Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not
rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes
all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13 4–8
If I say I love you unconditionally it means that I will never reject you.
Socially, this presumably means for life. In a cooperative situation, it means for
the duration of the project.
Unconditional love is a form of reciprocity. In “classical” reciprocity – “tit-for-tat”
– then the way I behave depends on the way you behave. In unconditional love, then
I will love you and accept you no matter what your behaviour is.
We can see that there can be “degrees” of conditionality – a spectrum. For each
relationship, there may or may not be a point past which we cannot be pushed and
remain unconditional in our acceptance.
We can imagine a situation where person P helps person Q.
Quite possibly, the position on the spectrum of conditionality depends on the stake
that Q has in P’s well being.
In other words, if P is essential to Q’s existence, then person Q has reason to love
person P unconditionally, and the stake that Q has in P is 100%. The stake means
the amount that person Q needs person P: in this case, 100%.
If the stake that Q has in P is less than 100%, then there may come a point where
Q will reject P if P’s behaviour becomes unacceptable compared with the benefits
given to Q by P.
If person P helps person Q, then person Q will feel towards person P:
a sense of debt and obligation (through the instinct of fair exchanges, tit-for-tat
a warm positive regard.
The first will result in loyalty, the second in affection.
If the stake that person Q has in person P is 100% – if P has proved to be essential
to Q – then the loyalty and affection that Q feels towards P will also be 100%.
Two kinds of helping
There are two kinds of helping involved in unconditional love:
“unintended consequences” where person P helps person Q just by existing.
“helping in response to need” where person P helps person Q in a deliberate fashion
targeted at person Q’s needs.
Tit-for-tat reciprocity is found in impersonal business relationships and impersonal
relationships in general.
Unconditional love is mainly found in two types of context: personal, and cooperative.
The personal can be either being related by family, or through some historical reason
to feel endlessly grateful or loyal (such as being married, or because someone has
saved your life, for example).
If people are collaborating together towards a common goal then there is unconditional
love – “I will never reject you” – for the lifetime of the collaboration.
Both situations make defection unlikely (breaking the deal), because in 1) family
is always family, and the past cannot be changed; in 2) it is in each person’s interests
not to defect because all are working towards a common goal.
Tit-for-tat is an impersonal, businesslike form of reciprocity that can be seen as
heartless in some circumstances.
Behaviour from tit-for-tat cooperation / reciprocity includes: “you have to earn
it”, punishing, blaming, rejecting, strategic self-interest. We see this justified
distressingly often from religious people, which probably stems from the impersonal
environment (large anonymous groups) in which organised religion began.
Behaviour from unconditional love / cooperation includes: self-sacrifice, patience,
understanding, empathy, educating, helping to succeed, forgiveness. These come from
the idea of a long-term relationship of shared goals and destiny, so, “what’s good
for you is good for me”, “it’s in my interests to help you”. But we don’t have to
be in an unconditional relationship to employ this kind of behaviour – actually,
it costs nothing and is very beneficial. It was the norm for most of the history
of human evolution, when we lived in small groups. We can also see this behaviour
exalted as the highest good, by Jesus etc.
If the unconditional love end of the spectrum corresponds with cooperation, unconditional
harm belongs with competition.
In unconditional love, the benefit is given freely by P to Q.
We may distinguish two kinds of unconditional harm:
“unintended consequences” where P takes what they like from Q without caring about
the effects on Q, through force, manipulation or deception.
“hurting in response to need” where P deliberately targets their harm just where
Q needs help instead.
Human evolution and instincts
In most of the history of the human family tree, from approximately 2.5 million years
ago until around 12,000 years ago, when cities and agriculture began, people lived
and survived together in small groups. This means that each person’s stake in their
group-mates was personally almost 100%, and so, unconditional love for the people
around us was the norm for most of human history.
We know from archaeological evidence that warfare was almost non-existent, and that
the weak and disabled were taken care of, probably because everyone wanted to live
in that kind of situation, and because we can gain a good reputation from caring
for the weak.
When small groups began merging together to make larger city states, the social situation
became much more anonymous, and businesslike tit-for-tat reciprocity would have become
dominant in most people’s lives. We believe that this was the time when organised
Human rights are a form of unconditional love, since it means to treat someone unconditionally
as a human being with regard to the rule “the maximum benefit and minimum harm available
to them”. This is reminiscent of our evolutionary past when each person would have
been seen as important.