Thursday, July 25, 2013

Polyamory: Love : Fucking :: Potentiality : Actuality

Having met a polyamorous individual, I now have to discern what I think about polyamory, as a general concept.  After talking to the individual, and reading some websites, I realized that my initial critique of, "You just don't know what 'favorite' means", failed to adequately appreciate polyamory's nuances. While one can unthinkingly criticize polyamory externally, by labeling it as "wrong" or "missing the point of relationships", just as one could externally criticize monogamy as "evidences an inability to share", an internal critique offers some insights into both relationships and love.  Let's begin with the definition of polyamory, since definitions are always the most important aspect of any discussion, ever.

"Polyamory" combines the greek "poly" (many) with the latin "amor" (love), which is great, since smashing Greek and Latin together is always the best strategy for maintaining clarity of thought.  If we spend a few minutes perusing the etymology of amor, we find that its root, amo, comes "probably from Proto-Indo-European *am-a-, *am- (“mother, aunt”), a lost nursery-word of the papa-type."  This is a love of affection, of familial fidelity, more than love of an erotic nature.  Moreover, the verb "amo" can be translated in at least four ways:
1)  I love
2)  I am fond of, like.
3)  I am under obligation to; I am obliged to.
4)  (with infinitive) To enjoy, be accustomed.


The love of amo, of polyAMOry, is not exclusively a love that involves fucking.  Most of the uses indicate fondness, liking, obligation, enjoyment, rather than an exchange of bodily fluids.  So much for the "I maintain multiple fuck partners due to philology" argument.

This confusion of definition plays out in some of the arguments from analogy used by polyamorous folks.  Some argue that since a person can love multiple friends, and a parent can love multiple children, then a polyamorous individual can love (fuck) multiple partners.  The problem is one of equivocation.   The relationship between a parent and child is qualitatively different from the relationship between a mother and father, or a boyfriend and boyfriend, or two friends.  As amo has at least 4 translations, so, too, are there multiple kinds of love.  The fact that one can friend-love multiple friends does not imply that one can fuck-love multiple sexual partners, since friend-love and fuck-love are different things.  The "love" category works kinda exactly like "dog".

If there are different kinds of love, then how can one discern what kind of love is occurring?  Sensible persons maintain that internal dispositions are evidenced by external acts.  (Footnote:  If you do not grant this, then you just lost the ability to critique folks for performative contradictions, hypocrisy.  And you've opened the door to private language.)  We can discern that friend-love differs from erotic-love because one involves fucking while the other does not.  Similarly, we can discern that parent-love differs from friend-love because they entail different external actions.  I may love my friends, but I won't change their diapers.  Since polyamorous folks engage in different acts than monogamous folks, we can say that the internal dispositions of members of each group differ, since they prompt different external acts.

This is where we find a significant problem:  As soon as we use this argument to strictly divide polyamory from monogamy, in terms of different kinds of love by different kinds of actions, we've opened ourselves up to the argument being used against every other human relationship.

Just as the love between a parent and child is not the love between two dating teens, so too does the love between Monogamous-pair-A and Monogamous-pair-B differ, if we assess internal love by external acts.  The pairs may fuck differently, handle finances differently, spend different amounts of time together, have different living arrangements, etc.  Each collection of  external acts evidences a different set of internal disposition, a different particular instantiation of the vague love-category.  Once we apply this critique to every relationship, we find that each parent to child relationship evidences a different instantiation of the love-category, since the differences in external actions indicate a difference of internal disposition.  The same with friendship, casual dating, etc.

Even if we restrict ourselves to "love that entails fucking", and ignore all the other components of erotic relationships, there are still obvious differences between what occurs, mechanically, between two heterosexuals, two lesbians, or two gay dudes.  Since we define the internal disposition in terms of external acts, the external acts of two gay dudes evidence a different internal-love-disposition than the external acts of two heterosexuals.

Since butt-fucking differs from cunnilingus, they must result from different internal emotive dispositions and, so, different kinds of love.  This is where the premise we pretty much have to maintain gets us.

The easy solution is to vague the categories.  And, yes, I just used "vague" as a verb.  Deal with it.  Once we vague the fucking category, we can declare anal sex, blowjobs, heterosexual missionary-style intercourse, and cunnilingus to be "similar enough" that they all count as fucking and so evidence a "similar enough" internal disposition of "love that entails fucking".  The question, as always, is where we draw the line.

The easiest line to draw, with respect to polyamory, is the "poly".  One could argue that poly-love is significantly different from mono-love because of the number of people involved.  While that is a shitty argument, and can be sensibly disputed, the common reply used in pro-polyamory arguments abandons sense in favor of going full-on retard.

Polyamorous folks who once took an Econ 101 class tend to enjoy the phrases "scarcity model of love" and "starvation model of love".  They argue that love is not a limited resource where love "spent" on Partner-A diminishes the resource-love-pool from which one can love Partner-B.  Instead, love "behaves in wonderful and unpredictable and counterintuitive ways", and so "the more love you give away, the more love you have to give".  I do not know if love is an infinite or finite resource, and ultimately do not care.  That argument is uninteresting.  The interesting argument focuses upon the shift the Econ 101 polyamorist made in the discussion.

At the beginning of this rant, we discussed the difference between "love" and "fucking".  In the scarcity / starvation argument, the polyamorist focuses upon the love, the emotive disposition, the intent.  Since "intent" is an unlimited resource, polyamorous folks can "intend" multiple partners.  But as we demonstrated above, there is a distinction between internal dispositions and external actualizations of those dispositions.  Moreover, we can discern the qualities of the internal disposition by assessing the external actualizations of that disposition.  The potentiality of the internal disposition is only meaningful, is only useful, with respect to the external actualizations of that disposition.  Said another way:

Love may be an infinite resource, but time is not.

One can claim to have infinite love for Player-A, Player-B, and Player-C.  Unfortunately, the structure of reality is such that one has limited time to spend with each player.  While each player may have different needs, and desire different manifestations of affection or attention, it seems highly unlikely that each partner would get 100% of their needs met all the time.  If we chart out instances of need-meeting, and graph the percentage of needs met, we could find that, on a quantitative assessment, the potential-love for each partner was not equal due to actualization-love not being equal.

The claim of equality of potentiality is a very hollow and vacuous claim.  This is not a unique problem to polyamory, but rather a manifestation of some problems of Western metaphysics:  How does potentiality relate to actuality?  How is potentiality assessed and discerned?  Potentiality is weird.  Anyway, in a polyamorous relationship one can claim to love any number of partners equally.  However, if that potential is not actualized equally, then the initial claim of equality is of little or no practical value.

Actuality is different from potentiality.  See:  Aristotle

This is a problem with some arguments for polyamory:  They often confuse potentiality with actuality.  Polyamory defines itself in terms of actually having multiple sexual partners, and justifies this actuality by an appeal to the concept of infinite potentiality.  It maintains a fundamentally incongruous system since it justifies the actual by appealing to the potential.

And this is exactly what all human social relationships do.

Suppose a mother meets her child's needs more than her husband's needs, or a guy pays more attention and effort to his work than his boyfriend.  One might fail to actualize their potential love for their partner by focusing on other friends, hobbies, jobs, etc.  The confusion between actual and potential is not unique to polyamory.  Conflicting loyalty is not unique to polyamory.

In monogamy, the conflict is avoided by an appeal to categories of affection.  If one's girlfriend goes on vacation for a week, her lack of affection during that week is rationalized by considering vacation-effort to be of a different kind than relationship-effort.  Alternatively, it is rationalized by her potential to express affection when she returns.  In the procreation scenario, a spouse's attention on one's kids is accepted by intertwining the child's well-being with one's own well-being:  He's taking care of my daughter, who is an extension of me, and so he's still taking care of me, in a sense.  Despite the rationalization, there is still a conflict of loyalty in these relationship.  One privileges the vacation over the partner, or the child over the spouse, and we excuse it by modifying our categories of love, or creating new ones.

The difference is that in polyamory that conflict involves fucking other people.  Since most folks don't share well, they criticize polyamory for problems that persons in monogamous relationships experience as well.  Everyone has conflicting loyalties, except for sociopaths, maybe.

That is what I think interesting about polyamory:  It makes us question what "love" is, what a "relationship" is, and how various relationship structures relate to love.  If love is a meaningful infinite resource of potential with respect to parents, children, friends, and monogamous folks, then I am not sure why it would not be equally meaningful with respect to polyamory hives.  If we discern love only by external actions, then monogamy has some problems, too.

I'm pretty sure there is not a reasonable argument to be made against polyamory as a general practice.  One can make an ad populum "most people don't do that" argument, but fuck ad populum arguments.  One could offer the indomitable critique of, "I don't like it." but that's merely an expression of emotive disposition, rather than an actual argument.  The "exclusivity" argument is just a gussied up version of "I don't share well", and inability to share is hardly a virtue.  If we confront the "it's not conducive to procreation" argument then we trot out the tried-and-true "barren heterosexual couple" example.

Once we get a few premises on the table:
- "Love" is a vague category.
- Internal dispositions are evidenced by external acts.
- Potentiality is not actuality.


it is entirely not difficult to demonstrate that polyamory is not significantly different from monogamy, at least in terms of the general structure of love and human relationships.

Polyamory is just different.  It does not seem to be inherently wrong, inherently contradictory, or inherently flawed.  Yeah, it's kind of goofy, but so are all human relationship.  Yeah, it's hard to rationally justify, but so is *everything* independent of a set of unargued primary assumptions.  And, sure, polyamorist use flawed arguments and mistaken understandings of terms, but so does about 92% of the human population.

If you want to fuck a bunch of people?  That's cool.  If you want to only fuck one person?  That's fine.  But don't pretend that one relationship structure evidences a more "true" or "pure" form of whatever-the-fuck love is.  Love is just a word that appeals to an incredibly vague and diverse conceptual collection of human activities.

And, really, it's all just Oxytocin, anyway.

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