Diversity & Media

Utopia: the (Unfortunate) Relative Impossibility of Bell Hook’s Love Ethic

While I do not aim to discourage, or diminish, the possibilities of Bell Hook’s proposition of “Living By a Love Ethic,” the distance and removal from reality that a theoretical perspective affords. The only issue I take with the argument is the relative impossibility of its success in actual society.

Rhetorically, the “love ethic” resembles similar quasi-utopian notions prevalent throughout social and cultural movements of the left. Kwame Ture’s response to Dr. King’s policy of nonviolence adequately addresses the argument’s critical flaw:

Dr. King’s policy was that nonviolence would achieve the gains for black people in the United States. His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.

While personally, I would love to see a major cultural shift towards a love ethic, the legitimate plausibility of its enactment hinges on the ability to convince everyone to partake in the movement. It is also important to consider who benefits from, reinforces, and maintains the current structure that stands in the way of the “love ethic.” Primarily, cishet, white people. Ture’s quote mentions the necessity of a conscience on the side of the oppressor, or the culture that currently opposes the love ethic, and as we see in current (and historically, longstanding) social, cultural, and political movements, a conscience is not always a given. Accordingly, in order to fulfill the notion of community that Hooks preaches, a confrontation of the current paradigm and those who actively support it will eventually be necessary.

As for the individual, it is indeed possible for any single person to commit to a love ethic in their own life. Internal changes in the personal existence may occur at the liberty of the individual. However, convincing others, especially those most deeply entrenched in the current paradigm, the culture of “power and domination” as Hooks refers to it, is a long, arduous process with no foreseeable end goal.

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