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On Asymmetrical Love (ahem, "warfare")

I've been reading Roger Barnett's Asymmetrical Warfare, and while it is quite intriguing, I can't help but think that his idea is a paradigm that applies to much, much more than war.

The basic premise is this: you can't win, no matter how powerful, technologically advanced, virtuous, righteous, whatever -- if there exists a state a condition of asymmetry.

Asymmetry comes in many forms, but can be described as vastly mismatched or incongruous primary attributes such as:

  • Size
  • Level of technology
  • Strength of forces
  • Willingness to win "by any means necessary" (and attendant ideas on ethics)
  • Beliefs about the "proper" use of violence
  • Ideas about how one becomes a hero or a martyr
  • Definition of "war"
  • Definition of "valor" and cowardice
  • Willingness to put non-combatants and their property in harm's way

I think we can all see what asymmetrical war is all about -- the larger side can't seem to maintain its invulnerability even though they seem to have the clear advantage -- simply because the enemy is playing by a different set of rules. Chechnya comes to mind. And, of course, 9-11 is the most stunning example in current American consciousness.

Asymmetrical war can be a mess. It successfully engenders rampant paranoia.

But hey, it's great for the people who profit from instability. It's a perfect opportunity to hand out little trinkets & medals for the "martyrs" and "heroes" -- usually young conscripts -- whose families have no choice but to console themselves with the idea that the squalid sacrifice actually meant something. Yeah. Sure.

What do I know? I'm not even describing war. I'm describing love -- at least the way I've come to understand it over the years.

Asymmetrical Love. Predominant Characteristics:

  • Hopelessly unrequited
  • Mutual incomprehension
  • Conflicting ideas about what constitutes appropriate behavior
  • Rigid notions of what constitutes "love"
  • Willingness to use tactics that the other considers unconscionable
  • Viewing the actions of the other through a distorted prism, thus misinterpreting actions, misattributing motive, over-personalizing the situation, or remaining detached and/or unaware of important cues
  • Willingness to involve others, putting them in emotional harm's way
  • Stalking (!) but being unaware of one's stalking behavior
  • Intrusive and prying -- driven by the need to find the secret weakness that will allow one to "win the battle"

Asymmetrical love is, like asymmetrical war, unpleasant.

It's a shame, because most of the world's great tragic love stories have, at the very core, some sort of asymmetrical love drama. Actually, come to think of it, most of the world's great comedies (technically, a comedy ends in marriage), involve the happy resolution of an original asymmetry.

Well. If only real life were so neatly packaged. Unfortunately, Shakespeare's comedies only feed asymmetrical love, especially as it starts veering off the road and plunging straight into erotomania.

Most commonly, asymmetrical love is fairly benign. It has to do with the asymmetries inherent in the tension between


Symmetrical love: o- it really exists and is reciprocated o- both parties exist o- both parties know each other o- codes of ethics, behavior, and values are shared o- death is not fetishized

Asymmetrical love: x- it is not a love that is reciprocated x- it really exists, but only in the mind of one of the individuals x- both parties may or may not exist x- the parties may not even know each other x- codes of ethics, behavior, values are not only not shared, they are not even communicated x- death is fetishized (as are aberrant behaviors in general)

As a dove-nik realist, I would seek to find diplomatic resolutions to all conflicts and misunderstandings. However, asymmetrical wars will probably always occur, as will asymmetrical love. That's sad.

toujours, susan

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