One of the most common criticisms leveled at relationship radicals, particularly those of us who practice ethical non-monogamy, is that it's selfish of us to focus on our personal lives when there are so many global problems we could be helping to solve.
The argument goes something like this: “You want to see more love in the world? Then how about doing something USEFUL, instead of all this endless emotional processing? Pick an issue, any issue: income inequality, political polarization, racial profiling, rampant xenophobia, the growing corpulence of the corporatocracy and the corresponding diminution of democracy, increasing environmental degradation, the plight of the world's poor...and GET TO WORK on making it better. Haven't you ever heard of sublimation? It's what happens when you take the energy you would have expended on getting laid, and apply that energy towards a nobler cause, like saving the planet.”
It's a legitimate critique.
When I think about the hours and hours – days, months, years – of my life I've devoted to talking and fucking, communicating and communing, gazing and navel-gazing, I feel a little bit guilty. Getting good at relationships has been my life's work so far; but what's it worth to the rest of the world, really? Does it benefit anyone besides me, my family and friends, and perhaps a handful of others? When it comes to an issue like, say, climate change, surely philosophizing about love doesn't count as “thinking globally,” and having sex isn't what anyone means by “acting locally.” Maybe relationships are just a big distraction from attending to things that really matter.
However, after reading Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, I am beginning to think that polyamory might be good for the planet, after all.
For starters, people who prioritize their relationships may be less interested in shopping. From an ecological standpoint, obsessing about your love life is a pretty harmless diversion, unlike buying a bunch of shit you don't need that was manufactured somewhere with few environmental regulations and then shipped halfway across the world wrapped in wads of packaging eventually destined for a landfill or the open ocean. In other words: it's good to have a motivator other than money.
More importantly, people who are actively working on becoming less possessive and more co-operative may provide a collectivistic corrective to the hyper-consumptive, hyper-competitive paradigm we've been operating under for far too long. This is important because we, collectively, have a problem. And we won't be able to solve it by competing with each other. We're going to have to work together.
Near the beginning of her book, Klein talks about how people's “cultural worldview” – a.k.a., political affiliation, personal ideology – predicts what they think of climate change. She cites research done by Yale's Cultural Cognition Project, showing that people with an “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldview “overwhelmingly support the scientific consensus on climate change,” whereas people with a strong “hierarchical” or “individualistic” worldview “overwhelmingly reject the scientific consensus.”
Is it possible that the kinds of skills I have developed over the past eighteen years or so, in the process of navigating multiple simultaneous relationships, might be exactly what we need right now – an antidote, actually, to selfishness and greed? It's an intriguing question, one I plan on exploring further.