Poetry Break: "The Love Song of Hamel the Mammal"
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.After a bit of thought, I decided that I needed more precision from Hamel, so I posted:
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.
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.Hamel replied:
I thus need to know what you mean by the term "transaction."
[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.In response to this, I wrote:
Relationships where sex is involved have very interesting transactions going on. And sometimes there is a direct economic benefit.
"[B]y transaction I mean that each party receives something of value from the relationship that they want."But I gave the issue a bit more thought and decided that a poem could make my point in a more effective manner:
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 . . .
The Love Song of Hamel the MammalAnd there it is, finally, today's poetry break . . .
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.