This morning, I received in my email a long essay, written (EDIT: or rather, quoted; this person has since said she isn’t the original author of the piece) by one of the founders of the New Age, Tantric-sex-loving “World Polyamory Association,” claiming that polyamory can save the world. The reasoning, if it can be described with that word, is very straightforward. The essay begins with
Polyamory – the answer to the hate of our world …
Polyamory is not about deception – devious behaviour, wantonness, lust, passion, licentious behaviour or wreckless [sic] abandon. It’s about the ability to see beyond the narrow forms of society’s restrictive norms – be able to reach out … touch, offer … share and grow.
Love is about being compassionate, giving, sharing … becoming whole – not destroying all that is about us … the negative, destructive … evil by-products of hate. Love is about connecting and forming that special bond with those whom we love. It is about reaching – attaining a higher plain in our evolutionary stage as homo sapiens.
When the world has lost all concept of humanism – waging wars – devastation & destruction… outright genocide – killing millions of innocent people (women and children) it no longer possesses any moral compass. We have been rendered to the lowest ebb of what civilization was ever meant to be.
It goes on from there, asserting that since polyamory is about love and that war and terror are about hate, the solution to war and terror is more love–ie, polyamory. Now, I happen to think this idea is bunk, for a number of reasons, but I didn’t come here to talk about polyamory at all. I came to talk about the nature of war, and the nature of hate.
It’s a mistake to believe that love is the opposite of hate. Human emotions aren’t so simple. Love and hate do not exist on opposite ends of the Great Continuum of Feeling, and increasing the number of people one loves does not necessarily move a person away from hate. In fact, it is quite possible, and indeed altogether common, for a person to love some people, and hate some other people, and adding names to the list of people in the “loved” category does not remove names from the list of people in the “hated” category. Only a shallow and tenuous grasp of human emotional behavior would suggest otherwise.
In fact, love can be the genesis of hate, and can sometimes even provide a fertile field in which hate can grow.
Consider, for example, the Palestinian refugee whose beloved family is killed by an Israeli bomb, or the mother of a child killed in the World Trade Center. The loss of a loved one usually results in a strong emotional response, and if a person feels that those he loves have been taken from him with malice, his love for those who were lost can fuel his hate for those he perceives as responsible for that loss. Combine loss with a feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness, or despair, and you can easily end up with a person who expresses his pain and hate by strapping dynamite to his body and blowing himself up in a roadside cafe.
It need not even take any act of malice for this to happen. Anyone who’s survived a divorce or the end of a romantic relationship is likely familiar with how easily and how completely love can transition into hate. The person who one once shared his life, his home, and his bed can become a threatening, spiteful monster in his eyes overnight; the loss of something valued leads to grief, anger is a normal and natural part of the grieving process, and anger is fertile ground indeed for hate.
This is not helped at all by the fact that we tend to look in the outside world for things which justify our emotional responses. Look for reasons to hate someone, and they become easy–trivial, even–to find. So much of the way we perceive other people is in interpretation. If we believe, rightly or wrongly, that someone means us ill, we interpret that person’s behavior very differently than we might if we perceive they love us; and that perception can make the love or the ill real.
There’s a monkeysphere issue at work here, too. At the end of the day, our monkeyspheres–the sum total of those people with whom we can form meaningful, intimate emotional connections–is finite. Not only is it finite, it’s pitifully small; perhaps a hundred and fifty people or so. Past that point, we start taking shortcuts–lumping people into groups, and considering them only in terms of the group to which we’ve assigned them.
There are people who say they love everyone, or they love the whole human race. Those people are full of shit, at least if you are talking about meaningful, intimate bonds of love rather than a vague, poorly-defined, general sense of generic goodwill toward all of mankind. The silliness in the idea that it’s possible to love everyone is exposed by a simple thought experiment: did you mourn the deaths of the hundreds of people killed in the Philippines last month like you would the loss of your lover, or your child? Would it even be possible to function if you did? If the lives and deaths of everyone in the world impacted you the way the lives and deaths of those most intimate to you did, would you be able to survive at all?
The monkeysphere sets an upper limit on those we can love, yet it the same does not apply to hate; love is a uniquely personal, uniquely intimate experience, but we as human beings seem capable of hating people as a class or a group. Witness only those who hate all blacks, or all Jews, or all Americans, or all Arabs, and the fanaticism and obsession with which that hatred burns. We can not seem to love in the same way; one can not feel a deeply personal love for all Muslims, but people can and do feel a deeply personal hatred for all Muslims, or members of any other group, and build the entire shape of their lives around that hate.
Is love the answer to war? Answering that question requires understanding why wars are fought, and that understanding sometimes runs counter to intuition.
Wars are sometimes fought for reasons at least partially rooted in emotion, it is true. It’s not terribly difficult to support the notion that the bitter conflicts in the Middle East are fueled at least as often by equally bitter personal hate as they are by more prosaic concerns, such as control of economic resources.
But it’s not always so straightforward.
Let’s take a look at a very simple question. You are the leader of one nation; I am the leader of another. Your army has four divisions of troops. My army has ten. Our troops are in all respects equally matched. Our nations are at war. When will our war end?
This is the basis of an article with a nonintuitive answer to the question. The most simple answer, of course, says that the war will end when our armies engage in battle, and my ten divisions destroy your four divisions. But is that actually the case?
A sociologist might say that the war will end before it even begins. Given that the outcome is certain, your best course of action is to surrender before a shot is fired; if we do go to war, you will lose your entire army, and you will lose the war.
But in the real world, the answer is neither of the above. The answer is that the war will end when one of us reaches a point past which we are unwilling to accept further loss. Even if my army dominates yours entirely, even if my soldiers kill 170 of your soldiers for every man I lose (as was the case with US and North Vietnamese armies in Viet Nam), if you are willing to sustain losses that are sufficiently greater than the losses I sustain, you will win and I will lose. War then becomes a question of information theory; we will know the victor when we know the point at which one of us is unwilling to sustain further losses.
So. Back to the question at hand. Why do we fight wars? We fight wars because you and I have different and mutually incompatible goals. How do we fight wars? We fight wars by inflicting pain on one another until one of us reaches the point at which we are no longer willing to tolerate any additional pain. This process may be hateful, but it need not be driven by hate; two competing armies do not necessarily hate one another, and nations that were once embraced in war, such as Japan and the United States, can upon the conclusion of that war be embraced as allies.
But the process of inflicting pain during the prosecution of that war can breed hate, and love is not the answer to that hate; indeed, love can be the progenitor of that hate. If in the process of inflicting pain upon your nation, I deprive your people of something that they love, I will breed in your people a hatred for me. This hatred can actually increase the amount of pain you are willing to withstand; if I deprive your people of that which they love, they no longer have anything left to lose, and a person with nothing to lose can withstand just about any pain. A person with nothing to lose can become a dangerous person indeed, as many governments throughout the world might be well-advised to remember.
A person capable of love is capable also of hate. A person who loses that which he loves can easily turn to hate, whether that loss comes through the irreconcilable differences that end a marriage or the acts of malice that begin a war. More love does not mean less hate, for love is fundamentally bounded and hate, sadly, seems not to be.
In the scheme of world events, polyamory is essentially irrelevant. It is a relationship model, nothing more. It does not breed love nor turn hate to love, and people who adopt this relationship model are as capable of malice and spite as those who adopt any other–witness the dot_poly_snark community. In fact, I submit that the belief that polyamorous people are somehow more enlightened, wiser, or more evolved than their poor plodding monogamous brethren is nothing more than narrow elitism, no different save in the details than the belief that whites are somehow better than blacks. Believing one’s self to belong to a class of people superior in any dimension to the rest of the people with whom we share this planet does not breed love, but it certainly can and does breed hate–a nice irony, if one believes the class of people to which he belongs is superior because it is more loving.