I have been following a blog about polyamory for a little while now called polytical. I try and keep up with a few poly blogs, twitter feeds, etc in order to keep my finger on the pulse of the community. I am not really a part of that community, even less than I am an insider the atheist community, but I have been listening for some time and know a fair bit about the issues, people, etc.
So, earlier today this post went up on polytical entitled I’m Poly ‘Cause I’m Better (which was a follow-up and partial change in views from a previous post entitled I’m Better ‘Cause I’m Poly). I had not read the earlier post previously (it went up before I started following the blog), but read it today for further context. I will say that I pretty much agreed with the older post. I have some reservations about the one from today.
Let’s just say I have some questions. Concerns even.
Lola O starts by saying how ze, after more presence in the poly community, has started to see the smugness of some polyamorous people; smugness about polyamory being better than monogamy and so forth. I have seen a little bit of that myself. I think that some of that smugness, that arrogance, can be justified. Not all of it, surely, but some of it. I’ll get to that.
So, let’s start with where Lola thinks the problem originates.
I feel it’s important to address this. Not because I enjoy being a naysayer, but I can see why the community alienates people. The smugness comes in two forms – a lack of acknowledgement of intersectional issues, and unchecked blatant privilege.
Oh boy, have we skeptics and atheists been over this ground in the last year! The debacle that was Elevatorgate, The ‘Amazing’ Atheist, and even Penn Jillette will remind us skeptics (the rest of you can use your Google machine) of what I am referring to (and of course there are many more examples). Alienating people, especially women and non-white people, from meetups, conventions, etc has been a huge issue in the skeptical/atheist world in recent years, and it exploded last year in a way that educated many people, including myself.
I still have not had a chance to thank Rebecca Watson, personally, for much of that unfortunately.
Once again, there are a lot of things that the polyamory community has to learn from the skeptic community, as well as the other way around. I know there is some overlap, but I don’t see a tremendous amount of discussion that deals with the intersection and how their trajectories might resemble one-another. Except, of course, for here at polyskeptic.com!
In any case, let’s get back to Lola. Ze thinks that there are two issues that are at the foundation of the problem in the poly community.
- a lack of acknowledgment of intersectional issues
- unchecked blatant privilege.
Intersectionality is a relatively new idea to me, although I certainly sympathize with the phenomenon as an atheist, polyamorous, skeptic. Privilege…well, that is not as new to me, but the debacles listed above must have increased the Google hits for that term by a significant degree last year, and I wrote a bit about it myself. But I don’t want to deal with these issues naked, I want to allow Lola to dress them up, give them shape, so that we can follow her reasoning.
People who say they’re polyamorous and critical of the assumption that we’re biologically suited to monogamy do not seem to bat an eyelash at gender stereotypes, and are more than willing to glue themselves to biological imperatives of the way “males” and “females” behave.
Yep, I’ve seen this. The nature of privilege (or am I getting ahead of myself) is that you don’t see it when you have it. I am in agreement with this statement, although I don’t know how common this actually is, having seen it rarely myself. As a point of comparison, I’ll add this; having seen how many atheists, who tend to be good at seeing past religious privilege, are blind to their own privileges has taught me that suffering the blunt end of privilege does not imply that you are incapable of having another form of privilege.
I find myself (and I’m not exaggerating) constantly having to remind fellow poly people that not only do intersex and gender variant people exist, but sometimes even that bisexual individuals exist. And when I bring up how sexism probably impacts the way people interact with others; the way people find partners; how comfortable, for example, those who identify as female may feel in situations where being poly means they are sexually available, I’m told that I’m pissing in everyone’s Cheerios or being too negative.
I have not seen this much myself. From my non-scientific sample, from my experience, this is pretty rare. Of course, most of my experience with the poly community IRL comes from being in Philadelphia; a very LGBTQ, intersex, etc friendly area of the world. I also attended an extremely liberal school where most of my friends were also extremely liberal. Just another privilege of mine.
It may be that the level of awareness, comfort, and overlap between the polyamorous community and the intersex/gender variant community varies from region to region or even group to group within a region, and Lola and I live in different parts of the world and may travel in different kinds of circles. Perhaps if I traveled around more I would find similar experiences as Lola did in recent months.
At one poly event, when a friend of mine brought up the struggles of women & gender variant individuals, and how – as poly activists, we need to mention and address these issues, she was condescended to by a fellow “poly activist” who told her that those people need to fight their own battles while we need to focus on poly struggles and poly issues.
I am in complete disagreement with this “poly activist” which Lola paraphrases here. This type of statement is another example of where the poly community needs to learn lessons from the gay community. I learned it through the atheist community, in a talk given by Greta Christina, where she talks about how the atheist community needs to learn from the mistakes of the gay community. (watch it, but perhaps after reading):
This larger fight for rights, recognition, etc for all of us weird, and even the not-so-wierd, people is the same fight. I stand for gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, cis, feminist, men’s (but no so much MRAs), atheist, Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Pastafarian, polyamorous, monogamous, asexual, etc rights. I stand for human rights. Anyone who thinks that we are all fighting separate fights doesn’t see the larger picture, and ends up segregating and tribalizing us all.
Lola then addresses the issue of whether polyamory should be included in with the “Queer” umbrella, and even whether we should add a “P” to the LGBTQ “alphabet soup.” In some ways, I think that there are good arguments for this addition, but only because I have seen good overlap between the LGBT community and polyamory. But if what Lola is identifying here is true, then I think that the following is very well said.
And when I voice my concerns as a queer person, that adding “P” to an acronym built on backs and blood of beaten, raped, tortured, and slain individuals is insulting when, while polyamory is misunderstood, it has yet to be a death sentence – I’m told by individuals who have no concept of being queer that I’m being divisive and discriminatory. What sort of welcoming do queer people find in a community that tells them to keep their issues to themselves, unless of course heterosexuals want to co-opt their struggle?
This is a fantastic point. I don’t know the extent of the real distance between the poly community as a whole from the LGBTQ struggles, but if it tends towards being as far as Lola is claiming here, even if not everywhere, then I think that the poly community should back off trying to add a “P” here, at least until this issue is rectified.
So, thus far in the post I am in agreement with Lola. I think that ze has some wonderful things to say about some problems in the poly community, and while I hope her experiences are the rare exceptions, my more cynical nature doubts that it is. We poly people have work to do, surely.
So I keep reading. When Lola turns to race relations, I don’t expect to find this sentence;
To put it bluntly, being polyamorous may cause one to endure all manner of ignorant comments and may even threaten the custody or family lives of a few, but practicing polyamory is overwhelmingly a privilege.
Upon reading this, something pops in my brain. ‘huh?’ my inner-voice says. ‘did I just read that correctly?’ it continues. Now, I have never thought of polyamory as a position of privilege. To me, it seems that monogamy has the position of privilege, and polyamory is struggling against that privilege. But being aware that privileged people are blind, I keep reading.
Loving more than one person is a capability I believe all human beings have. But having the time, energy, and resources for more than one relationship is, without doubt, a privilege.
Ah! I see. This makes a bit of sense. I see where the argument is headed. The immediate point following this, then, is not surprising.
I see a lot of poly people online and offline wax poetic about polyamory being the next stage of human evolution, degrade and devalue monogamous people for their silly triflings; all the while ignoring that a working single mother barely has enough time for herself, let alone dating.
This is an interesting point. And no doubt the observation is largely true, but consider this. A common response to polyamory, from monogamous people, is that they simply don’t have the time or energy for another relationship. This is basically the same point, and I think it falls apart for similar reasons. Let me address it in two ways.
First, what I think is overlooked here is that some ways to approach polyamory may actually help this problem, rather than exacerbate it. I think the assumption here may be that the single mother (or father) may not have time for two relationships, let alone one. Sure, this is a problem. But what if that single mother/father found an existing couple, family, etc? What if they found themselves a support network which could make the work of raising a child a bit easier? That is one of the major strengths of polyamory, IMO.
Granted, this is an idealized solution to a tough situation, and the logistical problems in finding said support group is a challenge in itself. I was raised by a single mother, until I was eight or so, myself. And while my mother didn’t find a poly tribe, she found a support structure despite the hardship. Finding a poly support structure, if that is what she had been after, may not have been impossible or even very difficult (especially now that the internet exists) for a single mother.
The second point is that this argument is no more a problem for polyamory than it is for relationships in general. It’s like my mother (who apparently has a lot to do with this post) talking to me about why I, as a poly person, should not get married. All of her arguments turn into arguments against marriage itself, rather than arguments against me getting married while polyamorous.
The essential point here is that when one argues that polyamory is a privilege because doing it is hard, one might as well be arguing against having relationships at all. Having a tough life does not stop people from finding what they need and want, so if they are open to and prefer polyamory, they can find that as well as any monogamous single parent could.
These discussions about how advanced polyamory is and how much better we are at relationships and life come off to me as incredibly ignorant of the realities many face. There’s a difference between being happy in and of ourselves for what we have, and being arrogant and ignorant. I have the economic privilege and free time to date more than one person, but I haven’t always had that. And people who have to spend most of their time working to keep their head economically above the water may have little time for conventions and long discussions about compersion. Love is infinite. Time is not.
When I met my soon-to-be wife, I was unemployed, nearly homeless, recently abandoned in a city I barely knew (Atlanta), and emotionally wrecked. I was already pre-disposed to polyamory due to previous experiences, introspection, etc. My being polyamorous was not about going out on nice dates, spending tons of time with many people with whom I had long-term relationships, or even actually having any partners at all.
My being polyamorous was about not creating arbitrary and absurd rules, when starting or solidifying relationships, about being exclusive. It was merely about recognizing that my ability to love is not limited, and that anyone who will love me has to know that about me because I will not lie to myself by artificially being exclusive for the sake of some silly fears and insecurities. Being polyamorous is about being authentic to my actual desires and tendencies, not living la vita loca with wining and dining potential partners.
It was a declaration of true maturity, skepticism, and self-knowledge, not a declaration of wealth of time and money to do the dating game with two or more people.
Polyamory is not about doing what the hetero-normative, middle class, educated world does, but just more of it transparently. It’s about recognizing that we actually do love more than one person, and this happens whether we are dirt poor, middle class, or of the 1%. For me, it is a part of a larger project to be a better person than I was, than most people are, and who I would be if I hadn’t challenged myself to be better.
I am not better because I am polyamorous, but rather I am polyamorous, like Lola said, ’cause I’m better. Not better in the sense of having more money, time, or people in my life, but because I have done the real, hard, tedious work of improving my ability to be a better person, including when I didn’t have the privileged economic means, and for me that means being polyamorous.
In my view, polyamory is actually better, unless you accidentally become monogamous, than what the world tends to do with relationships. Am I smug? Damned right! Am I arrogant? I don’t think this pride is unwarranted, I think it’s earned.
And no, not everyone will be polyamorous, nor will all people have the capability to be so. Also, not everyone will be a skeptic, an atheist, a PhD, an expert, or even famous. This does not mean that we do not respect, fight for, and care for those who cannot climb such mountains, but it means that in some way we have achieved something that others cannot, or have not yet, achieved. We can encourage others to follow, but will not expect all to do so.
My privileges (and I have many; I’m white, educated, middle class in a very wealthy country, male, and certainly some others that I’m not thinking of right now) are not what make it possible for me to be polyamorous, but they do allow me to do polyamory in a more privileged way. This is the distinction that, I think, Lola is missing. It’s not that polyamory is a privilege, but doing polyamory in a certain way is a privilege.
But this privileged way of doing polyamory is no different than doing any type of relationship in a privileged way. Again, this line of reasoning does not point exclusively to polyamory, but also to any type of relationship which exists in a privileged world. There is a logical error of confusing a privileged way of doing polyamory with polyamory per se. Polyamory does not require a privilege to mount, it only requires an open and honest mind about how we love people, what we want, and how we communicate between those two things.
Finally, I want to deal with what Lola talks about near the end of the post. The discussion here is things like mental health, ableism, etc. Lola says:
Discussions that centre around shaming jealousy, or the assumption that security is a realistic goal for all, or that you need it in order to be “good at poly,” create an environment that encourages people with mental illness (and people without) to not only misjudge red flags and pangs they experience as jealousy but also encourage them to ignore those feelings for fear of being the “green eyed monster”. There’s little to no discussion around these assumptions unless it’s pointed out that insecurity could stem from mental illness, and no advice or acknowledgement on how exactly folks with mental illnesses are supposed to navigate poly situations.
I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder. If there are any MH issues which would be problematic with emotions, including jealousy and insecurity, BPD would be among the toughest to deal with.
I acknowledge that many people may not be able to do poly, for reasons of trauma, mental health issues, etc. Where “jealousy-shaming” actually exists, it needs to be confronted and eliminated. Jealousy is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to work through because it is unhealthy. We must be up-front with our personal struggles, and not be ashamed of them.
I think that Lola might be missing the distinction between shame and the frustration that comes with having to deal with something unwanted and pernicious, like jealousy (or faith, credulity, etc), which can cause emotional reactions such as shame. I have not seen much “jealousy-shaming,” but I have seen people bluntly proclaim that jealousy is an unhealthy attribute which we need to confront towards the goal of managing it maturely, honestly, and with aplomb. This is not shaming; this is asking people to deal with a difficult problem with things like maturity, courage, and lots of communication.
The experience of shame in response to such things is part of the problem, and it makes me wonder if the intent of people is always to shame, or if many times it is the interpretation of people who struggle with jealousy and are confronted about this. Shame, a Christian concept if ever there were one, is anti-human and festers beneath the psyche of many of us in the West due to the perpetuation of theologies which feed off of such unpleasant experiences. We need to be aware of that.
Jealousy, like faith, needs to be outgrown by our species for us to thrive in a future where we transcend the teenage years of our history. Not through shame, but by compassion, patience, and very good listening skills will we achieve such goals. We need to allow the love (the ‘-amory) to massage jealousy away a day, a word, or a touch at a time and encourage the best scientific methods to deal with the exacerbation of that problem for those with particular mental health struggles, just as people do in the monogamous world.
We don’t, after all, say that since many people struggle with violent tendencies we should, therefore, not confront and try to deal with people who have mental health issues which exacerbate those impulses because it causes shame. I know, from personal experience, that causing physical harm to people through violence brings shame, but that this response was mostly my responsibility.
I’m glad I realized that it was not shame, but motivation to be more healthy, was the intention of those confronting me. Otherwise, I might still be ashamed, rather than more healthy.
Near the end, Lola begins to sum up thoughts:
So, I have found the smug poly people. But it’s more than smugness. To me, smugness implies at the very least that there is something to be proud of, and you’re going the extra mile beyond being proud to being boastfully arrogant. This isn’t boastful arrogance, this is unchecked ignorance – and that is nothing, as a community, to be proud of. I see this problem in many communities, and I’m hoping that this is something that will change.
Well, maybe the community does not have anything to be proud of. Frankly, the community I have seen is small, unorganized, and struggles with all sorts of issues that differ from group to group. But this statement above goes further than I am willing to go. This, above, sounds like an attempt to shame.
I do hope that the polyamory community will continue to grow, evolve, and improve. But I think that many poly people have much to be proud of. I am proud of my accomplishments as a poly person, of our little group, and the thoughts that we have collected here at polyskeptic (we’re still quite young as a blogging group).
To sum up my own thoughts here which have gone long and long), I agree that issues with intersectionality need to be dealt with where they are a problem. I believe that education about what it means and how it affects us all are part of that solution. But I don’t agree that polyamory is privileged any more than any relationship is potentially privileged. I believe that Lola has committed a logical fallacy in arguing that poly is privileged because to do it in a privileged way is not possible for everyone. There are non-privileged ways to do polyamory, and many people are doing just that.
16 thoughts on “Smugness and arrogance in polyamory?”
First and foremost, the title of the article is sarcastic. I DO not believe that polyamory makes people better nor that people are better because they are polyamorous.
Polyamory has a tendency to require more time and resources than monogamy does. That is the essential difference between polyamory and monogamy. In the same way that having more than one child requires more time and resources than having one. Adding more individuals which require your attention, devotion, and care requires more from you as an individual. That’s not something you can really logic your way out of.
It does not matter if polyamory could help people who are poor and have no time — so could therapy, so could daycare, so could a lot of things. That doesn’t make therapy and your ability to get it any less of an economic privilege. Likewise, having NOT ONLY the time and resources, but also the emotional abilities and mental stabilities to engage in multiple relationships is a privilege.
Regardless of how authentic you feel your relation to polyamory is, and I’m not doubting that, you have the time, the spoons, and the energies to commit yourself to more than one person. If you seriously think that PRACTICING polyamory is not a privilege, I invite you to try and work a 60 hour work week, take care of a child, deal with constant panic attacks, and then try and schedule dates around that.
I think your willingness to believe you are better than monogamous people and your lack of experience (which I am assuming due to your own admissions of privilege) with dealing with economic hardship are blinding you to the truth.
You can’t really agree with my minor points if you can’t see that practicing polyamory is privileged.
“I invite you to try and work a 60 hour work week, take care of a child, deal with constant panic attacks, and then try and schedule dates around that.”
Let’s assume that this working parent still has at least some time for relationships, otherwise you’re simply arguing that relationships are privileged. If you have time for 1 relationship, you have time to have for more than one; you can do group dates, see each person a respective fraction of the time you have available, just accept that you’re polysaturated at 1 person right now or any other set up that works.
If you do have to commit more time and resources to polyamory, it’s because you’re having to actually find it exists, you’re working with a much smaller dating pool (and probably have to attend dedicated events to meet people), having to find locations you can go on a date where you’ll feel safe with more than one person etc. etc. and you’re doing those things because monogamy is the privileged relationship style.
Privilege is about what it’s easier to be and do. It’s easier to be and do monogamy; polyamory is still frowned on, commented on, can cost you your children and your job.
Regarding dating while having a child, I think a lot has to do with the financial means to find someone to care for the child in order for the parent to go on dates. Not all of us have support structures that allow us to find a babysitter for free or cheap or at all. As a single parent one of my biggest concerns would be finding a poly couple or group that would be accepting of the fact that I have a child and work with me around that and be willing to care for my child as they do me. Not physically care, but emotionally. And honestly, as with monogamous relationships, how often is it likely you’ll find someone(s) willing to accept a child that isn’t theirs in order to have a relationship with someone they’re interested in?
Obviously I’m only an outsider to the poly world, but I’m assuming that all the same things happen in regards to finding a poly person/couple that you can care for and be with as when one is seeking monogamous relationships. Often times you don’t get along, there’s no spark, friendship is the most you might feel, etc. Though honestly I’d be happy to end up with a few more friends as I currently have none. : )
I’m glad I found your little corner of the web, I’ve been reading with interest and keeping an open mind about all that I’m reading.
I’m not sure I agree that people who are poly are better, but I suppose that’s because I’ve been taught since I was small that complimenting yourself is a no-no. So I think I’ll mull this over a bit before I actually decide how I feel about it.
@Lola: When Wes and I decided to be polyamorous, I was not personally capable of carrying on any additional relationships due to various emotional issues that I struggled/still struggle with (but to a lesser degree). I committed to the lifestyle philosophically because I felt that it was a healthier way to approach relationships. I was polyamorous without actually dating. Polyamory for me was not defined by going out with people/setting up a bunch of dates. I took well over a year to work on my issues (to get my jealousy, possessiveness, and insecurity under control). I would agree that my ability to do this is privileged, as not everyone will be able to do that, but I don’t think that polyamory is defined specifically by privilege. If you have mental health/economic/other issues that prevent you from maintaining many relationships, they likely inhibit your ability to maintain one. And therefore, having relationships of any kind would be the result of privilege.
I fully admit that I am currently “doing poly” in a privileged way. I am part of a small, very loving group of people that are a wonderful support system. I fully admit to be very lucky to be in the situation that I am and that my life is very much better in many ways now than it was before polyamory. I am a better person now for it than before and the work that I have done with myself has allowed me to better weather the ups and downs of life. But I do not believe that polyamory requires privilege to exist.
This is an argument that all personality traits are the result of privilege. While likely true, it’s largely irrelevant to the discussion of what personality traits are desirable, and which are not. Sam Harris just published a book putting forth the idea (with which I’ve long agreed) that free will is an illusion, and nothing we do is “our fault,” in the overall sense. So, in that sense, blaming someone for having personality traits that one finds offensive makes no sense. But this conversation isn’t about blame. it’s about whether polyamory is “better” than monogamy. Saying “it takes privilege to be polyamorous” is irrelevant. By that token, it takes privilege to be kind, knowledgeable, trustworthy, helpful, intelligent, brave, empathic, educated, pleasant, skeptical, or any other personality trait. This doesn’t change the fact that I think these are better things to be than not.
Your argument seems to be that there is a large degree of luck/privilege that determines what kind of person you’re going to be (and I couldn’t agree more). However, you seem to be taking that to mean that we should just live and let live, and not advocate any specific traits over others. I do not think that logically follows.
It’s ironic, and pathetic, to see a bunch of people complaining about their lifestyle not being accepted while they blatantly judge and condescend to people who do not choose their lifestyle. This seems like one more way for people who don’t feel particularly special to set themselves apart and say “oh look at me being so different, look at nasty society judging me!” I do believe there are people who are genuinely poly, and enjoy it, but if you have to exert loads of energy fighting natural human emotions to get into polygamy you are forcing yourself into a lifestyle that isn’t for you because you like the appearance or idea of it – not because it is “natural.”
A lot of people are happy in monogamy, and a lot of people in polygamy have the same issues they had before they decided to go down that road (insecurity, jealousy, immaturity, etc). That doesn’t make either lifestyle better than the other. This is just a boring rehash of the whole “it’s more evolved and open to be bisexual, everyone is naturally bisexual” argument that hipsters were going through in the 90’s. It’s about as intelligent as saying “everyone is secretly tall and they just hide it” as sexual orientation is largely determined by genetics (based on loads of scientific evidence) and monogamy/polygamy is going to vary from person to person based on a huge variety of factors. You can’t just decide that because a lifestyle feels best for you it is automatically the better, more enlightened path to happiness for all, not matter how much “logic” you throw at it. That is the problem with existing hetero society; don’t let it be the problem with poly society as well.
Also claiming polygamy is the “evolution” of relationships ignores thousands of years of culture in many areas of the world that do or previously did engage actively in polygamy. White, privileged hipsters who think sleeping with multiple people within a paradigm that somehow seems cooler than simply hooking up did not invent polygamy. Polygamy is often sexist in nature, both from traditional cultural standpoints where one man has multiple female partners with limited power and from a modern perspective where men often (in what I’ve seen) demand more privilege in polygamy than they give their female partners or use polygamy as a crutch because they don’t want to stay faithful. Again, sexism (clearly) broadly exists in monogamy. This doesn’t make either lifestyle “bad” – it just makes certain members of it flawed.
To summarize, I’m not judging polygamy as a valid or non-valid lifestyle; I’m simply arguing that it is neither better nor worse than any other because it is up to an individual to decide what makes them happy. In the same way it is illogical to convince a straight or gay person to veer towards bisexuality because some assume it is the “natural state” of humans, it is silly for a group to assume they know what is best for everyone and blatantly judge when people don’t wish to be like them. That is the very behavior in general society people claim to hate. I’m also arguing that polygamy has flaws just as monogamy because humans have flaws – this is inescapable. The vast majority of the problems that come from monogamous relationships have nothing to do with monogamy – they have to do with a selfish, emotionally immature, materialistic culture in which people never learn to put any real effort into making someone else genuinely happy and don’t have the first clue about how to make themselves happy. It also has to do with a culture that simultaneously glorifies casual sex while not teaching real responsibility or having genuine conversations about sexuality without religious and conservative stigma being thrown on it – consider the fact a surgeon general was fired just for discussing masturbation, or that we still have “abstinence” classes in place of sex-ed in many schools. These are serious, nationwide issues that hinder everyone’s enjoyment of life. People either want us to be masters or doormats, “sluts” or prudes – true partnership, true knowledge of self, isn’t taught or even discussed in our culture in any real way. These failings in our development aren’t going to magically go away just because someone has more partners.
“Let’s assume that this working parent still has at least some time for relationships, otherwise you’re simply arguing that relationships are privileged.”
I would argue that in some instances the ability to date and meet certain society expectations of what that mean can be a privilege. For a very long time, lesbian and gay individuals did not have the ability to be public about their identities, which had a direct impact on their ability to form relationships and date in ways heterosexuals have. Likewise, people with disabilities find it difficult to date in a world where they are desexualised, infantalised, and watched over by carers constantly.
I wouldn’t say having relationships in and of itself is privileged, but in many instances what time, energy, and freedom you devote towards relationships you have due to privilege.
“If you have time for 1 relationship, you have time to have for more than one; you can do group dates, see each person a respective fraction of the time you have available, just accept that you’re polysaturated at 1 person right now or any other set up that works.”
That’s the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard. Sorry. That’s like saying “If you have time for one kid, you have time for several”. No. You don’t. Relationships are not all the same. Different relationships require different commitment levels. And at the end of the day, developing a relationship take time and energy you may not have. And some of us may not particularly want to go on “group dates” nor have the faction of time available.
“Privilege is about what it’s easier to be and do. It’s easier to be and do monogamy; polyamory is still frowned on, commented on, can cost you your children and your job.”
Um, no it isn’t. Privilege is about an unearned advantage. I never argued polyamory wasn’t frowned upon or didn’t have social costs. But at the end of the day, if the process by which you practice polyamory is only due to the privileges you currently have, then I do not see it as similar to other instances of marginalisation. In my article, I compare it to being tattooed. Being tattooed can get you discriminated against in many situations based on assumptions people make. But getting tattoos generally requires money. And it is also a choice. Loving more than one person is something anyone can do and many people do not have a choice in who they fall in love with and how many they fall in love with. But the PRACTICE of having and maintaing multiple relationships is something many individuals, because of marginalisations, cannot do or find extremely difficult to do. And therefore, the practice of polyamory is more of a privilege than it is a marginalisation.
“If you have mental health/economic/other issues that prevent you from maintaining many relationships, they likely inhibit your ability to maintain one. And therefore, having relationships of any kind would be the result of privilege.”
In many cases, these DO prohibit people from being able to form relationships. The difference between forming one relationship and forming many is that forming many takes a lot more time and resources than forming just one. Adding multiple time commitments to your life requires you have the time to spare. You had the time to spare and the ability to focus on your issues. I likewise have had the privilege of therapy to focus on mine. Many people do not have that.
The thing that prohibits me from arguing that forming one relationship is a privilege is that forming one relationship is an expectation central to the marginalisation of, for example, women and asexual individuals. If society didn’t put pressure and judge people for NOT forming romantic relationships, then I would reconsider it. But the fact of the matter is that forming one relationship is expected, even when it causes more stress. Forming multiple relationships is not expected. You choose in the end whether to form one or multiple relationships. The point I’m making is that one relationship, the process of forming it, and the resources to get it are a lot less than forming multiple relationships. As I said, love is not infinite. Time and energy are.
“This is an argument that all personality traits are the result of privilege. While likely true, it’s largely irrelevant to the discussion of what personality traits are desirable, and which are not. ”
No it isn’t. Polyamory is not a personality trait. The anxiety disorder which causes difficulties in my relationships is also not a “personality trait”. You’re confusing mental illness with a personality trait. That is not what I am saying.
“It’s about whether polyamory is “better” than monogamy. Saying “it takes privilege to be polyamorous” is irrelevant. By that token, it takes privilege to be kind, knowledgeable, trustworthy, helpful, intelligent, brave, empathic, educated, pleasant, skeptical, or any other personality trait. This doesn’t change the fact that I think these are better things to be than not.”
And if you consider people who are not knowledge and intelligent to be below you when they have not had the economic resources to have access to the information you have had access to, I’m welcome to think that’s a pedantic, ignorant attitude in and of itself. You can think being polyamorous is better all you’d like. I do not think there is anything inherently better about being poly, especially when you’ve got the time and the money to go on more dates and visit more partners than people have to spend on gas to get themselves to and from work.
“I do believe there are people who are genuinely poly, and enjoy it, but if you have to exert loads of energy fighting natural human emotions to get into polygamy you are forcing yourself into a lifestyle that isn’t for you because you like the appearance or idea of it – not because it is “natural.””
I agree with the sentiment of what you’re saying but, what is “natural” is not really clear. Just because people have strong inclinations towards jealousy and insecurity does not mean that is “natural”. Likewise, just because polyamory or something like it has been practiced throughout human history more than nuclear family monogamy does not make polyamory any more “natural” either. I don’t see any point in trying to argue for what’s “natural”. I don’t think you do either, I’m just arguing contention with the “fighting natural human emotions” thing.
“To summarize, I’m not judging polygamy as a valid or non-valid lifestyle; I’m simply arguing that it is neither better nor worse than any other because it is up to an individual to decide what makes them happy.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I want to reply more substantially later. I’m underslept, dealing with emotional swings (yay BPD!), and with Gina tonight. Gina and I don’t get enough quality time.
I just want to address the first paragraph of your first comment, where you said:
“First and foremost, the title of the article is sarcastic. I DO not believe that polyamory makes people better nor that people are better because they are polyamorous.”
What I find funny is that you repeat yourself here, rather than get the significance of the reversal of the terms from your two posts. What I said is that I am polyamorous because I am better. I am a better version of myself, and so I can be polyamorous.
Polyamory does not make me better, but me being better lead me to successful polyamory.
Also, I think we are using “privilege” and “polyamory” somewhat differently.
The rest will have to wait.
I agree with what I take to be Lola O’s main point, that some people simply do not have the resources — internal or external — to be polyamorous. Just like some people don’t have the resources to be college-educated, or tirelessly forgiving, or openly defiant of their family’s religion. I try to be very careful with the shoulds and oughts I toss around in the vicinity of polyamory, for this reason: I want people to do the best they can with what they have, and I don’t always know what that looks like, and I’m too well acquainted with the frustrated shame and despair of being told I “should” do something I’m incapable of doing, for whatever reason.
That said, I think that overcoming jealousy and insecurity is always a positive step. It’s a more difficult step to take for some than others, and for some it might be so difficult that it’s not worth the effort. In most cases, I don’t have enough information to make that determination for someone else, which is another reason I’m wary of the shoulds and oughts. But, just as I think that all else being equal, it’s better for a person to be educated than not, better for a person to be forgiving than not, I think it’s better for a person to be free of the jealousies and insecurities that mandate monogamy than not. As it’s been written on this blog several times before, if a person doesn’t have personal struggles with jealousy and insecurity, but also just isn’t interested in seeing more than one person (and ditto for their partner) then I have no caveats and no reservations about their lifestyle. If a person DOES have struggles with jealousy and insecurity, and also has other crap in their life that puts dealing with those struggles low on the priority list, then I’m not going to say anything about it… but I still believe that they’d be better off, on the whole, without those jealousies and insecurities.
One thing that gets obscured a lot in discussions of privilege is that privilege is generally stuff we’d like everybody to have. In an ideal world, everybody would have the resources, both internal and external, to overcome their jealousy and insecurities — just like everybody would have access to education and economic security. We can acknowledge that having those leads to an advantageous position, without denigrating people who don’t have those through no fault of their own. Yes, it is my privilege that allowed me to have an excellent education, but I’m not going to then say that it’s just as good to have no education. That would be foolish.
When I first read your comment, I honestly wondered how closely you read the post. I still wonder if you ever finished it. I made an attempt to read your post, including the previous one, very closely to try and be as fair as possible to your reasoning. I don’t feel I was given the same consideration.
Not that I’m owed any such consideration, of course. You are welcome to spend as much, or as little, time as you like considering my thoughts.
I already addressed the first paragraph of your response, so I will leave that alone here. But let’s start with the very next paragraph:
I do not, and did not, contend that polyamory was not more work, take more effort, etc. I do not think this is relevant to my point. What I am contending is that this implies that polyamory is a privilege at all.
Before saying more, I want to acknowledge that we seem to be in at least partial agreement, and that I think what is happening here is semantic in nature rather than philosophical. In a comment over at polytical, you wrote:
This was part of my point in my OP above. I think that this distinction is critical towards understanding what I mean when I say that polyamory is not a privilege. It is a point I tried to make in the OP, but it was misunderstood, simply missed, or ignored. I will make the charitable interpretation that it was misunderstood, and try to reiterate briefly.
I believe that polyamory is, for many people, quite natural. I believe that other people need to work towards it, which can be quite difficult for some. At bottom, there are privileged ways to get to polyamory, and for many people to get to it they need to take advantage of privilege, but polyamory is not a privilege per se.
For me, to be polyamorous does not necessitate actually dating anyone at all. It is a disposition towards relationships, not the actual actions in social/economic reality which do require some privileges to do. The part that requires privilege is to do the dating and spending of ample time, which includes having economic and temporal privileges.
So yes, to practice poly is usually a privilege, but I think that the level of privilege required to practice polyamory to any successful degree is much lower than the level of privilege one needs to earn a graduate degree, raise children well, or to land a well-paying job. All you need, to be minimally successful in poly, is the ability to have a fairly healthy relationship with a person, be honest with yourself about what you want/need, and actually be attracted to more people.
If you consider these skills to be privileged, then we are bordering on a use of privilege which makes the term meaningless. The idea is supposed to deal with social power relationships, not differences in attributes between people of differing intelligence, emotional maturity, etc.
Precisely what I was just getting at. I think you are stretching the use of “privilege” by pushing it towards emotional abilities. I am not denying that privilege is a factor in these things, I am saying that having them or not are not, in themselves, indicators of privilege.
You could be privileged and be emotionally wrecked, and not privileged and be emotionally solid. I don’t think that these things themselves are necessarily privileges in themselves.
If we were to grant privilege status to such things, then the plain fact is that all helpful attributes are privileges in some sense, making the term useless. And if it does not make the term useless, it at least makes your point that polyamory is privileged not interesting, because what accomplishment would not, then, be a privilege?
Is that where you want to go? Is your goal to create, or imply, a theory of privilege as the mechanism for accomplishment in society? Well, if so, then all you are saying is that polyamory is an accomplishment. No shit.
I have dealt with this above, in that I never claimed that the practice of polyamory is, in many cases, possible due to having privilege. That is, it is not necessarily due to privilege, but in our current culture it usually is.
1) I don’t think I’m necessarily better than monogamous people. I may be better than many of them, but I don’t think polyamory is the criterion by which we decide the relative quality of a person. I do think that people who are skeptics and try to apply their skepticism fairly, wisely, and consistently are better people than those who don’t. I have also argued that skepticism should lead to polyamory.
2) Did you read the part above where I was nearly homeless, unemployed, and abandoned in a city I barely knew? See, while I was going through my economic hardship, I was not only BEING poly, but ultimately I managed to PRACTICE poly. I had to lean on those who cared for me for a while, but I was able to do it. No, I don’t have kids, work 60 hours a week, etc, but I will reiterate that such a person would find that polyamory could take some stress of that life, if they could manage to find the right people. The essential point is that such a person could still be poly, even if they would have serious problems practicing it much, if at all.
Are you willing to argue that a person under those circumstances would be incapable of recognizing that if and when they had a partner, they could not avoid declaring rules of exclusivity with those partners? Could they allow the people they date, with whatever time they can squeeze romance, sex, etc into, to date other people (since they have so little time to offer)?
Wouldn’t that imply that those non-privileged people can be polyamorous? Or would the fact that they are able to squeeze an hour or two into a week with someone make them privileged?
I can. I did.
“I believe that polyamory is, for many people, quite natural. I believe that other people need to work towards it, which can be quite difficult for some. At bottom, there are privileged ways to get to polyamory, and for many people to get to it they need to take advantage of privilege, but polyamory is not a privilege per se.”
I think what you’re not understanding is the difference between BEING polyamorous and PRACTICING polyamory, which is what I distinguish.
I don’t care about nature/nurture debates and I’m not here to tell anyone what they’re orientated towards. This is not a debate about whether polyamory is an orientation. I don’t doubt for a second that there are folks who believe in the heart and soul that they are orientated toward polyamory.
However, the PRACTICE of it. That is what is privileged. That is what requires time, effort, usually money, usually relationship skills that individuals with privileged backgrounds find easy to pick up and understand.
“So yes, to practice poly is usually a privilege, but I think that the level of privilege required to practice polyamory to any successful degree is much lower than the level of privilege one needs to earn a graduate degree, raise children well, or to land a well-paying job.”
So you DO agree with me. PRACTICING polyamory IS a privilege. But here is where I’m not going to get into the oppression olympics with you. You have your experience of the “ease” of earning a graduate degree, raising children, and landing a job. I am not even going to touch that with a ten foot pole because I can tell you that none of those things listed can be called “easy” tasks for some. And what someone finds more difficult than others has a lot to do with how privilege and power intersects. Someone who has no social anxiety may find multiple relationships easy but who is also dyslexic may find getting a job really tough because they always fill out applications wrong.
The existence of difficulty of other marginalisations does not negate the existence of something as a privilege. Just because I have been through hell as a queer person, as an intersex person, as a poor person — that does not mean whiteness is not a privilege. Nor is any one marginalisation necessarily “harder” than the other.
“If you consider these skills to be privileged, then we are bordering on a use of privilege which makes the term meaningless.”
Seriously? You think that it’s easy to get a job, get a graduate degree, and raise children? Have you ever heard of the wage gap? Being a felon? Jesus Christ.
“Precisely what I was just getting at. I think you are stretching the use of “privilege” by pushing it towards emotional abilities.”
WRONG. The essential part of what makes practising polyamory a privilege is the fact that it takes more time and resources that people do not have due to marginalisations. Now, I could and have made the argument that mental disorders have an incredible impact on what you call “emotional abilities”.
To use myself as an example, I’ve spent the majority of my life being raised by an abusive father and a mother with borderline personality disorder. This, as well as the chemical imbalance of my physical disorders, have created a situation where my “emotional abilities” are not as good as individuals who have not been through what I have. People who have not been through sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological/mental abuse, who have lived with decent role models, who have had their self esteem built and supported by those around them — they have a significant privilege over people who have not had those things growing up or do not have those things now. What I put that under in my article about mental disorders, is under ableism. I do think there are many cases wherein people who experience constant jealousy and anxiety due to mental disorders are shamed and ridiculed within poly circles and discourse because they feel the way they do. They’re seen as “not good enough” to do poly and bad partners. And how apt that you titled these “emotional abilities”.
One can “accomplish” what you call “emotional abilities” if given therapy and time, also two things which economic privilege and educational privilege provide. But it is not clear cut and it is not a guarantee. I’ve paid for a load of therapy which has helped my anxiety, but I do not know if I will ever be “cured”.
“And if it does not make the term useless, it at least makes your point that polyamory is privileged not interesting, because what accomplishment would not, then, be a privilege?”
Most accomplishments are due to a lot of privilege. And the point in pointing it out is to realise it. Because we’re at a point where people act like not having jealousy and not having any problems is part of “being poly”.
“1) I don’t think I’m necessarily better than monogamous people. I may be better than many of them, but I don’t think polyamory is the criterion by which we decide the relative quality of a person. I do think that people who are skeptics and try to apply their skepticism fairly, wisely, and consistently are better people than those who don’t. I have also argued that skepticism should lead to polyamory.”
You said in your article that you ARE better because you’re poly. If you don’t believe you are, don’t say it.
“Did you read the part above where I was nearly homeless, unemployed, and abandoned in a city I barely knew? …. The essential point is that such a person could still be poly, even if they would have serious problems practicing it much, if at all.”
You are not the example by which everyone’s experience can be compared to. Just because YOU could do something, does not mean others can. Just because I manage to get into my undergraduate university despite both of my parents being homeless and us nearly being evicted and surviving on food donations does NOT mean that others could do the exact same thing. Your circumstances are not universally applicable. And honestly, the “If I can do it, so can you,” is an extraordinarily privileged perspective.
“Wouldn’t that imply that those non-privileged people can be polyamorous?”
I never said that “non-privileged people” can’t be polyamorous. I never said that someone who has limited time and resources can’t practice polyamory. What I am saying is that PRACTICING polyamory requires time and resources which many people do not have. Being white is also a privilege. Does that mean that people of colour can NEVER do anything that white privilege allows white people to do? No. You’re misunderstanding what privilege means and what it is.
Overall, you’re not getting what I’m saying, honestly. And it sounds like you’re really not understanding the basic application of what privilege is, especially if you think that because you’ve done something, everyone else should be able to do it to.
You are not reading carefully. You are simply misrepresenting what my points are due to negligence or inability. I’m tempted to be snarky and ask if reading comprehension is a privilege. Well, there it is.
I not only understand this, but I have addressed this clearly and unambiguously in the OP and in my comment above. I will not repeat what I have already said. Go back and read it this time.
This is not what I’m arguing either.
Again, I have addressed this. In most cases, to practice relationships of any kind is a privilege. And polyamory, to be practiced in a privileged way, requires more privilege. A=A. I get it.
Perhaps you missed the part where I talk about practicing polyamory does not have to include very much in some cases. Again, go back and really read my comment/OP again.
Again, yes. Read more carefully.
Oh, my sweet, sweet, Jesus will you fucking read what I write?
I said that there is a relative scale of ease, that some things require more or less privilege to make them easy. But at some point, we have to accept personal responsibility for our ability to achieve a goal. Grad school kids, etc are all hard things to do, and we all have attributes of varying strengths. But these attributes are not due to the social inequalities (which is what I think privilege is about), but rather are also heavily effected by genetic/intellectual/emotional factors.
Again, I think stretching the fabric of privilege over who is smarter, more emotionally stable (like I said, I have a personality disorder which affects me here), and who has dispositions towards all sorts of things are not about privilege, but merely differing personal attributes. The way I use privilege it is about larger cultural, political, and economical structures that give certain people advantages over others due to stereotypes, historical oppression, and plain old bigotry.
Thus, my being white and male are definitely privileges. But my being academically inclined, intelligent, and emotionally stunted are not due to privilege in the same sense. My ability to deal with and overcome hardships due to my BPD is not a privilege, it is part of my set of attributes that come from genetics, experience, etc. My being white and male may have made that process easier, but the skills that were the efficient cause were not the being white or male, but other personal attributes not tied to those things.
I tried to show reasons why a distinction needs to be made, logically, between the social phenomenon of privilege and personal attributes/strengths, etc. We disagree here, obviously. That’s fine, but at least argue in good faith and represent what I am saying accurately.
I think there is a discussion to be had about how privilege, power, and personal attributes intersect. I think this is an area that we could talk about. My contention is that a non-dyslexic person does not have privilege per se, but that the way this attribute intersects with existing social privilege creates advantages.
Like I said above, I think a lot of this disagreement is semantics. But before we can separate the semantics out, you have to hear what I’m actually saying, which I don’t see evidence for yet.
I never argued anything like that.
Again, not arguing that these things are easy. I’m arguing that polyamory is not in the same set as these things, except in the trivial sense that all relationships are hard and require some level of privilege to achieve.
I just don’t think that in comparison to monogamy, polyamory is the more privileged position.
Anyone who shames anyone for struggling with such difficulties is an asshole. And I have struggled with my own issues, including a less than ideal family life (although better than yours appears to have been).
I get how difficult MH issues can be in achieving goals in life. But I recognize that despite that difficulty, it is not a lack of privilege which stands in my way, but rather my fear, anxiety, etc which get in my way.
I too see how people who don’t struggle with such emotional issues tend not to comprehend the difficulty. And when they try to blame, shame, etc people who struggle I call them out on it.
But it is up to me, with my varying strengths, to do the best I can do to make myself healthier. I experience jealousy, insecurity, fear, and these things can lead to anger, resentment, and abusive behavior. But it is my responsibility to grow past that ot to have people I love leave me.
And yes, some people can’t do that. But the reason that they cannot and I can is not due to privilege. Privilege intersects here where one has the struggle and the other does not, right? So, if we are comparing two people who have the struggle (let’s say, of BPD), and one can get through it and the other can’t, this is not privilege, this is differing psychological/cognitive/etc attributes.
My ability to grow past my struggle with BPD (to the extent I can) is not a privilege. Another person never having that problem may be, but that’s a very different thing than getting over it or not.
Privilege supplies resources which help. But it will never be cured. The goal is not to cure these things, it is to understand how they affect us and to navigate life being able to anticipate them and counteract them as best we can. Once we get to the place where we can avoid triggers, redirect behaviors when they arise, etc then we are functional, but never cured.
Therapy helps (I’ve been through some myself), but the work starts and ends with you. I have confidence that someone with your insight, intelligence, and what seems like persistence will be able to have success.
People in the poly community who say jealousy and problems should not exist are idiots. It’s one thing to point out the error when people make it, but I think you are trying to use such opinions as a basis to caste polyamory into a lake of privilege, where it is just individual idiots who should be your target, not polyamory itself.
No, I did not claim this. Please quote where you think I did. I am not better because I’m poly. I do think that being poly is better than being monogamous, especially given my proclivities, but this may not be true for all people. But all this means is I think that poly is better, not that by being so I become better. I think the better part is either simultaneous with it or pre-exists the poly part. I think better people are successful at being poly, including recognizing that it is hard work and that things like jealousy will always exist for mot people.
It’s also not what I said. My claim is that I did it, and so it can be done by people who are struggling. Yes, some cannot. I feel for those people, but there is little I can do about that, unfortunately.
I feel like I addressed this above, but one quick clarification in the name of redundancy.
If someone does not have the time or resources for relationships, then their problems are more severe than worrying about whether they are practicing polyamory or not. My blog is addressed to people with relative privilege. Having internet access is, after all, a privilege. Anyone reading this is relatively privileged.
But even people not privileged enough to get online can still practice polyamory, just not in privileged ways. Again, you don’t have to spend money or have lots of time to have meaningful, loving, possibly romantic or sexual relationships with more than one person, or allow your one partner with whom you spend almost no time due to lack of privilege to have other relationships.
Practicing polyamory the way people do when they have a stable job, are raising kids, and have little personal time is difficult, but possible. The extreme examples of people who don’t have time for relationships does not make the point that poly is a privilege, it (again) only makes the point that having free time and resources for any relationship a privilege.
I have been clear on that point thrice, and will not do so again. If you are incapable of grasping that distinction, fine. But stop misrepresenting my position as anything but what I just said above.
We here at polyskeptic.com feel like we all have gotten your point, and agree with it mostly. But like I said above, you definitely are not getting what I am saying based upon repeated misfires in demonstrating competence in addressing my actual points. I’m not saying that all people can achieve what we have achieved. I’m saying that it is achievable, and then I apply logic and examples to how it can be achieved.
Not everyone will be able to follow.
Comments are closed.