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Monogamy 3

Caeli: Hi!
Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Caeli: So, what did you want to say about marriage as part of a romantic tradition?
Elliot: I'd like to tell you something else first. Maybe I should have started with it.
Caeli: Alright.
Elliot: You asked about polygamy. People often assume that is the alternative to marriage. But when I talk with poly people, I find their motivations are things like they want to have sex and love with more people. But my largest objections to monogamy is that the sex and love parts are bad.
Caeli: That does give a different impression than you gave before. You should start with it next time.
Elliot: By the way, it's polyamory, not polygamy. "Amor" is love, and "gamy" is marriage. I think only religious people advocate many literal marriages, more philosophical people just live together and fall in love without trying to all get married.
Caeli: Oh, ok.
Elliot: My motivation is simply to do what's rational. I don't like the entire mode of relationship epitomized by monogamous marriages, but also found in polyamorous people. I generally discuss monogamy because it's dominant.
Caeli: What's irrational about love and sex?
Elliot: Let's separate them. Love is vague. Does it mean something other than "likes a lot"? Answers vary. But the real problem is a sort of separation. First, people decide if they are in love (based on how they feel, sexual attraction and chemistry, dreamy eyes, first impressions, mysteriousness, loneliness, desperation, stereotypes, and so on). Second, people derive all sorts of conclusions from being in love. The conclusions have nothing to do with the evidence from the first step, only to do with "love". So by separating the evidence gathering, and the concluding, people cover up a huge lack of logic.
Caeli: Why is that so bad?
Elliot: Many of the conclusions about love don't follow at all from the evidence used. They often have nothing to do with each other. Conclusions are things like: they should have a close, personal, exclusive relationship full of obligations and expectations. They should share their bank accounts. They should raise kids together. And if someone feels in love, everyone thinks that means the object of his affection is obligated to give him a chance, hear him out, and try to see if it will work. Why should you raise kids with someone who has dreamy eyes? Why should you share finances with someone sexy?
Elliot: And one shouldn't be able to create obligations for other people just by feeling a certain way. That's not rational.
Elliot: It reminds me of an email exchange. One person thought poor, hungry people should be able to steal oranges from a rich man's grove to feed their children, and that the rich man was guilty of something if he didn't allow it. The other person said: and if the poor people choose to have twice as many children, is the rich man twice as guilty for not feeding them?
Elliot: This illustrates how perverse things can get if my choices create obligations for you which benefit me.
Caeli: What criteria should be used for having kids, or sharing finances, if not love?
Elliot: For example, having intellectual agreement, and shared values; being at roughly the same place in your lives; being good at working out problems together and not fighting; knowing each other well.
Caeli: Don't people marry based on all those in addition to love?
Elliot: They take them into account, some. But not enough. Love often overrides some of those. It shouldn't, but it does because they are undervalued. There is a common expression, "Love conquers all," which sums up how much power people attribute to love.
Elliot: And people generally marry within 18 months. That's not enough time to get to know someone really well. People reasonably often learn new things about their friends after decades.
Caeli: They don't date their friends. Perhaps they get to know each other faster when they're trying.
Elliot: I think it's more likely that dating makes them know each other less well. Interacting in only stereotyped situations like that gives them plenty of opportunity to lie and mislead about what kind of people they are.
Caeli: Lying to your love? Perish the thought!
Elliot: But it's very common. People get nervous, and don't want to risk the relationship over something the other person might not like. They don't want to risk a fight, or a break up. Lying is normal during courtship. It helps keep your options open.
Caeli: Are you sure?
Elliot: It's ubiquitous in popular culture like movies. But also in live journal entries by real people, and advice columns, and so on.
Caeli: That is pretty convincing, I guess. That's awful.
Elliot: Romantic relationships put an undue burden on people to have no privacy, and ties honesty and trust up in this. But privacy is important. It should be expected that people take steps to maintain it.
Caeli: OK, that makes sense.
Caeli: Love might not be perfect, but that doesn't mean the general idea is bad.
Elliot: Well, what's good about it?
Caeli: It makes people happy.
Elliot: As we discussed, usually it doesn't. People get hurt and betrayed. They only stay happy if the person they love acts the way they want.
Caeli: It sounds terrible when you put it that way.
Elliot: Indeed.
Caeli: But it's not terrible!
Elliot: Why do you say that?
Caeli: Have you been in love?
Elliot: That isn't relevant.
Caeli: Isn't it? If you don't know what it's like, how can you comment?
Elliot: If I don't know something that you do, then tell me about it.
Caeli: I guess I didn't have anything specific in mind.
Elliot: It's hard to give the pro-love arguments myself, and refute them, because there really aren't any. No one seems to think it needs a rational defense, even though it hurts people all the time. This hurting is considered unremarkable. That just proves the huge irrationality of people's attitudes.
Caeli: That sounds right, but I'll need to consider it more. Let's move on to sex.
Elliot: I have a few things to say about sex. The first is that rubbing your bodies together isn't very interesting. I realize it stimulates nerves, so perhaps it's comparable to eating. And it releases chemicals, so perhaps its comparable to taking drugs. But neither of those is very interesting either.
Caeli: Do people claim sex is interesting?
Elliot: They make a big deal out of sexual knowledge, skill, and expertise, as if there is lots to learn. And they say it creates a meaningful connection between the participants, at least if done lovingly. And they sometimes claim it's like an emotional dialog, that involves real and important communication. And they claim it helps them get to know each other intimately.
Caeli: And you think all of that is false?
Elliot: That's right. Except for sexual skill: there is some, just not lots. It's relatively simple. But it's understandable that people think otherwise, because before the internet information about sex was hard to find.
Caeli: Why was it hard to find?
Elliot: Because people hide it. Especially adults from kids.
Caeli: Why hide it?
Elliot: The supposed justifications were things about the morality of chastity, the virtue of not interacting with sex before marriage, the sin of masturbation, the righteousness of self-denial of sex, and the great value of (sexual) innocence.
Caeli: That sounds religious.
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Does that mean atheists are immune?
Elliot: Not at all. Being an atheist means rejecting God, not all of religion. Whether one rejects more depends on whether he is a thoughtful person, and whether he figures out what else is religious, and also on his judgment about what should be rejected.
Caeli: Isn't it obvious that sex is religious?
Elliot: It's obvious that religion has stuff to say about sex. But it's not obvious that religion is wrong, nor that non-religious people shouldn't think and say the same things about sex.
Caeli: What religion says about sex varies by religion. They can't all be right. Shouldn't that tip people off to distrust the religious view?
Elliot: Yeah. But that logic applies to all of religion. If it hasn't worked persuaded people to question the rest of religion, we shouldn't expect people to apply it here.
Caeli: So you don't think sex has the various special properties people attribute to it, and that it shouldn't be important.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: I'm not sure how to argue with that.
Elliot: As with love, no one seems to think sex needs a rational defense. They often go so far as to claim that sex is not about being rational.
Caeli: You mentioned marriage being romantic the other day. Can you elaborate about your view on romance? It seems related.
Elliot: Let's try the dictionary first:
1) a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love "¢ love, esp. when sentimental or idealized "¢ an exciting, enjoyable love affair, esp. one that is not serious or long-lasting 2) a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life "¢ wild exaggeration; picturesque falsehood
Elliot: Do you notice anything interesting about those?
Caeli: A number of things.
Elliot: Cool :)
Caeli: One of them says something exaggerated or false. That's not very rational.
Elliot: Yes.
Caeli: Two mention mystery, which is about not knowing things. It's about lack of knowledge.
Elliot: Yes. And that's an awful thing to base a relationship on.
Caeli: One of the meanings of romance actually is love.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: Another meaning is something unserious and short. But you equate romance with monogamy, which is long term.
Elliot: People often base long term monogamous relationships on short term passionate romance. They want to have both. This is similar to being attracted to the mysterious.
Caeli: It mentions idealizing love, which means imagining it's perfect when it isn't.
Elliot: Yes, good.
Caeli: Very first, it mentions romance being a feeling.
Elliot: Yup. It's not about what really exists in someone's life, just how she feels about whatever is there.
Caeli: It mentions excitement a lot.
Elliot: Yes, which reinforces the short term focus.
Caeli: But you think people look for romance in long term relationships. Why?
Elliot: They say they do. They say they look for romance in who they date. And people who have been married want to keep a "spark", and will go to therapy to get it back. That spark, most would agree, could be call romance. "Keeping the romance alive" is a common expression. There is lots of advice about how to do it on Google. For example:
23 Ways to Keep Your Romance Alive
Itty-bitty ways to make him lovesick for you every day of the week.
Caeli: Lovesick doesn't sound good.
Elliot: Yeah. And it seems pretty self-centered. It's focussed on keeping him wanting you, not keeping a balanced relationship.
Caeli: There's a lot like that in magazines too.
Elliot: Right.
Caeli: Do you want to go through a list of romantic tips and comment on them?
Elliot: Yes that sounds fun, but it should be a separate dialog.
Caeli: Alright, see you later.

Elliot Temple on October 22, 2006

Comments (4)

Monogamy comes from women ...


I recommend the following:


I suspect that, when women reject monogamy, it's mainly a form of political activism, and only skin deep.

As Quirk says, "Men are attracted to nubility and health; women are attracted to nobility and wealth". I think he's basically right about that.

Evolution structures desire differently for males and females, and it does so because, given the biological differences, males and females must inevitably have different optimal sexual strategies. This enhances survival of the species. Your DNA is in control of this behavior, not your philosophy. Resistance is futile.

Unfortunately, men are not in a position of power when it comes to sexuality. You can propose; she will dispose, and there's not much you can do about it aside from getting a sex change operation. True; female power declines very much more rapidly with the approach of menopause. But men will generally continue to focus on young women anyway, so while this is bad for the aging women it doesn't help the male predicament at all. In fact, you get less attractive to young women as you get older, though of course you can slow your demise in her eyes if you have truly staggering quantities of cash.

From a male point of view, I can certainly understand why monogamy is, er, less than optimal. But you may be missing the point of the tactic from the female point of view. Whether she realizes it or not, her DNA pushes her in the direction of trying to sequester resources, both material and biological. What better way to do this than to secure your everlasting bondage in marriage?

So, I'm afraid your arguments, though not bad, are going to be crushed beneath the wheel of millions of years of evolution. That's certainly been my experience, and I've been around for a few years.


Anonymous at 11:31 PM on November 1, 2008 | #1637
I guess our disagreement rests on how much genes control personality. I think evolutionary psychology is mistaken. I'm having a discussion about this presently, where you can find my position:


- Elliot

Anonymous at 9:54 AM on November 2, 2008 | #1638


I read the first post in this series. I noticed there was no mention of children, and the best environment to raise them. Then I searched the other two posts where the issue arises only parenthetically. I don't want (yet) to conclude that your assertions about monogamy are wrong, partly because I am myself still to think about the issue seriously, but they are seriously incomplete. I believe however, that children are central in the subject of marriage, relationships, and whatever form they might take on.

Cyrus Ferdowsi, http://libiran.blogspot.com

Anonymous at 6:01 PM on November 8, 2008 | #1663
Monogamous marriages, as they stand now, are something of a one-size-fits-all approach. Couples that do or do not want children both use them. And couples that do or do not believe in soul mates use them. And couples that are, or aren't, Christian. And so on.

I think if you want to raise children as best you can, you should do the things that you judge will further that parenting project, and think of that as a separate project than any other goals of a marriage.

There is certainly more to be said about marriage than I've posted. As I recall, my blog posts have focussed more on problems with the courtship, forever, soulmate, promise, sexual, and sharing aspects. If there are important considerations worth knowing, which have to do with children (and no doubt there are) that would not make my criticisms of those other areas less valid -- it would make any problems I pointed out no less real -- even if it might alter some conclusions.

- Elliot

Anonymous at 6:20 PM on November 8, 2008 | #1664

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)