Non-monogamy is for commies


After a short conversation at the bar last night, I started to reformulate, and shorten, something I’ve already said.

It seems that monogamist logic leads to ethical aporia. It goes something like:

“I want this (monogamy).”
Don’t you require another individual with whom to form a couple?
“Yes, I want this (monogamy) with a person (who can complete the wished for relationship).”
Shouldn’t you decide on the nature and form of the relationship together?
“If the person doesn’t want what I want, then they are not worth having a relationship with.”

So the relationship is for yourself, regardless of the needs and wants of the other?

“I want this (monogamy) with another person in so far as their needs and wants match my own (and their wants and needs should match my own since I want this [monogamy]).”

The person has value and worth when their views match yours only (or are forced to match yours)?

“No, but… I want…”

Non-monogamist logic is aware of this idea of One perspective (on a world that should otherwise be understood and experienced as containing multiple and oftentimes conflicting perspectives). This logic can be understood as:

“I don’t know what you want (and you don’t know what I want), and neither of us knows what we want from each other), so the structure of the romance should parallel these changing modes of desires and needs.”

There is something more ethical in this logic; it recognizes and attempts to negotiate the ambiguity of existence.

I would claim that monogamy is logically impossible if we hold the latter as an ethical principle. A claim to a static form of wants and needs makes an effort to predict, and perhaps negate (although not always – how dramatic and exciting are the affairs!), future encounters. The shape of an encounter, logically, cannot be stated in advance; or, if it can, it cannot logically (fully) consider the other participant in the encounter because they have not yet been encountered and therefore, the formulations about ourselves and the other person are unnecessary and incorrect abstractions.

In different words, even if two participants agree upon monogamy in perfect harmony, this is something of a false consciousness: you can’t agree on a future encounter, i.e., the same monogamist logic will play itself out when new intellectual, emotional, romantic, and sexual encounters take place. This is why serial monogamy is the dominant practice today. What is implied, therefore, is the flux of desires and needs. Non-monogamist logic thus works alongside this ambiguity as a principle based on ethically encountering other individuals, not the solipsist logic of personal happiness at any cost. (Is it surprising that monogamy and the capitalist ethos follow a similar logic? Both suggest that what matters first and foremost is the individual prior to encounter with the other: e.g., I want monogamy and will do whatever I can to achieve it; I will be successful in the marketplace and will do whatever I can to achieve it.)

Non-monogamy is communist love, and I think this is something Alain Badiou wanted to say in In Praise of Love, but he lacked the courage to name it. I agree with the monogamists’ uncritical dismissal of non-monogamy then: it is a good theory and difficult to implement in practice. (Monogamy, on the other hand, is an unethical theory and the repercussions have been extremely violent.) Being a good person is hard work. We should try to oust ourselves, and our partners, from the false consciousness of monogamy. It is not enough to say that we can be ethical within a poorly structured arrangement. As Duane Rousselle frequently writes, although with reference to capitalism and via Badiou, we need a radical change and should not be satisfied with incremental change. Non-monogamy is for communists; if we agree with leftist principles, why do we our radical politics stop before love?

4 thoughts on “Non-monogamy is for commies

  1. I quite like this post. Some quick thoughts: (1) if it is the case that monogamy cancels out the possibility of a future encounter, then does it not follow that one could argue that non-monogamy cancels out the possibility of a future monogamous encounter? (2) a variation on question 1: is it not the case that non-monogamy rules out in advance the possibility of love for one person?

    A related question concerns the reduction of monogamy to the One, when, as Badiou maintains, love is always a two-scene – it is communism for two, or small communism. That is, love is always an encounter with somebody else who is radically different, who one occurred within the radical non-monogamy of an individual’s life quite by chance. The question for me is: why is it that something transcendental, like One love, emerges from the multiplicity of existence, that is, the non-monogamy of existence?

    The question which serves as the foundation for most monogamous encounters is not “will you be the same, will you be One with me?” but rather, “will you, like me, sacrifice everybody else, for this chance Encounter?” Will you refuse temptation – that is, the temptation to fall back into the logic of multiplicity – to see this encounter through to the end, to something productive in the world. This is what Badiou names fidelity.

    It seems to me that what non-monogamy desires more than anything else is the chance encounter. And yet non-monogamists make this encounter meaningless by refusing to provide that chance encounter with sustained meaning by refuting the temptation of other possible encounters. The revolutionary canon cannot fire in all directions. It needs to fire in one direction, against a common enemy.

  2. I want to add one more thought concerning the question of One versus the question of Multiplicity. The problem with the logic of multiplicity, which, I think, probably goes hand in hand with non-monogamy theory, is that it seems to oppose it to the One. But multiplicity is another name for the One, it is, perhaps, the strongest name for the One that we have. Spinoza and Deleuze were the great thinkers of the One.

    It is not that the non-monogamist is more ethical because he or she is open to a radical encounter, but that the non-monogamist is open to many radical encounters. Here we can make two moves. We can take the naive position and claim that multiplicity means “any,” that is, the non-monogamist is open to any encounter. For this position, it is obvious, everything is an encounter and so nothing is an encounter. No encounter matters, no encounter is meaningful. And thus, I maintain, no encounter is ethical. And so the non-monogamist is just a normal person who has adopted a clever name for himself. Any single person knows: everybody is a potential lover.

    The second position is more sophisticated because it claims that multiplicity means “many” and not “any.” And so there is an “included group of lovers” and an “excluded group of lovers.” Here, the selection of lovers is quite intentional, almost contractual. One is open to lovers in the included group on the condition that they are not members of the excluded group. There are two further positions possible here. First, the lover is open to the continual radical restructuring of the in and out groups, without any contract. Second, the lover is committed to the in group and open only to some small degree to those in the excluded group. In the second case, one returns to monogamy – its just monogamy with more bodies.

    … It is 3am, I will finish this thought, which really does have a direction, very soon..

  3. Pingback: Language and Practice: An Etymological Study of Monogamy, Non-Monogamy, and Polyamory | Tapage nocturne

  4. Pingback: On Breaking Your Promises | Tapage nocturne

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