Friday, 8 December 2017

The Polyamorous State - A Final Analysis

This is almost certainly the last time that I will write on monogamy and polyamory and associated sexual matters. The subject has fascinated partly for personal reasons but equally because it is central to how we view future social development in the liberal West as it comes under pressure from external communitarian pressures such as the emergence of Islam and a growing internal authoritarianism.

This internalised authoritarianism is chipping away at the margins of difference and freedom in order to create a new 'normality' that its proponents think might restore the order on which States and institutions thrive. But this is not a political paper. I am not interested here in that chipping away of freedom by a weakened authority or the challenge of organised political communitarianism. 

I am interested here in the liberation of that limited proportion of humanity capable of the emotional intelligence required to live beyond restrictive historical community constraints on sexual and emotional expression and how they can be protected from both the community-State and from a culture of anxiety where freedom's greatest enemy comes not from the Right but from the enemy within - the frightened neo-authoritarianism of the liberal left, the snowflakes intent on turning us into ice. 

Basically, how can these people be protected from the majority. There is no answer to that here, just a statement of that which must be protected. Having resolved and understood one aspect of freedom, I propose to move on over time to explore the broader framework necessary to preserve liberty.

A polyamorous orientation is just a state of being for an individual. Polyamory is the living out of that state of being in society. Contemporary Western society is definitely not accepting of polyamory. The polyamorous individual is forced into secrecy and stigma with his or her opportunities for self expression severely limited by the refusal of others to recognise that polyamory is a free and non-harmful individual choice which they have no right to condemn if it is between consenting adults (though they also certainly have the right not to accommodate automatically the polyamorous person within their own relationship situation). 

The internet has had the dramatic effect of 'sub-normalising' (that is, creating a different normality that works for a sub-set of those otherwise regarded as normal) minority sexualities of all types, bringing people with those orientations together and enabling discussion that reassures and encourages people who are questioning their own 'normality'. It is one of the reasons why the internet is so loathed by authoritarian personality types of both Left and Right. The new media landscape has enabled people starting out on their own journeys of self development to consider forms of behaviour and organisation that suit their true natures rather than simply accept pre-packaged models delivered by the past and by the community.

The current state of polyamory is defined by the social assumption that just one partner be recognised in law and social situations. This inhibits a secondary (or tertiary) partner so this has to change at some stage. Similarly, variation in polyamory needs to be more widely recognised - it is not a case of simple replacing a couple with a 'thruple', thereby merely expanding conventional forms. It is really about finding consensual arrangements that suit individuals, with very different psychologies, in their dealings with emotional need, sexual desire, economic relations and property holding and responsibility for child rearing and other dependents.

Far more common than the thruple is the 'vee', one person with a relationship to two people who are not involved with each other. And the 'vee' may have the two others become or be sustainable friends without any emotional or sexual content. Economic and social realities will tend to make one partner 'primary' in terms of household and property but this does not mean an incompatibility with equality in sexual or emotional terms or with equality in terms of intent to equality all things being equal, especially if the alleged 'secondary' actually has their own effective household or property arrangements with their 'primary' who may have nothing to do with anyone in the first 'vee' ... or may have everything to do with them - in theory, a chain of 'vees' could theoretically extend forever. Yes, it can be complicated.

The polyamorous personality may be fully (say) heterosexual but they strongly tend to tolerance of queerness and fluidity. They may participate in alternative sexualities at different times of their lives. The central aspect of polyamory here is its resistance to definition and to fixed identity, working against the prevailing identity politics of our time, a reason why it is clearly resented by the authoritarian Left. One reason that there is only a minimal polyamorous identity group presence is because polyamorists generally (except as psychological support) see little point in defining themselves as other sexual identity groups have done, precisely because it works against the instinct for fluidity and adaptability.

Polyamorous people tend to adopt the same fluidity towards friendship (avoiding closed groups and cults), business (avoiding corporate restrictions), politics (being wary of authoritarianism of both the Left and the Right and tending to left and right-libertarianism), culture (being open-minded, following a more tolerant, appropriative, hybridising and hedonist approach to art and popular culture) and religion (being either more atheist than average or, at least, more vaguely 'spiritual' without seeking fixed external moral frameworks). There will, of course, be exceptions to all these claims because difference and fluidity means being different from even the norm of the non-normal.

It is certainly no accident that the leading edges of polyamory were non-heterosexual and often pagan in orientation because 'normality' binds the heterosexual and the communitarian first before it binds anyone else. We are in a free society nominally and, in a free society, regulation does not bind our emotions and the vast majority of our sexual desires. What binds us are our own fears and circumstances. Our society is expressly designed to be constructed around a core of monogamy between heterosexuals sanctified if not always in a religious ceremony then by the State. The polyamorist is rarely a revolutionary as such but Church and State are not generally his friends.

Once the barrier to personal acceptance of polyamory is broken down, the tendency within the polyamorous personality is to see a breaking down of many other barriers and the creation of new boundaries that are personally-directed and not socially-directed. People are seen as relating to each other as complex and different so that it is recognised that it is rare and probably undesirable that one person should aim to meet all the needs of another person or that exclusivity necessarily be reciprocated.

Instead, the polyamorous personality sees the central aspects of his or her life as all potentially separate but equal, interdependent but each unique to its own needs. Economic security, cultural or sporting interests, intimacy, sexual expression and so forth are all separable and potentially identifiable with different people. 'Normality' recognises this to some degree with the bifurcation into life partners and friends but then limits friends considerably to friends of the same gender (for example) or limits the nature of the friendship if members of the opposite gender (in heterosexual relationships) enter into the 'household' or community circle.

'Polyamory' changes these boundaries so that perhaps fewer but deeper relationships are designated by the needs of the polyamorous person, under conditions where more than one person might even serve the same need - so one might see shared households (economic), group engagement in culture or interests (friendships), shared child-rearing or shared intimate and sexual bonding with more than one person consensually and transparently.

It is central at all times to polyamory that the participants who actually participate are aware of the relationships that exist even if (perhaps) one participant might have a partner in turn 'who does not want to know' but has released the person to be free to do what they want or need or the participant has claimed that right in general regardless of their own #primary' and stated their nature yet the partner on that side does not want to participate or engage. The model presupposes the freedom of the individual so long as they are prepared to be honest about their true nature.

Polyamorous people tend to have quite strong moral codes about transparency but also to vest the 'right of resistance' in the individual not to be bound by the codes of 'normals'. This can require immense courage on the part of the polyamorous person as well as some potential for misery. One partner may, for example, insist that they themselves cannot lie and that their partner cannot lie to others although, once the right to polyamory is asserted, there is no obligation to 'tell'. Truth-telling becomes bound into the group of those who tell the truth to each other and who tell no lies to others (but need not go around telling the truth to others outside their circle).

Above all, polyamorous relationships are coded to be unique. There is no standard format. 'Normality' can often result in compromises that mean the standardisation of social relationships into the necessary 'norms'. Some monogamies can be indistinguishable from other monogamies as all aspects of the individual's personality are shoe-horned into a pre-existing framework in order to meet essentially communitarian ends dictated by history, family and social convention. The polyamorist can have relations that are primarily directed at one aspect of themselves with one person and another aspect with another. Part of the early stress and pleasure of a polyamorous relationship is creating these private boundaries - emotional, sexual and practical.

One of the counter-intuitive (to 'normals') results of all this (as far as mature and experienced polyamorous set-ups are concerned) is that the addition of persons actually tends to relieve psychological pressure on the primaries (and there is generally a starting primary) because they are also no longer trapped in the need to be all things to one person and see their own personality limited and distorted.

Many polyamorous people coming to this late in life are faced with the potential for massive disruption if their primary has no understanding or liking for the change. This deters some who live, in effect, in private misery, unable to move forward, not only because they cannot afford at many levels to alienate a primary who 'holds all the cards' but also because a sexual and emotional life outside monogamy under conditions of secrecy is not tolerable to such people. They are not swingers and do not seek the frisson of illicit affairs. Indeed, the stress of illicit affairs is so great and sex without emotional commitment so miserable that polyamorists tend to prefer the private misery of the closed relationship. But eventually such people either snap and divorce at great cost or simply decline into a deathly acceptance of their fate.

However, for those primaries who are not themselves polyamorous but are open-minded and comprehend the truth-telling and trust aspects of the case - and make the effort to understand the situation - then the evidence indicates significant benefits after a period of adjustment and disruption. Certainly, the polyamorous person's commitment to a primary is usually strengthened and not weakened by the emergence of a secondary, possibly because he or she can concentrate on those aspects of the relationship that work instead of trying to make the aspects that do not work fit into some socially pre-set model.

It turns out that the pre-set model can often not work in terms of exclusivity because of circumstances or personality differences.  Secondary relationships can strengthen 'marriages' or at least whatever primary structure existed at the beginning of the process of creating a polyamorous situation or even household. Polyamorists, if they have a fault, tend to a certain neediness that places pressure on single partners so that relieving that pressure by 'spreading the love' enables a more direct dialogue on what really matters between the two primaries.

Under 5% of Americans are consciously polyamorous and seeking that lifestyle. The numbers are likely to be less, for cultural reasons, across the rest of the West. This far-flung community is not likely ever to overwhelm the wider instinct and cultural prejudice for monogamy if only because polyamory is stressful even if that stress might be regarded as 'good stress', creative and life-affirming. It is open-ended and fluid with no sense of absolute certainty for the future and so it appeals only to a certain personality type and this type is not going to be a majority in any society. Apart from anything else, most polyamorists are inveterate communicators and many people prefer silence in relationships.

What polyamorists want is just 'permission' from society to develop alternative lifestyles that offer no threat to 'normality'. Above all, the polyamorous person probably needs not to be locked in too early in life to a socially determined structure that will be next to impossible to climb out of without massive pain and disruption not only to himself or herself but others.

He or she just wants to associate with others like himself or herself and go with the flow of being as it changes with the coming and going of children, the acquisition and loss of property and the different needs of a personality at different life stages. At its best, it is a programme of self development and life management where command and control is in the hands of an individual negotiating directly with other individuals. It is fundamentally libertarian, unsuited to the authoritarian personality and probably with identity politics.

Research also shows that polyamorists tend to be far better educated than the general population. This may simply mean that education enables a person to engage in critical thinking about normality and abstracts them from communitarian contexts. Education may also be correlated with emotional intelligence which is definitely required to maintain a successful polyamorous relationship - without EQ things generally fall apart. Communitarian models are probably better for many people simply because people without adequate EQ may need external frameworks to ensure some degree of stability and decency in their lives. This need for adequate EQ alone probably dictates that, given the nature of our species, fully-functioning polyamory will never be the norm for more than 15% of the population at any given time.

This EQ aspect can be tiresome - polyamorists have a tendency to over-communicate and some even to over-think and privilege every passing feeling and anxiety although things eventually settle down. Psychologists who have studied polyamorous behaviour have, however, suggested that normally monogamous people might learn a great deal from this capacity to communicate and question given boundaries. The instinct of the polyamorous person, when faced by a troublesome emotion like jealousy or anger, is to go inward and question why they may be feeling that emotion before discussing it with a partner. Once having carefully considered the roots of the emotion, they then feel free to explore what was going on and come to a resolution through dialogue.

As for jealousy, it might not be the love or sex act that causes jealousy but something deeper, like a perceived 'being taken for granted' or failure to respect the aggrieved person. A few easy to manage and sensitive behavioural changes, usually with some sincere reassurance, can resolve the issue and adjust boundaries.

Commonly, many marriages that are monogamous are enhanced if one partner takes risks and expresses frustrations and feelings for resolution. Some marriages of course cannot be resolved and decline into negativity. A monogamous relationship often bottles up feeling in a model of mutual possession that ends up exploding in anger and recrimination, quarrels and eventually, after much misery, divorce.

The entire framework of honesty, transparency and respect is also more likely to encourage safe sex, according to University of Michigan research (2012). This is possibly because sexual activity is less likely to involve spur of the moment drink or drug-fuelled activity. It is 'timed' according to 'rules' which may be a bit of a passion killer for the impulsive but can work well for people who are not.

Polyamorists are not generally wealthier than average which is equally interesting because polyamory does incur expense in time as well as funds. Time is often essential to 'wealth creation'. Polyamorists tend to have priorities other than financial ones, yet need sufficient resources to be able to maintain their lifestyle. It could be argued that some of the time and financial costs arise out of the secrecy required by the dominant communitarian culture.

If there was sufficient cultural change to make polyamory more acceptable this problem might disappear as it has disappeared for the gay community. Polyamorists tend, however, to have an experiential rather than an acquisitive or materialist orientation - they may not necessarily be 'spiritual' but they do have a greater orientation towards the mind than the body in general or at least towards a balancing of emotion with reason.

There is also a misunderstanding about 'permission' because permission is not a matter of asking Mummy or Daddy if the polyamorist can go out to play but a more generalised 'permission' that really means just acceptance of the working out of difference within a framework of rules. Again, there is the potential for misunderstanding about rules - some relationships seem to require detailed rules because that is who the personalities are but others simply require an understanding of what could 'hurt' one of the parties through another being crass or negligent or lacking in basic respect for the individuality of another.

This latter form of rule-making is the more intelligent version (we can liken it to the preference for principles-based regulation in British culture over rules-based regulation in other cultures) because it abandons any attempt to command and control someone else instead of oneself. Self control is central to responsible polyamory as is adjustment to changed conditions and knowing precisely when someone is 'taking the mickey' or pushing a boundary too far. Such informal framework acceptance also permits improved communication, including communication about jealousy which may not at all be sexual or even emotional but simply of too much time spent in one place rather than another.

In other words, polyamory is the art of calibrating the needs, desires and circumstances of three or more individuals and their dependents so that all achieve the maximum reasonable state of happiness and self development that is possible under the available material conditions. In this form, polyamory is here to stay for a significant minority of the population alongside standard monogamous options with people phasing in and out of each as circumstances change. This fluidity, if well handled by mature people in consensual contexts, can only be beneficial to those people capable of dealing with its inherent stresses and negotiations and so to society.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Analysis - What Is Wrong with Prime Minister May?

I suspect we all now understand that May is neither particularly a Remainer or a Brexiter. She is an administrator, one whose allegiance is to the State machine and whose recent political training has entirely been within the formal structures of the security apparat as Home Secretary. I write 'within' because it is an eternal truth of British politics that elected representatives are almost invariably captured by the State they are elected to oversee. Sometimes a politician can rise above the machinations of Sir Humphrey. Theresa May is not one of those politicians. 

As a former Home Secretary and now Prime Minister, being 'captured by the security state' is where she is most comfortable. This limited horizon is why she has handed over the economy to a weak Chancellor who is beholden to the City. She cowers whenever Gove, Davis and Johnson show some serious political spine (quite rare but perhaps effective, at the least, in keeping the Brexit show on the road). Even as Tory Party Chair, her instinct was to centralise at the expense of constituencies. Centralising power in a command-and-control system is where her instinct lies and yet this is precisely the approach, suitable for the twentieth century militarised welfare-warfare state, that is no longer possible in the age of the internet.

She certainly lacks the common touch, presents herself as a decent and well-meaning school mistress (that is, indeed, an administrator) and now presides over a situation where an Opposition Party that clearly opposes the will of the majority of the English on Brexit and is led by a man who was a political pariah within the PLP until only a few years ago is riding high on 45% of the national vote while her Party languishes, seen as incompetent and confused.

The problem with administrators is that they lack imagination. It is good that administrators lack imagination. They are there to execute the orders of those who have an imagination. But politicians are generally not good at solving national crises without an imagination. An excess of imagination, of course, gives us loons and tyrants but a complete absence of imagination gives us ... our current Prime Minister. 

And why is imagination so vital at this time in our history? Because the tectonic plates of international economic and political relations are shifting. She now represents an administrative class that has one of its feet so firmly stuck in the deep mud of the past that it cannot get close to planting the other on the dry land of the future. The problem arises because our security apparat, our state machine, is driven by four perceptual models that no longer entirely hold water: 

  • a primitive geopolitical fear of Russia and a desire to contain Germany which has been institutionalised from the Imperial era and the last century respectively (the first is paranoid although the second still relevant)
  • the realisation that it does not have the tools and can never have the tools to do more than contain violent political fanaticism yet must never admit this to the general public - basically, it is bluffing its way to offering us security as citizens; 
  • the fear of the crumbling of the Union, either by Celts pushing their luck (as we see in the nonsense of a nation of just over 4m people trying to dictate terms to one fifteen times its size)) or the English wondering why they are spending so much of their hard-earned cash on stopping the Celts pushing their luck (the English being, here, like sheep led to the budgetary slaughter); and 
  • a cynical, manipulative view of Washington where a lumbering giant is supposed to be lead by the nose into serving British interests through a combination of charm and prostitution (i.e. the gleanings of our expensive and barely controllable intelligence apparat).  
These perceptual models, embedded in the group think of our ruling caste, were neatly resolved by the European tyranny since that caste has never really cared about democracy at core (its rhetorical allegiance to the idea hides a deep fear of its reality). They care only about the Crown and preferment. The Crown is a weird ideological concept that means not our Dynasty or Harry and Meghan but the precise functioning of the State: the Crown is the fig-leaf that hides the workings of an unaccountable machine that purports to know what it is doing but clearly does not. The strategy of the Crown towards the European Project has seemed simple enough:  

  • the EU was to be manipulated to contain Germany (yeah, right!) and to underpin the push-back of Russia;
  • intelligence co-operation and Euro-ideology were supposed to help contain fanaticism even if Islamism was not understood to be truly different from the native subversive threats of communism and fascism; 
  • the Celts were to be neatly contained within a Crown sphere of influence within the EU (violence in Northern Ireland wags the tail of the British dog no less than memories of Vietnam wag the American foreign policy tail); 
  • access to Europe would increase the Crown's muscle power in Washington. 
Unfortunately, the viability of this total perceptual model has crumbled since the crash of 2008 with which our administrative State has still not come to terms. Its economic 'perceptual models' have also failed consistently to provide either recovery or fairness. This has nothing to do with Brexit - indeed, Brexit is just a reflection of this crumbling, a process that most of the political and media class has still not understood. Most of us may now agree that the analysis provided daily by the second rate minds haunting the corridors of the BBC is laughable. Many of our most prominent commentators provide little more than prejudiced rants with no serious understanding of the political vulcanism of our times. Now, I listen to Spotify in preference to BBC News.

Let us take the first issue - the geo-strategic politics of Europe. Germany has been far from contained by the European Union as we saw in its treatment of Greece. British geld has simply strengthened an institution that is the tool of Berlin, backed by a France that has never ceased to loathe us, certainly since we sank its fleet and chased it out of Syria in the last major war. As for Russia, despite the sustained hysteria of the last Tory country gentlemen left in the FCO and the 'Service', it is not realistically a threat any more to anything West of the Pripyat Marshes. It is simply and defensively struggling to maintain its own ramshackle underpopulated empire, turning back a Western neo-Cold War operation that does not hide its ambition to get ultimately to the very gates of Moscow itself through subversion. 

Someone needs to tell the Cold Warriors that India can now defend itself and British interests do not extend to being dragged into a global conflagration to defend countries on the other side of the Continent. If anything, Russia might now be seen as a point of containment of a rising Franco-German European Union, preferably in association with Washington. NATO (a genuinely defensive operation in its original intention but now the militarised wing of global liberalism) is now threatened by the creation of a European Army in a culture that is not really very afraid of the tyranny of peacetime conscription. We, the people, are constantly being drawn into confrontation with Russia by neo-Cold War 'hawks' at a time when the public wants Islamism, not neo-nationalist post-communism, dealt with as the primary threat.   

As to the second issue (violent extremism), we do not have to belabour the point that its emergence derives from the sustained blundering of our political class over a century or so. We know that much just as we know that the 2008 Crash was the creation of economic blundering over a much shorter period. But that was then and this is now. The question is what to do about it? Is there the imagination to understand causes, remedies and consequences? 

Open borders were at the very centre of the terror problem as far as the public were concerned and there is a wisdom of crowds in this. Germany accentuated the difficulties with a primitive liberal ideological response to what was, in fact, always going to end up an exploitation of weakness by organised crime. It is organised crime that has created the gaps in the system which allow the violent extremist a sea in which to swim. The British State, always under pressure from unhelpful French models of preferring brutality towards dissent over engagement with dissenters, was split between those who saw that borders were part of the process of dealing with the security problem (even if the borders had to be Libya and Turkey) and those who thought security co-operation was more important than borders. 

Perhaps our Prime Minister is instinctively in the latter camp. The balance certainly tipped towards security co-operation when Merkel sold the pass in an excess of ideological insanity to deal with a humanitarian crisis in precisely the wrong way. It would have been much better to have invested in working with Assad to bring a fair peace and in the camps themselves. Migrant pressure, helped by trafficking operations, spread outwards, accentuating an already problematic 'schwerpunkt' in Calais. The truth is illegals with cash have always found a way in, straining our urban infrastructures but knowing that eventually they would be in a state of de facto amnesty, creating a constituency for political opportunists in the urban centres. 

The security apparat pretty well knows where the centres of potential terrorism are in our cities as far as they come from our old imperial connections - what they do not know necessarily is who these new people are. The problem may not be terrorism at all. Most of them contain the seeds of criminal gangs of far more psychopathic brutality than any we have seen to date, perhaps quite capable of undertaking 'terrorist acts' to force a weak state on the defensive and cut a deal. The French terror cases and the history of Al-Qaeda have shown the overlap already between petty criminality and terror acts. 

Ask any native of South East London about the war between the Albanian and Turkish gangs and how they 'came to a deal' and you get a picture of something going on that is clearly being defensively covered up by a mainstream media whose investigative skills now operate at the level of Mickey Mouse. Hours of coverage with the weaselly phrase  'despite Brexit' and virtually none about what is going on in the inner cities - Rotherham and Grenfell Tower are mere tips of icebergs of social dissolution.

And, third, we have the bubble of Celtic posturing. This has been burst (though you would not know it from the flaccidity and weakness of the Government towards the Celts) by a) the Scottish Referendum, b) the rise of a new conservatism in Wales and c) the evident hysteria coming out of an Ireland that has no serious leverage on the UK other than vague threats of a revival of terror when the conditions for terrorism no longer actually exist (except as tactics by criminal gangs). 

On the other hand (though its impetus is studiously held in contempt by our urban liberal administrators and the Opposition who depend on their votes) Brexit has shown the reality of a simmering English country resentment about enforced cultural change and the emergence of a growing new and allegedly 'fascist' threat from the indigenes outside London. In fact, there are fascist elements but the 'threat' is populist and only to the dominant failed ideology. The EU has now become part of a more general cultural problem in which a minority of Celts act with multicultural London, the public sector middle classes and the universities as a standing insult to the aspirations of 'sheep' (classed as 'deplorables' to use the term of Hillary Clinton about the American working class) that are growing the first signs of fangs.

Fourth, there is our American ally which has been turned over (possibly temporarily) by a form of maniacal populism that reflects the revolts amongst the English and many regionalised (Catalonia/Lombardy) and post-communist European middling States (Hungary/Poland/now Austria) where the cultural threat from Islam and the failures of elite liberalism's cultural hegemony are seen as far more important than any putative threat from the old dark native ideologies. Even in major states, populist movements are only manouevred out of formal power by the liberal establishment's control of the commanding heights of narrative and by political sleight of hand, placing a radical centrist cypher in charge of France while still trying to create a coalition of the Centre in Germany. 

Populism may be denied the oxygen of publicity within the elite but it has not been defeated. Populists are, in fact, proving surprisingly resilient against huge cultural onslaughts that seem to do no more than define camps rather than actually push back the tide. Only in the UK has a conservative establishment partially absorbed populism or at least appeared to do so until this week as the potential for a betrayal of Brexit begins to hit home amongst the English. It has only accommodated populism a) because it has had to absorb the vote of 17.4m people, again mostly English, who decided they wanted Brexit and b) it faces a populist socialist threat which does not exist anywhere else.  So, Washington is no longer bulwark of a shared liberal internationalist order but is a tiger to be ridden alongside the domestic wolf of an increasingly bitter and angry native populism. 

May's Government is now sailing very close to the wind in acceding to the rhetoric of its opposition while its deeper substance remains committed to the new order. I am not a Tory but Tory activists are telling me that they are enraged by the way their Leader is conceding ground to the past and not taking the lead in developing a national strategy for the future.
  
The national problem is that we have a weak Government still over-influenced by a security apparat with one foot in the past. This Government is trying to represent new forces but within a national narrative structure that is also embedded in the past and where its defenders (the 'conservatives of the centre') are now getting vicious in defence of a collapsing order. We have a Prime Minister who is part of that failed state apparat and is increasingly at sea and unpopular. The Opposition now scents blood in the water but it can't find a way to oust her under current political conditions ... and so it is becoming increasingly shrill, threatening to alienate the very new forces it needs to ride to power itself. 

The best solution would be a stronger 'new forces' Prime Minister from the Right to see us through the Brexit negotiations and a transformative and intellectually coherent Left to exploit the opportunities yet the dead weight of the old guard in both parties forestalls such outcomes. The country certainly can't cope with much more instability and viciousness. 

So there we are - a second rate Prime Minister trying to cope with new social forces, an opportunistic and hysterical Opposition that does not know what it wants other than power and a changed global condition in which the entity with which we are contesting, the European Union, is beginning to fall apart at the seams for reasons that actually have little to do with Brexit but which Brexit is hastening. She really has to go ... but only if the Tory Right can deliver someone with imagination to deliver national sovereignty, some serious economic growth and greater fairness.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

On Monogamy - Part 2

This is the second of two ruminations derived from a reading of a 2008 academic paper by Walter Scheidel of Stanford University, 'Monogamy and Polygyny in Greece, Rome and World History' [Princeton Stanford Working Papers in Classics, available online]. The views and conclusions are mine and not his.

In the first of this two-parter we questioned what was 'normal' about monogamy and drew what might be a political conclusion that its global dominance is associated with the cultural dominance of the West as a hybridisation of Roman property relations and Christian morality. This hybrid ideology gained its strength not from patriarchy but from a similar hybridisation of patriarchal and matriarchal value systems. The protection of women and slaves, otherwise unprotected within Roman social structures, resulted in a generalised model for sexual social organisation that owed something to biological pair-bonding (i.e. it was not wholly to be considered 'unnatural') but was originally and primarily a means of organising particular property relations and a particular social order under conditions of resource scarcity and so competition.

The price for this 'normality' was three-fold: it repressed 'alpha' sexuality in general (both male and female); it has progressively stopped humans from negotiating alternative strategies as it extended its reach across Western society and then across the world; and it increasingly destabilised the socio-sexual structures of other cultures offering alternative models as Western technology brought with it Western ideology. Zones that have resisted the Western model - the radical Islamic model of polygamy or the Chinese model of consensual concubinage - are under pressure from the presumption that a rigid monogamy is the only form by which humans can be sexually organised, to the extent that serial sexual monogamy and hidden polygyny and polyandry ('cheating') are regarded as preferable to the institutionalisation of any possible consensual non-monogamy fitted to our times.

A case study for this process lies in the early British conquest and control of India where the early (male) traders adapted readily to local sexual customs, sometimes operating a dual sexual system in two geographically distant locations. The discovery of a different sexual culture resulted in the transfer of 'tantric' ideas in a fairly impure form to the West where they were to play a slow-burning role in the eventual sexual liberation of Westerners but the socio-sexual model employed by the traders (deemed exploitative by modern theoreticians, although probably far more subtle in its dynamics when one considers the state of the English working class more generally) was to collapse as soon as women from the West arrived, as well as missionaries and state servants.

The replacement of rule by traders under the East India Company with administrators imbued with Christian ethic under the Raj represented the replacement of free-booting libertarian entrepreneurial capitalism with authoritarian administrators, driving the system from exploitative growth through empire to sclerosis and then collapse. The liberation of India from colonial rule did not see a consequent socio-sexual liberation in reaction to the previous masters because the socio-sexual mores of the West were associated with modernisation. Modernisation was a core aim of the first generations of nationalist politicians regardless of Ghandhian sentimentality. Even the traditionalists had developed their traditionalism in a conservative reaction to the West that accepted more of its values than they realised. It is both paradoxical and logical that the 9/11 fanatics contained a high number of engineers and technical experts and no actual mullahs.

Hindu nationalism has a rather 'Victorian' and puritanical view of sexuality (of which monogamy is a part) that is now part and parcel of the self image of nearly all the modernised rivals of the West. I would put a high bet on the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia having socio-sexual reform high on his own modernisation agenda within the Kingdom. The concubinage system exists outside the Communist mainland only amongst elite trader Chinese. Social order seems to require if not monogamy, then the tightening of whatever traditional rules there are to command and control sexual relations.

Only in the West has the monogamous system begun to break down at the margins - but only at the margins - despite the widespread media coverage of polyamory. It is said, for example, that only 5% at most of Americans are consciously polyamorous. The question remains whether the monogamy of classical antiquity as interpreted by the heirs of Abraham is 'natural' or not, even though it is certainly now 'normal'. This brings us back to Scheidel's paper since he asks two questions - what is the reason for the variation in the incidence of polygamy and monogamy and what drove the social imposition of near-universal monogamy when individuals with a high level of resource and status might have chosen otherwise? I am less interested here in the academic debate about the answers to the questions than with expanding the academic debate into the 'real world' by asking on what basis do we privilege monogamy and whether monogamy is the absolute and only means of organising the post-modern world.

Scheidel notes the argument that polygyny (polygyny is many women for one man as polyandry is many men for women whereas polygamy is the legitimation of the first) is actually (in economic terms) beneficial to women in very unequal societies (which most societies are). Sharing a wealthy husband or provider with other women may be economically far more beneficial than being 'stuck with' a single poor husband. Not only that - we add - but household duties and the demanding business surrounding child-rearing are shared, birthing is arguably safer and interpersonal tensions with the male conceivably lessened (though perhaps increased with other nearby women).

By pulling women into the orbit of the wealthiest, the women who remained behind got to trade up to desirable males where monogamy was the only resource-realistic option, leaving the least desirable males unable to reproduce. It is thus 'beta' men who are harmed by polygyny according to this model and the more so as inequality increases. Scheidel concludes that polygyny 'tends to reinforce male inequality by matching reproductive inequality with resource inequality'. The question then becomes one of equality but only from a male perspective - and, as so often before the current age, the perspective of women is simply abandoned.

In traditional societies, before the amelioration of the conditions of women and slaves with the adaptation to Roman pagan culture of Christianity, what has been read as exploitative of women turns out paradoxically to be advantageous to women but damaging to beta males (as opposed to alpha males). The issue here is mass male demand for equality rather than female exploitation (despite the propaganda of communitarians) since all women were exploited in traditional societies by modern standards (as were all men by the resource-rich alphas).

The interest of alpha males and of both alpha and beta females is in polygyny but that of beta males is in monogamy under traditionalism. This is not only a matter of reproductive (genetics and survival) effectiveness but of economic production because the high resource household with many women is in itself more economically productive because of the concentration of female labour on certain pursuits (weaving or field labour, for example) which, though classed today as exploitative, also created a surplus that ensured that the women themselves were better clothed and fed with more potential for disposable income and luxuries.

If the thesis is true, then we should expect monogamy to grow with male equality. If you like, socialism is monogamous so long as it is a male socialism. But socialism is not required. Recent research suggests that inequality and equality are to be equated with peace and war respectively rather than economic development per se. It is just that war creates rapid economic development.  Economic development brings not so much equality but creates the ability for a household to survive securely without requiring the maximum input of women to create the conditions for their own security.

At a certain level of development, regardless of inequality in general, sufficient people are so equally secure that a woman (of the middling sort and then within the employed working class) can feel secure to the degree that they can create a household in which they can have sufficient 'matriarchal' power under monogamous conditions. At this point it might be said that the balance of power relations changes again so that the middling sort of woman is advantaged at the expense of the alpha woman and the marginal woman (who may include a substantial number of persons) in a model designed to benefit the beta male. The rise of 'matriarchal' power within the household, however, then reduces the alleged patriarchal power within the household to create what may become either a partnership or a contest for power.

The alpha system remains patriarchal but the benefits for alpha women have gone to be replaced by an exploitative and unregulated hidden polygyny of mistresses and sex workers who the matriarchal middling sort despise and exclude from power even further. Monogamy, initially designed for the mass of males, ends up a shared power, unsatisfactory to both in the long run, between beta males and middling females, alpha males stay alpha but switch for formal polygamy to informal polygyny or kow-tow to the new order and the polygynous actors amongst women switch from high status within polygamy to low status marginals.

The balance has shifted - the potential for commanding the household of one male in a 'partnership' (or even female dominance in driving the male to work harder for her and her children's security) begins to compete with and exceed the attractions of competing with other females in a resource-rich household. If greater power can be had in a monogamous household, why share power in Hugh Hefner's mansion. The matriarchal household is the great unwritten story of both peasant and industrialised society albeit that, power being what it is, truly matriarchal households (unhappy or cowed men) compete as models with true partnerships ('happy households') and truly patriarchal households (unhappy or cowed women).

This analysis is mine not Scheidel's but the issue of power is extensively explored by Scheidel because it seems that female power in traditional societies tended to be directed towards exploiting polygamy rather than seeking monogamy although what we mean by this power needs teasing out because the woman's kin structure is involved in the negotiation - power in traditional societies is often inherently collective.  Otherwise, the high resource male has power and the low resource male does not which is really not so different from modern society.

What has changed in recent decades has been the direct rather than indirect (socially contained) empowerment of women over time which is work in progress. It is arguable that changing economic conditions encourages women to choose polygamy at one level, then monogamy at the next and perhaps monogamy (as partnership or dominance) or polyamory (as partnership) at the level above that in terms of economic access to resources and self development. It is often the mass of non-alpha males who have difficulty with each stage - being largely left out in traditional societies, trapped within models subverted by Christianity from being to their initial benefit in modern societies and now insecure in post-modern societies where monogamy entraps the male more than the female where children are part of the issue. Scheidel appears to conclude that the very wealthy are not exhibiting polygyny to historic levels in modern societies and making this a reason to doubt some of the theorising. In fact a cursory reading of literature and observation tell us that there is still a correlation between having resources and being able to manage multiple relationships without household disruption - the French institution of the mistress is a case in point.

Males may have been forced to operate in secret by the new Judaeo-Christian moral dispensation (we have seen previously how Judaic communitarianism adopted monogamous models under Christian influence) but the secrecy is now rather one of 'turning a blind eye' and 'don't ask, don't tell' adopted by modern women when faced with the probability that resource-rich males are managing a quasi-separate household or modern men find their economically dependent wives getting a lover to satisfy sexual or emotional needs.

The picture is only muddied further by the resource issue - resources are now such and expectations of freedom are such that many people are having relationships they cannot technically afford and under conditions where the socially legitimising codes that permitted the rich to have such relationships have not filtered down into the beta level. This suggests that, when resources were scarce and freedoms were limited, male and female desire was thwarted amidst much human misery. Today, the desire may not be thwarted but the inherited Judaeo-Christian code of conduct means that households get over-extended and then can snap into divorce and, under conditions of serial monogamy, into an only slightly more acceptable successor monogamy where the cycle is just as likely to repeat itself again as not.

Where resources are significant and freedom considerable, there is going to be a return to forms of informal polygamy of which polyamory is a developing element and, as conservative communitarians recognise with horror, social freedom and increasing prosperity are seeing precisely the increase in informal polygyny and polyandry (and homosexual variants) that they fear. The period between repressive modernity and full post-modernity (which is still a way off) has seen an era of increased resources but not enough for full freedom but within a very strict communitarian expectation that creates shame and perhaps guilt. The net result is a different type of misery expressed not as the deathly misery of entrapment within a household from which there is no escape but periodic crises as one partner or the other 'strays' or 'cheats' (note the Judaeo-Christian cultural origins of the terminology) and then is either forced into a crisis that may destroy the household or is brought to heel like a dog with the 'third party' simply jettisoned like Hagar at the demand of Sarah.

Looked at in this way, we may be (in the very heart of the liberal West though things are not changing very far from that heart) at a point of transition as significant as that of the 1960s and 1970s when both increased resources and expectations of freedom created the dialectical tensions between monogamous traditionalism and 'true nature' (which is just the will to 'do what thou wilt'). Communitarian culture's instinctive prejudice must be against 'doing what thou wilt' because of its disruption of a framework of codes and regulations (like not eating pork) whose original purpose has long since been forgotten and now is simply sign and symbol of 'belonging' - a form of anxiety-relieving beholden-ness to the collectivity of others who are beholden to you.

This transition, scarcely started, is perhaps towards a society where resources really are sufficient to enable increasing numbers to have the freedom (both as men and women) once enjoyed by alpha males and where those expectations of freedom are bound up with new forms that permit freedom within social stability. Our current instabilities have nothing to do with 'moral breakdown' and everything to do with elite incompetence. Ideologically, this means the slow collapse of both the Roman and the Judaeo-Christian assumptions that society must be structured along certain lines. Many, probably the majority, will continue to do so for at least the bulk of their lives for the foreseeable future but there is now no necessity for everyone to do so.

Going back to Scheidel, the inequality/polygyny model (that monogamy increases with equality) might suggest that polygamy encourages social instability because male competition for resources is more intense precisely because it has a socio-sexual element, we note, for young males. Without an authoritarian order with brute force to sustain itself, perhaps younger males are going to be minded to overturn the existing order or to expand outwards to seize what they cannot get at home. The issue would be compounded as polygyny tends to drive attractive younger women to older men since older men are more likely to have more resources than younger men. Scheidel puts this in terms of the possibility of male bargaining with inherent power to equalise outcomes (where, one presumes, women are just chips in the game).

Given the inherent greater power of the resource rich (the rich can reward their retainers with, amongst many other things, women acquired in battle), overturning polygamy can either be done by outfighting the polygamous authority and simply replacing one polygamy with another or threatened to be done so that the polygamous authority starts to change its behaviour to deal with the threat before it occurs. Perhaps monogamy emerges out of a process of bribery of retainers in which most men get just one woman until this becomes a matter of property relations to be formally legitimated. If such a property relation then becomes embedded in the world view of a more egalitarian republican or democratic model of society, then the legitimation gets 'detourned' against the elite at a certain point.

It is the threat that overthrow might be done (so it may be theorised) that drives 'wise' polygamists to redistribute sexual resources whether the women like it or not. Building an army (part of state formation) might be seen as many things but one of them is promising not only land but sexual and work partners and there really are only so many desirable women to go around when the armies grow to sufficient size. All this sounds nice theoretically but the truth is that huge imperial pre-modern states retained their polygynous elite aspects so that does not seem to tie in entirely with the thesis. The story only works if the transfer of resources to beta males expected to die for their polygamous lord means that those grunts are eventually imbued with sufficient reserve collective power to dictate cultural terms to the lord - but this tended never to happen in practice unless you start thinking of smaller Western republican quasi-democratic states such as Athens and Rome (see below).

Warfare for plunder and capture of women is also positively correlated with polygyny so those with power are not going out there to give one woman to one soldier but are rewarding by merit and the incentive to show status is to have many slaves. The stronger warrior is just going to emulate polygyny (we see this in Homer) whereas his grunt is going to be lucky to get a cast-off slave girl. A more sensible approach perhaps is to say (see the article) that both systems (monogamy and polygamy) compete over long periods of time and monogamy simply out-competes polygamy over time.

This competition model does seem to be the only sensible way of explaining why no formally unified and large nation state (as opposed to pre-modern traditionalist empire) ever seems to retain polygamy. The final state of the nation is nearly always a socially imposed monogamy. One argument is that this out-competing model is also evidenced by the West out-competing global competitors and, of course, the latter's subsequent mimicking of Western modernisation. In a sample of 156 states, one researcher, Michael Price, has shown that monogamous states are more populous, less likely to use the death penalty, less authoritarian (politically), less corrupt and richer than polygynous ones. Bear in mind that we are speaking here of stratified polygamy and not consensual post-modern polyamory. Polyandry scarcely figures in the record at all.

So is monogamy central to modernisation or is it accidental? There seem to be no clear answers to this from academics. Monogamy seems to happen as part of modernisation but it is hard to see how monogamy is necessary for modernisation. The best thesis is one that suggests that monogamy encourages male co-operation and reduces conflict (and is less unequal) but whether this is true or meaningful in terms of the actual dynamic of Western state formation and modernisation is debatable. It may be that monogamy was simply part of a package (within an ideology) where other aspects of the package were more important to the process and that the same package that accidentally had some sort of ideological commitment to an appropriate form of polygamy might have served equally well.

All that then may have happened was that the total ideology was successful so that the bits of it that were simply accidental (the junk DNA, if you like) got carried along with it. After all, monogamy was the dominant model from the Fall of Rome to the Reformation and we see no sign of modernisation during that period, a full millennium. And yet it is hard to see how any proto-democratic society could easily have coped with institutional polygyny where reproductive advantage was given so ostentatiously to the rich and powerful. Petty ressentiment from the beta masses alone would have wanted change.

One can imagine, if  polygamy (as opposed to the institution of the King's Mistress) had persisted amongst the Bourbons to the level of the local aristocracy with 'droit de seigneur', that Jacobins would have included monogamy ('a woman for every household' instead of the later 'chicken in every pot') in their list of egalitarian and democratic demands. The point is that politics would always have been what the mass of men wanted in a revolutionary situation and not what equal and informed men and women with reasonable access to resources wanted. Feminists generally, ideologically, wanted a better monogamy (meaning more power for women) rather than more sexual freedom for women - with a few notable exceptions such as Kollontai. If you had argued the point about erotic capital then as now and suggested that women could be advantaged by playing their erotic advantages over men in order to acquire capital in a truly free society, the reaction then as now would be 'quel horreur!'

But from where did Western monogamy originate? Scheidel considers whether it is situated in in the rise of the Greek polis. We might think of relatively weak rulers (the tyrants were never oriental-style potentates with access to vast resources) and elites who depended incidentally on bands of warriors that were quite small and spent most of their time on the land. This link to early democracy matches my point above about what the Jacobins are likely to have done. But this thesis might be a false friend because legitimised authoritarian monogamy is still not general under the city-state system. Modern monogamy seems derived from ancient exemplars - notably Solon in Athens and Rome - which then got endorsed by the dominant ideology that slowly dictated every facet of life in the West to the point where we can scarcely sneeze without it being a Judaeo-Christian sneeze. We see monogamy not as an invention but as a process extending over 2,500 years and taking form slowly in its modern classic form only after many adaptations.

This model is now so associated with what it means to be Western today, that left-liberals are often deeply suspicious of anything that is not monogamous and will have a tendency to a moralism worthy of Origen on sexual matters once a household is created. They prefer serial monogamy (divorce and separation) to polyamory or multiple households, still are aghast at 'cheating' (which they associate with distrust of all elites as psychopaths and cheaters), don't like slightly off-centre sexual expression such as pornography or other forms of 'objectification', are less likely to be impressed by the claims of BDSM to be a reasonable private consensual choice, have preferred gays to want to choose civil partnership and then marriage rather than seek other radical models of property holding and child rearing and are highly critical of political figures like Berlusconi who exhibit polygynous characteristics.

They can also be very po-faced about sexuality in general, demanding careful definitions of orientation, lodging these orientations in identities and the language of rights and expecting a form of right behaviour, right words and right thought as the price of freedom. Non-religious political conservatives have a tendency now to remain in the world of informal polygynies, 'don't ask, don't tell' and 'turning a blind eye'. The current hysteria about a Tory Minister allegedly watching pornography ten years ago on an office computer has the liberal elite in full war cry on what should really be at best a private matter and, at worst, a minor infringement of office conduct undertaken well before any statute of limitation. What Damien Green did is really the business only of the pettifoggers of a human resources departments with no humanity or sense of time. That the Left hungry for power is in alliance with authoritarian police officers to bring him down tells you a great deal about the topsy-turvy world of the modern British Left.

The Solon reforms in Athens (a classic case of authoritarian provision of social order) in the early sixth century BC defined the monogamous conjugal family as 'the sole legitimate family form', barring male procreation outside marriage as illegitimate. What we have here, of course, is a link with property relations and the pre-emption of disputes inimical to order. It is order that matters here and not sexual conduct. It is certainly not a God-thing. One historian of the era looks at it from another perspective - removing bastards from legitimacy also reduced the scale of aristocratic pretension by reducing the numbers of aristocrats available to one household viz. the property relation is a reduction of the property claims of one class by reducing their household. However, it is also clear, as we noted above, that not all Hellenes subscribed to this 'wheeze'. The monogamous state par excellence - Rome - is the one we really have to contend with and it is Rome that eventually dictated terms on this matter to the West. Rome remains the dead weight on freedom whether it be as the grounding of the Church or as the grounding of the European Union.

Scheidel suggests that Rome might fit the model whereby monogamy mitigated sexual competition in a quasi-egalitarian context with elites needing to mobilise military participation. Possibly, but this is my suggestion, it was a matter of ensuring large numbers of males on smallholdings with a woman per household to maintain and organise the estate while the husband was at war but similar polities have also remained polygynous (although no State in antiquity ever matched Rome's ability to throw manpower into the maw of war). Rome was an acquisitive machine for mass murder that was to make a cult of death in the circuses worthy of the Aztecs.

Political participation in itself does not (at this early stage) predict monogamy. In fact, slavery masks polygyny because while the matron wife was free as partner in the household, it would be naive not to expect female slaves to have had the same sexual and household role as sister wives in formally polygamous households elsewhere. In other words, monogamy was a socio-political form but not necessarily a psycho-sexual one. The women in hidden Roman polygynous households were simply demoted (other than the wife as chief household administrator) and so were more oppressed and exploited than the women in outwardly polygamous households. Roman monogamy also introduced a serial aspect to the case - divorce was easy and so serial monogamy might be said to have mimicked polygyny simply by making it function more in time than in space. Modern divorce reproduces an aspect of this.

The overall message here is probably that monogamy was initially indeed just a wheeze to smooth the process of mobilising beta men into state service or providing some semblance of order by ensuring the form of equality without the substance - and how familiar is such a wheeze today! The wheeze, as so often, became an ideology - one that neatly covered the actual polygynous behaviour of the elite because it was presented as a moral ideal rather than a moral necessity and so worn lightly.

This ideology, based on an elite's formal representation in a context of state service and ambition (to cover for a gross process of 'global' acquisition) became hybridised with a somewhat sex-negative desert religion that had been Hellenised. The republican moral ideal became transmuted through a transfer of power into a religion purporting to protect women and slaves. From Augustus presenting a monogamous model and despite the polygynous and polyandrous (gay) proclivities of decadent Emperors, republican moral value merged with Judaeo-Christianity to create a moral necessity, a straight-jacket for elites and an endorsement of the necessary habits of the middling sort.

Every time a barbarian people came into contact with the hybridised ideology of the war machine, acceptance of that ideology became a condition for acceptance as tributary or (in the Middle Ages) acceptance as equal. Modernisation in the pre-modern era included total adoption of the ideology with both its sex-negativity and its formal monogamous structures combined and enforced on the middling sort and on elites alike. Informal polygyny, the more exploitative version compared with formal polygamy, was allowed for elites (for the masses until various 'reformations'), making use of variants of the 'blind eye', of which the French 'maitresse' and the 'courtesan' systems may be taken as the type.

Elites thus still got maximal nookie while the masses were increasingly denied even serial monogamy except on terms of guilt or shame and then only with women who were now outcasts rather than merely slaves or would be made outcasts if they 'transgressed'. It was not so much patriarchy that repressed women as the very religion that purported to defend them - or rather it picked and chose who it defended and it defended the women who were to make monogamy an effective tool for household but not political or social or economic power. The consequent socio-sexual ideology was thus not merely embedded in Western culture, it then intensified under successive reformations (from the Middle Ages onwards) and then became part of the self-image of the middling sort as they struggled to build prosperity in households under industrialisation.

Sexual repression and the hybrid patriarchal-matriarchal household reached its apogee in the twentieth century from which it then faced the threat of sexual liberation (which resulted in a surge of serial monogamy) and increased prosperity which, with contraception, liberated women from the obligations and many of the risks inherent in the model. Men had had the choice of compliance either through faith or in misery or as hidden polygyny and homosexuality through deviance and secrecy. Now they had the choice of transparency but while homosexuals were slowly liberated, many heterosexuals remained trapped in the ideology while others began to develop new ideas and forms of sexuality.

And that is where we are now - in a world where monogamy is the habitual norm and a much kinder place than it was fifty years ago and where formal polygamy is, in itself, out of time and place and no longer automatically the better bet for most women. However, social pressures for acceptance of monogamy in its legitimated form make dissent from within the institution a very dangerous matter indeed with highly emotional responses, bitterness, divorce and sometimes appalling effects on children because there is no ideological room for compromise.

What the better bet for men and women is today is not clear (especially as monogamy has become so much kinder) because increasingly the simple categories of men and women, married and unmarried, are collapsing into new categories based on personal psychologies so that a certain type of man and a certain type of woman have more in common with each other than either does with another type of man or woman. Today, increased resources for the middling sort and freedom from social action allows sentimental and emotional choices to drive new sexual relations and so social forms (albeit still restricted by legal habits derived from the old hybrid ideology).

Some can now choose monogamy deliberately and with full understanding of its purpose - long term bonding, child-rearing, property management. Others can choose to remain single or maintain a non-legitimised or partially legitimised (civil partnership) model. Still others can maintain the secret polygyny of mistresses and sex workers. And yet others are choosing the many variants of polyamory. In other words, sex is no longer a game with necessary winners or losers because of the structures in which choices are embedded. Things have become fluid.

There is no option,of course, to import slaves. No person in principle is obligated either to serve another sexually (though we continue to battle at the margins against sex slavery) or hang around with people they have come to loathe even 'for the sake of the children'. People are now generally unhappy for one of three reasons - they are just unhappy and no one will make them happy except themselves, they are still trapped in the hybrid Roman-Christian ideology and its derivatives or they simply do not have the resources to finance their choices. The last is the real problem for late liberal capitalism which offers rhetorical freedom (just as Rome offered rhetorical morality) but cannot will the means to live that freedom.

In conclusion we can now answer our initial debating questions to some extent. We know how monogamy became privileged although we are still not sure why but we also know that it is not the only means by which human beings can run their affairs and that, while it has many advantages, those advantages are not invariably so for all people or for some people at all times. The question is now whether we can have a society that allows people to choose fairly and without harming others whatever social and sexual (and economic) relations can best serve themselves and protect children.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

On Monogamy - Part I

This is the first of two ruminations derived from a reading of a 2008 academic paper by Walter Scheidel of Stanford University, 'Monogamy and Polygyny in Greece, Rome and World History' [Princeton Stanford Working Papers in Classics, available online]. The views and conclusions are mine and not his.

Monogamy is 'normal', begging the question of what it is we mean by 'normal' - for us, for society, for a particular society and so forth. 'Normal' means fitting a 'norm', a standard which occasions no comment, that just is as it is. A norm contains no absolute moral worth in itself since slavery was once normal and female genital mutilation is normal today in some societies. The question underlying the question is how something becomes 'normal' in society and whether it accords with our own natures ... or what would be normal to us if we were in command of the social and the social was not in command of us.

Monogamy presents an interesting test case in deciding whether what is normal is imposed or natural. An academic paper by Walter Scheidel of Stanford University, published in June 2008, triggered thoughts since it opens with a question about the normality or peculiarity of Greco-Roman monogamy which, in turn, is interesting to me because it is Greco-Roman monogamy that has set the standard for the Christian world which, in turn, has created many of the unthinking norms of our own culture.

By monogamy here, we mean a social rule that permits only one wife (we have to assume here male dominance whose normality is another question for another time) with no cohabitation with concubines - in other words, the association of an exclusive sexual relationship within a household. It is perhaps not a problem of sexuality (since it does not preclude extra-marital sex outside the home) so much as a problem of property (who has access to it as sexual or just household management partner). The Greco-Roman approach to property provides us with another set of norms that have underpinned Western culture, including capitalism, ever since.

Scheidel notes that genetic monogamy (mutually exclusive mating between two partners) is fairly rare in the animal kingdom and that social monogamy (mutually exclusive pair bonding which is not necessarily connected to reproduction) is common amongst birds but atypical amongst mammals of which we humans, of course, are a species. Humans appear to be unusual - even amongst primates in being monogamous (in effect, a partly social construction) and (he avers) "only mildly polygynous in "genetic" and "social" terms'".

The mildly appears to be an extrapolation from claims about sexual dimorphism and male-female variability in reproductive success which we can take as read. But the reading of that evidence suggests that mildly polygynous does not mean not polygynous and that might be read as either that most people are occasionally interested in two or more partners at the same time or some (a relatively few) males are always interested in two or more partners. This gives us a picture of a free 'natural' society in which most people lived in monogamous states but enabled people in monogamous states either to be temporarily non-monogamous or people to be fully polygamous. The rise of polyamory in itself within conditions of relative social freedom implies the reality of these possibilities although polyamorists still find themselves faced with enormous stigma and social barriers to contend with.

Scheidel's analysis of social conditions perhaps confirms that the polyamorous trend in a post-Christian free society fits with a situation where, historically, most bonding and mating arrangements are monogamous but where societies generally accept polygyny in both its generic and social forms. We might say that most humans most of the time (outside the West) are not rigid in having one system for all but provide flexibility in accordance with the underlying structure of human biological preference. 93% of societies have some form of socially accepted polygyny (polyandry is entirely another matter). Convenience, preference and resource limitations might tend most to monogamy but there is no barrier across the bulk of humanity to multiple relationships in principle, especially amongst elite groups and as 'concurrent concubinage'.

Now, the key element is '-gyny'. The vast bulk of historic social forms are related to multiple partners for males and not for females and may be read in two ways - either that, in general, men and women do not want multiple relationships and are more tolerant of sharing space with other women (which is interesting but unclear and which we may explore in the next posting) or that men simply are so dominant in most social situations that they can impose these social standards and that women are their 'victims' which is probably the 'normal' narrative of most women in the contemporary West. We can read the process of shifting from polygyny in all its forms (including concurrent concubinage) either as the progressive liberation of women from male oppression or as the progressive imposition and cultural enslavement of men to a feminised society. I suggest that both processes have operated in tandem.

The problem with the simple ideological interpretation that monogamy is a liberation of at least half humanity from the other half (or, less charitably, that it is one half's victory in a cultural power struggle over the other half) is that the current stage of human history is unusually free of socially imposed restrictions on sexual conduct. It has become very clear that there are as many women, possibly more, who want sexual relationships classed as polyamorous (that is, the freedom to love more than one person) as there are men. The conclusion may be that women are as mildly polyandrous as men are mildly polygamous and that it is probably true that most women are occasionally interested in two or more partners at some stage while some (a relatively few) females are always interested in two or more partners. In other words that, in a totally free society, and although there may be differences in approach to specific situations, there may be more similarity between men and women in this regard than social norms have permitted.

What we are suggesting here is that we should not entirely confuse polygyny with patriarchy. Nevertheless, what Scheidel does point out is the correlation of matriarchy with monogamy and patriarchy with polygyny. At first sight, this suggests that the link with patriarchy is to be seen in terms of female liberation and female exploitation but this may not be quite what it seems because we have to think about who are the mothers and who are the fathers who rule and how they relate to others of their gender. I would contend that gender here is of less importance than the fact of ruling - it is power that matters.

For example, the logic of the relationship between monogamy and matriarchy might be seen immediately in terms of the need for the mother-to-be to remove all competition from the household - the competition is not men but other women so that monogamy is not a strategy to contain or control men (though that is the net result) but a strategy to exclude other women. A dominant woman can demand in the right social circumstances the exclusion of all other women and the exile of the male's sexuality to the margins in return for exclusivity and stability. That offer, made at point A when emotional bonding is high, might be regreted at point B when the male has literally gone through a ritual that socially closes alll doors to his own future needs and desires - in effect, he has been deluded perhaps by his own hormones or social pressure into a form of quasi-enslavement to which he either reconciles himself or around which he is forced to skulk like a dog. In short, matriarchical monogamy is a power play as anti-liberatory as patriarchical polygyny because it structures social norms around the thrusting of other women to one side (into social nothingness as hidden mistresses, lovers, sex workers and so forth) in order that one woman be dominant in the household. Thus women may be said to oppress women through monogamy as much as (it could be argued) women control and contain (and so oppress) men.

To be fair, we should say, of course, that there are parallel oppressions in patriarchical polygyny but resource poverty means that most normal relationships in such societies remain monogamous - the woman, in such societies, might reasonably say that the man can have his concubine or second wife when he can afford it and not before and such a new entrant into a household would be in a pecking order and be expected to wash the dishes. Elite patriarchal polygyny, on the other hand, brings women into a wealthy household and so provides security but their dependence on the male is clear - the women are not truly free but no more, one supposes, than men who are answerable to other men (the condition of most men in most societies) or if a modern high status female decided to have a harem of poorer males in tow.

The latter type has been historically rare to the point of my knowing of no case beyond some notorious super-elite women such as Catherine the Great and a few Empresses but the point here is that the oppression is at all times one of relative power and wealth before it is one of sexual predation. The predation follows on from the disparities of wealth and power just as the casting couch mediates between the desperate desire of a beautiful young woman to be an actress and the hunger for power and sex of an inadequate pot-bellied aging man with capital. I have no doubt that a society of Amazons with high sexual appetites and great wealth in a resource poor society with too many men around who need to eat would soon develop forms of sexual organisation and household that reflected their power albeit one that would have to deal with the problem of pregnancy. We may live in such a society within our lifetimes.

Monogamy thus has its politics - it is both a means by which women contain and control men and out-compete other women and it is a means by which partnerships of bonded humans are formed to create children or security often under conditions of resource scarcity. As an ideology, it emerges from the first whereas, as a practice, it emerges from the second. It is why so often women engaged in the practice and not requiring to contain and control or out-compete can often reject those ideologies of matriarchalism (such as that of catholicism) and feminism that grow out of anxiety and ressentiment.

Polygyny or polyandry or community variants, conversely, are both a means by which men show their dominant status and control of resources and a means by which in a resource-rich culturally free society individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs. Clearly, the situation is complex but the critical element is competition for, control of and access to resources. We can see that a resource rich society (assuming cultural freedom) is always going to tend to have more polyandrous and polygynous forms without such forms ever being dominant - after all, polygyny and polyandry (like polyamory) are extremely emotionally and resource-demanding alternatives to monogamy. If you do not have spare capital, high revenues and more leisure time than average, monogamy is the easy option and polygynous or polyamorous instincts can be satisfied when it all gets too much by 'cheating' (playing the field and then going home when the game is over).

Scheidel, as a classicist, is particularly interested in Greco-Roman monogamy (as we are for different quasi-political reasons). He presents it as at the geographical faultline between the moderately patricentric Indo-European zone and the more patriarchal world of the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. The point about the Greco-Roman model is that it did not permit the exceptions for rulers and elites permitted to the Eastern world. This is important because the constraint here on polygyny is not economic (see above) but a matter of norms - a norm has appeared that restricts others, interestingly the power elite more than anyone else but implicitly anyone else who might accumulate the resources to engage with it. And it is this that was inherited by the Christians as the model to be imposed on the West for the next two thousand years.

In this regard, Christianity cannot be blamed for the imposition, only for the brutal intensification of the system. Homeric heroes lived polygynous lives but monogamy was firmly established in Greek culture at the beginning of  the historic period and was presented as quintessentially Greek compared to barbarian culture. In this respect, Christianity followed Greek practice rather than the other way around: it may be useful to consider Christianity as a partially Hellenised heresy of Judaism. This Greek practice did not stop concubinage (and certainly did not stop slave exploitation or the hiring of sex workers) but it did draw the line at co-habitation. Rome too appeared to be monogamous from its early origins although it too may have seen concubines of which it culturally disapproved but in separate locations (like the French 'maitresse'). Slave relationships, which may not always have been obviously exploitative, existed and could result in issue which could be recognised by the fathers.

And we have not mentioned that the modern institution of serial monogamy is also very ancient. Roman divorce law enabling a succession of wives if that suited the man - so that the law provided a form of patriarchy in simply changing sexual relationships from being lateral in time (the harem) to being vertical with one woman after another. Christianity innovated, almost as a trades union for women and slaves, by making divorce harder and then impossible. Roman men, in effect, found the vertical approach rather easy to have stopped whereas unravelling a harem might have been a lot more difficult, certainly harder for Christians to legislate against. After all, protecting incumbent women conservatively in monogamy would then have been replaced with a strategy of 'firing' lots of women to benefit just one of them under polygamy. I do not believe it has been studied but perhaps Christanity found fertile ground in the West and had more difficulty travelling East because its power to create a mass female base was restricted by its inability to represent all women in principle under patriarchal harem systems whereas it could purport to represent all women under systems of serial monogamy and slave exploitation.

It is thus Christianity that strengthens monogamy to the degree that we now see it today but on this Greco-Roman base, with subsequent wars on barbarian polygamy, divorce and elite concubinage that became central to the Catholic Church's sexual politics (which has never been seen by feminists as particularly progressive in most respects). One might say that male power was systematically endorsed by the Church in return for its sexual containment. This is not the place for cod psycho-analytical theory but the levels of emotional and physical violence that became part of the description of masculinity in the West might or might not have something to do with this 'turn' - while it would be naive to believe that males did not have sexual outlets outside the household, the ideology of sexuality and the household itself became zones of male constraint and emotional silence.

Even today, the norm is that the household is so much 'owned' by the couple (which means, in fact, though not in ideology, by the woman) that it becomes unthinkable for a man to invite a female friend into the home without negotiation on the precise terms of entry.  How many women or men would freely enter a married British household without 'clearing' it first with the woman or man who co-habited ... at a certain point, both husband and wife lose all rights to the most innocent of friendships with the opposite sex under conditions where the household is territorialised as sacred space and yet there is no other space that is not public space or the friend's sacred space. And how many partners would be wary, without reason in most cases, of entering the private space of another person of the opposite gender in return. These codes are not rational but encoded from a particular truth ... the monogamous person has no private space unless they have an agreed space within a space which cannot be accessed except through the coupled space with its rules and taboos.

Jewry followed Christianity much as Christianity followed Hellenism. The West in the last 1,000 years (bar a few radical communitarian experiments and Mormonism) has been resolutely monogamous to this day. Even Mormonism recanted in 1890 and then again in 1904. Today's polyamorous tendency has not actually exhibited itself yet as a movement to change the law to permit consensual polygamy and the few Nordic attempts to recognise Muslim polygamy are really responses to the cultural war between Leftists trying to score points against nativists and populists amd have little to do with any seriously radical or well thought out response to what we are as persons. Monogamy is, in short, the 'norm' in the West (and now not only in the West) and remains the norm despite its lack of normality in history and other societies, the undoubted suffering caused to millions of people 'trapped' within its demands over centuries, the effective death of the Church as moral arbiter across much of the West and the fact that it has declined back into its serial Roman form but with women permitted the same rights as men and despite serial monogamy's often bad effects on children. Indeed, it is so normal that the homosexual community have yearned to enter into that state as civil partners or more.

We might say that monogamy, despite its unnatural (as exclusive) state and oppressions and its undoubted false consciousness, is one of the defining characteristics of the West which has been exported globally as part of the West's contribution to modernisation. Japan legislated against polygamy in 1880, Thailand in 1935, China in 1953 (under Communism which is a form of Western heresy and so ultimately a derivative of Hellenised Christianity), India (for Hindus) in 1955 and Nepal in 1963. That means billions of people shifted into monogamous mode in under 65 years. Whole populations have been 'modernised' into a particular gender relations practice by States with no religious intervention. Only Islam (with secularising exceptions) and Sub-Saharan Africa stand out and both are under immense pressure from modernisers and Christians alike. In the latter zone, something like 20-30% of men are in polygynous unions which might suggest the 'all things being equal' norm that might apply in relatively resource poor and non-free (meaning where women do not have the same choice) societies.

The obvious question is whether the West's new interest in polyamory under conditions where the State does not dictate personal morality and where there are relatively prosperous middle classes (albeit under economic pressure) will reverse this trend eventually. Indeed, it might be that resource pressures on equal young men and women (especially over the costs of a household) might actually encourage polygyny and polyandry. Given a figure for 'natural' polyamorists of around 15% of the population, one might anticipate the emergence of such households who will require legal recognition under conditions of serial polygamy/polyandry - that is, core stable units with partners entering and departing over time until a final stable unit, which may revert to monogamy, emerges over time. Legislating for such a development to cover property relations and child protection while not interfering in private choices may present a challenge for traditionalists and legislators as difficult as past struggles over abortion or gay rights and marriage.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Charon - Lesser God of the Dead


Diodorus Siculus claimed that near Memphis, within Lake Acherousia, there was a House of the Dead to which, under the Egyptian rites of the dead, there was a ferryman called Charon whose boat would take the body of the deceased to its new home. There was a death demon of the Etruscans called Charun. But neither story convinces many as the origin of the myth.

Burn the body, close the grave, pay the ferryman, place the coin in the mouth (since the soul departs through the mouth at its last breath), the ritual is all necessary, and so the deed is finally done. An apple or honey cake, a ribbon or a wreath are all signs of the passing. Later (when people might have believed that the dead were going to a better life), the departed would be given perfume, garlands of flowers and food to take on the journey to their new life in death. 

There is also a prayer to be made to the spirits of the River Styx since, without their help, Charon himself cannot easily cross the river and may be forced to wait outside the entrance to Hades’ realm. The mourners cry and as they cry the soul passes into the hands of the God of Death. Their wailing is a call to tame and calm Death and to ask for his care and protection of those they love or to whom they have a duty. 

Imagine him! – very aged and close to senile but strong and horrible in his filthy cloak and proletarian tunic, the hair around his bald pate still black and wild but with white hairs both there and on his bearded chin, eyes that glow and flicker with a radiant soft flaming and skin wrinkled and scorched black by Phlegethon.

Insatiably hungry to get the job done, instinctively harsh and merciless, a supernatural demonic creature, a lesser God, he visibly enjoys preparing the places for the dead in the boat, gently placing the corpses of the innocent to ensure an easy passage while forcing the less than innocent to come to sufficient zombie-like life to row the boat forward.

He is a terrible creature, who takes pleasure in the tears of the grieving. He steers the black boat of the dead, decked in trailing river weed, across the Styx, the howling, wide and bottomless Acheron Lake and across the Lethe towards a place which Apollo never visits. Charon thus removes us from the exhaustion that is life. He takes slaves and freemen, putting all at the oars or at least those he dislikes and he hears no claims for precedence.

For the journey, all we need is a jug, the clothes we are buried or burnt in, a bundle of necessaries and the ‘obol’ – the coin that is the price of a day’s wage, the last day on earth. Hades is a mercenary place. Hermes Psychopompos who guides the soul to the boat, wants his payment from the obol he gives Charon (which suggests that change has to be given somewhere in the transaction), so does Charon, of course, often considered greedy, and so does Aeacus the greedy gatekeeper into Hades.  The chthonic gods are human traffickers. It is a business.

We might add the greed of Pluto (though not the Greek Hades) though how one obol would cover all these costs is another mystery. It must be a bulk commodity business. War must be profitable. This mercenary side may just reflect a late Roman obsession with contracts and consideration (we pay, we get entrance). Some in the lower classes would put in more coins into the grave than a Greek would have needed.

Some have said that there is no fee, some just the obol and some, though they are wrong, two. For the Greek, the real price is the burial rite or the funerary pyre. Those who have no burial rites, no mourning, no pyre, are left to wander on the near shore of the Acheron pursued remorselessly by vicious beasts and demons, not on life’s shore but another shore altogether.

The obol is symbol of all our earthly wealth being transferred to the ferryman and lost to us forever. It is our passport and also the confiscation at the frontier. As refugees from life, we go into the shadow world with nothing. The payment is also the closing of the grave as much as the tombstone being in place. What you can take with you (according to the philosophers) is your wisdom, your integrity and your true nature.The payment may also reflect a far more ancient fear of the dead as avaricious, hungry ghosts. If you pay them now then perhaps they won't come back and ask for payment later.

There are two sides to this coin – the obverse is the remembrance of the dead by the living and the reverse is a new existence in the realm of the dead or non-existence. It is the representation of a new mode of existing at the cusp of two worlds – mental and supernatural. If a man refuses to die willingly, Death will give him a nudge. He will execute all who refuse to die and without mercy. He kidnaps the young. All are equal in his attention even though he will show unaccustomed grace, gentleness, kindness and tenderness to young mothers and their babes, to the innocent who may even be exempted of their fee. 

And, though fearful of Charon, men still praise him when a tyrant dies. A cult of Charon emerged from Palestine to Mauretania and up to Milan and coins were widely placed in the mouths of the dead in the Second Century AD. Just saying the name Charon could inspire fear by then. He becomes Charondas in much later Greek folklore. 

Once in the boat, there is no return. Only the dead can cross the Acheron. With so many sallow-faced souls on board, the boat threatens to sink but it never does. Some say that the boat expands to fit the dead and grows to huge size after major battles. Some say Charon even carries the souls of all the animals as well. And some say that there are places on earth which provide a shortcut to Hades – such as the land of the Hermionians. 

Very rarely a hero such as Hercules (the only hero strong enough to beat Charon in a fight), Orpheus or Aeneas or heroine such as Psyche may enter Hades as a living soul and return, but for the rest of us there is no golden branch or road money that will allow us to enter and return to the land of the living. 

We cannot pass in and out of death or ride on Charon’s boat and enter Hades before our time. Even Orpheus was denied a second visit until his time was due and Charon was himself punished once for letting Hercules through, albeit that he probably had little choice in the matter. 

And if we think this is a fairy tale and there is no Hades and no Charon, still it is true that Death subsists in any case, as an eternal exile from Existence, irrevocable. But we cannot accept the late glosses that merge into the Christian mythos in which Dionysos represents the triumph of life over death. Perhaps many Romans (though not the Greeks who had a grim view of the underworld) believed that Charon was taking their souls to a better world beyond the grave. But belief is not truth.