Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Freedom Agenda - Polyamory as Exemplar

I have made no secret to my true friends of my polyamorous nature. I not only make no apology for it, it helps define who I am. It is by no means all that I am but I would not be true to myself if I did not accept that it was an important part of who I am. I am lucky to live in an immediate environment that finds this no problem but, observing the reactions to polyamory of those outside that immediate environment, it has given me an abiding intellectual interest in the relationship between individual freedom and society and the cultural pressures that effectively enslave people to the control, expectations and aspirations of others.

Freedom is never just about something as one-sided as sexual orientation - freedom is about belief systems, consent, relations to the state system, the family, the locality and the work place, one's positioning by others in a corrupted media, control of your body, adequate resources (which is why the true libertarian must ultimately be, at least in part, a form of socialist), politics, education, friendship and emotions. Freedom is about the totality of being in the world.

My own position is that each person has the right to express themselves in any way they wish so long as they do no harm to another person. I cannot count harm as challenging other people's emotions, sentiments and thoughts but I can count harm as hurting their material selves, their private property and their reputation or status.

The society that controls my language to save the feelings of another is an oppressive society but the real harm it does is in not creating the space to enable a culture of good manners to emerge that will minimise harms without suppressing risk and challenge. It would be bad manners for someone to disrespect me as polyamorous but it would also be bad manners for me to 'out' someone polyamorous without their very specific consent. The failure to create this space is why we live in a culture of weak emoting and terror-stricken snowflakes instead of increasingly strong, resilient and fundamentally compassionate people.

The fine balance between an individual (which, in the sexual sphere, includes all orientations including the often forgotten asexual and, of course, the monogamous) and society is sometimes difficult to hold. In my case, the discussion of these issues is conducted amongst friends in a set of Facebook Groups that have now been running for nearly six years in some cases and cover a wide range of freedom and society issues (ideology, culture, the internet, sexuality, philosophy, music and art). A six year old erotica one is now moribund because of mounting Facebook intrusion into a secret group of consensual adults of around 30 people (actually disproportionately women!). The group was a deliberate canary in the mine to track Facebook's emergence as social control mechanism and it has proved fruitful in defining this even if the canary is now effectively as dead as Monty Python's parrot. Facebook's social control role was tracked and exposed over time.

What is clear is that the total social system is now tending towards a top-down corporatist control of freedom not out of malice but out of fear of the system's own lack of control of the general situation in response to the failures of a globalisation that it had promoted and the sometimes spurious and sometimes real threats arising from terrorism and organised crime. The system created the conditions for terror, economic collapse and organised crime and now wants us and not itself to pay the price. Big business, fearful of regulation that will cut into its profits, is conniving in the process, most notably with its setting of online standards that intrude into private life.

My own view is that the genie of freedom is out of the bottle and that there is no way that the total corporatist system can crush dissent except by cultural means which is why it has turned its attention to its alliance with the media again. Controlling culture is the standard mode of the hegemonic system - with cash if necessary as we saw in the promotion of abstract expressionism by the CIA in the 1940s. Today, we are increasingly able to see through this manipulation and create islands of cultural resistance that can connect with others despite the attempts at informal algorithmic censorship and control. The new technologies increase control and increase abilities to resist in a call-and-response process that means that the controlling system can never quite win over all aspects of human existence. Sexuality is increasingly that canary in the mine - now repressed, now channeled into an absurd identity politics, now culturally appropriated and now a mode of resistance.

In fact, the means and modes of resistance through the internet and through a new awareness of personal freedom (and, above all, a new preparedness at the margin to stand for personal autonomy and take risks) have resulted in a powerful half underground and half overt energy directed at ensuring that every strike against freedom results in a tenfold determination to strike back, often in a fluid and 'queer' way so that eventually the state system is going to have adapt to us rather than we to it if we are both to work together to remove those who are actually dangerous to safety and society (as opposed to those periodically witch hunted in order to enforce policy). The really dangerous person is not at the top but at the white collar middle management (the 'kapo') level and the soi-disant 'creative' or 'intellectual' embedded in the cultural or policy system - these people are generally second rate minds living in a state of anxiety.  It is these people who seek to master the algorithms. These are the people who failed to protect the child abuse cases in Rotherham. This is why the Labour Party is now dangerous. It is becoming the party of that class.

Crude attempts at censorship and cultural control are yesterday's tools ... the system can track everything we do or say but what it cannot do is stop us doing anything legal (and sometimes illegal) or saying what we like or kicking back to organise to make what we want to be legal to be legal, sometimes simply by making the law unworkable if it is foolish. Censorship of hate speech has simply made heroes out of the hateful. Attacking pornography has simply normalised it. Disrespecting sex workers has provoked them into more effective organisation. The destruction of the authoritarian pseudo-liberal Left has now become as important as the containing of the authoritarian Right - more so, since the Right has adopted the freedom agenda for private life in stages since the 1990s.

The new Einsteinian politics of individual mobilisation and volatility which is replacing the systems-based Newtonian politics of the West is only in its early stages. The Catalonian experiment under way today is an amusing and even playful as well as deadly serious game of cat and mouse between a pompous State machine and local aspirations. Brexit is going to go in the same direction as the attempt to ensure a corporatist solution to a populist decision results in the slow emergence of a country revolt against the pretensions of the liberal middle classes. As Frank Furedi has pointed out, the Hungarian resistance to cultural bullying is another, wholly misreported in our increasingly unreliable official media - the BBC is little more than the Pravda of a failed system.

There will be flows back to the Newtonian and then new discoveries until a major paradigm shift takes place and we are in a new world of Globalisation 2.0, intelligent and stabilised populism and strong but responsive States that have been forced to abandon their presumption that they are more important than the people they serve. The Churchillian Imperial approach is dying on its fight but so, we will find, is the absurd 'all must have prizes' New Left Socialism of the narcissistic Baby Boomers. Identity politics is rapidly travelling up its own orifice.

In that context, since the personal is the political, I produced a discussion paper on just one small aspect of the Freedom Agenda for the Facebook Group on Sexuality (which anyone can join who is not a troll- we are not snowflakes, we execute trolls). I reproduce it below for the record. Variants could be produced for all parts of the Freedom Agenda - other forms of sexual conduct, mental health, internet freedom, personal liberation from party, corporate or tribal loyalties, child-rearing, property-holding, corporate demands on our time, virtue and moral obligation, freedom to believe nonsense if it does no harm, command of our own bodies, fair redistribution, the management of technologies and community and family obligations. Try inserting asexual into the text and with a few sensible adjustments you have a liberatory strategy for asexuals.

The challenge here is to balance an oppressive inherited communitarianism in society, which still has some value as solidarity in bad times and which need not be oppressive at all, with a new and responsible libertarian impulse that still permits the freedom to create sustainable communities. So, here are seven propositions about polyamory for discussion and you can insert any orientation and any private belief system you like and adapt it to your own needs:
  1. Many people who are polyamorous generally cannot be happy without recognition of their polyamorous nature although others can be happy enough but not entirely fulfilled. The polyamorous need to connect emotionally with others. They are not driven primarily by sexual need although the sexual element cannot be ignored. The essential drive remains emotional. Why this is so is irrelevant. It is not a disease or a weakness. It is simply so. 
  2. The bulk of society cannot comprehend the polyamorous sensibility, largely because it does not think about it. This is its problem which has become that of polyamorous people. Polyamorous people should not allow it to be their problem. 
  3. The social barriers for polyamorous people meeting other polyamorous people and developing sustainable relationships are formidable. 
  4. Many people who have a polyamorous orientation cannot communicate that orientation to their family and friends and so they are not able to develop an open and transparent relationship with others. They are locked into social conformity by their condition. This breeds not so much loneliness (because they have existing sustainable emotional relationships) but lack of personal fulfilment and dissatisfaction.
  5. The ‘self-closeting’ of the polyamorous (out of concern not to cause pain or upset to others for whatever reason) is a serious barrier to the sustainability of polyamorous relationships as well as to meeting other compatible polyamorous people. The pool of possible contacts is thus made smaller by social conformity.
  6. There is no intrinsic reason why anyone should limit their natures to the private and the secret to satisfy the social prejudices of others. It is a form of subservience to society which society has not earned the right to demand.
  7. Lifestyle polyamorous communities (centred on the narcissism and anxieties of defensive polyamorists) are simply reproducing the anxious defensiveness of the communities that they are trying to isolate themselves from. The polyamorous person must be able to assert their normality in all those respects that matter while remaining polyamorous.
If these propositions are true, what conclusions can we draw from them? It is from the answers to that question that liberation can start to take place.