Intelligence is insufficient

Intelligence is a useful quality to have, but it is not enough if we seek things such as wisdom, fairness, or even simply being correct.

I know some pretty smart Christians.  I know some people who are smart and yet who still have some pretty dated and conservative views on the world.  There are pretty awesome people I meet who react to polyamory unfavourably,and not just as a personal preference.  They are able to think, they have impressive cognitive abilities, and yet while talking to them it’s sometimes obvious that they are missing something from their thought process. To the untrained eye, this may look like lack of understanding, but it may not be that simple.  5 or 10 years ago, when my eye was less trained, I would have argued with such people and tried to convince them of my position.  Their smart, I’d have thought, and so if I present a solid argument they’ll have to agree with this reasonable belief I have.  The problem, here, is two-fold.

First, this presumes I’m actually correct.  I may not be correct, and starting as if I am is no help to me nor my interlocutor.  If I might be wrong, then starting by trying to convince them of my position will not serve greater understanding or intellectual growth since it will either end in my convincing them of an untruth or of an endless argument where they are the one with the hopefully keener eye to see what we are missing.  On top of this, there is a cognitive block that occurs when you argue from a position of “I’m already right,” because it prevents listening.  While you argue your points, in such cases, it is harder to see the others’ points being made because our minds will protect our current worldview against dissonant ideas.  And really smart people are really good at this worldview-protection, because they can easily and quickly think up rationalizations for why an objection isn’t relevant or right.  But by doing this, we miss important facts and perspectives which may be of value to us if we could understand them.  You know, just like how you want your interlocutor to think and feel while making your points.  Funny how that works.

Therefore, we should start with as neutral a position as possible, and be willing to question every assumption, value, and belief we hold.  Also, we should talk to others as if we are willing to do so, because doing so not only looks more open-minded, but actually is part of becoming open-minded.

Second, it presumes that the difference in opinion is one of mere comprehension, when it very well may not be about comprehension at all.  The issue may be a difference in values.  A difference in values is much harder to shift, for many of the same reasons generated by dissonance theory referred to above, and most arguments I’ve heard boil down not to facts, but values.  And while I don’t believe that facts and values are fundamentally different ontologically, they are behaviourally different at very least.  That is, a fact is easily proved or disproved, but because a value is part of the process of thinking and behaving, it is harder to see for what it is and how easily it can lead us stray of rational behavior and beliefs.

I believe that a value can be more true than another value (in terms of how it lines up with what goals we share.  What goals we should share is another question).   A fact is an external reality or claim about said reality which can be checked with empirical and or logical methods.  It is demonstrably testable whether this element has those properties, this mathematical proof works, or that lead is denser than water.  A value is a fact which is part of the process you use to evaluate other kinds of facts, and thus is generally out of the line of sight for your intellectual powers. More fundamentally values are ideas, which makes them physical processes (ontological dualists can exit through the door, as I have no patience for that shit any more), which also means they are also subject to empirical and logical methods as well (although the exact technique to do such a thing is still quite difficult) and thus values can be measured against reality in a similar way as mere ‘facts.’  I’m willing to submit that values can, therefore, be better or worse than other values.  Honesty is better than deceit.  Compassion better than harm. And, maybe, the desire for truth is better than the desire for comfort.

Or is it?

Some people don’t care about the truth, in itself.  I mean, if you are talking about something as banal and mundane as ‘are you telling me the truth about this drink not being poisoned,’ then people usually care about that level of truth.  But what about the willingness to try and learn, grow, and change beyond what is comfortable? What about someone who does not really care what the truth may be, because their faith makes them feel safe and loved? Arguing with such a person about the existence of the supernatural is a wasted effort; they don’t care what’s true.  There are smart people who hold such positions, including people that I know and care about.  Utilizing intellectual means to try and convince such a person will probably be pointless and frustrating for both of you.  They value differently than you, and by applying such a method you are attacking the facts rather than their values.  You need to appeal to their values, and doing that by intellectual means is hella hard, and often pointless (but I don’t think it’s impossible).

Or, what about a person who has a moral worldview which you find abhorrent, flawed, or merely not moral? I know quite a few such people, and I do not address why I disagree with them most of the time, because our disagreement is not about facts, it’s about a specific kind of value; preferences.

Morality is not a reasoned activity fundamentally, even if we can use reason and science to improve it and clarify the problems raised by morality’s mantle.  Morality, especially where it is codified or systematized, is usually (if not always) ad hoc reasoning.  That is, we simply have deep preferences for which we build logical boxes for storage and for hitting our opponents over the head with.  Kant, for example, didn’t start from some idealized blank slate of a mind to reach his deontology, his universalization of maxims, rather he had certain preferences and quirks about his mind that made it feel right to do this and not right to do that, and created (brilliantly, mind you) a logical scaffolding to make sense of these brute facts of his mind into a systematized universal standard.  I happen to share much of those preferences that Kant seems to have had, so I tend to agree with Kant when it comes to ethics (although I thought he was wrong about many other things, like aesthetics).  Where I think Kant erred, in terms of his ethical thinking, was believing that his exercise was a truly intellectual one, rather than one of rationalizing values.  The same is true for Bentham and Mill with their versions of utilitarianism, and perhaps even Aristotle with his Nichomachean Ethics (which everyone who is interested in ethics should read, in my opinion).

So, having intellectualized and semantic arguments about ethics is usually completely pointless (not always, mind you).  When this type of conversation happens, what we tend to observe is a proxy war for our preferences.  The question is not whether my scaffolding is more rationally stable than your scaffolding (I actually really don’t like that game), but whether my preferences themselves actually have better effects on people and in the right ways, and whether (therefore) I might try to shift my values.  All too often, we see something like a person whose preferences are more self/freedom oriented arguing with a person who finds consideration and efficiency more valuable, but they don’t address the values themselves.  Instead, it turns into a conversation about what “rights” mean or some other epiphenomenal factor, which is less helpful to everyone and merely seeks to put on display rhetorical skills.  It’s like lovers trying to hammer out an intellectual solution to feeling unloved; it’s bound to not really help, in the long run, because what the hurt lover wants to just to be loved (it’s a mistake I’m prone to making).

Intelligence is a great tool but without perspective it can often be a blunt tool instead of a sharp one.  Perspective requires the spirit of not only a skeptic, but an archaeologist of the soul (‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ used metaphorically there, of course.  And yes, that’s yet another set of references to Nietzsche).  It’s one thing to use rhetoric, logic, and eloquence to find the flaws in the argument of your opponent, but it is quite another to have the courage to take a hammer to your very psychological and emotional bones.  And when a person can utilize whatever level of intelligence they have and work for the character of self-criticism, then a person begins to approach wisdom.  Because while we don’t choose our level of intelligence, we have some control (assuming free will is meaningful) over how we use it.  The how of our intelligence is more important than its raw power.

Our insecurities will compel us to show off our intelligence.  We want respect, love, and friends. And we can get those things if we are (perceived as ) smart.  That world is all vanity, the neighbour to fear.  Fear is the mind killer, right?  And fear has a tendency to create the illusion of confidence or even to actually create arrogance, where practicing intellectual patience instead might be wiser.  Because even if we are right, we still might have something else to learn if we are not so ready to be right that we only swing our intelligence outward while not watching for the parry and counterstrike.  Also, it does not help to make people like us very much.  You may not care about that.  I care about that, at least a little.  Just don’t make the mistake of allowing your insecurity and fear make you act in such a way that you tell yourself, after the fact, that you didn’t want people to like you when you really did want them to like you.  Because that’s a thing that happens.  Again, it’s called cognitive dissonance, so read about it.

What’s your poly personality?

The poly community has sects just like any other community. (Go ahead and enjoy the aural pun, I’ll wait.) If you hang out in a poly discussion group, you’ll see words like “polyfidelity,” “polyfuckery,” “closed triad,” “relationship anarchy” pop up, and alongside them you will often see hackles rise. We’re a pretty liberal, tolerant bunch, so most of the time cries of “Everybody needs to do what works for them! Let’s all just accept each other’s differences!” will shut down an argument before it gets rolling, but underneath it the differences are still bubbling. Those of us who call ourselves poly do poly really differently, and there can be a lot of tension around your way vs. my way, and whether I think my way is superior, or whether I think you think your way is superior, or whether I’m unintentionally erasing your way altogether because I have a hard time conceiving that anyone could construct their life like that.

Personality typing systems, especially Myers-Briggs (but I’m a fan of several others too!), have been really important to me in how I relate to others. While I don’t view them as hard and fast categories, and some people have a hard time fitting themselves into a particular model, they’re incredibly useful ways of identifying trends of difference between people, in a way that doesn’t position one way as superior to another. They give us a way of talking about our different personalities, preferences, and approaches to life that is easily intelligible and judgement-neutral.

I wasn’t aware of it until today, but the writers over at polytripod (who were featured, along with us, in the Our America documentary!) came up with a similar schema for poly personality differences. I think it’s really great. Because there are many more variables, it doesn’t lend itself to easy acronyms the way Myers-Briggs does (I’m told people who didn’t grow up on Myers-Briggs don’t find those acronyms so easy either), but it is at the very least a terrific jumping-off place for discussions about what style of poly a person prefers, and why. A lot of the axes point to things that I hadn’t consciously noted as big, stable differences between people, but which I immediately recognized as being important and relevant.

I kind of like that the system, as it stands, doesn’t lend itself to a simple identifier the way you can say, “I’m an INFP.” It more requires you to go down the list, check the box that applies to you, and then compare lists and discuss. Requiring a more deliberate discussion rather than a simple verbal tag… that’s so poly it’s gross. (I kid, I kid. If I wasn’t into obsessive discussion and overanalysis I probably wouldn’t be poly.)

Scanning down the list, here’s where I line up (and some thoughts on the category in general):

“Speed” axis: How quickly do you form connections/relationships in general?
 Fluid- more rapid in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.
 Growth- deliberate in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.
 Static- slow moving in forming emotional and/or sexual connections.

I find it really interesting, and cool, that “growth” and “static” are two different categories rather than just sorting speed into fast and slow. It makes a lot of sense to me. I’m slow to connect (in most cases) but I’m also not inclined to pick out someone and deliberately work to build a relationship. I prefer to be guided by my feelings in the moment, rather than a deliberate decision that I want to pursue a relationship with a particular person. But I’ve talked to others who felt differently.

“Structure” axis: How would you describe your ideal poly relationship structure?
 Open- People come and go at will forming “polycules” which consist of individual dyadic relationships.
 Network- People often connect socially with metamours. Some sort of “get to know you” is usually requested or offered early on in becoming part of the extended group.
 Closed- Approval of existing members needed before new member is allowed to join.

I’m very comfortable in this “connections with metamours are encouraged and pursued, but not required” spot.

“Attitude” axis: What level of entanglement is desired with partners and/or metamours?
 Independent- Prefers to do their own thing with their own partner .
 Community- Enjoys being part of socially connected groups some of the time.
 Family- Actively prioritizes shared time and/or space with partners and metamours.

Ditto. If one were trying to simplify this system, I could see folding this and the Structure axis together, but as discussed, I don’t feel simplification is necessary.

“Intimacy Style” axis: How is romantic closeness with others achieved? More than one may apply.
 Sexual – Connects with others via sharing physical intimacy.
 Emotional – Connects with others via sharing feelings.
 Activities and Shared Experience- Connects with others via sharing experience and spending time together.

Definitely important that more than one can apply.

Prioritization Axis:
 Hierarchical- priority is given to preservation of existing primary relationship/s.
 Weighted- some relationships are prioritized over others, but open to changes, adding an additional primary, etc.
 Egalitarian-committed to not prioritizing some relationships over others.

Here’s another one where I’m thankful to have a middle ground. In truth, my relationship with Shaun is de facto primary to me, and I do prioritize it over others, but it’s not hard-and-fast.

Relationship Saturation Axis: What would your ideal relationship concentration look like?
 Full-boat- completely satisfied with current relationship(s). Prefer relationships to dating.
 Open to opportunities to connect-neither closed off to forming new relationships, nor actively looking, but being closed to possibilities would feel restrictive.
 Actively seeking new partner(s)? Looking for new connections regardless of current partner status. Consistently open to dating and exploration.

This is one that I hadn’t fully conceptualized, but I think is really useful. These questions often get framed as, “How many partners is enough to you?” but to me it makes much more sense to look at it as a dispositional thing. Some people just really enjoy the dynamics of new connections and pursuit, and it’s not necessarily about how many people they’re already dating. It’s also important to note that this category is about an ideal situation, not one’s current situation. I think it’s hard for people whose ideal life involves a continual stream of new partners, and people whose ideal life includes a stable set of partners without new relationships, to understand each other, and this should be helpful.

Nature or Nurture Axis:
 Born Poly- Came out of the womb hardwired for multiple relationships. Being monogamous would feel unnatural.
 Poly by Choice- Poly makes sense, and is a desired style of relationship for a myriad of reasons. Unlikely to get into a monogamous relationship.
 Mono or Poly- Happy being open to either poly or mono, depending on circumstances in life, if current partner is open to poly, etcetera.

I’d be inclined to frame this not as Nature or Nurture, but just as “how flexible are you in your poly orientation?” But that’s because phrases like “born this way” and “hardwired” make me twitchy.

Flow of Information Axis:
 Confidential- No desire to hear about other partners/activities with and/or have information about the relationship they are involved in shared with metamours, unless explicitly approved in advance.
 Pertinent- Don’t need to have all the details, but want to have personally relevant information shared.
 Transparency- Desire the free flow of information about all relationships partners are involved in, and are comfortable with partner sharing that with metamours.

HUGELY important and something that should be discussed in every new poly relationship.

Formality Axis:
 Detailed- extensive agreements/contracts covering every eventuality.
 General- conscious agreements about a few major subjects.
 Short-term- temporary agreements only.

I feel like this category could be tweaked a little more, or maybe a second rule-related category be added, but it’s definitely a key part of poly style.

Thinking about my partners and metamours, I can guess how they’d answer these questions similarly and differently to me. But it’s definitely a useful tool for discussions (and it’s making me itch to run a poly/open relationship workshop to use it!)

Thanks, Regina, for taking the time to develop this! I’d love to see it shared and used more in the online poly community.

The turbulant seas between Philotes and Eros

Because I am poly polyamorous, having friends of the gender I tend to be attracted to can often be an adventure of uncertainty and transitions.  Some of them I am attracted to, some I am not, and sometimes that attraction leads to something.  Many times it does not.  But when it does, the transition can be, well, it’s a lot of things.

With attractive friends, and acquaintances, who are not already polyamorous, the issue is less uncertain as one learns to curb the attraction because it is not appropriate, and usually not wanted.  Sure, I might flirt, playfully, but I do my best to leave it at that unless the cues are overwhelmingly in my favor.  But then, inevitably, some of those people want to be polyamorous (Who wouldn’t?)  or they were already but for whatever reason things didn’t click at first.  And if they demonstrate interest in me, the flirtation and the relationship in general takes on a different tone.  Interest is communicated, and hopefully requited.  Suddenly I find myself in a place between friendship and something else (assuming we accept the distinctions and roles of those mainstream relationship types, of course).

From a Relationship Anarchy point of view, this transition is less significant.  Yes, there will be actual differences in how people interact when they stop being merely ‘friends’ and playfully flirting to being sexually affectionate, but if we were to reject the model of relationships of our mainstream culture (in which one is either a friend or a lover but not both) then that difference is less meaningful and often less distinct.  And while I have some affinities with Relationship Anarchy, the distinction between these two relationship phases is significant and important to me.  This is mostly for reasons having to do with my level of comfort of physical affection with friends versus lovers (something I’m open to being less dichotomous about, as I grow).

I have few non-sexual friends with whom I’m comfortable being affectionate with beyond things like hugging and basic body contact.  This is because sexuality is extremely powerful and often overwhelming for me, mostly as an emotional and sensual experience.  Being affectionate with a person I don’t have some level of sexual relationship with (especially women, being that I am heterosexual) can lead to spikes in desires which are inappropriate with some people.  There are quite a few women in my life with whom I have no sexual relationship, but am still attracted to, and so I minimize my physical contact with them because physical intimacy can sometimes lead to spikes in sexual desire which are uncomfortable for me to have when I don’t perceive them as reciprocated or wanted by those women.  Respecting other people’s boundaries is especially important to me, and the vast majority of times I will not initiate flirty touching without making sure it’s wanted.

Of course, one of the exceptions to that rule was the night I met Ginny.  And now we’re married.  I don’t know what to learn from that, exactly.  I do know that the lesson is not to just touch whomever I want in the hopes they like it, because boundaries.  Also, non-verbal cues are not always sufficient, because sometimes we mis-read them.  Nonetheless, I have chanced it a few times, and it worked out fantastically once.  I don’t plan on chancing it again, because some people really don’t want that and I don’t want to be that guy.

So when I find myself in a situation where I’ve communicated my interest, that interest has been requited, I find myself in a limbo between knowing those desires are appropriate, wanting to act on them, and still being somewhat nervous to touch those people affectionately, let alone sexually, it is tough for me.  And as the idea of future potential affection and sexual contact hovers over me, the beginnings of New Relationship Energy start to form (let’s call that pre-NRE).  And despite the fact that it is potentially premature to have those feelings, they happen (and sometimes they remain in that pre-NRE stage, which is also fine).  And for a borderline like me, those feelings are often overwhelming and cause days of anticipatory anxiety and anticipation.  I both love it and hate it.  I love it when it genuinely does become NRE (which I define as a multi-way magnification of emotions and desires between 2 or more people, and not personal infatuation towards another), and I fear that what I desire might not materialize at all.  If what I desire does materialize, but never reaches genuine NRE, that’s actually fine.

This experience of pre-NRE (As well as NRE itself)  has another side effect, which I don’t think my current partners mind so much (and I might be wrong here, but I’m sure they will let me know…).  It gives my sex drive a huge boost.  For me, new sexual (requited) attraction has the effect of making me want sex with my current partners even more.  The spill-over effect of being sexually charged is not limited to the source of that desire, at least not completely.  In my experience, my desire for one person can only be fully quenched by them,* but that desire amplifies the already existing desire I have for other people.

Of course that level of excitement doesn’t happen always, but it does happen enough to be a thing worth thinking and talking about.  Those pre-NRE feelings don’t always become overwhelming in the beginning of meeting and conveying interest.  Sometimes, in other cases, the feelings grow slowly.  There are some people I grew to love and desire (more), when in the beginning the attraction existed but was not overwhelming, nor did an emotional attraction exist at first.  Sometimes, in the beginning I just saw us as incompatible, but later changed my mind about that.  I never know what to do in those situations. Mostly, I remain friends with them and wait for what I think will be the right time to say anything.  Sometimes that right time never seems to happen.  Like I said the other day, I’m not always great at communicating my desires.  

Writing all that makes me wonder if any of those friends of mine might wonder if they are one of the people I might have feelings for I’m not expressing. Gah! Blogging is hard! I’m trying to get better at that.  It’s scary.  No, it’s down-right terrifying sometimes.  I have issues. 

So, the times when I am swimming between the shores of one way of interacting with a person to the other is always overwhelming, scary, and exciting for me.  There is the nervousness of whether it will actually happen, the conversations which cross the lines between friendly and potentially sexual flirtation, and the feeling of fuzziness in my head and flutters of butterflies in my stomach as I think about it.  But in any case, I’m surrounded by wonderful, beautiful, sexy people who I love in many different ways.  But don’t worry, I’m not secretly restraining overwhelming sexual desires for all of you out there.

Not all of you.

All this makes it really hard to concentrate on tasks.  That reminds me, I have to change out laundry and eat some lunch.

*and if it doesn’t happen, that sticks with me for a long time.  This situation, which never came to be, still sticks with me now and that was 3-and-a-half years ago! Granted, that was a huge exception to my usual level of sexual attraction

This is the B-Movie of “Scientific” Theories

A few people on my Facebook news have shared this “article” and I really want to thank them for it because WOW! It’s hysterical and I laughed and laughed.  The people who shared it, shared it with a great deal of anger and ranting.  But I say “bullocks!” to that because it’s way more fun to relentlessly make fun of it.

Is sarcastic mockery an example of positive thinking?  See, I know that it makes me happy to have opportunities like this, much like I experience glee when attending a high budget movie that’s bound to be terrible and fails to disappoint.  Last weekend, several of us went to see The Legend of Hercules in 3D and I doubled over in laughter for most of the film, mainly due to the excessive use of slow motion effects on mud splatter and how the movie would have only been slightly more ridiculous had there been a caption during “character and relationship development” scenes saying, “HEY.  YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO CARE ABOUT THESE PEOPLE. BETTER GET TO CARING, BITCHEZ!”  But alas, there was no informative caption.  Luckily for everyone sitting around me in the theater, I provided the necessary commentary.  Periodically I would say, “Wow, I am really invested in these characters.  FOR REAL.”  I think I gave a convincing performance.

What I’m saying is that one of my favorite pastimes is laughing at moronic garbage dressed up as Art or Cinema or, most of all, Science. So I’m pretty happy to have been directed to an article that says stuff like,

Dr. Masaru Emoto, a researcher and alternative healer from Japan has given the world a good deal of evidence of the magic of positive thinking. He became famous when his water molecule experiments featured in the 2004 film, What The Bleep Do We Know? His experiments demonstrate that human thoughts and intentions can alter physical reality, such as the molecular structure of water. Given that humans are comprised of at least 60% water, his discovery has far reaching implications… can anyone really afford to have negative thoughts or intentions?

And  has this really informative explanation of his “snowflake experiment”:

So, the article is about his “rice experiment”, wherein he labeled jars of cooked rice, each with either a “positive” sentiment like, “You are an awesome grain and I really enjoy making pudding out of you” or a “negative” sentiment like, “Hey, fuck you.  You’ve got nothing on barley.  BARLEY 4EVA, RICE NEVA”. He did this in a school or something and told the kids to say whatever sentiment was written on the jar to the jar every time they passed it by.  And then science happened and the rice inside the forsaken negative jar grew mold and the rice in the happy fun time jar remained unmarred.

Welp, that proves it I guess.  Seeing as this changes everything we think about the world, I think it’s time that we reexamine the concept of spontaneous generation. Sure, sure, Pasteur did a shit ton of work to teach everyone that hunks of beef did not, in fact, conjure flies because they were annoyed at being left to rot on a table.  Instead, he proved that hunks of beef probably already have bugs in them.  YUM!  Good thing humans have the use of fire and learned how to cook their bug infested beef, amirite? THANKS, PROMETHEUS!  Sorry about the whole liver thing though.  Does it help if I say you died for our flaming sins? No? That just makes it worse…Well…um…I think I left something in my car…


Anyway, so yeah, negative thoughts make rice go bad and I assume that flies appear because, to quote Shaun, you touch yourself at night.

The best part of this article is the lively “debate” happening in the comments.  One of the believers makes an inane statement about how beautiful snowflakes are.  Another person tries to make a big scientific sounding claim about how obviously we can control the formation of ice crystals with our minds because they have a very loose understanding of quantum mechanics! And all us skeptics are just a bunch of negative Neds who will be able to only produce ugly, toxic ANGER SNOW.  I mean, think about it: Your mind is a collection of electrical signals and shit, right?  Electricity is made of moving electrons and stuff.  Everything else in the world is made of that too!  So, ipso facto, e pluribus unum, pisca es a patina, because you’re conscious of your mind (’cause consciousness and minds are totes separate things), you can will the objects around you! Probably also the weather!  This rice stuff has revealed a great secret to life.

Maybe I should write a book about it.

Wait…Damn.  Someone already beat me to it. Fine.  How about I just commercialize Anger Snow.  I’m pretty sure it would be Gak or Floam.  Mental note: Email Nickelodeon.

Also, my head hurts now.  And I’ve survived three terms of physical chemistry and one term of quantum mechanics.  My head never hurt this much EVEN THEN. Shit, all the rice around me is rotting.  I’m being too much of an asshole about this…

Why is there all this rice here?

Must be Friday.



The value of attentiveness

As an introvert, I value time alone.  I get overwhelmed by too much social activity.  And yet, I love social activity often, especially with people I like and love.  I mention this as a disclaimer for what will follow, because I am aware that my values are derived from these facts.

Growing up, I attended a Quaker school.  Part of our routine, at a Quaker establishment of education, was meeting for worship; a silent time of reflection and potential personal communion with some god once a week.  As a person who is easily distracted, it was useful to be exposed to and forced to get used to being quiet and inactive for a little while.  It may be a post hoc rationalization, I know, but I have come to view the ability to do so as a sign of good character.   I believe this because I’m generally happier the less I am distracting myself.  I’m happier when I spend some time, each day, doing essentially nothing.  Not all day, mind you, or even for a long time.  Usually, taking 5-15 minutes now and then to just sit, not thinking about anything in particular and just relaxing without podcasts, TV, etc in the background is a means to allow my mind to calm and to unconsciously process perspective.

But more than those moments of quiet, I value attentiveness and the related skills of empathy and sympathy.  I value these things because they expose us to parts of our minds, behavior, strengths and weaknesses contains within us in ways that we are likely to be blind to when we distract ourselves constantly.  I know, I know…I’m starting to sound like that tropish old, grouchy man who complains that modern technology is destroying the world.  No, it’s not that, it’s something more universal than that.  That trope of the old grouchy Luddite is based on an ancient struggle for a balance between introspection and having to be active in order to survive being translated into concerns about technology.

I believe that there is a lot that happens in our brain that we are not aware of.  Consciousness, whatever it’s nature, is only a small part of what our brain is doing at any given time, and if you have ever gone away from thinking about a problem to have the solution seem to come out of nowhere later, then I think you know what I mean by saying that when we are (consciously) thinking, we are still thinking.  And while I don’t have any evidence on hand at the moment, I believe that when we distract ourselves constantly, we are unable to effectively introspect and process parts of ourselves which might be scary, unwanted, or apparently boring.  Further, by glossing over those things I think we miss much about ourselves we could learn from.

It is for this reason that I have a fair amount of respect for meditation, at least insofar as it is practiced in a secular manner (the way Sam Harris advocates).  It is also the reason why I have some affinity to the side of religion, as it has popped up through history, which tends towards the mystical or esoteric.  Whether it’s wisdom literature, philosophical introspection, etc I am able to see the importance of this aspect of religion’s role in history because I have a similar set of values and internal attributes as the various writers I have loved from religious and philosophical traditions.  For me, reading a good writer is like peeking inside someone else’s mind for a little while.  I’m less interested in their beliefs, conclusions, etc as I am in the process, tone, and emotional environment of their thinking.

There is something essential, in my opinion, about being able to merely be without effort, sometimes.  Other times, it is important to be silly, irreverent, ecstatic, and very busy, especially when their is shit to do.  Because I’m an introvert, I work most often on my skills at being social.  I work to overcome my fear of embarrassment, rejection, and (probably the worst of all) allowing my own emotional environment to awaken the parts of me I am trying to transcend (like defensiveness, when disagreeing with someone).  My weakest point (as many people know) is probably my poor ability to communicate my needs and desires well, especially in the face of other people who have little problem making their preferences known.  It’s, frankly, intimidating.  For those who are good at making preferences and desires known, this can be frustrating in terms of being around me (both because I have trouble communicating my desires and because I will sometimes resent your ability to do so easily).  Where others will ask (which often feels like a demand to me), I will rely on social context cues.  This, for me and others, is inefficient and frustrating.   It is, however, where my strengths lie, and is as a result of thinking that way most of my life t I am very good at reading those cues, where some people are not.

Those cues seem so obvious to me, but not to most people (Ginny will attest to that).  It’s why I’m working on communicating better, while also trying to show how and why the ability to read cues is an important skill as well.  That is because in the debate about whether it is better to communicate or to have a set of skills designed to make such communication generally unnecessary (some things will always be necessary to communicate overtly) is wrong-headed, in my view.  Yes, we should all communicate effectively, but we should also be learning how to be more self-aware, and that self-awareness is the result of the ability to pay more attention to what is happening around you. That can only be done if we are not distracting ourselves.  Because if people are better at being attentive and aware, those of us who are struggling to communicate well will be less stressed out about communicating, because we won’t have to as often.

But, as usual, such conflicts are the result of the social interactions of differing value sets.  Never attribute malice where simple laziness, inattentiveness, and misunderstanding are a better explanation. All too often disagreements are about values which are incompatible, like when people think they are arguing about the same thing, when they aren’t.

To use an partially relevant example which Wes used, earlier today:

I got into an argument on Facebook the other day about whether it’s rude to be using your smartphone while you’re out with someone socially. My policy is that social interactions should be entirely consensual, so if Person A longer wants to engage with Person B, they should stop engaging and do what they want (my friend Miri has a similar view).

Here’s the thing about this; I agree with him.  His argument is sound, he has every right to use his phone whenever he wants to and he has no obligation to interact with people around him.  But when I read this, my mind sort of winced, because from where I’m standing this approach is missing a larger question, one which trumps this question in some ways.  Now, granted Wes is answering a specific question; whether it is acceptable to use your smartphone in a social situation, where doing so might offend people.  Another disclaimer, I will grant that I have a visceral feeling of guilt when using my phone too much in social situations, which I admit is not an argument for not doing so, but it is the reason that I don’t tend to do it unless I have some significant business to attend to with people who are elsewhere.

But the other reason I don’t find this question particularly interesting or compelling is because I would have addressed another issue before I even got to that question.   Insofar as I might disagree with Wes’s conclusion has nothing to do with consent or obligation in social situations.   For me, the consent issue here is secondary to the larger issue–the larger meta-value–of whether I should be distracting myself in such a way at all generally, whether in a social situation or not.  I agree that I don’t morally owe people my attention (in most cases), so I can choose to, without morally infringing on anyone by using my phone while around them.  They may not like me for doing so, but maybe I’m OK with that.  But because I value being attentive, I won’t use my phone in such situations because the attention I invest has the long term consequence of allowing me to be more sensitive,  and fosters self-awareness which I value quite highly.  Here, the moral question is not whether I’m bothering the other people right now, but it is a strategy I employ to be a better person generally in the long run, by being generally more attentive.

Wes might argue, as I have heard him say, that he’s not interested in the social activity physically around him, so he’s opting for the social activity through technology.  And yes, that is a fine argument to make.  And in some cases I will do the same.  But what I keep struggling with is the problem of missing on the beautiful subtleties of things around me.  For me to be open to the things which bring me real joy, fulfillment, and teach me not only about the world, but also myself, I need to often be willing to be attentive fully to my thoughts, feelings, the room I’m in, and the thoughts and feelings of others around me.  And all too often, people (myself included) are merely distracting themselves with their smartphone, rather than using it as an alternate means to being attentive to the world.

S, while I will conclude, at least tentatively, that is is sometimes fine to be on your smartphone in social situations, especially where it fosters relationships with people who are elsewhere.  But the question I keep wondering is whether people who are almost always on the smartphones (computers, TVs, etc) in social situations or not are doing so to foster and maintain actual relationships, or is it a habitual means to perpetually distract oneself? Insofar as technology is a means to establish and maintain community and relationships, I think it’s great.  Where it doesn’t do that, I would prefer to minimize it’s presence in my own life (I’m not so good at that sometimes).  Also, I recognize that there are legitimate times when distracting oneself is a helpful strategy, especially when it comes to things like clinical depression or other mental health concerns.  There are certainly times when I need to distract myself to prevent the spiral of insecurity, fear, and anger which is a perpetual concern, but I can’t allow this to be an excuse to always distract myself.  My concern is the apparent inability to put the phone away, turn the TV off, stop playing the game, etc for a little while and just stop.  The inability to be bored, patient, and not entertained is a good skill, and I believe it helps us be more compassionate, empathetic, and (in the long run) moral people.

If I were more attentive to the world around me, rather than allow myself the easy distractions, I would be generally happier, I think.  And I suspect that people generally following that advice would lead to better things as well.  I would also write more, which is also good for me, psychologically and emotionally, since I would be thinking more.  There are aspects of myself that I really love, and they too often get buried by the miasma of distraction.  That me is attentive, affectionate, and more social.  I want my family, friends, and lovers to keep encouraging me to be that person more, and I encourage others to consider doing the same.

Relationship Anarchy and a Culture of Consent

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.

Over the past few months, I’ve become much more comfortable identifying as a relationship anarchist. For those who missed my last post on the topic, relationship anarchy is a relationship style that abandons the concepts of having rules or obligations. Basically, my relationship philosophy is that everyone should do whatever they want as much of the time as possible.

When I tell this to people, the most common response is something along the lines of “that sounds awful!” Not necessarily that it *is* awful, but just the phrasing tends to jar people. The idea that people should do whatever they want seems completely foreign and borderline abhorrent to a very large number of people.

I got into an argument on Facebook the other day about whether it’s rude to be using your smartphone while you’re out with someone socially. My policy is that social interactions should be entirely consensual, so if Person A longer wants to engage with Person B, they should stop engaging and do what they want (my friend Miri has a similar view). This is apparently a hugely controversial position. People seemed to view a social invitation as a form of contract, whereby if Person A agrees to spend time with Person B socially, they’ve promised to pay attention to Person B for the duration of the event. If Person A stops being interested in paying attention to Person B, then (the argument goes) Person A should suggest a conversation topic or activity that will allow them to continue paying attention to Person B. The other seemingly acceptable solution was for Person A to tell Person B that they are no longer interested in the conversation, giving Person B an opportunity to suggest a more interesting conversation topic or activity.

The problem with both of those solutions is that it creates an obligation on the part of Person A to continue paying attention to Person B, even though Person A doesn’t want to do so. These solutions only make sense if the goal is to continue the social interaction. People were completely opposed to the idea that simply ending the social interaction (without additional steps), either temporarily or completely, was an acceptable option.

One of the reasons why people are so threatened by the idea of other people doing what they want is that we don’t live in a culture of consent:

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

Consent culture is meant as a rejection of rape culture, but it covers so much more than rape prevention. Cliff Pervocracy advocates:

I don’t want to limit it to sex. A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well. Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to. Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then. Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine. (As someone with weird food aversions, I have a special hatred for “just taste a little!”) Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

This is the part that tends to give people the most trouble. Boundary-pushing is shockingly acceptable in our culture, as are “etiquette rules,” (cell phone use being just one example) that encourage people to do things that they don’t want to do for the sake of meeting other people’s expectations.

Relationship anarchy, at least in theory, does away with all of that. When there are no rules or preexisting structures, and everyone is encouraged to do what they want, then nobody is pressured into doing anything. RA is, of course, not a panacea. Communicating desires and/or expectations (hugely important things to do!) can still often be interpreted as the application of social pressure to meet such desires or expectations,* so even people who claim to have no rules should take special care that they aren’t created de facto relationship rules, and that all parties understand that there’s a difference between communicating a desire and insisting (or even asking) a partner to meet that desire.

The poly community likes to endlessly debate about the appropriateness of partners having rules and making agreements. My view is that having any sort of control over one another’s choices is contrary to the goal of building a culture of consent (important: that doesn’t mean that there’s no good reason to do it). In a culture of consent, people would be encourage to do whatever they want in relationships. That doesn’t mean that there would be no consequences for their behavior, but it does mean that situations would not be intentionally constructed to discourage people from doing what they want.

As I seemingly repeat ad nauseum, rules and agreements only matter if one or both parties wants to break them. If nobody ever wants to break the agreement, the agreement is not necessary. By making the agreement, you’re planning for what happens in the event that at least one partner wants to break the agreement,** and you’re deciding that, in that case, that partner should stick to what you’ve agreed. In the culture I wish we had, such things would be viewed with great suspicion, if not outright hostility.

The scary part about consent culture is the same thing as the scary part about atheism. Namely – if there are no rules and nobody is pressuring people to behave a certain way, people will do awful things! Atheists generally have no trouble shrugging off this criticism, most often pointing out that they have no desire to do awful things, and if fear of god is the only thing preventing people from committing atrocities, then we are truly in trouble. I would make the same argument with respect to relationships. If people are permitted to do whatever they want, free from pressure or coercion, what would truly be different? If you’re in a relationship, consider this question: what is it that your partner wants to do that would be so awful if they did it? For those who are not, do you really want to be in a relationship with a person who would mistreat you if not for the social pressure put on them? I certainly don’t.

In a culture truly based on consent, wouldn’t all relationships be anarchic?***

*Franklin Veaux has some very good examples regarding the difference between communicating expectations/desires and making rules.

** Seemingly, some people make the puzzling decision to use agreements and rules as a way of communicating mutual expectations/desires. I advocate against doing so, as I think it’s important to maintain a distinction between the two ideas. However, if your rules are simply meant as a way to communicate, and not to actually encourage/pressure anyone to do (or refrain from doing) anything, this paragraph does not apply to your rules.

*** Other than those explicitly and consensually based on BDSM or other forms of control which, if done ethically, are completely at-will and can be changed at any time with no penalty.

How Sherlock surprised me in season 3

I’ve just finished watching Sherlock season 3… yay for another lengthy wait before the next season. For those who haven’t watched it yet, I won’t be spoiling any major events or revelations, but I will be discussing character dynamics quite a bit. Read at your own risk.

Ever since I heard they’d cast Mary Morstan, I was anxious about how they’d handle a serious love interest for John. All Sherlock stories rest on the love between Holmes and Watson to some extent, but the current BBC series it is the overt and unquestionable core of the show. The clever deductions, the rise and fall of public opinion, the tension between Sherlock’s narcissism (I contend that he is much more a narcissist than a sociopath) and his chosen life of fighting evil… all of these are secondary thematic players to the mutual love and mutual need between John and Sherlock. (I have no stake in the shipping vs. non-shipping game. I don’t care if you want to interpret their love as homoerotic, homoromantic, or just platonic devotion, and everything I’m going to write here works just fine however you like to spin it.)

Because the John/Sherlock relationship is so much more essential to this adaptation than to many others, the presence of a Mary Morstan was much more dangerous to it. I was honestly surprised they included her character… if you’re writing a love story about two characters, why bring a third in? Nobody in the audience would take her seriously as a rival for John’s affections, nor would they tolerate her if she was. I was prepared for, at best, a passive background figure who we’d only see in the corners of John’s life with Sherlock, and at worst, a source of irritating tension who everybody couldn’t wait to get rid of. A Mary who fought Sherlock for her place in John’s life, who complained about his being out late and fretted about the danger he put himself in, would have been a disaster. All of those concerns would be completely justified, but because they interfere with the relationship that we, the audience, really care about, that kind of Mary Morstan could only have been unlikeable.

Instead, the writers did what I didn’t expect: they gave us the nearest thing to a poly relationship I’ve seen on mainstream TV. Within hours of Sherlock’s return, John, Sherlock, and Mary have slid into what is essentially a quite functional polyamorous V. It’s Mary who sets the tone: she gets what Sherlock means to John. It’s clear from her reaction when she realizes who Sherlock is that she’s seen all of John’s grief and all of his love for his dead friend. It would be understandable if she’d become threatened and territorial, but instead she sees an opportunity for the man she loves to be happy, and she goes for it. She positions herself very clearly as an ally to their relationship.

And it’s her doing this that allows Sherlock to do the same. He’s not mature enough to make the same move on his own, and if Mary had positioned herself as a rival in a zero-sum game for John’s affection, he would have fallen to her level. Instead, he rises, and puts as much work into supporting her relationship with John as she does into supporting his. For me, it was an almost unbelievable level of character development, but I’m willing to buy that the Moriarty affair was humbling enough to effect a bit of genuine growth (his behavior toward Mycroft and others in this season bears that out as well.)

For a really good metamour relationship, both people have to truly value the good things the other brings to their mutual love’s life. They have to be willing to step aside at times to let the other relationship flourish, and to advocate for the health of the other relationship whenever necessary. It helps if they like each other, too, as Sherlock and Mary clearly do. So many little dynamics were familiar to me, like the back-channel communication for and about the mutual partner.

Again, you don’t have to put a sexual or romantic interpretation to John/Sherlock for this to work: plenty of stories involve bitter rivalry and jealousy between a best friend and a lover. In today’s culture, it is just assumed that only one person can be The Most Important, and that everyone close to a central character must be vying for the position. I can count on my fingers the number of movies or TV shows where the characters are allowed to rise above that, to go beyond open competition and even beyond silent insecurity, and to actively support the important relationships of those close to them. To act from the position of, “This person makes the person I love happy, and therefore, I want them in our lives as much as possible.” Sherlock, John, and Mary are all deeply damaged people, but they get this one thing stunningly, incredibly right.

Some Stupid Stuff that has Happened to Me in the Last Few Months

“Oh, well, I’m just waiting for my opportunity to spritz Gina with this hose!” he quipped.

I raised an eyebrow, looked straight at him, and then continued what I was doing.

“Gina? You’re really dour.”

“Dour…” I said. My eyebrow had not descended from its skeptical position.


“I’m dour?”


“I’m not 85, if that’s what you’re saying. Also, get the hell out of my lab, thanks.”

“You don’t have to be old to be dour.”

I walked away, smirking to myself because I, like, read blogs and live life as a woman in America, and of course my inability to find this dude funny labels me as a dour woman.

I suppose this guy has been building the Dour Case for a while now. He’s been working here for a few months and has consistently given me a reason to not want to talk to him or find him funny.
Things this dude has said to me:

– Oh, you’ve only be married for 2 years? Have you got him trained yet?
– 2 years, huh? He’s probably still crawling at your feet, heh heh. That’ll change.
– “I think that the world has only gotten better for women. Not men. What do you think, Gina?” “It’s about damn time?” “What??? What would your husband say to that?” “He’d agree.” “Oh man, you DO have him trained.”
– You can cook? Oh, your husband is a lucky man.

This doesn’t even include the time he saw my shelf of knick knacks in my cubical and, upon seeing the geisha doll that was given to me by a supplier, asked me, “What, are you some kind of closet Chinese person?” I don’t really know what that means and decided against saying something like, “No, but I’m totes a communist.” That would have riled him up, for sure!

But yeah, I’m pretty dour. I’m so fucking serious all the time! Why can’t I just accept that this jackass is trying to build a rapport with me based on sexist assumptions and mindless joshing?!?

Several years ago, we all had to go to a sensitivity seminar. The HR person talked a bit about not hitting on coworkers and such, but the video we had to watch was pretty much all about not making fun or making assumptions about Asians. It was the weirdest thing ever. Apparently everyone in the video office kept asking this Asian man what he thought of the new kung fu moving that came out and he was PISSED. Given what I learned at the seminar, I totally could have reported the dude for getting on my case for being a closet Chinese person. MISSED OPPORTUNITY.

Anyway, a day before this guy made the “the world is getting better only for women comment”, I had a ridiculous phone call with a different coworker that left me so revolted and feeling oddly violated that I wrote him a direct email about how we don’t have a familiar relationship and that if he can’t speak to me professionally, then he shouldn’t speak to me. It was one of the best emails I’ve ever written and it cited everything he said. I copied HR.

I got called into HR the next day to go over the events that I very clearly and concisely outlined in my email. Before getting into the nitty gritty, I was reprimanded for writing to him directly because it was too aggressive and confrontational. I said that I understood what she was saying, but that I meant to be assertive and confrontational because I’ve been putting up with this garbage for almost 10 years here. “Yeah, but you shouldn’t.” Um…sure. I will never do it again?

After the meeting I came back wanting to hurt people and was informed about how the world is getting better for women and not men. I nearly turned to violence but cursed instead.
A week later I had a follow up meeting with the HR person about the other employee’s side of the story. He claimed he hadn’t said any of the things that I said he did (even though I wrote the email 5 minutes after our conversation). Why would I make up statements like this:
– Man, you have a nice, pretty voice. Nothing like the mean, mean person you were to me before.
– Ah, you must have your husband trained…or chained up in the basement. Har har har.

And some other stuff.

What is it with dudes thinking that women have their men trained? Why is this an ever present trope? In explaining to the HR person why I find this nauseating, I cited that Wes and I have a pretty egalitarian relationship.

“What? I’m sorry…what does egalitarian mean?”


“Oh, well good for you. I don’t believe that relationships can be equal, but great.

So, um, yeah, that’s just a smattering of why I haven’t been writing much lately. There’s a lot going on. But I thought I would dip my toe back in with a semi-coherent piece about being a woman with a boy career.

And today I get called dour for finding some dude unimpressive in his choice of humor. Sure. The thing is that now that I have reported something, I know that it is worth it to report things? So…watch the fuck out. 33 year old Gina is a little more bad ass than 23 year old Gina.

Like, a lot more.


This blog has been quiet for a while.  The podcast has also been quiet.  There have been reasons for this, most of which don’t need to be spelled out here.  Some explanation, however, is relevant to readers, assuming you have not forgotten about us.

Back in 2012, Ginny and I got married.  Our living situation was not ideal, our financial situation not great, but our relationships with a few people was such that we were given the opportunity to share space, as well as a blog, with some people that were integral to our lives.  So we packed up and moved to Collingswood, NJ.

I was optimistic, at the time.  We knew there were risks in melding lives in this way, and we all knew it could not work out.  But like all relationships, you sometimes have to gamble for the sake of it working out.  I’ve gambled in such ways in the past and not had it work out, but my view on life is perpetual self-improvement and not giving up, because I don’t want to resign myself to cynicism.  I want to make things work, when possible, and I hate giving up because things get hard.

But that isn’t enough.  Everyone in a relationship has to have the same interest in working through problems for a relationship to have a chance at working.  And even if everyone does want it to work, sometimes there are too many differences for it to succeed.  So, despite my initial optimism and our attempts to meld a new home, this gamble will not work out.  At least for now. isn’t going anywhere, however.  PolyskeptiCast has been hanging silently for a while and I hope it returns, but I am unsure about its future.  For now, some transitions are upcoming.

To start, I will be wearing glasses from now on.  I just got a new prescription, and two new pairs, that I will be receiving within a week.  Ginny and I will be moving out of the PolySkeptic compound in coming months, and moving back to Philadelphia.  I will admit, I am looking forward to being back in the city, but I hate giving up on all of this.  It feels like resigning.  It feels like running away.  It feels like losing family.  But it’s quite clear that moving forward as things are is impossible, and my feelings of resigning and giving up are not shared, so move on we must.

The details are not necessary to you all.  I will say that most of my silence on the blog has been due to the fact that the subjects I wanted to write about being too close to home.  I don’t mind writing about my own shortcomings and struggles for growth, but when the issues I have extend beyond my own issues, and are not about our culture in general, my moral compass gains my attention and I tend to remain quiet.  In coming months, that may change, as I try and sort through and articulate what I can learn from all of this, but for now I am reticent because I’m too stuck in the middle of everything to be even remotely unbiased.

I will also say that Gina and I will be staying together, hopefully indefinitely.  I love her very much, we both enjoy each other thoroughly, and we intend to work through the difficulties to come to maintain committed to each other.  It will be difficult, in term of maintaining our relationship, to not share space in the way we have over the last year plus, but I realize that it is necessary.  We have not seen her voice here recently on the blog, for her own reasons, but I hope to continue to read her hilarious and insightful posts here in the future and long down the road.

If Wes wishes to keep writing (and I hope he will), then he will.  His perspective on the world is very different from mine, and I don’t wish this space to be an echo-chamber for my views on the world, and so I hope to see more of his posts start to appear in the future.  Also, if Jessie, who has been invited to write but has not so far done so, desires to add her voice to the blog then I will look forward to read what she has to say.  And perhaps as time moves on I will add new writers (as I have in the past, which didn’t work out).  That is to be seen.

To sum up, our living arrangements and intimacy will change (as Wes might say, it’s not an ending, it’s a change in our relationship as a group), but I intend to keep moving forward with the blog, hopefully improved with some time.  There are tensions here, and plenty of responsibility to be shared for those tensions, but I hope that in time those tensions will be resolved with new circumstances.

That’s the thing about family.  Sometimes you love them, sometimes you hate them, and sometimes you really cannot live with them.  But even when you hate them and can’t live with them, you love them.  I don’t know what the future will hold for us all, but I hope that it gets better, and in the long run this will look like a mere stain on an otherwise really comfortable sweater.  Because the winters of life are cold and often dark, and the people around us keep us warm, even if they might be imperfect.