Monogamy: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

03-17-11 18:03

Monogamy: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Jacques Attali - a writer, president of PlaNet Finance, an international nonprofit organization, and a contributing editor to FOREIGN POLICY.

Two hundred years ago, few people foresaw legalized divorce or open homosexuality let alone gay marriage. Abstract art and jazz were unimaginable. Aesthetics, morals, and family relationships, it seems, are the bane of the futurologist. We constantly speculate about the future balance of power, looming conflicts, and emerging technologies. Yet somehow, we imagine that morals and aesthetics are immutable. So we forget to ask how conceptions of good and evil, acceptable and unacceptable, beauty and ugliness will change. And they will. Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal. I do not believe that society will return to polygamy. Instead, we will move toward a radically new conception of sentimental and love relationships. Nothing forbids a person from being in love with a few people at the same time. Society rejects this possibility today primarily for economic reasons to maintain an orderly transmission of property and because monogamy protects women against male excesses. But these rationales are dissolving in the face of powerful new trends. The insatiable demand for transparency, fueled by democracy and the free market, is placing the private lives of public men and women under greater scrutiny. The reality of multiple lives and partners will become more apparent, and society's hypocrisy will be revealed. The continued rise of individual freedom will permanently change sexual mores, as it has most other realms. Likewise, jumps in life expectancy will make it nearly impossible to spend one's entire life with one person and to love only that one person. Meanwhile, technological advances will further weaken the links between sexuality, love, and reproduction, which are very different concepts. Widely available birth control has already stripped away an important obstacle to having multiple partners. Just as most societies now accept successive love relationships, soon we will acknowledge the legality and acceptability of simultaneous love. For men and women, it will be possible to have partnerships with various people, who will, in turn, have various partners themselves. At long last, we will recognize that it is human to love different people at the same time. The demise of monogamy will not come without a struggle. All the churches will seek to forbid it, especially for women. For a while, they will hold the line. But individual freedom, once again, will triumph. The revolution will begin in Europe, America will follow, and the rest of the world will eventually come around. The implications will be enormous. Relationships with children will be radically different, financial arrangements will be disrupted, and how and where we live will change. To be sure, it will take decades for the change to be complete and yet, if we look around, it is already here. Beneath our hypocrisies in movies, novels, and music the shape of our future is visible.