Friday, February 24, 2012

Love is Free as in Speech

The following post is mostly cribbed from notes I was taking while unfolding and expounding some ideas to my friend Nick at King Burrito one day. As such, where the word "Nick!" is interjected, it indicates a thought I feel I owe primarily to him, though he had opportunities to more subtly influence all of this as it was being written. So thanks in particular to him for taking part in this interesting process. Another friend of mine, whose blog I would link if he had one, made an appearance here, though it's in the form of a hopefully-verbatim quotation from several months ago.

An analogy from the open-source software community:
Free as in speech, libre: free from becoming someone's exclusive intellectual property. Used here we mean that a thing is free as in speech insofar as it is freely given, uncoerced.
Free as in beer, gratis: free from a cost, costing little or nothing. 
Open-source software is often both libre and gratis, but depending on the software and possibly on the license it can be free as in speech, that is, having its source code free from becoming someone's particular copyright possession, without always being given away at no cost.

A friend from work once claimed to me that "free love" was an oxymoron. I asked why. One of the examples from his response ran roughly this way:
If you pay for dinner on a date, and later on things become romantic in a sexual sense, is that love free?
There were two problems, however, with what I perceived to be the presuppositions at work.

Firstly, was there a subtle equation of physical affections with love, or even eros particularly, here?

 NICK!  Physical affection [including sexual contact] is an act of will.

In other words, physical affections may or may not represent/signify love and/or eros particularly, and even if they do, neither love nor eros reduce to physical expression.

Secondly, my friend's explanation of his statement seems to rest on the idea that "free" means free as in beer, not free as in speech. But the use of the phrase "free love" indicates that it rests at least partly on the definition of "free" as in speech.

 NICK!  The hippie definition of "free love" is freedom from the social and natural law constraints, as well as [often] from commitment to the other.

The truth the hippies may have sought, I believe, was a love free of societal pressure, fully committed to the other.

Now to my work-friend's example: Insofar as it becomes fornication and is thus enslaved to sinful nature, that gift is not freely given in love and is not free. But if it's not free, it's not free for those reasons, not because someone happened to pay for dinner beforehand. In this case, he was probably thinking of a date between unmarried persons, so the love is almost certainly not-free if I took his intent to be that sexual intercourse was taking place.

In a discussion tangentially related to this one I was analyzing with a friend a similar, though more innocuous example, and I was trying to figure out what made the love free. His answer:

 LUKE!  "Because it's a gift."

There you have it, folks:
Love is libre: Freely given.
Love is not gratis: There is a cost.
Freedom of choice in an act, then, does not imply no cost to the act.

We hit upon something subtle here that does not appear in my notes: We have now made a definite identification that love is an act and not merely a possession, abstract or concrete. It is a thing that can be given or mediated in the form of gifts to another.

Nick gave the better phrasing, or at least the better half of it, when thinking of the gifts we give to signify love:

 NICK!  The gift is free, but the gift costs something to produce.

All gifts truly given in love will cost something. They will cost one's time (basically all of them), means or craft  or money (a meal, a trinket), one's personal bubble (physical displays of affection), or a share in one's inner thoughts and life (perhaps especially letters or simply sitting and talking.) The gift is free but the gift costs something. Inevitably gifts truly given in love will build up to be gifts that cost you your guise of invulnerability, your walls.

Truly free love will have walls, but they will be walls to keep out sin and slavery, and not merely walls around oneself to maintain invulnerability. And this free love will allow the persons engaged therein to tear town their walls to each other.

What I've said here was prompted mostly by reflections on love in a more romantic sense free, though a good deal of it obviously applies to love in all its forms and I (along with the persons prominently quoted to help define what the freedom is in love) take our presuppositions from the Christian tradition of Love and its meanings therein. Note the cost of Love:

image from wikimedia commons
Two closing questions. I don't have an adequate answer for either and thoughts are welcome here, or on Facebook, or wherever:

If God is Love as part of His nature, is God's love free as in speech?

Is there a cost to receiving love from other humans? From God? If so, what is that cost?

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