. Why? Transactional? A dead man gains nothing. Maybe some of those men were taking a date out for dinner and hoping to score later that night if they spent enough money, but they suddenly found themselves confronted by a choice they'd not included in their calculations, a choice that demanded they act on their deepest values and potentially pay the ultimate price. Sociobiologists might explain this by some variant of their transactional model, but I'd wager they’re explaining the phenomenon away rather than explaining it in a meaningful way.

In case anyone's curious how the story turned out . . . a SWAT team (or equivalent) managed to infiltrate the restaurant and take the culprit out before he shot anyone.

After a bit of thought, I decided that I needed more precision from Hamel, so I posted:
Hamel, maybe we need to start more simply. What do you mean by "transaction"? I'd assumed some sort of reductive economic model because the discussion began with the economic transaction of sex for money, something that sociobiologists would further reduce to biological imperatives.

I thus need to know what you mean by the term "transaction."

Hamel replied:
[B]y transaction I mean that each party receives something of value from the relationship that they want. This can be an emotional value, a religious value, a moral value, an economic value, a reputational value, a networking value, or any number of other things. When one or both members of the relationship no longer feel they are getting the same value, the relationship may fade away, break off sudenly, or need to be redefined.

Relationships where sex is involved have very interesting transactions going on. And sometimes there is a direct economic benefit.

In response to this, I wrote:
"[B]y transaction I mean that each party receives something of value from the relationship that they want."

This is a very broad understanding of "transaction," for "value" could mean almost anything according to your examples, but even so, not all human interactions are transactions according to this definition. Rape is a type of human interaction, but I can't see how a woman receives anything of value from it.

But even for cases in which each partner is obtaining something of value, I don't think that "transaction" necessarily exhausts the meaning of a human interaction. I would argue that a transactional analysis of love diminishes it.

Imagine falling in love with a woman and that the love is mutual and requited. However, in a postcoital moment of mental abstraction (for which you would never forgive yourself), you needlessly explain your view of love as a transaction. Your lover becomes offended by such a crass view that reduces her love to a negotiation.

"So, I’m no better than a prostitute!" she exclaims.

She then gets up, dresses, and leaves you lying there in a state of postcoital tristesse. You try to tell yourself, "Oh, well, if she can't accept my view of love as a transaction, then she wasn't the right one for me since she couldn't supply that value."

But your own words ring hollow even to you, for you really loved her, and for the rest of your life, you live with regret, forever caught between an abstract 'truth' you stated and an emotional truth you could have lived . . .

But I gave the issue a bit more thought and decided that a poem could make my point in a more effective manner:
The Love Song of Hamel the Mammal

My love thought my love from above,
Each time we engaged in love's action.
But I told the truth to my love:
"We’re really engaged in transaction."

My love took offense at the truth.
"But I thought you true-loved me!" she cried,
Got up and just left me, forsooth,
And my love unaccountably died!

My life thus has value no more,
Nothing left to negotiate now.
So treat not your love as a whore;
Rather swear a by-heaven-held vow!

Such truth oh too late learnéd I,
And caught fast in regret lies my soul.
Far better had been it to lie
With my love untransacted but whole.
And there it is, finally, today's poetry break . . .

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At 8:14 PM, Blogger Lady Kālikā said...

Beautiful poem. And I agree, reducing love to a merely a transaction does suck the life out of things pretty bad. Thank you for sharing.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're welcome. I'm glad you liked it. I owe it all to Hamel, of course, my inspiration.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:19 PM, Blogger dhr said...

isn't each happy life a met-Amor-phosis?

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Maybe. Depends on what "phosis" means. Light?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:48 AM, Blogger dhr said...

or, more simply, the feature of having a pH.

but that is only a suspact [word verification]

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Wish I had a pHd . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just thinking Jeff - wish I'd checked in yesterday - nope, not 'cause I'd be behind.

Think how this scenario might be "transactional." Go for a month without bathing. Then try some amorous speechifying.

Reckon you might be asked for something close to a transaction? Not every transaction is necessarily reducible to something one could say - exchange for a cheeseburger and a beer.

Perhaps the better way of asking whether the specific act is one or the other - change the word transactional into a reciprocal, trade perhaps, "barter."

Can't (usually) get something for nothing.


At 2:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Transactions, negotiations, give-and-take . . . these are part of how a relationship works, I agree, but there's more to it, I think.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But you'd agree the negotiating would likely be more successful (and of shorter duration) if you went head and agreed to take a bath?


At 3:32 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Depends on what is being negotiated.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See first comment - specifically:

"Think how this scenario might be "transactional." Go for a month without bathing. Then try some amorous speechifying."

Not the actual first that begins: "Beautiful poem."

Key is amorous that should narrow your negotiating options. Speechify all you want with me you ol' coot - yain't gettin' nowheres with me.


At 7:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Without a recent bath, pheromones might be stronger than any reason . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think pheromones'd be quite it Perfeeser. Maybe.

'Pears we ain't getting nowheres fast. Should you try it - be careful getting yourself into the proper position - wouldn't want any structural cracks widening.



At 9:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I'm not likely to find out since I shower regularly.

Interesting note: Steve Jobs rarely showered as a young man, and look how successful he was!

Perhaps I now understand my lack of success . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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