More on the Value/Disvalue of Monogamy

Mark asks in the comment thread to my post on BDSM and Feminism,

I'm not sure how monogamy would be incompatible with faithfulness.

It's like making a promise you know you can't keep. (Or, to be more precise, a promise most people can't keep; there may be some freaky faithful outliers among us.) It's sort of like the perspective Christianity has regarding Judaism; the rules and regulations expected of us in the Old Testament were just too unrealistic and overbearing given human nature (which of course raises the obvious question why a flawed Old Testament was needed in the first place), making sin and unfaithfulness to God practically inevitable.

The biggest problem with rejecting monogamy is the issue of jealousy, and how central and innate you think it is to the human condition. I think jealousy exists for most of us, but it can be dealt with (albeit not completely overcome) through proper conditioning. I like to make an analogy between monogamy/polyandry on the one hand and the question of how many children a couple should raise on the other. Any decision to raise more than one child will inevitably create issues of jealousy between the children, and since parents' time is limited, an additional child must inevitably constrain and limit the time, focus, attention, money, etc. a parent can give to the remaining children. And yet for many (most?) families, the issues of jealously and limited resources aren't enough to countenance against having more than one child, and even for those for whom it does so countenance against, they don't look down upon their neighbors who do choose to have more than one child. While the issues are certainly different in many important respects, I like to extrapolate these observations about children to having more than one romantic/sexual partner.

I also like to think about the ex post/ex ante distinction in relation to monogamy. From a forward looking perspective, I can (sort of) understand why couples would want to commit themselves against engaging in future extramarital relationships. But in order to make this commitment credible, each party to the monogamous agreement must be willing to follow through with the (often harsh) consequences if they find out their partner has been cheating. This leads to many unfortunate outcomes that don't make much sense on their own merits retrospectively, but can only be understood prospectively.

Analogize to nuclear warfare, Mutually Assured Destruction, and doomsday devices. Once you've been nuked by your enemy, it doesn't do either of you much good to respond in kind. But in order to prevent them from violating the peace in the first place, you have to credibly commit to irrational, self-harming behavior - irrational on its own merits ex post, but rational ex ante.

Of course, some couples are able to forgive and forget infidelities after the fact, even if they both claimed to want a monogamous relationship beforehand. Had they been able to overcome their fear of jealousy, loss, and abandonment, they wouldn't have had to worry about romantic doomsday devices in the first place, and could have lived happily ever after, the end.

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A response

1. It is rooted in human nature to expect and indeed to insist on a monogamous commitment from one's opposite-sex partner. (I won't address homosexuality right now since I don't know beans about it.)

2. Romantic love has to do with hierarchical preferences; I don't believe you can be truly "in love with" more than one person at a time.  Finding a mate means choosing an ally whom you prefer to the alternatives, though you're aware that your mate isn't perfect.  Fidelity wouldn't mean much if it weren't, on occasion, a challenge.  It's funny--In the abstract, it seems outrageous to choose to spend your life with one person out of the world's 6 billion.  But when you're love... well, then nobody holds a candle to The One.

3. I'm not sure if this discussion of monogamy refers to mating for life or to dating one person at a time.  Serial monogamy in the course of a lifetime seems to be the natural mode for humans.  Though if there are children involved it can be rough on them to see Mom and Dad dating other people. 

I'm not sure how to evaluate

I'm not sure how to evaluate (1). Even if we assume for the sake of argument that personality trait X is rooted in human nature, this assumption alone doesn't tell us very much. It doesn't tell us the intensity of X, and how this intensity is distributed among the population of humans as a whole (i.e. Does every human share an equivalent or near equivalent high intensity expection, insistance, and desire for monogamy? Does the distribution of intensity differ by gender? What is the shape of the bell curve?). Nor does it tell us whether X is immutable or maleable. Nor does it tell us what other, countervailing tendancies and personality traits are rooted in human nature, such as boredom, curiousity, magnanimity, wanderlust, etc.

As for (2), again, color me skeptical. I don't see such a necessarily sharp distinction between romantic love and platonic, familial, non-sexual love. This is why I find the "number of children" analogy so useful. It is true that all forms of love and friendship depend upon hierarchical preferences; our time, money, and attention are limited resources; we can only have so many close friends, so many well-raised children, so many lovers. But acknowledging the scarcity of resources that force us to make difficult choices (between hierarchical preferences) does not itself imply a single number--of children, friends, or lovers--beyond which all goes to hell in a handbasket. Scarcity implies that the number is limited--perhaps severely limited--but it doesn't tell us what that limit is.

My response to (3) is: both. I'm not limiting the discussion to chronological monogamy; polyamory both within and across periods of time deserves much more attention than is currently given.

#1

There's a science that studies #1 - the nature of humans, the nature of the human mind, our drives, ambitions, and so forth: psychology. Any commentary on the natural drives toward monogamy, or the nature of men and women, or what sorts of relationships we're capable of has to be informed by psychology.

You imply faithful

You imply faithful monogamists are a statistically insignificant minority: that claim is bizarre. What's your source?

If not a minority, a very

If not a minority, a very slight majority. Hasn't the divorce rate been hovering around 50% for a while? Add to that 50% figure the number of married monogamist cheaters who never get caught.

Category error?

UNless you're willing to posit that 100% of divorces are due to infidelity, I can't see the justification in lumping the divorce rate against faithful monogamists. Indeed, limiting the definition of monogamy (as it seems you are doing) to "one partner, ever" is problematic on several grounds: (a) Its a rather 'regressive' 1950s/Catholic conception of monogamy, (b) actually rules out anyone who doesn't marry and stay with their first partner, and (c) because of A and B, that definition relies on a denotation of monogamy that is alien to most common usage (and certainly is not the connotation of monogamy in any sense).

The general sense of monogamy is and has been "if you are in a relationship, you're only nailing one person for the duration of that relationship."  Thus divorce is only relevant in this case to the extent that these divorces were caused by infidelity.

Doss said what I said

Doss said what I said first. 

 

Fuck you, Doss!

The divorce rate is not as

The divorce rate is not as useful for disproving the value or likelihood of monogamy as it is useful for disproving the value or likelihood of faithfulness, if we understand faithfulness to mean something similar to the commitment taken in marriage vows - till death do us part. And I agree, this is a regressive, outdated, 1950s/Catholic conception of faithfulness. But yet elements of this concept continue to color our present conceptions of what counts as a healthy romantic relationship (and thus our hostility to more open notions of marriage and faithfulness in the context of polyamory) - as can most easily be seen by the fact that the marriage vows have remained mostly the same despite massive social change over the last 60 years.

Note how far we've come from

Note how far we've come from your original charge that faithfulness, even in the strict until death sense, is a promise people can't keep.

I don't think we've come far

I don't think we've come far at all; my opinions certainly haven't changed yet, or even felt especially challenged. The only thing we've done is clarify our definitions and arguments to aid in communication with each other, which I suppose is all we should ever expect good philosophy to do. Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been, but I certainly don't think monogamous faithfulness is impossible for everyone; my parents have been happily married for 29 years, and I'd be terribly surprised if they ever got divorced or even wanted to cheat on each other. I just think monogamous faithfulness is an unrealistic ideal for most people, and that the enormous effort it takes for most people to remain true to that commitment would be better spent if redirected to overcoming their own fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment associated with letting their partners engage in romantic relationships with other people.

If anything then, we've

If anything then, we've gotten past the hyperbole, which is all I questioned.

Your general conclusion may be right ("monogamous faithfulness is an unrealistic ideal for most people...") for all I know. But, a few things then:

Ideals are always unrealstic--that's why they're ideals. That does not (always?) justify abandoning the ideal.

We've hammered out what you mean by "most people" as something around 50%. A lot of confusion has arisen here.

It is not at all clear to me that the "enormous effort" necessary to remain faithful is any greater than the "enormous effort" necessary to overcome our fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment. YMMV.

I take your main point through these comments to be "50% of people will not succeed in being strict, lifelong monogamists." I agree with that, but I don't find it terribly interesting. I doubt 50% of us will go our entire lives without stealng something--nonetheless, I think we should all try not to steal things.

It is not at all clear to

It is not at all clear to me that the "enormous effort" necessary to
remain faithful is any greater than the "enormous effort" necessary to
overcome our fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment.

I'm not sure this matters, because these two forms of effort only represent the cost side; we also have to take into account the benefits. So even if it could be shown that more effort is needed to overcome our fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment than to remain faithful, it still might be the case that our focus and energy would be better spent on overcoming jealousy, if the benefits of polyamory relative to monogamy were great enough.

I doubt 50% of us will go our entire lives without stealng
something--nonetheless, I think we should all try not to steal things.

Poor choice of analogy. It implies that we have independent, objective reasons for remaining faithful to monogamy in the same way we have independant, objection reasons for not stealing physical property. But monogamy is much closer to intellectual property than physical property; monogomous partners betrayed by infidelity are hurt only by their expectations; if they shared a different set of social expectations, infidelity wouldn't sting as much, if at all. The only point I wish to make in these sorts of discussions is how malleable and arbitrary our preferred choices here are; we as a society could very well have chosen to look with disdain upon jealousy instead of infidelity. Perhaps, given human nature, we made the right choice, but it is on this point that I am radically unconvinced and skeptical. To note the high divorce/infidelity rate is to recognize the potential costs and incongruencies between human nature as it is and monogamous fidelity, but it alone is not an argument stopper or even necessarily a piece of evidence. It may be the case, as you suggest, that this simply is the way things are, and despite the costs, it's still within our best interests to bear them.

Margaret Mead

The only point I wish to make in these sorts of discussions is how
malleable and arbitrary our preferred choices here are; we as a society
could very well have chosen to look with disdain upon jealousy instead
of infidelity.

Where exactly do you show this? This bears a striking resemblance to what Margaret Mead allowed herself to be fooled that she showed in her book Coming of Age in Samoa - i.e., that our sexual practices were arbitrary and far from universal and that the human animal was malleable. This is the sort of thing that some people have for a long time wanted very much to believe, but the evidence has not been kind to the tabula rasa/no human nature/high malleability hypothesis.

From Wikipedia:

And so, as Mead herself described the goal of her research: "I have tried to answer the question which sent me to Samoa:
Are the disturbances which vex our adolescents due to the nature of
adolescence itself or to the civilization? Under different conditions
does adolescence present a different picture?"

She says "civilization" and you say "we as a society" but it's the same idea.

I see this as another instance of the same underlying idea/desire that led you to scapegoat advertising for the fact that girls have ideas about beauty which you wish were different. Girls have, of course, been altering their looks for millenia.

Women (and men) have ideas

Women (and men) have ideas about beauty--true--and humans (and other forms of life) have been altering their looks to better adhere to their ideal of beauty since as long as life has ever existed - also true. But where does this notion of ideal beauty come from? Does it remain the same over time? Or does it change? Is it innate at birth? Or does the rest of society contribute to what we believe to be beautiful? And to what extent does modern advertising through mass communication contribute to social norms of beauty and normalcy?

Honestly, this is pretty basic stuff, covered at length in any Intro to Sociology course - hell, I bet it's covered in most 6th-grade social studies classes - so I'm sort of surprised it needs much of any explanation, elaboration, or defense at all among intelligent, college educated adults.

I'm not familar with Margaret Mead, but I will be the first to admit that those on the nurture side of the debate have made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes in the future. That isn't alone a decisive argument against the nurture hypothesis, just as scientific racism and eugenics, among other mistakes made by the nature side, isn't alone a decisive argument against the nature hypothesis.

OTOH

Honestly, this is pretty basic stuff, covered at length in any Intro to Sociology course - hell, I bet it's covered in most 6th-grade social studies classes - so I'm sort of surprised it needs much of any explanation, elaboration, or defense at all among intelligent, college educated adults.

People have studied this too, and I'm suprised (though maybe I shouldn't be) that it's still taught in sociology courses. Even in societies whose legacy includes paintings of women we would consider 'fat', low waist-hip ratios were depicted.* After taking into account the variation in tastes, there are some standards of female beauty that hold across all societies and cultures: low waist-hip ratio, youth, smooth skin, symmetrical features. There is something biologically innate to female physical beauty, something that constrains male preferences.

*Hypothesis for this fact: Wide hips are more conducive to easier birthing of large-headed babies. Narrow waists are the product of a biological arms race between men's preference for wide hips and women's desire to fool men into thinking they have wider hips through contrast with narrower waists.

Illusion of Disagreement

Why would you be surprised that "it's still taught in sociology courses"? What you said about evolutionary psychology and what I said about the social construction of reality are perfectly consistent with each other. Unless you believe that the truth has to be either completely nature or completely nurture, with no room in between for mixed gradiants, there is nothing at all that surprising about the hypothesis that both forces are at play, that both forces constrain and support one another.

Then I misunderstood

I thought you meant that sociology courses still teach that "we can never really know", that we don't have hard data, that we may never know if there's a natural explanation.

Also, just to be clear

The "evolutionary psychology" part of my reply was the stuff after the asterisked footnote. The stuff before it is facts. The ev-psych is only the theory that explains those facts.

Straw man

Honestly, this is pretty basic stuff, covered at length in any Intro to
Sociology course - hell, I bet it's covered in most 6th-grade social
studies classes - so I'm sort of surprised it needs much of any
explanation, elaboration, or defense at all among intelligent, college
educated adults.

How about trying to straightforwardly answer the point instead of making up yet another straw man? You blamed advertising for giving girls unrealistic standards of beauty. I pointed out that women have had unrealistic standards of beaty for millenia - proven by their efforts to alter their appearance (sometimes quite extreme). And your reply is to ask, "to what extent does modern advertising through mass communication contribute to social norms of beauty and normalcy," as if merely by asking this question you have defended your previous point, which was to blame advertising for giving girls unrealistic standards of beauty. As if it's advertising's fault that girls have unrealistic standards of beauty! You haven't proven this, and in fact girls have had unrealistic standards of beauty for millenia. Your question about how much advertising has contributed to norms doesn't answer the point at all. You made a specific attack on advertising which carried a specific implication, and you've backed away from this.

And meanwhile you tried to put me on the defensive by interpreting my remarks as a claim that standards of beauty are fixed and inborn - something which I did not say and which is not implied. In fact I implied the opposite. I mentioned the history of physical alteration of women's bodies. How about the rings that women in some societies put around their necks to extend them far beyond what nature gave them? This simply one of the most well known examples of self-alteration that I ought to have reminded you of. Think of this, realize that I'm talking about this among other things, and try to interpret my rermarks as a claim that standards of beauty are fixed and inborn. It just doesn't work. As I said: women have been altering their appearance for millenia. So have men, by the way. And please don't now tell me that I think male standards of beauty are eternal.

Completely Confused

How about trying to straightforwardly answer the point instead of
making up yet another straw man? You blamed advertising for giving
girls unrealistic standards of beauty. I pointed out that women have
had unrealistic standards of beaty for millenia - proven by their
efforts to alter their appearance (sometimes quite extreme).

I don't see how this is in any way a response or a rebuttal to my claim. Unless, of course, you somehow misinterpreted my claim to mean something like "advertising is the one and only cause of unrealistic standards of beauty." Of course it isn't; why would anyone make that claim? Placing blame for an undesireable effect on a given source in no way implies that the given source is solely responsible for the undesireable effect; joint liability exists. Therefore, responding to an accusation that source X contributed to undesireable effect A with a claim that undesireable effect A has existed for millenia and can also be partly attributed to sources Y, Z, and Q makes no sense at all; it in no way rebuts the original claim that source X is in some way responsible too.

Do you honestly believe that advertising through mass communication has absolutely no effect on the creation of unrealistic and unhealthy social norms of beauty and normalcy? That belief would be just mind-boggling to me; I'm not even sure how I would begin to demonstrate it to you; it would be like trying to demonstrate the existence of the air we breathe.

You made a specific attack on advertising which carried a specific implication, and you've backed away from this.

I've backed away from nothing. You must have been deeply confused about something while interpreting my comments, but I'm deeply confused about what that something is.

You and I are obviously having difficulty communicating here. Since I'm still completely unsure of what (if?) we are even disagreeing about, I've been attempting to increase the level of abstraction from specific and controversial to general and obvious, hoping to find the level at which we can reach common ground, and then reverse course and go back down to lower levels of specificity to find the issue of contention. So forgive me for sometimes stating the obvious (or at least what I consider to be obvious).

Relevant issue

Altering the already-unrealistic standard of beauty is not, by itself, a harm, even if you think that lack of realism is harmful. If this is your argument, then you need to argue that advertising on balance increases the lack of realism. You have not done so. You have simply shared some platitudes.

Studies have been done on what people think is beautiful. One interesting discovery was that the average was deemed particularly beautiful (though not maximally beautiful). And the average is, for most people, an unrealistic standard of beauty, because most people depart from the average. So here we have an example of an unrealistic standard of beauty. But did advertising create this standard? Unlikely.

Altering the

Altering the already-unrealistic standard of beauty is not, by itself,
a harm, even if you think that lack of realism is harmful.

Of course it is, assuming the alteration is in the direction of unrealism rather than realism.

Premise 1 (incidentally, not even a premise I necessarily agree with; I'm just analyzing your claim above): Lack of realism is harmful.

Premise 2: The less real something is, the more harmful it is. The more real something is, the less harmful it is.

Premise 3: Advertising alters the already-unrealistic standard of beauty further away from realism, making the standard of beauty even more unrealistic.

Conclusion: Advertising is harmful.

Again, I'm not making this argument; I'm just analyzing your claim.

If this is your argument, then you need to argue that advertising on
balance increases the lack of realism. You have not done so. You have
simply shared some platitudes.

No, I need to do nothing of the sort. There is no burden of proof on me. If I recall correctly, it was you who brought up the issue of advertising in this thread (and Scott in the other thread) as an off-topic aside, with the claim that:

I see this as another instance of the same underlying idea/desire that
led you to scapegoat advertising for the fact that girls have ideas
about beauty which you wish were different. Girls have, of course, been
altering their looks for millenia.

I in no way need to demonstrate that advertising on balance decreases realism in order to deal with this accusation of yours. You were the one who made the positive claim, in this thread, that advertising is unfairly scapegoated (the necessary implication "unfairly" goes along with the term "scapegoat") for women (and men, I again repeat) having ideas of beauty some (including myself) wish were different. I think that places the burden of proof on you, not me--since you brought it up and made the claim-- to defend it. You have not yet made your argument. You have simply shared some platitudes.

I'm also not sure where you got the strange idea that critics who sometimes dislike the media's portrayal of beauty base their entire critique solely on the issue of realism. Realism is certainly a part of it, but it's not the only part.

So here we have an example of an unrealistic standard of beauty. But did advertising create this standard? Unlikely.

See, now you are really beginning to upset me; I'm starting to feel like you're just not even bothering to read what you are responding to. I just finished explaining that no one, including myself, claims that modern advertising is solely responsible for creating unhealthy standards of beauty, and yet you continue to argue as if this explanation was never made. Perhaps you didn't understand the importance of this explanation to this argument? I really don't want to have to conclude that you are either being intentionally evil or stupid; please give me something else to go with.

Brief

Of course it is, assuming the alteration is in the direction of unrealism rather than realism.

If we add in your own assumptions, then yeah, my statement means whatever you want it to mean.

Again, I'm not making this argument; I'm just analyzing your claim.

That is, you are analyzing my claim with the addition of your assumption.

No, I need to do nothing of the sort. There is no burden of proof on me. If I recall correctly, it was you who brought up the issue of advertising in this thread

That statement was about something you previously wrote (which I quote here just below). You responded, presumably defending what you previously wrote. So, apparently you want to defend your previous statement without accepting any burden of proof.

I'm also not sure where you got the strange idea that critics who sometimes dislike the media's portrayal of beauty base their entire critique solely on the issue of realism.

I don't have any such idea. I have been discussing your statement: "I'm one of the people who complain about clothing ads spreading an unrealistic standard of beauty."

I just finished explaining that no one, including myself, claims that modern advertising is solely responsible for creating unhealthy standards of beauty, and yet you continue to argue as if this explanation was never made.

But that is merely weaselling on your part. If you merely claim that advertising has some deleterious effect but you won't actually what effect, how much of an effect, etc., then you aren't really saying anything at all. Certainly not enough to justify a vehement position against advertising. By pointing out that a major component of the ideal of beauty is not actually determined by advertising, I am putting pressure on you to say something to avoid the supposed deleterious effect of advertising to be squeezed down into nothing.

But Constant, why would you

But Constant, why would you not include the assumption I mentioned in your own argument? That is to say, why would you think you were saying something nonobvious and non-tautological without this assumption? Of course, a movement towards realism wouldn't be harmful if lack of realism was the original objection; why would anyone think otherwise?

That statement was about something you previously wrote (which I quote
here just below). You responded, presumably defending what you
previously wrote. So, apparently you want to defend your previous
statement without accepting any burden of proof.

Again, you raised the issue in this thread, not me. In the other thread, Scott raised the issue, not me. I think that places the burden of proof on you and Scott, not me.

But that is merely weaselling on your part. If you merely claim that
advertising has some deleterious effect but you won't actually what
effect, how much of an effect, etc., then you aren't really saying
anything at all. Certainly not enough to justify a vehement position
against advertising

Total nonsense. Again, let's look at the original claim I made in response to Scott,

I'm one of the people who complain about clothing ads spreading an unrealistic standard of beauty

I say absolutely nothing (and need not say anything) about the extent of this effect, how much harm I think it causes, etc. I merely agreed that the phenomenon exists.

Is this not really saying anything at all? Of course not. If the statement was as meaningless as you claim it is, Scott wouldn't have made it, I wouldn't have responded to it, and you wouldn't have responded to me, and this whole side-thread would have never happened. The claim was meaningful - you just (falsely) assumed I had made a much stronger, absurd claim that you could easily refute. I didn't, you now seem to realize I didn't, and you are upset that the claim I did make isn't so easy to dispute (at least on logical grounds - neither of us seems to want to jump into the empirics).

And since when did I claim to have, and therefore wish to justify, "a vehement position
against advertising"? You keep reading the strongest, most unreasonable and unrealistic interpretation of my statements. That's not arguing in good faith. It's bad form. Please stop.

I think it's time to conclude that you are either unable or unwilling to argue with me in good faith on this issue. So let's just end this conversation here.

I like my analogy

I'm not sure this matters, because these two forms of effort only represent the cost side; we also have to take into account the benefits. So even if it could be shown that more effort is needed to overcome our fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment than to remain faithful, it still might be the case that our focus and energy would be better spent on overcoming jealousy, if the benefits of polyamory relative to monogamy were great enough.

I agree, all except the part about it not mattering.  To the contrary, of course the costs matter, but yes, as you say, benefits must be considered as well.  I admit variety has a charm to it.  Of course, I think faithfulness does as well.

Poor choice of analogy. It implies that we have independent, objective reasons for remaining faithful to monogamy in the same way we have independant, objection reasons for not stealing physical property. But monogamy is much closer to intellectual property than physical property; monogomous partners betrayed by infidelity are hurt only by their expectations; if they shared a different set of social expectations, infidelity wouldn't sting as much, if at all.

I can't see how this undermines my analogy.  Sure, if we didn't care about cheating, then cheating wouldn't matter.  But hell, if I didn't care about you stealing my stuff--if you and I "shared a different set of social expectations"--then it wouldn't matter if you stole it.  But none of this bears on the point of my analogy, which is that ideals can be good even if we can't satisfy them.

This is particularly odd, since Wilde just claimed you talked him out of believing in objective morality, and here you are claiming there are objective reasons for a certain moral choice, i.e. not stealing.

The only point I wish to make in these sorts of discussions is how malleable and arbitrary our preferred choices here are; we as a society could very well have chosen to look with disdain upon jealousy instead of infidelity.

OK.  Your sibling/lover analogy isn't persuasive--though I may be missing something--but the fact that most societies allow for some sort of polygyny is.  I have heard that this sort of pattern is a result of the distribution of wealth, and if such a pattern exists, that seems to rule out monogamy (or polygyny!) being an arbitrary choice.  Better evidence still would be two societies much alike that differ only in their attitude towards acceptable couplings.

As to the malleability of jealousy, I've seen little evidence.  Yes, most societes allow polygyny--but polygamists in such places only make up something like 20% of the population.  To me at least, that seems indicative of a very strong innate urge for fidelity, only overcome when the material benefits of entering polygamous marriage are great.

I should clarify where you and I disagree.  Mainly, you think human jealousy is easier to overcome than I do.  You think monogamy is less ingrained than I do.  And you find peoples' failure to live up to an ideal as a shortcoming in the ideal, whereas I find it to be a shortcoming in people.  (At least, that is, as far as this particular ideal goes.)

I do agree with you that for certain people of an unspecified percentage, interesting and strange relationships are well-suited.  And I'm sure we both agree that so long as the harm principle is respected, no one has a right to interfere.

Yup, we pretty much agree on

Yup, we pretty much agree on the analysis; we just differ over guestimates of the innateness of jealousy and monogamy. For what it's worth, though, a social movement towards overcoming jealousy in sexual/romantic contexts would also have significant (or so I posit) positive externalities for overcoming jealousy in economic inequality contexts as well, which is a very important problem for libertarians to deal with insofar as envy is a driving force for coercive redistribution.

Sure, if we didn't care about cheating, then cheating wouldn't matter. But hell, if I didn't care about you stealing my stuff--if you and I "shared a different set of social expectations"--then it wouldn't matter if you stole it.

What I meant by my IP/physical property analogy was simply this: There are are amoral accounts of physical property rights that simply don't exist--or are much, much weaker--for intellectual property rights. Most of these differences center around the issues of scarcity and rivalrousness. (For more on this, see David Friedman's "A Positive Account of Property Rights.")

The same may be true with regard to monogamy; all of these issues "reside" in our head, in the same way that IP does and physical property does not. Now, there are important questions regarding whether what resides in our head - our feelings about jealousy and monogamy - is innate or socially-constructed, immutable or malleable. But no matter which direction of these dichotomies lies the truth, neither result entails the much stronger limits scarcity and rivalrousness place on physical property. (Of course, as I mentioned in the original post, scarcity and rivalrousness do come into play with regard to time, focus, and money and therefore influence the number of romantic partners and children a person can reasonably care for.) This is why I found the theft analogy flawed: analysis of theft itself shares many of the same tough questions as monogamy/polygamy, so it's not enough to simply point to theft as an example; theft provides justification for both sides.

Your IP/property right distinction is irrelevant.

I think the positive libertarian externalities point is cute, but silly.

Your IP/property right distinction is irrelevant. See your original comment on my analogy:

“Poor choice of analogy.”

Because:

1. “ It implies that we have independent, objective reasons for remaining faithful to monogamy in the same way we have independant, objection reasons for not stealing physical property.”

But we have no such objective reasons. The only reason we have for not stealing is because we prefer something else—which is the exact same reason we have for objecting to cheating: we prefer something else. I don’t know how else to characterize something whose only rationale is to sate human preferences than as “subjective.”

Of course one could pretend that there is an objective normative world of “shoulds” out there, but only I believe that. You don’t.

2. “But monogamy is much closer to intellectual property than physical property; monogomous partners betrayed by infidelity are hurt only by their expectations; if they shared a different set of social expectations, infidelity wouldn't sting as much, if at all.”

But of course those who are robbed of physical property are hurt only by their expectations—they lost something they expected to keep. If they didn’t expect to keep it, they wouldn’t be hurt that it was lost.

Now you offer:

3. "There are are amoral accounts of physical property rights that simply don't exist--or are much, much weaker--for intellectual property rights. Most of these differences center around the issues of scarcity and rivalrousness."

I grant that intellectual property and physical property are different in terms of rivalrousness and the like, but nothing you’ve said has shown why that distinction bears on the analogy at hand. And even though it’s not relevant, I should point out that romantic access to a person is a good that is both rivalrous and scarce. All of this discussion about things residing in our heads seems completely beside the point: everything normative is inside our heads. And as to the class of things that doesn't reside there, property and exclusive sexual access to a person both fall within it.

This is why I found the theft analogy flawed: analysis of theft itself shares many of the same tough questions as monogamy/polygamy, so it's not enough to simply point to theft as an example; theft provides justification for both sides.

I need this explained. I don't understand what you're saying. 1. What tough questions? 2. I pointed to abstention from theft as an ideal most can't follow but which we nonetheless should: what do you think I used it as an example for? 3. How does theft provide justification for your side? I don't even think it justifies my side, beyond showing that an ideal can be worthwhile without being attainable.

Finally, you charge that the analogy is flawed because theft is different than fidelity, but now you say they both raise the "same tough questions." Have I erred because my topics for analogy are too similar or not similar enough?

I doubt it'll be terribly fruitful--at least to the topic of monogamy vs. polygamy--to continue this discussion. I could have come up with another analogy for my point just as easily, one that wouldn't be open to this line of attack, successful or no.  Nor do I particularly care whether or not that analogy is really flawed (I admit that it is, but not for any of the reasons you've brought up). Nonetheless, I'm slogging on because I'm curious as to your reasons for the things you've said about property rights. I expect one of us, deep down, has a fallacious view of the concept.

I should have been more

I should have been more clear with my reference to the objective/subjective distinction. The point I was trying to make was not that certain normative claims are objective while others are subjective, but that certain normative claims are more closely connected with objective, amoral facts like scarcity and rivalrousness than other normative claims. This doesn't necessarily make the normative claims themselves objective, but it does give us additional, objectively grounded, reasons for taking those claims more seriously.

I should point out that romantic access to a person is a good that is both rivalrous and scarce.

Yes, but the levels of scarcity and rivalrousness of romantic monogamy is somewhere in between the levels associated with physical property and intellectual property. Intellectual property, once created, has a level of scarcity and rivalrousness approaching or equivalent to zero, while physical property approaches or equals the opposite extreme. In this sub-thread I've been trying to argue that romantic monogamy is closer on this spectrum to IP (perhaps this claim is stronger than it needs to be; in retrospect, my argument would have been just as sufficient had I claimed that romantic monogamy is merely somewhere in the middle of the spectrum), because although it is constrained by scarcity and rivalrousness, it is not limited to one single owner (or one single group of owners) the way physical property must be (wife "owns" husband; husband "owns" wife). Perhaps this relates to the idea of self-ownership; that spouses (and children) aren't slaves, and therefore cannot be exclusively "owned" by other people, but instead can spread claims on their time and attention across lots of different people.

This Won't Do

I should have been more clear with my reference to the objective/subjective distinction. The point I was trying to make was not that certain normative claims are objective while others are subjective, but that certain normative claims are more closely connected with objective, amoral facts like scarcity and rivalrousness than other normative claims. This doesn't necessarily make the normative claims themselves objective, but it does give us additional, objectively grounded, reasons for taking those claims more seriously.

I don't see how.  "This is my apple" seems to contain as many objectively grounded reasons for being taken seriously as does "this is my wife" (as does, incidentally, "this is my symphony.")  You can appeal to Schelling points if you like, but that's too mushy a criterion to distinguish the two.

Yes, but the levels of scarcity and rivalrousness of romantic monogamy is somewhere in between the levels associated with physical property and intellectual property. Intellectual property, once created, has a level of scarcity and rivalrousness approaching or equivalent to zero, while physical property approaches or equals the opposite extreme. In this sub-thread I've been trying to argue that romantic monogamy is closer on this spectrum to IP... because although it is constrained by scarcity and rivalrousness, it is not limited to one single owner (or one single group of owners) the way physical property must be (wife "owns" husband; husband "owns" wife).

This metaphor is a little clumsy.  How can "monogamy" have an owner? 

Without knowing just what you intend, I'll go out on a limb and say the best way to make sense of this is to list various aspects of a relationship that can be "owned," in some sense: 1. sexual access to a person (because I'm a man, I list this first); 2. emotional access to a person; 3. right to have certain chores done by a person; et al.

But anything you can put in the list seems likely to be both "rivalrous" and "scarce" in precisely the same way physical property is.

Perhaps this relates to the idea of self-ownership; that spouses (and children) aren't slaves, and therefore cannot be exclusively "owned" by other people, but instead can spread claims on their time and attention across lots of different people.

So someone wouldn't be a slave if, instead of one master, they had seventeen?

I seem to have got you from

I seem to have got you from arguing monogamists represent around .01% to now positing the number is closer to 50%.  That's amazing!  I'm awesome!

Anyway, my guess is most people using the term "monogamy" don't mean it in the extreme fashion you seem to be using it: one mate, period.  Rather, most people use the term to mean prolonged periods of mating with only one person--probably around a decade.  You can define the term however you want--but throwing in the extreme definition you do surely robs your comments of their significance. 

Naivete

...the enormous effort it takes for most people to remain true to that commitment [monogamy] would be better spent if redirected to overcoming their own fears of jealousy, loss, and abandonment associated with letting their partners engage in romantic relationships with other people.

I gather you're not married.

Nope, I'm not married. One

Nope, I'm not married. One of the things I've come to expect when having this discussion is the inevitable charge of naivete and lack of personal experience. It's the worst form of ad hominem; there simply isn't anything I can say or do to sustain my side of the argument once that charge is made, given the speculative nature of the debate itself. It's an effective conversation stopper. I used to run into the same problem when debating politics with older adults when I was 17 or 18 or so; my arguments were at some point in the conversation rejected because of my age and/or lack of experience, and there was nothing I could say or do to change that. Argument over.

This is not to say that the ad hominem here is invalid or incorrect; it may very well be the case that I only hold the positions I do out of lack of knowledge and experience; once I acquire those qualities, my opinions may very well change. (That I can point to older, more experienced people on my side who make the same sorts of arguments I do isn't much comfort, since that's just replacing ad hominem with appeal to authority.) But for the time being, it effectively ends all discussion between us. I find that unfortunate.

re:Naivete

Supposing you weren't married wasn't an ad homimen attack - it didn't express criticism or contempt for any personal belief you hold, or characterisitic of you. And I certainly didn't make a "charge" against you.

You made what sounded to me like a serious claim about how couples ought to redirect their emotional effort toward overcoming the bad feelings produced by sexual infidelity in a relationship (marriage). With rare exception, anybody who is or has been married, I'm quite confident, would find your suggestion laughable. And experience has everything to do with the reasons why. There's nothing quite like experience to bitch slap one's quixotic notions into reality.

There's no reason

There's no reason disagreement on an empirical matter has to end discussion.

No, I think it does indeed

No, I think it does indeed qualify as ad hominem; ad hominem doesn't (only) mean criticism or contempt for a personal belief one's interlocuter holds, or a characterisitic of them. Notice that I took special care to point out that although your argument is ad hominem, it is not necessarily invalid or incorrect. My objection was not to the logical validity or truth value of your statement, but to the unfortunate side-effect that it is a conversation stopper. If activies outside of argumentation (marriage, life experience, etc.) are necessary for one party to an argument to be willing to accept the validity of the other party's arguments, then the argument is over. Nothing more can be said by one of the parties, until that party acquires the necessary extra-argumentation qualities.

With rare exception, anybody who is or has been married, I'm quite confident, would find your suggestion laughable. And experience has everything to do with the reasons why. There's nothing quite like experience to bitch slap one's quixotic notions into reality.

All of this might very well be true, though I remain skeptical and unconvinced. To make your argument stronger and more persausive, a better approach might be to cite population survey data instead of personal anecdotes and introspection (of course population survey data has interpretation problems of its own, but it's at least more convincing in theory than any known alternative).

I think it's risky to put too much trust in personal experience - mine or anyone elses. Humankind has too often been wrong in the past, believing that common sense alone, and the momentum of tradition and the status quo, is sufficient for avoiding error. It isn't.

re:Naivete

No, I think it does indeed qualify as ad hominem; ad hominem doesn't (only) mean criticism or contempt for a personal belief one's interlocuter holds, or a characterisitic of them. Notice that I took special care to point out that although your argument is ad hominem, it is not necessarily invalid or incorrect. My objection was not to the logical validity or truth value of your statement, but to the unfortunate side-effect that it is a conversation stopper.

Okay, but you haven't said why what I said was ad hominem. You started by saying what ad hominem doesn't necessarily mean, but did not go on to explain why "I gather you're not married" was ad hominem - which, incidentally, wasn't an "argument" either, it was a supposition. And an intendedly tongue-in-cheek one at that, tho evidently you didn't think so.

If activies outside of argumentation (marriage, life experience, etc.) are necessary for one party to an argument to be willing to accept the validity of the other party's arguments, then the argument is over. Nothing more can be said by one of the parties, until that party acquires the necessary extra-argumentation qualities.

Again, I didn't make "an argument," I stated a supposition - specifically that you were not married. Granted, I expected that to convey the implication that if you were married you wouldn't have made such a silly statement, but it left open the possibility that despite my own experience, and the experiences of others who I know who are married, we might all be wrong and you might have a special insight. Tho I doubt that.

All of this might very well be true, though I remain skeptical and unconvinced. To make your argument stronger and more persausive, a better approach might be to cite population survey data instead of personal anecdotes and introspection (of course population survey data has interpretation problems of its own, but it's at least more convincing in theory than any known alternative).

I am quite confident that my experience together with the relevant experiences of others I know are representative of the larger population. I would argue that disproving the null hypothesis is your challenge, not mine.

I'm having a difficult time taking you seriously here. Are you really skeptical that you wouldn't be laughed out of the room by the vast majority of spouses if you told them they should invest more of their emotional energy in overcoming their despair if they allowed their spouse to freely engage in extramarital sex?

Seriously, pick an n-value that you feel would give you significance, then go pitch your advice to that many spouses and get back with us on what you find. I'm pretty sure I know.

I think it's risky to put too much trust in personal experience - mine or anyone elses. Humankind has too often been wrong in the past, believing that common sense alone, and the momentum of tradition and the status quo, is sufficient for avoiding error. It isn't.

Who said anything about going with common sense, or any of that other stuff. The point is people with relevant experience in a matter are likely to have more knowledge about it than those without. Examples are legion.

I'm beginning to think this is less advice on your part and more just rationalization - "I want to get married and be allowed to fuck other women when I want and not have my wife get upset about it." That isn't the way relationships typically work, and trying to convince your wife that her personal beliefs to the contrary are insufficient for her to "avoid error" will get you nothing but divorced. Pretty much guaranteed.

For me personally, I'm not

For me personally, I'm not trying to convince any potential partners to change their beliefs; I'm looking for potential partners who already share a similar perspective with me on the value of monogamy. And for what it's worth, I haven't had much trouble finding people that do share this perspective, and are perfectly happy being in open relationships. (Of course, this might change once I move from the realm of dating to the realm of long-term commitments ala marriage.)

Maybe...

The question is not so much whether you can have a conflictless non-monogamous relationship but what you will get out of it, how it will affect your life. Is it a suitable environment to raise children? Does it work during old age when you most need support? Will you create strong bonds?

For the first two questions,

For the first two questions, though maybe not the third, it would seem like, on first glance, polyandrous relationships would have more to say in their favor with regard to raising children and security in old age. The more people involved, the more resources from which to tap time, attention, and money. Though I will admit that an increase in the number of partners would, prima facie, lead to a concomitant decrease in the intensity (but perhaps not the quantity) of attention or "strong bonds."

Polyandry: let's be crude

You really wouldn't mind putting it in still tepid semen?

I, for myself, feel such a strong aversion for that I can hardly believe it's merely cultural. Then again, I wouldn't mind polygyny.

Even cruder

An English friend of mine called it "stirring the porridge."

Not sure; I will have to

Not sure; I will have to cross that bridge when I cum to it. (Apologies in advance; that was awful.) While some sexual acts do cause high initial disgust when I first hear about them, this particular one doesn't; nor does it interest me either. I'm pretty close to neutral on it. But I'd be willing to try almost anything at least once if my partner requested it.

On a more serious note, and in lieu of a direct response to your question, when I've gone clubbing with girlfriends in the past, it doesn't bother me in the least to see them hitting on/dancing with/grinding up against other men (and women!). In fact, it's kind of a turn on - primarily because it makes me happy to see her happy. I actually had to go out of my way to assure the other guys that I didn't mind (and in fact enjoyed) them dancing with her, because they didn't want to cause trouble by violating the social norm of monogamy.

I didn't experience much of any jealousy at all, because I was confident that we would be going home together that night, albeit with some new "friends" accompanying us. Of course, as I said before, I don't think of myself as the norm, and recognize that I may represent a very small exception to the general rule - different strokes for different folks, I guess. Haha, I said "strokes."

re:Naivete

For me personally, I'm not trying to convince any potential partners to change their beliefs; I'm looking for potential partners who already share a similar perspective with me on the value of monogamy.

Well that's quite a bit different than what you originally offered, and not something I care about one way or another. My comment regarding beliefs was prompted by your comment which seemed to dismiss the fact that people with relevant experience in a matter are more likely to have useful knowledge about the matter than people with little or no experience.

(Of course, this might change once I move from the realm of dating to the realm of long-term commitments ala marriage.)

I can almost guarantee you it will. And the change will be the result of maturity and experience.

(Christ, I just realized that sounded like Dr. Phil).

Might I suggest

Elevating this back-and-forth to the front page? Good stuff here in the comments and I think it would be even more utility-enhancing to have it up front for others to see. :) (I miss our outrageous, Qiwi Lisolet-granted smilies)

Which back and forth is

Which back and forth is that?  RKN and Micha?  Micha and me?  Or Micha and you?  You mean, Micha and you, don't you?  Shameless.

And when you do...

...please start with lots of definitions. I have seen (or inferred) monogamy used in this discussion to mean several things:

  1. A promise to maintain sexual fidelity with a spouse until death do you part.
  2. A sexual relationship with one partner at a time.
  3. A sexual relationship with one partner at a time where the time happens to begin at age 25 and last until death.
  4. A private contract to cohabit for life in spite of sexual infidelity.

Depending on the definition, it could be that a high divorce rate is proof of human monogamy. Perhaps humans do not easily tolerate infidelity in a relationship (in other words, polygamous behavior) and terminate the relationship to find a faithful partner.

Excellent point

Depending on the definition, it could be that a high divorce rate is proof of human monogamy. Perhaps humans do not easily tolerate infidelity in a relationship (in other words, polygamous behavior) and terminate the relationship to find a faithful partner.

If humans aren't monogamous, then why is infidelity such a deal-breaker?

For the Bible Tells Me So

If humans aren't monogamous, then why is infidelity such a deal-breaker?

My flippant answer? "For the Bible Tells Me So..."

More seriously though, I'm willing to believe, based on the present state of evolutionary psychology, that some degree of jealousy is innate to the human condition. But as I've said before, granting this doesn't solve the harder problems of determining how strong this feeling is and whether or not it can be overcome with enough social conditioning. I sure hope it can be, because if it can't, capitalism is pretty much doomed. The fact that capitalism has kept on trucking despite these difficulties leads me to believe that either (a) the magnitude of jealousy innate to the human condition isn't very high, (b) jealousy isn't as innate as we think it is, or (c) even a high degree of innate jealousy is malleable enough and subject to social conditioning to allow some degree of peaceful capitalism to succeed in the modern, cosmopolitan world.

Could very well be

Though in just about every society, Christian or otherwise, that's the case.

I'm just saying that's a data point that has to be taken into account with the rest.

More idle speculation

I suspect that jealousy is an appropriate emotion for zero sum or negative sum games like either monogamous mating or siblings fighting for face- (or teat-) time with Mama.

Where jealousy is inappropriate is for positive sum games like "Am I wealthy enough to meet my goals in life?" A more cooperative spirit and compassion for neighbors would benefit here.

If you can argue that there are stable breeding strategies that are positive sum (it shouldn't be too difficult to find some examples in the human or animal world), then you can make a case for avoiding jealousy in mating behavior.