Unthinking Love

By Sarah Werkmeister

“But they don’t know what they’re doing because they don’t know how to damage how we love, so they damage what we love” — Q and Not U, ‘Everybody Ruins’

There is no one way of feeling. We all know that through our different experiences — social, political, economic, gender-based, race-based — that we have different ways of connecting moments to memories, and further embodying memories into actions. Let the following not dictate how you should feel, but consider it when thinking about how we feel.

In 2016, Alicia Eler and Eve Peyser, wrote ‘Tinderization of Feeling’, published by The New Inquiry.[1] It posited that Tinder — an online dating app — was accelerating the crumbling of communities and relationships between people, because it was fast, simple, and it was also easy to forget your relationships with those you came across on the screen. They called this ‘Tinderization’. What they didn’t acknowledge, is that each person who uses the app also has social and moral mores embedded within them, and responsibilities to those mores. We all have different ways of interacting with the world through emotion. Tinder is only one of the tools that can be used [to the detriment or to the progress] of inter-personal communications, and it sits within a frame.[2] Our collective sociological conditioning is the frame.

Discussions around Tinder often fall around our ability (or lack thereof) to love or to cherish moments with others.

There is no one way of loving. But there is one frame that we tend to fall into: the frame of individual privilege where we decide that our own agencies are more important than those we encounter on the screen, who in reality, have their own individual privileges.

I would like to negotiate a way of re-framing our perceptions of love, of feeling, so that we are held responsible not only to ourselves, but to our communities, and to the broader experiences of people within our communities.

It’s not Tinder’s fault that it’s a go-to quick-fix for a quick fuck. They have a great marketing team, and users have a want for its existence. We also view quick fucks as derogatory; as though an experience that intermingles with another’s is not meaningful. One-night stands, two-hour experiences, a month-long romance or a lifetime of companionship are all legitimate forms of negotiating terrain with others, of feeling things through. Love can mean different things to different people, but with an experience with another — whether it be a ‘quick fuck’ or a quick conversation — there’s still a necessity to think through these experiences as moments that can [re]shape our love for each other, whether those experiences are awkward, bad, or great.

The moral responsibility of users of such apps falls onto the individual. But what is moral responsibility in contemporary Australia? Being kind to your neighbour? Sure. But what else? We’re not taught in schools how to be soft, or how to respond to feeling.

In Australia, the dominant narrative around moral responsibility is something that a lot of us have been conditioned into while ignoring the country’s own history.

On one hand, we are told to be morally upstanding citizens, and on the other, the country — Government and a large portion of citizens alike — will still don't acknowledge its brutal past, and the structural violence that has shaped our contemporary condition. By letting these historical and ongoing traumas disappear or not appear from our psyche, it damages our capability to truly embed ourselves within a position of love. Here, while we are not the people who experienced those traumas, we’re the ones who have a role in rethinking the ways of remembering - that can help us shape the way we think about being in the world with others. It falls back down to memory, and if we’re unwilling to remember (the bad, the good, the ugly) and cherish either our strength in situations that were bad, or our tenderness in situations that were ‘good’, we’re not allowing ourselves to enact further memories that can be cherished.

In much the same way, we talk about ‘decolonising love’.[3] The de-colonisation of love is posited as being possible through an undoing process in which we can empower those who have been colonised. While a worthy effort, the problem in the simple action of acknowledging the colonisation, or Westernisation of love is not enough. We first need to acknowledge the systematic ways in which we are taught to perceive love, and hence, our relationships with people and with nature.

To start unpicking what structural change in the field of emotion could mean, we need to reevaluate our capacities to both love and to view love through different senses.

To undo the structural violence embedded in conceptions of love, we need to learn to remember and rethink memories with our bodies, through a tenderness that precedes our collisions. To realise that everyone has a story.

This process of un-doing or decolonising can be helped not only by visual culture, but by embracing the different ways in which we can ‘feel’ (not see) the world. Tenderness is something that can be explored through visual cues, but also through different senses. Starting with the breakdown of how we ‘see’, Susan Sontag states in Regarding the pain of others, that “people don't become inured to what they are shown — if that's the right way to describe what happens - because of the quantity of images dumped on them. It is passivity that dulls feeling.[4] This passivity — or lack of willingness to put in the emotional effort to overcome passivity and erasure is one reason that we don’t allow ourselves to experience emotion — to be subsumed by it in the face of our busy lives within a Capitalist culture. It’s also that we don’t see with our different senses.

We have been trained to view screens with our eyes, connected to our brains, but our other senses are cut off.

The screens are passive receptacles, but our brains don’t have to be. The image is not passive when it has a viewer. We need to re-engage our senses to overcome this passivity. To refuse it is an activism that could enrich our relationships with each other.

In Trevor Paglan’s essay, ‘Invisible Images’, he states that, “…over the last decade or so, something dramatic has happened. Visual culture has changed form. It has become detached from human eyes and has largely become invisible. Human visual culture has become a special case of vision, an exception to the rule.”[5] He goes on to talk about machine vision, but the concern that I wanted to pull out was the impact of screens on the ways in which we can perceive each other. The past decade, yes, has seen us bombarded with a slew of visual culture that is directed only to our eyes. Tinder is but one instance of this image saturation, but it also puts its subjects (users) into an algorithm that assumes a lack of emotion. It is our responsibility here, to stop ‘looking’, or to stop ‘feeling’ algorithmically. It’s not Tinder itself, but that we’re allowing our own perceptions of people to be dictated by a tunnel-visioned perception of a true and expansive field of emotions.  

Indian philosopher, Sundar Sarukkai posits: “Gailileo's dictum that science should be concerned only with the primary qualities and not the secondary ones (those like emotion and taste, that are primarily human responses to things) means that scientific knowledge begins by keeping emotion away. The rhetoric of knowledge that followed has extrapolated this removal of secondary qualities to the rejection of any notion of experience and the subjective. Such a move also allowed modern knowledge systems to disengage with the question of ethics in relation to knowledge. ”[6]

Here we can understand how our learning to ‘see’ — to accumulate knowledge — has been scripted to work in a binary.

Science (rationality), and emotion have been pitted against each other over centuries. Of course the two intermingle, and rational thinking needs to learn to work with emotion, rather than see it as an opposite. The frame that we now see emotion under, that we see love under, has been dictated to be different to the scientific, when in fact, the two are a dichotomy. The way that we gather knowledge needs to be rethought to take into account the ways that emotion can have an effect on our experiences of the world around us.

Bringing this back to Tinder, we have a role in attempting to understand or at least empathise with the lives of the people on the other side of that screen, or at least to acknowledge that they are beings, not just mere representations — this is our responsibility — not that of the app. We have the obligation to change the way that we think about others, and to resist the systems that impoverish our ability to love — this isn’t a cause to delete dating apps, but to rethink the ways in which we utilise them and treat others who utilise them. To resist the frame, we must make small actions every day that see tenderness cherished, whether it be your neighbour or a fuckboi. These relationships exist, and one must respect people’s personal experiences within them.

Our moral responsibility is to connect with and respect the stories of our communities, no matter how hard those stories are.

Sarah Werkmeister is a freelance writer, editor, researcher, broadcaster and curator based in Melbourne.

[1] Eler, A and Peyser, E 2016, ‘Tinderization of Feeling’, in The New Inquiry. <http://thenewinquiry.com/tinderization-of-feeling/>

[2] Of course, there are many different apps that can facilitate these relationships.

[3] For one description of this process, please see Morra, S. C 2017, 'Let’s Start Talking about Decolonising Love' in Abolition <https://abolitionjournal.org/lets-start-talking-about-decolonising-love/>

[4] Sontag, S, 2003, Regarding the pain of others. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux

[5] Paglan, T 2016, ‘Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)’ in The New Inquiry <https://thenewinquiry.com/invisible-images-your-pictures-are-looking-at-you/>

[6] Sarukkai, S 2017, 'Understanding Experience' in The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory, Oxford University Press