Sunday, February 18, 2007

Loving Evil

The post below on Zizek and the evils of love reminded me of a wonderful post from Limited, Inc. on the world's most dangerous man:

"The most dangerous man the world has ever known was not Attila the Hun or Mao Zedong. He was not Adolf Hitler. In fact, the most dangerous man the world has ever known died without having an inkling that he was the most dangerous man the world has ever known. He wasn’t a politician, or a general, or a bandit, and the most publicity he ever received was when he was elected president of the American Chemical Association in 1944. His name was Tom Midgley."
Thomas Midgley was the inventor of both tetraethyl lead and freon. Tetraethyl lead is the additive used to make leaded gasoline. In addition to helping engines run smoothly, it also caused the most wide spread and dramatic increase in environmental lead pollution and lead poisoning in history. (The EPA has a bizarrely defensive history of lead poisoning on its website which is almost nostalgic for the good old days of smooth burning leaded gas and laments the advent of automobile emission standards which required catalytic converters that inadvertently prevented cars from being able to burn leaded gasoline.) Midgley also pioneered the use of freon and chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration systems and air conditioners. These same chlorofluorocarbons have depleted the ozone layer and helped usher in global warming. (In a strange twist of fate, Midgley contracted polio and died from being strangled by the system of wires and pulleys he used to raise himself out of bed -- another device of his own invention.) It is the first two inventions, though, that put Midgley in the running for the title of world's most dangerous man. However, we were speaking of love.

In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes that the injunction to love thine enemy does an injustice to those we have more reason to love. If our love is universal and extends to everybody and everything, then those who give us special cause to be loved are short changed and cheated. In Zizek's gloss, the evil that love does is to discriminate against all those others we withhold our love from; for to invest love in one special object is also to deprive the rest of the world of our love. These two formulations of who gets cheated by love describe exactly the same situations, so I see no need to quibble over whom love does an injustice to. Love is unjust. This is why Zizek can describe love as a "cosmic imbalance" and say that "in this quite formal sense, love is evil."

Perhaps Tom Midgley's inventions are simply another face of the injustice of love. To love engines that don't knock and beer that is cold does an injustice. It does an injustice to all those other engines that ping and all that other beer that is warm. It also does an injustice to all those who wish to live without environmental holocaust and to the rest of the planet which is deprived of this particular love. Midgley's evil is not one of premeditation and malice aforethought. His aim was not cataclysm. His aim was quiet motors and cold drinks. Loving these simple things, though, does an injustice to the rest of the world. This love is also evil. It may be that love always brings with it this risk of loving "not wisely, but too well."

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