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Eros in a Narcissistic Culture by Ralph D. Ellis

Some weakly argued books are worth looking at because they contain a huge number of thought provoking ideas. Eros In a Narcissistic Culture is one.

Eros contains dozens of flawed Marxian economic, psychological, and sociological ideas. Many of its statistics are flat out false. It claims that 95 percent of welfare recipients are children and that one percent of the population are homeless--assertions concocted out of almost nothing. Ellis' work also ranks among the most repetitive books I have read.

Ralph D. Ellis believes eros is a two phase process. The first phase requires a paradoxical mixture of extreme admiration and compassion. (But the compassion element should not drift into pity.) Ellis means not only compassion for specific misfortunes, but compassion for beings facing the hostility and indifference of the universe, beings conscious of their lack of power and the shortness of their lives. We need this mixture of admiration and compassion to intensely value others. This mixture also reduces arrogance and narcissism, creating a sense of "life-encompassing awe." The second phase requires adventures for both individuals, preferably moral adventures.

The second phase is required, not a mere useful addition. If partners attempt to remain the the first phase, the relationship stagnates or withers. Though different from falling in love, the second phase (also called the adventure phase) can and should be as meaningful and rewarding. Love fails to move into or remain in the adventure phase for several reasons, writes Ellis. First, most societies have a shortage of fulfilling adventurous activities. Institutions make life passive. Second, and more important, belief systems orient toward hedonic getting what you can rather than contributing. Third, "players" and "romance addicts" prefer only the first phase. Fourth, empathy and admiration often disappear. Fifth, eros makes one vulnerable and narcissists cannot stand vulnerability in love, though life contains many other far more dangerous vulnerabilities we block from our consciousnesses.

Ellis argues that consciousness wants and needs dynamism, expansion, and transformation rather than hedonic satisfaction and "drive reduction." Without transcendence, consciousness does not simply remain the same but falters.

Eros, he writes, excels at transforming and awakening consciousness. Consciousness cannot be fully alive without interacting with other conscious beings. Self-love and self-pity are inherently bad, stultifying and less intensely alive than love and compassion for others. Self-love makes us complacent or arrogant.

Cultures wreck eros by a) promoting the ideals of invulnerability and hip cynicism, b) devaluing non-monetary goals, and c) encouraging love without vulnerability, love that is not fully felt. Lovers follow whims with other lovers devoted to hedonism and cynicism. Lovers get burned by each other, leading to more cynicism or losses of self-respect, leading to more self-destructive acts.

Ellis argues that eros requires an erotic dimension and that love making should be treated as a expressive rather than a consumer activity. Conscious beings require acts such as love making both to intensify feeling and to make bonds stronger by aligning actions with attitudes. Ellis condemns promiscuous sex. Promiscuous sex lacks full empathy and is existentially unrewarding. But many individuals think the problem is the wrong partner or technique rather than the promiscuous sex itself. Lack of fulfillment makes individuals feel inadequate, which makes them even easier to manipulate by Hollywood and Madison Avenue, who promote even more promiscuous sex in a vicious spiral. "[A] person or culture steeped in a philosophy of simplistic hedonism will very likely approach the opportunity for eros by interpreting it as a means to 'happiness' or 'pleasure'... rather than to be pulled out of oneself into a radical transformation of the structure of one's consciousness."

Feelings of eros can remain strong for a lifetime, provided both individuals continue to find worthy adventures, especially when the short-sighted, ultra-competitive influences of cultures are fought. Eros is important not only for obvious reasons but also for preventing the fragmentation of consciousness. Eros strikes us with the earthshaking importance of other beings.


Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated April 27, 2015


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