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A social alternative?

A social alternative?

If science suggests that polygamy is more natural, why is monogamy often touted as the “right” choice?

It can be argued that this is more of a Christian practice that European colonisers spread around the world to “civilise” the natives, even though the Old Testament itself does mention how King Solomon and Abraham (among others) were polygamous.

And Martin Luther, the founder of Protestant Christianity, found nothing in the Bible that outlawed polygamy. In fact, in his autobiography (The Life of Luther), he recalls how he granted a German nobleman, the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, permission to take a second wife rather than live “in a state of adultery and fornication”.

Another sociological argument could be, as the Observer article, puts it: “Monogamy is a form of civilisation – an attempt to control the rampant promiscuity and gender warfare that is man’s natural state. And it has its advantages – it creates family structure, naming systems, and accountability.

“It’s a response to the invention of property and money, too. Monogamy is an enabling tool for the inheritance of goods. So maybe it’s not natural, but simply useful as a way of bringing order to a chaotic world.”

But uncontrolled libido is not what polyamory is about, as groups often set rules and boundaries.

And according to the great pragmatist Lee Kuan Yew, controlled multi-partner relationships such as polygamy can even promote social progress.

In December 1986, amidst discussions of Singapore’s declining birth rates, especially among educated women, he expressed regret that he had abolished polygamy back in the 1960s.

Lee noted that in traditional society, unsuccessful men were like “the weak lions or bucks in a herd” and were “neutralised” as they could not find wives and produce children. But the most successful men had many wives, thus (supposedly) allowing them to pass on more “vibrant” genes to future generations.

In an article entitled Love unlimited: The polyamorists in New Scientist magazine (July 7, 2006), evolutionary biologist David Barash of the University of Washington, Seattle, says: “The evidence is overwhelming that monogamy isn’t natural.”

Meg Barker, a professor of psychology at London South Bank University, adds: “Infidelity in monogamous relationships is estimated at 60% to 70%, so it seems that attraction to more than one person is normal. The question is how we deal with that.”

To others, however, biology is not the point.

“In middle-class urban cultures, people aren’t marrying for survival any more,” says psychologist Dossie Easton. “They can get divorced, and the kids won’t starve. This means we’re having marriages and relationships for very different reasons than our ancestors did. We’re doing it for emotional gratification.”

The New Scientist piece also cites San Francisco psychologist Rachel Robbins’ survey of 250 polyamorous women, most of whom said they were in it “to experience different activities and explore different parts of themselves with different people”.

Loving more than one, an article published in Psychology Today (April 2, 2007), argues that the advantage of polyamory is that people can welcome lovers into their families.

“They can generate extended families that reproduce the values of that well-known (traditional) village that is so good at raising children. Children benefit from having more adults, more care, more support, and a larger population of role models to choose from.”

An article in the Boston Globe newspaper (Jan 3) cites the first long-term study on children raised in polyamorous (American) families, started in 1996 by Elisabeth Sheff, an assistant professor of sociology at Georgia State University.

Her initial findings show that kids raised in poly families have access to many resources, such as help with homework, rides when needed, and the additional emotional support and attention that comes from having other, non-parental adults in their lives.

Poly families are similar to “blended families” which emerge from divorce and remarriage and “kids in poly families also sometimes feel extremely upset when their parents’ partners leave,” Sheff adds.

But can Malaysians have such poly-partner families?

Members of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club, established in Malaysia last August, believe so.

Last year, Rohaya Muhammad, a doctor and the third wife of Ikramullah Ashaari (one of the 38 children of Abuya Ashaari Muhamad, founder of the now-defunct Al-Arqam movement), told StarWeekender (Sharing the love, Spotlight, Sept 12):

“The wives and I complement each other. They take care of my kids when I’m working; I take care of theirs when they work. If I need legal advice, I always go to the first wife, the lawyer. My kids get free Arabic lessons from the second wife, the lecturer. There are 17 children in our great, big family.... We do everything together, eat, pray, go on holidays.”

Ikhwan president Hatijah Aam, Abuya’s second wife, added (in the same article): “People have been criticising polygamy for so long, but what about monogamy? The existence of mistresses and prostitutes shows that it does not work.... Women should accept their husband’s tendency to stray, for it is God that made them that way.

“For peace to prevail at home, women should start seeing his other wives as sisters, rather than enemies.”

Just as Raymond has learnt to accept Susan’s tendency to see other men?

“Women are more outspoken these days, and they have more choices,” says Susan. “Some of my career women friends also have multiple partners, partly for adventure, partly in the hope of finding the right man.

“I don’t believe you can limit your love to one person. I didn’t even know about polyamory till you mentioned it, but looks like I’ve been practising it.

“I think it’s fine as long as the people involved are emotionally comfortable with it. I guess, at the end of the day, it’s all up to people to choose whether they want this lifestyle.”

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