Harmony & Diversity: Joy, Collective Love, and the Two Ends of Love

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.” -C.S. “Not Carl” Lewis

“There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” -Jesus “Not Quintana” Christ

Let’s recap the course of this series of “Love” posts: “Golden & Platinum” started with the most common ethical precept known to man, the golden rule, then showed its necessary subordination to one other precept, the platinum rule. “I & Thou” then spelled out the basics of how love works, and what the golden rule implies, on an interpersonal level. But as C.S. Lewis spelled out, ethics consists of three levels, the intrapersonal, the interpersonal, and the collective. In his analogy, a society is like a naval fleet-to function properly, each individual ship must have all its parts working in harmony (the intrapersonal level), and each ship must communicate with each other to relay information and supplies, to balance resources and avoid colliding with each other ship (the interpersonal level); and the fleet must collectively choose a worthwhile destination (the collective level).

Lewis’s categories can, analogy aside, be rather blurry. For instance, is the loving relationship of horse and rider an interpersonal one, as I suggested by addressing such relationships in the “I & Thou” post, or is it an intrapersonal one, since it involves only one sentient being and one being to some degree possessed by the sentient one? And at what point do all of a society’s loving interpersonal relationships add up to a collective motion toward a certain goal? And since love involves free will, when a loving society moves together toward a goal, how much can it resemble our usual homogenous images of collective motion?

In each level described by Lewis, the same abstract goal seems to reign: to achieve maximum diversity without sacrificing harmony. Still, the implications of this goal vary greatly depending on whether it’s being applied at the intrapersonal level, the interpersonal level, or the collective level. And so I find myself obligated to write on the intrapersonal level of love (soon), and on the collective level (herein), as I’ve written about the interpersonal level in “I & Thou.” This present entry, “Harmony & Diversity,” takes as its name the goal common to all three levels, but it will focus on the collective level.

The reason? Well, at the interpersonal level of ethics, love is usually a one-way street-the golden rule carries no guarantees of reciprocity. If the golden rule does have an implicit addendum, it’s, “Love your neighbor as yourself, regardless of whether the bastard returns the favor.” But at the collective level, reciprocity between individuals is presumed-the collective can collectively love, only insofar as its individual members already love each other interpersonally. (The same dynamic is at work one level down: the individual can love interpersonally, only insofar as he or she has already achieved intrapersonal love-but more on that in the next “love” post, “Whole & One.”)

So it’s at the highest level-the collective-that the question of love’s goal or end becomes obvious and pressing. The reason why I’m herein so associating love’s ends of diversity and harmony with the collective level, is what I call the Clouds, Harps, and Unicorn Farts Quandary: As soon as we try to imagine a heaven, a world without war, without sorrow, without agony, we tend to draw, if not a blank, then an image of maddening Mormon boredom, of pasty pastel whimsy.

It’s hard for us to imagine a heaven that wouldn’t inspire us to suicide by the tenth minute. Certainly this has something to do with our unfamiliarity with love. Pursue love intrapersonally, and the harmony and diversity you achieve will give you peace. Peace may seem like the be-all end-all to someone who has lost theirs, but peace by itself seems like an omission of everything that makes life interesting-adventure, exploration, desire. Pursue love interpersonally, and the harmony and diversity you achieve will give you suffering and joy. Sure, joy is positive, but mixed with suffering? Who’d want to ride an eternal roller coaster of suffering and joy? Apparently nobody, since it’s exactly this prospect which half the world’s religions consider That Which Is to Be Escaped, and the other half of the world’s religions consider That So Stupid We Won’t Even Contemplate It.

But what of the collective pursuit of love; what of a community of loving beings? What happens when each individual in a community has mastered intrapersonal and interpersonal love? And what happens if such a community has access to omniscience and omnipotence, as our own world seems on a hyperbolic course to access omniscience and omniscience? In other words, what happens in heaven?

Well, the short answer is, unadulterated joy, joy without suffering, communion. Doesn’t ring a bell? Well, have you ever felt so much enjoyment in an experience that you wanted to share it? C.S. Lewis proposed that our desire to share something we enjoy, marks a boundary between selfish pleasure and something more divine. When we can give something without losing it, when we can have something without fearing its loss, we don’t hold back from sharing that something, and the pleasure we can derive in that something is then limited only by the number of beings with which we can share our pleasure. In a universe of infinite beings, then, our pleasure in each thing is potentially infinite, and so we aren’t caught constantly wanting something we don’t have. Or as Lewis wrote, “Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.”

However, notice the above only works if there’s an infinity into which to pour one’s efforts at sharing one’s pleasure. This means, among other things, that heaven would have a vested interest in an exhaustive inclusion of diverse beings among whom to share joy. This exhaustive effort to include all possible beings would take place on three fronts: retentive; redemptive; and creative.

Retentive: Once a loving community has established a being as a member, it works to nurture each member forever; in the case of heaven, the community would by definition have access to omniscience and omnipotence, and so the retention rate would tend to be pretty high-one might even argue for an “event horizon”-type heaven where admission once means membership forever, not by force or compulsion but because entrance equals total consent.

Redemptive: So long as heaven has one member, it has perfect peace, since that one member will by definition have achieved maximal internal harmony and diversity. But joy has no upper bound, thus its pursuit amounts to an infinite or nonzero-sum game. Thus, heaven will do everything to win over or incorporate one more member, no matter where in reality, space, and time that “lost sheep” might be, and no matter how lost it is in any other sense.

Creative: The challenge level.  In case the retentive and redemptive functions of heaven don’t appeal to you, or don’t seem infinite enough to eternally appeal to you, consider that heaven can and must, with joy its serious work, expand its joy not just through all those already in heaven, and not just through all those already in existence, but also through the creation of all other beings who might be able to join in the joy.  If you’ve ever wondered how anyone can muster the chutzpah to procreate, or cobble together some Frankensteinian monster in a petri dish, or try to invent a robot with emotions, well, let’s just say it’s not necessarily a jerk thing to do.

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