Which is a stronger emotion: anger or love?
Very interesting discussion all.
As OM says, so many dimensions to this.
Looking at it from the perspective of games theory (the logic of strategy in action) in the context of evolved embodied cognition (what we seem to be as evolved entities that involve many layers of systems that far predate our conscious awareness), it is a really deep topic.
Anger seems to be a system that as OM says, adds power to an interaction. In a games theory context, it would be powerful if it is used in the context of identifying and removing a cheating strategy from the cooperative.
However, it is dangerous if anger gets co-opted (overtaken) by a cheating strategy operating at a different level. (Star wars fans, think of the Dark Side of the force, Harry Potter fans think of he who must not be named).
It is clear that what happens when we get angry, is that all non-essential systems are shut down (non-essential in this context meaning not normally required for immediate survival) and all power is available for fight or flight, and focus is narrowed to using the fastest available mental systems that (on average over evolutionary time) normally achieve victory in the resulting conflict (higher order cognitive functions are shut down – they are too slow).
If one uses Machiavelli’s definition of power (which is “the ability to destroy something”), then anger is definitely the most powerful, as it tends towards the destruction of things, though it normally does so for reasons that, on average, over genetic and cultural time, tend to support cooperative behaviours in social groups.
In this sense, anger, in the sense of being a response to injustice, and the willingness to sacrifice one’s existence to right some perceived wrong at some level, can be extremely powerful, and also extremely destructive. We see it in suicide bombers as an obvious example. We see it as a key driver in most soldier’s, and the very concept of armies and martial activity more generally, and in many other levels of our social systems.
Each and every one of us will have many impulses to anger in our daily lives.
That is a fundamental part of the embodied systems that make us human.
And then there is love.
We have all experienced it.
We all have some ideas on how to generate it.
We have all experienced having it betrayed in a sense – with the tendency to anger and resentment and bitterness that follows such betrayals.
In the games theory perspective, all such things are to be expected.
And there is a higher sense of games theory in which, if we take the long view, the only stable outcome is long term cooperation – which is, I strongly suspect, the strategic core of the many levels of emotional systems that tend to be categorised under the general heading of “love”.
And it can get very complex, when different systems (ways of being, habits, cultures, values, etc) have entirely different sets of accepted operational assumptions (truths, principles, whatever), and those tend to cause interpretations that our subconscious systems determine at some level to be “cheating behaviour” in others.
We can become extremely internally conflicted.
Taking the time, making the effort, to generate levels of awareness of the many levels of self, to be as conscious as possible of what we are, and to cultivate the ability to consciously influence those systems, then to actually make the conscious effort to actually create those influences and generate being in the highest of cooperative states (love) is not necessarily easy.
And nor is it guaranteed to work in any specific situation, and if one has a network of trust relationships, and if one is looking for and is prepared to identify cheating strategies at all levels, then it does in fact seem to be the strategy with the greatest probability of long term survival.
And long term survival is in some senses the inverse of Machiavelli’s definition of power, and it is essentially the only stable context for evolution.
Evolution is not guaranteed to survive, and evolving life forms do in fact seem to have survived some 4 billion years of life on this planet.
So, it does in fact seem that if we want to keep on playing this game called life, it seems that this strategic sense of “love” (in terms of stable highest level cooperative strategies) has a far greater probability of achieving survival than any of the alternatives.
In this sense of power, it is not about destroying anything, but rather about the ability to continue existing, and to continue to explore the possibilities of existence.
So while there is certainly a very practical sense, that in the states of awareness that most people exist in most of the time, that anger is capable of completely dominating the experience of being in ways that love usually does not; it does in fact also seem to be true that all individuals are capable of cultivating other habits of being that lead to the ability to over-ride such tendencies to anger with loving (more cooperative) responses in most situations.
It thus seems to be normally true that in the uncultivated state, that anger tends to be the stronger emotion, and the more one cultivates the habit of loving, the more powerful that emotion becomes.
And in terms of the survival of humanity, it is love (cooperation) rather than hate (retribution) that is required.
And one cannot ignore cheating strategies, one must have effective means of identifying and removing them, and if that is done with love, it is a far more powerful outcome than using hate (though hate does seem to be the default genetically mediated response to cheating strategies).
Re destruction-creation being two sides of the same coin, I’m a yes and no.
In the Machiavellian sense of power, destruction seems to be just destruction. It leads to strategic situations like the nuclear weapons environment we find ourselves in, called “Mutually Assured Destruction”, which only works (in as much as it does) if both sides believe that the other side is actually mad enough to actually press the button and launch an all out retaliation. Paradoxically, if one side actually gets to a state where they are highly unlikely to launch, then the other side will most probably launch to take advantage of “weakness”. It only works if the people involved are actually mad in a very real sense.
The risk profiles of such strategic systems are close to terrifying, destruction very hard to avoid.
At a certain point, destruction can become complete, without anything being left to be creative in the human level sense of creativity – the entire system being taken back to much lower level evolutionary systems.
So I don’t entirely go along with the two sides of the same coin argument in all cases, and there are certainly many aspects of that possible in less extreme examples.
Schumpeter is certainly famous for using the term “creative destruction” in reference to at least two levels of the strategic systems present in markets as a set of coordinating mechanisms; and there is some real power in those notions, and they come with exponentially increasing risk and cost as the ability to automate process increases (and automation is on a double exponential at present).
So we find ourselves in a very complex time, with many levels of systems present (20 plus) and most people being aware of only a small number of levels (1 being most common, 2 or 3 including over 90% of the rest, with very few going past 3).
The more open one is to the possibility of complex systems, the greater the risk of errors that most people would not normally make (as the possibilities simply would not occur).
So in the Machiavellian sense, of raw, often hate driven, will to power (to use Nietzsche’s phrase), no – not much creativity there, just a system that evolved in one environment being used in a very destructive way in another environment, for short term gain and huge long term cost (but that cost is invisible to those within the system).
In Schumpeter’s sense, of the gap left by the destruction of something becoming the fertile place where something new can emerge, yes, that can happen, and even in this sense, there can be very high risk profiles associated.
Risk analysis only gives reasonable outcomes if one is prepared to push the scenarios as far as one can, in a sort of suite of MCMC simulations, and look at the distribution of probabilities that result. No certainty possible there – only ever probabilities.
And that is all that this universe seems to allow for, anything more certain seems to be fundamentally illusory (however comfortable and reassuring it may be).
It seems clear to me that there is a fundamental tension between order and chaos at all levels. It seems that one has to be able to accept that, and the risk that comes with that, in order to get any reasonable probability of confidence beyond it. (And I am not sure if anyone else will make sense of that in the way it makes sense to me.)