Back in 2016, UBC professor Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins graciously agreed to be interviewed about her Metaphysics of Love project. The result was published on an earlier version of this website in January of 2016. I’m republishing it here:
Philosopher applies metaphysics to love and gets sparks
Story by Faye Bayko
Photos by Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a philosopher at the University of British Columbia, has already learned there is a price to pay for venturing out from the hallowed halls of academia to the uncouth, disorganized world of the unlettered.
“You are a degenerate herpes-infested whore and I hope you acquire AIDS,” was just one of several nasty responses she received when she wrote about her relationship choices in an online magazine’s column back in June of 2013.
Jenkins’ submission to Slate magazine’s DoubleX column, How do you maintain desire in a long-term relationship?, described her open marriage and her feelings about being in a loving relationship with two men.
The idea of Jenkins having a relationship outside her marriage, even though her husband was fully aware of it and equally open about his extra-marital relationships, proved too much for some people to understand and they responded with anger.
While the experience of being attacked for her lifestyle was painful, that reaction was one of the reasons she believes it’s important to get back out in front of the public and discuss the various concepts of love. Her book, What Love Is And What It Could Be, scheduled for release in January 2017, will use her personal experience to lead the reader into a metaphysical discussion of the nature of love.
“It helps, I think, to explain where I’m coming from and how I came to see things the way I do,” explained Jenkins during a recent interview at a Vancouver coffee shop. “And, it helped me get out in front of the objection that I’m biased because of my experiences. Of course I am! Everyone is. But, people tend to notice my biases because they’re not the usual ones.”
What she does not want to get lost is the exploratory journey she intends to take the reader on.
“I’m really interested in the debate about whether love is a biological phenomenon or a social construct. I see wisdom on both sides, so in the book I try to reconcile them,” she said. “We don’t make progress if we neglect the biological reality that we are evolved human animals, but nor do we get to assume that anything which feels natural must therefore be hardwired in to our biology.”
Ingrained social norms like monogamy or heterosexuality, she explained, can be extremely powerful.
“Until we take a close, critical look, we can’t make any assumptions about what is considered natural and what is the result of our social conditioning.”
Jenkins’ interest in metaphysics – the study of what exists, what is real, what is natural – allowed her the opportunity to do just that. The critical examination those in the metaphysical field usually placed on questions of causation, fundamental physics, or time, she felt she could direct on to the study of romantic love.
Together with her research assistants she created Metaphysics of Love, a project funded by Hampton Research Grant from the University of British Columbia.
“My project sprung from the realization that romantic love also needs to be examined in this same way. I saw how my training in metaphysics gave me scope to approach love from new angles.”
With her book’s upcoming release Jenkins is preparing for her reader’s reactions.
“I’m an introvert. I don’t like being centre stage. But these ideas need to be centre stage, so I am willing to use my platform to get them out there, even though I know that may come with negative consequences. For women particularly, speaking publicly on any controversial topic is risky. For one thing, the image we must present is impossibly circumscribed. We can’t look too young to be taken seriously or too old to be considered attractive; too casual to be an expert or so formal that we’re trying too hard. And, once we start talking, our vocal inflections to our accents are subject to intense criticism.”
Then there’s the online abuse, she said. “If we ever say anything that suggests we don’t know our place we will be denigrated in vitriolic and gender-specific ways. Men don’t get told they’re whores. And, our offline safety can easily be compromised if any disgruntled troll decides to escalate matters.”
She said she had no idea how a person would get used to such an environment. “I’m not comfortable with it. But, I’ll keep talking anyway. The kickback only makes it clearer why we need to keep talking.”
In the meantime, she hoped to continue to build her research base through lectures, academic and mass-media publications, and feedback from followers of the Metaphysics of Love website and Twitter feed #ROMANTICLOVEIS.
“I’ll be honest with you: philosophy sometimes has a bit of an image problem. We are seen as remote and inaccessible, irrelevant, and weird. To be fair, we haven’t always done ourselves a lot of favours in this regard! But, we are seeing a shift now, over the last five or maybe 10 years, as the discipline starts to direct more attention and respect towards issues that impact people’s daily lives. We are seeing some really great thinkers using their philosophical training and skills to address some of the most difficult, and most urgent, questions facing the world right now. It’s an exciting time to be a philosopher.”