can’t we just all be friends?

How many boyfriends and girlfriends have you got? It’s starting to look increasingly common to have at least two or three.

Only some of them aren’t really ‘girlfriends’ or ‘boyfriends’. They’re ‘partners’, or ‘husbands’ or ‘wives’. Or they’re ‘lovers’, ‘flings’, or ‘mistresses’.

Or they’re ‘friends with benefits‘, or ‘casual aquaintances’ or ‘affectionate friends’. Or exes we’re still friends with, and/or share a bed with. Or people we’ve ‘friendzoned’. Or people we slept with once, or twice, or three times and might sleep with again – “but it isn’t a thing”. Or, it is a “thing” but it isn’t a “thing, thing.”

Or people who we can’t actually sleep with because they’re a friend’s partner, or an ex’s friend, or we work with them, or because we’re best friends and the stakes are too high, or they’re out of bounds in some other way. Who we then spend most of our waking hours thinking about, and most of our sleeping hours dreaming about, and tell ourselves and everyone who asks that it absolutely isn’t a “thing” either.

It’s all very confusing.

The one certainty is that the old nuclear-family-track structures aren’t as certain as they once were, and it’s rare that anyone keeps all of their intimate feelings exclusively for just one person. Some of us might once have hoped for that; but then all those other people just insist on getting inside our heads (and our hearts. And sometimes, our pants).

There’s been a little whirlwind of internet activity recently, proposing polyamory as a solution to all this. The idea seems to be that you can cut through the Gordian knot of relationship confusion by simply accepting that one partner isn’t enough. In the writing of the most evangelistic polyamorists, there’s an implication that we can all have happy lives if we all get ten partners and all hold hands and skip through butterfly meadows, occasionally stopping for some free love.

The only comments I’ve made on non-monogamy before have been satire. But just for a moment, let’s take polyamory as a serious proposal.

Firstly, I don’t like the word ‘polyamory’. I think it’s silly. It’s particularly silly when people use it to describe themselves, as if it were some rebellious identity-defining queer sexual orientation, rather than a social relationship structure. It makes them go around saying things like, “Yes, I’m poly. Are you poly? Have you met Polly? Polly’s poly,” etc.

Not to mention how fucking smug it all is.

But I do think it follows from my comments on love before – both on this blog and at Stand-Up Philosophy (video here) – that there are many kinds of love, which can overlap in ways that needn’t be exclusive or finite, either of kinds or of subjects. We can feel eros and agapē and philia and storge, and so on, in any combination, for anybody. And we should be pragmatic about that.

So as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing wrong in principle with having as many of whatever kind of relationships work for you.

But I think this only works on condition of a very important caveat, and it’s the point I’ve been trying to make all along. It’s this: the necessary condition of all good relationships, with anyone, is that we love others first as friends: that what we feel for them is primarily a combination of philia (we actually like them) and agapē (we care, and we want what is good for them).

So there is no such thing as ‘just’ friendship – friendship is the crucial factor. It is what motivates us to treat others with kindness. It’s the condition of everything which is good with others, and it can be the answer to anything bad. It can be deep and enduring and profound, and it matters. Friendship is the most important thing.

I don’t trust people who say that in principle they ‘can’t’ be friends with their lovers, whether it’s before or during a relationship or after a separation. Needing some space after a change in the relationship is understandable, but if you never cared for that person the way a friend does, then you probably never cared enough to have them in your life anyway.

And I say ‘change in the relationship’ rather than ‘break-up’ because, if people are primarily friends then the word ‘break-up’ doesn’t make sense. Nothing is ‘broken’; there is just a distancing between two friends who had previously been very close (and in practical terms, you might stop sleeping together). But however sudden or painful that distancing might be, people who are worth caring for will still care for each other.

So, friendship is the most important thing. But that’s not what you’re reading this for. You’re reading this because you hope I’ll say something that fits in with your opinions about sex and monogamy. It’s eros that you’re interested in, not philia.

So I’ll add another point: that there are (at least) two sub-categories of erotic love. There is one kind of eros (or desire) that simply wants to physically connect with someone, to gain access to their body for a moment in time. And there is another kind of eros, that wants to possess another person psychologically and emotionally.

In other words, there’s the desire to get sexy with someone, and the desire for someone to be YOURS FOREVER. They’re both common feelings.

But there’s a lot of bullshit in romantic culture, intended to make us believe that the second kind is more virtuous than the first, or that it must be a condition of it. This is wrong, and in my opinion somewhat perverse. Wanting someone to be emotionally in thrall to you indefinitely is not ‘purer’ or more virtuous than just wanting to get their clothes off.

Lust in itself isn’t jealous, doesn’t threaten to trap anyone, it doesn’t stalk them or bully them or murder them. It just wants to rub up against you. Lust is pure; Disney-style posessive love is often kind of creepy.

And it’s not just creepy; it’s a serious danger to personal liberty. The only time it’s necessary to put a limit on the number and variety of relationships we have, is when we confuse those two types of desire, or believe that they must exist and can only exist together. That is what the ideological commitment to monogamy is: it’s when we come to believe that sex must give us not just temporary access to the desired person’s body, but ongoing possession of their soul. And I don’t think this can be right.

Over the last few years, I’ve found it more and more difficult to understand the idea of being “with” just one other person forever; to ‘give’ your body and soul over to being just one other person’s possession and property, and to think of that as some kind of real, fixed and binding structure that is morally inviolable. It’s almost asking for trouble.

A lot of monogamists claim that they don’t think or act like this all the time. When they are ‘single’, they say, they have ‘casual things’. What they are saying is that when they can’t find anyone who they might eventually want to possess completely, they’ll fuck people they don’t actually care for or like that much. They use people; and then they are surprised and hurt when they are used themselves.

Plus, we are never “with” just one other person. Apart from the common confusion at the start of this post, we’re always also part of a community, part of a family, part of a society.

Of course we will often have a best friend, a closest friend, and we might also have very good reasons to want to keep sex as as something we share only with that friend who we trust and desire most. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and I have to admit that I’ve personally often preferred it. For most of my adult life, when I’ve found someone I want to be that close to, I kind of only really want that person. Only those of us who are lucky enough to have had a best friend, with whom it is possible to share all the kinds of love there are, can know the value of that.

But no realistic commitment to just one other person can permanently exclude all the other people in the world. And we don’t need to; if we stop belittling friendship with words like ‘just friends’; recognise it as the highest kind of relationship that is possible, and recognise sex as something that friends can do if they want and if they really do care about each other; then we don’t need to construct imaginary walls around our relationships.

Why can’t we think beyond securing the possession of someone else’s heart and sex for ourselves? Why can’t we all be friends, in that necessary, profound way I’m trying to describe? Maybe we’d want to sleep with one or some or none of our friends – if you truly care about them, it doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. What’s important is that we like and care for our network of friends.

In fact, why can’t we think of ourselves like constellations of stars? We float in space, always ourselves, but always a part of a constellation; gravitating towards each other in twos and threes, sometimes more, shining our light and warmth on each other, but never in a vacuum and always with the constellation present.

Maybe I’ll be drawn towards you by a kind of gravity I can’t explain. Maybe we’ll drift apart, pulled by the gravity of other stars; maybe we’ll keep coming back again. Maybe for a time, I’ll be the brightest thing in your universe and you’ll be the brightest in mine. Maybe just for a few hours – maybe until our light goes out.

And if that fades, it doesn’t mean we failed; we succeeded in lighting each other for as long as we did. And if you turn your light on others and away from me, I’ll feel cold; but I never owned the fire in you, and I’d have been a fool to expect to orbit forever around just one sun. And you were never my only source of light, either. I’m never floating through space alone, and there’s always light to be found.

I am one amongst a constellation of stars. The light I give is unlimited and I won’t stop shining it on you, and all my friends, for as long as you’ll receive it. And when a star dies, its light and warmth remain.

Of course, many people cannot think like this. They feel alone if they can’t lock someone else up for life.

Perhaps they need friendship most of all.

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matriarchal polygyny: a modest proposal

Introduction

Whatever one thinks about Karl Marx, there is no denying that his friend Friedrich Engels was by far the cooler of the two. It was Engels who had the big parties at his house, and Engels who took Marx out drinking in Soho (and who bought all the drinks, obviously, because he was the one with the money. Which is also cool).

And coolest of all, it was Engels who was prepared to shock Victorian Britain by publishing a book about sex and relationships. Marx himself, lacking Engels’ bravery, kept sex mostly as a personal thing between himself and his wife Jenny. And, notoriously, their housekeeper Helene. (In fact, when Helene had one of Marx’s children, Engels told everyone the child was his. Some think he did this to help Marx avoid controversy. But really it was simply because Engels knew, deep down, that being a player is cool).

Engels worked harder, partied harder, and still lived longer than Marx. And so, shortly after Marx died, Engels published his solo masterpiece, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State. In it, he argued that the “traditional” patriarchal family structure is neither natural, nor moral, nor particularly functional. Before the invention of private property and land, Engels suggested, families were largely not patriarchal, but matriarchal groups of powerful women. These women took husbands, sometimes temporarily, for the purposes of procreation. They then raised the children together communally.

The patriarchal family, he claimed, only developed with the development of private property, as a means for those who had taken control of land and the means of production – who happened to be men) to take control of their wives and families and to subjugate them in much the same way they subjugated the working class and the rest of the material world.

Men wanted faithful wives only to guarantee that their children were their own so they could pass on their property to a legitimate heir, and so control what they owned even after they died. For that reason, they needed to ensure their wives were going to live with them and be dependent on them. With the help of bourgeois marriage law, men were able to make women their dependents and sexual servants, leading to what Engels calls the “world-historical defeat of the female sex.”

Engels views this not just as a bad thing for women, but also for men, who have traded in their own sexual freedom for a means to pass on property, with the result being prostitution and infidelity.

And it is from from this point – that the monogamous nuclear family is ultimately a bad thing – that my modest proposal originates.

 

One’s own children are a burden

It is self-evidently true that women were, through no fault of their own, tragically defeated and gain nothing whatsoever from being in a ‘traditional’ monogamous family group. There is, after all, absolutely no benefit or interest whatsoever for a woman in a relationship with a man who owns property and who has the privelege of going to work while she is left to bring up children. Bringing up children is a task of little value, and certainly not one that a man would ever take on seriously. It is therefore an unjust state of affairs that one person in a marriage has the freedom to go out and work, while another is forced to spend time with their own children.

It could therefore be pointed out that one great and fortunate step for humanity is that, as a result of the advances of feminism, both men and women are now expected to work, so that nobody of any gender has to be left with the odious responsibility of raising their own children. To an extent this has been a victory for both feminism and socialism; with our system of state schooling, we have liberated parents from wasting their precious labour time on the banal task of instilling features like reason or self-discipline in their children. We can now safely expect our childrens’ schools to do this for us, and happily we also have a schools inspectorate which can declare any school inadequate which fails to take complete responsibility for this. Engels himself thought that such a state of affairs could only come about after a communist revolution. Perhaps he was wrong about that.

 

Monogamy is the problem

But the battle is not yet won: there are still problems which are rooted in the basic structure of the monogamous family. Curiously, though, Engels thought that in a communist utopia, people would continue with monogamous relationships, but more in the nature of ‘sexual love’. And this, of course, is where Engels must be modestly challenged. Because it is not capitalism that is the problem: monogamy is the problem.

Nobody wants monogamy really. If we want to know what people really want, we must do two things: consider their nature as they have evolved, and listen to what they say they want. And also, what they say they don’t want.

 

What men want

With men, it is very clear. Men want sex. And they want it with as many women as possible. We know this from what they say when they do not have it, and what they say when they have it with one person and yet still want to have it with others and can’t. They are unhappy with the situation.

There is a perfect evolutionary explanation for this: they want to have as many children as possible, with many different mothers, to increase the likelihood that their genes will be passed on. Contrary to Engels’ claim that only capitalist bourgeois society causes infidelity in men, it is in fact perfectly natural for men to want to have children with several different women.

However, they cannot do this, because the expectations of capitalism are such that they can only pass on their property to the child of one mother. Capitalist bourgeois values have therefore been so entrenched in women that they believe it is in some way wrong to have sex with a man who may be having sex with other women. They know they could, but they believe they shouldn’t, unless they are in a monogamous relationship with him. The result is that many men are frustrated.

Men are also frequently frustrated with the responsibilities placed on them by having so much power in the workplace. As we know, the workplace is where all men are given almost infinite power and opportunity, in comparison with women. But for some reason, they do not want it. And this is understandable, because men are fundamentally incompetent. They feel pressure to work hard and take on more powerful roles with more professional responsibility. Similarly they feel a responsibility to take charge in the home and be the head of their household; and to make important decisions which, deep down, they know their basic foolishness renders them ill-equipped to make.

They dislike this, and would like nothing more than a life with absolutely no power or responsibility, where they are able to relax and have sex with many women. But current family structures and working traditions deny them this possibility.

 

 

What women want

Women, meanwhile, are completely different. Women know that they could easily have sex with a man at any time: they simply need to ask. But they don’t. While it is natural for men to want to be polygamous, and also natural for them to demand complete commitment from their partners (in order to ensure their own genes are passed on), this is not the case for women. This is because, as everyone knows, women are far less likely to cheat. It is almost like they don’t know how.

This may be because, as outlined above, bourgeois capitalism has taught them that they must know who the father of the child is so that he can pass on his property. Or it may be because, since they bear children and never have the worry about whether the child is theirs, they evolved simply to desire security for their babies, rather than the spreading of their genes.

Either way, women do not ever complain, as men do, that they are not having sex with enough different people: women complain that they cannot find ‘the one’. Women just want to find one man who will give them those babies. It is no wonder they so easily fell victim to the capitalist bourgeois men who promised them this, in exchange for stripping them of all power.

For unlike men, women still do not have the power they deserve. Women are clearly more sensible and intelligent than men, but even in post-feminist societies with socialised childcare, they still do not earn as much as men on average. Women deserve the opportunity to work longer hours to earn money, to gain the power, and these opportunities are routinely denied to them. With this economic power would come the possibility of making more important decisions around the home, which women also know that they would be better at.

What women need, therefore, is not simply equal responsibility, power and opportunities to men, but more responsibility, power and opportunity than men. Otherwise they are never to achieve truly equal responsibility, power and opportunity.

 

A modest proposal

In summary: Men want sex with many women and can’t get it; but they don’t want power, either at work or at home, which they are ill-suited to and yet are given it simply by asking. Women want power and are kept from it, while knowing they could have easily have sex but not really just wanting one man to love them.

There is an obvious solution, a new kind of family structure which, if adopted, would solve all the problems of men and women alike: Matriarchal Polygyny. Polygyny, to clarify, is the practice of one man being partnered with more than one wife. This should not be confused with polygamy, (either gender having more than one spouse) or polyandry, (which is a wife having many husbands), or the grotesque free-for-all that is sometimes called ‘polyamory’. It is specifically polygyny.

One man would have anything between three and ten wives.

But there is a twist to this: my proposal is not like standard polygyny, the way it is practiced by Mormons or many Muslims in the Middle East. My proposal is for matriarchal polygyny: in every case, women would be in charge.

There is no doubt that if responsibility was taken out of the hands of men, and the job of running both families and society was taken over by women, as a sisterhood together, things would be better. Men don’t want to get things done and are naturally competitive; but women are both immune from such laziness and, as we know, never compete with each other.

The role of women would therefore be like a combination of queen bees and worker bees in a bee-hive. They would, together, do the work that needed doing, arrange communal schooling and socialisation for the children of all so that they did not have to worry about their own children’s upbringing, and take on the economic power and responsibility at work that they have always desired but been kept from attaining, and make the important decisions for the family that they have been prevented from making.

Women could, in family groups together, have it all. These would not be traditional families – they would be ‘mammilies’.

Men, meanwhile, would be relieved of their responsibilities and kept as drones are in a bee-hive. Their role would be to relax and enjoy their new role as sex-slaves for their many wives. It is, after all, what men have always dreamed of.

Everybody would be happy.

 

An apparent problem, and a solution

A critic might point out that there is an obvious problem for this: there would be too many men (as least to begin with, while society waited for technology to make it possible to grow the exact number of men that were required in test tubes). With this would come a danger of male babies being born unwanted, as there is a chance that mammilies would not be able to find enough wives for them.

There is, again, a modest but obvious solution to this. We can easily do swapsies with Chinese families, where the one-child policy has male babies considerably more desirable than females. No doubt the Chinese government, exemplary as they are in knowing what the people of China want, could facilitate this. Perhaps it could even make a Sino-Western world war less of an inevitability.

 

Conclusion

There is work to be done. Changes in government policy must be made in order to ensure that this family structure becomes the norm as swiftly as possible, and it should be acknowledged by all that groups of women should be in charge, should have a man to love them and to give them babies (this is, after all, the only thing men are good for) and to take all the positions of power that are required to make the world right.

Which is – to return to where we began – how Karl Marx’s family actually worked. After all, Karl never worked or earned money, so he never had any economic power over his family. And everyone knows that the real brains and power, the Queen Bee behind the Marx hive, was always Jenny. She got things done and kept her family in order – with the help of the housekeeper, of course – both of them using their drone, Karl, to satisfy their sexual needs and bringing all the children up together, while giving Karl enough spare time to write Capital and go drinking with his very cool friend Engels without having to worry about pesky things like responsibilities. And everyone was happy.

Matriarchal polygyny: if it’s good enough for the Marx mammily, it’s good enough for the rest of us.