I would like to begin this essay by proposing that we need to seriously rethink and expand what ‘making love’ means in our societies. To be more specific, I would like to suggest that we need to change the meaning of making love to include all the other forms of love that are also labour. I will argue that this is possible via the creation of a basic income.
First, some disambiguation is necessary. The phrase ‘making love’ in English normally refers to when people have sex with each other. But making love is obviously more than just having sex with someone. It is true that most of our current patriarchal modes of behaviour would seem to imply that sex alone equates to love. Yet this is an obviously one sided and violent point of view, as what it really is saying is that those in positions of power (generally men but not only) get to define what making love is by equating it to their own patriarchal joys (1). It is because we now live in a system based on structural violence that love is equated to sex, which is often used as a tool of oppression and shaming (2). But to anyone that has experiences on the matter, it is quite obvious that this is not really so: one can have sex without making love. It happens all the time. But while this is true, we should avoid the conclusion that making love can only happen when we have sex. Similarly, we can love many people in many different ways but we do not have to have sex with them in order for it to be love. That would be weird.
Of course, having sex with someone you love is wonderful. While the traditional understanding of making love is telling of it’s meaning in action in terms of what love makes us feel (joy, excitement, happiness, curiosity, peace, to name a few), what I would like to explore in this little essay is what happens when we begin to conceive of ourselves as making love as a wider set of actions which give meaning and value to our lives and are recognised as such by our broader social forms.
Giving and Taking Love
Let’s pause for a second to consider the meaning of the word ‘labour’. Before its connotations as waged-work, the word labour meant a few different things, from a task, or a project of action, to the exertion of the body and most famously to literally giving birth to a human being. It is quite hard to imagine another action which involves giving so much of oneself for another person: to give and exert ones’ body in order to carry, nurture and bring another one into being. Somewhere down the line the patriarchal tackle took place, where now labour seems to be all about making things and now, increasingly, making abstractions, but has somehow lost it’s meaning and has little to do with the making of other people.
In order to make love anew and recharge it politically, it is important we understand where value comes from and it’s flows in our current system. By value I simply mean how people represent the importance of their own actions to themselves, or how people give meaning to their own actions. If we think about it, these flows or ways in which value circulates really boil down to the concrete doing of giving and taking. That is, how we give or take value from and to other living and non-living beings. This, however, is a practice we are normally very bad at, mainly because it involves consent.
Consider the following situation as an example:
your not-so-close acquaintance sees you after they had a bad day and says “You look like you need a hug” and then they proceed to hug you, without first asking for your consent. They hug you, you sorta hug back.
Most people have experienced some version of this situation. It’s awkward. In many cases, it is not you who wants or needs a hug to begin with but the other person, who has now taken the hug from you. The person presented their gift as giving but in fact they were actually taking.
Just as the non-consensual hug, global supply chain capitalism is constantly presenting itself as giving value, as if we need the things it pushes down our throats, while in fact it is really taking our value and abilities to produce meaning, constricting us until there’s nothing else. In other words, we live in a very non-consensual system that violently takes while it pretends to give.
This misunderstood gap between giving and taking is where a lot of our problems arise from, from how we touch each other in daily life, to the very structure of our economy and how we value each other.
Today, most people are powerless because the system of value is set up in a way whereby if we dare to give care to the people we love, we will be pushed down to stay at the bottom of the social, political and economic hierarchy.
Our current debt system perpetrates this systemic non-consensual taking of love. We seem to be seriously stuck in a money system that only allows for a wage-currency to circulate by taking human labour and turning it into a commodity while giving nothing or close to nothing to those who give care to others. This vacuum for the extraction of value is set up so that only vampires have a chance at making it to the top of our current pyramid scheme, while the caring classes are stuck providing the basis for social life to even be possible.
Like this we can begin to see more clearly the vampiric structure of our economy. By only acknowledging one type of labour, waged-labour, our current money system grows its powers by dispossessing those who make life possible to begin with. It’s the curse of the caring classes. If you care or give your love to others, you’re going to be punished to accept low wages, bad health and working conditions and essentially be precarious for life. That is if you’re lucky enough to receive a wage for doing care work (3).
Love, it would seem, has been colonized.
All the Forms of Love
Going back to labour, if we posit making love as the giving and taking of value in more consensual ways, it may open up spaces to conceive of labour as something we consensually and joyfully want to give because we love doing it rather than something that pretends to give while it in fact takes from us.
In order to start to free ourselves from this grim situation, I would like to suggest that we have to reformulate what labour is as actions that are directed at giving love and care to other people. After all, isn’t that what life is about? Human beings are projects of mutual creation. Most of the work we do is caring for those we want to have around. How about we start to build a system that represents that back to us?
Why is it that we are always faced with situations where we constantly agree to do something we do not really want to do? If we see labour as giving love, then the next obvious question to ask is what to do about the money we need to survive? What role would money play in a society organised by the principle of love?
For most of us, if we do not work for a wage, we do not eat. It’s as simple as that. If the current debt system works by exploiting the love of others in order to only value and perpetrate wage slavery, then shouldn’t we just abolish forced waged-work?
Today, there is no currency or money form that adequately reflects all the forms of love we feel and do for each other. If love is unconditional, then our money system should also be so. If we want to have true free love, then we must create a form of money that is also free. In order to truly abolish the slavery of the wage, we must create a money system that unconditionally provides everyone with an equal ground to live, so that waged-work becomes a choice and not the modern human condition we somehow got stuck with.
I am of course talking here about basic income. With an unconditional basic income, people could have the power to say no to forced waged work. Importantly, they could also do the things they love without submitting to non-consensual exploitation.
Let’s take the example of delivery bike fleets. Riding bycicles is a very enjoyable activity. Yet today most people who would like to work on their bikes have no choice but to do it for an exploitative (platform or otherwise) company. We all know the names of these companies, mainly because they’re everywhere! Of these, platform capitalist apps are notoriously famous because they pay their riders few, have very precarious working conditions and make people work a lot more than they should. It is not that people who work for these companies don’t like to ride their bikes (a lot of them do). The problem is these venture capital backed delivery application companies want to take while pretending to give.
If you think about it, who really needs to have an Oreo cookie, two pieces of garlic and a tomatoe delivered by someone on their bycicle from the store two blocks away, all within 5 minutes, when they can just walk to the store and get it themselves?
What these delivery apps are really doing is taking control over various food supply chains and locking people in them as passive consumers, all while pretending to give a very ‘convenient’ service. They’re not even supposed to earn a profit, but to take over the whole distribution system.
With a basic income, what would happen to local distribution? As mentioned, it’s not like people will stop riding their bikes, as a lot of riders actually enjoy doing so. Nor is it true that local bike fleets for distribution would disappear.
What would change, however, is the form in which this labour is given. Bike fleets could choose to serve, for example, the elderly and people with disabilities, people who really can’t do their groceries by themselves, and get paid for it on top of the basic income that they unconditionally have. The point here is that riders could choose to give their love and care to these people, rather than to an exploitative company which sucks away their lifeforce.
It might seem like a small feat, but this changes completely the political imagination of what is possible and, importantly, what can be organised when things are done with love rather than out of fear. Basic income is a means to make love in more democratic ways.
Afterthought: When Love Hurts
Any action that is directed towards taking care of life in whatever form is the anti-thesis of this industrial system of death known as capitalism. Yet sometimes loving something or someone too much can also lead to burnout, depression and even a strange sense of numbness.
As we pour our energies into a given project of action, we have to be aware that we are transforming ourselves in the process. It’s as if we become part of what we make and who we make it with.
Making love hurts when we either give too much or give what we do not have and when we take things we do not want. It may come from a place of love and care, but if it’s non-consensual to ourselves, then it stops being love and turns into self-harm and self-exploitation.
To make love to oneself is then to direct actions that give value to ourselves and take meaning from our relations with others in consensual ways. This implies knowing what we want to take, what we can give and also know when to stop.
In order to dismantle the machine of non-consensual giving and taking known as capitalism, we have to radically re-learn what love is and how to give it to ourselves and each other. If love is the currency, we must learn to see it’s currents so that it can encircle the world with its embrace and allow new imaginations to emerge.
This essay is dedicated to 若飛商, who taught me how to consent, and to those people I love.
(1) This is not a new argument. Feminists have been pointing out for decades that sex work is work and should be rightly conceived as such. My take on love is simply trying to provide a non-romanticised view of love as any action that gives value to our lives so that we can bring new worlds into being that acknowledge the love we make as the foundation for a new political economy.
(2) It is worth noting explicitly in passing that sexuality and sex have been commodified by capitalist consumerist culture, with phenomena like porn colonizing the mind and the body of young generations of what sex is and how it is done. One can of course, have sex and make love at the same time, just as we can also make love when we do gardening, organise reading circles, go running, perform a martial art and so on. The point of this essay is that we can make love in many ways. Focusing love on sex alone is part of the colonization we must abolish within ourselves in order to be a little more free.
(3) A friend from the Chilean Network for Basic Income once told me that about 90% of all the care work in the planet is done by women and is mostly unpaid.
(A version of this essay will be published by the Momentography of a Failure magazine project under Creative Commons licensing. Please share with those who you love!)