Season 1, Episode 7: Politics
Find Out More
About Myisha Cherry:
- Myisha's website
- Myisha on Twitter
- "Why Love is Not All We Need" Huffington Post (2014)
- The UnMute Podcast: where philosophy and real world issues collide
About Martin Luther King's views on love:
- Brain Pickings
- To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King (ed. Tommie Shelby and Brandon M. Terry)
Labels of Love logo designed by Jen Sung.
Show notes photography by Jonathan Ichikawa.
- "Labels of Love Jingle Music" by Carrie Jenkins. All rights reserved.
- "Canada Line (A Musical Suite in Real Time)" by Lee Rosevere. Creative Commons License.
Labels of Love is a research creation outcome of the Metaphysics of Love Project, supported by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional financial support for the project comes from the Canada Research Chairs program and the University of British Columbia.
I am grateful for help, guidance, feedback, and support from:
Mysisha Cherry, Drusilla, Ray Hsu, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Mezzo.
[Speaking in this episode you can hear: Myisha Cherry, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Carrie Jenkins.]
Myisha: Love is not an emotion, "Oh I feel this particular way, ooo-eee ooo-eee ooo-eee, the end," right?
Jonathan: You're listening to Labels of Love.
Carrie: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, and the author of What Love Is And What It Could Be.
[Tannoy: The next train to depart is for Richmond Brighouse …]
Carrie: Today, in a slightly extended episode, I'm talking about politics with Myisha Cherry. Myisha is a fellow of the philosophy department at Harvard University. She's also the host of one of the best philosophy podcasts out there: that's the UnMute podcast. The soundtrack for this episode is Lee Rosevere's Canada Line (A Musical Suite In Real Time), and I recommend checking out the entire piece. There's a link to enable you to do that in the show notes for this episode. I talked with Myisha about love’s role in political life, and some of the baggage that comes bound up with the idea that (quotes) "all we need is love."
Myisha: My name is Myisha Cherry, and I do work at the intersection of moral psychology and political philosophy. So I'm interested in political emotions. I can feel compassion, for example, as the result of watching a TV series: someone has just lost their mother, and so I kind of feel their suffering, right. And so this is me feeling the suffering of another individual, and that's a moral space, a moral expression, I'm connecting with this individual on a moral level. And then there’s a compassion that one can feel in a political space, right, so witnessing a black or brown body being beat up by the police, I feel the suffering of that individual, right. And, in relationship to the death of your mother, there's nothing more that I can do about that, right?
Myisha: I can console you, I can talk to you, so there's something I can do on like a moral level. But we wouldn't say that as a result of feeling that particular suffering, I am going to start a campaign to end the deaths of individuals, right? That would be absurd. But when it comes to political emotions, in some instances, we can respond politically to the suffering of that particular individual.
Myisha: So it's not just the fact that one person is beat up, but, seems to be kind of a pattern and the way in which we respond to that ... yeah, so there's a lot of political stuff that's happening in the space of that emotional expression. So, the love that I have for my family, for example, is very particular, right? It's a kind of love that’s very distinct from even the relationship or the love that I have towards my friends, and it's also quite different from the love that I express to quote-unquote "strangers." It's essential to our family projects, right? And so in order to keep our family going, there’s certain things that are required of me, as a family member, right, and so that love calls me to do certain things in my family. But when it comes to political love, it's a different space. It's not just … it's not particular. It could be particular in regards to the state that I'm a part of, or the country that I'm a part of. But it could also be kind of universal in a sense: when we talk about kind of universal love, right, and we think about the fact that America and Canada’s not the only countries that exist, right?
Myisha: I don’t consider myself just an aunt or sister, but I'm a citizen of the world, and so my reach is quite different. So we are all part of a political project and we work together in order to pursue this political project. And it requires understanding. It requires benevolence. It requires good will, right? It requires what people call "tolerance," right? And some people may suggest that all that really is is just kind of political love. Martin Luther King kind of defines it as kind of this understanding and creative redemptive good will for all, right? And he would suggest that this is essential to, like, the political projects, for us to continue to coexist. Political love just has a greater – how can you say it? – a greater reach.
Myisha: A different space.
Myisha: Yeah. It calls for … it calls for very different obligations. I would suggest that it’s essential to us getting along and living among ourselves. Most of the time, I would suggest that political love is more of an attitude of sorts, right? It's the way in which we respond to others; it's the way in which we view ourselves as a part of others; it's the way in which we treat others. So it's also behaviour as well. I've recently kind of thought of the idea of the connection between love and anger. There are so many philosophers who have tried to tease these particular emotions apart from each other.
Myisha: Political anger is over here, and political love is over here, and we don't necessarily need anger but we need love. I don’t want to tease those apart, right? Political love and political anger is not only compatible …
Carrie: Uh huh.
Myisha: … but I'm even bold enough to say that political anger is an expression of political love. Now mind you, if we were living in an ideal situation …
Carrie: Right, right.
Myisha: ... right, a utopia of sorts …
Myisha: … in which there was no evil, there was no faults, there was no wrongdoing, we were perfect in every way, there would be love …
Myisha: But there wouldn't be no need for anger. Anger arises as the result of a wrongdoing of sorts, right?
Myisha: An injury of sorts. And as long as we live in a world in which there is injury, as long as we live in a world in which there is wrongdoing, there is still love there but there will also be anger. But I cannot love you, right, if I don't hold you account. I think the wonderful about what anger does, is that it holds us account. The person who’s angry …
Myisha: … makes an expression that simply suggests that something has happened in our space, that is not right. Right, a moral injury has occurred, I'm aware of this, and I'm emotionally responding to that.
Myisha: Right? But I'm not just responding to it to myself, right? I'm expressing it. And if I love the wrongdoer, right, if I consider the wrongdoer a rational agent, if I consider the wrongdoer as someone who has the potential to be good …
Myisha: … if I consider the wrongdoer as part of the political project in which that individual has a role, and a task, in how our world will be made and shaped, then I will hold them account.
Myisha: I will get angry at them. I will express that particular anger. And so I think the two is connected: I cannot love you and let you get away with stuff.
Myisha: I'm thinking about it as three tiers. So let's say that you are angry at me for a wrongdoing that I have done. So one may think the only important person in that circle of concern is me, the person you’re angry at, right? Because you’re trying to communicate to me that I've done something wrong, you hold me as a rational agent, etc. etc. But I also think that the love that is being expressed through that anger is not just directed at the wrongdoer. It's also directed at the recipient of the wrong, right?
Myisha: So the recipient of the wrong doesn't necessarily have to be you; it can be a stranger, it can be someone else, right? So you can get angry at me, to hold me account, but if—let's say our co-worker, our colleague sees that I am, that you are also angry at the wrongdoer …
Myisha: … that's expressing love to her.
Myisha: Right, or to him.
Myisha: That you are concerned about him or her to a certain extent that you’re willing to express the anger towards the wrongdoer, right? So we have two people so far, right, we have the wrongdoer, which you’re expressing love to through anger, and you also have the injured party you're expressing love by being angry at the individual, right?
Myisha: You're also part of that as well. Because you're also part of that moral community as well. So you're included in that as well. So it's also an expression of self-love—you're not going to take this. Some people thought that what King was advocating was kind of like this self-sacrificial love: that blacks ought to love whites at their own peril. When we hold other people account through our anger, which is an expression of love, it shows concern for ourselves, for the wrongdoer, for everybody that's a part of the community. And so I don't think it's self-sacrificial at all. I think the self is very much included in that full project of love.
Myisha: So I think the phrase "all we need is love" ... sometimes that particular discourse can be used as a way to ignore the real work that we have to do. You know, all we need to do is hold hands, right, the superficial kind of repair kind of work. All we need to do is hold hands.
Myisha: All we need is for a victim in front of a podium to say "I forgive," and you know what, all our racial issues will disappear.
Myisha: Right? So for some of us, you know, the phrase "all we need is love," right, we don't need people to get angry.
Myisha: We don't need people to hold us account, right? We don't need to face our past, right?
Myisha: We don't need really need to respect individuals. All we need is love. And really what they mean by that is: we need certain oppressed individuals, people that are at the bottom of particular totem poles, we need them to love. They don't mean that all we need is for us to love, right?
Myisha: What we need for them to do is direct love towards us. And I think that kind of discourse—"the oppressor ought to meet the oppressed where they are, at all times"—
Myisha: … right, it suggests that the oppressed is the one that really has the moral obligation. It ignores other conditions that also need to be met. You know, love didn't get the Civil Rights Act passed, right? It didn't end Jim Crow, right? There were on-the-ground conditions that brought that about, right? And what happened, right—so it wasn't just love, right, that allowed the progress that took place in the sixties and seventies. And we have so much more progress to make. But it wasn’t, it wasn't just love. That's making it quite simplistic. It was pressure on authorities to change laws, right?
Myisha: And embarrassment to other nations, right, that we were being hypocritical as the United States of America. So shame had a lot to do with things, right? Guilt had a lot to do with things, right? What King has in mind is a theological kind of conception of love, but also of the beloved community. So it can be quite complicated. But what I take from his account—and this may be taking what I want and leaving out what I don’t want—it is an attitude.
Myisha: It is an action. It is not merely a feeling, so we're not always going to feel something when we love. One of his famous things he liked to say: it's not emotional bosh.
Myisha: For example, because we can love those we don't like. So it's not always going to feel good. But it's like this, it's this response. But it's action, right? It's always doing something. It's a love ethic, right? It's not a love emotion. We're in philosophy, right? An ethic: it's a thing that guide our lives in some ways, right?
Carrie: Right: it's what you're supposed to do.
Myisha: It's the way in which we respond to others, right?
Myisha: It's the principles that we live by, right?
Myisha: And so love is not an emotion, "oh I feel this particular way, ooo-eee ooo-eee ooo-eee, the end," right? This love ethic, right, this attitude, this behaviour that I have towards the individual, it's a principle. So what is the principle, right? It's: I seek to understand you. He says that we ought to have this kind of creative understanding, which I kind of interpret as empathy, right? So when you think about the individuals who bombed his home, and the police commissioners who, kind of was, you know, kind of was complicit in that, you know he seeks to—you know, and their response to that—he seeks to understand them, right?
Myisha: He says: well I can imagine if I was white, and I grew up in the context in which they grew up. That's the love ethic, right?
Myisha: And that behaviour in which one kind of extends, as opposed to kind of this initial judgment—I would never be that way if I was white—try to imagine himself in their particular shoes, right? That's the principle of relating to the other. It's this good will, it's this benevolence, right? It's care, it's concern; it's anger, right? It's all these emotions wrapped up into one, all these ways of responding to each other wrapped into one, that kind of can change how we relate and how we live among each other. It's not just how I feel, right, but how I respond to you, how I live in the world with you, how I hold you account, and how we live among each other, what's required to live among each other. I think we have a hard time recognizing love. And I think we do this a lot in like our moral and our interpersonal relationships. You know, usually when that occurs, you know, you go to a psychologist, and he says: why can’t you recognize that this person is loving you, like what's going on? Let's look at your history, like you weren’t loved by your father … right? We try to interrogate that.
Myisha: Because we find that it interferes with our interpersonal relationships, right? But I want to, I want to kind of put that into the political sphere. I also think that, politically, we have a hard time recognizing each others' love. And so when I think about the movement for Black Lives, for example, it's … for lots of people, they have recognized that as hate. They have recognized the response to police brutality on black bodies as either insensitive or sensitive individuals who are race-obsessed, who hate white people, who don't care about people in their own communities, don't hold the people – you know they don't look at that as an act of love. And I think what we need to challenge ourselves is to look at the ways in which people are loving us. And that love may come through as anger and it may come through as protest.
Myisha: And may come through with making you feel a little bit of white guilt.
Myisha: But I think politically we need to recognize the way in which oppressed groups, and also other groups, are holding us to account—look at the ways in which that is actually an expression of love. And as opposed to resisting it, I think we need to listen to it and embrace it.
Carrie: Many thanks to today's guest, Myisha Cherry. You can find out more about Myisha at her website, myishacherry.net—that’s M. Y. I. S. H. A. C. H. E. R. R. Y.—or on Twitter, where she's @myishacherry. You can find out more about my work at carriejenkins.net, or follow me on Twitter, I’m @carriejenkins. There's lots more information and links in the show notes. And if you are enjoying the podcast so far, do take a second to give it a nice rating and review on iTunes. That helps other people to find the podcast. And as always, thank you so much for listening.
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