More on the Value/Disvalue of Monogamy

You are not authorized to post comments.

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.

Share this

On a side note (Meta)

The threaded commenting has *got* to go. THe comments are getting so scrunched that if some back and forth continues in some areas, the width of the comment box will be like 5 characters. We need a more conventional numbered comment scheme, and let people refer back to numbers. Or else a better way to thread these things (perhaps ala Kos?)

Yup, I've been complaining

Yup, I've been complaining about this for a while. What if we just made the indent width much smaller? As it stands now, it pretty much serves as a strong disincentive to continue a conversation past a certain depth, which may or may not be congruent with what we are trying to get out of our comment threads.

Re: Threading (Micha)

Micha,

Yup, I've been complaining about this for a while. What if we just made the indent width much smaller? As it stands now, it pretty much serves as a strong disincentive to continue a conversation past a certain depth, which may or may not be congruent with what we are trying to get out of our comment threads.

For now, there's an easy way to get around the problem of shrinking column width: restart from the left by addressing the person you're resonding to, quoting his comment, then responding. Just like I did here.

Yes, and there's a (semi)

Yes, and there's a (semi) easy way to get around the FUBARness of this blog software constantly fucking up margins and other shit--by copying all quoted text to Notepad first-- but the point of technology is to make our lives easier, not harder. Hell, I'm in no place to complain since I'm not paying for it (other than with the time I spent contributing content), but I would expect you to be concerned with DR users having to think of and utilize workarounds when the blog software should be setup better in the first place.

It's not monogamy that's desireable...

...rather it's shared understanding with whom you most admire. And once you have that you don't fear jealousy, loss, or abandonment. And you don't look for another because there would be no point since your satisfaction is so abundant. Monogamy is a natural consequence of the highest love, not a cause of it.

It's only when you settle for a lover who does not meet your highest standards that you need to fear. Then you are depriving yourself.