While literature has dealt with all manner of erotic conflicts, the simplest external motive for conflict has remained untouched, due to its obviousness. That is the phenomenon of being already taken: that a person beloved by us is inaccessible not because of inner antagonisms and inhibitions, too much coldness or overly repressed warmth, but because a relationship already exists, which excludes a new one. The abstract temporal order plays in truth the role which one would like to ascribe to the hierarchy of the feelings. The state of being taken, leaving aside freedom of choice and the decision, also has something wholly accidental about it, which appears to thoroughly contradict the claim of freedom. Even and exactly in a society healed from the anarchy of commodity production, there would scarcely be rules regarding how and in what order one got to meet people. Were it any different, then such an arrangement would equate to the most unbearable assault on freedom. For that reason, the priority of what is accidental has powerful reasons on its side: if a new person is preferred over another, then the latter is slighted, because the past of the common life is annulled, experience itself is, as it were, crossed out. The irreversibility of time sets an objective moral criterion. But this latter is entwined with mythos, like abstract time itself. The exclusivity posited in it develops according to its own concept into the exclusive rule of hermetically sealed groups, finally to that of large-scale industry. Nothing can be more touching than the worry of lovers, that a new person could attract love and tenderness –their finest possessions, just because they cannot be possessed– precisely by means of that newness, which is itself produced by the privilege of the older. But from this touchingness, whose disintegration would mean the simultaneous disintegration of all warmth and snugness [Geborgensein], leads an irresistible path from the aversion of the little child to its younger siblings and the contempt of the fraternity brother to the pledge, to the immigration laws which exclude all non-Europeans in social democratic Australia, all the way to the Fascist extermination of racial minorities, wherein in fact warmth and snugness explode into nothingness. It is not only, as Nietzsche knew, that all good things were once evil: even the most tender of these, left to its own momentum, has the tendency to culminate in unthinkable barbarity.
It would be idle to try to point out a path leading out of such entanglement. Yet the baleful moment can be named, which brings this entire dialectic into play. It lies in the exclusive character of what is first. The original relationship, in its mere immediacy, already presupposes that abstract temporal order. The concept of time is historically formed on the basis of the social order of property. But the desire for ownership reflects time as fear of losing, of irretrievability. What is, is experienced in relation to its possible non-being. It is thereby turned into a possession and precisely in such petrification to something functional, which can be exchanged for another, equivalent possession. Once become entirely a possession, the beloved human being is actually no longer even looked at. Abstraction in love is the complement of exclusivity, which manifests itself deceptively, as its opposite, as the clinging to the appearance of someone-just-so. The object of this conventionalism slips out of the latter’s hands, precisely because it is turned into an object, and forfeits the human beings, which it degrades to “mine”. If human beings were no longer possessions of any kind, then they could also no longer be exchanged. The true affection would be one, which speaks specifically to the other, holding fast to beloved traits and not to the idol of personality, the mirror-reflection of possession. What is specific is not exclusive: it lacks the impulse towards totality. But in another sense it is nevertheless exclusive: it prevents the substitution of the experience which is indissolubly bound to it, not so by forbidding such, but because its pure concept prevents this substitution from happening in the first place. The protection of what is entirely determinate is that it cannot be repeated, and that is why it tolerates the other. The property relationship in human beings, the exclusive right of priority, recalls to mind the old saying: Lord, they’re only human beings, which one, doesn’t really matter. The affection which knows nothing of such wisdom, need not fear infidelity, because it would be immune to faithlessness.
Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia, 49.- Morality and Temporal Sequence