Before the word was coined in 1992, polyamorous relationships existed. They have existed forever even if they didn’t have a name and were very hush-hush. That must be understood before I continue.
Words are important; words shape both the discussion and label the players. On the other hand, words are also used to obscure & distract from the truth and to distort the meaning (often making positives seem negative).
Name-calling is the perfect example of how words are used to hide the truth under the power of the word itself. In the McCarthy era the name “Communist” was used to both silence critics and to hide the name caller’s true agenda. Today we find the obscure terms, critical race theory and woke, have been coopted and redefined by right-wing politicians and media to mean anything they don’t like. As far as I can tell 95% of the time, I see either term used, it is by those on the far right as a pejorative that has little or no relation to the original meaning of those terms.
Today I want to consider the word polyamory and its expressed and implicit meaning. Its expressed meaning is very inclusive. It is not a hostile word. It does not exclude any but includes all. It is almost breathtaking in its expansiveness. Polyamory (love of many), simply says that love is not limited to one person at a time. It is the bold proposition that we can love many people at once. And by the very word “amore” the term means not just familial love but romantic and sexual love.
So, the conception of polyamory is that love need not be only bi-lateral. It can be expressed in a nearly infinite number of relationship structures. All this is simple to understand; however, there is an undercurrent that polyamory means or should mean, or is intended to mean something much less expansive. Within the “poly community,” there has developed a cadre of people who claim to speak for polyamory without the slightest evidence that they actually do. Worse yet, I’ve seen writings that limit “real polyamory” to a very specific lifestyle and ideology.
Most concerning is the element that is aggressively attempting to shape the word polyamory to fit within the framework of Critical Theory. In this, they are simply following those who have redefined feminism to man Critical Feminist Theory, or Queer Theory which is actually critical LGBT theory. Those who are coopting older movements by this manner are doing real damage to the causes they claim to support.
I have seen it in any number of writings laced with the trite and overused accusations of; hegemony, oppression, and normativity. Inevitably the writer is accusing someone of not doing polyamory the “right” way by not embracing their comprehensive doctrine. In the case of these writers, they fault others for not toeing the line of the comprehensive doctrine of Critical Theory. It doesn’t matter if the particular flavor of critical theory is Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, Critical Feminist Theory or one of many more, the core idea and rhetoric is exactly the same in all of them.
For those of you who are not up on political philosophy, Critical Theory was devised after WW2 by the German Marxists who returned to Germany after the war only to face the reality that the “proletariat” of Europe would not ever rise the way Marx envisioned. So, the Frankfort School developed a new brand of Marxism combining it with Freudianism and post-modernism. The resulting mishmash would not be recognized by Marx or Freud as even relating to their ideology, yet the proponents freely cite both of them as if they are the natural successors of both.
Critical theorists of all stripes embrace the goal of uncovering latent oppressions of all sorts. In fact, finding new people & organizations to accuse of oppression is one of their prime missions. Critical theorists use the uncovering of hidden oppression the same way Freud promoted psychotherapy to uncover latent neurosis. A century on from Freud, we know that psychotherapy is very effective at getting people to feel something is wrong with them; however empirical evidence suggests that it is not useful for making people better. Instead, psychotherapy is very good at making people dependent on the psychotherapist. In exactly the same way, by design, critical theory is quite effective at convincing people they are oppressed but doesn’t help society get better. Like in psychotherapy, the practitioner is the only one who benefits from the process.
So we come back to polyamory. The notion of freedom to pursue love as it comes to you is a liberal, not a Critical Theory concept. Liberalism is founded in the primacy of one's right to pursue personal happiness over (and despite) the desires of the church, king, or other powerful groups. Critical theorists, despite their rhetoric of espousing individual liberty, are fundamentally wedded to group identity. In critical theory, you are not an individual, but a member of a group, and as such your rights come due to your group membership, not to you as the individual. That is why it is imperative to these people to control the discussion, to squelch descent by code words like hereto-normativity or any other new word they can coin to be a pejorative. An inclusive polyamory conception with few boundaries beyond the belief in the expansiveness of “amore” is of little use to them in the effort to create a new polyamory minority political block for which they can be the leaders and voice.
I am an unapologetic, un-reformed liberal. The ideals of the Enlightenment are still worthy goals to which I aspire.
I left the confines of the Evangelical Christian community because of their need to tell me what love is and how I should express it; and their belief that I must believe in supernatural non-sense. I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk back into another quasi-religious community who seeks to do the same thing.
The critical theorists want to tell me the very same nonsense about reality not being real and that I must submit to their narrow view of the world and of love or be ostracized. I won’t do it. Nor will I link my view of polyamory to their worldview.
If you are a critical polyamorist or a polyamorist involved with right-wing Christianity, I’m not hostile to you personally; but, I will not accept yours is the only way. Both the critical theory community and the right-wing religious communities share many core beliefs even though they despise one another. Importantly they both are founded on a rejection of empirical evidence and an embracing of “my way is the only way.” I reject both of those fundamental beliefs and thus, as a liberal, I reject any ideology built upon them.
In a pluralistic poly community, we must embrace the core values of freedom to love and express love to whomever we want, without trying to put others into a religious or political box. We can all work together to give the larger population the opportunity to shed the shackles of mono-amory but we will never do so if we put a religious/political litmus test to the idea of polyamory.