« Aim to the Middle | Main | Formative Experiences: Foreign Policy »

August 30, 2005

Comments

Off-topic for this thread (not that anyone cares about thread drift, so far as I know), but I paged you, here, just in case you'd missed that.

"''I'm calling for women's rights: their right to get married, even if to a married man,'' Dorbek told The Associated Press."

That's a formulation we don't hear much of. :-) Frankly, I'm for it. In the sense that I'm for letting people write contracts for any kind of marriage they wish, so long as it excludes legal slavery or violation of non-marriage laws. But, then, I read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress when I was young, and am familiar with innumerable people in "alternative" marriages.

Garu Farber: In the sense that I'm for letting people write contracts for any kind of marriage they wish, so long as it excludes legal slavery or violation of non-marriage laws.

But, of course, this isn't the sense in which Ms. Dorbek is speaking. She's not, presumably, calling for women to be able to take multiple husbands, for example.

I ran into this problem back on Tacitus.org once. In a discussion of same-sex marriage, I made some comment suggesting that, although I would never choose it for myself, I wasn't sure if there was a compelling reason for polygamy to be illegal, and I was then jumped on for supporting polygamy as it has been traditionally implemented throughout the history of man, an interpretation which renders "polygamy" synonymous with "polygyny". And this is pretty clearly the interpretation Ms. Dorbek is using, though I'm not sure how she concludes that, assuming roughly equal birthrates for the sexes, this won't create more problems than it solves.

Just watched "The Captain's Paradise", a piece of fluff starring Alec Guiness, about what men think they want and try to arrange and never get and what women want and eventually get and who wins and who loses.

My funny bone won.

If we put the Egyptian woman in the Guiness role, she might find things go awry.

I'll be watching closely.

Posted by Charles Bird at 10:00 AM in Culture and Stuff | Permalink

LOL

She's not, presumably, calling for women to be able to take multiple husbands, for example.

My sense is that she's not really opposing polyandry, just assuming that women simply wouldn't be so inclined. But of course I could be wrong.

"Garu Farber"

Whoops! If there's anyone here whose name I shouldn't misspell, it's Gary's. Sorry about that.

kenB: My sense is that she's not really opposing polyandry, just assuming that women simply wouldn't be so inclined. But of course I could be wrong.

She says, ''I call on Arab and Muslim women to accept God's laws.'' I don't think the laws she's referring to look favorably on multiple husbands.

CB,

Since I don't want to clear any shelf space for another Karnak award, can I ask what the point of the title to this post is? It strikes me as a poor and offensive joke, but I am willing to accept another explanation.

"Since I don't want to clear any shelf space for another Karnak award, can I ask what the point of the title to this post is?"

I took it as an attempt at humor based upon the suggestion that men would favor the notion based upon getting more sex. Would you like to elaborate upon your interpretation which leads to your state of offendness?

I don't know, I kind of thought it was funny. (Increased and varied sexual access, in order to increase the number of children, generally has been the underlying goal in polygamous cultures, after all.) I almost expected the linked article to end with "(Editor's Note: See? See?)"

Where is Jackmormon when you need her?

I think most Mormons, of all stripes, are against polygamy...CB was just joking.

(It made me bust right up!)

The commenters at Aqoul have been debating similar articles. The articles they're debating assert that there are more female adults than male, and the economist take on polygamy turns Malthusian pretty quickly.

I thought the headline was funny.

I'm not intrinsically opposed to polygamy, provided it's equal-opportunity--which it historically has not been. That said, based on my experiences in polyamory, I can't even begin to imagine most people trying to make a polygamous marriage work--not without generations, even centuries, of societal change. Both joy and complications are exponential in even the best poly relationship, and when you make that a lifetime commitment--well, let's just say that I have grave doubts about most people's ability to handle it, not when we have enough problems keeping marriages with /two/ people together.

Our culture is simply still too psychotic about sex, and that's not even going to begin to see widespread change until religious fundamentalism becomes an endangered species.

Hi, jackmormom, I just wrote a note to you on the open thread. I'm on my work computer right now , hard at work as you can see, but the email address I gave is my home.

She says, ''I call on Arab and Muslim women to accept God's laws.'' I don't think the laws she's referring to look favorably on multiple husbands.

Based on this very short article and taking her statements at face value, my sense was that religion isn't her primary motivation. She wants to keep her husband without having to deal with the sex part of the relationship, and she wants society to approve of the arrangement. The thought that the same situation could occur with the genders swapped probably hasn't ever entered her mind.

"That said, based on my experiences in polyamory...."

So that makes at least two of us here with some knowledge of that subculture. Anyone else?

Neodude, it's a little more complicated than that. Most Mormons think that the splinter-groups in southern Utah actually practicing polygamy right now are lunatic abusers, yes, but it's difficult to reconcile that version of polygamy from the numerous family stories and historical accounts of functioning polygamous units. And then it remains theologically, um, ambiguous whether there is polygyny in the afterlife. The anti-mormon-polygamy movement also lives on in Mormon history (and schoolyard taunts), and so Mormons remain touchy and defensive about plural marriage.

Since I don't want to clear any shelf space for another Karnak award, can I ask what the point of the title to this post is?

I wouldn't have written the post if the article were not for consumption by Utahans, Dan. The title selection was more or less a spontaneous reaction. A better question would be why the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune picked up the AP feed.

Gary, my response.

Gary,

"Would you like to elaborate upon your interpretation which leads to your state of offendness?"

Just that it suggests that the prime purpose of a wife is to have sex with the husband.

Gary Farber: So that makes at least two of us here with some knowledge of that subculture. Anyone else?

Only second-hand. One of the most brilliant, kind, and gentle souls I knew back in college was a polyamorist. My impression was that most of us simply aren't generous and centered enough to make such a lifestyle work.

Just that it suggests that the prime purpose of a wife is to have sex with the husband.

It's not?????

(I kid, I kid.)

As for polyamory: I'm willing to accept that someone, somewhere can maintain a polyamorous relationship that is "successful" in the sense that it's personally fulfilling to all participants. I can't accept that such an arrangement would be beneficial to society, or to any children who are raised in said society, or, for that matter, would even be "successful" with any frequency. Thus, you can count me as an opponent to doing anything that would recognize or legitimize any such relationships. (I wouldn't prohibit them either, but that's the triumpth of my libertarian brain over my relatively conservative soul.)

"Just that it suggests that the prime purpose of a wife is to have sex with the husband."

Well, yes, that's clearly the basis of the intended joke. Naturally, because something is intended as funny doesn't make finding it so mandatory. But if you're trying to suggest that Charles Seriously Believes The Above, I don't find evidence of that in it, myself.

Gary,

I don't have any reason to believe CB actually holds those attitudes (does adding initial capitals change the meaning of those words?). On the other hand, I view a joke like that to be playing to a stereotype that I find offensive. Similarly, I have no reason to believe CB holds strong anti-Semitic views, but a title playing off a Jewish stereotype would be borderline offensive to me, as well.

Von: I can't accept that such an arrangement would be beneficial to society, or to any children who are raised in said society, or, for that matter, would even be "successful" with any frequency.

You may argue that it's not beneficial to society, since that phrase is so squashy it can mean almost anything; but it's absurd and unscientific to argue that children who raised in a society that takes for granted that adults can and do have non-monogamous relationships can't be "successful" with any frequency. Really, it is.

(Unless you define being "successful" as "taking for granted that monogamy is a natural law", in which case, yes, it would follow.)

Until the time stamps return, why not indicate in the "Name" field what time you are posting? See below:

Just a thought.

"My impression was that most of us simply aren't generous and centered enough to make such a lifestyle work."

I think it's at least a much a case of not having societal role models and support, but I'd also put it into the context of most relationships failing, period. And, yes, I'd agree with Catsy, from my observations, that the more people involved, the more complexity ensues, if not necessarily exponentially, than hugely.

Von: "As for polyamory: I'm willing to accept that someone, somewhere can maintain a polyamorous relationship that is "successful" in the sense that it's personally fulfilling to all participants."

Well, if you look, clearly lots of people: one can find personal testimony of, at the least, a few thousand, via the various local groups, the newsgroup alt.polyamory, various websites, and innumerable personal websites/blogs/journals; that's fairly indisputable unless you wish to call everyone involved liars. I can personally attest to triple or other group marriages that have been stable for decades.

On the other hand, without doubt it's a small minority today, and I'd not recommend anyone even contemplate involvement without thorough study of what's involved; casual involvement can be disastrous, and the possible failure rate high.

Of course, most couples fail, too.

"I can't accept that such an arrangement would be beneficial to society, or to any children who are raised in said society, or, for that matter, would even be 'successful' with any frequency."

Would the typical citizen say any differently of homosexual relationships during the 1950's? Do you feel you've thoroughly and fairly looked into the history of polyamory and its success rate and failure rate, and examined data on the success or failures of their children?

Or are you possibly reacting out of knee-jerk prejudice, without sufficient data?

Myself, mind, I'd be happy to find a good single relationship just now, and have no particular interest in looking to complicate it, nor any particular problem committing to a monogamous relationship, which I don't have a great problem being quite satisfied with, given that it's a truly good relationship.

But I don't consider the categories of "what I'm looking for" and "what I think is fine for other people to do" as identical.

Not that I'd really intended to sail onto this tangent; it just seemed to arise naturally.

"Thus, you can count me as an opponent to doing anything that would recognize or legitimize any such relationships."

And you feel you have sufficient knowledge to issue such a strong opinion as to what should be "legitimate"?

I'm willing to accept that someone, somewhere can maintain a polyamorous relationship that is "successful" in the sense that it's personally fulfilling to all participants. I can't accept that such an arrangement would be beneficial to society[.]

Er . . . what am I missing here? The purpose, generally speaking, of any intimate interpersonal relationship is to be personally fulfilling to all participants. Whether it is "beneficial to society" should be of no concern. If you and your wife are personally fulfilled by your marriage, why should I care what its effect on "society" is? Is there some other reason you would have married her, if not for personal fulfillment?

Okay. FWIW. My immediate impressions from this article is that we have here a successful professional woman in a society becoming increasingly conservative. In a attempt to deflect criticism, pressure, and possible policy changes that might damage her career and self-image, she is offering an apparently religious conservative alternative that would have a result of fulfilling her wifely duties without any restrictions of her freedom of choice and action. It is also a sly comment on taking religious or cultural norms too literally.

It is quite brilliant and funny, but also sad and frightening. Apparently her husband has no problems with her career, yet her career is under stress anyway.

Just as some people in America find the teaching of ID or Creationism in schools intolerable, because hey, this is America...I find this religious based sexism and misogyny in countries like Iraq and Egypt intolerable, because they are not sub-Saharan Africa or rural India. That is not to say that mandatory burqas are acceptable in rural Afghanistan, but they would much much worse in modern Baghdad.

my instincts are with von on this one. Maybe somebody can make it work, but I certainly could not, and I doubt that most people could. To quote my favorite conservative poet:

If I could let you know—
two women together is a work
nothing in civilization has made simple,
two people together is a work
heroic in its ordinariness . . .
—look at the faces of those who have chosen it.
(Adrienne Rich, XIX of XXI Love Poems)

To be prosy once again--I think she is right about the difficulties facing two women living together, *and* about the difficulties facing any two people living together. The first involves some special historically contingent difficulties; the second just involves the difficulties of being human beings.

I think that the difficulty of living in a stable long-term couple is significant, but the rewards are far more significant. And not just for me, but for our kids as well, and for our neighbors and friends and everyone we interact with.

The rewards might increase incrementally if two were increased to three--I'm not convinced--but the difficulty increases a lot faster. (Traveling Salesman Problem, anyone? Anarch in the house?)

Phil, I guess my feeling about the effect on society is something like this. I do think that stable couples who can raise kids over the long haul of decades is a hugely important thing for society. No, I didn't get married pro bono publico, of course, but when you think at a societal level, you think about how individual choices affect society and vice versa. (Nobody buys groceries in order for the Invisible Hand to work, either; eppur si muove).

I think the few people who can maintain stable plural relations over the course of decades are something like the people who can smoke cigarettes for ninety years and never get cancer: you might or might not envy the fact that they beat the statistical odds, but you *certainly* would not want to encourage others to follow their example. Neat trick; don't try it at home.

I also think it is a lot easier to *make it look* as though you are making it work, than actually to make it work. Once you identify yourself with a certain unconventional lifestyle, then there's some ego involved in making it look successful.

When you're young, you always think you can beat the odds. Whether it is smoking, or driving fast, or rejecting conventional relationships, you always feel like you're the exception. Mortality is for suckers; middle-class morality, too.

And, predictably, it often ends in tears. Sure, a lot of couples end in tears, too. But I think if tripledom or quadrupledom were tried on the scale on which coupledom is tried, there'd be more than three or four times the tears. (I say "if it were tried" etc. because perhaps those who are currently trying it are self-selected for a higher success-rate, so their success-rate is not the one to consider in considering the societal effects of encouraging others to try).

So, yeah, along with von I'd be reluctant to encourage such combinatons or offer them the societal trappings of legitimacy. I am by no means a libertarian, but here too I agree that I probably wouldn't go on a witch hunt after them either. I just would steer people away from it.

(And, yes, I did have a fairly close view of such a relationship over some decades, and it more or less worked for quite some time, and then unraveled in a quite ugly way that involved the revelation of a lot of retrospective dissatisfaction. Uglier than your average divorce? No. But the contrast between utopian sentiment and all too human reality was enough to make even someone like me sound conservative.)

Tad, I guess I think of this the same way I think of gay marriage -- not that I have a stake in either one myself. For all the high-falutin' talk about "society this" and "society that," potential polyamorists, like gay men and women, are themselves a part of "society," and as such, if we're going to deny them the blessings and benefits and structures of that society, we'd better have a much better reason than, "Eww, ick," or, "That sounds awfully complicated."

Unless the practice in question is actually -- and I would require enormous heaps of evidence to this effect -- going to destroy society, I can't find myself being too concerned about it as long as all who choose to participate know the risks and complications.

Heck, I saw my own parents' marriage explode like a hand grenade full of 19 years of pent-up hatred. Didn't turn me off to marriage, and so far I've got 14 successful years of it. On the other hand, the very act of divorce turned my mother off to marriage as an institution forever; nevertheless, she and her significant other have been together for 18 years now. Everybody reacts differently.

Phil--

yes, I think the question of gay marriage is instructive, and one that I should ponder (ditto for von).

I might well have said similar things about it in the past, and no longer do so, and there's surely a lesson in there for me.

(Of course, one lesson would be "you see? Rick Santorum was right all along!! First gay marriage, then polygamy, and then man on box-turtle, too!!" I think I'll decline that lesson.)

The advocate for (singular, if that's the opposite of plural) gay marriage can point to many stable long-term gay relationships as well as many stable long-term straight relationships.

If there are many stable equitable post-say-grad school poly relationships I'd be pleased to hear it but somewhat surprised.

If there are many stable equitable post-say-grad school poly relationships I'd be pleased to hear it but somewhat surprised.

Anecdotal, but I personally know "many" (self-defined as being in the dozens) stable adult poly relationships. I can count one in my immediate blood family, and many more in extended or chosen family. Chances are that depending on where you live, you know at least one couple in one but don't realize it, because they tend to be even more closeted than gays these days. And for good reason.

I am currently in a monogamous relationship not because poly doesn't work for me (I have been in both happy and disastrous poly relationships), but because I fell in love with a monogamous woman and the state of being in a happy and loving relationship is more important to me than the geometry of said relationship.

"If there are many stable equitable post-say-grad school poly relationships I'd be pleased to hear it but somewhat surprised."

So go visit alt.polyamory on Usenet and ask. Polite strangers used to always be welcome, last I looked a number of years ago.

Or start here.">http://www.polyamory.org/&e=10342">here. It's not particularly different from people assuming, in the Fifties, that homosexuality couldn't possibly work and then finding out that, in fact, there are all those people out there below one's radar. (Most of that stuff on the web page is over a decade old.)

the geometry of said relationship.

geometry, eh?

interesting concept.

a) JFTR the extended circle of our friends contains many former polyamorists and (I think) no stable equitable polyamorous groups, so I'm not starting at 0.00
b) "It's not particularly different from people assuming" begs the question and obscures the real question, which is what the achievable and desireable rates of SERs are.
c) Anybody here in a communal living arrangement?

"Anybody here in a communal living arrangement?"

In the past, in a variety of forms. Not at present.

"...the real question, which is what the achievable and desireable rates of SERs are."

Is that the key factor relevant to individuals judging whether to engage in a relationship. Should gays be discouraged from engaging in gay relationships because, say, the homosexual SER rate is less than that of homosexuals? If not, why not? (Shades of recent Volokh.)

I have no particular views about polyamory, other than some skepticism about it over the long haul, and a certainty that it would Never Work For Me. Not because I can't imagine it, but because -- well:

Consider the much less complicated matter of flings and one-night stands. I know people for whom these work fine. One friend, in particular, was always running into people she had had flings with, and as best I could tell everyone took away nothing but good memories.

Now: knowing myself, I see no particular reason why this should not work for me, other than the fact that I'm shy and thus might never actually manage to have the flings in the first place. But the uncomplicated 'gosh, that was fun' aspect of it would certainly be possible for me.

However, experience has shown that whenever I try this, something always goes horribly wrong. On several occasions, the guy ended up falling hard for me. On one, the guy decided that I must really be serious, deeply serious, about him (and I could hardly just look at him, burst out laughing, and say: about you? you must be mad! -- which was actually my reaction.) And a perfectly good pal-ship was destroyed. And so on, and so forth. The upshot: I decided that however feasible in the abstract, and however feasible for other people, flings apparently were not going to work out when I was having them. I think the same about polyamory.

"I think the same about polyamory."

It's hard for me to imagine circumstances in which I would recommend a particular type of relationship for someone, save perhaps for extremely unlikely circumstances (none have taken place yet in our plane of reality that I can recall) where someone poured out their heart to me as to their unhappiness, and they had never considered an alternative possibility; say, hypothetically, some man had only been sexually attracted to men all his life, but never thought to act on it; it's conceivable I might, if I knew him really really well, suggest with the greatest of caution, that he investigate homosexuality and whether any aspects hold interest for him; but this is a pretty hypothetical possibility.

People are individuals, and everyone has their own set of circumstances that work best for them. If anyone came to me for advice about polyamory, I'd urge great caution upon them, and counsel them as to what I know of possible landmines and how best to look out for them, and urge them to do a lot of research in the material available on that, and so on and so forth.

I do, as I said when I started off this tangent above, believe strongly that relationships that at least are commonly accepted as the norm in society and which have a huge history of providing social models for, behavioral models, models of ways relationships often go wrong, a literature, and so on, start off with an advantage that is so huge as to be quite overwhelming.

However, I'd never tell anyone this is a reason to not investigate if they feel that it doesn't seem as if they'll ever be happy with a conventional, majoritarian, relationship, and find the idea of a gay/triad/BDSM/Amish/stamp-collecting relationship attractive.

Note: slashes above are to indicate alternatives, not a single, probably very interesting, minority relationship. (I considered putting in "Republican" as a choice, but figured someone would say they weren't a minority.)

And just for the record: I'm looking for a monogamous relationship these days; I wouldn't shut the door utterly and forever on possibly finding happiness in a stable working polyamorous relationship, but, indeed, the conditions would have to meet a variety of strict conditions for it to possibly work for me (not to mention the hypothetical others), and I'm having enough trouble playing the odds of finding a single heterosexual monagamous woman interested in putting up with my various failings and lacks.

I think the state should support, or get out of the way of, behaviors that are on balance good for (qualified) individuals and society (while ameliorating bad effects, or providing resources for those facing them); I think the state should not support, or should discourage, behaviors bad on balance for (unqualified) individuals and society (while ameliorating etc); and that society should gather the information needed to judge what combination of groups and behaviors should fall where above. That I think the state should provide support for sex-change operations but not limb removal for psychological reasons is such a judgement.

GF: "I'm looking for a monogamous relationship these days;"
Here you go, Gary.

OK. I get why not to add time after "Name."

Couple thoughts:

1. Rilkefan is absolutely right that the argument "[i]t's not particularly different from people assuming" begs the question and obscures the real issues. I tend to think that SER rates are part of the response, but not the whole of the response.

2. Society doesn't have much of an interest in whom you choose to love or live with, which is why I said I don't have any interest in banning or shunning or being unduly disagreeable to polyamorists. (Indeed, the world would be much, much poorer without Gary Farber.) Society does have an interest, however, in fostering the kinds of relationships that have been proven, over time, to sustain it.

3. For modern society, a conventional one-woman-one-man marriage is the standard, and it has worked very well (thank you very much).

3a. Note the use of the term "modern society." Why folks always bring up at this point policies that sustained ancient Sumeria or the Mongol empire at this point is beyond me. We are not building/sustaining a premodern, preindustrial society, here; accordingly, the scope of relevant experience w/r/t polyamory does not include examples of polyamory in the premodern, preindustrial societies.

3b. You'll also note that modern, "liberal" (in that they respect democratic/republican traditions), and wealthy societies universally use monogamy as their model. (I freely grant the (i) possibility of the chicken-egg problem and (ii) the causation/correlation issue; however, even if both are resolved against me, it at most removes one argument for the status quo. It does not create an argument for polyamory.)

4. You may ask: Well, von, how do you fit all this in with your support for gay marriage? Maybe you're just not comfortable with polyamory because you don't know enough good polyamorist relationships, and you'll come around once you meet enough good polyamorist relationships. I don't think so. My support for gay marriage is premised on the belief that, for whatever reason (nature or nurture or some combination of the two), some individuals are gay. They don't choose it. To deny such inviduals the right to marry the person whom they love is beyond cruel -- it is saying that this thing that you are is not worthwhile.

5. Yes, I have no doubt (and, indeed, know well from personal impulse) that folks (whether straight, bi, or gay) also have an innate urge to essentially screw anything and/or anyone to whom they feel attracted. And that, as a result, monogamy takes work. But I don't have any reason to believe that folks are "oriented" toward polyamory in the same way they are oriented to have sex with gender XX or XY. The fact that -- freed from marriage oath, conscience, and fear of disease -- I might want to have sex with lots of different partners does not mean that I'm "oriented" toward polyamory. It means that I, like most men (and women!), am a horny bastard.

von: "Maybe you're just not comfortable with polyamory because you don't know enough good polyamorist relationships..."

Or, you haven't met the right girls yet. (Sorry, couldn't resist)

By the way, I realize that point 5 (above) mainly focuses on the "sex" part of relationships. I don't mean to define heterosexuality or homosexuality -- or, for that matter, polyamory -- solely on the basis of sex. There's more to the puzzle: even if you take sex completely out of it, I can't imagine having the same kind of romantic attachment to a man as I do toward my wife. I just don't have that connection--whatever "that connection" is--with men. (I imagine that many homosexuals feel the same way about romantic attachments to people of the opposite gender.) My point was merely that I've seen nothing to suggest a polyamorous "orientation."

Or, you haven't met the right girls yet. (Sorry, couldn't resist)

Ha!

"SER" is not, btw, a term of art here, unless I got lucky.

Am I the only one unfamiliar with this acronym (SER)?

"But I don't have any reason to believe that folks are 'oriented' toward polyamory in the same way they are oriented to have sex with gender XX or XY."

First, I thank you muchly for your kind words I leave unquoted, but as I've pointed out several times, I'm not a "polyamorist," at least in the sense of having engaged in such relationships in the past twenty-two years, and think the odds are high that it won't crop up in future; I do, as you know, argue for endless number of things I don't personally practice or believe in; I'm pretty libertarian in terms of wanting to allow as much as reasonably possible (and pretty socialist in wanting to compel use of some of society's assets for the benefit of the poorest and weakest and those suffering from the greatest injustice in our society). (For instance, I've never participated at all in the BDSM subculture, although I have acquaintances who have, but I'm fine with this.) (And I recognize your stance on not wanting to ban polyamory.)

But as regards this:

But I don't have any reason to believe that folks are "oriented" toward polyamory in the same way they are oriented to have sex with gender XX or XY.
My observation is that like people on the Kinsey scale, some of whom are 1's or 5's, some are 2's, 3's, or 4's, and have some flexibility in which to decide whether to engage in a homo-or-hetero relationship [but in reality, people who are 3's seem to engage in relationships depending on the individual, not the individuals category), some people seem to be able to either take or leave polyamory (as I was, three decades ago), and others feel it is precisely that, essential to their nature. I'm not taking a position on that, but I'm certainly passing along that your argument is decades old, and there are a great many polyamorists who believe their lives are refutations of your belief. If you wish to argue, take it up with them, not me, though. Or just go do some research; read a bunch of alt.poly, engage in discussion. Or, work off your imagination; up to you. I'd hope you'd keep an open mind until you did the research, but that's me.

Well

"stable equitable relationship", pulled out of the ether above, sorry.

geometry, eh?

interesting concept.

Without investing further in the whys or wherefores of polyamory, this choice of words goes back to the days when I was in relationships that were fairly complicated in terms of the connections between people. I once made a pun about the connections between us making up a polygon, and thence came "geometry".

At the time, I was in a long-term relationship with two women, one of which had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and neither of my primaries were sleeping with each other. I was also dating another woman, and sometimes her husband, and she in turn had a girlfriend. There were other, shorter-term relationships that came and went over time; these were simply for mutual fun.

The mappings thereof resembled a molecule more than a polygon, but--it was a good joke.

Thanks, rilkefan. Scanned the whole thread & didn't see it.

"The fact that -- freed from marriage oath, conscience, and fear of disease -- I might want to have sex with lots of different partners does not mean that I'm "oriented" toward polyamory."

One thing I do suggest is that if you do go talk to a bunch of polyamorists, don't suggest anything like this. The #1 way to piss off poly people is to assume they are or confuse them with, "swingers," who are looking for sex. Poly people are about relationshipss, not sex. There are many variations, but people aren't interested in the right to marriage, as most poly people are, because it's an easy way to get sex; on the contrary, it's hard work, and options for sex with two people (let alone more) isn't even necessarily part of the deal. To think otherwise would, yes, be not greatly different than from assuming that supporting gay rights is all about wanting to support people's right to have great sex (for them), rather than the right to a particular kind of relationship.

Respectfully, Von -- and I know you're basically a fair-minded person -- but you're coming to something you know next to nothing about, and you are engaging in a great deal of ignorant assumption.

Catsy: The geometry would be interesting.
But the geography & physics... even moreso.

Gary --

Sorry if I misunderstood you.

To add to the confusion, I happen to agree that sexuality lies along a continuum of sorts; all the evidence you need is to look at same sex environments (ships, prisons, apparently ancient Greece) to see that, given opportunity, a good percentage of folks are relatively "flexible" in who they'll have sex with. That's why, in part, I added my subsequent post that "There's more to the puzzle" of sexual orientation than merely sex. The fact that gay Bob may have sex with a woman (and enjoyed it) does not mean that gay Bob is going to form romantic attachments with women; nor is the fact that straight Tom has sex with a man (and enjoyed it) going to mean that straight Tom is going to form romantic attachments with men.

The other problem you note -- von, you're asserting crap about polyamorous orientations without knowing a darn thing about it -- is partially on target. I haven't seen evidence to support a "polyamorous orientation," but this does not mean that such evidence doesn't exist. That said, I do take some comfort in my position that the number of gay folks have remained apparently constant over time -- coming in and out of the closet, but not really going up or down -- while polyamory really only flourishes when society gives polyamory a tacit or overt stamp of approval. IOW, there's no evidence that members of the LDS church of the 19th century was genetically predisposed to polyamory, but that members of the modern LDS church are not.

It seems to me that when (or where) polyamory is perceived by the dominant society as an "alternative lifestyle," then plural relationships might be more vulnerable to breakup or abuse. It's pretty clear to me that the breakaway LDS polygamists are shady, however honorable many mutually respecting polyamorist relationships may be.

When it is practiced openly as an aspect of institutionalized marriage, then it is governed (and sustained) by marriage laws and social conventions. It's a totally different animal, I think.

I linked to the Aqoul discussion above in part because the articles there describe the Islamic laws on polygamy. Check 'em out: they're actually pretty sensible. For example: the husband must obtain the first wife's permission, the husband must support all children, the husband must be able to support a second wife, and a husband who wants a second wife should think really, really hard about doing it.

I'm not about to argue in favor of polygyny because the societies that practice(d) plural marriage I'm at all familiar with (Islam and Mormonism) all make it very difficult to get divorces. So rather than being vulnerable to instability, plural marriages in these traditions become almost like tribal affiliations.

And those last points may be why Von's argument about pre-modern, pre-industrial societies seems so right as an explanation for the general drift towards two-person arrangements. A household the size of a small horde is no longer efficient.

Sorry for the typos, above.

"Poly people are about relationships" - or assert they are. Think I'd prefer to be steered to mainstream psychology/sociology studies on polyamory (including work by polyamorists) than to alt.poly.

Incidentally, has anyone checked out alt.be-nice-to-rilkefan recently? They make some convincing arguments.

For those with more experience than I have in this area: are we using Polygamy and Polyamory interchangeably? I raise the question because, as I understand it, polygamist marriages are essentially (if not strictly) heterosexual. Polyamorous relationships would, to my thinking, be (and in my very, very limited experience are) more or less bi-sexual.

Just asking.

Xanax, that's part of the problem here. "Polygamy" and "polygyny" both describe institutionalized forms of marriage, while "polyamory" describes any configuration of sexual relationships between more than two people. Marriage is governed by laws and stuff.

If this is double-posted, I apologize: I've a really crap connection today.

BTW, I checked out 4 or 5 Mormon blogs, and none of them are talking about this article. I hope Charles is less unsettled by the news.

"...are we using Polygamy and Polyamory interchangeably?"

No. Not at all. At least, certainly no one should be.

Von: IOW, there's no evidence that members of the LDS church of the 19th century was genetically predisposed to polyamory, but that members of the modern LDS church are not.

AFAIK, polygamy got started in the LDS church in the 19th century for much the same reasons as Mohammad gives for "up to four wives" in the 7th century: a means of providing support, financial and social, to widows/orphans. Where there are frequently widows/orphans in need of support and the only feasible means of doing so is for a man to take them into his household, multiple wives make good social sense.

I have known stable polyamorous relationships that have lasted for years. (Oddly enough, the triplets I know that have lasted for longest are one woman, two men.) They seldom seem to operate on the basis of "I want to be able to screw anyone I like" but on the basis of "We three" rather than "We two".

(I was inquisitive enough to ask one triplet if they all slept together. They said no - both men are heterosexual - but they did all share a bed at times, mostly when there was a program on that they all wanted to watch on the big TV in the largest bedroom.)

Thanks for the response, Jackmormon. I sort of already understood the technical differences. It just seemed that, in this thread, the terms were being used interchangeably, blurring the distinctions and, hence, compromising our ability to illumine, and better understand, the topic.

AFAIK, polygamy got started in the LDS church in the 19th century for much the same reasons as Mohammad gives for "up to four wives" in the 7th century: a means of providing support, financial and social, to widows/orphans.

I think that tends to support my view that there is no polyamorous orientation.

They seldom seem to operate on the basis of "I want to be able to screw anyone I like" but on the basis of "We three" rather than "We two".

OK, I'll grant that I was a bit flip. Yet, again, the fact that folks may (for whatever reason) enjoy polyamorous relationship does not mean that they are "oriented" in that direction -- lest we conflate an orientation with a preference. I prefer bourbon to scotch, but I'm not bourbon-oriented; nor do I think that, if scotch were shown to have positive effects on society -- so much so that we decide to subsidize and encourage scotch drinking -- do I think that my preference for bourbon should ipso facto also be subsidized out of some misplaced sense of fairness.

(Sorry, I just swam/biked/ran my triathalon last Sunday, and have a strong desire to reacquaint myself with various forms of lovely, delicious alcohol.)

Incidentally, has anyone checked out alt.be-nice-to-rilkefan recently? They make some convincing arguments.

I don't think I get that newsgroup, but I'd be happy to subscribe :)

Oooh, how'd it go von?

I just swam/biked/ran my triathalon last Sunday...

Von, here's to your being "polyathletic!"

Von: Yet, again, the fact that folks may (for whatever reason) enjoy polyamorous relationship does not mean that they are "oriented" in that direction -- lest we conflate an orientation with a preference

True. On the whole, though, I think that there is no really good reason to say that civil marriage cannot exist for three and four people - except that it will cause considerably more expense to institutions! Pension and insurance companies wouldn't care for it.

Increasing the number of people involved in a relationship appears to increase the number of problems possible exponentially. Yet clearly, triplets can and do work perfectly well: I know of no successful quartets, though. ;-)

It's not a matter of orientation: I'd say it was more a matter of recognising that some people do live very successfully in intimate relationships with two other people, rather than one other person. (And it's no more extraordinary that children should be raised successfully in such relationships than it is that children are raised successfully in the extended family units that some people call unkindly "broken homes".)

Jes: Yet clearly, triplets can and do work perfectly well...

Yikes! (I keep picturing three babies). Quartets (as opposed to quadruplets), OK. Triplets? Not so much. Probably just me.

"Polyamory" is a sweeping term covering a considerable variety of practices, some mutually exclusive, some not. The core element is that all involved are completely honest with each other, and all relationships are consensual with consent being informed.

There are "closed" relationships, such as a marriage between three people, and "open" ones, where there is a possibility of one or more parties having other relationships as well.

See here.

Maybe "Trios?" "Triads?" "Tois?" Anything but triplets... please!

The, I think it likely, last thing I want to say about this subject is that it occurs to me to mention that a not-insignificant proportion of the professional science fiction community -- that is, writers, artists, editors -- lives in or has lived in one form or another of polyamorous relationship (although when people were doing it in the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, it wasn't called that).

People who pursue unconventional thinking and unconventional lives tend to pursue unconventional thinking and unconventional lives.

Maybe "Trios?" "Triads?" "Tois?" Anything but triplets... please!

Triples? :-D I think was thinking of "triples", actually, from Delany's novel Babel-17.

Jes, good point about the kids thing - I'll have to consider that issue.

GF: The core element is that all involved are completely honest with each other...

Well, that element alone would certainly distinguish polyamory from traditional relationships.

I think the term is usually "triad", and there are many variations thereof.

Oooh, how'd it go von?

Pretty well. It was Olympic-length (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, 10 km run); goal time was three hours. Due to a faster-than-expected bike, I ended up finishing a little over 2:51. The swim and bike felt fantastic, all things considered. The run felt like hell, except for miles 2.5-4.5 and the last .5 mile, each of which felt reasonably good (between mile 2.5 and 4.5 I was in a really good groove, just enjoying the sun on my face on Chicago's lakefront). When things got tough, I randomly picked a runner ahead of me and decided that he was my sworn enemy; to let him out of my sight was to concede defeat, flee the field, allow the sacking of my cities, etc.

For those who know my real name, go to www.chicagotriathlon.com, choose 2005 results, and type it in (no middle initial). You'll get more information than you'll want, and also see a video of my crossing the finish line. (A neat trick that I understand is new this year.) I'm the dude in orange; the aforementioned sworn enemy follows me by about 10 yds in a white shirt without sleeves. (I couldn't let my sworn enemy beat me now, could I.)

An old friend of mine many years ago wrote a novel about three people in a relationship, titled "Delicate Geometry". Pretty good book, as I recall. He wrote under the pseudonym Ken Chowder.

Congratulations on surviving the polyathlon, von.

AFAIK, polygamy got started in the LDS church in the 19th century for much the same reasons as Mohammad gives for "up to four wives" in the 7th century: a means of providing support, financial and social, to widows/orphans.

I do not believe, from my admittedly limited reading on the topic, that this is correct. In fact -- and at the risk of causing offense -- I believe Joseph Smith's original impetus for "revealing" the doctrine of plural marriage was to provide cover for his own philandering, and his wife was none too happy about this new "revelation." (Especially because, when you read it, it commands Emma Smith basically to forgive any screwing around Joseph did, lest she be delivered unto Satan.) In any case, seeing it as a means to suppport widows and orphans isn't really borne out by the fact that surplus wives beyond the first tended to be young girls, 14-17 years in age.

The theological basis for LDS plural marriage, as I understand it, is that the more wives one had and the more children they birthed, the greater the exaltation in the next world. I'm not entirely well-versed in LDS theology, but that's the gist as well as I can tell.

I think that Jackmormon suggested a third possibility in an earlier thread (though I may be misremembering it), which was that in order to logically account for the fact that a man whose wife died would be unable to remarry and spend eternity with his wives (or possible be sentenced to spend eternity with them explaining why he got remarried in the first place) Logically, if you believe in the afterlife, you would have to figure out something to deal with the possibility of a plurality of wives (though I would note that the 'logic' doesn't extend to wives having multiple husbands, I believe)

I tell people that I always imagined myself a ladies man, but now that I have two daughters, dealing with three women in my life is going to be the death of me.

I think all of these reasons can co-exist and how one reason could bleed into another.

The theological basis for LDS plural marriage, as I understand it, is that the more wives one had and the more children they birthed, the greater the exaltation in the next world.

That part's not right, or if it's right according to some arcane Temple lore, it's not relevant to the theological problem that most Mormons learn regarding polygamy.

It's true that you have to be married to reach the highest level of exaltation in heaven. That marriage can happen after death.

The Mormon afterlife is extraordinally bureaucratic; certain forms can be processed in the afterlife, and others must be processed here on earth. (Baptism is one that must happen on earth; hence the genealogical work and baptisms for the dead.) The forms that are processed on earth then carry over into the afterlife.

If you get married to more than one person--even if the marriages were serially monogamous--you'll end up with a polygamous afterlife, according to Mormon theology.

Joseph Smith's capacity for underhandedness and, IMHO, chicanery, I certainly don't deny, but the practice became much more widespread (and better regulated) after the move to Utah, after Smith's death.

I tend to agree with you that the widows-and-orphans line reeks of apology and bull in the Mormon case. It's a line I've heard a fair amount from contemporary Mormons try to justify (here: "explain while condoning") polygamy. On the other hand, in some cases, it seems to have had some truth.

A rather long family anecdote, to illustrate the ambiguities.

My great-great grandmother was a very poor young woman from Germany. I'm not entirely sure whether she was on the East Coast or in Germany when she converted, but German was certain her first language. Either way, in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, once she converted, she would have had an established wagon train to get to Utah. Since at this time individual members' property was largely considered Church property (although the full communitarian attempt was mostly over), her migration would have been either heavily subsidized or free. She became Joseph Smith's grand-nephew's fifth wife.

Was she happy? I don't really know. Her son, from whom I'm descended, wasn't a believer and even ran away from Utah. His father found him, though, and brought him back to the fold. This son eventually chose to raise his children within the church, in his own way. There's a family anecdote about his refusing to give a personal testimony when on a mission.

Was she young? Yes, I think so. In the annual family newsletter from that branch, each of the wives is portrayed in a photograph--so that members can identify themselves by wife, macabrely enough. Her photograph is the youngest-looking of the lot, and she was pretty.

Was her fate as the fifth wife of a comparatively wealthy and important Mormon man better than what she might have faced as a poor immigrant in the East? It's really hard to say, but in the end, I can only trust that she made her choices as she saw fit.

(The father eventually became President of the Church after the Feds shut down polygamy in the US. For details of the continuing legal effort to prosecute polygamy, see this more general wiki entry. The family didn't break up, although some legal shuffling may have happened. Historical accounts I've read claim that he continued to perform polygamous marriages into the 20th century.)

I should have known that Jackmormon would make a more complete (and interesting) statement. Thanks and apologies for my poor summary.

Her photograph is the youngest-looking of the lot, and she was pretty.

I have to think that this gives the line 'your mother wears army boots' a whole new meaning.

Holy cross-posting, LJ! (And welcome back.)

Thanks for the more concise explanation, Jackmormon. That's why I always add a lot of caveats to my statements: I read a lot, and retain little. :)

And, again, I have no objection to plural marriage, poygamy or polyandry provided it's not the kind of abusive, power-mongering stuff that goes on among the nutters in Colorado City and British Columbia. But when dragging the temptingly obvious example of the LDS church into it, it makes sense to limit discussion to the legitimate theological and historical basis for it, and not get into flowery rhetoric about social safety nets. (Not that you did that, because you didn't.)

the nutters in Colorado City and British Columbia

And in Mexico, at one point! There was a regular migration path from northern Mexico, through the mountain US, up into British Columbia and Alberta. In the early 20th century, Mormon polygamous men would travel across boundaries to visit their stationary wives. I know for a fact that Cardston, Alberta was populated in this way (the Cards intermarried with the Smiths), and that the University of Lethbridge, where a friend of mine is about to start teaching, was founded primarily by this polygamy-created community.

I do hope this sort of polygamy-by-commute isn't still going on. From a Mormon perspective--even a jackmormon perspective--when polygamy is criminal, only criminals enter into polygamy. In other words, the hardcore Mormon polygamist sects seem to attract only the wierdest and the worst, now that the centralized church has bowed to historical inevitability.

Polyamory seems to be an entirely different thing: it's private, involves only personal preferences and relationships, makes no appeals to religious principle, and is comparatively easily dissoluable.

Von: "3. For modern society, a conventional one-woman-one-man marriage is the standard, and it has worked very well (thank you very much).

3a. Note the use of the term "modern society." Why folks always bring up at this point policies that sustained ancient Sumeria or the Mongol empire at this point is beyond me. We are not building/sustaining a premodern, preindustrial society, here; accordingly, the scope of relevant experience w/r/t polyamory does not include examples of polyamory in the premodern, preindustrial societies.

3b. You'll also note that modern, "liberal" (in that they respect democratic/republican traditions), and wealthy societies universally use monogamy as their model. (I freely grant the (i) possibility of the chicken-egg problem and (ii) the causation/correlation issue; however, even if both are resolved against me, it at most removes one argument for the status quo. It does not create an argument for polyamory.)"

Well, it depends on what you count as "modern." Polygyny was legal in China into the early 20th century, and when it was finally banned (as part of a self-conscious effort to be "modern," in fact), it often continued in only slightly altered forms, e.g. one wife and multiple "concubines" (or later, when these were outlawed, mistresses).

I agree that this does not constitute an argument for polygamy (much less polyamory, which as described here was nothing whatsoever like most of these relationships, AFAIK). But neither should polygamy be immediately and automatically consigned to an unimaginably remote past. Very bright, relatively "modern" people - industrialists, intellectuals, civil servants - were involved in some of these relationships. The children of some of them are active in the "modern" life of China (and Hong Kong) today, so it's not yet departed from living memory. (And if you haven't been to HK recently, you may not realize that in many respects it's more "modern" than the USA.)

What I garnered from reading on this topic (and teaching about it, in passing, in HKU courses on Gender & History) was that in China it was always primarily about economics, though politics & sex were, as ever, interconnected. (Religion was never really a factor, though "custom" or "tradition" were occasionally cited by pro-polygynists.)

My students used to say (as they had learned at home, in school, and on TV) that in traditional China all men had many wives. I would then easily stump them by asking where all of the extra women came from. The obvious answer, which had not yet occurred to most of them, was that *rich* men got to have multiple wives - for sex, for the production of more sons, for status, for comfort, for whatever men want women for - while ordinary men were lucky to get one, and the unfortunate poor were doomed to solitary (and sonless) bachelorhood.

This, it seems to me, is likely to underlie many approaches to polygamy in Egypt or elsewhere today. It has nothing to do with "polyamory," about which I have neither experience nor expertise. It has, as others have noted, very little to do with polyandry, the revolutionary idea that a woman might be in a position to have more than one husband. (Such arrangements do occur, of course, in many societies that do not openly acknowledge them, but presumably this is not the issue.)

Regardless of the personal motives of the original Egyptian writer, when the topic of polygamy is broached in this context, it implies that rich and powerful men should be entitled, by law, to the "services" of as many women as they can procure, rather than be restricted by law to one. In that sense it's a class issue, as much as a gender (or religious) one.

What do/should women think of this? As a man, I'm not in a position to say what they _should_ think, but note that in China/HK most women nowadays (and for most of the last century) don't like the idea. There is a strong cultural memory, and literary tradition, of the multiple-wife family compound as being oppressive to women, often placing them in bitter competition with each other (over access to resources for themselves and their children). There's also a sense that this is too much like men being allowed to "buy" women (as many as they can afford), reducing them again to dependents, even commodities. (Not that this can't happen under monogamy.)

OTOH, there are always a few who (1) would rather be "minor wives" than mistresses or concubines, if that's the alternative; (2) don't mind sloughing the burden of sex off onto someone else; (3) like the companionship of other women in the house; or (4) just regard polygyny as a "natural" male prerogative.

I don't really have a "point" to all this; I'm just providing a slightly different perspective on some aspects of this complex issue. If people out there want to practice polyamory, fine; it's not for me. If we're considering the possiblity of legalizing polygamy in the USA, I have severe doubts as to whether the institution of state-recognized "marriage" could handle the strain of dealing with non-binary combinations, and I'm not in favor of giving the rich even _more_ access to privilege than they already have, so I'm against it. If we're talking about Utah, I drove through there once 28 years ago; that's all I know. But if we're considering the implications of a resurgence of pro-polygamy propaganda in Egypt, then we need to think more about what this really entails. YMMV.

Regardless of the personal motives of the original Egyptian writer, when the topic of polygamy is broached in this context, it implies that rich and powerful men should be entitled, by law, to the "services" of as many women as they can procure, rather than be restricted by law to one. In that sense it's a class issue, as much as a gender (or religious) one.

dr ngo's comment had me google a bit and I came across this interesting excerpt from a Lee Kuan Yew speech. I was thinking that a push towards 'polygamy', either as a recognized institution, or as a situation with a man with multiple mistresses, is going to arise as a reaction to increased women's rights.

Interestingly, this push for polygamy is apparently occurring in Malaysia, where it is already codified into law. This bit of reasoning is interesting.

Wives should consider the plight of other women "who would become aged virgins until they die because ... the men who want them are blocked from marrying them," Nik Abdul Aziz was quoted as saying by the local media.

Lest I go too far on this notion of women's rights creating a push for polygamy, googling also turned up this 'gem' entitled Polygamy and Terrorism. Of course, one of the key points enshrined in the postwar japanese constitution was women's suffrage, which was argued to be a way to prevent a return to militarism, but after reading that essay, well, I have to think about that.

Finally, this about a Utah brewed beer called Polygamy Porter

Phil: In any case, seeing it as a means to suppport widows and orphans isn't really borne out by the fact that surplus wives beyond the first tended to be young girls, 14-17 years in age.

I'd agree that, given permission to take more than one wife, men will evidently abuse that privilege. ;-)

According to solid Islamic tradition, most of Muhammed's wives (I think all but two) were widows, some of them fairly elderly and most of them past what was "marriagable" age.

I looked up a table of Joseph Smith's wives (here) and was actually stunned at how young some of them were - the youngest was 14, the oldest 58, and the average age is (mean) 29, and (median) 27. (Roughly speaking, he seems to have married a third of his wives when they were under 20, a third in their 20s, and a third of them aged 30+.) Unsurprisingly, official or semi-official Mormon biographies tend to focus on the older wives - and ignore the wives with husbands still living...

Well, I'm on the conservative side for once--in favor of the state recognizing only monogamous relationships (I'm liberal on the genders involved). But I haven't thought through a secular, non-religious based reason for this (mine are basically religious) and there may not be one that stands up. I hadn't given it any thought, beyond the vague dread that the issue may come up someday, sort of like that Victorian woman whose reaction to Darwin and kinship to apes was "My dear, let us hope it is not true but if it is, let us pray it not become generally known."

Speaking strictly for myself, keeping more than one woman happy is probably beyond me. Hell, keeping one woman happy might be beyond me.

OTOH, if my wife had two of me, that might make for a happier household. Best, probably, would be two of me AND two of her, so that all of the repairing, cleaning and child-care tasks could get accomplished as well as the work emergencies.

I also have read TMIAHM several times since middle school, and can see that extended marriages might have some additional stability. But that's fiction, and in a penal colony on the Moon, at that.

I came back online to do a pre-emptive apology, in case anyone who feels inclined to polyamorous (a term I'd never seen before today) relationships feels the way gays do, that conservative religious folk (yes, that's me on this issue) have been, um, hateful or whatever on the subject. If that's the case I shouldn't be joking about it. Though I've never seen a serious discussion on the subject or heard anti-polyamorous jokes, so it's below the radar screen as an issue, apparently.

If I'd stay off this damn computer maybe I could get some work done, or at least find other ways of wasting time that won't involve me typing apologies all the time.

I'm sorry you feel that way, Donald.

8p

Speaking strictly for myself, keeping more than one woman happy is probably beyond me. Hell, keeping one woman happy might be beyond me.

I'm sure you're doing just fine keeping one woman and two hemi-demi-semi-women happy :)

My daughter was telling me the other day that male births are so far outnumbering female births in China right now that in a generation, polygamy is going to have to be considered.

Polyandry, you mean?

I was going to mention that, CC, but I hate to beat that drum too hard or frequently.

I'm sorry you feel that way, Donald.

This reminds me of a GAMES Magazine contest from a couple decades ago that asked for original Irish Bulls (roughly, amusingly self-contradictory statements, e.g. "We're overpaying him, but he's worth it"). The prize-winner was a statement actually and seriously spoken by the contributor's girlfriend: "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to apologize anymore."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad