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Why Are Alternative Forms of Relationships So Scary? March 22, 2009

Posted by Greg Korgeski, Ph.D. in Uncategorized.
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I just did a post on my other blog that was inspired by having watched the film Paint Your Wagon. As I mention there, the film contains a very positive portrayal of an alternative kind of loving relationship, one involving a marriage between one woman and two different men. The question I bring up is why this kind of thing isn’t shown more often in film or literature, and what the fears are that make these possibilities seem so horrifying in our rather crazy culture.

In that post, which is really a kind of advice-for-writers piece, I explore the topic of why audiences seem unwilling to endorse alternative lifestyles from three vantage points: the political, the commercial, and the psychological. While I think all three are critical and of course are really just three different categories for discussing the same phenomenon, I focus on the psychological. I’ll just quote myself here, on what I called the “psychology of conservatism”:

“I’m not talking about merely the “Rush” brand of conservatism, though it includes this too. (And reducing all conservatism to “evil fucking blowhards” won’t help you think this through.) Rather, it’s useful to think about the psychological needs and difficulties that lead not just “right wingers” but most people to generally prefer the familiar versions of reality in their stories…

“…the thing that makes people uneasy about, say, a story about a polyamorous relationship, is ‘what then?’ Just as, when I was a kid, my father gently explained that I should not consider dating black girls because ‘nobody will accept the children,’ most people don’t understand how to think about your wonderful, alternative version of how life could be because they just can not imagine how it will play out as well as the ‘normal’ way of doing things. What then? What will your little half-black baby do? What will happen to a poly family after the movie ends? “And if they can’t imagine the answers to those questions, they simply will not accept the story. “Or they will fill in the blanks with the available stock visions, and once that happens, your vision may be sunk simply because the stock versions are not what you had in mind, and odds are, they’re not at all pleasant.

“…Take poly relationships. The current dominant vision of polyamory is a pretty unappealing one: a gristly 99 year old Mormon humping a dozen thirteen year old semi-retarded slave wives pretty much captures it. Who (other than 99 year old Mormon geezers) wants that? If that is the only possible version of ‘what might be,’ your partially completed vision of an alternative community of polyamorous good people will be very hard to market.”

It’s arguable that modern day pioneers are the people who are daring enough to go out and live their own version of family, to have their own version of the joy of sex. After the pioneers go out and create new ways of being, other people gradually try to shape these into what they see as “civilized.” But over time, the process of subverting limiting versions of what is “the right way to be” tends to win out. It may take years, or even generations, but if you do your life the way your own inner voice tells you is right, eventually you will change the world.

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