Willard Gaylin

Love Is …

VTR Date: September 13, 1986

Guest: Gaylin, Willard



HEFFNER: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND, and my guest today is Dr. Willard Gaylin, Practicing Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, Co-Founder and President of the Hastings Center, which researches ethical issues in the life sciences, and author, most recently of Viking’s Rediscovering Love. Now, Will Gaylin has sat at this table with me many times over the past decade and more. Last time we discussed The Rage Within, his provocative book about anger in American life. Well, now Dr. Gaylin has moved on, and perhaps will move us on too, to love. But since the obvious has, for me at least, its many, many attractions, I would dare ask him why; why more from rage to love? Last time, after all, rage seemed so explicable, so appropriate in our maddening times. Must we find an antidote to it? Dr. Gaylin.

DR. GAYLIN: I don’t think it’s just an antidote to it. It’s the other side of the human being, it’s the nice side. Perhaps the answer, “Why turn to love”, may be that after living with rage for two and a half years, I was ready to live with something gentler and nicer. But actually it’s more imperative than that. I wanted to write about love before rage. It seems to me that in our culture we’ve forgotten what love truly is. We’ve forgotten, beyond that, what pleasure truly is, and I suspect that we psychoanalysts have been, at least in part, at fault. So as an antidote, not to rage but to the sexual revolution, to the glorification of sex as though it were a thing in itself, I think we need to rediscover love.

HEFFNER: You don’t have very much good to say about the sexual revolution do you?

DR. GAYLIN: well, I was a (chuckle) part of it. I think there are things that are good. I remember when I was a boy, I would have been very thankful for the sexual revolution.

HEFFNER: But it didn’t come when you were a boy.

DR. GAYLIN: It didn’t come when I was there, so maybe it’s just sour grapes. I think, empirically, the sexual revolution was sold, in great part, as a way to relieve us of the kinds of tensions where were presumed to be caused – according to some people who have misunderstood, I think, Freudian theory – by sexual repression. We thought that somehow or other, if we could stop sexual repression, we would alleviate anxieties. Now, empirically, if you want to measure the result of the sexual revolution, we have no less neuroses than we used to. We have two new diseases – AIDS and genital herpes. We have an absolute epidemic of adolescent and teenage illegitimacy, and we have a catastrophic rise in cancer of the cervix. So the empirical results of the sexual revolution have not been promising. But in addition, I think, we’ve got to a point where we raised a generation of people who are more comfortable exposing their private parts than their private feelings.

HEFFNER: You are then, in a sense, dichotomizing between the sexual revolution or sexuality and what you consider to be love.

DR. GAYLIN: Yes, I think so. The sexual revolution, after all, was primarily a revolution for women. Men always had sexual freedom, but we really deprived women. We made them feel guilty about it and in that sense I don’t want to undo that. I think it was an enormous force for good to liberate women, to have their sexual feelings. Now, women always had a capacity to love better than men. Indeed, it was as though our culture took two basic ingredients essential for all people – Freud is presumed to have said, “All of life is love and work” – sliced it down the middle, and decided to hand love to women and work to men. So even before the sexual revolution, women knew how to love. They loved other women, they loved children, they loved their spouses. It was men who were primarily deprived. Now, ironically, I think women are beginning to have problems with love at this point, as they try to juggle work – all the standards that were expected from them before, with the new standards.

HEFFNER: Do you see that in your practice? Is that a psychoanalytic…analyst’s observation?

DR. GAYLIN: I think so, yes. I suppose most of what I see originally starts from the limited source material of my own practice. I see people who are in pain, who are hungry for affection, who are isolated, and I try to understand whether what they are giving me is something idiosyncratic to them or says something about our culture. In this case, it seems to me clearly that we’ve moved to a culture which has so exaggerated individualism and the whole idea of individual satisfaction, that we forget that the most profound satisfactions require relationships. We have become a country or a culture of the “quick fix” – it must be now, it must be quick, it must be coke, it must be…and I don’t mean Coke vs. Pepsi! I mean the other kind of coke. It must be…it must come to us and it must come instantly! We have…we seem to have lost concept that most things which are truly pleasurable require our investing ourselves and require pain. Those things which are truly pleasurable, at the most profound level, always involve pain.

HEFFNER: You know, over the years – and I mentioned before that you have sat here many times – it seems to me, if I put all of our discussions together, that you do not have very much that’s good to say about modernity. Is that a fair observation?

DR. GAYLIN: (laughter)…Well, God, I hate being classified as a kind of conservative.

HEFFNER: No, you didn’t say anything about conservatism.

DR. GAYLIN: No. Let me say this – what do I like about modern life? I like the fact that we now produce enough food, that we could, if we had the desire and the…to solve the economic problems to feed all people. I like the fact that no one dies of diphtheria. I like the fact…I’m excited by the biological revolution. I think that we are on the verge of an extravagant age that we can only anticipate…in the way that people in the nineteenth century couldn’t anticipate modern medicine or the internal combustion machine. So I love the way we have moved our technology, but I do agree with you in this way – at the turn of the century, the most arrogant people in the world were the scientists and technocrats. We thought we didn’t need God, we didn’t need fantasy, we didn’t need romance, because we had the answer to man’s pleasure in his hands. And I think what has happened in the modern age, which is so disappointing, that while we have resolved those things which cause…or we have at least the instruments for resolutions of those things that cause the most intense pain, hunger, etc., we haven’t found a society or a culture that can allow us to expand as human beings and in pursuit…particularly in our culture. In pursuit of individualism, we’ve forgotten community, we’ve forgotten attachment. In the pursuit of rights we’ve forgotten responsibility. In pursuit of quick and simple…or what I call narcissistic pleasures…we forgot the pleasures involved – sacrifice, contribution, sharing, and all those other things.

HEFFNER: Do you know what’s so interesting – you talk about science at the turn of the century, and yet a moment ago you expressed such tremendous delight in the prospects of the biological revolution. It seems to me that there is something contradictory there. Do you expect the biological revolution not to take place with hubris?

DR. GAYLIN: No, I’m afraid you’re seeing the response of the biological revolution too. It allows us to do all those things which should produce pleasure, so that if you can’t have a child – you can have it through a surrogate mother, or through in vitro fertilization. And for people who want a child, that’s an enormous aspect. But the knowledge of how to have pleasure from a child – how many men do you know who actually know how to enjoy their children? I’m not talking about pride. The average man doesn’t spend more than eight to ten minutes a week talking to his child about things other than, “Did you brush your teeth? “Did you do your homework?” “Weren’t you supposed to clean the car?” – things like that…doesn’t engage him…at least the average man in our culture. He doesn’t have time. He is too busy getting the narcissistic pleasures of being on this board of directors, rising to the top of his business, making sure that he’s considered important in the community. He doesn’t have time …so that while we have the biological revolution allowing us to do marvelous things, we forgot how to extract pleasure…there are all these oranges all over there and we don’t know how to squeeze them anymore.

HEFFNER: You say men…you asked me how many m en do I know who find that pleasure. You seem to be suggesting, too, that there perhaps are fewer and fewer women who find that pleasure, now that they have become more like a man…as the song went.

DR. GAYLIN: I think women are having a particularly difficult time now while they juxtapose a set of ideas…women are trapped in a certain biological time frame. They are…psychologically is what I really mean…they adopted the ideals and values of their childhood and once you get those inside you you never get them out. And so they want all those things…

HEFFNER: Do you say that as a therapist?

DR. GAYLIN: Well, short of five or six years at psychoanalysis. Even then, we don’t give any guarantees…no money back.

HEFFNER: No guarantees.

DR. GAYLIN: No, not at all. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I think women, though, have also held on to some of the values which were never corrupted for them. Women…friendship amongst women is something that I as a man have always envied. It is a rare man that has the kind of friendship that women have unto each other. Now you may say that there is some biological differences – men are more competitive. There is interesting work coming out of psychology, showing a difference. But the one thing I think, from our talks over here particularly, is you know that…our…the human being is constructed that we don’t have to take any orders from biology. Except at the most extreme levels, we can make ourselves into what we want. I think women still retain a hunger for affection, a hunger for communication, a desire to get involved, and a knowledge of it. The things pressured, though, are all the other aspirations which have been offered to them and which they’ve been deprived of – the opportunity for power, for money, things of that sort – and it’s tough to get it all in.

HEFFNER: But Will, once again you say…and I was scribbling while I was listening to you…”We can make ourselves into what we want.” Isn’t the trouble that that’s basically what we did?

DR. GAYLIN: Yes, I think you’re right. And that may be, in truth, why I wrote this book. I want people to start asking themselves serious questions about what they want. I want them to know…I don’t think they really know what love is. I start the book not with love but with pleasure. Most people…you see…and Freud was responsible in part for this…Freud, in a sense, introduced a very degraded concept of pleasure. Pleasure was the release of sexual instinct – the relief from sexual tension. So pleasure was the kind of thing you got form satisfying the hunger. Well, there is a kind of pleasure at the crudest level from surcease from pain, so that sexual tension is aggravating and hunger is causing pain, etc. So there is a kind of pleasure, if you want to call it that, but there is a larger pleasure that’s involved with giving, sharing, and loving. That pleasure is different. It is not immediate – as I say, it causes pain. Look, it’s…it’s fun for you to go to the theater and watch a play. I’m saying that it is probably greater pleasure, in the way I’m using it, for the man who wrote the play. Yet you know that he agonized, he sweated, he cursed, he pulled his hair out, he said, “Why am I earning living like this, why am I not being a host on a television show where you must relax and have fun…” (laughter). So you go through all kinds of hell. The pleasure in raising a child, which if I had to list what was the most pleasurable thing in my life it would have been that. My work, too, but I think seeing my children develop…they were the most painful experiences of my life, and the pleasure in love is always painful. Freud knew it. He knew it at the end of his life. This many who ran away from the concept of love for sixty years, maybe…he had a profound and long intellectual life…At the end of his life, in a wonderful book called Civilization and Its Discontents, finally says that maybe…he’s trying to think, what’s the hope, if you’re not religious…and he wasn’t religious…and if there’s no God and no future life and the world is a mess and there is all this pain…what’s the hope? And then he considers the idea of love. But then he says he’s worried because if you love someone, if you truly love them, and it’s central in my thesis in love, there’s a kind of fusion of identity — you don’t know where they begin and you end off. There’s a real collapsing of reality and the sense of yourself. And so Freud, sensing this, said, but then, my God, you expose yourself to even more pain because you must endure that person’s pain. And what if he rejects you, or she rejects you? So Freud, while seeing this as an out, is still a little nervous. I see it as the only out.

HEFFNER: When you talk about “an out” – I’ve wondered about that because we’ve sort of…I’m aware of the fact, again, sitting at this table, and I’ve read a letter that you wrote to someone who responded to something they…that person thought you were saying and you pointed out, no, Heffner was saying it – along the lines of manipulation and changing people – and I really want to come back to this question of…if we have abandoned or never embraced the concept of love…you talk about rediscovering love…where’s it written that when you ask us…all of us…to consider, to be thoughtful, to make choices, we won’t make the same choices that we have been making. We’ve made choices, Will, and here we are in this fix and you don’t like it!

DR. GAYLIN: We always come up against the same wall, you and I, in that you are that hard pessimist and I’m an incurable optimist. I’m prepared to admit that the optimism may be the more dangerous disease at this point. But when I say we will make the right choices, I don’t think we will. We haven’t made the right choices. But I think as people begin to look within their bankrupt lives, as we begin to see more and more depression occurring at an earlier and earlier age, as we see people when they hit their fifties, when they are at the peak of their success, sort of falling into a kind of despair of – is this it? Is this all? So it’s another apartment, so it’s another summer house, with empty dreams and empty places and empty activities and shallow pleasures which simply make you feel alive for the moment? I think you are seeing a kind of despair about a way of life. I think we saw it for a while in the sixties and there was a kind of flamboyant pushing out and trying to find a way, and then it wasn’t…it didn’t work, although some corrections were made. I think the average person is getting anxious and hungry and recognizes that with all the success, the promise of our bourgeois society, when it is being fulfilled, and I’m …I’m not…I’m recognizing that there are people for whom it hasn’t been fulfilled…but the amazing thing is that for those who have been fulfilled, one doesn’t sense more pleasure in the upper middle classes, one doesn’t sense less despair in the wealthy and the affluent. The poor think that in the penthouses, in the East Hamptons of the world, and in the condominiums in Florida, there is gaiety, there is joy, there is fulfillment and pleasure. But there isn’t. There’s just a different kind of pain.

HEFFNER: You mean, the old business of – rich and poor, it’s all alike but rich is better – isn’t true?

DR. GAYLIN: rich…ah…if you ask me, again, if we’re talking about pain, there is no question that there is nothing more painful than the whole deprivation of basic dignities which comes from being dirt poor. I’ve been there. I was young enough…I’m old enough now to have been…while a very little boy…but remembered the last stages of the Great Depression. So I will never romanticize poverty. But if you have a country where most of us have been lifted out of the poverty level, that’s when people begin to feel cheated. When our grandparents or parents were struggling for a living, they may have despaired and they may have even been frightened about whether they…if they got ill, what about their children. But at least they felt the dream was there for them. The tragedy now is that their children have got the material things and somehow or other it’s an emptiness. The dream doesn’t seem fulfilled. There is no romance in their life.

HEFFNER: And it is the rediscovery of love that you hope will lead us away from that emptiness?

DR. GAYLIN: Yes, and away from the narcissism, the individualism, the concept of self. The concept that somehow or other you, as an individual, can achieve pleasure independent of your fellows simply is not true.

HEFFNER: I bet that when you were going to college…because we’re contemporaries…that word, “individualism” did not have, did not carry the pejorative overtones that you seem to be assigning it now.

DR. GAYLIN: It did not because…individualism is the glory of our country. I’d much rather live in a country that is too individualistic than to live in a pit like the Soviet Union, or, even though it is fashionable to go there for a two-week vacation, that’s about all most Americans could tolerate of Communist China. If you are in a truly collective society which demeans the individual, that’s an error in the wrong direction, that’s of a much higher gravity than our error. But I think, here, we came closest to a pursuit of happiness and I think we have reached the edges in the limits of individualism and we must begin to understand that we are collective people. That’s what ties the book on rage, the book on caring, with the book on love. All three, even though they may seem like different subjects, are saying, for god’s sakes, let’s remember that we survived together, that we are not even human when we are alone. Take a human being – that’s one of the most poetic things in the world – and isolate him from his fellow creatures completely and he ceases to be human as you and I know it. So that all of them are a plea for a kind of respect for community, a respect for the collective, and a need for each other. We literally love or perish!

HEFFNER: It’s so interesting that you speak that way and you have written that way. And you are so eloquent, both in speech and in print. Yet, our time seems to be a time of moving toward the collective in a way that does great damage to individualism without gaining what it is that you want. It would seem, on a political level, to be a kind of collectivism that does limit free speech, free activity, without gaining anything whatsoever. And I wonder whether there isn’t this just continuing conflict that, as you said, you’re the optimist and…

DR. GAYLIN: …Yes, but I don’t…

HEFFNER: …I see is not working itself out.

DR. GAYLIN: No, but I think that we can learn. We don’t have to go back to the other extreme. We can…we’re beginning to learn. We know that by neglect of community in pursuit of, lets’ say, individual liberties, that no one was free – when a woman in Harlem…and it took the woman in Harlem to tell the intellectual community that…couldn’t shop for her groceries at night. She was the one that said, “I need a safe street.” So that we who are the liberal, intellectual community, were protecting, rightly so…civil liberties began to see we must have a safe environment. We simply have to have a collective good. We are also learning that we’re dependent on each other because of shortages. When we are running out of essential things…and it’s a joke, we’re running out of everything. One of my standard lines are that “We are running out of out.” We throw garbage out – there is no more out. Remember? There is no place to throw our garbage. Where we throw it is where our kids are going to live. These things…health, care…I was raised in a romantic tradition that a doctor was a cowboy – the more health the better. We are beginning to learn we cannot afford it. And even if we are setting that level too low, I think we can afford it…I think we can afford it up to a point. We’re going to run out and in the new technologies we’re going to have to begin to think collectively.

HEFFNER: And at the Hastings Center you are obviously thinking about these questions. How does love concern…enter into the formularizing of the choices that you make?

DR. GAYLIN: It’s interesting that you bring it up because people see this as so different. I think that you see the connection between my work on love and the Hastings Center. At the Hastings Center we deal with the moral issues and the ethical issues involved in medicine. Such as, who should get the artificial heart; should we indeed have an artificial heart; how should we distribute those limited resources which are truly life-saving? We don’t sell, normally, seats on a life boat on a sinking ship, even though we’re the most entrepreneurial society. We wouldn’t do that. Yet we are doing the equivalent in medicine by auctioning off a liver to whomever has $200,000 to pay for it. One of the things that becomes apparent and one of the points I make in here…that in order to truly empathize and to love, there has to be a kind of fusion. There is no way we can do this with large populations. There is no way we can be concerned with a third world that has…suffers from diseases we could solve tomorrow, like malaria and hundreds of thousands of children…we see the children and if they’re starving from food we have all these rock concerts and everything. We get a little goodness done. But if we understand the connections between people, we can understand both the limitations in love. I cannot love Africans. It is enough for me to love my wife, my kids and a half dozen other people in the world. Then we realize that that intensity we call love is limited, all the…and should be, biologically, because we don’t know if we’re going to return to the caves and that’s what saved us – that capacity to feel about your child as though it was the most important in the world – let every other child in the world rot – save mine. That’s part of our biology. That’s what I go into in the selfishness. But we must learn, therefore, that because we are a small world and collective we must have agencies to be concerned about all the other children.

HEFFNER: The collective interest. Should we again get back to biology? And once again I am so impressed by your…what you call an immediate or a temporary Larmarckism. You mentioned Theodosius Dobzhansky and I remember studying with him at Columbia, being so enormously impressed with him. You do think in terms of changing us, in a way that a century ago people said it couldn’t be done…or fifty years ago.

DR. GAYLIN: Absolutely. I…I tell you, I have a dozen anecdotes, but the one I think I like best…I think I use it in the book, I don’t remember…because it is so short, is in one section of the Talmud they raise the question, if God had intended man to be circumcised, why didn’t he make him that way in the first place? And the answer given there, in its wisdom, is that alone among creatures, the human being is created incomplete, that he has the capacity to share with his creator in his own design. Now I think that’s not only poetic and beautiful but biologically accurate. We are freed from instinctual fixation the way no other animal is. That’s why I spend that time in the book about how…why human beings are just simply different from other animals. And because of that we have a capacity to fly – we don’t have any wings. We go under water – we don’t have any gills. Uhm…we have…we live in a post-fertile period in a way that’s ludicrous to other animals. We do all sorts of things which we determine. So in a sense we are, we make our own rules – up to certain limits. And I’m getting nervous when we get to the limits which say family is not necessary, attachment is not necessary, commitment is not necessary, because I think those are the limits of individualism.

HEFFNER: Yes, but when you reach those limits and you…you’re so enthusiastic about making those changes, I have to raise the question again whether that isn’t the arrogance that you made reference to earlier on about science at the turn of the century. Where do we look for this goodness? Where do we look for rediscovered love? Who will make these decisions?

DR. GAYLIN: Well, I don’t think you have to look very hard. I think that it’s so much part of a biology, it’s a very interesting thing. Uhm…you look at a baby…your baby or your child’s baby…something funny happens there. The baby wakes you at night. You don’t slap that baby across the face unless you are on e of those less than human human beings that do exist. Why don’t you do that? Baby is waking you up. Baby does nothing to give you pleasure…it does everything to aggravate you. It’s not entertaining, it doesn’t talk, it urinates and worse all over you, it burps up its food, it gets up at odd hours, it screams without telling you why, it is in a rage constantly – and we adore it. We adore it? Because it is in our biology to adore it. Now that is the prototype of…now it doesn’t mean we don’t get angry, but who said anger and love were opposite things – who else am I going to get angry at? I only get angry at people I love. Nobody else is that important to me. I don’t get angry at someone on the street! I get annoyed with them but it’s only the people you love. So the capacity for love is all over the place. I was shocked, and I describe it here with that first grandchild…it’s like a biological circuit was turned on. Who is that kid? I’d never seen him before. I thought I was past the age of feeling that way about babies and a kind of charge went through me and I knew all the circuits were changed – I’d never be the same again. I turned to my daughter and said, “I just found someone that’s going to be my closest friend.” No, I have five closest friends! So it’s in you and it’s in…look, I’ll show you how it’s in you in another way. You know the Harp Seals and the way we cry when we see them being beaten up? That’s because they look like us. They’ve got big sad eyes. If those were cockroaches, sixty-pound cockroaches, would we bleat about it? No!

HEFFNER: Okay. What you’ve proven to me is that I must ask my sons to watch this program because we keep telling them grandchildren are a source of love. Thank you Dr. Will Gaylin. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s themes, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey, The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney, The Richard Loundsbury Foundation, Mr. Lawrence A. Wien, Pfizer Incorporated, and The New York Times Company Foundation.