This was the title of a long-running farce in London. The joke is that there is more than a tad of truth about it. Brits, certainly Brits of my generation, tend to have a bit of a hang-up about sex. We’ve got to do it of course, and it can be fun at a certain rather non-British and vulgar level. Rather like going to the Costa del Sol and getting pie-eyed on cheap Spanish booze. And if God made us that way, who are we to say that it is wrong? But really, if the Creator had had His mind properly on the job, surely He could have found a better way of doing things. After all, why else did He make storks and gooseberry bushes?
I may come from that kind of background, but I like to pride myself that in the years since I have developed, if not a certain French savoir faire about the whole business, at least a kind of tolerance towards sex not too much laced with disapproval and envy. I mentioned in my last piece that I am writing a book on Gaia, the idea of the world as an organism. This has been a popular idea in the Californian counterculture and earlier this year I found myself interviewing a full-blown pagan, one Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. Bringing us quickly back from organisms to sex, as part of his world picture he is an advocate of, and apparently through the years an ardent practitioner of, polyamory–“consensual, ethical, or responsible non-monogamy.”
To be candid, it sounds to me like awfully hard work—a bit like celibacy although probably more fun. I am not sure I want to be all pally-wally with another bloke who is bopping my wife, and I am not sure that the other bloke should feel warmly to me if I am bopping his. To speak metaphorically, when I go to bed, I certainly don’t want to be the peanut butter between two pieces of bread, and even less do I want to be a piece of bread while the other piece of bread is enthusiastically spreading—well, you know what I mean.
But, live and let live, I say. It takes all types and California really wouldn’t be California if this sort of thing didn’t go on. Imagine if we all came from Kansas. But there is a serious side to all of this, and just at the moment Canada is wrestling with it. Should polygamy be legal and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? After all, gay marriage is allowed, and whether or not I want to shack up with another guy is neither here nor there. Others do and it should be their right to do so and to have the rights and responsibilities of those in heterosexual unions. But what about polygamy?
In Canada, it has been a bit of a tense matter for some time because of the influx of Muslims, but right now the big issue is over breakaway Mormons out West. (There is, I know, a similar and to a certain extent connected issue going on out in the U.S. West.) Provincial governments have been trying to ban polygamous unions—that is, formally recognized polygamous unions—and just this week a judge has agreed with them, arguing that they are not protected under the Canadian Charter.
I confess I am really not sure about this, and apparently—given the widely disparate reactions—neither are most who have commented on the decision. I just don’t like the state telling me or anyone else how they should run their lives. If Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and his wife Morning Glory want to get into threesomes or foursomes or fiftysomes, that is their right and it is no business of mine. Without implying that these things are exactly parallel, I am not sure I even want to interfere if a chap and his cow have a bit of a thing going—although I have to report that, just this year, taking a break from harassing school teachers and the like, the good State of Florida passed a law banning such activity. Apparently the law was passed on the urging of a state senator who was shocked when a chap did in the family goat, asphyxiating it during an activity that went a bit too far—but I digress.
Of course, and to stop joking now—although I don’t suppose the goat ever found it much of a joke—the real problem with polygamy is that it is rarely fun and games down among the pagans. It is men using women and children for their own sexual and power ends—and of course weaker men or boys being dreadfully treated because they are excluded from the system. And on top of this, it is the state having to pick up pieces and support the system. One of the men at the heart of the Canadian case reportedly has 10 wives and 100 kids. The one thing about which we can be certain is that this man is not going to be the one paying for their well-being.
The counter is that the women and perhaps children involved go along with it all. At which point my favorite quote from John Stuart Mill, that I used a week or two back, comes to mind.
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig
satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
Lizzie my wife and I have the usual married squabbles—unfortunately, only one of us in the relationship is absolutely perfect—but we both know that she is better off in the relationship, I am better off in the relationship, than if there were nine other wives and 97 other kids.
I confess that my inclination at this point is to agree with the judge. It seems to me that it is a bit like the First Amendment and shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema. Rights and Freedoms are good things and they must be protected, especially from those who would abuse them and hurt the innocent and vulnerable. I am not comfortable with having to take this position, but I think it the right one.