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“There is a complexity to human affairs,” David Brooks has announced, “before which science and analysis simply stands mute.” This is correct, but in comes in the context of a column that seems to cut in a strange way against it.

It is as if we all contain a multitude of characters and patterns of behavior, and these characters and patterns are bidden by cues we don’t even hear. They take center stage in consciousness and decision-making in ways we can’t even fathom. The man who is careful and meticulous in one stage of life is unrecognizable in another context.

Freud sought to fathom those patterns, cues, characters, and stages, to recognize — and to cause us to recognize — the unity of ourselves, our indivisible I. But to do this Freud had to lower that I, casting it as a besieged fragment or negotiated demilitarized zone between a Super-I above and an It below. “It” is a very unscientific name. In an attempt to beat back the horror of infinite possibility raised by the It, Freud posited a sort of Super-It, a countervailing desire for final finitude: the ‘death instinct.’ There was not much of a ‘life instinct’, in and of itself, in Freud; to be happy was to be successful in one’s techniques of ratcheting neurosis down to manageable levels. Freud was one of our least optimistic partisans of durability. But see Brooks:
Vaillant’s overall conclusion is familiar and profound. Relationships are the key to happiness. “Happiness is love. Full Stop,” he says in a video.

Yet today our very Freudian credo is Eros Fugit , when you are and aren’t having fun. As the internet has made us go broad, not deep, in the knowledge department , so loving today is more serial, more fleeting, more fractured and more fragmented — more compromised — than we have been used to for some time. There are few really authoritative institutions of deep and durable love, and their authority is weakening even as our love of the ideal of love grows into a commanding, alluring abstraction. Cold comfort that science cannot comprehend or control our Egos because they, like our loves, are so capriciously and infinitesimally divided! The eternal dispensation of Reason abandoned, our rationalizations, through science soft or hard, are interchangeable in their would-be infinities. Here some counseling, there a prescription — every future a future of revisiting and refilling.

Convinced against the reality of an indivisible I, our durability or stability becomes aspirational, something to be constructed. Constructing the full experience of individuality in liberal life depends greatly on favorable conditions, and the cost of materials is high. Rorty counsels that only when we have enough money to afford the leisure necessary for tenderness do we enjoy the prospect, and the hope, of love. A return to durable love, and an understanding of what that love must cost (financially and otherwise), depends on our capacity to return to a recognition of our indivisible I as the object of love.

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