The Politics of Monogamy

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One of the things that has surprised me most about my recent voyage into polyamorous love is the effect it has had on my appreciation of music and film. As most of you know, I’m a hopeless romantic, and music and films about discovered and celebrated and lost love transport me.

But now I’m starting to look at these films, and listen to this music, with a completely different eye and ear. They are almost all about:

  • Couples making monogamous love work against all odds
  • Women rescued from loneliness or from loss of one monogamous love by a new, originally stupid and or selfish and or polyamorous love who eventually realizes that his purpose for living is to love only her
  • Songs declaring someone to be their one true love
  • Heartbreak over loss of one’s one true love, and the misery and emptiness and/or anger it leaves behind
  • The search for and discovery of one’s one true love (after much foolish misadventure)

So now I find myself hitting the fast forward to next song button on my mp3 player over and over to get past these really annoying songs about monogamous love being the one true way. What’s that about? How come I never noticed before that these seemingly great songs and seemingly heartwarming movies are actually political propaganda?

I don’t by any means think this is deliberate. This is just one more example of the “only life we know” phenomenon, by which we extol the virtues of the only way we know to do things, through good and bad, and laugh about how crazy it all seems to be.

It’s the same reason that books about entrepreneurship reinforce the deadly and dangerous myths about the only way to make a living, and the same reason that our political and economic and educational debate is all centred around how to tweak the existing systems (to the left or right, usually) when any fool should be able to see that the existing systems are hopelessly broken and that tweaking them or depending on them is simply being co-opted by them, a distraction from the essential work of imagining and creating wholly new models that can be tried when the old ones collapse.

We are, alas, our own propagandists, urging each other on to be ‘everybody else’ in an insignificantly and unhelpfully different way.

When will we start listening to the artists and the dreamers? They have been telling us this all along. Why can’t we,won’t we, hear them?

Category: Our Culture
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11 Responses to The Politics of Monogamy

  1. Mariella says:

    about music..: good jazz, classic music… I mean wordless music… until you find non propagandistic singers in your languages. About movies…a little more difficult to erase the words…. probably european cinema is less monothematic…

  2. I think you are right that “Monogamous” is how we have been programmed by Society/Culture.I think there might be a very good reason for this to become the defacto standard.I think that you are making the requirements for establishing a Polygamous society very constrained. Not all the members of a society need to share a common Vision!! If even 70% of my basic requirements are met, then i am in!What you will have to figure out is, if polygamous was sooo great, then initially primitive society was designed to be polygamous why did they then choose to turn it around on its head and go for a monogamous structure with all its disadvantages?If you can explain that, you would have figured out why it might not workout longterm.Let us know what you think.Regards,Srinath

  3. Theresa says:

    I’ve always loathed many of those songs. There is one especially – Tammy Wynett singing “Stand by Your Man” – makes me want to take a hammer to the stereo. Ha. Seriously now, I never understood why until I read something written by Gloria Steinem in one of her books – Revolution From Within. If I remember correctly, it was a chapter about romance and why romance is a form of mental illness in our society. She compared the stories of Wuthering Heights with the story of Jane Eyre to show the differences in the main characters’ sense of strength and self esteem. Worth reading.

  4. jacktoronto08 says:

    Robin Wood is one film critic whose work has consistently pointed out how Hollywood films and popular culture reflect dominant ideology – if you’re interested in exploring further how apparently innocuous movies are actually political propaganda he would be a perfect reference point

  5. Meryn Stol says:

    I believe that there are systemic advantages to monogamous relationships. Draw a picture of some interconnected nodes (5 maybe?). Imagine the nodes are human beings who can get emotional and such, and need to share feelings with some other, to be reaffirmed of their self-worth for example. A group of 3. 4 or 5 may seem nice, but there’s only one group form with only one trust connection: 2.One is lonely, and is just a lonely node within the network. Give every lonely node a dedicated stabilizing node (an extra thick line in between) and the stabilization process after turmoil becomes much more predictable. That is, in good marriages. But that should be if your partner sings you cheesy love songs. :) Because of different workplaces and different peer groups, the couple probably doesn’t share a big part of their connections, which makes the stabilization work even better. Of course, regular friends can stabilize as well, but there is something special to one-on-one. It’s also the best for reciprocity of energy-consuming acts of love. The only big disadvantage to monogamous relationships is the disturbing effect of death. But I think the benefits outweigh the costs.So maybe this traditional value has some merit after all. :)

  6. You’re right, Dave, it’s silly. The same things have bothered me for a long time, in films, in songs, and in what people try to do in their lives. It is so often based on a lie, trying to do something that doesn’t really work that way. The idea that you can love only one person, and that there is one right person, and when you’ve found them you stop loving everybody else, and you guard your partner with jealousy, trying to keep them from loving anybody else. And despite that, in real life, most people don’t at all stick to the practice of monogamous true love, but at best do it serially, they’ll still tend to defend the concept at all costs.

  7. catnmus says:

    I don’t know, Dave. I fail to see the difference between monogamy and “polyfidelity” as posted by you earlier. Why should three or more people commit to “loving” only each other, but two people should not? Why must two people agree that they both are willing to “love” a third person, but if one wants that person and the other doesn’t, then “too bad so sad” for him/her?

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Appreciate all the comments and ideas, thank you everyone.Flemming: Thank you! Well said. Catnmus: I don’t know the answer to your questions, but I am now in conversation with a significant group (surprisingly, mostly women) who believe this is a model that can work. Some have experience with it in real life, and others just believe instinctively that it makes sense, that a generosity of communal love provides emotional ‘safety in numbers’, and variety and joy and collective love that can hold a community together in ways more powerful than a ‘family’ of two and their offspring can hope to achieve ‘alone’.Since this is analogous to the key message of my book on natural entrepreneurship (collective, loving, purposeful work, instead of the impossible attempt to make a living alone) I have to believe there is something to this. As we discover the answers to your questions I’ll share them :-)

  9. patti digh says:

    very interesting… and this post brought to mind an old Frank Zappa quote: “There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we’d all love one another.”

  10. Jon Husband says:

    Frank Zappa also famously claimed that he had never and would never write a love song because he believed that pop culture love songs all encouraged (strongly) the mental illness-like states of mind associated with romantic and juvenile dependency / obsession that we have re-named “love”.

  11. Siona says:

    Polyfidelity is no more immune to issues of jealously and trust as monogamy; I’m a bit agnostic about even beginning to position it as a panacea. I am, however, in complete agreement about the perversion of the overwhelming messages that happiness and satisfaction must come from romantic love between two partners. Where does family come in? What about the rest of the community? What about other relationships? What about the nuances of friendships, or the love between extended family members, or teachers and students and mentors and mentees? I feel there’s a profound and sorrowful lack of attention and appreciation for relationships that don’t fall into a few gross (meaning rough and ill-defined) categories. I’ll admit to being fortunate in having found what a slightly embarrassed portion of me would describe as a soul mate, but I recognize that my own fulfillment and deep appreciation of this partnership is due in part to the fact that I feel so connected and supported by a larger community of people for whom I feel an incredible amount of love. $0.02 :)

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