Saturday, December 11, 2010

What's Radical About the Poly-Pushers?

I just stumbled on a post which is so good that it even managed to awaken me from my end-of-semester exhaustion:
One of the more recent and problematic ideologies that has been embraced by left-wing movements, organizations, and working groups is the ideology of polyamory. A sexual politics that rejects monogamy as retrograde, polyamory is promoted by some as a necessary radicalism––a rejection of the conservatism that is supposedly the essence of monogamy––a qualification for being properly left. My issue with this ideology is not moralistic but political: I do not see polyamory as essentially more progressive than monogamy, and I am deeply suspicious of how this claim of poly-radicalism can replace material political struggle with an idealist body-politics. . . The political motivation of the "poly-pushers" (as one of my friends dubbed them once) certainly seems properly left. We know that the monogamy that emerged during capitalism, and cohered around the puritan and horrendously patriarchal nuclear family, was a building block of capitalist society. This family, and the gender and property roles it has veiled, is also the "natural order" for reactionary mono-mongers amongst the religious right and banal liberals. Since the spectre of "family values" (treated as eternal though not really that old) is often summoned from its grave for multiple conservative or liberal reasons, perhaps it is time that we exorcize this ghost once and for all. Pushing polyamory as the new sexual normativity, however, is not automatically anti-capitalist. . . Leaving aside the problem that poly-pushers define love in the same simplistic manner as mono-mongers (as romantic and/or sexual), capitalist logic can easily accomodate polyamory as well. Overconsumption and overproduction also define capitalism. Thus, wanting to have as much sex with as many people as possible is very capitalist.

Read more of this great post here.


Pagan Topologist said...

I think that being polyamorous is an orientation, just as is being homosexual, heterosexual, or something in between. I have known since I was a teenager that monogamy was very wrong for me, although it no doubt works for some people. After reading the book _Sex at Dawn_ that I mentioned here earlier, I am somewhat skeptical that monogamy works for very many people.

Nevertheless, as far as I am concerned, trying to convince others to be polyamorous is as silly as trying to convince others to be monogamous or to be "straight".

Clarissa said...

That's exactly how I feel about the issue. I'm just too exhausted to be able to frame it as well as the post's author at this point.

Pagan Topologist said...

I was wondering why you were awake at this hour! I am grading exams and needed to clear my head for a few minutes.

Clarissa said...

You know how sometimes you get so exhausted yet you can't settle down? That's me tonight. Good luck with the grading!!

Pagan Topologist said...

Thanks! I am starting to misread students' geometric proofs, so I think it is time for me to go to sleep.

Anonymous said...

While there are some valid points in there, the person writing this does not know much about modern polyamory or the communities therein. That lack of knowledge is a fatal flaw.

Also, it seems mildly anti-sex to me, though I am not sure about that. It definitely denies women's agency in a few ways.

It's no surprise, though, that polyamory -- like all movements -- ingests and then regurgitates the biases and predjudices of its cultural milieu. That's like observing that the sky is sometimes blue.

I speak as someone who is by nature not and could never monogamous, though I am usually too lazy to do anything about it.


geo said...

To imply that polyamory is "anti-capitalist" in on its face ridiculous. To posit that people who question norms and openly choose polyamory are likely to question norms and May be - "leftist" or "anti-capitalist" more commonly makes perfect sense.

I would hope that the honesty and means of dealing with conflict resolution and similar which relate to the theories of polyamory may be helpful for some in doing good and understanding some things better in life.

Polyamorists can however be elitest with the best - as you indicate in what you speak of.

Polyamory is Not an easy way to live particularly for the long-term. I admire people who live lives that aren't "totally selfish" - e.g. have commitments in child-rearing, making our world better for all and similar when they work through being polyamorous.

I don't find polyamory admirable when the people in it seem self-centered and not really "people focused" in their lives sharing and giving beyond a narrow circle of their partners.

I'll own my prejudices here!! Thanks!

Lindsay said...

I'm with you on polyamory not being inherently more progressive, egalitarian or anti-capitalist than monogamy.

I tend to think of it as something that works well for some people and not for others --- though I think of it less as an orientation individual people can have than as something pertaining to *relationships*; it makes more sense to me to think of poly as something people do together, not something individual people are.

But I certainly don't think it's better than monogamy, or even that it's something everyone will want to do or be able to do! I see in promoting polyamory as inherently freer and better the same potential problems for women that the '60s Sexual Revolution had: saying "no, I don't want that" is somehow less valid than saying "yes," so your "no" won't be taken seriously, or will constantly be challenged as "uptight," "bourgeois" or whatever, and ultimately you may just end up agreeing to sex, or relationships, that you don't want just to end the badgering. (Now, I haven't seen much of this among the poly people I know, and read online --- most of them seem to know that poly isn't for everyone, and to stress that everyone has to *want* to do it for it to work).

For me, polyamory has the draw of giving me a wider support circle of people intimately connected with me (like, more than even very good friends, at least in terms of everyday interaction - I might only see a dear friend every few months, while lovers are around much more often) who can help me do things, take me places, or just be there when I'm having a horrible depressive episode. Since my autism means I need some extra help with some things, and since I also have a mental illness, I worry about being too much of a "burden" on a lover, and I find having a network of people who care about me and can help me in various ways works better, and is fairer to all involved, than leaning heavily on one person. (I also help them, when- and however I can, but it's just a fact of who I am and where I am in life that I need more support than they do most of the time).

So I do polyamory, and like it, and find that it works, but the reasons it works for me are particular to me, and each person needs to do their own evaluation of "is this for me?"

One thing I do think is a purely individual trait that can influence whether polyamory works for you, though, is whether or how much you feel jealousy. I don't, so I never gave a crap if my partner also slept with, or was emotionally intimate with, other women. (He, weirdly, had no issues with me being intimate with *women*, but had to come to terms with the thought that I might want to be with other men, too. He ultimately accepted it, but it was odd.)

Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Canukistani said...

Poly pusher is an interesting trope. Up to this point in time, I’ve always considered a poly pusher (brand name) to be a snow shovel. I bought one at home depot and it’s currently residing in my shed waiting for a prospective snow storm tomorrow. I think that your source is pushing something other than snow.
I believe that analyzing sexual relationships by framing them in terms of capitalist- socialist continuum makes as much sense as reformulating the class war in America as a generational conflict between “greedy geezers” and young workers. This may be advantageous to some of the participants but doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. My view point is that societies under stress and in transition tend to query many aspects of relationships including exclusivity about which we are really talking. During the Chinese Long March, there were a lot of casual relationships among the comrades. Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who worked for the communists had a lot of notches on his belt. When Mao came to power, the great helmsman became a mono advocate for the masses although he didn’t always include himself. You’ll have to agree that America is currently under stress and in transition to a plutocracy. The normative view of gender relationships is very expensive. Lori Gottlieb in her book “Marry Him” estimated that the cost of dating for women up to marriage is about ten thousand dollars and the estimated of an average wedding in the states for 2008 was in the range of 28 thousand dollars. With the economic downturn, there is a dissonance between the expectations of couples and economic reality. This is for monogamous relationships. How do polygamous relationships work? Are you going to replace a mono dinner for two with poly want a cracker? Your source also mentions the old Christian sex as sin story. It was true when the faith was established but in the early church during the first century Paul had to admonish the faithful for their interpretation of agape. My favourite topic of discussion, Church Father and misogynist, Saint Jerome, had a band of shaven headed female acolytes who followed him on his journals. He had to leave Rome in a hurry when one of them took mortification of the flesh too seriously and died.
Anyway the recession has given us a new zeitgeist so exclusivity or celibacy may become the new norm. I think that I agree with you in a rhetorical tautological manner of speaking.

Clarissa said...

Canukistani: you have to agree, though, that very expensive weddings and datings have nothing to do with monogamy per se. You can have an ecstatically happy monogamous relationship without wasting money on idiotic weddings or expensive dates. People only shell out that much money for this stuff when the relationship sucks to begin with.

Canukistani said...

“You can have an ecstatically happy monogamous relationship without wasting money on idiotic weddings or expensive dates. People only shell out that much money for this stuff when the relationship sucks to begin with.”

You’d be surprised what people will spend or in what events they will participate in order to meet Mr. Right. In the spring, I had some correspondence with Lori Gottlieb after her book was published. I’ll share some of the communication.

From: (Myself)
Sent: Thu, Feb 4, 2010 10:52 am
Subject: Reader Mail: Right on!

Subject: Right on!

Message: Just got back from singles trip with meetmarketadventures. 30 women - doctors etc. - in thirties and early forties and 5 guys -visiting Chinese engineer, old guy (me) etc. Thinking about getting your book for my 3 daughters for Valentine's Day. Vic

From: ""
To: (Myself)
Sent: Thu, February 4, 2010 11:14:47 AM

Subject: Re: Right on!

Thanks, Vic -- I hope your daughters enjoy the book. I'm hearing from so many young women that it's really given them a healthier perspective on dating and helped them to look for the RIGHT "Mr. Right" and not to mistake the guy who looks good on the check-list for Mr. Right.

Thanks for writing,


a message dated 2/14/2010 8:38:38 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, I write:

Hi Lori,

Just to follow up on the e-mail on February 4th that I sent about getting your book for my three daughters and also to elaborate on my rather terse message. Gave it to them collectively on Valentine’s Day but they seem to be looking for “Mr. Right Someday”. V-day was also Chinese New Year this year so I decided to cover my bases by taking my kids to a Chinese food restaurant and giving the book to them at the fortune cookie moment. My oldest two (twins) don’t have a boyfriend unlike my youngest daughter who has a boyfriend. All of them are going back to school in the fall for more post secondary education and have a strong sense of entitlement when it comes to men. I disagree with their attitude due to my current experiences in the dating scene. Recently, I went on a single’s dog sledding trip up north and shared an Igloo with four attractive, intelligent and very well educated women. I’m amazed at the tenacity of women who are willing to brave a wind chill of minus twenty six degrees Celsius in order to meet their bashert. My impression is they feel that the men who they met on the Internet dating services are web surfing couch potatoes and there is a better chance of connecting with a stud rather than a spud on an adventure single’s trip. This “stud” is at the age where the testosterone levels are decreasing but not quite ready for Viagra although I try to keep in shape. Fortunately the bears were in hibernation since I had one bag of doggie biscuits between me and being lunch for some hairy mammal regardless of my endurance. The male quotient on the trip was low and I think they built several snow inuksuk which bore a remarkable resemblance to ancient female fertility figures to conjure a totally ripped Sasquatch who can quote Sylvia Plath or Theodore Roethke (the interior of the Igloo did remind me of the inside of a bell jar, the title of one of Sylvia Plath’s books. Is this feminist symbolism?). Here are thirty women in their thirties and early forties including a goodly number of doctors and other professionals figuratively loaded for bear and not a lonely Mountie or lumberjack in sight - just me, a myopic Chinese software engineer and blackberry guy for potential mate material. The other two men came with their significant others. I envied the lead dogs in the pack for their alpha male certitude and wondered how they would deal with this situation.


Izgad said...

Whatever happened to good old fashioned liberalism, where people got to pursue their own good in their own way as long as they did not cause direct physical harm to other people? Is it too much to say that anyone who believes that it is their place to tell people how to live their personal lives is not a liberal?

Clarissa said...

Izgad: liberals are often just as dogmatic - or even more - than the conservatives. Sad but true. Of course, I find your position very attractive and respectable.

Clarissa said...

Canukistani: what a story! I have to say, I'm very surprised by this. In Canada there is a severe shortage of women in search of a relationship and a resulting overabundance of men. A woman who can't find a date in Canada must be rtying very hard not to. I have no idea why the women would travel so far when all they had to do was come to Montreal on a Saturday night, and they would encounter literally crowds of man desperate for a date.

eric said...

Having to deal with ONE significant other's emotional complexities is vexing--I can't imagine dealing with those of 3 or 4 people. And I don't think it's just because I'm autistic.