Leaving Gaia out of our economic thought threatens our survival, but at least now we’ve remembered her and begun to think about the ecology of our economics. A second crucial element, essential to our survival, needs naming in order to become visible in economic thought.  Eros, in Greek mythology, emerged as soon as Gaia had created life. This illustration, also from the Parthenon web site, shows us Eros as the earliest Orphics knew him, born from the world egg of creation. Sometimes he was called Phanes. eros-phanes

My dictionary gives us the Greek mythology we know better than we know this ancient one: “Eros is the god of love, and son of Aphrodite.” But the older Eros was like Gaia, without parents, self-formed, and very powerful. Both Gaia and Eros were called protegenoi, meaning the earliest components of the universe. Eros was the chief god of the Spartans, always pictured as a virile young man.  You could say Gaia created the birds and the bees, but she counted on Eros for the buzz. Without it, life couldn’t be sustained.

Unlike Gaia, Eros was not entirely forgotten by us, but he did regress over time. Today we know him best as a flying baby, the Roman Cupid, cute but not seriously sexy.

Today's Valentine Cupid

Today's Cupid

Eros remains the root of our word “erotic.” Creative and often full of love and sexual longing, Eros is also a term used by psychologists. They say Eros is “the sum of all instincts for self-preservation,” and we need that just now.  Eros, as I’m intending to name the roots of any economy, is that motivation that gets you and me out of bed in the morning; Eros is whatever keeps you going.

In a deep way, like our remembering Gaia as Mother, we commonly express our recognition of the sexual roots of Eros’ life-pulling-power–we use sexual phrases to describe Eros. We say: that idea really charges me, or that debate got me really juiced; or that’s so exciting; or yeah, that lights my fire, that turns me on.

Two non-economists have been important to my understanding of Eros. First came Rollo May, a psychologist, who wrote a bestseller back in 1969 called Love and Will. In it, he said, “Eros is the center of the vitality of a culture–its heart and soul. And when release of tension takes the  place of creative Eros, the downfall of the civilization is assured.”

May explained that Eros wasn’t about releasing sexual tension for self-satisfaction. Eros yearns for the beloved and commits to self-sacrifice for the beloved–whatever that dear desire is or whoever that person is. May warned that when a quick “getting off”  takes the place of our deeper, riskier Eros, then a deadly progression will set in.

First, comes boredom and apathy. shopping2

Next comes addiction–trying to satisfy with more and more and more–until finally Eros, denied, will be transformed into violence. gears-of-war

May says these are all methods for numbed people to get excited somehow, to feel something, if not their deepest longings, then something. We may be seeing the social progression he spoke of in our culture now.

Eros, by contrast, means owning what or who you truly love, what and who you truly desire–all of which defines who you will become. The great poet, Audre Lourde, is the second influence on my thoughts about Eros and our need to include Eros in economic thinking. Lourde wrote an important essay called, “The Uses of the Erotic,” found in her collection Sister/Outsider.

She says: “We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered.” In other words, recognizing who we are, down deep where our personal protegenoi dwell–is only practical. It empowers us and makes our life worthwhile, and when it no longer does so, we grow and change and develop, finding new desires, new creative yearnings.

Lourde was an African-American lesbian whose self-recognition was hard to confront in her time. Her writings reveal how brave she was, and in this essay, she urges women to know themselves and their desires. She considered women’s desires especially important, because what women want tends to be hidden or denied. Outed, they get discounted in our culture.

That discount is often enforced by economic punishments: no pay for maintaining a home and life-sustaining relationships, or the beautiful places that feed us; little pay for the “soft” or “caring” professions. Care by family members remains invisible to our economy, nowhere in the GNP. It’s demoted by economists to “the informal economy,” instead of the essential foundational economy it really is. The same work delivered by a paid childcare worker does count at least, but only marginally. Aggression, even economic violence, pays much more handsomely. Because of this, our human desire for love and relational commitment gets snubbed or set aside, whatever one’s gender.

Though Lourde’s article was intended for women, she would agree, I think, that Eros is vital for both sexes. Without Eros, we’re bored and open to addiction.  We’ve been seduced into believing material goods will make us happy.  Barbara Brandt has written a book called Whole Life Economics: Revaluing Daily Life, which examines at length the problem of “economic addiction.”

Economic addiction refers to the inability to set limits on or say no to our economic activities. Modern economies are characterized by many economic addictions–work addiction, job addiction, money addiction, and the addiction to constantly increasing production–all of them justified by the belief that more is better. A key example is the addiction to constantly increasing sales and consumption….If we stopped selling and consuming ever more, businesses would lose money, employees would have to be laid off, and the economy would eventually collapse. So any attempt to bring about a more humane, fulfilling, and environmentally supportive economy must improve our well-being while it frees us from the vicious cycle of economic addictions. (3)

Eros continues to operate. We need to name Eros to help this driver of human biology and the economy become more visible. Because of Eros, people constantly exercise crazy economics in their daily lives, spending time and money that don’t add up. Eros enlivens lovers,Bollywood lovers

whose longing for happiness drives them to take risks. Eros inspires artists, who work very hard for very little money; Eros works like a fever in the hearts of business owners with a dream, who give it their all, like mad. Eros breaks the grandparenthearts of parents and grandparents, loving their children for no money at all–PAYING through the nose to do the hardest job on earth. Eros motivates community members doing volunteer work and civic work and church work. Worshipping, educating ourselves, pursuing whatever dreams we can claim, we all seek to make our lives worth living.

Eros needs to be counted, not exploited. soul-sanctuarytown-meeting

Often Eros can be found in the very stuff you wish you had more time for, the relationships you most long and need to find. Far from being worthless because this work often goes unpaid, Eros represents what we say we most value, what we report we most deeply desire and value–so humans virtually MUST find ways to add Eros into our economic calculations and arguments.

Look for my postings under Eros’s category.  Think about the arrow wounds Eros has given your heart. I’m far from the only one to have thought about these  issues and I hope to gather many names and ideas here on this blog. It is extremely practical to love your life and the lives around you. It is the path to real and  sustainable economics.