The 14th of February is celebrated as Valentine’s Day. Despite its pros and cons, it signals a sound message about how love and affection have been a global mood in the immediate chime and the bustle of life.
With Valentine’s celebration, people may express their love and affection, not simply between a pair of young people in love but in a broader sense, among fellow human beings, married couples, parents, siblings, and more importantly, between the government and its people.
Two great Western thinkers — Plato and Rousseau, whose thoughts encourage the republic as a form of state and democracy and a political system that relates to the way of structuring and organising the republic — get into personal love between men and women. Love touches all areas of sustainability because the object of love is eternity. The eternity of love does not originate from the spiritualisation of “a priori”, but from the fact that people who make love desire to have constantly what is true.
Both Plato and Rousseau give a central position to love in their respective works. The first is aristocratic and homosexual, while the second is closely related to democratic ideals and heterosexual. For Plato, love has no need to be reciprocated and the difference between those who love and loved ones remains as it is. The love that Rousseau thinks is meaningful is only related to reciprocity, where the love experience of those who love is all-encompassing, while it is really unique to those who are loved.
The distinction is also inherent in the purpose of love set by the two thinkers. From a platonic perspective, love leads to philosophical life. For Rousseau, love is an inexorable basis for a political life of freedom.
Plato’s unique thinking is reflected in the so-called “platonic love“, a kind of esteemed love away from physical reality and associated with a more essential beauty. Modern human beings would find it hard to accept and swallow it. In truth, Plato recognises the attraction of bodily beauty. However, he opines that the best practice of love is a lofty motion from bodily idolisation to the point of beauty reflection. In other words, platonic love is not in physical enjoyment, but in the search for perfection.
Rousseau’s peculiar thought is dedicated to the political system aspiring for three passions: care, love, and patriotism. The love between husband and wife occupies a central position. Through marriage, a couple will raise a family, which is subject to a social contract. Each would submit his or her freedom to the general and be in line with the contract. Thanks to this formulation, a social corps is formed without referring to the existence of the leader who supervises it. This is Rousseau’s originality in the contractual tradition; separate members are not united under the authority of a king; they unite and merge into what they have formed. This is not a conquest contract but a surrender to the collectivity created by the contract. It refers to the sovereign people that remain free.
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Compared to Rousseau’s thought of love, platonic love is much more popular and easily found, for example, in literary works and entertainment. I read The Assault and was impressed by this novel after reading it for the first time in the 1990s. Written by renowned Dutch writer Harry Mulisch and published in 1982, the novel tells the story of a family torn apart during the Nazi occupation. The Assault begins at night in Anton’s family house. Anton, a 12-year-old boy who later narrates the story, is separated from his family after SS officers suddenly arrive to search their commune. In jail, he meets a girl who comforts him. It’s platonic love regarding the relationship between Anton and the girl. This novel elaborates on how someone returns to his past to discover the connection between past incidents to face the present.
Such is the case with Toilet Blues (2012) directed by Dirmawan Hatta. The film has a prologue and an epilogue. In between the two, the film offers the audience an abrupt and unconventional narrative of two teenagers and their shared journey in a pivotal time of their lives. Senior high schooler Anjani (Shirley Anggraini) is running away from home, getting away from her controlling father who is furious after finding her undressed with three teenage boys in a villa. With no certain destination on her mind, Anjani decides to go with Anggalih (Tim Matindas), whom she shared a platonic love with during their junior high school years, on a road and track trip.
Anggalih, whom she affectionately calls Lih, has just been on vacation with his parents in Jakarta and is on his way for his final year at a seminary, which will end his first step towards becoming a Catholic priest. Anggalih is questioning his decision to become a priest. He tries to hide his doubt in front of Anjani. But having known him for most of her life, Anjani sees through him. Wanting nothing but to escape and be free, Anjani tries to persuade Anggalih to take a turn and go with her instead of becoming a priest.
In a more permissive society, platonic love rears its head as romantic love and sexual relations are not the be-all and end-all of relationships. That is why couples in platonic relationships take out joint bank accounts, adopt children, buy homes, and engage in other activities traditionally reserved for those who have gone through all the mandatory hormonally charged mating rituals. They believe that they can find true happiness without flirtation and physical intimacy.
Having gone through previously disillusioned and permissive life, couples in platonic relationships find that Valentine’s Day is vastly overrated, the Kama Sutra is vastly overrated, and baby bumps are vastly overrated. They believe nothing beats an unshakeable lifelong bond with someone who can provide deep friendship, companionship, shared values, adventure, laughter, and stability. Love goes beyond a short-term touch but constitutes an endlessly intense exercise regime physically, morally, and spiritually.