Facts or it didn’t happen: unhooking the bra of reality

So, you want to include Intelligent design, creationism, or some other moniker for questioning the overwhelmingly established science of evolution into our classrooms.  You also, likely, equate evolution with the origin of the universe, so you want to talk about how something must have created the universe too.  Like, for example, god.  Well, OK.  In that case, lets also include creation myths from Hindus, various Native American tribes, and (why not, it’s 2012) the Mayans? Let’s have as many challenges to evolution and cosmology as possible, if we are going there.

Or perhaps you are more concerned with the state of medical science.  Perhaps you want to have your medical school include spirituality in their training, so that future doctors will be more spiritually attuned, or something.  Well, OK.  In that case let’s not forget faith healing, acupuncture, and homeopathy.  Hell, let’s throw in some goat sacrificing as well.  If we are going to include alternative medicines, why not throw in everything, just in case someone thinks they are worthwhile, eh?


Have I gone down a slippery slope? Have I taken what should be seen as a legitimate addition of alternative points of view, in comparison with established science and skepticism, and equated them with obviously erroneous methods? Am I not taking things like spirituality, real “scientific” challenges to the Darwinian conspiracy, etc seriously? Am I merely being flippant and disrespectful?


Quantities of complexity and simplicity

What is the difference between the more sophisticated and complex challenges to the scientific consensus and those which are, how should I say, less sophisticated? What is the difference between the Discovery Institute and the creationist screaming on the street corner (or next to the reason rally)?

There are real differences between these two types of challenge to science.  One is better articulated, more gpolished, and appears more professional.  The other has not been dressed up in such finery, and is obviously naked to everyone (OK, most of us).  From where I stand,  all of these sophists look naked, adorned in transcendent Imperial attire, even if to many out there the transparency of such cloth takes on a denseness and opacity to them.  Such observations become quite illuminating to complex eyes, but not so complex to need an intelligence to evolve them, such as mine.

That is, the difference between these sophisticated attempts at “skepticism” and creationist buffoonery is one of methodological degree, and certainly not a difference of quality.

For someone to show a distinction between these two, they would need to show some empirical or methodological difference between the two claims. They cannot do this.  Because there isn’t any.

No matter how well the Discovery Institute, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), or any other disingenuous attempts to undermine science dresses up their creationism, that’s all it is.  So no matter how slick the presentation, elevated the vocabulary (to make it sound sciency), or how many “credentialed” contributors they parade out (or pay large sums of money) there will only be a difference of degree between them and the whack-jobs on the street-corner yelling about the time being “nigh,” or someshit.

The reason for this is simple.  The methodologies of science, based in logic, empiricism, and skepticism generally, are unique and powerful.  Religion, faith, superstition are all powerful motivators of human behavior, but they lack that method and so they fail to predict or explain reality.  There is a fundamental methodological difference between what real science does and what is done by such think tanks as referred to above.  Places like the Discovery Institute and the ICR are not using the best methodologies, but are in fact using the same type of methodology used by the creationist you will meet on the street, in a church, or proposing legislation to allow discussion of creationism in schools.

They arenot using skepticism.

So when we respond to such trite sophistry with what may appear hyperbolic, the fact is that it is not hyperbole at all.  It is, in fact, appropriate commentary on the ridiculousness of people’s beliefs about the world; beliefs which are not warranted by the facts or the reason that binds those facts into theories which teach us about reality.

Unhooking the bra of reality

One person’s idiocy is another’s profundity.  And one person’s profundity is another’s idiocy.  The difference between the two, however, is not mere subjective opinion or preference; reality can inform the difference, and reality gives up her lovely secrets only to skeptics (when she gives them up at all).  Faith and superstition—ever the prompts of religion—being so obsessed with what lays beneath nature’s bodice, frees itself to imaginings and unverified declarations.  But it is all rhetoric and no real experience.

Real experience requires knowing how to unhook the bra of reality, a secret revealed only by the reaching of the adolescence of our species during our philosophical and scientific development and matured in the fires of the Enlightenment with the advent of the scientific method.  Many an embarrassed and inexperienced person claims to have breached such depths, claiming to have seen this or that, done that or this, and have really only masturbated such things while those of us truly entered into mysteries of the plain world in our face, seen with skeptical eyes, know the beauty of reality’s bosom.

Or, to put the analogy more succinctly; pics or it didn’t happen, you keepers of faith and superstition!

The Monogamy Delusion?

So, I just finished reading Greta Christina’s new book Why Are You Atheists So Angry: 99 Things That Piss Off The Godless (Kindle version), right after having met her after the Reason Rally, and I will briefly say that I recommend it as a great resource for both believer and heathen alike.  It is a great read for anyone who does not quite understand why we get so fired up about religion and faith.

I use this as a premise for talking about goals of social movements, a question that Greta addresses in her book concerning the goals of the atheist movement specifically, and what this might have to teach the polyamory community.  After watching the atheist movement grow and mature over the last 10 years or so, and given that I am usually thinking about polyamory, I inevitably will ask whether there will ever be a large, organized, coherent polyamory social movement.

And if there were, what would it look like?

As Greta talks about in her book, there are fundamental problems which the larger atheist community addresses through various means.  There are the basic issues of confronting stereotypes, discrimination, and hatred of atheists.  Such things range from moral, legal, and to philosophical issues and are fought for by both theists and atheists.  There is also the front of the atheist community which actively responds to theistic claims, both to truth and socio-political access of levers of power (in the US, this is usually through Christian privilege), with counter arguments of varying levels of intensity.  On the farther end is the ultimate goal of ridding the world—through persuasion—of religion.  Greta and I share that goal.

With that in mind, what types of issues could a polyamory social movement address?

  • are there fundamental cultural, legal, or philosophical problems which polyamory addresses?
  • is there any real and significant discrimination against polyamorous people in the world? If so, is it primarily cultural or legal in nature?
  • Would such a movement be essentially a struggle for equal rights or would it also include questions of truth, such as whether polyamory is the best model for relationships that all people should emulate? (I a thinking about that last point in terms of Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape)

I don’t have any definitive conclusions to these questions right now, nor do I think anyone does.  I ask these questions to tease out some stark differences in the types of problems that the atheist community is dealing with from what the polyamory community has to deal with, whether it will become a larger social movement or not.


Will there ever be a poly equivalent to accommodationists?

In the atheist community, there are those whom like to argue that religion is worthy of respect, should not be criticized, and that there is much about religion that we should perpetuate, learn from, etc.  I have addressed this question numerous times over the last few years, and will not say more than I disagree with this view.  Strongly.

On the other side are people, like myself, who believe that religion is more harmful than not, untrue, and perpetuates the worst parts of our humanity; specifically faith.  I will resist urge to rant about that here.  Resistance is not always futile.

(In other words, urges to rant about faith can be countered with Star Trek references)

So, the question is whether this pattern holds for the polyamory community?  Are there people who will argue that, for example, monogamy is more damaging than not?  That monogamy cannot be a healthy relationship structure? Will people argue that polyamory is objectively better than non-polyamory? Will there, in short, be anti-monogamists? Not merely people who prefer polyamory, think it a better way to live given more options, but actually against the practice of monogamy as an irrational and delusional lifestyle? Will someone write a book called “The Monogamy Delusion”?

Again, not mere amonogamy–the lack of monogamy–but the active social activism against (through persuasion) the continuation of monogamy as a cultural practice.

(Some of you are thinking about Brave New World.  Or, if you are uber-literate, you are thinking of WE.)

Now, I don’t doubt that there are a few people out there who might try to make such an argument.  I’m sure that a rare poly bird out there, or a few, will argue that monogamy is fundamentally wrong, irrational, and possibly a bowing to the worst instincts of humanity; things like jealousy, social conformity, and living against one’s true desires (living inauthentically).

And on some points, I will agree with such people.  I might, in fact, agree with many of the points they will make, and make some of those points myself.   But despite this affinity for such arguments, I am not, at least not right now, one of those people who will make such an argument.  And I want to explain why.


Theism v. monogamy

Theism is a hypothesis about the world, specifically the existence of some supernatural being commonly referred to as a deity, god, etc.  It makes a specific claim which is either testable or untestable.  If it is testable, it has not survived skeptical/scientific analysis so far, and does not appear as f it will ever pass such a standard.  If it is not testable, it is a worthless hypothesis and should be thrown out on those merits alone.  Atheism is the lack of that hypothesis, whether made out of ignorance or through informed analysis, and the arguments it makes are in response to a proposition of how the world is.

Monogamy is a relationship style based upon sexual (and usually romantic) exclusivity between two people.  It is the lifestyle of having one lover, sometimes a spouse, at least at a time but possibly life-long.  It is not a hypothesis about the world, but it is a…choice? (is it really always a choice, given how many people are not even aware of alternatives? A question for another post!).  In any case, monogamy is a structure of one’s relationship, rather than a claim about reality.

What is the significance of this distinction? Essentially, it is the fact that polyamory is not a reaction to monogamy in the same way that atheism is a reaction to theism.  A polyamorous advocate could say something like “this is a better lifestyle for my wants and needs, and it may be better for you” and not “your lifestyle is objectively unproven to be best, true, and so your lifestyle is objectively wrong and you should give it up.” Polyamory is not a reaction against a claim to objective truth, as atheism is.  Polyamory has a relationship, and not always an antagonistic one, to a traditional cultural ideal of monogamy (traditional in much of the world, but certainly not all of it) that feels unnatural to many people.

To clarify the distinction between these two issues, let me ask two questions:

  1. Is it reasonable to consider all of the arguments for and against theism and rationally come out a theist?
  2. Is it reasonable to consider all of the arguments for and against monogamy and rationally come out monogamous?

In terms of (1), there are no good arguments for any gods’ existence, so any skeptic should become an atheist if they properly apply their skepticism to the question of gods.  As for (2), there are people who will, upon honest reflection, discussion, and consideration with their partner, find that they both are actually quite happy, satisfied, and feel no desire to be with other people sexually/romantically.  Those people will be what I call “accidentally monogamous.”  They have seriously considered whether they would want other people in their sexual/romantic life and have concluded that they need no rule about exclusivity but will end up living a monogamous lifestyle, for all practical purposes.

And before anyone thinks to point this out, I admit having argued that a true skeptic should be polyamorous, but I have also argued that monogamy is legitimately rational as a needs-securing lifestyle for at least some people.  To be clear, my view is that polyamory (not having an exclusivity rule) should be the starting position for all relationships, and monogamy is subsequently only fully rational if, and only if (iff), that is what both people actually, authentically, want with each other.  Which means that they would need no rule arguing for exclusivity, because doing so would be redundant because neither is actually interested in pursuing other people.

Wes would probably say that this lack of a need for an exclusivity rule is coterminous with polyamory, and I tend to agree. But I think there is room for debate here about the definition of polyamory, so I am allowing that room in my analysis here.  My views may change in the future, in that I may completely adopt his definition as being sufficient for polyamory.  The consequence of this would be that I might then conclude that all monogamy, unless it is reached “accidentally,” would be irrational and possibly harmful.

I’m not there right now.


Polyamourous evangelicalism?

The conclusion from all of this, as I see it, is that any movement to advance polyamory culturally, socially, or politically will probably be limited to providing information, legal and philosophical challenges, and the decreasing of any discrimination which polyamorous people experience or are legitimately worried about.

I don’t see a strong argument, parallel to atheism’s arguments against theism, religion, and faith, against monogamy.  I see arguments for being polyamorous, but that is not precisely the same thing as being against all monogamy.

There will be people who want to get rid of monogamy, and I will want to hear their arguments why they think we should strive for that (as I would hope atheist accommodationists should want to actually read new/gnu atheist arguments. I’m looking at you, Julian Baggini!).  But for now, I don’t see much room for a “new/gnu poly” movement.  But I suppose only time will tell.

If anyone feels I am being to accommodating to monogamy, I’m open to arguments.

Having Low Standards for Attractiveness is Not a Bad Thing

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



Wes here again.  Today I want to talk about standards.  Specifically, I want to talk about standards for physical attractiveness.

Many people have expressed to be something along the lines of “I have high standards when it comes to women/men,” meaning that they don’t find many people sexually attractive.  Often, people consider this a point of pride.  I can sort of see their point.  I think it goes something like this:

only attractive people can afford to have high standards
I have high standards                                            
I am attractive

The fact that this is (obviously) a fallacious argument isn’t really the point.  The point is that having high standards makes people feel good about themselves.

I feel that having high standards in this context is a bad thing.  More than that, I consider it an unfortunate fact of life that we feel attraction on a purely physical level at all.  While this almost certainly had evolutionary advantages, these have largely evaporated in modern-day society.  Today, there is seemingly no (non-socially enforced) benefit to discriminating in our choice of romantic partner based on physical characteristics.  How a person looks has very little bearing on the things that I consider important in a relationship.

Attraction is important, but only in a circular way.  Physical attraction is only important in a relationship because people feel for each other on a physical level.  Dating someone to whom you’re not physically attracted is a bad idea because that’s a vital part of a relationship.  But it has no value in other contexts.  Physical attraction does not add value to any other part of a relationship.  To put it a different way, if one were attracted to everyone, one’s relationships would not suffer for it.

When it comes to physical characteristics, I have low standards, although they are higher than I’d like.  I wish that I was equally attracted on a physical level to everyone.  If that were the case, I would be free to make choices about romantic & sexual partners based on things that add value to a relationship, such as intelligence, kindness, emotional IQ, shared interests, and other factors which directly relate to compatibility.  These things certainly make a person more attractive to me (even on a physical level), but I still respond much more to a person’s appearance.  I consider it unfortunate that a person’s physical appearance matters to me at all, but such is life.

Physical attraction is largely biological, so I don’t know what we can do about this, but I think most agree that there is at least a component that is socially created.  If we were able to realign society’s values somehow so that physical appearance was less important, it would probably have a significant effect on this sort of thing.  Maybe?  And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony….*

*first one in the comments to identify the reference gets a prize

Atheists, Polyamorists, and Skeptics…OH MY! Also, Bartenders.

A few years ago while hanging out with a friend on a lazy afternoon, I suggested that we go off to visit another friend who was at work at a local coffee shop.  She looked at me in a somewhat horrified fashion. 

“You want to bother someone at work?”

I thought this was a strange way to look at it.  When I worked in a coffee shop in the beginning of college, I really enjoyed when people came to visit me.  Not only did I get to give people a discount, but I had a nice distraction.  In addition, I liked people seeing what I did when I wasn’t in class or whatever.  I am generally proud of what I do to make a living.  Over the years, I have often wished that people could visit me in my chemistry world to see what I do all day (when I’m not blogging of course).  I like to show off the technology I work with and geek out about why it’s “cool”.  I like guiding tours in the facility and I like demonstrating stuff.  It would be fun for me to be able to do that for my friends and family, but it isn’t generally done.  There’s lots of security and safety stuff that you have to consider, so it wouldn’t be a habit you want anyone to develop.  In addition, I work out in the relative “boonies” so dropping in is unlikely.

The thing is that I also love watching people do their jobs.  As an example, my sister has been bartending for 20 years.  I think that some might find it hard to take something like that seriously as a career if only because we’re told from a young age that unless you own the restaurant, it isn’t a “real career”.  This is, of course, preposterous.  People don’t talk about mechanics that way.  Bartending is a highly skilled trade just like that, but because you’re slinging booze and not lugnuts, it somehow gets less respect as a “whole life” kind of thing.  I also might be wrong about that as a general opinion.  It’s just one I have encountered.  Regardless, I have sat down at the bar while she works and have been transfixed by the sight.  There’s just something exciting about watching a seasoned professional work.  I have so much respect for the skills she has acquired over the years.   I would say that she makes it look easy, but she doesn’t actually.  I know watching her that I couldn’t be as good at taking care of a room like that tomorrow or in a year.

I also just enjoy seeing people in other parts of their lives.  We all have a “home self” and a “work self”.  Some would say that the big difference between these two selves is simply what you have to hide, but I think the professionalism that most people have to display at work is the more entertaining and interesting part of it.  I am always amused at my phone etiquette at work.  I have a “phone voice” that is apparently somehow soothing, friendly and authoritative all at once.  I also display a level of confidence in my professional life that is very different from my out of work personality.  I feel confident about coatings because I have a lot of knowledge.  I have been doing this for years and I know what I’m talking about.  I bring that to every meeting, every customer visit and I’m pretty proud of it.  People trust me with their chemicals and that is something that takes years to garner (and not something you learn in school, by the way).  I like seeing these things in everyone while they do their jobs.

It probably has something to do with having really high caliber people around me.  I don’t worry about showing up to someone’s workplace and seeing them be mediocre.  No one I would visit at work is.  When I walk into the candy shop, Jessie beams in her period costume and even though she knows me well, she still answers all my candy-related questions professionally and with great enthusiasm (and then she usually lets me taste stuff because she’s a really smart saleslady…and then I buy things…so many things).  I got the chance to sit in Wes’ office the other day while he was being all lawyery and it was fun to see him so professional, especially since we spend so much of our time being silly and ridiculous at home.  I got to see Ginny teach a class at Gymboree once and I was highly entertained to watch her explain that the kids had a choice between a big ball and a little ball and that each ball only fit in one tube.  The kids were fascinated.  I haven’t gotten to see Shaun at his day job, but I think I would be really amused since he regularly sends me pictures of dinosaurs with koosh balls for bodies and Star Wars figurines sitting on toy boats.  Based on how he entertains and confuses our dog, I just think watching him with kids would hilarious.

In all these cases, every job seems like a potential career because anything can be a career that you are good at and passionate about.  Sure, not all the people I just mentioned are ridiculously passionate about their day jobs, but seeing someone do their job well makes the job itself seem all the more legitimate and real.

This is similar to how I feel about being out and open about being poly and being an atheist.  It’s easy for people to judge you poorly when they are not directly seeing you live your life.  People will make assumptions based on their own limited filter on the world and then go write a diatribe against you on the internet.  But when we are all out and about a lot as a group and when people find out that we are poly, they often have a lot of questions (which we welcome!).  People want to know how it works and why we chose to live this way.  I find that the response to people talking to us about it in person, when they can see us all functioning in our relationships just like they do, is pretty positive.  Sure, we might not be converting anyone, but at this point acceptance is just as good.  Much in the same way, when people see that I’m an atheist who is smiling and who has managed not to murder everyone around me due to apparent lack of a moral code, it’s harder to think of atheists in the same evil light.

It should be obvious, but it should be said that it is important to actually observe the reality of things before making vast assumptions.  For instance, many atheists are pretty learned in religious texts and theory.  They judge them based on not only the words but also how concepts are carried out in people’s lives and in churches.  If you talk to one, you might find yourself in an interesting theological discussion and you might also find that atheist is not synonymous with depressed godless douchebag.  If you talk to polyamorous people before assuming that the only defining characteristic of them is sluttiness, you might find that the whole thing seems quite logical.  If you spend a day working with an old and wizened carnie, you might be impressed by the amount of knowledge being good at something like that requires.

Or you might get really creeped out.  Rumor has it carnies eat the heads of chickens or something.

I think when people hear the word skeptic, they assume you are skeptical (which, well, they should).  But I think that people equate being skeptical with being a naysayer who just wants ruin everyone’s fun.  But all it means is that you want to see it before you believe it.  It’s easy to make grand statements about how a job or lifestyle is stupid or wrong, but it’s harder to do that once you actually see it.  It comes down to whatever benefit you get from remaining ignorant and I for one never feel that the benefit of ignorance is worth it. 

Friendship and polyamory

In my last post, I discussed how monogamy is unlikely to satisfy all of our needs.  I was aware of a few issues tangential to that, but wanted to leave them aside in the interest of keeping posts shorter.  So I will address two issues today; non-sexual friendships and our ability to satisfy needs and desires without relationships.

“The Greatest Love of all”

As I mentioned the other day, in order to have successful relationships, you need to start with yourself.  We need to find where it is possibly, and even preferable in some cases, to find ways to make ourselves happy on our own.

Surely, there will be many circumstances where there will be overlap between this self-satisfying of desires and our relationships with other people.  Our sexual needs, for example, sometimes can be answered with masturbation and sometimes will require, you know, sex with other people.  Also, there will be times when an emotional challenge can be solved by some serious thinking, reflecting, and evaluation of a situation on our own.  Other times we will need the perspective of others to help us, as often other people see things in us we cannot see.

We are not island nations, but sometimes our own domestic policy is sufficient for answering to issues of the day rather than appealing to other nations, (or whatever the UN would be in this analogy) for help.

But the essential point is that when it comes to our needs, simply looking within is a great way to go satisfy them.  Therefore, I encourage everyone to maintain a healthy relationship with the complexity inside our own heads.  I encourage self-love, without getting all hippy about it or something.  Dammit, I think I might be too late….

Polyamory as a footnote to Plato?

…or at least Platonic friendship.

Many of the needs we have in our life, complex as they are, do not require finding a sexual partner at all.  The needs which are not satisfied by our partner(s), which are not satisfied by them, do not necessitate finding another romantic or sexual partner necessarily.  Sometimes just a Platonic partner, or friend, is sufficient.

As I have written about before, polyamory does not require sex to be polyamory.  As a result of this, many people are already polyamorous even if they don’t use the term, or know the term.  Friendships outside of a relationship, especially if they are very close, are so much like what polyamorous people are doing that I often use it as an example of how poly works to people who seem confused by it’s strangeness.  It’s really not that strange.

If you are in a monogamous relationship, there will be things you want and need to do which your partner does not satisfy.  Whether that is watching sports, going shopping, or getting some drinks on a Wednesday night, our friends fulfill many of our needs which our committed, exclusive, relationship do not.

Assuming that one partner in a coupling does not interfere with their partner’s friendships, which does happen (and, I think, is due to the same jealousy which makes most people avoid polyamory), those relationships are highly rewarding, meaningful, and important to us.

Most monogamous people have arrangements just like this, and many of them, in reading this, might be confused why this has anything to do with polyamory.  “So,” the objector may say, “why would people need polyamory when we have friends, ourselves, and our one loving partner to satisfy our needs in life?” Well, if these things actually do satisfy your needs, then perhaps we don’t need to be polyamorous. Where I have the problem is that people ignore, repress, or rationalize away other needs they may have in order to maintain monogamy artificially.  My problem is when monogamy is maintained for its own sake, and not for the sake of authenticity and honesty about what we want.

That is, many people pretend like monogamy+friendship=satisfaction of all needs, when in fact it does not.

What happens when a friend of ours starts to become someone you are very attracted to? What happens when you develop feelings for a person at your gym, book club, or run into an old flame? Why should we ignore this reality, just because we have a sexual/romantic partner? And if so, why?

What’s wrong with enjoying sex, safely, consensually, and transparently with other people whether we, or they, are in a relationship?

What’s wrong with wanting your cake and having it too?


Pursuing every desire?

Yes, there are people out there I am sexually attracted to who I don’t pursue.  I don’t pursue every potential relationship I find, because I recognize that it sometimes there are complexities of desire which are more than I need or want, and so I don’t pursue every desire.

But sometimes the feelings are too strong, the desire to intense, to ignore.  And depending on how much time I have in my life, I will pursue sexual/romantic partners to various degrees.  Right now, my fiance and my girlfriend take up a lot of my time, so pursuing anything very involved or serious is unwise and unwanted at the moment.  That said, if I really got into someone, I would probably find time, because, well, love is worth the effort.

But finding a friend with whom I can share a sexual relationship, especially if that desire is two-way, is healthy and available to me.  It does not threaten my relationships to do so, and it brings some pleasure and joy to my life.  Why should I not want and pursue such things?

Friendships are great, whether they are Platonic or not.  We should allow ourselves to express how we feel about people without artificial censorship or repression because of some strange obsession with maintaining monogamy in our culture.  So keep up your relationships with yourselves, enjoy your friends, and allow yourselves to have the relationships with the people around you as you want, and let “normal” social expectations and pressures have minimal say in how you do so.

On imaginary friends

Had a great time at the Reason Rally, despite the rain and chilliness, and despite it using every last scrap of social energy this introvert could muster. Adam Savage’s was perhaps my favorite speech, especially this part at the end:

I have concluded through careful empirical analysis and much thought that somebody is looking out for me, keeping track of what I think about things, forgiving me when I do less than I ought, giving me strength to shoot for more than I think I’m capable of. I believe they know everything I do and think and they still love me, and I’ve concluded after careful consideration that this person keeping score is me.

This nicely summarizes a thought that I’ve meant to write about for a while. It’s one of the less obvious negative consequences of religion, and something I myself didn’t realize until I’d been an atheist for several years. The idea of God I grew up with was everything Adam Savage describes in the quote and more: an ever-present companion even in my most profound loneliness, someone to pour out my worries to, share my joy, amusement, and exasperation with, someone who understood me at the deepest level, and, while he might not always approve, always loved and forgave me. Atheists mock theists for their “imaginary friend,” but perhaps they don’t really consider what it would be like to have such a friend that you actually believed existed. It means always being loved, always having support, never being alone. I, like many ex-believers, mourned the loss of this friend deeply when I found it was impossible to believe.

It took me a lot longer to realize that those experiences of feeling loved, supported, and listened to were real. Of course they were: I genuinely felt them. The interpretation I put on them was false, but the feelings were real. And what that means is that that support, that love, that listening ear, was only ever myself. The wise, calm voice I heard speaking back to me, giving perspective on my problems: that was me too. I had all those resources within myself the whole time, but I believed they came from outside of me. I didn’t give myself nearly enough credit. That friendly presence is not lost to me; it’s where it always was.

I started out saying that this was a negative consequence of religion, and I still think it is: religion, for many people, teaches us that the best and wisest part of ourself is not ourself at all, but external. It teaches us that we are dependent on someone else for love, forgiveness, wisdom, and encouragement. And that is a travesty. But on the other hand, perhaps the teachings about God enabled me to develop that part of myself. I don’t know; I’d have to hear from people who grew up atheist, whether they have anything like that sense of self-affirming internal companionship. (Evidently Adam Savage does, but I don’t know his religious history.) My guess is that some do and some don’t; and certainly not all religious people gain that particular thing from their notion of God. For some, indeed, God seems to embody many of the worst aspects of themselves, the bigoted and judgemental, the hateful and fearful. But I was lucky enough to be raised with a version of God that was everything best and wisest and most loving, as I could conceive of it, and perhaps that helped me develop that part of myself in a way I might not have otherwise.

So it may be that this is a possible positive as well as negative aspect of religion: providing a venue for people to shape and nurture their own best impulses. To the extent that my childhood religion did this for me, I’m grateful to it, as much as I resent it for telling me that those things were external to myself. Perhaps one thing the atheist movement should work on is encouraging those impulses, teaching people how to develop that supportive, forgiving, wise voice within themselves. Even though I recognized that it was present and accessible to me, I’ve lost sight of it in recent months, and I think I’d do well to recover it. I’m never as happy, healthy, and well-balanced as when I’m being my own imaginary friend.

Accidental monogamy: surviving the fires of polyamory

People don’t tend to have one small set of coherent and well-understood wants and needs, easily compatible with one other person who also has their wants and needs categorized into an easily communicative format for ideal matching algorithms (not even OK Cupid’s!).  No; our needs are largely unknown, fluid, and evolving and in order to satisfy them we will usually need to have multiple outlets for them which are capable of handling the inevitable evolution of those desires.

For some, a monogamous arrangement may sufficiently satisfy both people involved.  But how can we be sure that this arrangement really does satisfy the needs of both people and is not merely a capitulation to pragmatism and lack of personal challenge?

Let’s start with a basic distinction.

What is the difference between:

    • a couple who have seriously considered and challenged what they want and subsequently arrived, accidentally, at a monogamous relationships structure which fits with what both ideally want and need.
    • a couple who have ignored, compromised, or otherwise rationalized their wants and needs to fit their relationship into the expected relationship structure in our culture due to concerns about jealousies, insecurities, and fear of social stigma?

Answer: one has survived the fires of polyamory and accidentally landed in monogamy, and the other has chosen monogamy without traversing said fires.

That is, the former didn’t create a rule of romantic or sexual exclusivity nor had they assumed monogamy via cultural defaults.  They are accidentally monogamous in that they simply have no desire to be with other people even if pursuing such a thing is permitted.  The latter type of couple cannot be sure if they are maximally satisfied with their relationship because they have not taken the issue seriously enough.  They may, in fact, be missing something potentially wonderful for the sake of pragmatism or insecurity.

In order to be sure that the monogamous arrangement is actually satisfying the wants and needs of both individuals (hence not needing to even create an exclusivity rule because neither partner is interested in straying) one has to address the issue of polyamory.

All too often, the idea of sacrifice, compromise, and repression of certain desires is chosen in place of satisfaction (or at last the attempt of such) of what we want to have.  Many people convince themselves that a relationship with one person is not only a better path to take, but it is more intimate and meaningful one.

That is, quite frankly, not only a myth but it is absurd and irrational.  We need to allow ourselves to explore who we are, if we care to find out, by traveling the paths that will allow us to do so best.  We cannot limit ourselves, based upon social expectations, to learning slowly and inefficiently lessons which will, be invaluable to us.

Calculating the probabilities

Monogamy is logically possible as a means to satisfying all the the wants and needs of two people.  In such cases where this is the case, I applaud the work that was needed and done in order to ensure that certainty, because such certainty cannot be achieved merely through assumption, cultural default relationship progression, or lack of honest communication about needs, goals, etc.

But something being logically possible does not tell us how likely it is.  So, how likely is it that two people would be ideally happy with only one romantic/sexual partner?

The specific sets of desires, personalities, and capabilities which would need to exist in two people will be highly unlikely to ideally math up.  This, compounded by the necessity that each person will have done the essential personal work to know what they need and want from themselves and others makes the matching up, in time, space, and single-ness, highly unlikely.  Also, they need to actually meet.

How I might actually calculate such probabilities, whether with some Bayesian analysis or by some other means, is beyond my ability to do.  First of all, I am not an expert in probability or statistics.  Secondly, I don’t know all the relevant factors or how to weigh them against each-other.  Thirdly, I don’t think that actual probabilities is necessary to make the general point; it seems highly unlikely.

And yet, monogamy is rampant.  My conclusion is that the vast majority of monogamous relationships are not ideally healthy, at least from the point of view of them not satisfying all the wants and needs of the people involved.  Perhaps not everyone shares the value of satisfying our wants and needs above social pragmatism, or something, but either way I think that the world has something to gain by addressing the issue of non-monogamy as a means of making our relationships better.

By putting ourselves through the difficult challenges of figuring out what we want, what others want, and allowing ourselves to find monogamy by accident rather than default, I think much can be learned and our relationships will be better, whether monogamous or polyamorous, for everyone.

Some Thoughts While I’m Waiting in Line for Overpriced Wine

It’s 11pm and I’m feeling content and comfortable.  After standing in rainy conditions from 9:30am to 5:00pm, we here at Polyskeptic.com decided to head back to the hotel to dry off and get our brains in order.  Then we headed to Bethesda for an after party sponsored by American Atheists and here we are.

Last month, Wes, Jessie, and I went to Wicked Faire in Somerset, NJ.  It was a wonderful weekend for various reasons (not the least of which was getting to walk around as Lock, Shock and Barrel again).  One of the things that was appealing at the time was the massive amount of acceptance for all lifestyles and interests.  At Wicked Faire, you could be who you want to be, whatever that may be.  That felt like a vacation for me for a weekend because it was really nice to not have to particularly explain polyamory for once.  We could just introduce ourselves and our relationship and people were cool with it (we didn’t even get weird looks about it).  So that’s nice.  But the acceptance was one I couldn’t fully trust and give in to, because, well, when you are with people who accept everything regardless of any thought at all, the acceptance is…um…kind of bullshit.  If you don’t think about it and just accept, sure, you don’t fight…but you’re also not asking questions or getting a real opinion.  It’s nice for a weekend, but not for a life.

At the Reason Rally, I feel a similar kind of acceptance but I feel like it’s one I can trust.  The Reason Rally has been a gathering of like minded people, just like any convention…but here’s the difference: we accept because we know that anything we disagree with can and will be challenged.  It is an acceptance based on truth and a commitment to critical thinking.  Just like asking why we were waiting in a long line before getting into it themselves, meetings here are done with an important understanding.  The understanding is that we know that we may not agree on, well, anything…but we do agree that we should find out exactly what people are about before accepting or rejecting them, much like ideas and beliefs.

This is the essence of reason.  This is why we are here, in DC and, frankly, in life.

Maybe it’s the wine talking, but I’m feeling motivated and excited about this movement and the kind of people who join it.  I am not alone.

And just in case you thought this wasn’t a real rally, there was totally a woman dancing with hula hoops on the dance floor a minute ago.  The drum circle will begin shortly…most likely.  I missed a chance to take a picture of hula hoop girl because I was blogging.

I should, um, maybe stop blogging for a minute…maybe.

PZ Myers and His Rightous Hat


So, PZ Myers showed up today with a 10 gallon…nay, a 20 gallon hat and it is glorious.  I think it fitting that he be wearing an impressive, kind of silly hat as some would possibly consider him a pope-like figure for the movement.  Or at least a Cardinal.

Of course, by pope, he is simply a dynamic leader urging us to stop accepting lies and ridiculousness as part of our national dialogue.  This should seem obvious, but seeing as we have to have a rally about reason, these things need to be said.

Apparently, Eddie Izzard is coming on next.  ZOMG.

Jesus Riding A Dinosaur

The Reason Rally is the greatest place on Earth.


That’s right.  You know you’re jealous.

Also, I don’t know if I should consider this proof of humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time, but seeing as I’m losing brain power by the minute, let’s not ask any questions and assume that it is.


Also, we shall bow to our dinosaur overlords.

Brain power!