Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Atheist Reviews - A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman

I just put down A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman, and I must say that it did not make my top list of books people must read. The book goes through how different cultures and era's expressed their love, why men like the Indy 500, and women tend to like horses, the love of children, pets, and how love can ruin, or fix lives.

The best part of this book was the history section. It seems to me that the way we express love is a sort of evolution of a memeplex, sort of like religion. In this book it is apparent that ideas about love, such as homosexual love, marriage ceremony, beauty in youth, and infidelity, are not new. The only things that have changed are the cultures. What does seem to be a luxury, according to her book, is romantic love. She cites many times in the civilized world, where women were traded like objects to create social bonds. Many cultures even today marry their women to young (or old men) without the women even knowing about it. The men then have a right (according to certain laws or social constructs) to possess the women, and to force the women to bear his children. While this sounds frightening, it does not seem unthinkable. We as americans have the right to choose who we love (but unfortunately we do not have the right to choose who we marry), and this right is a luxury that has been given to us. Many religions and cultures give that right to the parents, and I can easily see why.

For people unfamiliar with the struggle between parents and their children I would ask you to read these previous posts to my blog:

My Mom's Problem With Taboo
Mom Discriminates Against Atheist
Mom Thinks I Smoke Pot
Mom Steals Shoes and Rips Jeans
Mom Finally Decides To Put My Clothes Where They Go

This is somewhat an issue of control and freedom. Parents in many cultures have controlled their children for so long while the children were young, that when the children grow up it is difficult for them to let go. As a matter of fact, many parents choose to cast their children out of the household for disobedience. This is normal in american culture as well, or else the saying “As long as you live under my house you will obey my rules” will not make any sense.

While this book was very insightful, and the facts contained within it were interesting, there were certain portions which I found overly poetic. The author, as a teacher of english, took great lengths to describe scenes poetically, and sometimes, in my opinion, she overused metaphors to the point where the book was sickening.

Compared to the Orchid Thief, which also gave factual information, this book does not stack up. Some of the best parts of this book is when the author spoke about her own personal experiences. She spoke about attending surgeries to children with cleft mouths and noses, and about her own experiences with love for horses, or about her friend who was interested in seeing a psychiatrist for issues involving love. Sometimes explaining the natural history of a particular set of emotions is better explained when ones personal experiences are used to do the explaining, although I perfectly understand why she felt the need to add other cultures in the book.

When she spoke about other cultures I was a bit disappointed. The cultures she spoked about seemed like “other”. Like their love practices and rituals were not our love practices and rituals. It is true that whenever a girl gets married in the U.S.A., she doesn't shave her hair to be less attractive to men, but the emotion of belonging with someone, or to someone still stands. In truth I see more in connection with the various cultures of the world than I see differences.

And to those who do not have the freedom to choose who they love, because of religion, sexual orientation, culture, or societal norms, I simply say this: The zeitgeist through time has been such that this country as a whole, has become gradually more accepting. Accepting of black people first as non slaves, and then as truly equal (in terms of legality, although I believe racism still exists), accepting of women in politics, the workforce, and as equals in the home, and accepting of multicultural relationships (legally, if not completely socially at this point), all point towards a trend of acceptance, which I hope will continue.

There was a time when women could not vote in this country. When our founding fathers founded this country, the idea of a women voting was preposterous! Now the idea of ending women suffrage will be equally preposterous. I soon see a day where the same will be true of homosexual marriage, atheism, abortion, and even marriage between different religious, and cultures. My mom has often said that my girlfriend, Donna, seems like a nice girl, but she would prefer if I had fallen for Puerto Rican girl. These ideas of preference stem from culture. Donna's culture seems foreign, and while my mother doesn't fear Chinese culture (per se), she is apprehensive of ME changing MY culture (something she need not worry about, since it is too late to save her cultural heritage through me - I proclaim to be a member of the human race long before I proclaimed to be Puerto Rican).

Overall I give this book a 5 out of 10. For it's factual information, and it's acceptance of biology and evolution as a means to explain human behavior. Not many authors would do that.

Also this author openly claims to be religious, and agnostic. This brought upon some confusion for me towards the end of the book. She sees her connection to the natural world as a sort of a religious experience. I think this is a mirage. These connections occur in the neurons of the mind, and while it is wonderful to marvel in the beauty of evolution, and gemstones, and mountains, appreciating nature is and always will be very different from a religious experience. Religion implies that you need faith to believe in something. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. You marvel at nature because of the overwhelming abundance of evidence of it's beauty. You marvel at how every living organism is the result of millions of years of evolutionary history, and you recognize their patterns as beautiful and valuable! Not simply because they are there but because they exist in our world and at this point in time. Is nature chicken soup for the soul? Yes. But I would run away as soon as I see someone praising God for the wonderful mountain, or tropical bird he has created. Evolution of the landscape, and of species is what created it all. Science not God.

Religious agnosticism is an oxymoron, and I will end with this:

Love is the greatest power of all. It tells me that even though I disagree with most of society on various issues, I can still appreciate all individuals as people of this earth, and as the result of millions of years of selection. We ourselves (as postulated by Diane Ackerman) are museums.

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