Stranger in a Strange Land deals very much with social taboos, and with the concept of polyamory (amongst other topics). It was an interesting book for me to read at this time because I have been actively engaged mentally on this topic recently. I have thought quite extensively about polyamory and other forms of non-monogamous relationships in the past, but I think the past few years have helped me refine my understanding of relationships and people in general.
There are two primary things I am interested in talking about in this post. Firstly I want to talk about the ‘goodness’ and the ‘badness’ of certain things/actions/feelings. This comes almost directly from Stranger in a Strange Land and is something which has really struck me. Secondly I am interested in the idea that “everyone knows that open relationships/Polyamorous relationships never work”.
Love and Jealousy
To start with, I want to quote ‘Mike’ (The Man from Mars) directly. This quote directly follows on from a friend talking about how he felt while ‘making love’ to one of the women in Mikes inner circle, and how if he was younger he would have eagerly married the woman:
“That’s what it should be. But that’s what a I slowly grokked* it rarely was. Instead it was indifference, and acts mechanically performed, and rape, and seduction as a game no better than roulette but with poorer odds and, prostitution, and celibacy by choice and by no choice, and fear, and guilt, and hatred, and violence, and children brought up to think that sex was ‘bad’ and ‘shameful’ and ‘animal,’ and something to be hidden and always distrusted. This lovely perfect thing, male-femaleness, turned upside down and inside out and made horrible.
“And every one of those wrong things is a corollary of ‘jealousy.’ Jubal, I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t grok ‘jealousy’ in fullness, it seems an insanity to me, a terrible wrongness. When I first learned what this ecstasy was, my first thought was to share it, share it at once with all my water brothers – directly with those female, indirectly by inviting more sharing with those male. The notion of trying to keep this never-failing fountain to myself would have horrified me, had I thought of it.”
*understood in a holistic way
Several times throughout the story this very pertinent point is made. Sex is not a bad thing in and of itself. The sexual act is physically pleasurable, and emotionally enjoyable. Sex is made bad by social pressures. When all social stigma is removed, Sex is distinctly a ‘goodness’. It is positive in every way – It causes pleasure, and helps people grow closer with one another.
On the other side of the coin there is Jealousy. Jealousy appears to be pure ‘badness’. Jealousy will drive ‘good people’ to do terrible things – insults, accusations, violence, abuse, and murder to name some of the obvious ones. There is nothing good about the emotion ‘jealousy’ itself, and nothing ‘good’ comes of it.
I find it odd that our society is as tolerant of jealousy as it is. Worse than that, we often find ourselves or others like ourselves even promoting it! Everything which comes from this emotion is negative, yet we still see family and friends protecting each other’s jealous feelings; sure, it has been written numerous times that jealousy is an ugly emotion, but when it comes to how we actually live, jealousy is by far more acceptable than embracing the infidelity of a partner. How many times have we heard the story of the boyfriend cheating on his girlfriend with her best friend? The automatic assumption is always that she has been betrayed and he deserves whatever retribution she wants to dish out to him. Never is the case made that she should be happy for him and her best friend. She loves both of them doesn’t she? So why is she systematically destroying everything that was ever good between herself and the both of them? What has she gained by falling prey to the emotion of jealousy in this instance? And why does everyone always support her in this course of action? Jealousy is a ‘badness’ and there is no justification for succumbing to it.
At this point it would be fair to question the point of talking as if an emotion is felt by choice. “Surely jealousy will be felt regardless of whether I want to feel it or not?” Well, yeah, to an extent. But a married man will lust after women he can’t have whether he wants to or not – yet we have the Bible telling us we must never do it – most social codes seem to generally agree with that sentiment. We are outright expected to suppress a powerful emotion (a fundamental driving biological emotion to be specific) and act as if that emotion simply doesn’t exist. There usually isn’t much support for the ‘cheating’ spouse when everyone finds out what they have been doing…
So can we stop ourselves feeling jealousy? No more or less than we can stop ourselves lusting after other women or men while married… So why do we choose to block the emotion which drives us towards a ‘goodness’, and allow ourselves to be exposed to the emotion which drives us towards ‘badness’?
- Think about what it is like to ‘fall in love’, what it is like to find yourself attracted to someone, what it is like to feel ‘connected’…and think of the consequences of allowing yourself to explore those feelings without regret and guilt. What consequences do we see? We see growth, we see happiness, pleasure, enjoyment, we see increase in well being all round.
- Now think about the consequences of jealousy. A wife catches a ‘cheating husband’ and the jealous reaction is an overwhelmingly negative one. If it isn’t immediately violent, then it is probably immediate depression, despair, and collapse. Allowing jealousy to rule will result in despair, heartache, loss and overwhelming depression – with or without a divorce. Jealousy often drives people to particularly vindictive actions too – malicious divorce where the slighted partner’s sole purpose is to get us much money out of their ‘cheating’ partner as possible, and where kids are involved the jealous individual will even go so far as to attempt to stop all access between their ex-spouse and their children. Further extending the ‘badness’ effect of jealousy, and having the unfortunate effect of impressing upon those children that it was the ‘cheaters’ fault that this has happened – “if only he had stayed true and been monogamous, then none of this would have happened” – a strong lesson to impressionable children. Never is it taught that jealousy is the real cause of the pain and suffering.
I can’t see how this topic can be any more lucidly clear than that. There is a confliction, but one is clearly good, and the other is clearly bad – why does society insist we keep choosing the bad option?
Love is a positive emotion. Affection, friendship, closeness – all of these feelings of kindred-ship we experience with one another are the most beautiful and positive things available in the human experience. We have an endless supply of these positive closeness emotions in all of their varying intensities. It is an ‘endless fountain’ within us, but we constantly let that fountain be blocked by the jealousy of another – and ironically we only let that other person do it because we love that person, and we have been convinced that they have the right to feel ‘jealous’.
What would the world be like if our moral guidelines dictated that no one should allow themselves to feel jealous of another persons good fortunes, and just as importantly recommended that we all openly embrace our love for one another without guilt?