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Where’s Lysistrata? Taiwan’s Not-yet-dauntless Females – Part VI

Series Epigraph
“I want to tell her ‘Get over it.  And whatever you do, please don’t give us a third book about your relationship with your mother. Writing’s supposed to be cathartic, not fixating.’” — an American friend’s words after finishing Amy Tan’s second book, The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991)

Yellow Fever Foreign Moons

Artwork of Shena

Some years back, I was teaching a woman who had a master’s degree in counseling and who served as a counselor at a renowned Taiwanese university.  Her lesbian daughter had finally come out of the closet to her.  Frantic, the mother sought out studies that suggested non-genetic bases for homosexuality.  And she began arranging blind dates with guys for her daughter, which the daughter complained to me about.  When I asked the woman why she refused to accept the fact, she replied, “You don’t understand a mother’s love.”

By this time, Taiwan had prompted me to be on permanent high alert for self-serving dodges. “That’s not true,” I told her.  “Anyone who knows what love is understands what it is in any type of relationship between any types of people anywhere in the world.  If you want to say I don’t know the depth of a mother’s attachment, OK, but it’s not true that I don’t understand ‘a mother’s love.’”

Hearing this rocked her a bit.  Quickly, though, she was back to shaking her head in disagreement, waving me off…

But I think I’d gotten to the heart of the matter.

A few years later, I asked a conversation class of twenty-somethings at a test-prep cram school if they had or formerly had boyfriends/girlfriends.  All thirteen students said yes. “Is it love when a lover tries to control you, or when you try to control them?” I asked.  Twelve said no.  (Princess disease was less prevalent in the mid-noughties, and hardcore test-takers are the least likely PD carriers.)  “So if your parents try to control you once you’re an adult, that’s not love either, right?“   Every hand dropped.  What was the difference, I kept asking.  But none could or would give an answer.  “It’s just different,” they said.

Looking closer at the word

My parents won’t let me

  • play basketball instead of piano
  • go travelling without a boy present…
  • choose the major I want…
  • move out and live in my own apartment…
  • stay single…

because they love me.

It’s the cause-and-effect element, which pivots on the “because,” that points to the falsehood here.  Throw out the “because” and instead stick with the “be” verb; then the con of calling this stuff love becomes stark.  In the sentence completion “Love is __________ , Taiwanese English learners give answers like sweet, kind, comfortable, difficult, impossible, respect, regard, sacrifice, playing tricks, chocolate, hell, and keeping the other in your heart.  Of the many hundreds I’ve polled in this way during my twenty years of teaching English in Taiwan not one has said “Love is deciding for a daughter what she should study in school, whether she can move out of the house, and when she should marry.”

Taiwanese who were not overly controlled by their parents laugh when I argue some form of the above paragraph to them.  Most, though, when pressed, say “I don’t agree.  And the feistier defenders of orthodoxy say “That’s just your opinion.”

I’ve often asked: Don’t agree with what, exactly?  And of course it’s my opinion, but why “just”?  Evidence often doesn’t outright prove something, but it gives a strong basis for discussion; so where does my argument not hold up – and why?  And how about giving your explanation of your opinion so that I, in turn, can examine it?  In playing poker, would you expect to get away with saying “I didn’t lose and you didn’t win” while refusing to show your cards after I’ve shown mine?  And, poker analogies aside, in the end who cares whose opinion an idea or an argument is – or who “wins”; isn’t the important thing simply that the idea or argument is clear and honest?  Isn’t personalizing the disagreement with “just your opinion” yet another tactic for avoiding the issue?  A tactic of avoidance akin to dismissing discussion by saying “different cultures”?

“Different cultures”

This approach is as threatening, of course, as my advice to my ex-teacher was.  She knew the difference between attachment and love; she simply, and understandably, couldn’t move from one to the other with her own mother.  But most Taiwanese women, unless they’re lucky enough to be from non-controlling or non-spoiling families, are unwilling to face that there’s a difference.  Of course, most American women (and men; and most people everywhere) are not eager to fully embrace this understanding, either; but sooner or later, most get hit with it by other Americans (or foreigners) at least once or more in their life.  Thus, at the very least, they have to deal with the idea now and then.

No one in Taiwan appears to be confronting anyone else with this idea, though – at least not out in plain view or in broadcast media where the discussion could have a wider effect.  Instead, broadcast media and common conversation continue to palm off attachment as love, ignoring both logic and neuroscience.  I’ll save the neuroscience for Part VII, though, as it fits better there and because, actually, logic alone shows the difference: If attachment were synonymous with love, we’d have to accept that serial child-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer’s keeping organs of his victims in his refrigerator was, as he said, done out of love.  Or that Kathy Bates was correct in terming her sadistic kidnapping/caretaking in Misery “love.”

It’s really that simple: because no one in Taiwan publicly points out the similarities between a stalker’s obsession with his or her “beloved” and parental efforts to usurp a child’s autonomy, efforts to control are still construed as love – this old meme persists even into an age where neuroscience proves it wrong. Even those open to seeing that attachment is not itself love get gulled in an environment that continually erases he difference.  Thus, princess disease makes sense to princesses.  And even Taiwanese women (and men) who abhor princess disease and thus reject the erasure regarding romance still accept it regarding family.

“Different cultures, different love,” insisted a Taiwanese woman to me recently.  And when I began giving this explanation to the contrary, she snapped “That’s just your definition.” And didn’t want to give hers.

It’s not just my definition.  Widely disparate cultures converge in their understandings when they strive to uncover unadulterated meanings of the word love.

Leibniz: “Love is to be delighted by the happiness of another.”

Bertrand Russell: “Love is an absolute value, not a relative one.”

The Koran: “Truly thou canst not guide the steps of whom thou lovest.”

And the Buddha:

Maitri is the love that has the capacity to bring happiness to another. Karuna is the love which has the capacity to remove another’s suffering. Maitri and karuna do not demand anything in return”

False dichotomy
As the great Indian Jesuit Anthony de Mello put it to his audiences when speaking,

“You are never in love with anyone. You’re only in love with your prejudiced and hopeful idea of that person.”

Few anywhere are ready, of course, for the stringent demands on self implicit in such bluntness. (The Catholic Church for instance wasn’t; the current pope lobbied in the 1990s to have de Mello posthumously excommunicated for Buddhism-inflected apostasy.)  In the West, though, as I said above, this aural castor oil does occasionally get poured in people’s ears.  In the Confucian/Neo-Confucian East, in contrast, no doctor is administering this medicine.  Thus the big dodge is still fully on.

Again and again, Taiwanese have told me “Taiwanese show love through action, not words.”  Undoubtedly, love is action; no argument there.  And one of the most personally enlightening cross-cultural statements I’ve received during my many years in Taiwan was this from a thirtyish woman: “You Westerners use the word “love” like chocolate sauce on ice cream.  It’s not necessary; the ice cream’s already sweet enough.  And sometimes it’s bullshit; it’s trying to cover up that there’s no ice cream.”

Also true – mostly.  Since hearing those words, I’ve trimmed back greatly on telling people I love them.  Actions speak.  (Non-coerced actions, that is; sorry, princesses.) The eyes do, too.  Voice tone does, as well.  And patience speaks most of all.  And all of these, including patience, are more palpable than a word.

But the word still matters.  People need to hear it said sincerely, without guile or an agenda, without expectation or hidden demand.  They need to hear it once and only once.  But, definitely, they need to hear it once.  My ex-teacher felt that she needed this more than anything else in her life. Nothing a parent does for a child is likely to matter more for the child’s happiness and confidence during her life than unconditionally saying “I love you.”

An inability to say it once with real feeling is the hallmark of instrumental love.  “We show love with action, not words” is an attempt to obscure this fact.  It’s a coward’s attempt to establish a false dichotomy.  It’s an effort – and a longstanding cultural meme – that is founded in fear.  The dimensions of the fear and of the meme’s denial of psychological and emotional reality are apparent in an oft-cited phenomenon: many Taiwanese girls feel able to say “I love you” in English to a Western boyfriend; but they feel “strange” or worse if they say the words in Chinese.

A culture ridden with this meme will necessarily be emotionally impoverished.  And Mozi, a contemporary of Confucius, understood this.  Perhaps foremost, he knew it because his parents had little regard for him. Mozi, not Confucius, was China’s most influential intellectual 2400 years ago. A man who taught universal love was dominant in a time of war and famine.

Over the next two centuries, though, the Chinese empire was consolidated, ultimately in brutal fashion by the Han Dynasty.  Mo-ism was extinguished.  And with the overthrow of the Han, the great cynic Shunzi was relegated to the fringe of orthodoxy, because dull Confucius and erratic Mencius had the ideas that could more easily be used to consolidate bureaucracy and imperial control.

With the idealist and the cynic both gone, the loom was geared for endlessly weaving the “harmony” value and all its sub-meme strands of control.  Over the next two millennia, one fish after another, billions in all, swam, lived asleep, and died in the net of instrumental love.

Fast forward to the present: the memes never dreamed of global markets, the Internet, or social networking sites.  Though princesses are many in Taiwan and the streets are full of young couples who relate to each other in shallow and codependent ways, I see another type of young couple on the street, too – a type I rarely saw five years ago: lovers really talking to each other, sharing a genuine laugh, and physically comfortable with each other and showing it in casual, unaffected ways. She may be a group, not an individual, but Lysistrata will appear in Taiwan and elsewhere in the Chinese world; and soon, not in twenty or fifty years.

Like Mo-ism, her influence may burgeon, then vanish; no one knows how peak oil, global warming, water scarcity, and food imbalances will shape our world in the next few decades. But for a time anyway, and I hope forever, she will be the face that ends the grip of the memes of the Net and of instrumental love in Taiwan.

Next: Part VII: Different Cultures, Different Love? (II):  Tiger Moms, Psychology and Neuroscience

  • SamReeves

    Yep, the classic ‘love Vs. control’ deal.

    I’ve had girlfriends here who because I didn’t control them, and call them 10 times a day to make sure they weren’t with another guy accused me of ‘not loving them’!

    How interesting perception based on conditioning is.

    I will ask one thing though Kevin: Can we really define love and is love a constant? In view of a cohesive Chinese family, co-dependency is actually more stable than a freedom giving love….of a manner (not one very desirable to me mind you). The family members are less likely to remain far from each other for very long with co-dependency.

    I’m sure you’ve noticed one of the lesser spoken about situation where the parents spoil the child to the degree that the child by the time they are adults are incapable (literally) of making any important life decisions themselves. Sadly I’ve seen that one all too often….control through giving. When I say ‘lesser spoken of’ I mean it’s not mentioned that some parents are doing this deliberately and knowingly in order to make the offspring totally dependent.

    If a person has been conditioned to believe control is a form of love then when they are controlled they will feel warm and secure. After they have been conditioned as such, is it then fair to give them an independence and freedom that they may interpret as a lack of love or concern?

  • Gorbachev

    Beautiful essay.

    I’ve noticed the same trend in Seoul: younger women and men looking for less instrumental affection and more genuine connection. It’s shocking, too, because this is a new thing.

    As for co-dependence being more stable – being in jail is more stable than having to work for a living, too. It’s not necessarily more desirable.

    Stability shouldn’t be a goal: It should be a means. This is the mistake so many Chinese make.

    • SB

      It’s all a matter of perspective. For a starving, homeless man, the “three hots and a cot” that prison offers may indeed be more desirable than his current situation. Given the state of the Chinese and Taiwanese economies only 50-60 years ago it’s not surprising that a large portion of society hasn’t yet cast off its pre-industrial mindset.

  • Elijah

    I have to say that I’ve read and re-read this whole series and I really admire not only your organization and style, but also the thoughts you’re able to express in such a comprehensive manner.

    It’s a bit like being right on the edge of understanding something and having some define it, extremely satisfying.

    I get so sick of this assumption that chinese parents must love their kids more or that they’re all closer some how. Total rubbish. Of course they’re close on such short leashes, not to mention that almost total dependency even after entering adulthood…

    How awful it would be for me to be in that sort of situation.

    • ziccawei

      Totally agree with The Big E. A controlling kind of love. Conditional love. Higher divorce rates?

  • Kevin

    Sam: Thanks for the detailed and insightful comment. No, I don’t think we can define “romantic” love. But are attachment and unconditional love distinct from each other? Current neuroscience, from the little I’ve read (must read more before doing Part VII of this series before stating for sure) says that they overlap but are distinct. Thus the by-now-standard-psychology dichotomy of conditional and unconditional love appears validated. And mystics throughout the ages thus appear validated.

    And no, love is not a constant state. But feeling unconditional love in oneself for a child surely henceforth changes all one’s behavior toward a child – or toward anyone.

    Yes, I’ve long wondered to what degree and in how many cases parents – mothers especially – are consciously creating codependency. Interesting to read that you think some are definitely conscious of what they’re doing. Your comment on that was helpful for me to read.

    And I’ve had girlfriends like that here, too.

    Regarding your last paragraph and question if applied to romance: I don’t think they ever feel warm and secure for any length of time. Anxiety keeps returning in the person who seeks security through another, and anxious times outweigh secure times. And the pattern governing the relationship is a fairly high-profile push-pull, because the security-seeker knows that actually you can’t get the icing-on-the-cake emotional security of love from anyone until you’ve first baked your own cake of emotional security for yourself. (Nearly all, by age 25 know this, I would say; anyway, I’ve met almost no Taiwanese women who don’t, when cornered, show through their own choice of words that they get it. Never underestimate, I’d say, the human capacity for invoking the defense mechanisms of denial and repression.) So the war in themselves between autonomy and security needs becomes a projected-outward codependent relationship. Don’t know if that’s clear or not, but anyway, of course I say yes it’s fair to give independence and freedom; it’s a must! To not do it is to not respect personhood – the other’s or one’s own. My only cultural-difference caveat would be that you don’t deluge a person trying to run from this with actions stemming from this understanding. Patience matters if you love someone. Walk the path oneself, and if they have courage, they’ll follow on their own parallel path. (Springsteen has a beautiful song about this, “If I Should Fall Behind.”)

    • SamReeves

      Thanks for the reply Kevin,

      I tend to agree with you Kevin, when you say they don’t ever really feel warm and secure for any true length of time… the general consensus that they should be experiencing such feelings tends to override the actual conscious awareness that they are, in fact, not experiencing those feelings; which goes back to repression as you mentioned.

      In that state it’s difficult to tell a person otherwise as you also said. It’s not something you’re likely to be thanked for as I’m sure you know from experience, as do I.

      What’s the solution Kevin? Or does there need to be one? Myself I used to be sure… but to be honest with you the problem in my view is that if you change one aspect of a persons life in China, it greatly effects all the other aspects too. Almost everything in Chinese culture is interconnected with everything else. It’s like a house of cards…take away one card and the whole thing falls down.

  • Kevin

    Gorbachev and Elijah (and Ziccawei): Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you’re finding the series of value. I, in turn, have found your comments helpful for understanding, too.

    Yeah, G, what’s going on? Some kind of stealth revolution among the young regarding romance? The only way I can understand it is that blogs and Facebook have made personal expression and a degree of freedom matter much more than before, and for some this spills over into romance.

    And yes, to your comment on stability. The “harmony” value, in it’s psychological effects, actually prevents effective cooperative effort. It’s a scam, sham, and shame. Harmony = harm many.

    Your comment, E, reminded me that the thirtyish woman quoted in the essay also said this: “Taiwanese like to say we care more about family. It’s not really correct. Family here just has more control.” That woman was a helluva straight talker.

    Z, Taiwan has one of the highest divorce rates in the world for marriages of people under forty – possibly for that demographic, it has passed the U.S. rate. My thinking tends in the same direction as yours there.

    SB: Love the “three hots and a cot,” but I have to heartily disagree with your argument. It’s a common argument – to the point of cliché – that was long only half-true and that now is glaringly untrue. The great historian Daniel Bell said that understanding a place’s historical movement depends on understanding the interplay between economics, politics, and culture – and that these three forces can often be at odds with each other within an entity. Cleary authoritarian politics, which grew out of and reinforced a hierarchical/authoritarian culture – meaning in sum, the memes – have held Taiwan back. I mean, Taiwan is fully industrialized and has been for decades; Syria is not – and Yemen is as far from industrialized as you can get. But change is being fought for there. How, if industrialization is the decisive matter, can that be true? Further (though partly related), it just doesn’t make sense to apply speed of change in pre-Internet/cell-phone days with potential rates of change today – because there enough cases of ACTUAL rates of change recently that have been swift. Any calculations regarding Taiwan in which the memes do not weigh strongly is likely to be somewhat or way off, I would say.

  • Moroes

    Chinese mamas scan draws for all their children’s secrets. If they knew how to use tracking software on computers they would use it too! Hell some Chinese kids have a security camera right in their room. LOL no privacy!

    Chinese moms just don’t trust their kids ever. The extra controlling is not about love but lack of trust.

    Its like you think its scary that a Chinese girlfriend counts your condoms. Imagine your Chinese mom counting your condoms too! Oh and CHinese women love to accuse their love ones over anything.

    You see when kids study abroad and decide they never want to come back EVER!!! Its not that they hate Asia. Actually they love the Asian lifestyle more than the Western lifestlye but its that they hate their parents controlling behavior!

  • Kevin

    Would you, or could I, put your comment in our comment thread for the article over at YFFM (our blog), Moroes? This is what (many of) our readers want to know: details and more precisely how young people feel.

    • Moroes

      Sure go ahead.

  • Ed en Vadrouille

    Kevin, I’ll admit this is the first time i read one of your post in one go and didn’t need to read paragraphs again. This is clear as water, I love it.

    Now on the topic of parents and love. While I do support your main point and findings, I have to mention that there is a cultural dimension playing in this specific example: In French, “Je t’aime” is almost exclusively meaning romantic love, not the filial kind. In fact I don’t think we have a word to express filial love. So we don’t really express it through any special sentence. Or at least I’ve never seen anyone around me doing so.

  • Kevin

    Thanks, Ed. It’s clearer, I guess, because I didn’t get too anal/particular. Yeah, I did promiscuously go back and forth between parental and lovers’ love. I’m not too concerned about the latter actually, though, for my purposes here, as I don’t think romantic love is really love (though it can accompany love).

    Parents really don’t have a way to say “I love you” in French?

    I’ll have to revise/go deeper in if I ever rewrite this stuff.

  • Ed en Vadrouille

    As far as I can tell, no. I never heard my parents say anything like this, or maybe I was too young.
    I have not heard it said around me either, perhaps because of who my friends were.
    As far as I can tell, a French mother could say something like I love you to a young child, but I have the feeling this wouldn’t be very often, and would stop anyway once you were 4 or 5 years of age.

  • doc

    if you actually read Mozi’s work, you’ll realize the world universal love is a world devoid of any love, passion, music or joy. For anyone who seek to create a paradise will in the end create the worst of hell.

  • Kevin

    Fair enough, doc. Plato wasn’t much fun, either. My oversimplified point, however, was not that life under Mo-ism would be/would have been/was better. It was, rather, that radical idealism and extreme skepticism as enduring strands in Chinese philosophy would have been a plus. In my cursory study (in English) of Chinese philosophy a few years back, I was amazed at how often the word “natural” went unquestioned or barely questioned in premises. My perhaps superficial view is that Chinese culture lost the seed for “modernity” when Shunzi was excluded from a central place in the canon. The “harmony” value was quite possibly of some real value in rural villages over the millenia, but it appears terribly, unduly stifling given the conditions of modern life.

  • Foplomat

    It seems this is a followup to a previous post by you that “Instrumental love is afraid to say the words other than as a license for control. Unconditional love is not afraid of the words – and the actions that back them up”.

    Don’t interpret an unwillingness to say “I love you” as necessarily being a ‘fear’ of the words. It isn’t a “fear” of the words; it’s a feeling that words are cheap, especially when used freely, and using something so cheap to casually express something so profound as “ai”, cheapens the concept of “ai” itself. I should know; I often feel that way and dislike saying those words. Further extrapolating an unwillingness to say “I love you” to mean that the love is not ‘unconditional’ and imply that it is somehow inferior is an incredible overreach.

    Over twenty-odd years, I do not remember my father ever telling my mother that he loves her. I do remember my mother’s favorite story of how when my father first went to the U.S. as a PhD student, for the entire first year, until he found a paying internship, he didn’t even use salt while cooking, so as to be able to send a few extra dollars back to China each month to my mother, to make her life (and mine) a bit easier. When I remember the way she smiles when she tells that story, that look in her eye, I don’t believe for one moment that she has any doubts at all about the ‘conditionality’ of my father’s love for her.

    Similarly, only when I was in my 20’s (and my parents had been more than a bit Americanized) did I ever hear my parents tell me they love me. It never was an issue for me at all, nor did them suddenly beginning to say “I love you” to me result in an increase in my happiness and self-confidence. I never even remotely questioned their love for me. It was apparent. I could feel it. I still can.

    Love is neither a word nor an action; love simply is, and it is utterly precious. But words are utterly cheap. Why, then, would you use something so cheap to convey something so precious? Using words to convey love is like wrapping a diamond ring with a piece of old newspaper; utterly unnecessary, and subtracting value, rather than adding to it, and making one question whether or not the diamond ring is even real, given the nature of the wrapping. When you use actions to express love, you ARE saying “I love you”, and in a way which is far more emphatic and convincing than using words. That is a large part of reason behind the ‘traditional’ Chinese reluctance to express one’s love.

    I can understand your feelings about clingy girlfriends and domineering parents. But you overreach by more than a bit in your attempts to come up with a ‘grand theory’ on this stuff.

    I have some other areas of disputes with you regarding your definition of love (romantic love “isn’t love”?), which frankly reminds me of the “no TRUE Scotsman” fallacy, but that’s something for another day.


  • Foplomat

    Quick follow-up note; the reason some non-native English speakers feel more comfortable saying “I love you” rather than “我爱你”, is the same reason why speakers who would never cuss in their own language delight in learning swear words in English (or vice versa). Words in a foreign language just aren’t “real” in the same way as words in one’s own is.

  • Kevin

    Hi Foplomat:
    I mostly agree with you through your first three paragraphs of your long comment, but strenuously disagree with your fourth paragraph. I wrote Part VI hastily, as I had very little time. After sending the piece to Crystal but before she posted, I had realized I wanted to modify to accommodate basically what you’ve here said in your first three paragraphs. But I simply had no time to do that.

    Let me deal with your fourth paragraph first, though, as it makes a broader argument and my modification flows well, I think from refuting what I disagree with. I do agree with you that love simply is. Very well put; wish I’d said it – and perhaps I’ll quote you on this in Part VII of this series. But the words vs. actions dichotomy is prima facie false, as a heading in Part VI suggests. How so? Quite simple: speaking words is as concrete an action as any other action is. There is physical movement involved. Nor is that merely semantics; there is emotion invovled and often quite dramatic non-verbal actions instantly follow the action of speaking. And in many cases regarding parental love, such as the case of my ex-teacher, saying “I love you” is the action that would make by far the most difference.

    More generally, too, your categorical statement that “words are utterly cheap” appears pretty problematic to me. We’ve all known people who’ve shown us small kindnesses and favors but have failed out of fear to speak up for us when it mattered even though they agreed with our view. Of course words can be cheap, but as that example shows, actions can be just as cheap – and words can matter considerably more at times than many types of actions do.

    And, too, some people value words more than others do. Dawna Markova’s theory of six perceptual patterns (New Age, yes, but it seems true in many ways) explains all of this quite nicely. I’m one who values words quite highly (two of the six patterns value them quite highly). Perhaps you have one of the two patterns that views words as distinctly less important. Anyway, your “I should know; I often feel that way” – a sample of one – is far from sufficient for reaching any conclusions.

    Back to “Love simply is” … again yes, and actually I agree with you that when love has always been present, it is nearly always superfluous and cheapening to say the words – and that they don’t ever really need to be said. So I agree that it was overreaching – was, as your own life-in-family-example shows, incorrect — to say a lack of the words is proof that love is conditional.

    However, where love has previously been conditional, what but fear – meaning continuing conditionality – would prevent a person from marking the change with these words? At bottom we’re talking about a feeling here that contains no demands and no fear, no? It took many years for my father to say those words to me without the guardedness that marks conditionality, and when he did, its purity came as an astonishment to me. Same words that he’d routinely voiced before, but this time it was language of the heart and soul, not the throat and mouth. I did finally get what my ex-teacher never got and what you seemed to have had all along but that many never get.

    To say this another way, not saying the words in this kind of case is a form of the defense mechanism of “deflection,” a sub-type of the defense mechanism of avoidance. Ever feel you’d done wrong to someone but not want to say sorry? So instead you try to make up for it with an action? That stubborn-but-greasy feeling inside comes from fear, same as the reluctance to end conditional love by saying “I love you” with complete openness does.

    It’s not a grand theory I’m trying to come up with on this particular matter, as the Buddha, de Mello, Krishnamurti, Meister Eckhart, Erich Fromm, and many others have come up with far more complete, well-expressed, and grander theories than I ever could. What I’m trying to do here is merely clarify what love is not. I simply think it’s wrong in the first place for parents to deprive children of self-responsible autonomy; and I’m out to show as well as I can, again given time-constraints, that it’s a crock of shit to call such usurpation love. I teach a lot of young people in Taiwan who’ve had their confidence and independence seriously impaired by parenting; by the aims, both implicit and explicit, of the education system; and by peers (though less and less so!) – in sum, by the memes.

    As for romantic love not itself being real love: yes, for another day – and also, not for discussion with me. I refer you to de Mello there. I agree with him that it rarely becomes real love, but I’m no opponent of whatever “romantic love” actually is. I favor it!

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Kevin

    Are you sure you want to make this analogy? Isn’t it saying in both cases that fear prevails (fear of bu hao yisi in the swearing case and of vulnerability in the “love” case?) Said another way, if you’re inclined (in your first comment) to say the words “I love you”/ “wo ai ni” lack value in the first place, why should anyone feel “more comfortable” or less comfortable with the words in whatever language? Seems like a stark contradiction to me.

    I’ve had girls here say the words to me in both languages and mean it – in the romantic “love” way. They didn’t look less open and vulnerable when they said it in English – which, if you think about it, doesn’t (at least not that I can see) contradict my point on this matter in my piece.

    And I want you to know that I don’t mean for this to be some kind of cross-cultural pissing contest. I’m tyring to get at the truth as best I can, so if I later find I should retract or recast statements or conclusions, I don’t mind. Let the chips fall where they may, I say.

    • Foplomat

      The point was just that taboos in one language (existing for whatever reason) are generally much weaker in a totally different language.

  • Kevin

    But is saying “I love you” in Chinese actually a taboo as swearing is in Chinese, English and nearly all languages? If yes, that itself would be strong evidence that the culture is ridden with instrumental, not unconditional, love. Because what but conditional/instrumental love (which contains elements of fear) would dream for even a second of making a taboo of these positive words?

    But I doubt the words are really considered taboo as swearing or incest are. I think, rather, it’s just the common fear instilled/conditioned by instrumental love that makes people feel especially uncomfortable saying them in their own language.