|When I agreed to publish Glenn Parton’s essay Love Politics on this blog last week, I warned Glenn to expect a firestorm of response. While I was very intrigued by the ideas in the essay, I was disturbed by the way he broached some of these ideas. Several respondents have complained about the essay, with the loudest criticism being about his overromanticizing of the ‘free love’ movement of the 1960s (which Glenn and I both grew up during), his apparent misogynism and homophobia, and his preoccupation with the sexual aspects of relationships over the emotional ones. I will confess that I share readers’ concerns on all these scores. At the same time, I believe the underlying message of Glenn’s essay is fundamentally valid, and extremely important. Rather than debate the concerns, I’d prefer to try to restate what I learned from the essay, hopefully in a less provocative way than Glenn’s, and focus the debate on the core ideas and their implications:
So what does this all mean? If you can accept these six Principles About Love, what are their implications? What does this tell us about how we should live?
I think it’s safe to say that this kind of emotional openness would only work in a community whose members were self-selected, and where there was substantial trust among the members. That describes lots of tribal cultures, but in our culture, only communes even come close. My guess would be that most communes have failed either because they tried to live idealistically, completely cut off from the rest of civilization (instead of taking the best technologies and the best aspects of modern society and melding them with the best of communal life), or they lived on the periphery of civilization and didn’t know enough about business and economics to operate successfully ‘partly within the system’. And many communes were pretty liberal at allowing new members and visitors in without limits, which would certainly strain trust. The new terms Intentional Community and Bioregional Community are similar to, though somewhat broader than, ‘commune’, but they are vulnerable to the same failings. With the right mix of pragmatism, economic and business understanding, and rigorous review and unanimous approval of new members, however, there is no reason why these types of community shouldn’t work well, and they would provide a perfect laboratory for the kind of emotional openness that Glenn espouses.
Glenn makes a point of saying he is not advocating promiscuity or a culture that compels the acceptance of unwanted, coercive emotional or sexual advances. What he is saying is that people in a trusting community should be free to love, passionately and without limit, more than one person, and to express that love in any way that is mutually agreed upon, and that such love should in no way diminish the love that either partner feels and expresses for others in the community. He is saying that exclusive pairing is not ‘hard wired’ into us, and that we could learn to permit ourselves, and those we love, to develop deep, guilt-free, jealousy-free, loving relationships with many people within a trusted community. And he is saying that if we could allow ourselves that freedom we would be happier, more peaceful, more respectful, more attentive, more optimistic, more connected with each other, our senses and the Earth, more emotionally resilient, self-loving, emotionally balanced, more feeling, and more emotionally mature. And with that emotional health would come the clarity, strength, and vision needed to tackle and overcome many of the intractable problems that bedevil civilization. I think this makes a lot of sense.
I don’t believe we need this kind of emotional liberation to save the world, but I don’t think it would hurt.
If you didn’t get this from Glenn’s essay, this may be due more to my imagining of what he meant than your misunderstanding. As Daniel Dennett says “On any important topic, we tend to have a rough idea of what we believe to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments.” And I expect that Glenn will weigh in himself on what he really meant. But now that I’ve delineated what I got out of his essay, and why I think his basic idea is very sensible and very important, I’d be interested in your thoughts. Naive? Idealistic? Wrong-headed? Insensitive? Or is there something here that bears closer scrutiny, and maybe a real-world trial?