Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Don't Bring that Bogus Game into My House

Having read over the many contributions and comments on Multi-Partnered Relationships that have come in, I want to repeat this.

I am not persuaded at all by arguments that work from a best case scenario. I am especially not persuaded by a personal testimonial which leads to a best case scenario to a conclusion that there could be no social danger from abandoning our cultural standard of monogamous fidelity in marriage. To me the argument is like this:

We keep loaded guns in every room of the house where we also run our day care center. However, we have all taken numerous gun safety courses and have instructed our children in gun safety practices. We are also Quakers and don't believe in violence and never get angry with each other over anything. We have lived our lives with loaded guns in the playrooms for years and have never had a problem. We think that it should be OK for anyone who wants to keep loaded guns in the nursery, because it has worked so well for us.

If you tell me that X number of children die from accidental gunshot wounds every year, then all I can say is that you are not talking about a situation that has any relevance to me, because we have all had gun safety courses and are Quakers. If you say that X number of spouses shoot each other with guns that they have around the house because a certain son-of-a-bitch never picked up his socks, then I don't see the relevance of that story to me because we are Quakers and we don't wear socks anyway.


Since we are good people, what we do is good, and therefore those same actions will be good no matter who does them. The same actions that result in undesirable results are not really the same actions, since they must have been done by bad people.

The argument that Multi-partnered relationships would decrease adultery because everyone who wants to have sex with more than one person would get themselves into a covenanted, faithful arrangement where all their needs would be met -- likewise a bogus argument that is based on a idealized premise.

17 comments:

Ellis said...

Thank you, LT. I wholeheartedly agree.

Chris, you've described a wonderful marriage. That's great. But in my experience, it's not the norm for poly families. I personally have not seen polyamory being good for children or adults. I'm not saying it can't be, just that in my sample, it's not been the case. So I can't find your argument convincing, because it contravenes my own experience.

Ellis said...

You know, I think in the interests of full disclosure, I should say this. If Mike and Carol Brady wanted to start sleeping with Alice, I don't think anyone would mind. They would be Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs. Perfect. But when it's Roseanne Conner, Lucy Ricardo and Homer Simpson, it's more difficult to accept. And when it's Ralph Kramden, Archie Bunker, and June Cleaver, it's not going to be okay.

I really believe in being a model minority. As a bisexual woman and a religious liberal, I'm constantly representing the group to outsiders. I do my best to be well-scrubbed, cheerful and as normal as possible. I think that helps with getting public acceptance. What do you all think?

Chalicechick said...

((Roseanne Conner, Lucy Ricardo and Homer Simpson))

Wow, I thought I was the only one who had that dream...

CC

Mark said...

LT:

Your argument follows these lines:

"Polyamory is like keeping multiple loaded guns in a daycare center. This is obviously worse than keeping only a single loaded gun in a daycare center. Therefore, we should declare multiple guns an unacceptable risk, while declaring a single loaded gun the historical norm, which therefore can be fussed about but not fundamentally questioned."

I call bullsh*t on that.

If you're going to claim the mantle of "cultural authority," you have to also take on the responsibility of authority to always be able to provide a reasonable explanation, on demand, for the exercise of that authority. In other words: the status quo does not get a free pass.

Mark said...

Followup: As I've said before, it's the responsibility of those challenging authority to not cry prejudice or malice if they don't agree with a reasonable response they get to their challenge. (Since that has been a concern of our host).

Ellis said...

I just remembered that Carol and Mike are Alice's employers. So technically, that wouldn't be so great either.

Jamie Goodwin said...

I think I take offense at your argument above. You are really comparing love between humans on the equivalant of making available dangerous weapons to children?

And you call everyone else's game bogus?

So your saying basically, your game is, that people who claim to be poly are either incredibly stupid or just flat our liers?

Because in your scenario they would be one or the either.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lively discussion of an issue that's been on my mind for a while. As a UU pew-warmer, I have to admit that the Polyamory group makes me very uncomfortable. Part of my discomfort is personal, in that it is not a choice I would, or even feel I could make. Part of my discomfort is historical-we have a lot of historical evidence of the impact of multipartner relationships on the inherent worth and dignity of their participants,(not much of which seems positive to me) and not much evidence of multi-partner commitments that are partnerships of full equals.

It's possible that part of the problem I have is that UUs don't seem to have an apparent theology of marriage. The debate over same-sex marriage has helped UUs think much more about the value of marriage, especially as a civil matter, but I still don't think we've looked hard at the religious grounding.

Look around our congregations. You'll see couples who have been married for decades, newlyweds, married couples in trouble, couples who choose not to marry, although they are quite devoted to each other, singles never married or not currently in a relationship, couples who are on their second, third or fourth marriage, people married, and sometimes, people in "open" marriages and multi-partner groups. What are the meanings of "inherent worth and dignity" and "justice, equity and compassion" in this context? Are all kinds of relationships and behaviors in relationships OK?

I would love to have the theological discussion of the meaning of marriage and of the ethics of committed relationships.

Mark said...

anonymous:

Thank you for being open about your discomfort, but still being open to having this conversation.

I agree with you that there is little or no historical evidence for healthy multi-partner relationships. I also think, though, that there is little evidence that relationships-between-equals have been the historical norm for marriage in general, until maybe the past half-century or so; and that for that time, the norm has been a goal more aspired to than achieved.

Further, I would hope that the mistakes of the past could be learned from, not simply fallen into again. That hope applies across the board, not only for polyamorous situations.

"It's possible that part of the problem I have is that UUs don't seem to have an apparent theology of marriage."

I have pondered that myself, but since I am not a UU, I haven't seen it as my place to ask about it.

"I would love to have the theological discussion of the meaning of marriage and of the ethics of committed relationships."

Thank you so very, very, VERY much for this suggestion. I also would love to hear that discussion, even though my participation would have to be limited to "it seems to me you're saying" type of things.

Mark said...

Jamie:

"You are really comparing love between humans on the equivalant of making available dangerous weapons to children?"

I think LT is more saying that the fallout from adults' choices can have very damaging effects on children, when those choices go bad. (Which is true).

"So your saying basically, your game is, that people who claim to be poly are either incredibly stupid or just flat our liers?"

I think LT is more saying that poly people whose lives aren't trainwrecks have gotten lucky, and that they are happy despite of their choices instead of because of them. (Which is questionable).

I could be misinterpreting his statements, though.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

"The argument that Multi-partnered relationships would decrease adultery because everyone who wants to have sex with more than one person would get themselves into a covenanted, faithful arrangement where all their needs would be met -- likewise a bogus argument that is based on a idealized premise."

Let's try this again ...
First: I don't recall anyone arguing in their post that polyamory would decrease infidelity, nor have I heard another poly person argue that. Where have you heard that, and how often?

Second: You keep reducing polyamory or "multi-partnered relationships" to sex.

Third: You complain that we in the poly community only put forward "best-case scenarios" -- then you restrict your arguments to worst-case scenarios, while ignoring that similar worst-case scenarios can happen within dyadic relationships as well. Reading your posts and responses, you seem to be "cherry-picking" which points you wish to respond to.

The issue is not as simplistic as "monogamy hasn't worked, let's try a new form of polygamy." It is about recognizing the complexity of human nature and human relationships. Yes, most people are happiest with just one partner. But some are happiest with more than one, or with just friendships. Similarly, some people prefer working one full-time job all their lives, others working two or three part-time jobs, or other work arrangements. What kind of society do we want, then? Do we want one which allows people to work and live in the way that brings about the greatest sense of joy and fulfillment, not just for themselves but those around them? Or do we want a society which will impose a majority preference on everyone -- be it their choice of work patterns or their choice of love -- "for their own good?"

fausto said...

I think LT is more saying that poly people whose lives aren't trainwrecks have gotten lucky, and that they are happy despite of their choices instead of because of them.

I get that impression too. But he's also saying that since most of society agrees with that view, the burden is on these who disagree to disprove it, which they are unwilling to try to do.

(Which is questionable).

See? Arguments like that don't meet the burden of proof, so the prevailing paradigm remains in place, and the dissenting view remains only a dissenting view.

Even among ordinarily eager-to-dissent UUs.

Jasmine said...

LT writes:

I am not persuaded at all by arguments that work from a best-case scenario.

This is interesting, since these types of “arguments” have been the most effective in the work towards acceptance of same sex relationships. In fact, newcomers to the work are taught that telling our stories is the most important work to be done. Attitudes toward gays and lesbians are most likely to improve when a person actually knows a gay or lesbian person and is aware of their orientation. Knowing a real person, hearing about their personal situation, finding out that they aren’t monsters with two heads – this is what makes a real difference in attitudes. This is why I offer my personal story, and why I’ll continue to do so. If you want to hear about my personal disasters, ask me in person some time.

I am especially not persuaded by a personal testimonial which leads to a best case scenario to a conclusion that there could be no social danger from abandoning our cultural standard of monogamous fidelity in marriage.

If we REALLY had a cultural standard of monogamous fidelity in marriage that polyamory required us to abandon, I might find your concerns justified. But it fact, we have a cultural standard of :::wink wink::: monogamous fidelity in marriage :::wink wink::::. Polyamory is not about bringing multi-partner relationships into our culture; they’re already here to stay. Polyamory is about telling the truth about them.

Our stories, our literature, our movies and TV are all filled with incidents of infidelity embroiled in ever increasing webs of lies. When I first began to speak up about my poly marriage online (I was too scared to say anything in person), I was shocked at one of the responses I heard over and over and over. “Go ahead,” they would say, “Have your little affair if you want. But for God’s sake, don’t tell your husband about! That’s just sick!”

I was appalled. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Not tell my husband about a huge decision that would affect him? Absurd! But I’ve encountered this opinion many times.

Once all infidelity is eliminated once and for all, then I’ll be willing to debate with you about whether ethical polyamory is an asset or a liability to an otherwise monogamous culture. But for now, multi-partner relationships DO happen. What can we do to reduce the damage caused by lies and betrayal?

There’s also this situation where someone in a committed relationship falls in love, or attraction, or lust, or develops a crush on someone else – however you want to describe it – without ever intending to cheat. It just happens. Culture decrees that it’s not permissible to admit this to one’s partner. Culture demands that we agonize about it in solitude and either flee from temptation or succumb to infidelity. So one tries to figure out what to do all on one’s own, while in the throes of hormonal insanity. This is a recipe for disaster.

What if it were safe to tell one’s partner about these unasked for feelings for another person, ask for their help in figuring out what to do about it, and not have to fear for one’s committed relationship? Maybe the answer will be to remain monogamous, and that’s fine. But the tempted partner will have the emotional support and real assistance of the other partner in remaining true to their agreement. The only way to get that support and assistance is to be able to talk about it with each other openly.

Bringing polyamory out of the shadows makes these conversations possible.

The argument that Multi-partnered relationships would decrease adultery because everyone who wants to have sex with more than one person would get themselves into a covenanted, faithful arrangement where all their needs would be met -- likewise a bogus argument that is based on a idealized premise.

I never argued that “everyone” would do so, and I haven’t seen anyone else do so either. I didn’t even argue that “some” people would do so. I argued that IF people inclined toward multi-partner relationships gave their fianc├ęs full disclosure, then some monogamous people would be spared having their monogamous committed relationship with this person disrupt some years later because they would decline to enter the committed relationship in the first place. With this disclosure, some monogamous people would no doubt decide to go ahead with their committed relationship to a poly person, with an expectation of being able to work out acceptable compromises. Some of these committed relationships would succeed. Some would fail. Some would fail disastrously. But all of these relationships would be entered into with informed consent and good faith intentions to work together for a solution, which is a huge improvement over the current silent assumptions of monogamy.

And no, I’m not claiming that ALL commitments would suddenly, magically be entered into with full disclosure because of polyamory. Some people would still be in denial about their interest in multi-partnering, or be aware but overestimate their ability to suppress their interest. Some people would still lie about their intentions for a variety of reasons. Some essentially monogamous people would still find themselves inexplicably in extraordinary situations where they make impulsive decisions they later regret.

But some people can escape those situations through upfront, informed consent. And that’s a good thing.

Jasmine said...

LT writes:

Don't Bring that Bogus Game into My House

I am puzzled and concerned by your references to playing games. When I attend workshops or classes on effective communication, they always stress avoiding accusations or stances of superiority. The charge of game playing appears to do both. I can't imagine that it promotes understanding among us or reminds us that we UUs are co-religionists in covenant with each other.

These communication classes also encourage us to "assume best motives." If something appears to be game playing, maybe it is instead inexperience with debate, or real pain clumsily expressed, or an inevitable circumstance of these sorts of debates in which the opposite sides have difficulty understanding each other’s point of view. I know for certain that I can make any and all of those errors even when trying my best to sincerely engage in healthy dialogue.

So I ask us all, including myself, to remember that we are in covenant with each, to assume best motives, and to hold understanding as a higher priority than winning points.

Mark said...

fausto:

"But he's also saying that since most of society agrees with that view, the burden is on these who disagree to disprove it, which they are unwilling to try to do."

As I've said before, I agree that the burden for making the case for change rests on the people who want that change.

I disagree that the standard of proof being requested here is reasonable. You and LT (and others) are saying: prove to us there is no risk involved here, before we soften our position at all.

Which can't be done, as you well know. First, because nothing in the world can be done at no risk. Second, because the best that polyamory advocates can do (in good faith) is offer proof-of-concept, which would *not* be enough argument for "full acceptance" (e.g., triad marriage this Sunday!). Speaking only for myself--I'm not UU or a member of UUPA--I'm not looking for "full acceptance" from my own faith community at this point. I'm looking to go into beta; to have the chance to demonstrate that the proof-of-concept can be successfully implemented in the real world.

The 70s have been raised as a counterargument, which I'm sympathetic to. I don't look favorably on either the guiding philosophy or the behavior of the "free love" people of the time. But saying "oh, we tried that, it will never work for anybody" is rather like saying, "oh, we tried that Internet business thing, and we had the dot-com bubble collapse, better stick exclusively to bricks and mortar." Excessive times bring out excessive behaviors, and excess almost always leads to disaster, near as I can tell.

I categorically reject the argument that polyamory is inherently excessive. (You've declared arguments from personal experience to be nonpersuasive, so there's not much point to me elaborating).


"(Which is questionable).

See? Arguments like that don't meet the burden of proof,"

Umm, it wasn't an argument. It was a statement of position. Jamie already believes what LT is saying is questionable, so I didn't see a need to go into great detail.

"so the prevailing paradigm remains in place, and the dissenting view remains only a dissenting view."

And...this is supposed to, what, upset me? Embarrass me? Encourage me to bow before your rhetorical superiority? Sorry, can't oblige. I'm just living my life the best I can, as faithfully as I can. In time, more people may become more accepting of polyamory, or they may not. I obviously have my preferences, but I don't need to be validated by the world at large.

fausto said...

It's supposed to help you understand the kind of argument you need to make in order to persuade those whom you need to persuade in order to build wider support for your views.

If you'd rather feel smug, sarcastic and condescending than try to make persuasive arguments that could help encourage acceptance by the world at large, that's your choice, but in the larger scheme of things it doesn't do anything to advance your cause.

Mark said...

fausto:

Interesting. I post a long reply in which I acknowledge both the valid concerns of your position and the limitations of my own, in a sincere attempt to have a constructive conversation, and the only things you can bring yourself to say back to me are, "You should take my advice [even though I show no sympathy to your interests]" and "I don't like your tone."

Doubly interesting, given that my reply is attached to a post (rather representatively) entitled "Don't Bring that Bogus Game into My House"--ah, basketball court trash talk, the height of courtesy!--and that you have previously signed on to complaints that polyamory advocates just whine and whine and whine. I guess it's useful to know that the available roles for me appear to be either "self-pitying victim" or "smug, sarcastic and condescending," but it's disappointing all the same.

LT is right that none are so likely to take offense as those who see themselves as victims. The corollary is, none are so likely to see themselves as disrespected as those who see themselves as deserving deference.

Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer to be persuasive about issues that matter to me. But "how to win friends and influence people" only goes so far when one is doing one's best to live a life of faithful witness--look at this situation, where I can't even convince you to talk to me, let alone consider a move from "negative" to "neutral" on multi-partner relationships. I could play more by your rules, but as I've tried--and apparently failed--to explain, it's looking like that game is rigged.

So, thank you for your concern, and my apologies for any offense I may have caused you with my informal tone. I have done my best to approach this discussion as a conversation between equals, and if I can't convince you of that, there's really not much productive that's going to happen with continuing it.