I don’t think I’m saying anything new if I say that monogamy is a constant source of vexation for most married couples. It’s also a bromide to point out that half of marriages end in divorce, and that a successful marriage is one that ends in death. These are all accepted facts, but who ever talks about ending monogamy? In our societies, that’s a bizarre position at best.
Monogamy is historically founded on a right to ownership of men over women, and is based on the irrational belief that a person can love one person, and only one person, for the rest of their life. Not only is monogamy an integral part of the Patriarchy, but it is a laughable, hollow lie. That’s why it’s a profound failure.
The alternative, according to most people, is cheating, especially men cheating on their wives. But this is a stupid alternative, since cheating is hurtful. We know this is a social construct, since there are cultures where cheating is not considered hurtful, but we do not live in such a culture.
And then there’s Dan Savage’s “monogamish” bullshit: that we should prop up the lie of monogamy by tempering it with some cheating, as long as that cheating has been agreed upon as acceptable by both members of the couple. Of course a sex-positive porn-supporting gay man would come up with a cockamamie idea like that; besides, he knows what sells.
Because women are more likely to need their spouse’s financial support, cheating has typically gone in their disfavor, which is why radical feminists generally oppose opening relationships up or attacking cheating as a social construct. I agree with the argument, and therefore that can’t be the way to go either, or at least not before we have an egalitarian society.
One obvious solution is homosexuality, but I don’t want to get into the whole “political lesbian” controversy, so I will let lesbians talk about their own experiences and solutions, and talk only about heterosexuality since that’s what I know.
Monogamy is undesirable, but under societies with roughly even sex ratios, polygamy and polyandry are both raw deals as well. None of these traditional arrangements are a solution to the failure of monogamy.
My first principle is this:
We should be suspicious of any attempt to codify or standardize human relations (whether sexual or otherwise).
I think this can be seen as a corollary to Chomsky’s Principle (that we should by default treat all hierarchies as unjustified unless they can be shown to be justified), insofar as we live in a world of hierarchical institutions and that human relations, especially sexual relations, cannot be dissociated from that fact.
So when people tell you that their defined and codified sexual arrangement (*ahem* BDSM *ahem*) is desirable and justifiable, that should raise a red flag right away.
Now, I am not saying that we should reject any such attempt no matter the evidence presented; what I am saying is that we should be suspicious by default and refuse to accept it unless evidence is presented.
But let’s go beyond this and make the crucial observation that we live in a starvation economy. Yes, I am aware that the concept comes from the book The Ethical Slut, and I do not endorse this book (while I see no value in monogamy, I don’t think run-of-the-mill sex-positivity is a valid answer either), but I think there is a lot of truth to this concept.
Basically, the concept of the starvation economy is that we live in a social context where our relations are so rigidly codified that we have to make do without a lot of support, affection or sex that we would otherwise have. A person can only be your family, your friends, or your sexual partners, there’s not really any in-between. Sure, you can pay for sex, you can pay for someone to listen to you, and nowadays you can pay for cuddling services, but there are serious emotional, financial and ethical reasons not to use those services.
What we’re talking about here is artificial scarcity, similar to capitalism. In capitalism, most exchanges must be quantified with amounts of money, therefore the quantity and distribution of money provides the rationing mechanism under capitalism; through this mechanism, most people can’t consume as much value as they help produce.
Likewise, under our relational system, most people can’t get as much affection as they are able to provide to others. We are stuck pursuing sexual relationships because they are our main means of access to affection, and there are limited numbers of possible sexual relationships because of monogamy. We do not recognize this as starvation because it’s normal, and normality does not trigger any alarms no matter how fucked up it is.
This is my second principle:
The current codification of social relations creates affective starvation.
I don’t really have a solution to this state of affairs, but it seems to me that destroying marriage and the family structure would be a good start.