Global Civilization through Interweaving Polyamory and Polyanimosity?


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Loving the World Otherwise Through Contractual Bonding with Any Significant Other


Much is currently made of same-sex marriage as a breakthrough in the legality of consensual bonding between those of the same gender. The matter remains highly controversial, as with issues of divorce, contraception and abortion. Individually they are all potentially the focus of a national referendum of some kind. With respect to same-sex marriage, examples include: Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, 2017; Croatian constitutional referendum, 2013; Irish same-sex marriage referendum, 2015; Slovak same-sex marriage referendum, 2015; Slovenian same-sex marriage referendum, 2015. The issue typically proves highly divisive (Same-sex marriage in France, 2013), whether or not it has been formally recognized in the various countries in which it is debated (Status of same-sex marriage).

As noted by Wikipedia, in a summary of the situation by religious institution, some recognize same-sex relationships to some degree but may avoid using the terms “marriages” or “weddings”, and instead call them “blessings” or “unions.” The concern here is whether the debate has been too narrowly focused in response to the legitimate concerns of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender communities and active LGBT advocacy (LGBT rights by country or territory). These notably focus on the civil rights of partners in the event of divorce or death.

The question explored here is whether the nature of any bond in contractual and symbolic terms could be more fruitfully extended to any form of elective affinity deemed in some way to be a “significant other”. Use of “elective affinity” is usefully inspired by the much-cited novel in German of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (Elective Affinities, 1809), otherwise translated as “kindred of choice”. For Goethe, as noted by Wikipedia, the title is taken from a scientific term once used to describe the tendency of chemical species to combine with certain substances or species in preference to others.

Goethe’s novel is based on the metaphor of human passions being governed or regulated by the laws of chemical affinity, and examines whether or not the science and laws of chemistry undermine or uphold the institution of marriage, as well as other human social relations. A more general argument of this nature has been made by Johan Galtung (Chemical Structure and Social Structure, 1977; Structural Analysis and Chemical Models, 1977).

With respect to the exploration here, the question is to what extent the debate could be reframed to include the bonds which a human being can form with an animal (most notably a pet), a place (most notably a home), a vehicle (most notably an automobile or motorbike), a weapon (most notably a sword), or even a plant (most notably a tree). The latter example recalls the sense in which a tree, a river, or a mountain can be deemed especially significant for a community — if not held to be sacred in some way, as with the tradition of sacred groves.

Any sense of being sacred raises the question as to how this subtle understanding may be experienced or claimed by an individual or community in relation to an animal. This has traditionally been the case with respect to totem animals, for example — a significance now attributed in some cases to mascots, most notably by sports teams and military regiments (Religious symbolism in U.S. sports team names and mascots; Military mascots).

Whether by custom or by law, this subtle bond is variously recognized, with respect to sacred natural sites, whether sacred rivers, sacred rocks, sacred mountains, or sacred trees (New Zealand gives Mount Taranaki same legal rights as a person, The Guardian, 22 December 2017; Elven safety: the rocky homes of Iceland’s ‘hidden people’, The Guardian, 25 March 2015). In Australia it is notably recognized by the indigenous peoples with respect to “songlines“. Another manifestation of this bond may be recognized and celebrated in the relation of a person to a group, whether a student fraternity/sorority, a team, a military regiment, or a corporation.

The term “marriage” is readily applied to some of these bonds — whether in the bond with a team, a vehicle, or a companion animal. Some may notably consider themselves married to the institution by which they are employed. As noted by PETA:

Many people consider their animal companions to be part of the family, so it’s no surprise that they want to take their furry friends along with them on vacations. Tens of millions of animals make journeys with their guardians within the U.S. every year. Vacation packages are being designed around animals and their guardians (Traveling With Companion Animals)

If Goethe’s “elective affinities” can indeed be translated as “kindred of choice”, there is then the intriguing more general question as to whether the multiplicity of such bonds in which a person may be engaged can be understood in terms of polyamory, Understood more generally as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”, there is nevertheless confusion in its interpretation, especially given its focus on bonds between humans only and those of a sexual nature (Terminology within Polyamory; Glossary of Poly Terms). Is there a sense in which the psychosocial “contract” between an individual and features of the world of experience deemed significant can be understood as “loving the world” — but radically otherwise?

Might this reframing offer a new approach to engagement with the environment as a whole at a time when this is increasingly subject to challenge — much as is the institution of conventional marriage? In terms of the metaphorical implications, how then to explore polygamy, polygyny, polyandry and promiscuity? What might then be the wider implications of “divorce”, “contraception” and “abortion”?

This exploration follows an earlier discussion of Marrying an Other whatever the Form: reframing and extending the understanding of marriage (2013).

The more general concern here is with “polyamory” as a new paradigm with cognitive implications — rather than with the specifically sexual preoccupation of a number of published titles on that theme. In a global culture in which the possibility of a genuinely multipolar distribution of power has been envisaged, the contrast with unipolar and bipolar conditions merits reflection.

If the aspirations to “peace” are most fruitfully associated with multipolarity, how might this be informed by insights into polyamory or polyempathy in contrast with tolerance? What then of the opposite condition of mutual alienation, increasingly obvious at the present time, but which as yet goes unnamed — perhaps “polyanimosity”, “polyhatery”, “polyodium”, or “polyantipathy” ?

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