Polyamory and being Honesty-Oriented

Yesterday, Alex wrote a post about polyamory and orientation.  The issue here is whether we can think about polyamory as an orientation, sort of like how we think of homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality as orientations.  I wanted to add my thoughts of the topic today.

Alex brought up the issue of distinguishing between who we are and what we do.  My understanding of this distinction is that “who we are” deals with our set of non-chosen  desires, inclinations, and preferences.  We do not choose who we are attracted to, although it is rather common for people to hide certain types of attractions due to social, often religious, pressures.

We can choose what to do about these desires.*  We can be attracted to someone, and not act on it.  We can not be attracted to someone, and act as if we were.  We can choose to live a life of homosexuality even if we were not attracted to the same gender.  We can choose to live a heterosexual life even if we actually desire same-gender relationships.  The question is why would anyone do so? Why would we act contrary to our deep desires, and so often do this when it comes to our sexuality?

Some value, in such cases, would have to supersede that of requiting desires.  It might be some religious rule, a sense of shame due to a social bias against our non-chosen preferences, etc.  For a person to reject, suppress, or ignore–to put oneself in the closet!–their true inclinations, strong social or psychological motivations must be present.


The Privilege of Normal

The privilege of being heterosexual, cis, and monogamous allow such people to navigate the dating world with little to no interference.  Such people might get annoyed by old-fashioned ideas about marriage, sex, etc, but most of our culture has accepted that a boy and a girl will get to sexin’ when they want to., and think it healthy when they pair off and move towards exclusivity and possibly consider marriage and family.

So, when people start to feel desires which don’t fit that mold they start to experience some cognitive dissonance.  The normal worldview is held to be the moral ideal and is defended by family, media (especially most romantic comedies and in many children’s love stories), and often by our partners who are often living in the same cultural expectations.  And so we make sacrifices, because that is what we are supposed to do.

Because that is the way relationships are supposed to work.

And of course what is normal has shifted.  Homosexual relationships have, for many of us educated and especially liberal folk, become part of the normal narrative.  So, the people on top of the cake might be two men or two women, but there are still two of them and there is no ambiguity about whether they are actually men or women.  Like I said; normal.

Even still, LGBT activists and allies still have work to do to help our society improve when it comes to how non-heterosexual people find their way to be who they are.  The LGBT community knows one set of directions this story goes.  So often, a gay or lesbian people (and let’s not forget the bisexuals out there–I have a feeling they are more numerous than most people think)  get involved in relationships, get married, etc to find themselves unhappy.  The dream they were promised never came to fruition.  Too many stories exist of people finally coming to grips with their sexuality in their 40’s, 50′. or later.

Too many stories of people living in the closet for too long for no good reason.

And in the last 10 years the atheist community has adopted the language to talk about people who have hidden their lack of belief in whatever their local mythology is.  And more people are coming out as atheists now than ever before.  It is a good sign for the future of atheism, towards the goal of making being an atheist no issue at all.

So, what about polyamory? Yes, there is some effort to get people to come out of the closet, but this is about getting people who are already living polyamorously to let people around them know; to take the social risk to be out about it.  I support this, but what I’m addressing here is a different issue, and one which many polyamorous people will certainly disagree with me about.

I think that most people are closeted potential polyamorous people.


The Poly Closet

I think that polyamory is the rational “lovestyle” for many people, possibly most people, because many people are attracted to, interested in, etc more than one person.  And most people could, if they chose to do the work, maintain a relationship with people in more than the restrictive ways than what mono-normativity allows.

As I said in my comment yesterday:

…yes! I am attracted to, and capable of loving more than one person. So of course I am polyamorously oriented. So are most people. I’m just aware of it and honest about it. Most of the rest of our culture has managed to run away and hide from this reality, and have created an artificially restrictive model for ideal relationships. I simply discovered the absurdity of that model and ditched it. Others have failed to do so, thus far.

I think this is a good start, but I think I want to tweak this a little.  Because we are distinguishing between our innate desires and our choices, I will continue that distinction below.

Being oriented towards being non-monogamous is not always going to lead to actively seeking out poly relationships.  Polyamorous relationships are hard (as are all relationships), and the choice to be honest with what we want and pursue those desires responsibly is one with many potential social consequences.

Being polyamorous involves actively choosing and pursuing the non-monogamous desires that we, as human beings, really do have..  In the same way that people simply are attracted to who they are attracted to (thus they don’t choose what they want to pursue a certain person, regardless of whether they actually pursue such a thing), many people actually are attracted to more than one person, interested in a deeply close relationship with more than one person, and capable of the communication it would take to do so successfully.

Many, if not most (if not the vast majority of people), are inclined towards loving or at least having sex with more than one person.  Social pressure, insecurity, and fear get in the way of pursuing such in too many cases, or even of thinking about it in the first place, but the inclinations are there.  If it wasn’t, cheating would rarely happen and jealousy would not be such an issue that it would end relationships.  The prominence of cheating tells us that we are actually interested, and jealousy tells us that not only do we know this, but feel like we actively have to be concerned about it.

But cheating and jealousy change their colors in the context of polyamory.  They are still possible and real, but they become different animals; All sexual contact outside one relationship is not automatically cheating and jealousy becomes a challenge to deal with, not merely submit to.  Trust and personal challenges to mature emotionally in the context of pursuing what you really want; what any healthy relationship requires, and what polyamory has taught many people.

And the more people who do so openly, the better it will be for future poly people.



I feel it is important here to distinguish between the desire for non-monogamy, and the ideal goal of transparent, mature, and responsible relationship maintenance.  Just like we have the responsibility to act on our desires in other areas with maturity and openness, we have the responsibility to treat all of our relationships with the utmost level of honesty, respect, and appropriate transparency, whether we are monogamous or not.

The only rational conclusion I can draw from the facts is that people are oriented towards non-monogamy.  That is, if we are honest with ourselves, we will see that what we really want doesn’t match up with the social ideal of monogamy.  So those of us who are polyamorous, at least those of us doing it in healthy, transparent, ways are honesty-oriented.

Now, whether most people can and will move towards polyamory—that is responsibly pursuing our sexual and romantic desires for multiple people—is a different question.  So far, most people have not been able to escape the acculturation which trains us to seek exclusivity, monogamy, and thus to ignore what we really desire in the name of an ideology .  They can often be happy, rationalize reasons to ignore other desires, and will find defenses for their monogamy.  Theists do the same thing all the time in the face of atheism.

Truth is not a deep value in our culture; at best, it’s a superficial value, paraded out occasionally but which holds no real power.  To actually seek truth, you have to be willing to knock down walls, question basic assumptions, and (as Nietzsche implores of us) to philosophize with a hammer.  But we don’t often, as a society, do so.

Some of this can be blamed on religion, but not all of it.  Religion, after all, is but one carrier of the problem, which is that of power, property, and fear.  Whether we frame it in terms of patriarchy, economics, politics, or religious control over people’s desires and actions (and all of these frames contain some part of the puzzle), monogamy is about ideology manipulating our natural desires.  It is about making what we really want seem wrong, impractical, or even subversive.

Because whether we are total sex sluts, asexual, or somewhere in between, the vast majority of us actually have and maintain relationships with more than one person.  We are capable of liking, loving, and fucking many people in a variety of ways, but for some reason we set sexuality, romance, etc aside for one person, even if only ideally.  The fact that we keep getting pulled towards the absurd ideal of monogamy, even while being single and young, is the ideology that does not jibe with the direction our desires are pulling us.

Being single and young is the exception, not the rule.  Being sexually open, promiscuous, and exploring our sexuality is what we do before we are ready to settle down and be real adults.

This idea needs to be trashed.  People need to realize they are in a closet, one they may not even see of as a closet.  The social expectation of exclusivity and monogamy is a set of walls around our sexuality, painted as an ideal and mature way to think about relationships.  Many of us have found the door, knocked over the walls, or invited other people in (the analogy could be seen in many ways, I suppose), and we are seen as destructive, rebellious, and possibly immoral.

All it takes is to ask a simple question; why is monogamy good?

Not “why is monogamy bad?” because it isn’t necessarily bad.  But why is is good? Why is it the ideal? Why is it the goal? why is it more mature?

The burden of proof lies with the apologist for monogamy.  If you can meet it, then congratulations, you can go live your life happily monogamous and I will have no quarrel with you; I will wish you well and hope that your partner agrees with you, otherwise you may be artificially limiting their sexuality.

So, monogamists, I am happy that you are happy (if you are happy).  But others have a different orientation towards truth, honesty, and transparency about our desires; we have the ability to love each as we actually love them without consideration of monogamous social expectations. We no longer have a need for an artificial goal of exclusivity, as we can allow our true desires to be shared without shame.

Non-monogamy is an orientation based upon honesty, and more people share it with me than many think.

It’s time for more honesty-oriented living, don’t you think?



*I am leaving aside the issue of contra-causal free will here.  I mean this in the sense that even if our will is not free, there is a subjective distinction between the preferences we feel and the cognitive processes which analyzes and “chooses” what to do about them.

Misanthropy and Stockholm Syndrome

So, I am sometimes a bit misanthropic.  I want to like people, but they so-often disappoint me.  I try and give people the opportunity to impress me, and will give some benefit of my doubts about their ability to do so, but I have a streak within me which is pretty pessimistic.

Not always though.  Some days I really, genuinely, like people.  Even the stupid and oblivious ones.

So, today I was thinking about the nature of socialized behavior; etiquette, social politeness, etc.  You know, those largely non-articulated rules about how we interact, behave in public or at parties, etc.  To begin with, I grant that such socialized rules are important for both pragmatic and moral reasons (which is not to say those two things are not related; they are).  They are not all stupid or harmful, but I think there is always room for improvement and I think there are ways we can either request or demand that such such socialization needs to be pushed one way or another.  Not that anyone has to agree or comply, but that maybe they should at least consider the criticism.

Wes and I have both discussed tangential issues to this in recent days, and as you, dear reader, can see I believe that the line between acceptable and unacceptable social behavior needs to be adjusted somewhat.  Our expectations about how to interact and think about things such as sex, religion, and honesty (you know, the fun stuff) should be re-examined.  Religion needs to be fair game for criticism rather than given special status and treated with kid gloves; sex needs to be though of as less dirty, wrong, or guilt-inducing and thought of as a fun activity between consenting adults; and we need to be more honest, openly, with what we want/think and how we express ourselves.

So, what if we were to think of culture–those sets of rules, languages, and shared mythologies–as a sort of psychological captor? We are, from a sociological and anthropological point of view, held hostage by our socialization.  I don’t want to draw the analogy too closely, because it will come apart at the seams at some point, but I think that there is a comparison to be drawn between being stuck somewhere as a hostage and being stuck, psychologically, in our cultural milieu.

We did not choose our culture.  We did not choose the family we were brought up in, the religion (or lack thereof) we were raised within, and we did not choose the values which we acculturated into.  Whether those things are good or not, the fact is that to some degree our personality, opinions, and the ways we interact are not of our choosing.  And it is possible that they are irrational or harmful.

(And, if in fact in free will is an illusion, none of it is chosen.  I will leave this issue aside in this post and assume, for the sake of exploration of an idea, that we have some measure of choice.  If we don’t, it doesn’t matter anyway.)

But despite the fact that we (as in, our culture generally), usually, do not choose our values and behavior rules, we often defend them.  This is true for most people, I think.  And while there may be some amount of cultural transcendence which is possible, especially through exposure to other cultures and ideas (which gives us perspective to compare ideas, even if not wholly objectively), we are perpetually stuck in our own subjectivity.

My concern is with a phenomenon which I have observed for many years now, especially as I studied anthropology, religion, and sexuality.  We defend expected social behavior, almost without realizing we are doing it or that there may be another way to think about such things.  In our culture, there are values about “respecting” people’s beliefs, not challenging or criticizing personal ideas, and lying (sometimes “framing,” which is not always bad) to protect people’s sensitivities.  Now, in some cases, these values may be rational, but as I have seen them practiced by many well-meaning people they are often mere survival mechanisms for bad ideas.

If your goal is to be rational and skeptical, you should have a value of truth.  You should want to find out if your ideas are likely to be true, and have little compunction about challenging whether other people’s ideas might be true.  But our culture does not value truth in this way; we are taught to be respectful of people’s beliefs, we are taught that white lies are preferable, and we are taught about “good” things like faith, monogamy, and that sex is dirty and only appropriate under certain restrictive circumstances; namely monogamy.

Our culture defends these ideas like an abused lover defends her abuser.  They are not all bad, they really care about us, and they are good for us because we are so broken, incapable, etc.  And when people hear about atheism, polyamory, and sex-positivity they often exhibit signs of fear, insecurity, or guilt and then hide behind them and defend them.  They defend their cultural conditioning which holds them captive, defending that culture as moral, civil, or even as comfortable.

Our culture needs to start being more comfortable with discomfort.

Criticism is not uncivil.


Truth and honesty as indicators of respectibility

It has been asked of me, more than several times over the years, why I care so much about what people believe.  Why can’t I just live and let live.  Well, I do.  It’s just that I don’t think that living and letting live necessarily involves not asking why people live the ways they do.  I’m not stopping anyone from living by wondering why they live the way they do.

I have said it many times, but the truth is important to me.  This is not to say I assume that all my beliefs are true, only that I try to believe things for good reasons.  I try to have evidence, or at least good reason, for accepting ideas as true.  So, if I do believe something I do think it’s true, but realize that I might be wrong and so I maintain an open mind about that possibility.  This necessitates listening to criticism, going out of my way to challenge ideas (both mine and others’) in the face of dissenting opinions.

This skepticism of mine is part of my life project to be honest, open, and direct with the people around me.  It is a value of mine to live authentically, which for me means that I don’t hide who I am to people, try not to allow self-delusion to survive within myself, and be open about my strengths and my faults. I challenge others because I challenge myself.

One implication of this is that I don’t want cognitive dissonance to exist within my mind, and don’t happily tolerate it in others.  I don’t want to have ideas which are in methodological or philosophical opposition to one another, and I am sensitive to it in others.   Cognitive coherence is a goal at which I will inevitably fail, but I strive for it nonetheless because to do otherwise is to capitulate to intellectual and emotional weakness.

Another implication is that I do not respect the idea that an opinion or view “works for me” as being sufficient to accept it as true.  I actually care what is really true, not merely what coheres with my desires.  This attitude is essential for a healthy skepticism.  The desire to apply skeptical methodology to all facets of reality (sometimes referred to as “scientism”) is a value of mine, and I think it should be a value for everyone.

And this is why meeting someone who has little inclination towards this skepticism, who believes things which are not supported by evidence and do not care to challenge them, raises flags for me.  It is, in fact, reason for me not to trust them.

Now, wait (you may be saying).  How does being non-skeptical about things make a person untrustworthy?

Well, it does not make them completely untrustworthy.  It would not necessarily mean that I could not trust them to watch my bag while I run into the bathroom or have them feed my cats while I’m out of town.  No, it merely means that I will have trouble accepting some claims they make.  It makes me trust them less intellectually.

They have already demonstrated that they are capable of being comfortable with cognitive dissonance, or at least in holding beliefs uncritically.  They have demonstrated that they have less interest in holding true beliefs than holding comfortable ones.  So if they were to claim some knowledge, opinion, etc I would be in my skeptical rights in having some issue with their trustworthiness.

This, of course, does not mean they are wrong.  People with all sorts of strange ideas can be right about other things.  It means that I would be more willing to demand argument or evidence for their claims, since they have already compromised their credibility in my eyes.

It also makes it harder to actually respect them, as people.  It makes it less likely I will want to become closer to them personally.  In potential romantic partners, unskeptical attitudes and beliefs are a turn off, for example.  Beliefs in astrology, psychic powers, homeopathy, wicca, or even some aspects of yoga are indicators that a person may not be a new best friend or romantic partner.

Such beliefs are indicators that while we may get along well enough socially or in light conversation, our goals in life are incompatible.  As a result, there is only so close I am willing to get because the attitude they take to the truth makes them vulnerable to deception.  They have not exercised critical thinking to themselves or the world, and it seems likely that they may not know themselves well enough emotionally and/or intellectually and therefore are more likely to subject themselves, and thus people they are involved with, to undesirable situations.

This is not to say that people who believe these things cannot be educated or better informed, only that until they are willing to critically challenge such things they will occupy a place in my head of lesser reverence.

So, call be judgmental, elitist, and arrogant if you like.  But I will judge unsupported ideas as flawed, consider demanding higher intellectual standards as preferable, and do not think that pride in these standards to be unwarranted.   I am judgmental (so are you, so is everyone.  I am just honest about it).  I am elitist, and I don’t care if it offends your sensibilities.  But arrogant? Well, I don’t think my ideas of self-importance, based upon my standards, are unwarranted. I think they help to make me a better person.

I’m honest, I care about what is true, and I hold myself up to high standards.  If you don’t care about these things, then I likely don’t respect you.  Live with it.


Honestly…what is with your truth?

I have been spending some time recently thinking about truth.

No, that’s not quite right.  I haven’t necessarily been thinking about truth, but I have been thinking about the subject of truth.

That’s not quite right either.  I guess I’ve been thinking about thinking about truth.  Meta-truth, if you will.  And as I did so, I started to get that semi-relativistic head-throbbing that comes when trying to work out the paradoxes of epistemology.  So I took a step back, took a deep breath, and eventually I realized something.  It’s nothing hugely profound, or even novel.  But I think it’s important, nonetheless.

Perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on ‘truth.’  Perhaps this is the wrong primary approach.  This word ‘truth’ is, after all, deceptive.  Because we are not often very certain of it’s parameters or its contents, we are often left with jumbles pieces and we know not how to assemble them.  We end up being circus clowns of truthiness, juggling and dancing to keep up while endeavoring to keep a straight, serious, face.  Truth is serious stuff, after all, and not for clowns.

This reminded me of something that good old Soren Kierkegaard said:

One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’  One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth.  Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in error.

Yeah! Take that all you people in error.  I’m gonna kick the truth into you…or something….  You’re gonna wish you ain’t done been wrong in all that error-having you have had….  Sorry, lost it there for a second.  Kierkegaard has that kind of affect on me, it seems.

(BTW, this is not license for people to keep lying for Jesus)

I will not comment on the quote itself, but will prefer to allow it to speak for itself.  I have always liked it though, and am glad to pass it on.

What is the truth? Is there (or is there not) a god? I don’t know.  How to evaluate something that is often so nebulous and slippery as the concept ‘god’ which makes belief in often impossible for the mere fact that we don’t know what the term is supposed to indicate. How can I say it does not exist when I don’t know what it is?  How can I believe in it for the same reason?

(And how do so many people keep claiming that atheism is the claim that there is no god in light of this impossibility?)

But at least we can ask people to be truthful, to tell the truth as best they can, in order to have an honest discussion. But something is not quite right about that phrase.  For some time I could not quite put my finger on what it was, but then it occurred to me; I’m not so much advocating truth as I am advocating honesty.

The simple, brute, fact is that we can’t always know that we have the “truth” in order to give it to others.  If someone asks me to give them the truth, I often have little choice but to cock my head and follow-up with some question.  I need clarification.  And even if I receive the ideal level of clarification, I won’t necessarily be able to give the TruthTM.

But I can be honest.  I can even give good reasons that support the opinion I am being honest about.  But do I dare call it truth?

It seems that such a step is often considered arrogant.  How do I know it’s true? What if I’m wrong?

What I think is going on here is that the term ‘honesty’ has a flavor to it which is often soft and bland.  It has no zing to merely be honest.  People want the truth, right?  Being honest is merely stating an opinion.  But giving the truth…well that’s just sexy!

There is a responsibility behind claiming to give the truth which may not seem as naturally wedded to being honest; and perhaps for good reason.  But I feel that in presenting our beliefs, we have a responsibility to make sure that those belief have gone through some thought, fact-checking, and other considerations.  They, perhaps, have not gone through peer-review, but that is what saying them is for.

And to think those ideas to be true? Well, at some point the ideas we hold, especially if they survive our vetting and the conversational battle-field, we will believe with the force of ‘truth’ (whatever that is) whether it is objectively true (whatever THAT is…) or not.

But recently I’m preferring the concept of honesty, responsible honesty, to truth.

And honesty, in light of politics (both governmental and interpersonal), is an idea perhaps more fundamental and important.  The simple fact is that I don’t often believe that many people are truly…honestly…being honest with themselves or with other people.

I think that would be a good place to start for many people I’ve known in my life.

But they might not even know I’m talking about them.  While they may see the truth in what I say, they may not see the dishonesty in which they live.