I’ve been doing some work to put together a future lecture or discussion about the relationship between the atheist and polyamory communities, especially as they intersect via skepticism. What it will look like when done I cannot say, but I thought of a quick analogy (parable, perhaps) that might make the point for some people. It is an analogy I intend to use in some form, and wanted to share it here.
Let’s say there is some physicist. They always had an inclination towards science, despite many other interesting fields of study available to them (some early fascination with computer programming just wasn’t a good experience in the end, but they learned a lot from it). So, after some searching around for what to do with their life, they got a degree in physics, found a job at a respectable lab, and paid little to no attention to other subjects. Yes, they were interested in politics and perhaps baseball, but there was just no real love there, and they really didn’t have time to make a real commitment to such things. These things were just friendly interests, things they talked about to unwind after a long day, or whatever. But always they wake up to and and go to sleep with physics on their mind.
They may see other people dabbling a little in chemistry here, a little in journalism there, but these people (our physicist thinks) just can’t settle down into something real. Their commitment to physics gives their life meaning, structure, and goals which their meandering cohorts simply cannot understand. Our physicist, you see, can’t imagine any other subject being as interesting to them, even if the tedious day-to-day maintenance of their work is not always exciting. They made a commitment, and that means that they cannot afford to get caught up in other interests. They may occasionally think about other things, fantasizing about what it would be like to take a short vacation learning how to make pottery or maybe look up some information about computer programming to see how it has changed over the years. After all, it was fun for a while. perhaps it could be again. But no, our physicist has moved on. They are, indeed, a physicist. They must leave aside thoughts of pottery and nights of staying up all night programming.
Then one day, perhaps because they got locked in a room with nothing else to do, this physicist ends up reading, say, some Russian literature. Maybe it’s Dostoevsky, maybe Tolstoy, but it really does not matter. And upon doing so, they find that they just love reading this Russian literature; they find that it complements their life in such a way that they want to read more, and their life becomes more rich and more enjoyable. They find themselves thinking about the characters, the plot, and they just want to dive into a book and just live there for a week. They cannot help themselves in desiring to explore more of what has been written, and to they find themselves excited in a way they have not been excited in a while…but they still love physics, of course. Despite this, they want to read chapters over and over again. They are, in a word, smitten with this new topic they had not been familiar with until now.
Now, let’s say that this scientist looks back at their years of study of physics, their job, and their daily life as a physicist. They look at their job, and they say to themselves “oh, how can I do this to physics?” They wonder whether they should bring their literature to their lab, to read during lunch, or whether they should give up their new interest since it may effect their ability to do physics work. They wonder whether their love of physics can survive, or whether it will wither away into cold resentment in the blinding light of this new excitement about some other intellectual endeavor. And so they consider leaving their job, considering eschewing any thought of particles, gasses, or even obscure formulas and instead seek to go back to school to study Russian literature so they can dedicate their lives to the reading, teaching, and enjoyment of Russian literature. Physics would be left behind, for to have two loves is, well, wrong. Or it’s just hard. It’s just not for me….
A ridiculous story. But why is this kind of thing ridiculous when it is applied to careers or personal interests, but not to relationships? Why does it seem so strange or even inconceivable that we can share our love with more than one person, when it seems so natural that we can love both knitting and bike-riding? What is the fundamental difference?
I have answers to this question. But they are not quite formulated yet. I will leave it for you to ponder, and to comment if you wish, but will not address this question here and now.