Saturday, July 14, 2007

Infatuation: compulsion or choice?

Still on that subject, as I was here.

Here's a definition, which is representative:

infatuate
verb
    infatuated, infatuating
    1. To inspire someone with, or make them feel, passionate, foolish, intense, etc love or admiration.
Derivative: infatuated
adj
    Filled with passion for them or it; besotted with them or it.
      Thesaurus: enamored, enraptured, smitten, captivated, bewitched, beguiled, fascinated, spellbound, obsessed, fixated; Antonym: indifferent, disenchanted.
Derivative: infatuation
    The state of being inspired with passionate love, admiration or enthusiasm.
      Thesaurus: fascination, obsession, passion, love, devotion, fondness, intoxication.
    Something or someone that inspires one's passionate love, admiration or enthusiasm.
      Example: DIY is an infatuation with him
      Thesaurus: fascination, obsession, passion, love, fixation, crush (slang).
Etymology: 16c: from Latin infatuare, infatuatum to make a fool of.

The Wikipedia entry is more elaborate.

Back to John, Jane and Liz, with the latter having a husband as well, whom we shall call Jack. A plethora of 'J' names. Search me.

The notion that John and Liz are in the throes of 'infatuation' may be dragged into the discussion as an exculpatory explanation for the mess that's been created. Emotions running rampant, passions running high and out of control, co-dependence reigning supreme—look up the paragraphs in Wikipedia; save me a whole lot of words. However, back to the notion of 100% responsibility, it looks to me like it's all about excuses for what is commonly known as 'infidelity', which basically means a breach of faith relating to some form of contract entered upon, be it quasi-legal or emotional. In the context of monogamous, or maybe even polygamous, marriage the 'faith' usually relates to an agreement of sexual relationship with those not in the marriage being a no-no. It can go further than that. For example, in terms of the emotional context, there may be an expectation of an emotional non-involvement outside the marriage, even if this doesn't lead to actual adultery. The involvement need not even be sexual, but might involve any element which a spouse might expect/consider to be confined to the context of the monogamous relationship.

As an aside, for someone like me, who writes stories--and, let's face it, infidelity is a bottomless spring of material for conflict and ruminations about the complexities of human relationships--all of this is fascinating, though one must, of course, not allow it to degenerate into soap and melodrama. Well, actually a bit of both is cool, but there's a definite danger zone that one must not enter into, lest one opens oneself to victimization by one's own schemes and clever tricks. However, what I find most interesting are the wide range of implicit and explicit notions of what is expected of 'relationship fidelity' and how crucially dependent their exercise is on there existing a mutually well-communicated understanding between the partners--and how, as the expectations change , this understanding must change as with them and communication needs to be maintained in order to synch, as it were, the people involved.

Back to responsibility though. We surely can see how very useful in this everyday and ubiquitous relationship context exculpatory attribution of concepts is for those requiring excuses and wanting to claim diminished responsibility for their actions. And 'infatuation' definitely is one of those; and it gets even more so as people find some glory in that aspect of 'infatuation' that has to do with being made a fool of; either by others, or by oneself, or maybe by some emotion that has overwhelmed one's better judgment. While I'm all on the side of Epictetus when he writes, 'if you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid', I'd like to point out that there's a difference between be thought foolish and actually being a fool.

Infatuation is not 'love'; it's just something that looks like love and which exhibits certain aspects of it; but which, with its less savory aspects, denies and denigrates love. The Chinese character for love (愛) consists of a heart (心, in the middle) inside of "accept", "feel", or "perceive". Quite different to the syrupy, cloying foolishness of infatuation.

In particular--and I have tried to express this in fictional form, and I'm still trying because it is complicated and all-too-easily misunderstood--love requires a significant element of good faith. And good faith is a matter of choice. Maybe said choice is made by imperfect human beings. Maybe it is made by human beings who, like we all do, do not read each others' minds and therefore always in a state of at least partial ignorance about the expectations of even those closest to us. But that is 'ordinary' human limitation. And there will be flawed judgments. And for each of those we will be entirely responsible.

Should one therefore blame people for their actions? Well, that is not an existential choice, but a moral and ethical one. Which makes it essentially arbitrary--or does it? When we do something from entirely monomaniacal motivations--and especially if we know that we do, denial or not--that will inflict suffering on those who have a right to expect better of us... I don't think it is arbitrary. How can it be?

Last, here's part of a definition of 'responsibility' I found: Ability to meet obligations or to act without superior authority or guidance. I like that one very much.

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