Poly isn’t Necessarily Egalitarian, but Egalitarian is Necessarily Open February 15, 2013Posted by wfenza in Skepticism and atheism.
Franklin Veaux, a popular (within the community anyway) writer and activist for polyamory, recently posted about polyamory and ownership:
On another forum I read, someone made a complaint that folks in the poly community tend to see monogamy in terms of ownership and control; that is, for many poly folks, monogamy is about owning your other partner, while polyamory is more egalitarian, treating other people as fully actualized human beings.
And, sadly, I’ve encountered poly folks who do believe that. The misguided notion that polyamory is “more evolved” than monogamy comes, in many cases, from the assumption that monogamy is inherently rooted in ownership and polyamory is inherently egalitarian.
This commits one of my cardinal sins of argument. It’s the same one that got Charlie Jane Anders in so much trouble with the atheist community. Namely – he’s arguing against a point that nobody is making. It’s a special kind of straw man where there is no argument in the first place. You’re just arguing against a vague “other,” in the form of “some people think [unfair paraphrase of argument], but they are all wrong.”
Veaux claims that “some people” think that monogamy is inherently rooted in ownership and polyamory is inherently egalitarian. I know a lot of polyamorous people, I’m on a lot of poly forums, and I read a lot of poly blogs & websites, and I’ve never encountered anyone who believes that. Veaux provided no links or examples of what he’s talking about, so we only have his word that he’s properly interpreted the attitudes of the people he’s met. Let’s just say I have my doubts.
What *I* believe, and what I think all reasonable people must believe, is that a relationship that lives up to Veaux’s definition of egalitarian must necessarily be polyamorous or accidentally monogamous. Veaux is quick to point out that polyamorous relationships can be just as controlling as monogamous relationships (a point with which nobody I know disagrees), but glosses over the fact that his “egalitarian paradigm” is incompatible with traditional monogamy.
So here’s something I want to throw out there: I don’t care if Michaelyn dates or sleeps with other people. Yet, we are monogamous.
How does that happen? Well, she ha the green light to do those things, but she doesn’t. One day she might. But what I want is to know that she is with me because she wants to be. If Michaelyn is with me exclusively because she wants to be, we don’t need rules binding her to me in that way. If she doesn’t want to be with me in that way, why would I demand she do so? Love, to me, means wanting someone else to be happy, not just happy in a way that caters to me.
While I wouldn’t call this a polyamorous relationship, at the very least it’s “open.” These are two people who truly respect one another and want each other to be happy. This is de facto monogamy, as opposed to de jure (by rule) monogamy, which is what is traditionally practiced.
Now, even a passing familiarity with the BDSM community will teach you that not everyone wants an egalitarian relationship, which is fine. People can want whatever they want, and if they find consenting partners, that’s fantastic. But Veaux’s argument – that poly relationships can by just as controlling as traditionally monogamous relationships – sort of misses the point, which is that de jure monogamous relationships cannot be egalitarian. ALL relationships that qualify as egalitarian under Veaux’s paradigm will be open relationships.
In other words, polyamory is not inherently egalitarian, but all egalitarian relationships must be polyamorous, or at least merely de facto monogamous (and open). This is what people mean when they describe polyamory as “more evolved,” as Veaux put it. It looks like this:
I dislike posts like Veaux’s because I truly believe that if society were able to jettison a lot of the assumptions and expectations that lead to traditional monogamy, we would be much happier as a society. Posts like Veaux’s draw a false equivalence between polyamory and monogamy. It focuses on the purple part of the diagram, and ignores the blue part.