And then later today, I overheard a professor — I won't say who — telling students they will be meeting representatives of 2 groups, one conservative and one liberal, and that they "would like" the liberals. These particular conservatives, he said, were more effective pursuing their aims — some field of policy that I won't identify — but the liberals, you will like.
And it got me thinking about this word "like." What is this liking that we do — or are told to do or assert that we do — these days? You can "like" somebody on Facebook. It's a social thing. Politically, it's about liberals. Liberals are likeable. Barack Obama is — it's drummed into our heads — likeable. He's so likeable. He got ahead of Hillary Clinton for being so darned likeable, and he famously said "You're likeable enough" to her on his way to beating her to the nomination.
It occurred to me that that liberals have quite effectively insinuated the message into our brains that they are likeable, and, in particular, Barack Obama is likeable. And that doesn't just mean that any given individual likes him, subjectively. He is likeable, objectively. If you don't like him, what's wrong with you? You don't seem likeable. You'd better like him or no one will like you. All the likeable people are liberal, so you'd better be liberal or no one will like you.
That sounds very schoolyard, or like a shallow adult. Maybe if you're old like me, you remember the Arthur Miller play "Death of a Salesman," in which a pathetic man was way too concerned about whether he was well liked. Years ago, when we Baby Boomers were young, it seemed pathetic to dwell on being liked. It was a distraction for small minds, for conventional people.
Consider the etymology of the verb "to like":
O.E. lician "to please, be sufficient," from P.Gmc. *likjan (cf. O.N. lika, O.Fris. likia, O.H.G. lihhen, Goth. leikan "to please"), from *lik- "body, form; like, same." The basic meaning seems to be "to be like" (see like (adj.)), thus, "to be suitable." Like (and dislike) originally flowed the other way: It likes me, where we would say I like it. The modern flow began to appear late 14c.The modern flow! I like Obama would pre-14c be expressed: Obama likes me. He pleases me. And why? Because he's like me? I see myself in him? Is that what we are doing? Looking in a mirror? If it feels as though we are looking in a mirror, we like him?
I'm reading the long Oxford English Dictionary entry for "like" — sorry, it's not linkable — and I run across the line in "Uncle Tom's Cabin": "I may like him well enough; but you don't love your servants." I can link to the full context:
"Would you think you were well off, if there were not one creature in the world near you to love you?"
"I?—Well, of course not."
"And you have taken Dodo away from all the friends he ever had, and now he has not a creature to love him;—nobody can be good that way."
"Well, I can't help it, as I know of. I can't get his mother and I can't love him myself, nor anybody else, as I know of "
"Why can't you?" said Eva.
"Love Dodo! Why, Eva, you wouldn't have me! I may like him well enough; but you don't love your servants."
"I do, indeed."
"Don't the Bible say we must love everybody?"
"O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them,—you know, Eva, nobody does."
Eva did not speak; her eyes were fixed and thoughtful for a few moments.Now, I certainly don't think we ought to love our political leaders. "He loved Big Brother" is the last line of George Orwell's "1984":
He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.Horrifying. But this liking of Obama — not loving, liking — what is it? Is it racist? You like him. You really, really like him. Or something's wrong with you. Do you twinge with anxiety that you might be racist if you don't like him? Better like him. Why suffer the cruel, needless misunderstanding, the stubborn, self-willed exile from the likeable breast! Everything can be all right. The struggle can be finished. Surrender to the victory over yourself. You like Barack Obama.
But only like. You don't love....
Love... it's so old fashioned and retrograde. It's what the Baby Boomers talked about, back when they were hippies.