Love is a Word

Love is a concept by which we measure our pain.

John Lennon — God

Love is an archetype. It’s a word we’ve created to express the notion of caring off the charts, on steroids. We throw it around and over-use it for many purposes. Generally, love is amorphic and expansive. In the typical scenario, a mother with a loved-child who bears another loves them both equally, but it’s not part of some arithmetic function where each child gets half an equal dose each. Love defies any notion of conservation of energy. Both children receive equal shares of the same quantity of love that the first received.

The Beatles – All You Need Is Love

The ancient Greeks had several words to express love.

Storge (στοργή)

Storge is the love we have for community, for family, for our children and spouses. Storge is not romantic love. It is more a love of affection and tenderness. It may be the basis for the urge toward tribalism and nationalism, and it may have a sort of analogue to gravity, wherein the proximity of the source, the greater the attraction. This is where ‘blood is thicker than water’ and why I like my sports team better than yours.

Storge – love of family

Agape (ἀγάπη)

Agape is a sort of universal love, the selfless love of biblical reference of God and all of his children. Neither is agape a romantic notion. It is akin to charity, and the connection of transcending storge to include all of the world and ignoring the silos of tribalism. There appears to be a tension between agape and storge because one cannot have an equal love for all whilst retaining a greater love for one’s own tribe. Perhaps the notion is more aspirational than practicable.

Agape – Universal love

Philia (φιλία)

Philia is fraternal (to be more inclusive, perhaps also sororal) love, the brotherly love hoped to be inspired by the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. This is an affectionate love, typically between equals. Again, philia has no romantic basis.

Philia – Sororal love

Eros (ἔρως)

Eros is notably erotic love; sexual love; intimate, passionate love; lust. Eros is ephemeral. Returning to physics, eros requires a lot of energy to maintain. In a typical setting, eros moderates to storge or pragma.

Plato believed that this love was transcendent of the body—and so could exist independently of body—, but I’ll not give heed to this metaphysical notion. Perhaps, this is where the notion of soulmates derives. This is a romantic love.


Ludus is a lightweight version or precursor to erotic love. It is the playful, flirtatious nature expressed by young proto-lovers. Viewed teleologically, ludus may be seen as a stepping stone to eros, but not everyone makes it successfully to the final level.

Full disclosure: Ludus is Latin and not of Greek original.

Pragma (πράγμα)

Obviously, pragma is a pragmatic love. This is the love that remains to bond a pair who have remained together for years, say, an old married couple. This form either requires a lot of energy and compromise or a lot of apathy or indifference.

Older couple demonstrate pragma


Philautia is a love of one’s self. It’s a portmanteau of philia + auto. As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone. As with most adages, they is as often true as not and require additional context to assess. Philautia should not be confused with narcissism, which may more properly be classified as a mania. It should also not be confused by onanism.

Philautia – Love of one’s self

Love will tear us apart… again.

Joy Division

Mania (μανία)

Some people include mania in their love collection. Mania is simply an unbalanced sort of love; obsessive love; eros gone wild.

Love has many meanings, but they are all about connecting. Perhaps, I am being hasty to dismiss the term, but it is overused and perhaps more phatic than genuine. In the parlance of Foucault, it’s a power phrase—especially in the erotic arena—, a means to manipulate.

This blog post was about mania, but I’ll link it nonetheless.

Image source: Colour Wheel of Love: By Kaitlindzurenko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Search for Meaning

I’ve been having a side debate with a Christian friend of mine who made these claims:

Whom do you serve?

Chrétien de Troyes — Perceval
  1. ‘[Non-religious people may] not define themselves as particularly “religious”, but…everyone is’, as he references lyrics from a Rush song, ‘even if you choose NOT to decide, you still have made a choice’.
  2. ‘One can choose to believe in nothing but themselves, but if they’re honest, “self” IS their religion. Everyone is religious.
  3. We all yearn for some meaning and we end up pursuing something or someone to fill that inward desire. Whether we organise that something and call it “religion” is beside the point, as he references Bob Dylan’s lyric, “Ya gotta serve somebody; it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but ya gotta serve somebody.”

This had been the fluid exchange of ideas, but I’ll reply in turn.

even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

Rush — Freewill

I’ve won’t repeat my position on free will, but one can choose to be religious or not. To choose not to be religious is not also a choice to be religious. I can agree that some people substitute superstitious, metaphysical believe for, say, scientism, and this is just as ridiculous, but some people remain unconvinced in these metanarratives.

“Self” is their religion

Some Guy

Again, not everyone even ascribes to the notion of self, and there is little reason to believe that there is some element of religious worship involved.

We all yearn for some meaning

Some Guy

Again, this is fundamental attribution error, the assumption that because he believes there is some underlying meaning and yearns to find it that everyone else does. I understand that he surrounds himself with people who share this belief system, and they convince themselves that someone who says otherwise is mistaken.

Ya gotta serve somebody; it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but ya gotta serve somebody

Bob Dylan — GottA Serve Somebody

This is clearly dualistic thinking incarnate; a false ‘you’re either with me or against me’ dichotomy.

I remember self-assessing myself when I was in high school. Nietzsche notwithstanding, I could never agree with the frame or the assertion that there are leaders and there are followers. I did not identify with either. I do feel that within the society I was born, that I need to comply just enough to not be subjected to the violence inherent in the system for non-conformance, but that’s not exactly following. I also don’t care to lead.

It turns out that this (perhaps not coincidentally) manifested in my career, as I am a consultant—an adviser.

Binary: Meaning | -Meaning

There are 10 types of people in this world*:

  • Those who require meaning
  • Those who don’t require meaning

Of those who do not require meaning, I don’t have much to say, and anything I do have to say about this will be obvious in reflection to the people who do.

Some people—perhaps even the majority or super-majority of them—require meaning. Of these, some accept the doctrines offered by religion or society whilst others will construct meaning. Even those who don’t patently need meaning may still construct one anyway, whether employment, family, country, or duty.

People who require meaning feel that the world will devolve into chaos if no meaning were inherent, that people would become selfish anarchists, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells.  Most of these people (convincingly) convince themselves that there is some source of objective morality and that that reality is known. Insomuch as, in this case, perception is reality, it doesn’t matter whether it is or isn’t.

Pinker’s possible objections in The Blank Slate notwithstanding—there may be some genetic component driving this delusion—, this reality is a social construct.

I guess the point is that some people are incapable of accepting a world with no meaning. Unfortunately, politicians, and Randian Objectivists (perhaps a large overlap in some circles) can prey on these gullible masses, and they can vilify others who are not so lucky in masking their motives.

* An age-old binary joke

The Search for Meaning in Meaninglessness

If life has no inherent meaning, why are humans so attached to finding meaning?

A common cognitive phenomenon humans exhibit is apophenia. From Jesus in toast to constellations in stars to dragons in clouds and faces on Mars, we see imagine we see things that aren’t there. We perceive signal where there is only noise. We create gods where they don’t exist.

On one hand, this may be some vestigial artefact that was necessary—or at least evident—for survival along our evolutionary journey. On the other hand, it may just have been inculcated through social indoctrination, and so is just a social construct, a byproduct of language and the ability to reason.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus captured the concept well in his quip,

« I don’ t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. »

Camus claimed that life has no meaning and is in fact Absurd. He proposed that you had three courses of action.

  1. Physical suicide
  2. Psychological suicide
  3. Acceptance — embracing the Absurd

Regarding physical suicide, I believe that Camus was being melodramatic. This essay was a product of its day, and in 1942 people were even more steeped in the need for meaning.

Societies exist due to the perception of meaning, so they are obligated to enforce this belief. Societies need to promulgate order, and so much effort is expended to battle concepts that counter this. They envisage anarchists, not only as antithetical to order but as active chaos, black-masked, jack-booted hooligans, smashing windows and looting shops. So, too, do they vilify nihilists and atheists of whatever stripe.

Societies are organisms, and they require meaning to justify their own existence. Nihilism is a cancer, a virus, destroying the very core of their being.


All equalities are not equal

I have long been interested in notions of social justice and equality, but somehow it all felt a bit loosey-goosey and amorphic. To be honest, I feel this way about the entire composition of government, politics, and jurisprudence, and other power structures, but those are topics for some other days. Also, I won’t endeavour to speak to the artificial income-market construct, so for the purposes of this post, I’ll take this as given, as anachronistic and quaint as it might otherwise be. Nor will I discuss whether the system itself, apart from the equality question, is optimal or even makes any sense from a broader vantage, or whether competition has a role in an otherwise coöperative society.

Along with empty virtue notions as freedom, liberty, and justice, (topics for another day) equality is a post-Enlightenment Age catchphrase. As with its counterparts, it sounds nice; it has a nice ring to it, but it is just as specious. These are words invoked to raise emotions, but as with a pointillist’s painting, if you attempt to scrutinise them too closely, they become unintelligible.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat

Aside from maths, equality is an issue for sociology as well as political philosophy. In maths, the concept is tautological.

“In sociology, the study of the causes and consequences of inequality in its various forms – class, race, gender, power, status, knowledge, wealth, income – is one of the most pervasive themes of the discipline. In philosophy, theories of justice and rights are centrally concerned with the problem of justifying and criticising different kinds of inequality.” [1]

Sociologist, Bryan Turner, identified four flavours of equality:

  1. Ontological Equality

  2. Equality of Condition

  3. Equality of Opportunity

  4. Equality of Outcome

Political Philosophy is more concerned with accepting the sociological definition as given and discussing it in the negative sense of inequality.

Tautological Equality

In maths, we have likely been made accustomed with equalities since grade school. In fact, that’s what makes the other notions so compelling. It all appears to be so tidy and scientific.

1 = 1

2 = 2

1 + 1 = 2

Amazing, right? Two values balanced on either side of an equals sign. The problem is that these equations—these equalities—are logical tautologies. They are equal because this is in fact how they are defined, defined in the same manner as we define a red lorry as red. Equal in this context is not useful for us, save as a familiar reference.

Ontological Equality

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America employs ontological equality, where ontological is defined as “relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being”.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Aside from an unsubstantiable claim that these so-called “truths” are somehow “self-evident”, this weakest form of equality is a claim “that all men (read: people) are created equal” at birth because “their Creator” (read: God, an obvious metaphysical nod) “endowed” them with this  aspect.

Translating this into common parlance, this states that we are all equal in the eyes of God [sic]. In essence, to commence a racing metaphor, this means that we all get to participate in the race, and that sounds good, right?

The problem with ontological equality is that it outright ignores existing inequalities, so whilst you may be equal in God’s eyes, that’s where it ends. Essentially, you get an empty promise. If you’ve got something to say about, say a prayer; God’s got operators standing by. At least you get to play the game.

Man U
Manchester United football club players

Equality of Condition

Where ontological equality leaves off, equality of condition steps up. Beyond the metaphysical promise, it claims that all people get to start at the same position, that we each get to start at the same starting line. That sounds fair, right?

The problem with equality of condition is that whilst you may get a place at the starting line, you still face any systematic or structural adversity in play, whether that be discrimination, wealth disparities, access to quality education or other public services, and so on, at least you get to play the start at the same place.

Starting Line
High school girls at a starting line

Equality of Opportunity

My Libertarian associates seem to love this one. In fact, in their world, the only conversation is about equality of opportunity (also known as formal equality of opportunity) versus opportunity of outcome. It’s a cage match to the death, and opportunity is their champion.

Cage Match
Cage Match Fight

This flavour of equality doesn’t claim that a person has the right to start in the same place—only that the rules will be the same.

The problem with equality of opportunity is that it makes a specious claim. Besides ignoring the condition and situation and any past infractions—letting bygones be bygones (especially when they have given you the advantage that you wish to retain).

A parallel would be to allow a steroid-pumping athlete to compete by rationalising that, well, the race has started, so let’s just keep playing. Afterall, we’re playing by the same rules, so that makes it fair. Forgive and forget, right?.

The privileged live in better neighbourhoods, have access to better schools, can afford tutors and summer programmes. Many live in more stable family environments growing up, and they have access to networking benefits. This is further reinforced in university, and, like compound interest, the earlier one starts, the greater the effects of compounding.


Again, equality of opportunity might sound good on the surface, but, yet again, it disintegrates on scrutiny. Its main purpose is a feel-good head fake to keep one’s eyes off the prize.

Substantive Equality of Opportunity

A subset of equality of opportunity is substantive equality or fair equality of opportunity. Under this model, additional remediation is asserted to the disadvantaged person. This might be a familiar concept to golfers, who have handicaps. The goal is to—whilst also enforcing a similar rule set—accomodate those with some head start advantage. In the everyday context, it could be providing additional funding or resources to underprivileged children.

The problem with substantive equality of opportunity is that the deficiencies are multifaceted, the system itself is too complex to account for all material dimensions and measures, and most assessments are normative in nature.

Equality of Outcome

Equality of outcome is particularly pernicious. It claims that in the end, everybody wins, and everyone gets the same prizes.

Image of Alice taking with a dodo bird
‘At last the Dodo said, everybody has won, and all must have prizes.’

This is a potential result of Communism, that is if the definition is taken to the absurd. This is a common criticism by some when every participant receives a participation prize—a manifestation of the notion that everybody is special.

The problem with equality of outcome is that, among other things, not everybody wants the same thing, so this logic basically boils down to I want what I want if what you have is what I want as long as everyone else who also wants what I want has it, too. Of course, we could reduce this down from actual equality—apples for apples and oranges for oranges—into value equality, where everyone has access to some comparably equivalent value (whatever that might mean, especially insomuch as different people assign different values to the same goods and services).

Kurt Vonnegut depicted this in his short story, Harrison Bergeron (PDF), where, not being able to raise certain persons, people were instead reduced to the lowest common denominator, so rather than elevate the cognitive ability of low IQ people, the solution was to diminish the capacity of higher IQ people, so as to produce the same—albeit lower—results.

Dancers represented in Harrison Bergeron


In the end, ontological equality is nothing more than vapour; equality of condition fails to account for material differences among people and their situations; equality of opportunity also fails to account for disparities of condition; and equality of outcome is an unrealistic pipe dream that would be too complicated and complex to implement.

In order to further communication, if that is indeed even the purpose (rather than obfuscation, which I feel may be the prime motive), we need to use different concepts, to find new terminology.

End Notes

[1] Equality: Sociological & Philosophical Perspectives, Brighouse & Wright, 2009 (, retrieved 5-9-2017)

Also note, that I reserve the right to make inline edits to this post in an attempt to extend, clarify, and otherwise elucidate this topic on equality.