Polyamory—a radical idea. The idea of loving more than one person at a time goes back to the early Christians and Greeks—they call it agape. With polyamory the new ingredient is sex and all the romantic feelings that go with sex (or sometimes without it). A few of the preceding topics in this blog made the point that a cultural system, just like a biological system is a highly interconnected system of parts, and that a change in only one part is not likely to be successful in any kind of evolutionary scheme. Either many parts have to change simultaneously, or the environment needs to change in such a way that a sequence of single changes is neutral and not selected against until the new subsystem of parts becomes functional and advantageous (and this second scenario seems to require some teleology, but I won’t talk about that here). I claim that polyamory cannot work in the present system on a large scale unless many things change besides multiple partner relating. Poly within the system will be more about accumulation than relation, status and shallow sex rather than deep love, quantity rather than quality. At least the following memes need to change for poly to thrive.
1. Economics and politics of scarcity— the system wants us to believe that romantic love is scarce. If resources are scarce, people can be controlled with fear of not having enough resources and kept busy chasing after those resources. The yearning for ego transcendence, and the extreme pleasure that comes with sex combined with romantic love is one of the biggest levers that the system has to control people. The dating industry, the romance book industry, the pornography industry all benefit from the image of scarcity and the drying up of monogamous relationships. The first required change for polyamory to work is a belief in the abundance of romantic love (and possibly other resources when they are shared). The second change would be a gift economy and a politics of sharing power.
2. Economics of consumerism—the smaller the economic unit the more consumption. Extended families have dwindled for this same reason. Polyamorous relationships where there is more than occasional sex between partners, where there is the kind of deep love that makes people want to share a large portion of their lives by living together or in close proximity makes for a larger and less consumptive economic unit where commodities are shared. On the other hand, the system has no problem with fuck-buddies and swinging, because these do not lead to significant economic sharing. The third change for polyamory to be selected is an economics of production for use, not for making money. The fourth change is a psychology of service and pleasure from non-material pursuits.
3. Economics of proprietary production—lack of transparency in production translates into lack of transparency in general. Larger, transparent production unit can be more self-sufficient. But in the present system the material means and information of production are owned by a few individuals and carefully guarded in order to compete in the marketplace. A transparent poly family which produces much of its needs doesn’t fit the present system. The fifth change necessary is transparency in production and sharing of the means of production to create more economic abundance. Also a psychology of pleasure in production (instead of making money off the exploitation of ant-like producers who are alienated from their labor) and sharing information leading to self-sufficient village-scale production.
4. Inheritance laws.—In a patriarchy, these work when paternity can be clearly established.
5. Decision making in patriarchy is hierarchical. Patriarchal polygamy works with patriarchy and hierarchical decision making, but polyamory requires consensus decision making. Consensual decision making goes with transparency, honesty, deep listening, deep caring for others