Many of us are familiar with Donald Rumsfeld's famous (and surprisingly useful) taxonomy of knowledge:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.

But this taxonomy (as originally described) omits an important fourth category: unknown knowns, the things we don't know that we know. This category encompasses the knowledge of many of our own personal beliefs, what I call unquestioned defaults. For example, most modern Americans possess the unquestioned default belief that they have some moral responsibility for their own freely-chosen actions. In the twelfth century, most Europeans possessed the unquestioned default belief that the Christian god existed. And so on. These unknown knowns are largely the products of a particular culture; they require homogeneity of belief to remain unknown.

By definition, we are each completely ignorant of our own unknown knowns. So even when our culture gives us a fairly accurate map of the territory, we'll never notice the Mercator projection's effect. Unless it's pointed out to us or we find contradictory evidence, that is. A single observation can be all it takes, if you're paying attention and asking questions. The answers might not change your mind, but you'll still come out of the process with more knowledge than you went in with.

When I was eighteen I went on a date with a girl I'll call Emma, who conscientiously informed me that she already had two boyfriends: she was, she said, polyamorous. I had previously had some vague awareness that there had been a free love movement in the sixties that encouraged "alternative lifestyles", but that awareness was not a sufficient motivation for me to challenge my default belief that romantic relationships could only be conducted one at a time. Acknowledging default settings is not easy.

The chance to date a pretty girl, though, can be sufficient motivation for a great many things (as is also the case with pretty boys). It was certainly a good enough reason to ask myself, "Self, what's so great about this monogamy thing?"

I couldn't come up with any particularly compelling answers, so I called Emma up and we planned a second date.

Since that fateful day, I've been involved in both polyamorous and monogamous relationships, and I've become quite confident that I am happier, more fulfilled, and a better romantic partner when I am polyamorous. This holds even when I'm dating only one person; polyamorous relationships have a kind of freedom to them that is impossible to obtain any other way, as well as a set of similarly unique responsibilities.

In this discussion I am targeting monogamy because its discovery has had an effect on my life that is orders of magnitude greater than that of any other previously-unknown known. Others I've spoken with have had similar experiences. If you haven't had it before, you now have the same opportunity that I lucked into several years ago, if you choose to exploit it.

This, then, is your exercise: spend five minutes thinking about why your choice of monogamy is preferable to all of the other inhabitants of relationship-style-space, for you. Other options that have been explored and documented include:

  • Non-consensual non-monogamy, the most popular alternative.
  • Swinging, in which couples engage in social, recreational sex, mostly with other couples.
  • Polyamory, the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. This category is extremely broad, but the most common variations include:
    • Polyfidelity, in which >2 people form a single committed relationship that does not allow outside partners.
    • Hierarchical polyamory, in which each individual has (usually) one primary partner and some number of secondary partners. These labels typically reflect the level of commitment involved, and are not a ranking of preference.
    • "Intimate networks", in which each person maintains some number of independent relationships without explicit rankings or descriptions, such that a graph (the data structure) is the best way to describe all the individuals and relationships involved.

These types of polyamory cover many of the available options, but there are others; some are as yet unknown. Some relationship styles are better than others, subject to your ethics, history, and personality. I suspect that monogamy is genuinely the best option for many people, perhaps even most. But it's impossible for you to know that until you know that you have a choice.

If you have a particularly compelling argument for or against a particular relationship style, please share it. But if romantic jealousy is your deciding factor in favor of monogamy, you may want to hold off on forming a belief that will be hard to change; my next post will be about techniques for managing and reducing romantic jealousy.


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I don't think that any relationship style is the best for people in general, any more than any food is the best-tasting for people in general. However, I do wish that people were more aware of the possibility of polyamory, as well of the fact that many people do fall in love with others even when they're already in a committed, loving relationship with someone.

I've seen too many times the situation where two people are in a relationship, one of them falls into love with a third person, but the committed couple can't talk the matter through with each other simply because they don't even have the concept of someone in a loving relationship falling into love with a third person. It's just automatically assumed that if that happens then something's horribly wrong with the relationship, and the only alternatives are to kill the new love or to abandon the relationship in favor of the only love.

There is indeed something bizarre with the concept of jealousy and one-person-forever ingrained in the common view of "love." This misconception has probably led to a tremendous amount of misery in the form of needlessly shattered relationships.

I don't think it's bizarre at all. Pair-bonding is stronger if more time is spent with a partner. The strongest love will naturally usually be in monogamous relationships, therefore, and so if romantic love is the goal, monogamy is a straightforward answer. Time strengthening your relationship with partner X is time you cannot spend strengthening your relationship with partner Y, except in the unusual case that you, X, and Y are all mutually in love.
There may be some biological basis for jealousy; I would be surprised if it weren't adaptive. However, most people make a constant effort to suppress behaviour that would be (technically) adaptive, or to engage in behaviour that is clearly maladaptive (like, say, not having children so they can have a career). While there may be some biological reason for jealousy, that does not explain or justify its general social endorsement. More specifically, the concept of love seems to have the concepts of fidelity and jealousy inextricably woven into it, at least in mainstream Western culture. On a philosophical level, this doesn't exactly make sense. If we care about the overall happiness and flourishing of man kind, it seems likely we would be far better off if we took the effort we put into suppressing, say, premarital sex, and moved it into suppressing jealousy. Obviously, this is the view of a rather small minority, but it is nonetheless fascinating that most people are incapable of conceiving of love without fidelity: consider the seriousness of the implications of a romantic partner saying, "I love you," for most people.
That's a pretty big "if", there. I think the percentage of people who genuinely care about that is vanishingly small. How many Americans do you think would agree to erase the US entirely if they were absolutely certain that it would guarantee the happiness and flourishing of the rest of the human race? Do you think you could find even ten thousand?
Easily. I'm sure there are at least that many Americans who hate America. But that's besides the point. I don't think unusual and extreme examples are very probative in determining how people feel more generally. I think that when you get as absurd a hypothetical as "erase the US entirely," the evidence provided by it is irrelevant. That said, I do agree with you that, in general, people do not generally care about the overall happiness and flourishing of mankind. I think reducing the problems posed by jealousy would actually lead to significant individual gains for those involved, but it's such a gut reaction that I don't think people acknowledge this. Plus, less jealousy would probably mean less concern over commitment, which I expect would lead to more sex in general (among other things), and plenty of people have a problem with that.
Well, there is that. :)
Pair bonding is also commonly believed to increase with sexual intercourse. I have more sex with my partner if she's got another partner as well, variety is the spice and all that. So even taking your statement as a given (because I have no real dispute with it, it seems pretty consistent with my experience) there are other factors at play.
The hormone vasopressin [], which can be released during sexual intercourse, has a 100% correlation with pair-bonding in prairie voles. The gene that codes for vasopressin release during sex completely determines whether or not voles will form permanent pair-bonds. There is also research demonstrating a link between vasopressin and pair-bonding in humans, though of course the link is much less strong. Oyxtocin is also believed to play a role in human pair-bonding, and it is likewise released during sex.
Citation needed.
9randallsquared13y [] [] []

Those talk about the presence of the pair bond being determined by the presence of oxytocin, but they don't say that it's zero-sum (unless the first linked page gets to that - I've only read about 1/3 of it, but given the topic I doubt it'll be able to draw that conclusion). The first linked page does say something about the presence of a pair bond being potentially affected by time, in that voles can become pairbonded by spending enough time around another vole even without a traditional bondmaking activity, but that doesn't necessarily imply that time has anything to do with the strength of the bond once it's created.

I think your model isn't complex enough to describe the reality of the situation.

Pair bonding can't occur (and continue, since it clearly falls off with time, in humans) if one of the pair isn't present; even if a specific activity were required for pair bonding, this would still apply. There's only so much time for bonding in any given period. People are complex; I didn't mean to imply that they aren't, or that no people can thrive in polyamorous relationships. That's not the way I'd bet, though, given a random person. In any case, you appear to be suggesting that pair bonding could be a single event or binary state, which is actually simpler than my model, where continued time spending is necessary to continue and/or deepen the bond.

You're forgetting the (very likely) possibility of hitting diminishing returns at some point. If you want to maximize the amount of romantic love and there are diminishing returns, then it pays off to diversify at some point. Polyamorous people have also reported experiences where having a second relationship actually strengthens their first relationship, even if the three were not all in love.

Furthermore, you are presuming that people can just choose to spend all their time with a single partner, and any time spent with a second partner is gone from the first one. This is not so. For instance, suppose that A lives in San Fransisco where B also lives, but because of their job, A has to take the occasional extended trips to Moscow where C lives. That means A and C can see each other on occasions when it simply wouldn't have been possible for A and B to see.

Or suppose that person A prefers spending nearly all of their free time in the company of other people, while their partner B prefers to spend half of their free time doing things on their own or with other people. In that case, A also dating person C who has the similar preferences as B will maximize everyone's enjoyment and romance.

I would be very suspicious of claims that, in general, the strength of a romance would be a monotonically increasing function of time spent together. Most couples do not want to spend all their timed glued to each other, at least not after the initial NRE has worn off.

I feel that I am naturally monogamous - or possibly just patterned after my parents, who as far as I know are monogamous with one another. But I think that it would only be moderately difficult to perform the mindhacks to be comfortable with some types of polyamory, if the practical obstacles (e.g. how to deal with eventual children, prevent disease, present to the outside world, etc.) were all taken care of to my satisfaction.

I've been in a heterosexual relationship wherein I (but not the other party) had standing permission to have sex with other women, but I didn't find myself in a position to exercise this option in practice. (I did hit on a girl during that relationship, but she was located out of state.) This did not seem that difficult to adjust to psychologically. Possibly, this is because I attached no particular romantic emotion to hypothetical girls I could sleep with; they would serve as the functional equivalent of boyfriend-approved sex toys (whose needs and preferences would be more salient, because of course they'd be people, but nevertheless, they wouldn't occupy the same central role in my mind as an actual girlfriend would.) It's also possible that I would h... (read more)

Polyamories of any kind are necessarily more complicated.

This seems like the core point. Monogamy isn't necessarily optimal, but it's a good satisficing solution to a bounded rationality problem.

It seems to not satisfy some people, however.

Does your conception of monogamy extend past the Singularity? When you say you want your relationships to be permanent, does that mean you seek an actual eternal commitment as opposed to just human-level permanent?

Actual eternity sounds pretty swell now. I don't know if it'd still sound swell after 500 years. (After that long, I might have my life sorted out well enough that I'd welcome the introduction of some complications.)

As a relatively new visitor to LessWrong, I find myself moderately disturbed by the fact that that was your first thought upon reading the word "permanent".

I was surprised no one had brought it up sooner. If we're talking about permanence, let's actually talk about what that would mean.

It says something about the way I think, that to me it seems like a primary reductio of monogamy that it wouldn't scale to a million years.

Does it say something about the way I think that I don't consider million year monogamy particularly absurd at all? A desire for a monogamous relationship is by no means an incoherent or implausible preference to have. And these people have a superintelligence as backup. I wouldn't say it seems likely but reductio definitely doesn't work here.

I wouldn't describe the idea of million year monogamy as intrinsically incoherent in the abstract. However, the scale of changes on such a time scale seem to make it exceedingly unlikely. Consider just the problems to the idea of personal identity if we just added high-bandwidth links to human brains. Even with no AIs, and even no other changes to human bodies, that one addition, no faster than an optical fiber of today's technology, could make nonsense out of what counts as a person - and therefore as to what counts as a monogamous couple.
Those inevitable large scale changes are the thing that makes monogamy a plausible option. If, one year after the emergence of a Friendly-to-them singularity, they particularly want to remain monogamous ~forever then they will. If they don't, they will not. There need be no inevitable changes in desires when the limerance fades after a few months, the few years of a produce-one-child pair bond expires or boredom after a several decades. Those are optional (given the right technology) and if they really want to be monogamous they will.
You seem to be viewing a Friendly-to-them singularity as freezing in place the couple's utility functions. I agree that it might be able to stabilize it against currently-known changes, such as those you cite, fading limerance, human pair bond stability, some others. I'm skeptical about stability with respect to all important changes over a million years. Even a superintelligence is going to encounter surprises, whether from exploration of the boundaries of design spaces or exploration of physical space. Even for it, the future is uncertain - and the balancing of subgoals and values must likewise have some uncertainty. If the consequences of one of those surprises makes one or both of the members of a couple morph into something rather different, is sticking with the original bond sensible, or even meaningful? If the couple precludes all such changes, is that at all a reasonable choice over such a long time period? Is it even viable? Precluding change in the face of surprise is a dangerous choice.
It might be that relationships can last successfully for 50-60 years but not for thousands of years -- long-lived people could have many relationships, each as long as our longest marriages. Having several hundred 50-year relationships actually might be interesting. You have enough time to get to know your partner deeply and intimately, through fifty years' worth of life stages. It wouldn't be the "post-Singularity equivalent" of a one-night stand, because you actually do have fifty years to learn what makes that person tick, in all his subtlety and complexity. But you never have to worry about feeling trapped because hey, it's only fifty years, you've got lots more time.
The depth of the relation is not necessarily related to the time spent together.
It wasn't my first thought, but it was something I had been vaguely meaning to ask Alicorn for a while and this was an appropriate opportunity.
As a long-time transhumanist, that was my first thought upon reading the word "permanent".
The complexity of a polyamorous relationship actually makes it more stable if you look at it in terms of the group relationship and not in terms of the individual relations within it. In a triad. a person who is currently dissatisfied with one partner still has a healthy relationship with the other. One has to be dissatisfied with with the relationship as a whole to decide to leave both partners. I see the somewhat chaotic flux present in the insides of a polyamorous relationship as no different than the trials that monogamous relationships undergo. It is simply the way that it continues to be a relationship beyond encountering those stresses that causes them to stand out.
That simply isn't what I mean when I talk about stability. A partner is still a person of roughly the same size and importance when there are others in the same reference class, and eir entrance into or departure from my life is an event of similar significance.
I guess I wasn't clear. In my polyamorous relationship (which is not an open poly, but more of a polyfidelity), I've found that having relationships with the same people that someone you are fighting with has relationships with keeps the fight from getting to the point of separation. A fight that may cause someone to leave your life instead causes them to keep their distance for some time. I think of it as the other relationships you share attenuating the relationship stresses such that you are not torn apart from each other. Afterwards, they hold you in proximity like stitches on a wound, to allow you to heal.
What do you call that stage - polyodium? But that would be when everyone hates everyone else. More likely is that 3 just reduces to 2.
You don't happen to take after the family milkman, by any chance? ;-0
Agreed on most if not all points.

why your choice of monogamy is preferable to all of the other inhabitants of relationship-style-space, for you.

You may wish to rethink your assumption that American population norms apply to readers of Lesswrong. I'm pretty sure that people here are more likely to be "Rah, polyamory!" than to be knee-jerk in favor of monogamy. Also, I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of nillamorous people here who you are completely ignoring, myself included.

I would be astonished if LW's readership conformed to American norms in any sense. But the fraction of Americans who have seriously considered polyamory, even among those who have heard of it, is tiny enough that it seemed worth tossing out there. As for the nillamorous (google indicates you have coined the word, which is awesome, by the way): no slight was intended. While nillamory isn't a part of relationship-style-space in the same way that atheism is not a religion, I tend to treat it as if it were, for the same reason that I write "atheist" on forms that ask for my religion. Regardless, there's certainly nothing wrong with preferring to stay away from romance. Edit: The choice of relationship style is definitely relevant for people who are nillamorous due to circumstance. The approach one takes in looking for partners is greatly informed by what you want them to be partners for.
By choice, or by circumstance, or are you asexual? (And which of those would you include in the term "nillamorous"?)
Asexuality and nilamorousness (za?) sound like different but overlapping concepts, to me - the latter sounds like it should refer to some other part of this [] Venn diagram (from here []), perhaps the 'none of the above' section.
By circumstance. I would include the first two in the term, although being asexual would tend to reduce the likelihood of someone entering into a relationship at all.

Including within the non-amorous (I like this better) those who are so "by circumstance" is nonstandard and pretty confusing. A committed monogamous or polyamorous person defines herself as such whether or not she is currently in a relationship. For the sake of consistency, your status as non-amorous should also be independent of whether or not you are currently seeing someone; that is, you should only call yourself non-amorous if you are so by choice.

I'd like to consider a related question: why did our society "choose" monogamy as a social norm? One major clue is the high correlation between monogamy and economic development--virtually all modern industrialized societies have adopted monogamy as a social norm, whereas most societies throughout history have practiced polygyny. But what direction does the causal relationship run? (*)

Does it make sense to start tearing down this norm before we get that question sorted out? Several commenters have said that they're not for or against polyamory, but they are for being aware of and considering the possibility of polyamory. But one way to enforce a social norm is to teach people to think in such a way that they do not even consider the possibility of violating it.

* See for one attempt to answer the question.

This is a good and important question. As the paper you linked to indicates, monogamous societies tend to have fewer children than polygynous ones; this, in turn, leads to a host of economic benefits.

But we should distinguish between polygyny and polyamory, which are not at all similar practices. The Trobriand people have a relationship-style that has much more in common with polyamory than polygyny, and this seems to be a direct result of their belief that sex does not cause pregnancy (which they possess because their diet greatly reduces the odds of conception).

While the Trobriand people are not economically well-developed, I think that their relationship-style is a result of that of lack of development and not the other way around. Consider: economic development would lead to a more varied diet, which would then restore conception rates to more normal levels and demonstrate a connection between sex and childbirth; prior to the advent of widely-available contraception, economically developed cultures and the varied diets that accompany them were incompatible with relationship styles similar to the Trobriand people's.

If this explanation is true (and I acknowledge that the evidence... (read more)

Once a society attains a certain level of efficiency or productivity, changing social structures can free up significant amounts of otherwise untapped potential. Every modern industrial society had a rather rigid concept of "women's work" until relatively recently. The technological advances (and immigration) that broke this tradition resulted in a tremendous increase in human capital and significant economic growth (among many other mostly-but-not-entirely good things). Modern polygynous societies are vastly different from modern monogamous societies in ways that do not revolve around mono vs poly. Furthermore, I don't think many societies have been tolerant of polyamory, as opposed to polygamy. Given that other values (having kids, working, buying needless crap) remain relatively constant, polyamory would likely help revive the strong social support networks of yesteryear and exhibit positive returns to scale versus the current system. This is not to say it would definitely result in an improvement, but demonstrating, "Polygynous societies aren't that productive, therefore monogamous norms are vital to continued economic success" requires vastly stronger evidence than you cite.
It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the predecessors to our society "chose" monogamy because it seemed like a good idea at the time, without any very coherent reasoning about the longterm effects. The effects of breaking down monogamy are an entirely different question.
I think it may have something to do with limiting violence. I'm trying to remember the reference (it might be Hanson or possibly the book the Red Queen Hypothesis - if I remember I'll post it) but a vast majority of violence is over access to women, at least in primitive societies. Obviously mongamy means that the largest number of males get access to a female, thereby reducing losses in violent competition to females. I think this would certainly explain why rich societies tend to be monogamous - less destructive waste. Additionally I can imagine societies with high levels of polygyny (think emperors with giant harems) could be extremely unstable due to sexual jealousy, but that's mere speculation. Apologies if this has already been posted - I was late to this thread and there's an unmanageable number of comments to search through.

EDIT: OH my God, I forgot the special LW markup, ARGH. Comment has been edited.

I have an enormous amount of experience with the polyamory community and with observing polyamorous relationships, but I was convinced that I myself had a "monogamy orientation" until recently, when I became less sure. Regardless of whether or not a person is "oriented" towards monogamy or polyamory, however, I think it's useful for both monogamous and polyamorous people to discuss relationships in the kind of depth that is common in the poly community; in other words, discussions in the poly community can offer a lot of insight on how to thoughtfully organize a relationship.

The two best polyamory FAQs I've seen are here and here.

The best swing FAQ I've seen is here.

Here is an excellent example of a polyamorous relationship contract, in which both parties carefully set priorities, discuss triggers, and define their terms.

Just read through these links, and I have to say that the concept of "fun" leapt out at me as being largely missing.

I suspect there's a major problem where a lot of the people who spend the most time writing about polyamory or BDSM or, hell, sexuality in general, are people who literally have nothing more important in their identities. They're trying way too hard to sound adult and serious. You want to scream at them to just lighten up.

I'm starting to get that dreadful "I could do better than that" feeling which makes me do things like write Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality or explain Bayes's Theorem...

Hey Eliezer,

Interesting point. I think part of the problem is that sex theorists have to work very hard to get ourselves taken seriously, so many of us overcompensate. Another problem is that while sex is totally fun, sex also comes with an enormous potential to harm, so it's important to take it seriously at least somewhat.

Also, sex is a highly-triggering area for most people. I specifically try to include some humor and/or sexy anecdotes in my writing, but I find that I am considerably likely to be misinterpreted when I do so, and when I'm misinterpreted it can get really bad really fast ("I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU JUST MADE LIGHT OF ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS!11").

One of the projects I'm outlining right now is a BDSM erotica novella in which I try to include as much theory as I possibly can while still keeping it sexy. We'll see if I succeed.

One of the projects I'm outlining right now is a BDSM erotica novella in which I try to include as much theory as I possibly can while still keeping it sexy.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Sexuality?

rule 34.
Hahaha. You wish.
Another thought -- along the lines of my first paragraph, one common term that's used to insult sex-positive feminists (by feminists who don't identify as sex-positive) is "fun feminists". The idea being that we wouldn't hold our position if it weren't "fun", or that we've been distracted from the "important" stuff by the "fun" stuff, or that we get undeserved attention for being more "fun". This obviously makes some of us feel like we have to prove that we're not that fun :P

I'd just call 'em "dull feminists" and get on with my life.

What Eliezer said. Disregard the no-fun feminists.
3Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
I want to read that novella. It sounds educational.
The relationship contract is very interesting. It's good to have a concrete, realistic example of the ideas of polyamory put into practice. Both parties have various veto powers. I imagine neither party has to explicitly use their veto power very often. As in politics, the possibility of a veto exists to ensure that both parties will always take the other's desires into account. There are two asymmetrical articles in that contract, and I was surprised to find that both of them are restrictions on what the woman can do. The first requires that her male secondary partners court her husband, and it's explicitly stated that this is to allay his jealously. The second prohibits the wife from having penetrative sex with anyone besides her husband, and the explanation offered for this article doesn't really explain why there isn't a similar prohibition on the husband. I wonder if the real reason is the husband's jealousy again. In any case, it seems the man in this relationship is more prone to jealousy than the woman. I don't know evolutionary psychology yet, but it's a little astonishing to me how this asymmetry, particularly the emphasis on penetrative sex, seems to be precisely what the ev-psych stories told elsewhere in this thread tell us to expect.

Women are much less likely to be capable of achieving orgasm through penetrative sex than men, so the ban on penetrative sex for her may be less asymmetrical than you seem to think. After all, if she can easily achieve orgasm by several methods other than penetrative sex, but he prefers penetrative sex over other methods, then while there may be some jealousy active in the penetrative sex prohibition, it may also not be that much of a "sacrifice" for her.

It is also entirely possible that she feels more jealous when she knows her husband's partners well, and therefore the requirement exists for him to know her partners, but not for her to know his partners. Different people react differently to these things.

It is also entirely possible that they have a BDSM relationship as well, and that he is the dominant partner. A lot of polyamorous BDSM relationships restrict the submissive partner more than the dominant partner.

Finally, I don't personally read the veto as existing to ensure that both parties always take the other's desires into account .... Remember that poly relationships tend to be much more highly-communicated, verbally, than the average mono relationship. I read it as intended for partners to be able to veto, not intended to force partners to think about each other. After all, if they weren't thinking about each other, they wouldn't have written this contract in the first place.

It is my hope that WrongBot's next post will explore the varied facets of romantic jealousy.
While that contract isn't unusual, it's not typical either, in several ways. First off, most poly relationships don't have an explicit contract in place; negotiating rules and boundaries is standard, but putting them down on paper is uncommon, at least in part because many poly people want to change their rules as time goes on; for example, my girlfriend and I started off with quite a few rules, but we've been gradually removing those as she gets more and more comfortable with polyamory. Second off, the contract creates a clear hierarchy, where one relationship is primary and any other relationships the two might form are necessarily less important. This is a pretty common arrangement, but far from universal. Third, there's a bit of controversy over veto rights in the poly community; they make some people feel more secure, but others argue that if your partner won't take your preferences into account without veto power, then adding that power will only cause resentment. I lean towards the latter camp, but veto rights seem to be helpful for couples who are gradually transitioning from monogamy to polyamory, so my stance there is far from absolute. My point is only that polyamory encompasses an incredibly broad array of relationship styles, all of which have proponents who will happily argue that theirs is the one true way.

Warning: broad, slightly unfounded generalizations forthcoming. But I think they're insightful nonetheless.

I think that most people's beliefs are largely determined by reward, power, and status. I want to state explicitly that I don't endorse these social standards, but I think they're pretty solidly established.

For virtually all women, sleeping with multiple men is not high-status. Being with a man who is seeing other women is a marker that she can't get him to "commit" to her, and is therefore somehow deficient. For a substantial majority of men, they are not sufficiently attractive enough (overall, not specifically physically) to entice women into such a lifestyle. In other words, because women feel like they take a huge status hit being with a poly man, your average woman will only consider such a relationship with a man who might otherwise be out of her league. Thus, since most men date women roughly within their own league, most men do not have the opportunity to pursue this.

Men at the top, on the other hand, are probably chasing tail more than they're chasing love or romance. Also, at least based on my knowledge of such men, they don't view female infidelity as bei... (read more)

Polyamory is relatively common in science fiction fandom, though I think it's common more by contrast with the mainstream society. [1]

Possible status implications: Fans get status by not being like non-fans-- specifically by pursuing some kinds of pleasure more than they do. Or it might be affiliation with Robert Heinlein, in which case we should see a generational effect.

Null hypothesis: Fans aren't more likely to be polyamorous than non-fans, they're just less discreet about it.

[1]Fandom seems to have a lot of pagans and libertarians. Actually, as far as I can tell, neither are all that common.

This is reminding me of a bit in a Samuel Delany essay. This was written some decades ago-- he mentioned that he was apt to overestimate the proportion of women in a crowd.

It seems to me that seeing how accurately people can estimate the proportion of various easily identified groups in a crowd could be a test of background levels of prejudice.

"Status" as you are using it here is meaningless. There is a polyamorous subculture whose members are largely indifferent to an outsider's perception of their status; as is generally the case with subcultures, status is only relevant within the subculture. And in the polyamorous subculture, having multiple stable relationships is high status. Furthermore, not all people are terribly sensitive to status. I find that trait attractive in potential romantic partners, so I'm quite safe in ignoring considerations of status entirely.

There is a polyamorous subculture whose members are largely indifferent to an outsider's perception of their status; as is generally the case with subcultures, status is only relevant within the subculture.

This reinforces my point; it does not undermine it. I agree that it is a common error to view status as an single linear continuum. Members of subcultures have different status continua. If, however, you do not join that subculture, its continuum is irrelevant to you. Thus, for the vast majority of people who do not subscribe to the subculture of polyamory, what I said is essentially correct. If something inspires them to join this subculture, their values may change.

If you consider how the median person's social circle (or date!) would react to the revelation that they are polyamorous, I think it proves my point. Most women on dates with men who called themselves poly would likely react, "Maybe, but not with me," but would be more receptive to the idea if they were less concerned about having kids and if the man were more desirable than their typical options. I expect most men would either reject a woman who described herself as poly out of hand, or else see her as... (read more)

I suspect you meant "do not subscribe." My evidence is largely anecdotal, but I suspect that this is the case. Men and women in the poly subculture seem to have approximately the same attractiveness distribution as the broader population, though only if you control for the subculture's demographics, which skew heavily towards white, young, liberal, geeky, pagan bisexuals. Members of those demographics likewise skew towards feminism, egalitarianism, and other such ideals, so one should certainly expect poly women to be more "empowered," which so far as I can tell they are.


"Status" as you are using it here is meaningless. There is a polyamorous subculture whose members are largely indifferent to an outsider's perception of their status; as is generally the case with subcultures, status is only relevant within the subculture.

But how much of the status within the subculture is a reflection of the same traits that enhance one's status in the mainstream society? Honestly, I don't think the answer is zero even for subcultures much more extreme than polyamorists.

Moreover, since subcultures don't function as closed autarkic worlds (except for some religious sects), their members still have to struggle to make a living and maintain their functionality within the mainstream society. Are you really saying that people in polyamourous relationships are largely indifferent to how successful and well-adjusted their partners are in the broader society outside the subculture?

And in the polyamorous subculture, having multiple stable relationships is high status.

I certainly don't doubt this, but surely the traits and skills that enable one to elicit and maintain attraction from multiple concurrent partners in the polyamorous subculture are... (read more)

"Not terribly sensitive to status" isn't the same thing as completely indifferent to it or committed to lowering one's status. I think a great many people aren't working to raise their status, even if they're making some efforts to keep it from being lowered. One of my friends who's in a triad has said she doesn't think that polyamory is consistent with maximum achievement-- intimate relationships with more people simply takes more time and attention than being in a two-person relationship.


"Not terribly sensitive to status" isn't the same thing as completely indifferent to it or committed to lowering one's status.

I think a great many people aren't working to raise their status, even if they're making some efforts to keep it from being lowered.

Trouble is, many important status-enhancing behaviors are as natural as breathing air for some people, but mysterious, unnatural, and hard to pull off for others. People of the latter sort have to commit significant thinking and effort if they wish to achieve the same results that others get by simply going with the flow.

When people whose natural behavior is decently good status-wise say that they're "not terribly sensitive to status," it's as if someone with good language skills said he was not terribly sensitive to fluency of speech, without stopping to consider the fate of folks suffering from noticeable speech impediments. The analogy is not perfect, in that many more people suffer from impediments in social behavior than in speech, but the basic point holds: just like generating fluent speech, navigating through human status games is a task of immense complexity, which however some peo... (read more)

For the record, I was diagnosed with Asperger's about a decade back; believe me when I say that I'm one of those people who's had to "commit significant thinking and effort if they wish to achieve the same results that others get by simply going with the flow."

If anything, I'd say that having to deal with status in a conscious and deliberate way has caused my status-indifference: I have a very clear picture of how shallow that game is. I only play it when I need to.

I'd agree with Nancy that polyamory isn't consistent with maximum achievement. Devoting resources to intimate relationships always has that effect, even if you only have one at a time; polyamory necessarily requires more of an investment. It's a trade-off that I'm more than happy to make, but your priorities may not agree. It's (potentially) a good reason not to be interested in polyamory.

Even monogamy isn't always consistent with maximum achievement, as illustrated by the expression "married to the job".
I was thinking about that, and realizing that none of the people in the triad are extremely ambitious. Polyamory might well be consistent with achievement if the group includes ambitious people, and might be better than monogamy if the number of people who want to be in support roles are more than half the group.
To make this comment a bit more concrete, imagine if you (or those around you) suddenly started picking their noses incessantly, farting a lot, and speaking like rednecks with no conception of how to conjugate english verbs.
Even better: suppose you started behaving in ways that are commonly associated with the epithet "dorky." To make the point especially relevant, focus on those ways that are characteristic of large numbers of people who live peaceful, productive, and honest lives, but suffer from social ineptitude.
As someone who isn't terribly sensitive to status, I often find this site's emphasis on it puzzling. Have you seen this post [] for further discussions unpacking status?

As someone who isn't terribly sensitive to status, I often find this site's emphasis on it puzzling.

They're just doing it to show off.

That wasn't just a joke, though to judge by the upvotes, it's a better joke than I thought it was.

Telling people that their motives are less reputable than they thought is a way of lowering their status and raising your own. It's tiresome from Marxists and Freudians, and at least for me, too much of it produces a feeling of intellectual claustrophobia. Motive-mongering can prove anything, involves unproven guesses about what other people are driven by, and leaves out major parts of the world.

In particular, status is about non-rational motives for acceding to people. If everyone was completely run by status considerations, nothing useful would be getting done. (There's that Gladwell essay I can't find which suggests that status competition is especially pernicious when people have nothing useful to do, as in high school, prisons, and the court of Louis XIV.)

Status is an important feature of how people live with each other, and it makes perfect sense to want enough skill at it to live a good life and accomplish what you care about.

However, there's got to be a complex interaction between status (some but not all of which is based on proving that you can afford to waste effort and reso... (read more)

You may be thinking of Paul Graham. In "Why Nerds are Unpopular" [] he says:
Thank you. That's it. No wonder I couldn't find it by searching on Gladwell.
You might like this piece - The social rationality of footballers [].
Thanks. My impression is that there's more pressure in soccer than in other sports for the players to keep the game interesting, though (again a matter of impression) I thought that was more about tactics involving more than one member of the team, and possibly grace of motion. Goalies throwing themselves to one side are probably more interesting to watch than goalies standing in the middle. I'm less clear about whether kickers aiming low (a duel between the kicker and goalie) are more interesting than a high pressure moment in which the kicker aims high and gets the ball in or not. I wonder whether that article will affect how player handle penalty kicks.
NancyLebovitz: It is a very difficult and complex question, which can't be discussed in its full generality in a single comment. It certainly involves numerous perplexing and counterintuitive phenomena where it's hard to even begin analyzing the situation coherently. Well, the only honest answers to both questions would be -- sometimes, possibly even often, I don't. But admitting that status is often a key force in shaping our beliefs that we nevertheless see as products of flawless logic and clear moral imperatives is a necessary condition to even begin disentangling our situation.
If you're willing to take a crack at the interactions between status and efficacy, I'm interested in seeing it.
I don't know, it's a really complex question. If I ever form anything approaching a sketch of a complete theory, I'll probably post it. But certainly no simple proposition will do.
Blueberry: Well, that's sort of like saying that you're not terribly sensitive to the issue of eating and drinking -- maybe you really don't think about it much overall, but it's still an essential part of how you function within the human society.

Eating is rarely used as an explanation for anything around here, whereas the word "status" often appears in proposed answers to various questions: why hasn't there been a male counterpart to the feminist movement, why are most women monogamous, and so on.

My experience in the past few months has been that in many cases, such explanations turn out to be vacuous, the statements made in support of them (e.g. "women are institutionally lower status than men") readily debunked, or at best true only if you pick precisely the right one out of the many meanings of "status". (So that, to make an effective argument, you should really use the more precise term in the first place - prestige, reputation, wealth, political power, or what have you.)

The term often masks sloppy thinking of the virtus dormitiva variety: it replaces a question about a puzzling or poorly understood phenomenon with an "answer" that is really just a bit of jargon, and fails to advance our understanding by identifying a regularity relating more primitive objects of our experience. (In the case of the feminist movement, "who has the right to vote" turns out to be that kind of regularity, for instance: it's not even particularly hard to improve on "status" as an explanation.)

I have reached a point where I now suspect the mere appearance of "status" in an argument on LW is a useful heuristic to detect sloppy thinking.

Eating is rarely used as an explanation for anything around here, whereas the word "status" often appears in proposed answers to various questions:

Your dark arts don't work on me. Eating? Why should eating be used as an explanation for everything? It's just not as relevant. In fact, in many conversations using the word status I could instead describe the relevant insights in terms of eating. It would basically involve writing a paragraph or two of detailed explanation and using search and replace on all instances. But I shouldn't do this. We use words to represent higher level constructs because it saves time and allows us to fit a greater amount of understanding into our limited ~7 slots of working memory.

I have reached a point where I now suspect the mere appearance of "status" in an argument on LW is a useful heuristic to detect sloppy thinking.

How can I reply to that except with a clear contradiction? "We don't use 'eating' therefore we shouldn't use 'status'" is sloppy thinking. Using the word 'status' to refer to a whole body of strongly correlated behaviours and the interactions thereof in social animals is merely practical.

Morendil has b... (read more)

Eating? Why should eating be used as an explanation

Indeed. May I note I wasn't the one to drag nutrition into this argument? As far as I can tell you're echoing my objection.

Morendil has been pressing a "don't say status" agenda here for over a year

Fact check: I registered around mid-september, and started voicing my skepticism of (some) status-related claims in early March.

But I'll choose to take your observation as flattering - my writings on the topic must have been memorable to loom that large. :)

Still, it's grossly misleading to summarize my views as "don't say status". I am not yet arrogant enough to ban a word that boldly. However I'll have to agree with Eliezer that "concepts are not useful or useless of themselves. Only usages are correct or incorrect."

I'm pretty sure you would agree too.

My "agenda", if I have one, is to better understand how the world works. If the concept "status" can be recruited in this effort, I'll be glad to use it. I went to the trouble of procuring the Johnstone book, of scouring the Net for explanations that I couldn't find here when I asked for them, and of writing up my observations and c... (read more)

A fair reply, and I retract my objection to that argument, agreeing that it is not relevant either way.
No, if you think that those concepts can be used to compensate for an artificial prohibition against 'status' then you do not understand either the term or a broad aspect of human behavior. If people limit themselves to those nodes because a 'status' node is forbidden to them then they can be expected to: * Die. * Not get laid. * Be severely handicapped in your friendships. * Get fired. * Or, at the very least, avoid all the above problems by working far harder to learn all the surface details of what works while ignoring the underlying pattern that could allow you to learn the related 'status navigating' skills in a general way. Things like prestige and wealth are useful concepts in their own right but to limit your thinking to only considering each of them independently is to impair your ability to form critical inferences about general patterns of human behavior.understand They are related concepts and more importantly human intuitions and behavioral instincts are integrally tied up in that relationship. A word to represent that area in a map of reality is critical. There is a difference between tabooing a broad concept in a specific instance for the purpose of exploring a narrow topic in more detail and just plain tabooing to whatever extent you can. The latter is an epistemic parasite that needs to be crushed mercilessly whenever it appears. The below quote is a representative example:
What you're quoting me as saying is markedly different from saying that I wish for an outright ban on the word "status". (I think you're digging yourself into a hole, and I suggest you ought to stop digging.) I wish we'd go back to specifics, for instance where I pointed out that "institutional status" was a poor explanation for why there hasn't been a male counterpart of the feminist movement, and offered an alternative that was at least supported by historical facts (women organizing as a movement to seek the right to vote).
I wouldn't say that you did and even if you did expressing that wish would be counter-productive to the goal of achieving your desired influence. What I am countering, to whatever extent possible, is the introduction of trivial [] social pressure that impairs the ability of participants to develop a full understanding on how status influences the behavior of social mammals, particularly humans. I disagree (and mildly object) to your claim, but not to the gist of the suggestion. My goal here is not to persuade you but to present a counter a counter to (what is in my judgment an extremely mild) toxic influence on the generalized conversation. This is not served by extended wrangling in one instance but rather by persistent response whenever such influence surfaces. I don't recall whether I commented on the topic but I share your objection to that usage. Any given concept should be used when, and only when, it is the most appropriate explanation for the context (that is, it balances brevity, clarity and accuracy). Misusing the concept of 'status' when it doesn't really help understanding things makes it harder to usefully draw inferences on things that actually rely on human status instincts in much the same way as associating the term in general with Bad Things. In this regard our purposes are mostly in alignment.
Another possible explanation is that a lot of the disproportionate mistreatment of men is by other men, so a simple gender split can't address the problem.
This observation is in no way a criticism of Feminism but an approximately equal amount of the relevant mistreatment of women is from other women too. I don't believe that problems relating to sexual discrimination or gender characterizations are often best explained in terms of actions of the other sex and or gender. The problems are rather a lot deeper than that.
IIRC, the comment I was replying to mostly mentioned unequal impact on men of war, and possibly of the legal system. Feminism seems to deal with culturally driven abuse of women by women by blaming it on men. Since men have more overt power, this is at least vaguely plausible, though I think it leaves a lot out. I've heard attempts to blame man vs. man abuse on women by saying that women prefer soldiers. I think this lacks plausibility because there's obviously so much more driving wars.
The theory of sexual selection [] contains two parts: intersexual selection (mate choice) and intrasexual selection (competition within each sex. The view in evolutionary psychology is that males compete more fiercely than females in polygynous species like humans. In Male, Female, David Geary says that the primary theory for greater male body strength is female sexual selection pressures causing competition between males. A history of male-male competition is written onto men's bodies. Greater female selectivity provides not only local incentives for greater competition between males, but appears to have caused males to be adapted for this competition. Modern day war isn't only only about male-male competition, of course. Though a lot of socially-harmful behavior throughout history may relate to male competition for status and resources. Female preferences create an incentive for this competition, even if women don't actually like many of the forms that male competition ends up in (e.g. duels, video games, etc...). To get even more speculative, I will propose that greater average male systemizing was sexually selected for. It's probably similar to greater average male aggression: some women find it attractive, many don't, and probably the main reason males have more of that trait is because they needed it to beat out other males. It should go without saying that I'm not holding present-day or historical women morally responsible for the effects of their aggregate preferences on men.
Here's a notion of mine: Knights compete for women by competing with other knights. Troubadours compete for women by getting good at things women like. When troubadours succeed, knights think it's very unfair. I could believe in evolutionary overshoot, where male-male competition becomes so reinforcing that it leads to less reproductive success. These days, we're living in an evolutionarily weird environment where higher status means fewer offspring. I'm not sure how long this has been going on. In re upper body strength: How would you tell the difference between sexual selection by women vs. better ability to provide for and defend families? For what it's worth, I told my theory that war is actually a scam by older men to get their younger competition out of the way to a man, and he was shocked and annoyed. My theory had completely left out the younger men's strongly felt motivations. Of course, even if I'm right, that wouldn't be how things feel to the older men, either. An alternate theory is that uninhibited young men are apt to be dangerous, and societies develop drastic methods of socializing them.
Probably not as much as a woman would be if you told her that becoming a soldier is an even worse deal for her than for young men, evolutionarily speaking.
Anyone want to take a crack at evolutionary pressures for nations, and in particular, the pressure to convince people that being soldiers is the one sure way for people without extraordinary talents to do something important with their lives?
*throws group selection warning flag*
Is group selection problematic when it's for memes?
Eh, I was asking [] the same thing last week. Check out the responses I got. That's why I'm just throwing the warning flag, not saying you've committed the error. I recently read Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle, which heavily relies on the phenomenon you're referring to but which was criticized for being group selectionist. (He views societies as being superorganisms that can collectively act in ways that further themselves, which results in individuals behaving very much like cells, and having the same tendencies, like gradually dying when they're not put to use for the rest of the organism, which is how he explains suicidal tendencies.)
Which would be even worse if you explained why, including the part that involves raping the women in the other tribe when you win and quite possibly killing the existing children.
A small difference in framing often makes a disproportionate difference in my response and I agree with everything you are saying here. Even so, just considering the whole question of 'blame' feels odd to me. That's a primarily social explanation and if it happens to have epistemic merit too that is just a bonus. Since I don't feel personally involved in the question "blame" based thinking just doesn't spring to mind naturally. I expect a different experience on a question that is closer to home, that I am politically invested in. For example the meta question of the merit of blaming. When considering that topic it would undoubtedly feel natural to me to produce explanations blaming 'blame' for all sorts of epistemic and instrumental crimes. Mind you, these objections would for most part be accurate, valid and reasonable, but they would still be prompted by a whole different class of thought. (Disclaimer: Posts written by me when time-since-sleeping > 30 can be expected to have far more errors in grammar and clarity of expression and slightly less intellectual merit at the level of underlying content.)
30 hours? Really? And you can still manage to type and spell?
I have to proof read a lot more. Simple grammar errors slip in. Most commonly the ones you get if you change your mind about the best way to present something but end up putting half of the first version there and half of the second in a way that doesn't really fit. I also outright type the wrong word sometimes, that part of my brain that links up concepts with labels is a real weak point. For most part I avoid the problem when writing but my vocabulary is totally abused. I can think in terms of all the words I know, I can phrase the sentences how they should flow given what I know to be words available to me, but sometimes the actual word is not accessible when I try to say/type it. Freaky stuff. I don't start losing the ability to program until about the 48 hour mark.
I may not understand the term then: what is the difference between "status" and "prestige" or "reputation"?
I will not give an exhaustive list explaining the difference or attempt to define the nuances of the boundaries between them (because that is hard and I am sure someone else is better qualified to answer.) What I will do is point out some obvious differences that spring to mind, cases where to use the words interchangeably would just be wrong. * Prestige is far less broad ranging in meaning than reputation. It refers to a ranking along some scale of generalized impressiveness with which you can demand they be considered. * Reputation can refer more generally to anything that popular belief attributes to you. This will particularly apply to traits that you can be expected to display. It may be the case that you have a reputation for doing good work and that this work has also given you prestige, but the two don't always go hand in hand. You can have a reputation of not being as prestigious but of being right more often. You can have a reputation for being lousy at securing prestige... * Status can be influenced by prestige and reputation. With prestige in particular it is hard to get prestige without getting some degree of status. But you can certainly have status without having any prestige whatsoever. * Status is an approximation of what you would get if you could ask a tribe of social animals to line themselves up in order of dominance, rank or in general awesomeness. Someone else (or me with more time) could almost certainly provide a clearer picture of the differences but that scratches the surface somewhat.
A lot of the talk here has been about what might be called ongoing status-- the moment-by-moment behaviors which cause people to be taken account of or not. I haven't seen much about getting positional status-- the official titles and achievements which (I think) mean you don't need to put as much work into ongoing status.
That's a good point. I suspect I tend to neglect that status element because, well, I understood authority and official authority and achievements when I was 5 and was competent (and somewhat perfectionist) in managing such status relationships. It was at least 15 years later that I began to really understand status in terms of social power and developed at least the rudimentary skills required to manage it.
Blueberry: Status is about people's purely subjective perceptions of whom they admire and wish to associate with, imitate, and/or support -- or, in case of low status, the opposite of these things -- because it results in good feelings. (Though of course the situation is usually complicated by the entangled instrumental implications of these acts.) Reputation is an established record of past behavior. Status can stem from reputation, but doesn't have to. For example, strangers among whom you have no reputation of any kind will quickly evaluate your status based on various clues as soon as they meet you. Prestige is a more elusive term. Sometimes it's used as a synonym for outstandingly good, high status-conferring reputation. At other times, it denotes a property of certain things or traits to signal high status by a broad social convention (e.g. a prestige club, or a prestige accent).
Thanks for the explanation. So, status entirely depends on other people's preferences? That is, a statement that person X is high status isn't saying anything about X, but about the people around X and their opinions of X? In that case, status doesn't seem very well defined: the exact same person, in the exact same situation and context, with the exact same behaviors could have a very different status depending on quirks of the people around.
To a large extent, yes. Status is, as Vladimir_Nesov put it, a godshatter concept. It only exists as a node in people's brains, in their decision-making processes, so you don't have one status-value (whatever that may consist of), you have one for every person evaluating you (including yourself).* But, as Vladimir_M details, it will often exhibit a lot of convergence across different evaluators, and in those cases we can safely just refer to "status" without too much ambiguity. *Yes, technically this is written in a kind of silly way, but I hope it's clear what's meant... Edit: Oops, I got the Vladimirs mixed up...
Blueberry: Clearly, some particular behavior can have different status implications among different groups of people. For example, the proper way to dress to signal high status varies greatly between cultures, or even between different occasions within the same culture, and a mismatch may well have the opposite effect. Moreover, an action increasing your status in one group can simultaneously decrease it in another one that is overlapping or broader. For example, if you belong to a strict religious sect, then conspicuous devotional behaviors may raise your status within the sect, but make you look like a weirdo to other people and thus decrease your status in the broader society. I'd say this much should be obvious. However, some status markers are a matter of near-consensus within large societies, or characteristic of significant portions of their inhabitants, or perhaps of disproportionately influential elite groups. Such considerations of status have immense importance for virtually all aspects of organized society, and they exert crucial influence on the opinions and behaviors of individuals. They are well defined within the given society and culture, though they likely won't be invariant cross-culturally. Finally, some status markers are arguably a human universal, though they may be concealed by slightly different ways in which they are expressed in different cultures. The role of such status markers in human social behaviors, and especially mating behaviors, is, for me at least, a fascinating topic.
That isn't a reason to consider 'status' poorly defined. It just notes that it is (objectively) subjective. In fact, the very objection you are presenting here cuts to near the heart of what 'status' is a helpful shortcut to understanding. As an exercise, substitute 'rude' into the above quote, replacing status. The two terms are quite similar in the way they have an objective meaning that depends on the subjective nature of other people in the environment.
You said so in the grandparent. But repeated assertion does not constitute argument. (Or, if it does, it is argument of a relatively weak kind.)
You can define status in terms of eating? As in "status is the ability to eat what you want, when you want, and deprive others of doing so"? I'm curious to know more details. I'd like to hear more about this. It sounds very interesting. Do you have a link or more details?
No, I can't define status in terms of eating. I can describe many situations in which the word status is used in terms of eating, where such descriptions would clearly also require other effects that status has that are less direct than access to the spoils of a hunt or gifts to a pair-bonded partner.
Morendil: Trouble is, often we don't have a more precise term. Some kinds of status that are immensely important in human social relations can't be reduced to any such concrete and readily graspable everyday terms, and insisting on doing so will lead to completely fallacious conclusions -- it is akin to that proverbial drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost. Of course, far better and more accurate explanations could be formulated if we had a precise technical vocabulary to describe all aspects of human status games. Unfortunately, we don't have it, and we still have no accurate model of significant parts of these interactions either. But a vague-sounding conclusion is still better than a spuriously precise, but ultimately false and misleading one. A good illustration is the extensive technical vocabulary used in PUA literature. Before this terminology was devised, there was simply no way to speak precisely about numerous aspects of male-female attraction -- and attempts to shoehorn discussions and explanations into what can be precisely described with ordinary everyday words and concepts have misled many people into disastrously naive and wrong conclusions about these issues. Unfortunately, developing a more general technical terminology that would cover all human status considerations is a difficult task waiting to be done. If you believe that my explanations have been vacuous or based on factual or logical errors, then you're always welcome to point out these problems. I have surely committed a great many intellectual errors in my comments here, but I think that failure to pursue arguments patiently in detail when challenged is not one of them. As for others, well, I don't speak for others, nor do they speak for me.
Pardon me, but I find it somewhat impolite to claim that something I said is [] "easily debunked" when nobody seems to have debunked or even seriously attacked it in the first place. HughRistik did ask me to clarify what I meant by institutional status, but after I did [], nobody challenged that. If you disagree with my response, please reply to that one directly. ETA: Though I do find it amusing that I'm making a blatantly status-conserving move in a discussion about status. :)
OK, I'll withdraw "debunked" as applied to that particular example, until I've had a chance to look at it more closely. I stand by the claim that the alternative explanation (feminism as continuation of the women's right to vote movement) sticks closer to the original query, so what was debunked was at least your claim to obviousness [] of your status-based explanation.
Thank you. You mention that as an "alternative explanation", but that sounds to me as an example of my explanation rather than something that excludes mine. Yes, feminism is probably a continuation of the women's right to vote movement (which in turn was a continuation of earlier trends), and the women's right to vote movement was a successful attempt to fix one particular issue that gave women a lower status. After the success of that one, feminism has concentrated on others.
I suspect that polyamory, or monogamy, may be a deeply wired preference for some people, and not something that is easily changed. For someone who is wired to be polyamorous, these status considerations seem less relevant or applicable. There still may be the risk or fear of social disapproval, but someone who is wired to be polyamorous is probably less likely to feel a personal status hit from having their partners sleep with other people. This seems to miss the point, which is that polyamory is a preference or orientation, not something that women need to be "enticed" into by high status or attractive men. (Compare: a lesbian would probably prefer a woman to a high status man.)
In many cases, people first try polyamory when they're enticed into it by an attractive potential partner. WrongBot gave an example - "The chance to date a pretty girl, though, can be sufficient motivation for a great many things (as is also the case with pretty boys)" - and I've seen it several times myself. In many places, enticing previously-monogamous people is a polyamorist's only choice, because polyamory is so rare.
There are significantly more "out" homosexuals than there were in 1850, even if you think homosexuality is purely orientational. Since we're talking about observed behaviour and not personal preferences, social consequences are highly sensitive to social determinations. That aside, I sincerely doubt this (or sexuality) for that matter, is purely orientational. Consider a very undesirable man who is somewhat inclined towards polyamory in his youth. Because he is undesirable, he's going to have an extremely difficult time actually practicing polyamory. The result will be rather heavy, continual negative feedback. If he tries monogamy, and is relatively successful, he may start to lose interest in polyamory due to the fact that the rewards he is receiving contradict it. A more desirable man may have met with more success, gained positive reinforcement of polyamory, and decided to incorporate it into his identity. For a non-sexual/romantic analogy, consider the same child born to two different families (or identical twins, if you prefer): a highly functional, wealthy family that strongly encourages him towards "traditional" success of whatever form best fits his skills, and a similarly functional but relatively poor family that encourages him to do whatever his father did and be self-sufficient. If we interview these two children at 21, we expect them to be very different people. They will likely both have very different but firmly held views on what constitutes a good life and what constitutes success, such that each might be miserable in the other's life. This is very much analogous to an orientation, as it is unalterable and not directly in the control of the individual. It is, nevertheless, highly sensitive to local social values and rewards. Some individuals are such that, almost irrespective of their circumstances, they will turn out a certain way - some underprivileged children will find ways to be lawyers and investment bankers, even with inhospitable childhoo
This is an excellent comment, which gets to the heart of the matter. One point that should be added, however, is that there are some important considerations here in addition to the status structure. Namely, when people get into relationships -- and especially serious long-term relationships, particularly those that are expected to produce children -- they obviously must use some heuristics to estimate the likely future behavior of their partner. Clearly, people's past behavior provides some powerful rational evidence [] here -- and like in many other cases, the best possible rules for evaluating this evidence might have the appearance of crude stereotypes with plenty of individual exceptions, but nevertheless, it is entirely rational to stick to them. Moreover, a troublesome fact for dedicated egalitarians is that, from a purely rational point of view, these rules are not symmetrical for men and women (not least because men and women tend to find different behaviors acceptable and desirable, so even the goals of their inferences are not the same). Of course, these considerations are heavily entangled with the matters of status here. However, the important point is that unlike in those cases where status is assigned to different behaviors in a mostly arbitrary way due to higher-order signaling strategies and locked equilibriums, when it comes to people's history of sex and relationships, low-status markers have a significant overlap with things that predict (in the statistical sense of the word) problematic or undesirable future behavior.
Another thing that happens extremely often: A male who is already sexually active with multiple partners just appears a whole heap more attractive so women end up in a relationship with them more readily. If you have a couple of partners already you have to work hard to stop yourself from getting more.

This, then, is your exercise

The second person pronoun grates throughout this post; it's a "chalk hitting the chalkboard at the wrong angle and making your hair stand on end" kind of feeling, and the snippet quoted is where it's at its most pronounced. (I downvoted it earlier, but it's taken me a while to put words to my feelings.)

So your encounter with Emma led you to discover one of your "unknown knowns", or basic assumptions. But your writing comes across as making a much greater number of unwarranted assumptions about your reader. One of these you have the grace to make explicit: "romantic jealousy is your deciding factor in favor of monogamy". Your Emma-epiphany might possibly grant you some kind of right to lecture a reader who is much like you with the exception of still holding that belief.

But what about your other unknown knowns? Just how many of the features of your own situation are you tacitly assuming also apply to your reader? What compelling arguments in favor of monogamy might you bring up if you put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a 40- or a 60-year old reader of LW? One who lives in a rural area and plans to run a farm for a l... (read more)


The final paragraph more or less gives the game away: this post isn't really a curious and honest inquiry, it's advertisement for a conclusion you have already reached and are planning to expand on. For all I know your conclusion is correct, but your methods to establish it strike me as suspect.


I suspect that monogamy is genuinely the best option for many people, perhaps even most.

The only conclusion I've reached is that polyamory is a good choice for some people, and that it might be a good choice for more people if they had some way of dealing with (irrational, unpleasant) feelings of romantic jealousy. Ignoring jealousy entirely, there are still good reasons to be monogamous; a number of them have been pointed out elsewhere in the comments.

My point here is only that you have a choice, and you are better off knowing that you do. Part of knowing about that choice is understanding what the other options are; I'm only proselytizing for polyamory in the sense that I think people are better off when they can make informed choices.

I find even monogamous relationships burdonsomely complicated, and the pool of people I like enough to consider dating is extremely small. I have no moral objections to polyamory, but it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Personally, I find polyamory simpler, mainly because it avoids the biggest problem in monoamory: is this person "good enough" for me to spend all my time in a relationship with them, or should I hold out and wait for someone better? The prospect of trying to make a decision like that makes me tired just thinking about it. :)

I agree: the simplicity or complexity of monogamy vs. polyamory depends on the intuitions and values of the people involved, and the dimension on which we are measure simplicity and complexity. If a relationship structure creates tension, drama, or conflict between or within the people involved, then it becomes emotionally complex.

A monogamous relationship is like a polyamorous relationship, except it has an additional constraint: you can't see other people (well, actually it's a set of more complex constraints, such as when talking to other people or flirting with other people is acceptable). In a polyamorous relationship, both partners are under less constraints, which potentially makes things simpler.

Even though poly relationships may be subject to less constraints with each individual partner, having multiple partners introduces more complexity.

Perhaps the simplest sort of relationship is a relationship that is polyamorous in principle, but where neither partner is actually seeing another person in practice.

Perhaps the simplest sort of relationship is a relationship that is polyamorous in principle, but where neither partner is actually seeing another person in practice.

I love those relationships. Where you are not seeing other people because you just don't want to.

I don't think it does avoid this problem. It's nice to know that if someone cute propositions you, you'll be able to say yes, but If you're always wondering if you could do better, you'll put yourself on a hedonic treadmill that will never make you happy. Sometimes you have to say "this is the person, or these are the people, I love; I'm no longer looking for more".

It's not so much always wondering if I could do better, as it is having a long list of things I'd like to have in a partner (having an interest in Singularity stuff, having certain hobbies, having certain kinks, and so on and so on). Empirical results so far suggest that a really good match can fulfill maybe 85% of the things on the list, but nobody can fulfill every point, especially since some of the things are mutually exclusive. I'd like to have somewhat with a sciency sort of background for the shared way of thinking about things, and someone with background in the humanities for a way of thinking about things that's different from mine. (One could have both backgrounds, of course, but such people are rather rare.) I like kids but wouldn't want to live with them, so I'd like a partner with kids who doesn't live with me, and for all the usual reasons I'd also like to have a partner who does live with me. There are probably also some other mutual exclusions I'm not consciously aware of.

If I were monogamous, I'd have to settle on a single person and then spend time wondering whether this particular combination of things I want is the one making me the most happy. With poly, I can... (read more)

Well, there's a division between the ones you connect with sexually and the ones you don't, isn't there?
Sex is often associated with being in a romantic relationship, but I could also easily imagine being in a "friends with benefits" type of situation with someone, or being romantically involved with someone asexual. The asexuality wouldn't necessarily even need to come only from their side - I've occasionally been somewhat smitten by specific men, despite having had little to no sexual interest in them.

If you're always wondering if you could do better, you'll put yourself on a hedonic treadmill that will never make you happy. Sometimes you have to say "this is the person, or these are the people, I love; I'm no longer looking for more".

I'm not understanding this. Suppose that you have numerous friends that you care about: would you have to say "these are my friends; I'm not looking for more"? Would you then not be open to making more friends or meeting more people?

While I can understand the problem of never thinking what you have is good enough, I don't see how being committed to improving your relationships and continuing to find more compatible partners causes this problem.

7Paul Crowley13y
By and large you don't buy houses with your friends. The sort of commitment you make to a life partner of many years is one you can only make to a few people at most.

By and large you don't buy houses with your friends.

In the spirit of the original post: Why not?

I see. You have a few slots available and you'd like to fill them with lengthy stable commitments, so preserving stability requires giving up changing the slots. (I was thinking more of short-term and more casual dating relationships, where I don't think this consideration applies.)
N.B. Some of us think only of long-term relationships, and never had a concept of "casual dating relationships" that aren't an effort to start a long-term commitment.
In the spirit of the original post: why did you choose to only have long-term relationships?
I struggle with the same question a lot. People seem to different on their acceptance that relationships they attempt might not last, and that they might get rejected, or that their partners might find someone who is a better match. These attitudes aren't inherently related to monogamy and polyamory, but polyamory is probably more consistent with the recognition of the probable transience of most relationships.

A little bit of silliness here. The conflict in the movie "John Tucker Must Die" is set up when it is revealed that the titular John Tucker, the most popular guy in high school, has been secretly dating three different girls at the same time. When the three girls find out about each other, they team up and decide to get their revenge on John. Not-all-that-funny hi-jinx and generic romantic comedy moments ensue. When it's all over, one of the last scenes of the movie illustrates that John Tucker has "learned his lesson": he has three (unnamed) girls hanging on him all at the same time, showing that he's now being honest about his non-monogamy.

The biggest disadvantage of poly I perceive is that it increases the total drama in your life. If you're monogamous, then so long as things are good between you and your one partner, you're good. If you're poly, drama can come into your life via problems with any of your partners, or if you or they have problems with any of their partners.

On the up side, with poly you can just focus your time on attention on the relationship that isn't dysfunctional at any given time. In that way of looking at it a monogamous relationship constitutes a single point of failure. Of course saying no to 'drama' takes a lot of maturity and strong boundaries to master.

with poly you can just focus your time on attention on the relationship that isn't dysfunctional at any given time

In general I've found that it's the relationship that isn't going right that most needs time and attention. Of course it helps a lot that you can draw strength from other partners during that time, but this is a role that friends can also fulfil.

Of course saying no to 'drama' takes a lot of maturity and strong boundaries to master.

In my experience, you can say no to drama all you like, but sometimes it comes around anyway, and to care for those you love sometimes you just have to deal with it!

"Deal with" is not necessarily equal to "get involved in", though. The "saying no" in this case would be saying no to the latter, rather than the former.
The only sure-fire way I know of to deal with a romantic partner intent on involving me in drama is to sever the romantic relationship. For me, that works--after a few false starts, I'm with a girl who always cooperates in tracing our rare disagreements back to a root difference in either factual beliefs or values, and resolves it with wikipedia or compromises, respectively. But my approach strikes some people as unrealistically draconian. Is there a more subtle set of skills than "only become involved with rational people?"

Is there a more subtle set of skills than "only become involved with rational people?"

Yes. ;-)

If you're seriously interested in learning them, I suggest David Deida's book "Way of The Superior Man" as a conceptual primer, and the AMP "inner game" video series as practical illustration and coaching. Note, however, that the skills in question are more about maintaining your own emotional state and connection to your partner, than about getting anybody else to behave in a certain way.

As the AMP people point out, men's response to drama is often to close themselves off from their caring, in order not to get sucked in to emotional turmoil -- but this is just as bad for the relationship as it is to get sucked in or to give up/give in. Their training approach is to make it possible for you to stay open and connected, without being sucked in, giving up, or closing off.

It is not easy, but it is very rewarding. Initially, the tough part is that you go through a period of getting more drama in your relationship, because as your partner realizes it's "safe" to express things emotionally, she may increase her expressiveness. I personally went thro... (read more)

One of the hardest lessons I've learned is, to use a more colloquial phrase, "don't stick your dick in crazy," which is just another phrasing of your suggested approach. If there's a better way to handle the drama problem, I haven't found it.
I'm unsure of all the various types of drama that folks may be referring to, but by being more accepting and comfortable with various behaviors, one can decrease the (emergence of) drama in their life. The question is then, which situations are you comfortable with, able to change to be comfortable with, and willing to change to be comfortable with? I don't mean to imply that saying "no" on the third question is necessarily bad in any way.
I highly recommend your method, and don't know of another method that I find palatable.
Sometimes. Sometimes time and attention is exactly what it doesn't need. It depends somewhat on what we mean by 'drama' and on how experienced you are at handling emotional situations in a healthy way. Edit: What pjeby said [].
It seems like many polyamorous couples construct complex systems of rules to deal with the inherent complexity of their relationships. My girlfriend and I have one rule: no drama allowed. We crush drama. Rather, we proactively take steps against drama, by not putting ourselves in dramatic situations and letting potential partners know that this is our rule and that we really don't tolerate drama.
Having never been in a romantic relationship myself, would you be so kind as to explain what "drama" means in this context?
I think drama in this context is just the tendency for people who spend a great deal of time together to discover each other's flaws and become annoyed by them, and to then blow the resulting conflicts out of proportion to the original complaint or disagreement. It's generally exacerbated by one or both partners being unskilled at resolving conflicts; minor problems escalate because of, e.g., passive-aggressiveness, anger, avoidance, or ultimatum-setting.

[Drama] is just the tendency for people who spend a great deal of time together to discover each other's flaws and become annoyed by them, and to then blow the resulting conflicts out of proportion

That does not explain why "drama" is more likely in a sexual relationship than among people sharing the same office or among roommates.

Sex is good at creating "drama" because it opens emotional connections: the beliefs and behaviors of one's lover become terribly signficant to one. Women (or more precisely, women still in their child-bearing years) are particularly apt to have strong emotional reactions to changes in the relationship and the behavior, beliefs and moods of their lover.

A lover is likely to do something irrational or desperate in response to a change or perceived change in the relationship with a loved one for the same reason that a person is likely to do something irrational or desperate when faced with any other life change that has great emotional significance, like the prospect of losing one's housing, winning the lottery or getting charged with a serious crime.

BTW, this tendency for the woman in a heterosexual relationship to attach strong emot... (read more)

Some men are prone to this, too, and now that the pattern has been pointed out, I recognize it both as something that I'm prone to and something that I value in people who I'm close to. In fact, this may be one of the main factors that determines whether a relationship feels romantic or not, regardless of sex.
Interesting since you have described yourself in these pages as "moderately-to-strongly asexual" and since the only men with whom the adults in my experience have very strong emotional connections with are kinfolk and the men they have had sex with. Well, actually, my first girlfriend cared a heck of a lot about a gay man she used to work with, but that is the only exception that comes to mind right now among my pretty limited social networks past and present. Actually one more: one of the women in my current circle has a very strong connection with a gay man -- but the man has very high relative social status (practicing physician worth millions) and takes her on pleasure trips all around the world -- and at her age, travel to exotic or fashionable destinations is a bigger pleasure than sex or anything else. Some of the women I know and have known have very caring friendships with other women, which I why I used the word "men" rather than "adult" in my first sentence. In my experience, just my engaging a woman in a serious sincere ongoing discussion (during dates) about whether she should have sex with me has been enough cause the emotional bonding process (in which what happens to me causes her to feel happiness or pain) to progress much further than it ever has with all but one or so of my platonic friends. So, Adelene, given what you have disclosed about yourself on these pages in the past, I am curious to what degree sex or serious sincere ongoing discussions about sex are necessary for you to start really caring about someone you are not related to.
Having sex seems to be moderately negatively correlated, for me, but that seems to be more of an artifact of my confusion regarding sexual relationships before I figured out that I'm asexual than anything having to do with the act itself. Talking about the fact that I'm asexual is weakly positively correlated, but not observably causative: If I don't feel comfortable enough around someone to be able to talk to them about that aspect of myself, it's nearly guaranteed that I won't bond with them (possible exception: if someone was very prudish, but we otherwise got along well, I would probably refrain from talking about the subject but would not count that against them if they weren't aggressively judgmental about others' sex lives) but the fact that I do feel comfortable telling them about that does not imply that we're likely to bond. Someone's reaction to finding out that I'm asexual can have a large effect on my subsequent relationship with them, but that carries similar weight to the effect of their reaction to learning other important facts about my personal identity, such as that I'm autistic - and the wrong kind of interest can be just as damaging as a negative reaction. The other party in a relationship being willing to talk about their sex life is not necessary, but may be weakly useful; I don't have very much evidence to draw from there. Of my two current very-close relationships, I know next to nothing about the sex life of the person I'm closer to, and a minor to moderate amount about the other person's sex life, which does have an observably stronger effect than having a similar amount of information about, say, a person's hobbies, but seems to be about on par with knowing about another aspect of someone's identity.
Even before reading this, I was going to say that I think that my monogamous partner and I have a strong enough relationship that we could become poly if we wanted without the expectation that our relationship would dissolve. However, we strongly prefer our low-drama relationship to the high-drama situations in which poly friends seem to thrive. The parent just confirms this judgment.

Why did you choose to be monogamous?


I should probably provide a corollary to this. It's an interesting question and deserves more than a pithy one-word response.


It is difficult enough to coordinate the work diaries, social calendars, birthdays, anniversaries, dietary requirements, travel plans, in-laws, etc. of two reasonably busy people who live in close proximity to one another. The more people and locations you add, the more it compounds any orchestration problem.


I claim romantic relationships do not enjoy the benefits of economies of scale, and the overhead of each additional relationship actually increases logarithmically. I also claim additional partners are subject to diminishing returns. In fairness, if this is accurate, it is less of a case against polyamory and more of a case against an arbitrarily high number of partners. Still, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the optimal number of typical partners for a given person is between 0 and 2.

"Love Anarchy":

Much like the international system, my lovelife has no police force. I am generally quite pleased with this state of affairs. In a monogamous relationship my partner and I each have a single trade partner for our roma... (read more)

Actually the logistics is not so clear-cut. Lets say Sarah has two partners Tom and Maria. Now Sarah has the wednesday afternoon free. The probablity that one of her partners has free time is higher than it would be in a monogamous arrangement. The time needed is not necassary "everyone needed" but for "some suitable combination of people".
Tom and Maria, on the other hand, have to take into account not only their own availability, but also Sarah's and each other's when planning their activities. Meanwhile, if both Tom and Maria are available on the Wednesday, Sarah has a dilemma, and regardless of whether they're both free, or who she ends up seeing, she will have to accomodate the other at a later date, at which point the entire process begins again.
You pretty much took the words out of my mouth. A relationship between two people already involves an awful lot of moving parts and give-and-take. Let alone the 3-body problem. Even Newton had trouble figuring that one out.
I toyed with the three-body problem joke, but couldn't really fit it in :-)
You're right that the logistics are indeed more complicated in a polyamorous relationship; that's probably one of the hardest parts of polyamory. But I'm not sure I agree with: Even in monogamous relationships there are time and energy conflicts. People need to schedule their time between their partner, friends, family, work, hobbies, and personal time. The only method I know for committing to and scheduling time is to make a schedule with your partner(s) and discuss it with them regularly to make sure you're keeping to it. You can schedule slots of time, and then if you're missing that time with them, there's a problem in that relationship and it needs to be reconsidered.
It's one thing to compete for time and attention against a hobby or a job. It's another thing entirely to compete for time and attention against another human being whose needs are essentially the same as yours.

The vast majority of people in the US perceive monogamy as a moral issue, and believe that Christianity requires monogamy. Many Christian missionaries have struggled to convert the groups they were evangelizing around the world to be monogamous. Yet, the Old Testament condones polygamy; and the New Testament does not forbid polygamy.

The verses Christians cite "against" polygamy are Titus 1:6 (Paul, "An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife"), 1 Timothy 3:2 (also by Paul, "Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife..."), and 1 Timothy 3:12 ("A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.") all say the same thing: Elders of the church (not ordinary church members) should have "but one wife".

Does "but one wife" mean "but one wife at a time", or "should not have remarried after a divorce or death"? These same verses have been used to argue that remarriage after a divorce or a spouse's death are forbidden, because a man would then have had two wives, and not be "the husband of but one wife". Jesus himse... (read more)

Interesting about the braided hair. In East Europe it is actually seen as a sign of female virginity. Коса - девичья краса (A braid is a maiden's charm - Rus.) So monogamy became default thanks to the Romans... Doesn't really fit into the whole "Quo Vadis" narrative that well, does it?
Maiden should have one braid, married woman - two.
That is a moral norm I'm happy to advocate. (I just don't find braids nearly as attractive. ;))
[-][anonymous]13y 14

I asked myself, "Why not be polyamorous?" The answer I got back was "Don't think about that; it will worsen your relationship." I'm listening.

Actually, I don't know whether the answer was what I said, or "It will worsen your relationship; you are now done thinking about it". My intuition says that since I'm in Michigan while my boyfriend is in North Carolina (which does sound unwise, yes), sex with someone else would invariably lead to us being too far apart. And it just seems weird. This is entirely based on intuition, of course, not conscious reasoning, but consciously reasoning about it seems unnecessary somehow. Okay, I got a glimmer of "polyamory simply means more options; there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with that". Responses coming back: "He would object." and "Focusing on just the two of us will result in that relationship becoming stronger." and "It's more intimate with just two." And now, on the meta level, I'm thinking that conscious reasoning is unnecessary, as this is entirely about values, not facts. So, so far, my mind is not changed.
[-][anonymous]13y 10


I have no objection to anyone choosing monogamy, or valuing it over other options, but I hate to see anyone refuse to explore an idea out of fear. The message I got from the original post, which applies to many areas of life, is that sometimes we can go along with a consensus without thinking about it, even when doing so doesn't benefit us, because the alternatives don't even occur to us, or we brush them aside as "weird". It seems like there are facts as well as values involved here, facts such as whether he would object, and what would make your relationship improve. Even when dealing with questions of values, rationality and conscious thought can be useful in helping reach those values. My point is not that you should, or should not, be monogamous, but rather that maybe the times when conscious reasoning seems unnecessary at first are the times when it's most needed.

What if it is? What if polyamory would save her current long-distance relationship from falling apart?

I don't know that it would, but it might. I've certainly seen polyamory work wonders for couples dealing with the long-distance thing.

Refusing to think about something because you're afraid of what you'll discover is seldom a helpful strategy.

He. Note to self: never assume people are male online.
Hmm? Stefan assumed you were female, right?
Yes. Given how I feel about people assuming that I'm female, I would be a hypocrite to make an assumption about someone's gender in the future.
Ah, I understand now. It was an easy assumption to make in that context, because the stereotype is that gay men are fine with non-monogamous relationships, but women are typically reluctant to let their boyfriends have sex with other partners (and there is some evidence [] that non-monogamy is more common among gay couples). If you don't mind me asking, does it raise different issues, or are there different background assumptions, in considering whether to be monogamous when dating another male?
Well, I've never dated a female, so I can't actually compare the two. I wouldn't expect there to be different issues and assumptions because we're a gay couple. (Apart from the obvious stuff like family disapproving, of course.) I should note, however, that this is a back-door relationship: it started with us talking about sex in general, then it progressed to talking about sex with each other, then it progressed to us feeling jealous at the thought of each other having sex with anyone else, at which point we decided to consider ourselves in a relationship.
I've faced more resistance to polyamory from men I've dated than women, but my case may be atypical. I suspect (but can't prove) that gay men are more often non-monogamous because they already have some experience with questioning and defying social norms involving sexuality. There's also probably much more to it than that.
I was in doubt on Warragal myself, and somewhat curious. Writing style what I could inferred about style of thought suggested male but given a male partner and the prior for heterosexual vs non-heterosexual preferences I couldn't have any confidence.
Here [].
Warrigal is female sounding to most? I took more information from this [] (than the name, not the unambiguous revelation). The writing sounds like it comes from a male while the majority of references to 'my boyfriend' come from females.
What? Why?
[-][anonymous]13y 13

My comment will drown in this huge thread, but here it is anyway.

I choose monogamy and I know why I am choosing it.

I am an animal, driven by powerful impulses and emotions. I am programmed a certain way, and I must understand my program in order to anticipate my reactions (and how to maximize my happiness, whichever way you want to define happiness). Everything I do, even trying to be rational, I do because of deep emotional motives that I might rationalize away or of which I am often unaware.

The same is true for the man I bond with. (It's true for everyone imo.)

My husband and I have been interested in open relationships from the start, but it took us three years to try it. We approached it carefully and discussed it from every angle, including no-questions-asked veto rights. To me, having a loving partner who makes me laugh, someone I share my secrets with, and wake up next to every day AND having the thrill of new experiences seemed like living life to the fullest. Life is short, I reasoned. Why not be decadent? Why not enjoy our fertile and attractive years? I knew from the start that I would always find other men attractive. I can be committed to one person and desire three ... (read more)

For people who are embedded in a social structure, it can be costly to step outside of it. Many people will justifiably choose monogamy simply because, given the equilibrium we're in, it is the best move for them...even IF they would prefer a world of polyamory or some other alternative.

To go off topic for a moment, the same could also be said of religious belief. I know the people here feel a special allegiance to the truth, and that's wonderful, but if we lived in 12th century europe it might not be worth rejecting religion even if we saw through it. For that matter, people in the modern day who are particularly entrenched in a religious community...may wisely choose not to even think about the possibility that they're wrong. Wise because, taking this equilibrium behavior as given --- accepting that no one else in the community will seriously consider the possibility of being wrong --- means that deviating will be scorned by all the people whose opinion the deviator cares about.

I applaud people who are devoted to truthseeking, but I do not condemn the rationally ignorant, or for that matter the people who choose to be monogamous simply because that's what society expects of them, rather than because it's "what they really want" or "who they really are."

Wouldn't there be some advantages in 12th century Europe to being a secret atheist (especially a rationalist, if that were somehow possible), and simply not speaking about it to anyone? It would eliminate the chance of going on crusades or the psycological fear of excommunication (even if excommunication would be a horrible situation anyway) if a noble, and a lot of superstitions if a commoner.
There are advantages to that, but there are disadvantages too. You'd have to constantly maintain a lie to everyone you knew, and there are psychological consequences to that. Additionally, it's a lot easier to believe that there is no afterlife when cryonics is possible. If you're in 12th century Europe, you will cease to exist after about 30 years, and that could be very painful to realize.

I'm nonogamous, and I didn't choose.

I'm looking forward to your post on reducing jealousy. I've been interested in polyamory for quite a while now, and I'm already quite convinced that it's a good idea in theory (i.e. that if we could globally change human psychology such that we become more naturally inclined to polyamory, or at least more capable of it, the world would probably be happier overall; happier than if we globally changed human psychology such that we become more naturally inclined to real monogamy? I don't know). But I've never actually had a chance to try being in a poly relationship and I'm not quite sure I'd actually succeed in being comfortable with it.

Edit: This post also makes me wonder if there are any (possible, not necessarily already discovered) generalized strategies for detecting unknown knowns, or at least unrecognized default behaviours, other than just going through your daily routine and making a point of frequently wondering why you're doing the things you're doing. (Though even that I don't do enough.)

This post also makes me wonder if there are any (possible, not necessarily already discovered) generalized strategies for detecting unknown knowns, or at least unrecognized default behaviours,

Compare your beliefs and behaviors with those of people who are succeeding at things which you are not. (And which, presumably, most people in your culture also do not succeed at.)

For example, if you (and most people) aren't wealthy, consider the beliefs and behaviors of those who are.

This doesn't always give you a route to change, of course. I have noticed that most people who are standout successes in any sort of internet-marketed, information-products business (or at least, the ones I want to emulate) seem to personally (and quite sincerely) value various forms of philanthropy, and many of them claim it's impossible to be really successful without it, despite the lack of any logical or direct connection between the practice of giving, and their personal getting.

This drove me crazy for years, both because the often-mystical justifications given simply made no sense to me, and because I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea of personally wanting to give money or time away without ... (read more)

I've assumed that part of charity is the feeling that you have more than you need, and this is related to not being panicky-- it means a lower mental noise level.
I don't know about that; it's not like I've suddenly decided I have more than I need, and definitely not more than I want. I'm wary of that explanation, because that's the cached thought that gets circulated around the subject, and it doesn't actually seem to do anything more than be a stop sign for thinking. Of course, it could simply be that before, I felt like there wasn't really any chance that I could get what I want, and give things away. That sounds like a slightly more accurate description. The thing that makes me question this reasoning, though, is that what I changed didn't have anything to do with charity or how much I "had" in any explicit way whatsoever. It was simply giving up a pattern of helpless thinking, along the lines of being doomed no matter what I do. I could just as easily argue that, well, if I'm doomed, then I should give to other people who aren't. But it apparently didn't work that way. So, I feel more confident saying that I really have no idea what the hell is going on in this area, than simply acceding to one of the many memes that circulate about it. I would rather experiment on a bunch of people first and see if I can make them change in the same way, before I claim to actually know anything about the process. The trap that most self-help falls into is that when somebody identifies the last critical node to change in their own process, they go straight to the man-with-hammer mode, propounding that one change as the Most Important Thing, when in fact it might merely be the first step for someone who still has problems at other nodes in the process [].
Can you elaborate on what you changed? I'd love to know how it made sense to you. I wish I could do this more, but how do you get accurate information on how people think? Even if they self-report honestly, without censoring themselves, they may not know exactly what they're doing and they may be biased in their interpretations.
What I gave up on was a pattern of catastrophizing -- treating setbacks as huge terrible burdens -- and feeling out of control. It's hard to describe, really, because it is now in the "doesn't make any sense to me" category. ;-) It was tied in with family loyalty -- i.e., that if I actually took personal responsibility and didn't consider setbacks permanent, then I would be being disloyal to my father and mother (who each had their own forms of this behavior) and that I would lose my love & connection from them. (Despite them both being long-dead.) Upon letting go of this thought process, I found that various things in my behavior changed as a side effect. For example, I realized that I could actually make all my decisions not on the basis of their likely negative impacts, but instead on their positive impacts. Hm, come to think of it, the realizations about charity didn't happen until the day after that subsequent realization, so it's very possible that it's the real key factor. Making a decision about charity under a negative decision regime is an obvious no-go -- the detriments are obvious, compared to the complete lack of apparent detriments to not giving, absent special circumstances. OTOH, under a benefit-oriented decision regime, there are warm-fuzzy benefits to be had, and less obvious benefit to hoarding. Previously, it had never occurred to me to think of charity in terms of warm fuzzies in the first place, and even if I had, I wouldn't have allowed it to be the basis of an actual decision to act. I just happened to be thinking at one point about going to the library, and I happened to remember what some of my mentors had said about giving was, "give to your source of spiritual renewal", and it occurred to me that of all the things I could think of, libraries would have to qualify as a lifelong source of "spiritual" renewal for me. And then I went, "wow, I could actually do that... I think I would actually dig hanging out with Friends of the Library, g
That reminds me a lot of the difference between positive motivation and negative motivation... you're focusing on what you want to get, rather than what you want to avoid.
Some people, though, are VERY open about their thought process & beliefs, such as the Buffett & Munger duo; also Winston Churchill - a lot of what he wrote about includes himself as a player on the game board. These people are pretty open and honest, and there are others like them. If whoever you're trying to learn from is highly private or secretive (Steve Jobs comes to mind) you're stuck with second-hand information, though good journalists are able to collect meaningful data samples on pretty much anyone famous.
Edit/add: due to a misread I answered on 'how to detect unknown unknowns' Maybe not a real strategy. Read what interesting and/or bright people write, That covers a lot and help with uncovering things that some others already know. For daily behavior you might check the quirkology book or more of the writings of Richard Wiseman. To really discover unknown unknowns, like from Eliezers famous question on what strange thing an AI might tell us, I don't see a super general way. Being curious still goes a long way. Thats how I ended up with my current collection of non-standard habits and ideas.
I'm not sure if you switch tack halfway though, but the original read "unknown knowns".
I actually misread that. For unknown knows there is some fun in reading about foreign cultures. And the description of foreigners about your own.

Somewhat OT: this is not really Rumsfeld's taxonomy. My first knowledge of it is probably from the 1997 book, "To Do, Doing, Done" -- which in turn cited the space program as the origin of the taxonomy, and also of a phrase, "deadly unk-unks" used to describe the unknown unknowns.

"Deadly unk-unks" is much funnier than "unknown unknowns".
Ah, thanks for the cite. And "deadly unk-unks" is the best phrase I've encountered this week, so thanks for that too.

What about nature vs. nurture? I don't have to struggle to not be jealous whereas many people just can't do polyamory because of intense feelings of jealousy. I don't think there's a single polyamorous or jealousy gene, but like homosexuality, there might be a complex array of related genetic factors.

The jealousy response also tends to be different in nature between the sexes.

Jealousy warns a woman that she is vulnerable to losing the resources (and the signals like love, attention, time and sexual desire that are her practical measure). Males require the same warnings from the instincts (to a lesser degree for a slightly different reason). But on top of that males must be warned that their huge investment of resources may be vulnerable to being utterly wasted when another male impregnates their investment. There is a stronger evolutionary motive for territorial instincts to assert themselves.

A light went on above my head as I read your comment. Thanks. Now I understand why I mysteriously stopped feeling jealous ever after I let go of the provider mindset towards women. If other men here are troubled by strong feelings of jealousy, maybe they could try the same.

"Self, what's so great about this monogamy thing?" I couldn't come up with any particularly compelling answers, so I called Emma up and we planned a second date.

This is the sort of thinking that moral conservatives think is dangerous, and I think their arguments are underrated. Can anyone point me to that quote? It's like 'you should leave walls standing until you can see the purpose for which they were built'. (I would add that it's extremely easy to attribute incorrect reasons to Far wall-builders, like evolution or God. And things are allowed to exist for more than one purpose; most things only happen because many reasons cohere.) "Although Logos is common to all, most people live as if they have a wisdom of their own." Link. I'm a fan of something like conservative Taoism.

Can anyone point me to that quote?

You may be thinking of this passage from G. K. Chesterson's The Thing:

There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set

... (read more)
Thank you, Z. M. Davis of the Less Wrong Reference Desk! That's exactly what I was lookin' for. ETA: I might just read the whole Thing; Chesterton's pretty seductive.
I dislike how readers think an argument is more persuasive when it repeats a simple idea over and over again repeatedly many times with hardly any variation or change in content at all despite the simplicity of the idea. Chesterton could've just written "the wall has a purpose, don't be an idiot" and for the attentive reader that'd have been enough.
Superfluous [] (Skim the first paragraph and read the second.)
Well for the attentive reader the whole argument itself was probably unnecessary.
[-][anonymous]13y 10

I found out about poly pretty early and had a generally positive impression of it... in theory.

I do monogamous relationships, at least for the foreseeable future, because I'm pretty much a one-thing-at-a-time person. I don't really multitask -- it's the same phenomenon. I want to focus on one person, and get more intensity out of the relationship.

The other thing is, I'm very private -- I don't like having to tell people about my comings and goings and certainly not my sex life. The whole part about checking in with your primary would rub me the wrong way.

Yes, for me too. I watched a documentary about the lifestyle, and was just baffled that people would shoulder the n^2 communication burden and associated drama. But a poly friend of main maintains that for him it's worth it. We agreed that the two of us have different thresholds for drama and relationship effort, hence a different result from the same cost-benefit analysis.
n^2? 1 2+1=3 3+2+1=6 4+3+2+1=10 5+4+3+2+1=15 6+5+4+3+2+1=21 7+6+5+4+3+2+1=28 Let's see... (n-1)n/2. Yes, n^2 it is. It didn't occur to me to think of it that way given how important that -1 and /2 are for most practical purposes but that just means I wasn't aiming high enough in with my hypothetical plans to require a harem of bisexual women (sorry guys...). More to the point I suspect I discount my expected exposure to other people's drama by more than a linear factor. With larger polyamorous entanglements I'm more likely to be affected by factional politics. Given how they work I'd estimate a drama exposure of order n*log(n). Now for the real practical consideration... what is the relationship between number of polyamorous partners and expected depletion of my Pramipexole supply... Yes, Pramipexole enhances libido for both sexes and in the case of males reduces or eliminates the refractory period []). ;)
" Yes, Pramipexole enhances libido for both sexes and in the case of males reduces or eliminates the refractory period." If these effects were reproducibly demonstrable, controlling for placebo effect, Boehringer (it's maker) would be all over it with both feet, but they're not. They are the company that recently wasted many millions trying to get flibanserin approved for enhancing female libido. The FDA voted 10-1 that it was no better than placebo, and that the side effects were unacceptable. Boehringer would not likely have gone to all that trouble if they already had a FDA-approved drug (pramipexole) that they could have submitted for approval of a new indication without repeating all the pre-clinical safety trials.
You are mistaken. The maker tried to get FDA approval for this use but were unable to. I do not consider this particularly strong evidence that the effect is not present. Faith in the FDA as an efficient arbiter of truth is not a misconception that I suffer from. I have very little evidence regarding whether that drug is effective. And yes, I am saying this after being informed of the FDA vote. I only consider a 10:1 vote against to be weak evidence in favor of the effectiveness of a drug for this particular application. They did. You may find it interesting to note that under the side effects of pramipexole the maker is required to list hypersexuality due to multiple studies showing increased sexual urges and 'hedonistic behavior'.
If it causes increased sexual urges in 1 in 100 people, it'll show up in studies but be useless to most people trying to increase their sexual urges.
Completely true. Another interesting side effect of a medication, and one which can definitely not be relied upon, is inorgasmia. While SSRIs will almost always delay ejaculation (sometimes a good thing), in some cases they more or less prevent it entirely. This makes it possible to copulate until physical exhaustion: TMI: Juvyr vg vfa'g zl hfhny rkcrevrapr gurer jnf bar jrrx va juvpu zl frkhny shapgvba erznvarq fgngvp ng n cbvag whfg orsber pbzcyrgvba. Guvf jnf fbzrguvat bs n abirygl fb n cnegare naq V qrpvqrq gb grfg gur yvzvgf bs bhe raqhenapr. Bhe erpbeq jnf 5 ubhef. V nz engure wrnybhf gung V qvq abg trg zl funer bs gur betnfzf! Pharmacology is fun. :)
Fb lbh jrer arne betnfz sbe 5 ubhef? Gung'f nznmvat. Gung zhfg unir orra terng. Vg'f cbffvoyr gb fvzhyngr gung rssrpg ol punatvat fcrrqf naq fybjvat qbja qhevat frk ohg V'ir arire uryq bhg gung ybat. V'ir unq nabetnfzvp rssrpgf sebz FFEVf naq prageny areibhf flfgrz qrcerffnagf (Ivpbqva, nypbuby, nagvuvfgnzvarf, cbg) ohg vg'f nyjnlf orra bs gur glcr jurer V unir nyzbfg ab frafngvba, naq vg'f nyjnlf orra harawblnoyr naq sehfgengvat.
Arne betnfz. Ohg vg qvq inel. Vg jnf nf gubhtu vg xvaq bs nccebnpurq betnfz ohg gura qvrq onpx gb, lbh xabj, 'qrsnhyg frk fgngr', gura ohvyg hc... rgp. Nf ybat nf lbh qba'g zvaq oyrrqvat sebz sevpgvba oheaf naq raqhevat rkgerzr zhfpyr sngvthr. Vg jnfa'g dhvgr nf rkunhfgvat nf jura V'ir eha znengubaf ohg vg jnf cerggl qnza pybfr. V guvax gur punyyratr jnf cebonoyl zber sha guna gur snpg gung vg jnf frk. Ohg V'z penml yvxr gung. :C Lrnu, V pregnvayl pna'g ynfg 5 ubhef gung jnl. V oryvrir fbzr znyrf ner noyr gb genva gurzfryirf gb betnfz jvgubhg rwnphyngvat naq gurerol pbagvahr (naq betnfz ntnva) qhevat frk. Gurer vf fbzr qbhog gung rirelbar vf pncnoyr bs qbvat guvf rira haqre genvavat.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Um... that body part is not supposed to stay in that state for 5 hours []. Maintaining an erection means diminished bloodflow to the area and anything over 4 hours calls for a trip to the emergency room.
General fact: Summing a polynomial of degree k results in a polynomial of degree k+1. This is easier to see if you use the x choose k basis, rather than the x^k basis.
This is even easier to see if you remember that summation is discrete integration, which is the opposite of differentiation, which reduces degree by one. I recommend Graham, Knuth and Patashnik's "Concrete Mathematics" for stuff like this.
Have you found pramipexole effective in reducing your refractory period? I hadn't realized there were drugs that could do that. I'm interested in trying: how much does it reduce your refractory period? What have your experiences been with it? It looks like there might be a lot of unpleasant side effects.
plus cross-dressing.
That is a seriously funny side effect. I presume it is just related to the boost in appeal of hedonistic activities and general drive towards anything. But still... cross dressing pills. :P
I would be extremely hesitant to recommend taking pramipexole just for the sexual side effects. It works as a powerful dopaminergic receptor agonist. You don't play recklessly with your dopamine system, it's not a toy... that's the acetylecholine system! ;) (Within reason!) I have used pramipexole but I did so not (just) for the sexual effects but because the overall profile fit well with my needs at the time. I stopped using it because I found it made me work too hard, which has limits. It is also just like to cycle most substances that have stimulatory effects. If I recall it was down to 5 minutes. It was absolutely ridiculous, especially when combined with cialis. I cannot speak for general applicability, studies have focussed on libido but I haven't seen anything except anecdotal evidence regarding refractory period affects. Be careful and do your research. Positive, but No Free Lunch. I recommend researching other people's experiences, with the Mind and Muscle and Immortality Institute forums being good places to start. The best thing about those forums is that they are absolutely riddled with citations from PubMed. That saves time tracking the solid evidence down! Not as bad as with SSRIs but that says little. Want something that gives a mild libido boost but is also neuroprotective and an enhance motivation? Try selegiline. It is much less intrusive.
do you generally do DIY medicine? I was always leery of it, even if you do your research.
Absolutely. To be clear my research involves consulting with professionals that I select for competence as well as qualification. This is too important to merely go with the flow.
Pramipexole? Wow, you're serious. Do you just take it quietly, or do you offer it to the girls too? In the latter case they should share the cost :-)
I don't think all polyamorous relationships require such checking in, especially if you're uncomfortable with it. But I understand your point about multitasking.
Same here: I am theoretically interested in polyamory, but I am rather monotropic.
[-][anonymous]13y 10

I agree with the OP that people assume monogamy as the default is an interesting relic. I often speak to atheists that hold many distinctly Christian notions without realizing it and having no real justification for them.

I may get downvoted for what I am about to say, but feel the need to disclose since I wish to check for faults in my reasoning as well as any ethical objections (I request you thoroughly explain the reasoning behind such objections from first principles up).

If I only want safe sexual pleasure I am better off financially seeking professional services.

If I want companionship in itself I have many friends both male and female which provide similar psychological benefits.

Bonding can make such exchanges more stable and long lasting, but considering the high divorce rate and turnover rate we see in modern socioeconomic conditions this is probably not something to depend on.

The only reason evolutionary speaking to bond with someone is to increase the odds of our genes spreading.

There is no such thing as a special someone. I could live relatively happy lives with a non trivial fraction of the population either in monogamous or alternative arrangements.

Romantic love is... (read more)

Before proceding let me first point out I don't consider happiness in itself to be a goal for me. Happiness in some quantitify is simply a nesecary condition of following my goals optimaly... I have relationships only with women who I see as potentially good mothers and carrying good genes.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you've done an affective death spiral around evolution (please note - it is possible to have an ADS around a true idea!)

Evolution by natural selection is a convenient description of the mere statistical phenomenon that genes which code for traits beneficial to themselves, tend to live to the next generation. It has exactly the same "goals" as, say, Regression toward the mean - i.e., zero.

You do not have to do what evolution "wants" (as one might say in anthropomorphic shorthand), although your values do bear the stamp of this wild and wacky algorithm.

Perhaps the desires you express above are really your desires, but I am suspicious that they actually represent what you think you should desire "rationally," based on the mistaken idea that maximizing inclusive genetic fitness is some kind of moral imperative. It's not! You... (read more)

I don't consider it optimal. I consider it better than the average lifescrpit in maximizing the total of interesting things "parts" of me (or should I say my descendants) learn. More of them + as smart as possible + valuing similar stuff to myself

The only reason evolutionary speaking to bond with someone is to increase the odds of our genes spreading.

This line made me blanch. Yes, but, but... are you trying to say here anything more than "the only reason evolutionary speaking for anything we do is to increase the odds of our genes spreading"?

You are correct, the statement is hideous. I should have been more specific I meant primarily increase the odds of successful producing and caring for offspring (which ultimately everything else is also about) but then I remembered obviously that pairbonding may in many cases increase your own survival probabilities as well. Thinking about it again makes it clear to me the statement was redundant. The idea I should have conveyed is that considering the poor choices many people who describe themselves as "addicted to love" and people who turn into stalkers I should regard pair bonding like I regard sex. Pleasant, necessary to some degree for normal functioning but potentially derailing, therefore opportunities for it should be regulated. However that is more or less covered in the spirit of the remaining comment.
Thankyou, I was going to make clarifications along the lines that you just made but then I realized that the statement was technically correct (if pointless) so it would be presumptive to declare what you 'really' meant. :)
I am very intrigued by this post, because it seems to suggest that your axiom of desire (or at least, a major axiom of desire for you) is evolutionary success. Is this in fact the case?
Thanks to everyone for all the feedback so far. I especially appreciate being reminded of the possiblity of a ADS. Considering I'm basing much of my actions based on the above reasoning I need other opinions coming from a more rational perspective than is available on most sites. I apologize for going a bit OT but considering the OP I assumed it would still be in the acceptable range. Now I of course I understand that values in themselves are prerational. To be honest the darwinian obsession comes from valuing life & survival and learning new and interesting things. Living longer is a good way to increase your odds of learning interesting things. Also Konkvistador isn't a discrete entity, should the meatbag be damaged or disintegrated the effects of the meatbag will continue to be felt in the world. Cryonics is ok and I'm sold on the concept, but spreading genes and mems seems like a more fail say way of going about it. What could work better than raising your own children to ensure something of you survives to the future? I've in the past tried to scale up other values to fill the void of others I have when I noticed inherent conflicts between them. The current system is the only one I've come up with that seems to be a functioning compromise with my personal reality into something liveable. Anyway wanting sex in itself has always seemed dumb to me. One wants to fill the universe with fluid exchangning mean? Happines? Wirehead yourself if you want happines in itself, I me much happier ;) following some of my own values. Love however perhaps deserves some discussion as a potential value.
Why do you want to have children? Check out A General Theory of Love [] for additional reasons to want close bonding. A short version is that many animal species need contact to regulate basic metabolic systems, and humans, as the only animals which can die of loneliness as infants, need it a lot. Would you prefer marrying a woman who had a similar attitude about goals being much more important than happiness? My impression is that it would be a bad idea for you to marry someone who didn't share your take on things, but this is only a guess.
At first sight this may seem true. However are you sure you recognize that I acknowledge that keeping myself at least somewhat happy is vital to my continued functioning towards fulfilling my values (whatever I eventually settle upon)? The same applies to any mate, the irony being that someone who dosen't value happiness in itself will be less "happy" (whatever that means) than someone who does since It will change my expectations.
I also have cites for a bunch of the empirical claims you make. Trade sometime?
Preferably, trade publicly or just give them to me too!
If I understand you right please do post them, I'll post the other ones in a few days if they are of any interest to you.
Minor update: This has changed.

There's a correlation between being a LessWrong contributor and being polyamorous. I've noticed at least eight polyamorists among LessWrong users, including two among the top ten contributors. That's a zillion times the frequency of polyamorists in the general population. The correlation comes, I suppose, from LessWrong-readers being more likely to question social norms.

Or possibly just from LessWrong readers having read more science fiction. While reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is not always sufficient to get people to question the monogamy default, it certainly doesn't hurt.

I found Friday more compelling than The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The scenes of Friday's family were just dripping with idyll (until [spoiler], of course).
I might reread Friday to check-- it's a book about desperately searching for a home, and I suspect that an alert reader might find something fishy, even in the early descriptions, if only from their sketchiness. IIRC, Friday seems to love the atmosphere of the place rather than the individuals. While we're on the subject, afaik no human society has anything like line marriages. On the face of it, they seem workable. Any theories about why they don't happen?
I actually haven't read Friday, I was just picking an example from the sci-fi canon more or less at random. There are plenty of other examples, too; I just meant to point out that sci-fi fans get more exposure to these kinds of ideas than most others.
3Paul Crowley13y
Datapoint: I've never read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; I got into poly through meeting poly people at a bisexual convention [].
The overlap between bisexuality and polyamory is quite high, that's for sure. As another data point for that correlation, I think it makes a lot of sense that this is so.
Datapoint 2: I've never read any Heinlein that I can recall, though I do have some rather mild bisexual tendencies. I ran into polyamory-like concepts in a variety of sources, with the first I think being some religious books [] I liked before becoming an atheist. I've also happened to know several polyamorous people since then.
Hypothesis 1: Polyamory, queerness, and nerdy intellectual interests cluster together. (Kink clusters with them, too.) Hypothesis 2: This clustering is related to some biological factors (not excluding social factors, of course). Hypothesis 3: Prenatal testosterone is one of those potential biological factors, in both men and women. My thinking is that non-monogamy is the more male-typical pattern. Nerdiness and systemizing are the more male-typical patterns of cognition. Prenatal testosterone could be related to cognitive masculinzation, and it has been shown to be related to homosexuality in digit ratio studies. Giving the full reasoning for these notions would take a lot longer, and get off-topic, but I wanted to lay out those hypotheses in case anyone finds them interesting.

This is pretty anecdotal, but on one time we noticed that being on the Finnish IRC channels for any of the following subjects meant that you had an unusually high chance of also being on any of the others: transhumanism, the Pirate Party, polyamory, BDSM, atheism and I think role-playing games. (I'm personally on all but the atheism one.)

It could be one of those meaningless correlations. For all I know, it's also the case that people on Norwegian IRC channels for cooking also tend to be on those for socialism, biotech hobbyism, and interpretative dance, and people on Italian IRC channels for football also tend to be on those for Wikipedia editors, foot fetish, and dish detergents.
I think the common factor involved in most of these may be science fiction. The connection to transhumanism is so obvious that I shouldn't have to explain it. The path from science fiction to the Pirate Party is long, but pretty clear. Science fiction is connected with interest in new technology, which leads directly to computers and the Internet, which soon brings you face to face with intellectual property issues in the form of illegal downloading. Polyamory has the obvious Heinlein connection, but there's plenty of other science fiction that concerns itself with other social structures - and polyamory is a pretty obvious example. Why should Archie have to choose between Betty and Veronica when he could just marry them both if not for the rest of society getting in the way? Finally, much science fiction takes a perspective that is completely at odds with traditional religions, if not one that is explicitly atheist. For example, Arthur C. Clarke's short story The Star []. So, yeah, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;)
I've encountered similar anecdotal evidence. I propose a biological factor, because I can't think up any plausible social ones for many of these correlations; they are just too weird.

I can't think up any plausible social ones

The first thing that came to mind on seeing Kaj Sotala's list is "ah; these are people who like to have fun and think about cool things". But that's more of an indication that I've internalized this clustering of interests, rather than an illuminating hypothesis.

I notice that the items in Kaj_Sotala's list all have in common that they're not plurality orientations in society. That is, a non-plurality of people are transhumanists, a non-plurality take the Pirate Party seriously, etc. In that case, they might all be partly due to a contrarianism/non-conformity trait, a trait which would probably be socially influenced.
Some support: I once attended a convention ran by Wicked Events [] that seemed to be half devoted to roleplaying games (as in LARPing) and half devoted to various kinds of kink, especially BDSM. It was pretty fun.

Why did you choose to be monogamous?

Some of my relationships are monogamous. The main advantage to them is that they take less time and effort. They can also reduce drama

Unfortunately monogamy involves creating an artificial monopoly on physical and emotional intimacy. The problems with monopolies that you learn in economics class apply to relationships too and constitute or cause a lot of the 'drama' of relationships. The Nash equilibrium in games modelling monopolies are very different from those without a monopoly and human instincts often reflect th... (read more)

studies show that women orgasm more often and more powerfully when their partner has been with an other woman even if they are not consciously aware of this fact.

How in the world do you ethically perform a study that shows this?

Err... Oops. I just went to google to try to find the relevant references. Let's just say that anything you can find on that topic on google would constitute "generalising from fictional evidence".

Take a group of women who are not in monogamous relationships and who are having sex with men who have other partners. Randomly assign half to group A and half to group B. Take one partner for each woman. Instruct the partners of the women in group A to not have sex with any other women for two weeks, and instruct the partners of the women in group B to have sex with their other partners frequently for two weeks. Ask the women to self-report how pleasurable they find the sex, and how often and powerfully they orgasm. Tell everyone participating in the study about this procedure, and get their consent to it.

It seems like finding a statistically useful number of such scientifically-inclined, polyamorous couples would be quite a challenge.
To be clear, they don't have to be polyamorous couples: just using women who have a friend with benefits would work.
Don't know, but the whole "double blind" part sounds kinda fun. :P
How can you have multiple monogamous relationships in the present tense?
I think my observation is consistent given that it covers past relationships, expected future relationships based on existing principles and whatever my current relationship status is as part of my overall time line. I wouldn't want to say "some of my relationships have been monogamous" even if it is a more simple and precise historical claim because it comes with potential implications regarding current principles and present relationship status which I do not wish to make.
This sounds plausible, though no immediate examples of this leap to mind. Can you give some example?

The very fact that 'sent to the doghouse' exists as a cliché is the most obvious illustration. I'll add that this kind of thing is often bad for both parties. Our instincts aren't there to make us happy, they are there to gain power, resources and reproductive advantage. Using sex and emotional intimacy to gain power is a common failure mode in relationships and can make both people miserable to a lesser or greater degree but it does work.

(This fact is completely bizarre to me. If anyone tries to punish me to gain control or coerce me in any way they instantly lose any influence they had over me based on goodwill and I automatically feel free to use any or every means available to get what I want. That is, they have absolutely no ethical rights until such time as they are not coercing me. But I learned in primary school that other people are often quite willing to be controlled by punishment.)

I react similarly to attempts at coercion. Is this perhaps an asp thing?
More like a self-esteem thing. Nearly everyone whom I have ever known and respected (and, as far as I know, everyone whom these people know and respect) reacts in that way, and that group includes a lot of people who are as far from aspies as possible. People who were sincerely friendly and submissive towards their abusers got called many disrespectful names, depending on the context: sluts, boot-lickers, whipped boys, pet doggies, etc.
Do you use asp to refer to Aspergers' ?(I sometimes see 'aspie' but haven't encountered asp). It is certainly in there among the big cluster of correlated traits and labels that includes Aspergers' syndrome and often ADHD. I don't necessarily qualify for an Aspie label although I quite probably would if I had less IQ. I do know that i would never attempt to coerce any of my friends, lovers or enemies that I identify as having Aspergers'. I wouldn't expect it to give good results. Mind you I don't coerce 'typical' others as much as is optimal either. The work of the mind projection fallacy. I have to remind myself that others are 'spineless pushovers' (my perspective) or 'do not have an attitude problem' (another common perspective).
I use 'asp' to refer to both autism-spectrum and archetypical Serpent qualities, because of the pun and the overlap.
Serpent? As in Slytherin (sneaky, tricky, conniving, plotting)? That doesn't seem like there would be much overlap.
Oddly enough, the archetypal serpent [] was a well-developed concept before J. K. Rowling was born. Both involve social incapacity, compensated for with cold analytics. Both are potential sources of powerful knowledge, complicated by disrespect for, or incomprehension of, traditional limits on the safe use of such knowledge. Both have an unnervingly primordial feel.
Don't worry; I don't actually think Rowling made that up. But I'm surprised by the "social incapacity" part: I would think of a serpent as sort of a sociopathic master manipulator.
Doesn't sociopathy qualify as a type of incapacity?
An emotional one. Not necessarily a social one (though it can be).
Ahh, I may just have to adopt that name. All too apt!

For monogamous relationships, the cost of having an additional partner is much higher: you have to forgo your current relationship, and possibly experience drama and a period of being partnerless. Polyamorous relationships mitigate the cost of having an additional partner.

As a result, a monogamist knows that his or her partner is limited to them for the time being, because the costs of ending a monogamous relationship can be so heavy. A monogamous partner gets a lot of leeway to slack off, take their partner for granted, fail to satisfy their partner, or be a jerk, just as long as this behavior doesn't create a cost to the other partner that is heavier than the projected costs of a breakup.

Monogamist partners have the ability to partially shut out their competitors. When you know that your partner isn't able to to sample other potential partners for better matches, you don't have so much of an incentive to fulfill your partner's preferences.

Of course, polyamorous partners may also have leeway in how well they satisfy their partners' preferences, because the partner doesn't expect to be satisfied in every area by them. Yet the polyamorous person who isn't satisfying a certain preference of their partner isn't expecting that their partner stays stuck in that dissatisfaction, because the partner can go elsewhere, at least in principle.

The trick would seem to be trying to get the best of both worlds. In many cases the game (in this case the temptation to slack off and let yourself go) is played unconsciously. Commitment and trust, however, tend to be higher level features. The best lovers are, by hypothesis, able to foster security and trust while at the same time keeping competitive instincts in play. The impulse to satisfy all the partner's desires before they stray. The spark.
If you control someone's access to a resource, in this case sex, dating, and romantic interaction, you can set whatever price you want for it.
Real world relationships (and real world commericial monopolies, for that matter) would suggest that this isn't literally true. The literal truth is that you can set a higher price than you could get if you didn't have a monopoly.
To be more accurate, you can set whatever price you want, and the other person needs to choose between paying the price and ending the monopoly (by violating the monogamy agreement or ending the relationship). But in the real world people are often very reluctant to end long-standing relationships quickly.
I probably should have said that you can probably get a higher price than you could get in the absence of a monopoly.
People shouldn't be missing the point that many people like to have a monopoly and its part of the reason many enter monogamus relationships.
There are obviously limitations, humans being what they are and all. From what I can tell people can go to more extreme lengths in real world relationships than real world commercial monopolies. When played well people can be made to give everything they have. It's seriously pathetic, and painful to watch.
Some people seem to find it hilarious (as in the movie "Saving Silverman," []) at least in fiction. I wonder if there's a Trope for that.
Speak not Trope's name lest ye summon it.
The prupose of monogamus marraige is to ensure male productivity. In a way monomgamus norm is sexual socialism for men. Almost everyone has a wife, almost everyone has a child. It redistributes sexual power away from women and the top 10% of men and gives it to the remaining 90% of men, forcing us into K selection, slowing the pace of evolution and equalizing outcomes.


In a way monogamous norm is sexual socialism for men.

That's a good way of putting it -- and it leads us to the fascinating question of why people who express great concern about inequalities in material wealth under economic laissez-faire almost invariably don't show any concern for the even more extreme inequalities in matters of love and sex that inevitably arise under sexual laissez-faire. I think a correct answer to this question would open the way for a tremendous amount of insight about the modern society, and human nature in general.

Michel Houellebecq has an interesting paragraph about this issue in his novel Whatever:

It's a fact, I mused to myself, that in societies like ours sex truly represents a second system of differentiation, completely independent of money; and as a system of differentiation it functions just as mercilessly. The effects of these two systems are, furthermore, strictly equivalent. Just like unrestrained economic liberalism, and for similar reasons, sexual liberalism produces phenomena of absolute pauperization. Some men make love every day; others five or six times in their life, or never. Some make love with dozens of women, others with none. [...] In a totally liberal economic system certain people accumulate considerable fortunes; others stagnate in unemployment and misery. In a totally liberal sexual system certain people have a varied and exciting erotic life; others are reduced to masturbation and solitude.

I have a notion that political ideologies are apt to include ideas which are inconsistent with each other, but got bundled together for historical reasons.
That's certainly true. However, in such cases, one can typically find people who have a greater inclination towards systematization and consistency, and whose overall positions will have clear origins in a particular ideology, but differ from the orthodox positions of that ideology insofar as they'll have these inconsistencies straightened out somehow. (This will usually not be accepted favorably by their co-ideologists, of course, and will result in their marginalization.) To take one example, in the historical development of today's mainstream ideologies, environmentalism got bundled up with leftism pretty much by sheer historical accident. (If you doubt it, consider that an example of a prominent environmentalist from a century ago was Madison Grant [].) Thus, there are important points of friction between environmentalism and various leftist ideas that are highly correlated with it today -- and although the inconsistencies are usually passed over in silence or answered with implausible rationalizations, one can find people who have pointed them out and ultimately ditched one or the other. (See e.g. this story [] for one glaring example.) The issue of economic vs. sexual inequality, however, is one of those cases where the seeming inconsistency is, to the best of my knowledge, without any significant exceptions. This suggests that rather than being bundled up due to historical accident, these positions both stem from some shared underlying motivation. Robin Hanson has written some preliminary speculations [] on this question, but I think he has only scratched the surface.
This is a poor comparison. Individual units of money are interchangeable and useful only as means to acquire some desirable end, whereas individual sexual encounters are unique, have many different kinds of value, and are desirable ends in and of themselves. (As a side note, excluding love from any discussion of monogamy and its alternatives is already a substantial deviation from reality; a cursory mention is not sufficient.) Inequalities of material wealth have killed many millions of people and will kill many millions more. Inequalities in matters of love and sex have not. Governments can redistribute wealth (via taxation) without causing great suffering to any one person. Redistributing sex would require institutional rape on a massive scale. Modern society is generally opposed to rape. This should not be a striking or insightful conclusion.

Redistributing sex would require institutional rape on a massive scale.

This is just a failure of imagination! There are all sorts of ways a government could redistribute sex, should it so choose:

  • Economic incentives: pay or give tax breaks to people who have sex with the sex-poor. (If you're worried about economic coercion, you can limit the payment to those above the poverty level, or create more welfare programs so no one has to depend on sex to meet a certain living condition.) Penalize or charge extra for the sex-rich.

  • Social and moral incentives: create a publicity campaign through advertisements and mass media to try to change people's views on sex and attraction.

  • Leveling out attraction levels: teaching social and flirting skills to the sex-poor and providing them with plastic surgery, personal trainers, or other cosmetic resources. Alternatively, lower everyone to the same level, as in the Kurt Vonnegut story Harrison Bergeron.

  • Changing men and women's sex drives and sexual selectivity with neurosurgery, hormonal treatment, or childhood conditioning.

Any or all of these might work, though your last suggestion seems to me to be even worse than wide-scale institutionalized rape. And the Handicapper-General, well, I think that's the worst of all possible worlds; extinction would be better. But criticism is easy and having ideas is hard, and I don't think that you're taking a bad approach.
Oh, I'm not suggesting that these are good options or that a government should do them: some of them would require a near-totalitarian state to enforce. The easiest and least controversial is probably to teach more social skills and flirting in schools. But I'm not seeing why the last suggestion is worse than wide-scale institutionalized rape: if we gave young children hormone treatment along with childhood vaccines, and the end result was to balance out levels of sexual selectivity, why is that bad? (I'm not sure this is possible exactly, but there is some evidence that stimulant drugs and changing testosterone levels, for instance, can affect sex drive and selectivity.)
On the other hand most governments go to some lengths to prevent your first option from arising naturally by criminalizing prostitution. Society doesn't merely not engage in redistribution of sex, it actively campaigns against it. It is interesting to consider why this might be.
Deliberately and permanently altering someone else's mind to achieve your own ends without their informed consent may not necessarily be evil, but I would never want any human being to be able to do such a thing (as we currently are as a species).
Note that inequalities in matters of love and sex have quite certainly led to countless murders and suicides both. They have probably not killed as many people as inequalities of material wealth, true, but in absolute terms the death toll is still large.
This is a good point, but I think there's still a distinction. If you're broke and starve to death, that isn't (usually) the result of someone's deliberate choice. But when love or sex drive someone to doing something terrible, it is still ultimately their decision. I suppose this distinction is complicated somewhat when you take reductionism into account, but in practice it still seems to be a worthwhile one. If there's a decent solution to this problem, by the way, I'm listening. It's certainly an awful state of affairs.
Just in case I was unclear on this matter, I am not arguing in favor of any particular view on these issues at the present moment -- I merely wish to point out that there seems to be a discrepancy here that calls for explanation, and that my hunch is that a correct explanation would open a whole gold mine of insight. That said, I don't think your replies to these points are at all satisfactory. In particular: That is all true, however, there is still the undeniable fact that people differ greatly in their attractiveness, that these differences are to a large degree involuntary, and that those blessed with higher attractiveness are offered a great deal of choice and opportunity to achieve these desirable ends in their lives. Whereas those on the bottom are denied virtually any such opportunity, and a large class of not very attractive folks are outcompeted by those in the upper echelons and are thus left with only meager choice and opportunity. Therefore, even considering all the differences relative to inequalities in material wealth, I don't think a serious case could be made that harsh inequalities don't exist in this regard too. However, tremendous amounts of concern about inequalities in material wealth are voiced even in rich societies where even the very poorest people haven't been in danger of starvation for several generations. It is clear that those concerned about material inequality in modern developed countries object to it as something that is unjust as a matter of principle, or perhaps because they fear that it might cause social instability. (But even in the latter case, surely it not outright absurd to ask similar questions about the possible social consequences of vast inequalities on the sexual market?) Nobody was mentioning any such idea. What was mentioned was merely the plausible-sounding hypothesis that in a society with strong monogamous norms, outcomes will be more egalitarian in comparison with a society of sexual laissez-faire, where t
As regards Friedman's anecdote, I have no (ethical) objection to arranged marriage, provided both of the people involved are freely choosing to enter into it and are old enough to understand the consequences of doing so. But this is often not the case with arranged marriages, and so I do object to those specific instances, of which there are many. Happiness is important, but so is choice, even when that choice is to deliberately relinquish some other choice. Of course harsh inequalities exist, and I have not claimed otherwise. Some people have much more sexual and romantic success than others, and this does seem quite unjust. But the reason that inequalities of romantic and sexual opportunity go unquestioned is not due to a failure to perceive those inequalities. Rather, it's because there is no (ethical) way to systematically reduce them. Whether or not monogamous societies are more egalitarian than sexually laissez-faire ones, coercing one into the other would require a reduction of basic freedoms that I find unacceptable. Furthermore, I think that the idea of "sexual laissez-faire" that you are discussing here is something of a non-sequitur. No one has suggested that we adopt anything of the sort as a cultural norm; I should note that polyamorous standards include levels of honesty, communication, and egalitarianism that are not at all compatible with any kind of "free market." You also seem to be operating under the assumption (and I apologize if I'm reading too much into your comments) that such a free market would necessarily involve successful (or possibly "high-status") men attracting the vast majority of the pool of available women, leaving few options for less successful/attractive men, which ignores the ability of women to form multiple attachments themselves, as well as relationships in which all partners have multiple attachments, which more closely resembles the polyamorous ideal.
WrongBot: What about reductions of freedom that don't stem from any legal compulsion or violent threats, but merely from social norms enforced via status and reputation (and, obviously, their consequences on people's future willingness to maintain and establish various sorts of private relations with you)? Do you believe that these are also unacceptable? If the answer is yes, then you must perceive any realistic human society, including the one you live in, as a hell of intolerable suffocating constraints. (Honestly, I would lie if I said that I don't feel a certain sympathy with this perspective -- but people are often biased in that they make a big deal only out of certain constraints that bother them, while completely overlooking other even more severe ones that they're OK with.) That assumption is, in my opinion, indeed correct, and consistent with what we observe in reality. But I don't see why you think that I was talking exclusively about men. Less attractive women also get a bad deal in a society where attractiveness is an important status marker, which I see as inevitable under sexual laissez-faire. Moreover, those women who would like to form permanent monogamous relationships, especially if they're less than stunningly attractive, are faced with much worse prospects in a situation where any man they attach themselves to could be at any moment tempted to defect and try his luck playing the field a bit more before settling down. (Again, note that I'm not contrasting this with a situation where the man would be somehow coerced into attachment, but with a different state of social norms where this would simply be a less attractive option.) Now, you write: But this seems to me like fallacious reasoning. You apparently assume that if women are to form multiple attachments, there will be more attachment opportunities for all men, not just those in the upper tiers of attractiveness. Yet in reality, we see some contrary evidence, in that when women become mor
This does seem to be the case. F. Roger Devlin makes a rather bold statement of this argument in this essay [] (though I dislike his conservative political slant and certain biased terms; also, ignore his criticism of feminist discourse on sexual violence, because it is massively lower quality that everything else he writes and riddled with errors):
HughRistik: Yes, I read that essay a while ago. Trouble is, Devlin's writing is of the sort I find most frustrating: it delivers some excellent insight wrapped up in an awful presentation, both because of Devlin's own exaggerations and the disreputable publication venue. Unfortunately, not many people will be willing to look past these negative signals and make the effort to understand his very solid main arguments. A better presentation of his thesis could have reached a much broader audience, and made for a much better reference in discussions of this sort.
Yeah, I agree. I'm currently looking for some better references on hypergamy. I already have a bunch of refs on greater female selectivity, but I'm finding mixed results on hypergamy because of so many different operationalizations of status.
Casanova may have had 132 lovers, but most or all of them weren't long-term relationships. There's an upper-limit to the number of serious romantic relationships one person can maintain at one time, and it's certainly less than ten and probably closer to five (the highest I've heard of is four). Furthermore, I've pointed out elsewhere [] that historically, harems are not devised by women. If women and men maintain approximately equal numbers of relationships (which they seem to, in the poly community), then the most attractive partners available to you will be at least as attractive as they would have been if everyone were monogamous. It's a matter of math. I think you're a little too confident of the argument you've been making throughout the comments on this post. There are no economically well-developed modern societies with a social norm other than monogamy, and there are some indications [] that ubiquitous birth control is a game-changer, so historical evidence may not apply. We're all arguing without large-scale evidence. We can (and should) speculate about what alternative social norms would entail, and we can justify those speculations to lesser or greater degrees. But there is no certainty in this debate.
WrongBot: That's not really true. In large parts of many rich contemporary societies, monogamous norms have been weakened to the point where a great many people engage in non-monogamous sexual behaviors. Yes, even among those people, the majority seem to consider stable monogamy as a goal to be achieved at some point in the future, but they nevertheless spend significant parts of their lives engaged in casual serial monogamy and promiscuous sex. (And in some lower class environments [], even the pretense of monogamous norms has nearly disappeared.) There is definitely significant large-scale evidence here about what happens (in at least some cases) when monogamous norms break down in a wealthy society. This evidence points quite unambiguously towards female hypergamy, where a minority of exceptionally attractive men account for the overwhelming part of non-monogamous sexual pairings that take place, and women at all levels of attractiveness strive towards men with higher relative status. You can of course dispute the relevance of this evidence, but you definitely can't deny its existence.
Some men want to help raise children, including children who aren't genetically their own. I'm not talking about cuckoldry, but adoption or choosing women who already have children. What proportion of men do you think that is? I realize you're talking about sex, not children, but how children are raised is part of the effect of sexual norms. More generally, what you describe just doesn't seem like the world I'm living in. Admittedly, the world I'm living in is mostly science fiction fandom, but I just don't seem to see women turning down almost every man in the search for high status men. What proportion of men are you seeing as excluded from mating if the default is non-monogamy?
I would imagine that the proportion of men who prefer to raise children who are not genetically their own is very low. The proportion of men who are willing to raise children that are not their own because circumstances make it difficult or impossible to have their own biological children or because they desire a relationship with a partner who already has children is probably quite a bit higher. The stereotype is that the sex ratio in science fiction fandom is heavily skewed in the male direction. Is this stereotype not accurate?
Somewhat, though I don't think the ratio is that extreme. In any case, if there are more men than women, wouldn't that increase the variation among men (the high status men would be dramatically higher status) so that if competing for high status men is the most important thing, the competition for the superstars would get more intense.
If there are more men than women I would think you would see more selectivity from women and so more instances of women turning down men than vice-versa. Your original comment implied you don't see lots of men getting turned down which seems surprising with unequal gender ratios. There are possible explanations but I'd expect to see a pattern of certain men being consistently overlooked while others had consistent success and that this would be even more pronounced than in society as a whole where gender ratios are more equal. If this is not the pattern you observe I'm curious what you do see and what you think the explanation is.
I see a lot of pretty stable couples. I admit to spending an annoying couple or three hours on a car trip with a woman who couldn't talk about anything but her assignation with [big name science fiction author], but that's the only example I've got for extreme status chasing. It wouldn't surprise me if there are more men in fandom who want sex and can't get it than women. What I'm disagreeing with is the idea that, given sexual freedom, women will mostly go after the highest status men.
NancyLebovitz: Mind you, I wasn't referring to the whole spectrum of male-female relationships that take place nowadays. Lots of folks still live old-fashioned lives centered around monogamous relationships with the goal of marriage, avoiding promiscuity and (as best they can) serial monogamy. Clearly, under a monogamous regime, people typically end up paired with someone who is roughly in the same league, so the above considerations don't apply. However, if we talk specifically about promiscuous behaviors, then the above described hypergamous patterns definitely occur. From the perspective of typical men, or for people unfamiliar with the situation, the options enjoyed here by top-tier men really are nothing like the world they're living in. After all, there are men whose notch counts are in the four-, perhaps even five-digit territory -- whereas on the other side of the spectrum, for very large numbers of men, the increase in promiscuity hasn't expanded their sexual options at all relative to an absolutely prudish regime. It has possibly even lowered them by reducing their monogamous opportunities. It's hard to give any definite numbers, and it obviously depends on the concrete arrangements in practice. It also depends on men's criteria (some men will be reduced to a choice of women who are in a much lower percentile of attractiveness, so they might find all the available choices unacceptable). But in any case, I would say that under a complete breakdown of all monogamous norms, the percentage of men reduced to virtually zero mating opportunities would be in the double digits.
I think that we're defining norms in slightly different ways. I have been meaning norms to mean "what people should do" and not just "what people do." I've also been stretching monogamy a little to mean the ideal of having only one partner at a time, whether or not that's in the context of marriage. It's a fairly common usage, but still easy to be unclear about. So I would say that serial monogamy is still monogamy, and that promiscuous sex outside the context of any relationship has little to do with relationship styles at all. Your examples point to a failure to enforce monogamous norms while the norms remain unchanged, I would say. Or perhaps monogamous norms are weakening, and these examples are the result of particular groups not having any strong relationship norms at all; various kinds of polyamory and swinging offer social norms that can be as strong as monogamous ones, but they're largely unknown. Again, it's hard to say. What evidence there is can be plausibly interpreted in quite a few ways, some of which I'm sure neither of us have thought of.
I'm not sure that's fair. Couldn't you say that having multiple friends with benefits is a type of " relationship style," in a sense? Again, "take some time between serious relationships to have multiple casual partners" can be a relationship norm, one that appears very common.
I would calling being friends with benefits a relationship; I was thinking more of relatively-anonymous one night stands. Likewise, casual partners are still partners; I also think that having multiple casual partners is frowned upon much more than you indicate.
You may be assigning too much credence to that news report. It's really just summarizing an argument between two partisan political parties about marriage's declining popularity among the poor. The only quantitative data cited is the number of UK marriages in 1972 and the number of UK marriages in 2009, which are not really enough to settle the claims made in the article or your parenthetical. Which significant large-scale evidence do you have in mind? The lack of citations suggests that you think it's very obvious, but I can't think of it. I may well be missing something obvious, but without a cite I don't know.
cupholder: You're right, this wasn't a good choice of reference, if anything since the claims were made in an explicitly politicized context. However, whichever statistics you look at, there is no doubt that the decline in monogamous norms in many Western countries (and the Anglosphere nations in particular) has been far more pronounced among the lower classes, and that among significant parts of the underclass, the traditional monogamous norms have weakened to the point of collapse. See e.g. some U.K. data here [], or the U.S. data here [] (which conveniently control for race, so that the trends are strikingly obvious as a class phenomenon). If you just google for the relevant terms, you'll get tons of statistics corroborating these basic points from various angles. Regarding citations, one problem here is that when it comes to people's sexual behavior, social science data based on surveys are of dubious value. As a rule, men report having sex with significantly more women on average than vice versa -- a logical impossibility assuming the samples are representative. So, either people lie big time about their sexual behavior even in anonymous surveys (which sounds quite plausible to me), or the samples always turn out to be critically unrepresentative. (Here [] is one attempt at the latter sort of explanation.) Nevertheless, the existing data suggest pretty convincingly that when it comes to the distribution of the total number of sex partners, men's distribution has a much wider variance than women's. See this article [] (unfortunately not available ungated) for references. This observation is consistent with the scenario where women at all levels of attractiveness strive towards men at higher levels, so that men near the bottom get nothing, while those in the upp
Thanks! I think I misinterpreted your earlier post; when I wrote the grandparent comment, I had read 'monogamy' as you referring to faithful long-term one-on-one relationships, not just the subset of those relationships that are marriages. But it sounds like you mean marriage proper, in which case I think you're right (albeit depending on what scale of 'environment' we're talking about). If I'm honest, my own everyday observations and knowledge don't seem to be strong evidence of all three of: (1) breakdown of monogamous norms, (2) a concurrent increase in female hypergamy 'where a minority of exceptionally attractive men account for the overwhelming part of non-monogamous sexual pairings that take place', and (3) a causal relationship between #1 and #2. It doesn't help that I didn't even hit adolescence until last decade - I expect I have much less experience of relationship trends over time than you. It seems plausible to me that men have a much wider variance in heterosexual sex partners than women, but I'm not sure it's definitively confirmed - or that the variance ratio has increased over the last few decades because of a decline in monogamous norms. The PNAS article suggests that a failure to account for prostitutes in sex surveys can explain the male-female difference in mean number of sexual partners, which hints that it might also explain the male-female difference in variance, too. (After all, excluding female prostitutes from a survey is a little like chopping the right tail off the female sex partner distribution, which would decrease its variance.) The other review article doesn't seem to suggest a clear trend in the male-female variance ratio over time, either, although it looks like there is (surprisingly - at least to me) little high-quality data for judging that.
It's interesting to note [] that the difference goes away when the women are told they're hooked up to a lie detector.
That's a cute result! For anyone else curious about the published paper, it's freely available []. Annoyingly, it doesn't seem to say the standard deviation of number of sex partners for women under each condition, only averages, so it's hard to do an independent statistical check. The authors did do their own test: The 'bogus pipeline condition' is one where the women were hooked up to a (not working) lie detector.
However, there's still a difference. Apparently, there was no experiment with the men hooked up to a (bogus) lie detector, and I think there should have been. I also have no idea what proportion of the population is cynical about lie detectors. I don't even have a strong prior on that one.
A much smaller one, which may well be within statistical bounds. Good point about people knowing that lie detectors don't work. That may account for any remaining difference. Sure there was:
Thanks-- goes to show I should have read the linked material. I'm surprised. I'd have expected that men would lie about having more partners rather than fewer, but that might be mere stereotyping on my part. The other possibility I can think of is that people who think they're hooked to a lie detector don't just say what they immediately think is true, they check their memories more carefully.
Or maybe the sample's not representative of most men - the sample was of Midwestern psychology undergraduate students.
One question answers the other. I don't imagine, by the way, that polyamory will ever be the norm, nor do I think it should. The social arrangement I favor most involves each individual freely choosing whichever option they prefer; I imagine that under such circumstances no one style of relationship would predominate.
I disagree. Polyamory is as has often been said something we do anyway. Just less honestly. Female hypergamy and male vanity (everyone likes to think of themselves as high value) most likley ensure that this [poliamory] will at least for some time be the dominant arrangement in Western society. I know the Roissyisphere isn't very popular here but the spirit of this particular saying of his rings true: "To the average woman five minutes of alpha is worth five years of beta."
Polyamory requires honesty, by definition. Ethical non-monogamy is different from non-consensual non-monogamy. This discussion can't go anywhere if you're redefining words to mean what you want them to mean. If you want to talk about the category of practices that includes everything but monogamy, use "non-monogamy". If you want to talk about dishonest non-monogamy, use "non-consensual non-monogamy" or "cheating."
How do you classify a relationship between >2 people, where the people involved have an agreement not to date other people, and where one of the members does so anyway?
Cheating. Possibly lying. But also polyamory. The appropriate label to use is the one that best describes what the people in the relationship have agreed to, implicitly or explicitly. Cheating doesn't turn a monogamous relationship into something else, it's just a violation of the relationship's rules. Ditto with a polyamorous one. And this does happen, by the way, and when it does, it's usually really awful. Monogamous cheating is bad enough, but when you're in a triad (or a quad, or...) you do at least as much damage to several people. More, probably, considering that there's usually more trust and clear negotiation involved.
A multi-way relationship where one of the people is cheating. I guess you could call it a non-consensual open multi-way relationship.
You did catch the context? A supposedly monogamous relationship where one or both members cheats is non-consensually open and non-consensually non-monogamous. A supposedly closed polyamorous relationship where one or more members cheats is also non-consensually open, but I don't see how it makes sense to consider it non-polyamorous.
Well, it's non-monogamous, but it doesn't meet the ideals of polyamory. I guess it depends on your definition. I think it makes the most sense to consider it an unsuccessful attempt at a polyamorous relationship.
I like the point and love the expression thereof.
WrongBot said: To the extent that sexual and romantic success is related to non-innate qualities, those qualities could be distributed more equally. Based on my experience with the seduction community, many components of sexual and romantic attractiveness are based on behaviors that can be learned, particularly in the case of male sexual attractiveness to women. Currently, these skills are not distributed equitably, leading to vast disparities in social skills related to romantic success that are not required by biologically-based differences in aptitude. Once someone gets set on the wrong "track," then they end up greatly lacking in procedural knowledge. As I argued here [], these disparities are unjust.
I saw that post earlier and I think I largely agree with it. Consider that quoted assertion retracted: education in social skills may be an ethical way to systematically reduce inequalities of romantic and sexual opportunity. I'm not without my criticisms of the seduction community, but discovering and documenting processes that allow people to become genuinely more attractive is praiseworthy. Tangentially, while women seem to be better at acquiring social skills on average, I think most people underestimate how many of them would be interested in a PUA-like program, if it were presented in the right way. (Which is to say, not how the PUA community represents itself to men. Different social norms and all.)
Why? Women already have their PUA act together. They understand very clearly that physical beauty is the key factor in attracting men, and have a huge industry for creating fake physical beauty. In general, I think it's a gross mistake for men to think women "have it easier". I would guesstimate that the typical woman spends a way bigger share of her time and money on being attractive to the opposite sex than the typical man. They're more aware of the game, they start playing it earlier, they coach each other all the time... no wonder they win! As a male, I was able to increase my attractiveness hugely as soon as I realized this was worth making a serious effort: say, the equivalent of one workday (8 hours) per week in total. From what I've seen, most men can't be bothered to spend even that much, while most women are conditioned to spend more than that.
For many men their actual work days are to some degree part of a serious effort to be attractive to women. The 'traditional' advice to become attractive to women is to develop a good, stable career, achieve a degree of material success and maintain reasonable health, fitness and appearance. The fact that it is not terribly effective advice on its own doesn't mean that lots of men don't put a good deal of effort into following it.
Your proposed theory implies a nice testable prediction and a nice policy recommendation: men should make better worker bees on average, and we should pay them more. Haha, oh wait.
The difference between "women" and "most women" is vast. Some men benefit much more from PUA than others, and those men have some characteristics in common. There are women with those characteristics who I suspect would benefit from a PUA-like program in the same way that men do. But perhaps not; I'm not much of an expert on the seduction community.
You're committing the typical mistake that I will call symmetrism: thinking that men and women have mostly equivalent roles in mating, may benefit from similar advice, etc. This is an easy mistake to make because men aren't all that different from women in many other areas. But mating is special: it is the whole goddamn reason why we have these concepts of "males" and "females", so by default you should expect huge differences instead of equality! From this perspective it's pretty easy to dissect your comment. PUA is an attempt to honestly formulate what attracts women. If you wanna have the female equivalent of PUA, you need to formulate what attracts men. Honestly, is that hard? Men are attracted to youth and physical beauty. Gee, I wish women had some kind of industry that supplied that to them... Oh wait.
However, you seem to be confusing tactics with strategy. For women, maximizing physical attractiveness will clearly result in an immediate tactical advantage, but it won't magically make their strategy sound, especially in the long term. And in this regard, there is certainly lots of deluded and clueless behavior by women going on, and good advice is hard to find and drowned in a sea of nonsense.
That's far from all we're attracted to... there's also what some folks refer to as "feminine radiance" - the female counterpart of male confidence or presence, though it's quite different in form. (For example, it involves a lot more smiling.) I've seen women with this quality draw crowds, even if they're not that young or beautiful-looking (when they're not smiling). And I would imagine this is a quality that can be taught, just as men can be taught to have increased confidence and presence.
Yep, I know exactly what you're talking about because I met several women like that and I try to learn from them whenever I can. In a more fair and just world, this feminine quality would attract men more than "mere" beauty. But it doesn't. Not even for me; it makes for a pleasant bonus afterward, but it's not really enough to outweigh bad looks up front. This state of affairs is quite sad and I'm actually trying to change it, modify myself to like "radiant" girls more than pretty girls, because I feel this is the right thing to do. Both for them and for me.
Your parenthetical makes it sound like the effect is transient, perhaps even under control. How sharp is the effect? What do you think of the story about Marilyn Monroe []? (original source [])
One of the reasons that I'm not interested in PUA is that (most of) the community sees trends and thinks they are laws. The women who I imagine could benefit from a PUA-style program are the ones who want to attract men that are interested in more than youth and physical beauty, but don't know how to present themselves as interesting because most of the dating advice they get completely ignores that factor. I know that these women exist because I am dating one and friends with others. Generalization can be a useful tool, but not when you're specifically looking at a subset of the group. ETA: I would also agree with Vladimir's objection [].
I think that you and cousin it are both right, but using different definitions of the word "attraction." He seems to be using it to mean specifically sexual attraction, such as arousal. Since male sexual attraction seems primarily related to looks, women indeed have plenty of advice for fulfilling that preference. You seem to be using attraction in a broader sense, to describe not just desirability on a sexual level, but desirability as a partner. For components of partner desirability other than raw sexual attraction (e.g. relationship desirability), women may need just as much help as men, and benefit from approaches similar to PUAs. For instance, PUAs discourage showing overt insecurity to potential mates. The theory is that insecurity lowers female attraction to males on a sexual level. Now, while insecurity probably doesn't lower male sexual attraction to women, it probably does lower women's desirability on a platonic level to many men, so women could still benefit from PUA-style advice for avoiding displays of insecurity (e.g. avoiding "qualifying oneself"). I've dated a couple women who constantly put themselves down, and while it didn't change my sexual attraction to them one bit, it did lower their desirability as a longer-term partner (so you could say that it lowered my "attraction" to them, in the broader sense of attraction). A lot of pickup discourse includes advice other than sexual attractiveness, such as: * avoiding insecurity * creating and facilitating connections * frame control (i.e. managing who's epistemology is running the interaction, and making sure that you are at least an equal partner in the assignment of meanings to things) * telegraphing your expectations and desires about where you want things to go * status (probably not quite so important for women, but acting dramatically lower status than a guy will often lead to not being taken seriously as relationship material) * systematic practice, and being honest abou
And even for sexual attraction, there are PUA-like approaches that would help women attract men: for instance, knowing how to approach a guy, flirt with him, tease him, and make sexually suggestive comments that make him interested.
Thank you. Those are exactly the sorts of advice I was thinking of, and you're entirely correct about the broader sense in which I was using "attraction" (though, incidentally, I find that displays of insecurity are a turn-off).
What makes you think a PUA-like program would help the subset of women you're talking about? Do you think the men they're interested in are woman-like in some respect, so the same techniques would work on them? I can't understand your argument, maybe I'm misreading it.
A PUA-like program (i.e., one that focuses on improving social skills) would help the subset of women who are interested in attracting the subset of men who place a high value on social skills. Do you believe that there are some traits that are quintessentially female?
The interesting aspects of attraction are the psychological ones. You're oversimplifying male attraction if you think it's all about youth and beauty: what makes men attracted to women who aren't young and beautiful sometimes? What makes a man commit if he has other options of equivalent youth and beauty? Psychological and mental attraction are relevant here as well. Some of the techniques are similar for men as well as women (showing scarcity, for instance, is fairly universal), while others may be different for women.
I think that a lot of the difference in views is due to some people using broader or narrower definition of "attraction."
I don't have anything to add, I just wanted to jump on the indignation bandwagon. How dare you say such a thing, you terrorist! Whenever someone says that men don't already get the assistance toward attraction that women do, I feel like 9/11 happened all over again.
Where are you spending your 8 hours? Are we talking about haircuts, shoes, tans, skin care, and cosmetic muscles -- or about verbal and psychological PUA-Game? What do you mean by fake? I personally find most forms of female makeup, cosmetic surgery, high heels, etc. unattractive, but I find it difficult to understand how appearance-modification can be fake. Isn't all appearance an inherently unreliable signal as to core content? I mean, if for some absurd reason I were thinking of marrying someone who I didn't trust, and I wanted to know if she were (say) in good long-term health, I wouldn't just check to see if she had nice long hair and clear skin -- I would ask to see her medical records and her parents' medical records. When a woman does take steps to make her skin appear clearer, I don't take this as a way of fooling or faking me into thinking that she has an unusually good immune system -- I see it as a way of satisfying her superficial urge to look pretty and my superficial urge to date someone who looks pretty. And, basically, I'm OK with that. I don't see it as fake, because, assuming it's done right she actually does look prettier. There's nothing going on here that's both fake and relevant. Obviously she might look different when she wakes up in the morning than when she goes out clubbing, but it takes an unusually naive person not to quickly figure that sort of thing out and adjust for it.
I mostly spend my time experimenting with body language and face expressions to make a higher percentage of random women feel instant attraction. Think "smiling across the room". No haircuts or tans, but also almost no verbal game and no "inner game". YMMV. You seem to have assumed that I used "fake" as a synonym for "bad" and immediately rushed to defend... uh... something you thought you should defend. I see this reaction often, and it troubles me.
Could I get more details on how you do this? Are you talking about a Marlon Brando-esque smile/smirk? 8 hours a week just for body language and facial expressions without accompanying conversation seems like a lot. Do you also practice conversation with them? What happens when they do feel attraction? I tend to mostly focus on conversation, but this is probably something I should work on.
I go to crowded clubs, move around and try to interact with as many people as I can. (Two nights a week is more than 8 hours.) Catch someone's attention, approach, do what makes sense, repeat. I do end up having many conversations but don't think of this as "verbal game", because talking never seems to tip the odds in my favor if they weren't good to begin with. The first five seconds of nonverbal interaction allow me to predict with exceptional accuracy whether that person will be attracted to me. Maybe I'm doing "verbal game" wrong, though. Or maybe my initial prediction actually has causal power and influences my "verbal game" in subtle ways :-)
I hope not! I'm genuinely curious what you mean by fake. Even in a context devoid of moral judgments, "fake" seems like a natural antonym of "natural" or "real," and both of those words seem unreasonably vague to me for effective communication. The only coherent, tight definition of "fake" that I can imagine right now is "a false signal," as in, "that rattlesnake's bright yellow patterning is fake; it's not really poisonous." I find that most people don't mean "false signal" when they say fake, though, so I'm trying to find out what you mean by it. Maybe you know another tight definition and you can teach me about it. As for being defensive, well, yes, that's a character flaw of mine. Please let me know if you have any specific advice for overcoming it beyond "be more inclined to assume the best of people," and I will carefully consider it.
WrongBot: While inequalities of love and sex don't usually kill, I would claim that those inequalities can be significantly harmful. For people who want to have partners, not being able to tends to trash their mental health. Look into involuntary celibacy [], and love-shyness []. Gilmartin's work on men with "love-shyness" who experienced significant heterosexual anxiety and impairment found them to be depressed and have violent fantasies. They had suicidal thoughts, but he concluded that they were too depressed to even attempt suicide. His book can be downloaded for free here [] (despite the caveats on that page, it is a must-read for anyone who finds that these difficulties ring a bell).
While this is an important observation, Houellebecq has no political interest in changing the system. He just analyzes romantic and sexual frustration, which is not as bad material inequality, but a very good topic for dramatic fiction.
Whose purpose?
That was proorly phrased I agree. I should have said monogamus marriage emerged as a semiwidespread norm because societies that had it oucompeted other societies. Also it may fit the purposes of several historical pseudosocial engineers (founders of religions and city states, rulers, village elders, ect.).
I've actually been thinking that polyamory would be closer to sexual socialism in increasing people's chances of getting a partner. Limiting ourselves exclusively to heterosexual people for a moment, with an uneven amount of men and women, monogamy guarantees that some people will have to remain outside a long-term commitment. In a polyamorous environment, where people can freely choose to form pairs, triads, etc., this is much easier to avoid.
Theoretically, yes. So I don't know why you are getting down-voted. My initial reaction was to disagree, and that things would only work that way if people's preferences were uncorrelated, such as from attractiveness being equally distributed among the population. Since that is not the case, the more choice you tend to give people, the more they would gravitate towards the most attractive people of the gender they are attracted to. Yet there could be another effect in the opposite direction. Under monogamy, you can only be with one person, so you have to make sure you are really into them. Yet under polyamory, it you could get together with people who are lower on your scale of attractiveness without suffering an opportunity cost of forgoing a higher attractiveness partner. Under non-monogamy, I would speculate that with straight women, the first effect predominates (going for the most attractive people). With straight men, the second effect (being willing to compromise on the attractiveness of partners) may play a stronger role than it does with straight women.
Even if appealing traits are distributed unevenly, the most appealing people will still only have the time for a limited number of relationships at a time. In a monogamous world leads to high-appeal people being paired with high-appeal people and low-appeal people being paired with low-appeal people. I would expect the same phenomenon to mainly persist in a polyamorous world, with the exception that it wouldn't be just couples anymore and, for the reasons you note, the stratification would probably be somewhat less harsh.

I'm not sure if there is any actual evidence for this conclusion. In a polyamorous world (and considering for simplicity only heterosexual relationships), if women of all levels are strongly inclined towards the upper tiers of men, to the point where they prefer a polyamorous arrangement involving more women than men, but restricted to men of higher appeal, this can lead to far more inequality than any monogamous world. In this scenario, it may happen that men from the lower tiers get shut out of access to women altogether, while those from the top enjoy arrangements involving many women and few men, or even exclusive polygynous arrangements. Among women, too, there would be a severe stratification with regards to how favorable arrangements are realistically available to them depending on their attractiveness.

Considering the evidence from quasi-polyamorous behaviors that are widespread nowadays, i.e. serial monogamy and promiscuity, this scenario doesn't seem at all unlikely to me. Of course, these behaviors are not identical to what would happen in a hypothetical polyamorous society, but they still provide significant information about the revealed preferences of both men and women.

Personally, I've seen more examples of polyamorous arrangements involving more men than women than the opposite. Of course, this might be just sampling bias, and obviously it would hardly be any better if men were the ones who got shafted.
I'm pretty sure there is a decisive sampling bias there, since men in the top tiers of attractiveness are, in all likelihood, severely underrepresented among those practicing explicit "card-carrying" polyamory. Therefore, it seems to me that the patterns of quasi-polyamorous behaviors that are widespread in the general population provide a much better indication as to what would happen if polyamory became the general norm -- and these point pretty clearly towards the scenario I described above.
Why? I know several incredibly attractive men in the poly community; my sample is small enough that I can't say such men are over-represented in the poly community, but I would be very surprised if your assumption were correct.
I would guess that Vladimir_M is using attractiveness in a broader sense than merely physical. Since power, wealth and status are important components of attractiveness for most women when judging men and since being openly polyamorous would be somewhat problematic for men in many traditionally high status positions it is likely that they will be underrepresented. They are also likely to be overrepresented in non-open / non-consensual non-monogamy.
I was likewise using attractiveness in that broader sense. I can't speak to wealth, but the poly subculture contains men with plenty of power and status within the poly subculture. Status only has meaning within a particular social context; evaluating a poly man's status in the context of the greater monogamous culture is no more meaningful than evaluating a monogamous man's status in the poly subculture. It's apples and oranges.
Your definition of attractiveness makes no sense in the context of Vladimir_M's post.
I'm not sure of Vladimir's reasoning, but I might speculate that men at the top tiers of attractiveness don't even need to join the poly community to have multiple partners. Furthermore, being poly may have certain correlates (e.g. geekiness) that are only attractive to subsets of the female population (e.g. the subset that is poly).
HughRistik: Yes, that's pretty much what I had in mind. For a man of very high attractiveness, becoming a card-carrying polyamorist is a deal that brings no real benefit for the cost. Such men already have a rich array of options in which they'll have the upper hand, including polygynous arrangements.
As I understand it, polyamory is having multiple committed relationships, not just multiple partners. I don't think having multiple partners is limited to only the "top tiers of attractiveness" for men; I think it's fairly common. I doubt anyone joins the poly community just to have multiple partners; it seems like way too much work building relationships for that, when you could just find friends with benefits. Someone who just wanted multiple partners would likely not bother; however, people who have been in successful poly relationships likely have a lot of experience and practice in dealing with sex and emotions and managing relationships, which would increase their attractiveness.
Monogamy: High-appeal people date single high appeal people. Low-appeal people date single low-appeal people. Polyamory: High-appeal people date multiple high appeal people. Low-appeal people date multiple low-appeal people. Sometimes, high-appeal people are willing to date slightly lower-appeal people because they wouldn't have to break up with a high-appeal partner to do so. I guess we are saying the same thing...
The Bell System monopolized telephone service in the U.S. because of the enormous cost (stringing wires to every customer) any competitor would incur to start to compete with it. (Later, U.S. regulators guaranteed its monopoly but imposed conditions on it, including if I am not mistaken the rates ("tarriffs") it could charge, so let us restrict our attention to the earlier "unregulated" period.) IBM monopolized the market for computers in the 1960s and early 1970s because of the largeness of the cost (e.g., retraining the programmers, operators and users employed by the customer) for the customer to switch to a different vendor. Yes, since a large part of the benefit a man derives from a sexual relationship depends on the parties knowing each other really well, the time it takes for 2 lovers to get to know each other imposes a significant switching cost on the man and a significant cost on any woman who would try to compete with the initial woman, but the costs do not seem high enough (especially if the man already has female friends and coworkers) to warrant the use of the word "monopoly" and more importantly, the woman in the relationship faces costs just as high, so the strategic situation is much more symmetrical than it is between the Bell System and a consumer wanting telephone service. So, "monopolist" is not a good choice of word, IMHO.

Steve Landsburg makes a fairly plausible case that monogamy is essentially a cartel formed by men to prevent them having to work too hard to keep onto their wives:

imagine a one-husband one-wife family where an argument has begun over whose turn it is to do the dishes. If polygamy were legal, the wife could threaten to leave and go marry the couple next door unless the husband conceded that it is his turn. With polygamy outlawed, she does not have this option and might end up with dishpan hands.

If true, this would suggest that women have more to gain from polyamory than men on average (although high-status men might well have the most to gain).

I recall one of the Evolutionary Psychology books I read discussing this (I think it was The Moral Animal). It claimed that polygamy was relatively beneficial to high quality males and low quality females; high quality males would end up with more mates and low quality females would end up with a higher quality mate than they would otherwise. For the same reasons, monogamy was relatively beneficial to low quality men and high quality females; low quality men would have a higher chance of finding a mate at all and high quality females would end up with a higher quality mate.
Don't you mean that high quality females would wind up with the exclusive attention of a high quality mate? The quality itself probably doesn't change between scenarios.
I was thinking of "quality" as "overall attractiveness".
I didn't suggest otherwise.
Interesting point, thanks. I enjoy living in a mostly-monogamous society way better than the alternatives, and your comment gives us old hats a new weapon against those pesky free-love liberals: elect girls who win beauty contests into positions of power. Shouldn't be too hard. ...Wait, did I just confess to being a low-quality male?
Is that a backhanded reference to a certain U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate?
Whaa? I'm not in the US and don't even know what you're talking about :-)
Sarah Palin []?
er, I suppose I should specify that this refered to polygyny
Polygamy is definitely to women's advantage. Since there's no real limit to the number of children a man can father, women can agree to share the very best male genetic material amongst each other and leave all the other men out in the cold. Think of the private harems that any number of rulers have maintained. In a monogamous culture, any given sub-excellent male has a much better chance of mating.

Polygyny (not necessarily generic polygamy) is to women's genetic advantage insofar as the selection of husbands depends on things that correlate with valuable genes. It is not necessarily to our advantage in other ways or under other circumstances.

Women weren't the ones who set up those harems.

Evolutionary fitness is not morality. It doesn't have a thing to do with our preferences. We are adaptation-executers, not fitness-maximizers.

No, there's an even better system that women could adopt. They could just adopt one low-fitness male each as a husband and financial provider, and then continue to have sex with ultra-high fitness males, where fitness is determined by a screening process that women put potential suitors through. In this hypothetical scenario, some men might even form an underground community of rationalists and try to reverse engineer and crack the female screening system, and get the last laugh in the end.

Consider the stereotype: Beautiful young woman marries rich older man, cheats on him with the handsome young pool boy.
Forgot to mention: And relentlessly hen-peck him, deny him sex apart from once a month and then divorce him and take him to the cleaners in the female-friendly divorce courts. Not that this behavior would necessarily be common, but worth keeping in one's mind as what would be possible in this hypothetical.
There is an element of truth behind what you say, but ask yourself what your desired response was to this comment and whether it is the optimal way of eliciting that response. Far more care is required when presenting facts that could support positions that are not politically correct. Without such care such claims can actually immunize against future acceptance of the information. ;)
There will be no acceptance, this is a political correctness of awesome power. The choice for each individual in such a scenario is to either deal with the situation well or poorly. I think that this is a great example of the concept of Beyond the reach of god [] (though a relatively mild one compared to all sorts of other evils in the world): life is not fair, and there may be cases where there is a systematic and amoral force pushing it away from fairness. In such cases, you better have a plan to deal with the problem, and if you don't, you'll just suffer the consequences. The world (including other humans) will not help you or shift their position when you point out that it's unfair.
See Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife [] for an extended example for why there's more to life than reproductive fitness. The author is from a fringe Mormon sect which pushes families to be one man, seven wives, and as many children as possible.Going on welfare isn't feasible because of fears that the illegal arrangement might be discovered. The result is not only a serious level of poverty, but an emotional mess because of jealousy among the women. They each wanted more time and attention from their husband than he had available.
I feel like I should point out that the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has officially repudiated polygamy (except insofar as men can be "sealed" to several wives if it happens that each dies before he marries the next). I've lived in Utah and this repudiation is carried out in everyday social stigma; it's not just on paper. Since "Mormon" is recognized as a nickname for that religion more readily than its spinoffs, calling polygamist sects "Mormon" instead of the distinct "Mormon fundamentalism" is misleading and perpetuates stereotypes. "Fringe" is a nod to this, but it doesn't specify what it's on the fringe of (even standard-issue Mormonism could be considered on the fringe of, say, generic Christianity).
How would you recommend that I describe such groups? Always mention that what they're doing is repudiated by the vast majority of Mormons?
You call them "fundamentalist Mormons", or name the specific sect.
I think that naming the specific sect is a lot more likely to miscommunicate than "fringe."
I agree on that.
In my experience, the polyamorous community generally includes more women than men, and the women are frequently higher status. Most books on polyamory have been written by women, and they're much more involved in high-level activism than women usually are in other communities; this seems to support your hypothesis.
That would depend on whether you include the PUA literature, which uses the term "MLTR" (Multiple Long-Term Relationships) to describe more or less the same concept. Of course, this still might be relevant to the "high-status men might gain most" hypothesis, since the concept of "MLTR" might be a higher status indicator (because it emphasizes the man's choice to have multiple partners) than an interest in "polyamory" (which emphasizes the options of both partners).
While I'm not terribly familiar with the PUA literature, based on your description I would say that most definitions of polyamory exclude it. There's a great deal of scorn in the poly community for relationships with a "one-penis policy," as well as a general emphasis on egalitarianism.

While I'm not terribly familiar with the PUA literature, based on your description I would say that most definitions of polyamory exclude it. There's a great deal of scorn in the poly community for relationships with a "one-penis policy," as well as a general emphasis on egalitarianism.

Actually, PUA discussions of MLTR (at least the few I've seen) seem to completely ignore the question of whether the women involved have other partners or not, although I suppose that is not strong evidence in either direction.

Perhaps the authors assume that "of course" exclusives are the default (and thus don't mention it), or perhaps they assume that "of course" things should be egalitarian by default (and thus don't mention it).

(And of course, there may be discussions I haven't seen, since my limited study of the PUA field is focused mainly on personal development and in-relationship applications, and limited to free materials almost exclusively.)

[-][anonymous]13y 6


I have agreed to be monogamous in two cases where I would rather have stayed polyamorous, because these girls wouldn't accept it. It was a take-it-or-leave-it situation, and I 'took it' in these cases.

This is a generalization, but men who can stick to their principles are generally more attractive.

Look at it this way: if you can actually "get away with" having relationships that meet your preference, then this is social proof that you are being judged valuable enough ("in the marketplace") to be worth having non-exclusively.

Conversely, if you accede to a request for monogamy, this is evidence that you do not consider yourself that valuable, or that you are unable to get other people to agree with your value assessment.

In short: acceding to a request for monogamy in overt contradiction of your preference is a statement of low self-esteem/confidence, and would be expected to reduce your attractiveness even to the person who made the request for monogamy.

Did the passion in those relationships increase or decrease following your concession? I would guess it decreased, and by more than would have occurred had you not made explicit your preference for polyamory.

If... (read more)

[-][anonymous]13y 11


True - what I said had an implied pre-commitment that they would not be attractive to you (from the initial meeting forward) if they were the kind of person who would make such an ultimatum. So, there's definitely a first-mover advantage from the game theory perspective as well. ;-) Interesting, really... there are a number of PUA tactics (the entire subject of "qualifying" and "disqualifiying") that could be considered relationship negotiation via precommitment to not be even interested in the first place, unless one's own criteria are met. I don't know if anybody's actually explicitly discussed those things in terms of game theory per se, but that'd be an interesting topic. Yes - but that's when it's his idea because he's so in love that no other woman will suffice to interest him, not because she gave him an ultimatum to give up pursuing those interests. Ah. Different subject, then, I suppose.
Um, what about all those married guys cheating on their wives? Not all their partners are deceived about the men's marital status, and of those not deceived, surely not all can be dismissed as not being "hot girls" in your rating system, nor can all the men in such situations be dismissed as "super-alpha". So, your belief has too high a confidence rating, unless your definition of the "hot" set includes a term for "won't date me except exclusively", or your definition of the "super alpha" set is defined so as to exclude yourself. ;-) (That being said, I'm not arguing that you change your belief or behavior instrumentally -- just pointing out that, epistemically, your map is out of alignment with the territory.)
Which has got to be the worst definition of "super alpha" ever! ;)
If the theory of hypergamy [] is correct, and women are indeed more selective on average, the large majority of women are typically going for guys who are at least slightly "out of their league" (which I will operationalize as "higher in rank attractiveness within ones gender). My hypothesis is that lots of difficulties in dating between men and women stem from the same source: a difference in what each gender is willing to settle for. There may be a tendency of females to only settle for males of higher rank attractiveness, while males are willing to settle for females of "merely" equal rank attractiveness. Males want females at the same level of rank attractiveness, but those females are looking past those males at other males of higher rank attractiveness; meanwhile, males receive interest from women at lower levels of rank attractiveness, who they just aren't that into [].This means that both genders experience the same difficulty a lot of the time: what you can get, you don't want, and what you want, you can't get.
'Usually will not'. Identity, affiliation with a subculture can override this consideration at times.
Affiliation with a subculture makes a lot of things way easier. Have you been reading Brad P? Making a subcultural commitment may actually lower your average attractiveness to the entire population of women (most of who are not in that subculture), but it increases your variance in attractiveness across the female population, increasing the proportion of women who are into you to a high degree. I don't how well this principle applies in reverse for women attracting men.
Never heard of him. Link and/or surname? The obvious hypothesis, crude as it may be, is "It applies but is much weaker. Girls still have boobs either way." The premise clearly being that physical attractiveness on average plays more of a part in females attracting males than the reverse.
Retract the literal component of the link or surname request. Obviously google can answer the question for me (!). Leave the signal of genuine interest and openness to receiving further information with respect rather than rejecting it as infringements upon social territory by a potential rival. (What I have been reading (too much of) is Harry P.)
Couldn't you have just agreed to always use condoms with other people, but not each other, for roughly the same amount of protection in a non-exclusive relationship? ("Roughly" because condoms aren't perfect.)
Good point. I'd almost forgotten that one. That convenience is a huge benefit.
Is it about friends with benefits?
Not with girls around! But my friends from way back used to compete on bouquet quality on camping trips :)
Agree and add that it is also possible to have a 'principle' that commitment to a monogamous relationship is something that you do at times but that it is a big step that really means something in relationships that takes time and a particularly special connection. When things must be earned we experience them as so much more valuable. A caveat is that principles, particularly more complicated principles, should never be lived (or signalled) in a way that is at all wishy-washy.
Something like this happens in Dorothy Sayer's novel "Strong Poison", and I gather it happened in the author's life (but she couldn't talk about it, it being the 1930s). Man demands non-marriage relationship, woman gives in, man later concedes to marriage, woman flips out and leaves him.
That is a nice sounding story that is no doubt handy to illustrate a principle. But I basically don't buy it at all. Those roles are highly valued because they are high in status, come with power and are an established part of the authority system of the culture. Perceived willingness to sacrifice for your principles is in this case definitely not a (positive) contributing factor to the attractiveness of those high status roles.
Are you kidding? What actual power does a firefighter or soldier have, at the bottom rung of the power structure? How about an EMT or a rescue um, tech? (What do they call people who rescue people?) What about lifeguards? Conflating everything with "status" or "power" isn't useful here. There are occupations that don't give you extra respect or deference in society at large, and yet still have the increased attractiveness due to association with principle. Artists and musicians, for example, can often get this attractiveness bonus even if they lack any power or status in society at large... and in fact, the choice to sacrifice money or power for their creative principles is often a driving factor in that attractiveness.
The power over life and death. Being one of those who enforces the rules rather than the one enforced upon (with all the benefits that entails - see anything by Robin with the keyword 'homo hippocritus'). I don't accept your premises regarding artists either. I think it will be better for us to simply acknowledge that we fundamentally disagree on this particular topic. It has been my observation that many of your presented beliefs are better optimised for being healthy beliefs to instil in people than as raw descriptions of reality. (That too I obviously don't expect you to agree on, although I don't mean it as a slight. It is a valuable role, just not compatible with my thinking.)
Actually, these professions have vastly more rules imposed upon them. And what rules does an EMT enforce? "Power of life and death" doesn't make a lot of sense here, nor does it make sense for artists or musicians. Your statements don't reflect a consistent model here, as it doesn't have any consistent predictions about what professions should and shouldn't be considered attractive. Instead, you just change your explanations, or avoid giving an explanation entirely. (e.g. "I don't accept your premises regarding artists"). OTOH, I'm making a testable prediction: an observable increase on average in indicators of attraction, admiration, or arousal (facial expression & autonomic responses) among women hearing about men who are in some profession that involves personal sacrifice for others or for a principle, controlled for whether the profession has any actual societal status or power, and provided that the principles or persons sacrificed for are not directly and personally opposed by the listener as a matter of vengeance or personal principles. For example, I would predict that participation in say, a Big Brother program, or other volunteer activity would make a man be considered more attractive than a person who did not so volunteer, provided that their other attractiveness factors were considered. I do not predict that power, status, an so on are not attractive; I'm just saying they're orthogonal to the element of ability to effectively precommit, whether it's to sacrifice for others or for one's principles. Either way, evidence of ability to successfully follow through on a precommitment is attractive in a person.
I suspect it's not general willingness to sacrifice for principles-- it's willingness to sacrifice for values that the society agrees with.
This is closer to the mark, but I still assert that the sacrifice is not a positive contributor to the appeal. If you take two roles with equal power, equal authority, equal recognition as 'official' and equal reliance on physical prowess then the one that requires the least sacrifice will be the most attractive. Having to give up resources to get your power is a strict negative in the signal it sends. This is obviously not related to what those in a given high status role will say or even believe about the appeal of their station (and the dictator at the top says he's only doing things for the greater good too.) Sacrifice is something that you (the hypothetical aspirant for power and status) convince others is the right thing to do, that you declare sincerely is the way to success but you never actually do yourself if you can avoid it. It is far more efficient and effective to simply declare that you have made sacrifice and implicitly threaten physical or social punishment for anyone who questions your word. Observers will be attracted both to the obvious lack of sacrifice that you have to make and to your ability to have other people go along with your make believe. (This process is best left unconscious. Acknowledging it explicitly is so banal.)
It's not the sacrifice, it's the willingness to sacrifice, that thereby demonstrates commitment - that one is capable of protecting and providing for one's partners. This is a distinct and separate measure from the amount of resources one has control or influence over. If you have a lot of resources, but are stingy, then you might actually be less suitable than if you had few resources but were willing to risk them all on something you believe in... as long as your potential mate believes they can get you to believe in them.

"Cute people want monogamy because they can get it." Good point. Girls that are equal to me in overall attractiveness are likely to stick to their guns.

I would guess that poly relationships where one partner prefers monogamy, but is "settling" for polyamory to be with a particular person, are not likely to work well (and vice versa). But this ignores that some people, even "cute" people, may actually prefer polyamory, even if they can get monogamy.

This sets off my alarm bells. While evidence for such an anti-egalitarian position is possible and may even be correct, your assertion is general enough that it requires a great deal of supporting evidence. And such evidence is not generally acknowledged in the academic literature on the topic, so far as I've read, so I'm doubly skeptical. You're also equating status with physical attractiveness, which is demonstrably not true, especially in men (in modern American society).
While this may be an accurate description in general of how people have evolved to behave, it's not "polyamory" as I understand it. Polyamory can be thought of as a conscious, explicit attempt to fight these natural tendencies.
Polyamory as popularly defined is basically a kick in the teeth to evolution. The reason that I brought it up here in the first place is that it is an attempt to use rationality to overcome perceived deficiencies in how we've evolved to form relationships. More than anything else, poly is seeing a love triangle in a movie and demanding to know why "both" isn't an option. Polygamy by definition involves relationships in which one man has several wives. Polyamory excludes those relationships as unegalitarian (generally; there are always exceptions). You can continue to argue about evolutionary psychology if you want, but that field can never tell us what we should do, only who we are (and even then it's very easy to get it wrong).
Not necessarily. The fraternal polyandry practiced in Tibet is polygamy, and it would still be polygamy even if it were the only kind of polygamy in the world. You seem to mean "polygyny".
Thank you for the correction; I was indeed speaking of polygyny. The principle of my point still holds for polygamy, however. Polyandry is no more egalitarian than polygyny; any relationship in which only one person is permitted to have other partners lies outside polyamory's accepted definition.
I often wonder about that, too.
To clarify the 'degree' relationship I should add that the relationship is not linear. The optimal status for the man to have is slightly higher but not too much. In fact, when the perceptions of status gap between the partners is too great the guy is well served by raising the girl's status or slightly lowering his own. People get insecure when they think they have no bargaining power at all, insecurity is dangerous.
Yes, this is exactly what I meant when I said that "settling" for polyamory was a bad idea. I was thinking of a non-monogamous relationship I was involved in where my partner strongly preferred monogamy, but settled for non-monogamy out of insecurity. It didn't work out very well.
I wish that people making such sweeping generalizations such as these would remember to note that these are statistical trends, and not necessarily applicable to any two specific individuals.
Agreed. However, it's also good to be wary of using this as an excuse not to update our priors, or to expect an exception without evidence which supports an exception from the trend. I frequently catch myself inching towards either. Not that I strongly believe the quoted claim, for reasons such as WrongBot and Stefan's above exchange.
I've seen several relationships like this (both the "poly agreeing to be mono" and "mono agreeing to accept poly" variants) and you're right, that does tend to create more or less tension in the relationship. In some cases the partners do manage to adjust and everyone has a rather happy relationship, in other cases it's just a question of time when this difference will make the relationship fall apart.

But this taxonomy (as originally described) omits an important fourth category: unknown knowns, the things we don't know that we know. This category encompasses the knowledge of many of our own personal beliefs, what I call unquestioned defaults.

Does anyone else feel like this just a weird remake of cached thoughts?

Cached thoughts are default answers to questions. Unquestioned defaults are default answers to questions that you don't know exist.

But it may be linked to the concept of question stopers. I assume many unknown knowns lurk behind question stopers.

I hereby volunteer to proofread future comments of yours.

If you have a particularly compelling argument for or against a particular relationship style, please share it.

If one defines a graph with each individual representing a node, and an edge connecting two individuals who have had sexual contact, then the large majority are part of a huge connected cluster. This is why STDs are a problem. If a group of people agreed to limit their sexual contacts to others within the group, and if they were all tested beforehand, they would achieve a high degree of structural protection from STDs.

If one defines a graph with each individual representing a node, and an edge connecting two individuals who have had sexual contact, then the large majority are part of a huge connected cluster.

Here is a paper which observes this in a high school. Here is just the graph. An animated gif of the development over time. One thing that disturbs me about the paper is that they make no mention of asymmetric claims by the students. (ETA: actually, they did, see cupholder)

That is a fascinating paper, and engagingly written. I think the most surprising thing from it was that this weird almost-a-spanning-tree structure arises from two simple, local rules: 1. People tend to date other people with a similar amount of past sexual experience. 2. People avoid dating the exes of other people who are close to them in the relationship graph, since this makes them look bad to their friends, exes, and so on. This accounts for the lack of short cycles. When the authors applied these rules in a computer simulation, they ended up with results almost indistinguishable from the empirically-observed sex-graphs.
Well, there is a brief mention tucked away in a footnote: Not that it's very reassuring; I didn't see any data on how many/what proportion of claimed relationships were asymmetric.
The relationships in that high school are similar but not necessarily analogous to a polyamorous network. Because the relationships that make up that graph don't overlap temporally at their connecting nodes, an STD that enters the graph can only affect people that form a new connection after its appearance. An STD in a polyamorous network can spread to every member, regardless of when they join the network. That's kinda bad. Poly folk tend to be very concerned about STDs; common best-practices are to use barriers with new partners (or all partners), get tested for new infections regularly (usually monthly), and to require one's partners to do the same. This lines up pretty closely with Daniel's recommendation, but even if you take every precaution imaginable, being a part of a large polyamorous network will increase your risk of exposure by at least a little. Though it may be worth mentioning that that effect may be offset by the generally high level of caution in the poly community and increased certainty about your partner's partners, what with cheating being (almost entirely) out of the equation.
OK, but IMHO there is significant risk from infectious agents for which we do not yet have reliable affordable tests or that we do not yet believe to be sexually transmitted or that we do not yet believe to be particularly harmful. (The spirochete that causes Lyme disease would be an agent of the second category.)
For scale, on that graph are shown relationships between 573 students in a population of ~1000 students, of whom 832 were interviewed.
Another huge problem is unwanted pregnancy. Contraceptives are generally less reliable than most people like to think, so if you're not OK with abortion as the backup option (and certain that you'll actually be able to exercise it), it is a sword of Damocles hanging over any heterosexual relationship between (fertile) people who aren't ready for a baby to pop up. Admittedly, if you use contraceptives with great care and protective redundancy, they can be extremely reliable. However, I don't know how many people can actually pull this off in a consistently precise and disciplined manner; probably not too many. (Not to mention how badly such unrelenting discipline tends to kill fun.)
[-][anonymous]11y 5

I generally prefer fewer closer relationships than many less involved ones. I enjoy getting to know people really really well and then spending lots and lots of time with them. This extends beyond romantic relationships, for example I have only three close real life friends. Also I have a strong desire to have lots of children.

There are also non-trivial opportunity costs in terms of my relationships with others for going for a non-standard option. I'm already having difficulty getting my immediate family to recognize and respect both of my current relatio... (read more)

So the three of you don't have any other partners? Or did you just mean that your partners are limited to those two?
We don't have other partners.

This is my current reason for choosing monogamy: my sex drive, and general interest in the touchy-feely part of romantic relationships, is so much lower than the average that I have a hard time sustaining one relationship, and don't see what the benefit to me would be from having more people to have sex with. The emotional connection of romantic relationships is different, but isn't that what very-close-intimate-but-platonic-friendships are for?

I think (though I'm not quite sure) that you're presuming that the only potentially valuable difference between friendships and romantic relationships is sex, so if you don't value sex with more than one person, you see no reason to value romantic relationships with more than one person. Looking at my poly friends, I conclude that for some people, their romantic relationships have a valuable nonsexual component that their friendships don't have. So presumably they calculate the benefits differently than you do.
6Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Also, my friendships may be unusual. I talk about literally everything with my best friend, including subjects that may be taboo for most people, like pubic-hair-shaving. Likewise with my mom and my siblings; I can talk to them about anything and not be judged. I think this is an element that some people only find in relationships.
1Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Or have more experience and can actually differentiate. The one relationship I've been in that didn't have a sexual component was emotionally draining for other reasons. As I get older and actually experience more variations, I may change my mind. I'm sure there's a potentially valuable difference...but I'm reluctant to chase after polyamorous-but-non-sexual relationships just to recoup that difference. If I had a choice between having sex and not having sex, period, I might choose not having sex. This is complicated because I have a condition that means I can't actually have sex, yet, and although my boyfriend and I are attempting to work on this problem, our attempts involve very little pleasure for me. But I'm holding off judgement because maybe once this is dealt with, I will find sex and related activities more pleasurable. I consider this a separate problem from the fact that I'm not very touchy-feely in general.
This is an excellent reason for not choosing a monogamous relationship - your partner can have those things satisfied elsewhere.
I concur. Looking at the base rates of people-you-match-with + willing-to-have-poly VS people-you-match-with + tiny sex-drive/need-for-contact in more detail and in a context-specific manner along with availability factors like the more prevalent views of closer populations might clear up the issue, but a quick mental estimate tells me the monogamous kind is much more likely to be a monk or religious practitioner, and the poly kind seems to have a much better distribution with automatic filtering against most religions.

The majority of my motivation towards monogamy comes from jealousy, and so I'm interested in seeing your next post (although I'm not sure whether I want to self modify ie murder pill). However, another advantage to the complexity of monogamous relationships is fun. The dating game is an opportunity to play complex games of strategy. Is it difficult? At times. Do you get hurt? At times. Is it worth it? I think so.

Of course, the most appropriate Žižekian point about this post is that ultimate super ego injunction is "Enjoy!" In other words, one of the main forms of conformity today is exactly this pose of throwing off the demands of mainstream society demonstrated in this post. This ideal is the main message of consumerism in advertising - choose for yourself, unlock your deepest desires, express your true identity! If you really want to enjoy yourself fully, you can't just settle for the boring default option - whether in toilet paper, jeans, music or relationship style. You are supposed to consider all your options and find out what generates maximum enjoyment. This is the main form of authoritarianism today, and the correct response to the demand here that we justify our choice of monogamy is "It's none of your business!" of the main forms of conformity today is exactly this pose of throwing off the demands of mainstream society demonstrated in this post...

This is the main form of authoritarianism today, and the correct response to the demand here that we justify our choice of monogamy is "It's none of your business!"

This sounds very defensive to me; you might wish to examine why that is the case.

To reply to your argument, which is really just guilt (of poly folks) by association (with conspicuous consumption):

(1) Non-monogamous people will experience a high social cost at present for admitting the fact. You can hardly compare them to "rebelling" consumers. Saying you want to choose a polyamorous sexual relationship is not analogous in social cost to buying $2,000 shoes, it's analogous to buying a butt plug in front of your friends and family. It takes genuine mettle.

(2) Just because consumer culture emphasizes enjoying yourself, doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself (reversed cupidity is not eudaimonia). In the case of consumer goods, it means real reflection on what you actually enjoy, for how long, and what are the ethical implications? For sexuality, it means re... (read more)

(reversed cupidity is not eudaimonia)

I nearly missed this in the middle of that dense paragraph so it is worth a quote!

I'd have upvoted the first paragraph by itself, except that the present application is a bit of a non sequitur. ISTM that one of these things is not like the others: I'm not sure who's standing to make money off of people switching from monogamy to polygamy, I haven't seen paid advertisements for polygamy, and it seems to be more worth five minutes' thought than does, say, choice of toilet paper. P.S. Oh, and welcome to Less Wrong []! I look forward to hearing your take on a number of other issues, as you appear to have a very different argumentative toolkit from the usual one here.
The issue I'm raising is that the logic of greater options and choices is the logic of consumerism. Renata Salecl has some interesting observations about this emphasis and how it generates anxieties and personal crises that directly challenge the ideological assumption that more choice can't be bad. (See here: "Who Am I For Myself? Anxiety & the Tyranny of Choice: []) As far as social critiques go, this is far more challenging to deal with than this post, which smugly & uncritically assumes that it stands outside of social norms. The truth is that society is not constituted by a single homogeneous set of norms which we can easily reject, but multiple conflicting and contradictory ones. Here, the norms of consumerism and choice come into conflict with the norms of marriage. Given what I've said about the tyranny of choice, the real challenge to our thinking would be to see this as an reason to reject polyamory. What if the main benefit of monogamy is that it provides relief from this tyranny? Sometimes you hear happily married people say that they are glad to not have to deal with the dating scene, which is a very interesting example of how the removal of choice is experienced as a benefit. A point I should make here is that the issue I have is definitely not with the practice of polyamory itself, but the stated rationale for it. It's certainly possible to have non-consumerist justifications for polyamory - Mormon justifications, Muslim justifications, etc. The main problem I have is this uncritical assumption of the social norm that says more choice & fewer limitations is always better, particularly when it dresses itself up as nonconformity. This ideal is particularly inappropriate applied to sexuality. The standard dictum that we can only truly enjoy ourselves once we get rid of all limitations should be reversed. Limitation is an inherent part of enjoyment, especially in the domain of sexuality.

I hope you don't mind if I make some observations and suggestions about the form of communication you're using, since there appears to be a little bit of culture clash at work right now. (I acknowledge up-front that a discussion of form isn't a critique of content, and at any rate, I'm neither a practitioner nor an evangelist of polyamory myself.)

In a threaded conversation, brevity is the soul of communication: a few clearly stated points are much easier to reply to than a long essay. (Your first comment communicated much more clearly than the subsequent ones; it's no coincidence that it was upvoted.) I completely understand the desire to expand more and more on a point in order to be more persuasive and less misunderstood, but in this format it's usually much more effective to keep it short at first, then reply to specific questions and objections. (Here on the Internet, there's much more of a tendency for people to gloss over long sections of text. You can mitigate this to some extent by bolding or italicizing the key points; clicking the "Help" link below the comment box tells you how to do this here.)

Second, the repeated "What If" questions stand out fr... (read more)

I appreciate the feedback. Once I respond to people's objections, I'll be on my way.

I appreciate the feedback. Once I respond to people's objections, I'll be on my way.

This is (obviously) your prerogative; however, I would ask that you give it a bit more time than that. I'll just be blunt about why: you need LessWrong or something like it.

Okay, I know how annoying it is to be told about your own psychology by a stranger, but here goes. Your stated opinions, while extremely interesting and clearly well-educated, are of a form that makes it apparent you're starting with a bottom line and working upwards to arguments. That is, in the particular case of polyamory, you seem to be starting with annoyance at polyamorists and, as orthonormal implied, throwing out plausible arguments to see what sticks. The ethic of this community is to use rationality to become right rather than prove ourselves right. We don't always succeed at this, but we try.

Consider a thought experiment.

Think of all the hundreds of opinions you have on various issues and fact questions relating to science, public policy, economy, ethics, culture, sexuality, etc.

Realistically, you are dead wrong on at least one of those opinions (just like you know everybody else is). If you can't accept that as lik... (read more)

I agree that we all need what you claim LessWrong wants to be, but I don't think I'm retreating in any way from having my assumptions scrutinized. If anything, the problem is the opposite one, most the replies haven't identified the key points on which my argument turns or their weaknesses, instead they've largely seized on what I think are irrelevant or incidental points, basic misunderstandings or just jumping to odd conclusions. I don't think my arguments are insincere attempts to see what I can make stick, I intend to defend them as best as I can & I can't even find an example of something that might be interpreted like that. But I respect the desire to keep this community free of disruptive elements, and concede the right of the members of the community to determine what that is and if it includes verbosity and inadequate formatting. My purpose is not to prove myself right, but to help drive the debate to a less obvious and boring conclusion by calling into questioning some of the assumptions and the frame in which the problem of polyamory is posed. I think the post implicitly frames the problem in such a way as to unfairly tilt the playing field against those who disagree. But many of my comments have been down-voted without explanation, and the ease with which you can register your disagreement without having to confront the substance of what you disagree with (or do not understand), IMO goes against what you claim to be the purpose of this community.
At this time, your only comment with a negative score has 5 direct replies. I like interesting, aesthetically pleasing ideas. But ceteris paribus, the simplest ones are the ones most likely to be correct. Some of our communication difficulty may be a matter of phrasing--can you see why something like this: makes it sound like you're engaging in cognition motivated by something other than finding the truth?
Not at all. Are you suggesting I'm attempting to conceal the truth? I don't know how this could be misconstrued, it seems perfectly straight-forward to me. The author suggests that polyamory is a product of a thought process that challenges social norms. I take the opposite view, that rejecting polyamory on the grounds that it is overly conformist to social norms is a genuinely challenging and interesting thesis. I'm at a loss as to why this is considered out of bounds.
Polyamory can be the result of a thought process that challenges social norms. It can also be the result of a thought process that sees a good thing and then wants more of it. The process by which one arrives at polyamory does not invalidate the destination, even if the process is irrational. It's not that your argument is out of bounds, precisely. It's that you seem to be relying on a definition of polyamory that is the almost exact opposite of the one in common use. Ethical non-monogamy doesn't align with social norms in any modern, economically well-developed society. A challenging and interesting thesis is useless if it is contradicted by all available evidence.
No, khafra is suggesting that your cognition seems to be motivated by something other than finding the truth. Here's a thought experiment that shows that does not imply that you're attempting to conceal the truth: Let's suppose that I found out that by believing the world is flat, I could win $5. I might then attempt to perform cognitive operations which will result in my believing that the world is flat, that are ultimately motivated by the desire to win $5. It does not entail that anywhere in this process will I actively attempt to conceal the truth, especially to outside observers. This statement: Seems to imply that you engaged in something like bottom-line reasoning [], wherein one writes one's conclusion on the bottom line of a proof and then tries to find justifications for the conclusion. A red light came on at this one. Polyamory is overly conformist to social norms? Do you take it to be less controversial than monogamy? As far as I can see, monogamy is still the default expectation.
Oh, I see. The complete statement is that the claim is that polyamory is good because it offers more choice and flexibility. My response is that far from an advantage, this seems like a good reason to reject polyamory insofar as it is justified in that way. I'm contesting the pre-eminence of the value of flexibility in every area of life because I think they discourage deeper, more costly forms of connection in intimate relationships. In this area, I think inflexibility & limitation are virtues. I even claim that limitation in general plays a prominent, positive role in sexual enjoyment, so the specific limitation of having only one partner doesn't necessarily prevent or inhibit enjoyment. Although I will readily concede here that it might for some. If it can be shown that the absolute valorization of flexibility doesn't inhibit deep intimacy, that intimacy has no value and there are no costs to inhibiting it, or that polyamory doesn't valorize flexibility and therefore doesn't inhibit intimacy, then I have no objection to it. A more minor issue is whether polyamory falsely posits itself as a nonconformist lifestyle when it is simply novel. Here, I claim that false forms of nonconformity retard social progress by promoting misconceptions about the nature of society, but this objection is about polyamorist discursive practices, not the actual practice of polyamory.
If I attempted to claim that polyamory is good at all in my original post, it was unintentional. In general, I would justify polyamory as good for some people because it makes those people happier than the other options available to them. For people who would be less happy if they were polyamorous, polyamory is a terrible idea. Choice, then, is not good for its own sake, but rather because it offers opportunities for individuals to become happier. It is an instrumental value, not a terminal one. I'm quite curious: what do you mean by nonconformity?
This has already been said, but I'd like to make it a little more explicit: Those are not opposites. "Polyamory is a product of a thought process that challenges social norms" and "Polyamory is overly conformist to social norms" would be opposites. But the whether "Polyamory is overly conformist to social norms" is true, is unrelated to whether it is challenging or interesting.
Is this perhaps a miswording? Earlier, you seemed to be making the point that polyamory was purposefully nonconformist. It seems to me that perhaps what you're trying to say is that polyamory depends on the existing social norms, as something to rebel against. Assuming that's what you were trying to say, I don't see that as a good reason to avoid polyamory: If the theory is correct, then it seems to me that the largest number of people will be made happy by a dynamic equilibrium, where one generation (or group of generations) rebels by being polyamorous and the next rebels by being monogamous and then the cycle repeats. Why would that be objectionable? Or perhaps you're trying to optimize for something other than happiness?
Ah, yes I guess I'm sliding between multiple definitions of nonconformity. When I said that polyamory is consciously nonconformist, I mean that in the sense that they adopt a position that is understood that way by their peers, their parents, etc. Nonconformity here is adopting idiosyncratic practices that may be stigmatized, with the intention of opening up new possibilities for living one's life. When I say the opposite, that polyamory is overly conformist, I mean to challenge that idea - what is usually understood as nonconformity arrives at it's position not by challenging social norms, but by rejecting the inconsistency of social norms. Where the monogamist has multiple conflicting and overlapping values of commitment and choice and freedom, etc., the polygamist arrives at her position by valorizing a single, unambiguous value and rejecting anything that conflicts with it. The most precise term for this is not nonconformity, it's fundamentalism. It's certainly possible that a given social problem is caused by an inadequate commitment to a single value, but I want to clarify that this is the claim being made, and that I don't agree, in two ways. First, I contest the idea that having a single unambiguous value to govern human social life is achievable or even desirable, and second, that intimate relationships are improved by introducing more flexibility and choice. I think we are very sensitive to the problems that are created by a lack of choice in relationships, and remarkably blind to the problems that are caused by too much choice. The post attempts to exploit this blindness by asking us rationally justify monogamy, a task that can only be accomplished by appealing to a set of values that are waning. In my view, the fact that we can't do this convincingly is an apt illustration of the malaise that afflicts society.
Do you have evidence for this? It seems like a product of generalizing from one example [], or some similar bias (correspondence bias [], perhaps?), to me. I don't see any reason why someone couldn't consider multiple conflicting values and determine that polygamy was the best way to satisfy most of them. (I will admit that a higher-than-usual chance that there's a reason that I'm not aware of, since I'm rather unusual when it comes to how I think about relationships, but as the person making a claim, it's still your responsibility to provide evidence for that claim.) Hm. I think this is the relevant quote: I don't know if WrongBot has read enough here to know this - if e hasn't, you may be right about eir intentions - but in the context of what 'preferable' is used to mean here, that quote is not necessarily asking for a rational justification. Preferences are also strongly dependent on values - which are arational, not irrational - so it would be perfectly valid for someone to answer that question with something like "I value the security that I get from monogamous relationships" or "I value my status within my social group, which disapproves of polygamy", with no further explanation necessary. "I value my time, and thus prefer not to spend it thinking about things like this", which seems to be your objection, is also valid (though it would be a good idea to clearly specify what 'like this' means) - but, not everyone shares that value!
I'm male and I've read most of the sequences here, to clear up a couple pieces of uncertainty. I was asking people to justify their preferences in terms of their values, so, yes, "I value the security that I get from monogamous relationships" is a perfectly valid justification, and there's nothing irrational about it. Though I might ask for a clarification of what kind of security the person means (Social? Fear of abandonment?), and whether they've considered the ways that other kinds of relationships might provide or fail to provide that security. Why do you believe what you believe? That's the ultimate question I'm asking.
In principle, this is true, but I take the polyamory movement as having been heavily influenced by the 60s counterculture movement and the sexual revolution, influenced philosophically by Romantic poets and Rousseau. One of the major countercultural critiques of mainstream society is hypocritical, inconsistent and contradictory values. Empirically, this has been demonstrated by Jonathan Haidt. Maybe you are already familiar with his work. He proposes 5 moral foundations -- Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Respect, Purity/Sacredness -- these are different ways of approaching moral questions. He shows that self-described liberals tend to value the first 2 far more than the last 3, where conservatives value them more equally. It's fairly easy to identify the countercultural critique of society through these categories, by observing that they largely reject notions like respect for authority, religious justifications rooted in purity & sacredness, and loyalty to nation & family, taking these values to be vices rather than virtues and seeing all the evil in the world as a result of them. Aside from that, the institution of marriage and monogamy is governed by the norms of permanent commitment and connection, admittedly less so than in previous eras. It's difficult to see how an activist who rejects the culture's major symbols and practices embodying commitment could not be intending to reject it wholesale, especially when the alternate values of flexibility are emphasized so heavily instead.
You seem to be making the argument that polyamory reminds you of a 60's political movement and that therefore polyamorous people probably have the same intellectual values as leading thinkers in that movement. I find this nonsensical. I'm polyamorous, and I certainly wish that society in general would view polyamory as an acceptable alternative, but I'm not polyamorous in order to rebel against society, nor do I want to oppose the institution of marriage in any way. Nor do I have anything against commitment: quite to the contrary, I feel rather strongly that I need committed relationships in order to be happy.
Ah-ha. You seem to be conflating polygamy-as-a-lifestyle with polygamy-as-a-political-movement. I know next to nothing about polygamy-as-a-political-movement, and don't much care to - one can easily adopt polygamy-as-a-lifestyle without it, if that seems to be in one's best interests. Regarding the five values, polygamy-as-a-lifestyle seems to me to have the potential to be compatible with all of them, and in some ways it may do a better job of fulfilling one or more of them - including the latter three - depending on how you define the terms. I'm polyromantic and asexual, and consider my current situation (two major partners and a handful of currently-important other relationships) to be very good in terms of all five, and better at care, respect, and purity/sacredness than most marriages that I'm aware of. (My concept of purity/sacredness is probably nonstandard, though.) You're conflating monogamy, marriage, and commitment - and probably conflating sex with those, as well. This is somewhat understandable, since in this culture they're strongly correlated, but it's not very accurate in practice. Most kinds of poly relationships that I'm aware of - including mine - involve some kind of commitment; the fact that that commitment doesn't necessarily take the form of a promise never to have sex with anyone else or an official document doesn't make the commitment any less real.
None of your comments have been downvoted to invisibility, and your total karma is non-negative. For someone so new, you're actually not doing too badly. Others can chime in, of course, but I don't see any reason for you not to stick around... unless you're more interested in winning arguments than improving your rationality, that is.
While I suppose that there must be people who actually think like this, I myself have never met one. Is it smug and uncritical to point out the existence of a social norm? All I've done is to observe that the norm exists, (very briefly) describe alternatives, and ask "Why do you believe what you believe? []" This doesn't seem to be a question you're interested in. While the paradox of choice [] is well-documented, it is not a linear function. Too much choice can be paralyzing, but we are happier when we can make important choices for ourselves. First, religion is a poor justification for anything. Second, the fact that polyamory is a choice does not mean that a preference for more choice justifies it; the question to be answered is still, "why choose polyamory?" One excellent reason is utilitarian: if polyamory is anticipated to make you and your loved ones happier than any alternative you've considered, why, you should choose it. Choice is only helpful when it is possible to evaluate one's options by some pre-existing metric. If I were to offer you three closed, unlabeled boxes, allowing you to choose which one to take does not improve your expected outcome.
I will try to sum up your position: you're saying that (1) limitation is inherently important to sex and romance; (2) explicit prohibitions are often implicitly allowed to be violated; (3) your problem is not with polyamoury per se, but with the fact that its proponents want explicit approval rather than mere legal toleration, which would (4) provide too much choice (less choice is a relief for many monogamous couples) and undermine the sexiness-inducing nature of the prohibitions against it. Is this fair?
no, it isn't. you've summarized a few of mike's descriptive claims regarding ''how the world works'' and extrapolated mike's probable values from those claims and how they were presented, but neither his hypotheses nor his (unstated) values have much to do with the ''thrust'' of his argument. to paraphrase mike in the language of lesswrong: the original post is framed in such a way as to make readers think it is Obviously Obvious that being a conformist is 'bad' and being a non-conformist is 'good'. Lesswrongers havent noticed because the Schelling Points offered up in the original post align very neatly with the pre-rational values Lesswrongers are most likely to have. wrongbot's post does not give us a reliable procedure for uncovering conflicting values. it does not tell us when we should invest time and energy trying to reconcile the conflicts we uncover. it does not tell us how to reconcile values when we decide it's a good idea. it basically just says, ''here's a social norm that may be constraining your behavior!" and implies (subtlely) that you should start ignoring it if you cant think of any clever reasons [that you can translate into words] why you shouldnt. how does that further the cause of Rationality?
Let's look at why Wrongbot actually included the "Unknown Knowns" part. Was it an attempt to sneak in psychological influence in favour of his preferred sexual pattern or was it because he wasn't secure in his right to post on this topic and was trying to justify it by framing it as a cognitive bias? I suspect the later. That reduces the 'dark' rating I give it considerably (but raised the 'wussiness' rating commensurately.)
I obviously have an interest in the answer to this question, so please keep that in mind. Your latter suggestion as to my intentions is much closer to the truth (and you may be entirely right and I may be rationalizing). Because I'm so new to this community, I was certainly trying to avoid posting something that looked inappropriate. This is a specific issue that I think rationalists should consider regardless of framing, and I won't deny that to that end I attempted to present it in the best light possible. The choice of frame wasn't arbitrary, though. My writing process for the post basically involved explaining why considering alternatives to monogamy was a good idea, and then noticing that relationship style was an example of a broader problem which I hadn't seen described on LessWrong, and that this observation would bring the post more in line with other content I'd seen on the site. Then I went through about five more drafts and hit submit. I honestly believe that conformity is orthogonal to truth; that other people believe something makes it no more or less true (though it may provide evidence as to the thing's truth, if those other people are particularly trustworthy or untrustworthy). The comments above and elsewhere indicate that I was not sufficiently clear in communicating that in my original post, and I would be grateful to anyone who suggested how I could have been more clear.
Thankyou for making a well reasoned and self reflective explanation in response to criticism what could quite reasonably be considered insulting.
Insulting or not, you had a point. And I try very hard to appreciate well-intentioned criticism, so don't worry about it.
Ahh, I think I have conveyed that I would be reluctant to give insult, which isn't the case. Insulting people is something that is gives negative terminal value in my preferences but it is something I am comfortable with as an instrumental means. It happens to be the case that you have the maturity to handle criticism, you do not have an emotional vulnerability there. Curiously, I would be more inclined to make a call of 'wussiness!' if I did think that you had an insecurity there, a button that could be pushed. That would be exactly the case where such stimulus would provoke the most positive influence. The reaction to having that button pushed simultaneously strengthens against the vulnerability to criticism and causes a confrontation of and improvement in the trait they are insecure about. Pardon the tangent into abstract observations on human behavior and development processes. The subject fascinates me.
Negative? *blink* That possibility didn't even occur to me. I thought the descriptive component rather obvious and the normative component neutral (commensurate transfer of any 'negative' component from one label to another.) Curious. Now, I know with some confidence that calling out 'wussiness' is extremely effective in discouraging future examples. I am almost as confident that this applies even if me making the call is met with disapproval. I have collected a significant sample of cases of calling things wussy (or context appropriate alternatives) with intended positive influence. With no replies except mine (as of this edit) I can delete my comment without losing face. The question I must ask myself is whether I am willing to potentially sacrifice status in order to make this influence []. That question is easy, which gives a strong signal of the degree to which I consider 'wussiness' my enemy!
I'm a little confused. What is it you're trying to discourage? People framing posts in terms of cognitive biases? This seems like something we'd want, and in fact I suggested [] that WrongBot frame the post in a more general way.
Okay, so to summarize again: (1) WrongBot's post assumes unjustifiably that non-conformity is obviously a good thing; (2) monogamy is tied up intimately with human terminal values - values that are not well-addressed by the post and may even make rational justifications of monogamy superfluous; (3) the demand for justification (or, failing that, rejection) of a social norm is somehow unfair or hasty, or again assumes non-conformity must be a good thing.
(1) Yes, but also I claim that WrongBot's claim of nonconformity is simply false. He's just applying a very widely held value in a slightly novel way. (2) I think monogamy can be justified rationally, but this involves reconstructing certain values that have been eclipsed by consumerist logic (3) The demand to justify our sexual practices or risk being put into stigmatized position of conformist is unfair. Some further points: the debate of polyamory vs. monogamy is not, strictly speaking, a debate about whether it's best to have one partner or multiple partners. It is partly about whether society should stigmatize the open deviation from the norm, but that is not the thrust of the argument here. There's a stronger claim lurking here, that many people consider maximum choice and flexibility the royal road to happiness and since polyamory more adequately embodies this ideal, it is superior to monogamy, at least for those people. Once people examine their beliefs in the cold light of reason, they will choose what works for them, etc.
Upvoted for being a good & concise distillation of your concerns. Which values would these be, and what do you mean by reconstructing them? I'm listening. Well, as someone said to you above, I don't think WrongBot's intention was to stigmatize anyone. You could have simply said "I personally find polyamory icky" and that would have been considered a perfectly valid 'justification.' I understood him to be saying merely: here is an opportunity to reflect on this norm - I personally found my rejection of it to be a net positive in my life. This is, IMO, your most interesting and defensible claim. It is certainly plausible that some or many modern Westerners and polyamorists are fetishizing "variety of choice" in their decisions, in the naive belief that greater choice leads to greater happiness. However, what is the right way of making such decisions then? I suspect you're defining "reason" too narrowly. For me, the 'reasonable decision' is basically by definition the best decision, given a thorough weighing of all potential factors that could come into play - including whatever objections to polyamory and arguments for monogamy you might have! Moreover, reason's light is not cold, since before it can even get off the ground, it needs to know our warm and fluffy terminal values. When you think of reason, think "All Things Considered," don't think "Spock."
I'll repeat something I alluded to before: a happily married woman who listens to her sister's dramatic dating stories and feels relief that she no longer has to worry about all that. This is an example of how removing choice and flexibility can be the source of happiness. This requires us to see choice in negative terms, which is actually quite difficult to do, because the problems of a lack of choice have been dramatized in movies and novels so often that we have a strong emotional resonance with them - for example, the familiar narrative of the son who is forced into the family business by an overbearing father, deprived of his opportunity to explore and pursue his dreams. The plot of the movie Ratatouille is something like this. We know intellectually that problems of too much choice exist, of course, but strong cultural narratives have deformed our cognition such that they appear insignificant to us. Just noticing and critiquing these values when they appear is a very useful thing to do. One good example of this is a recent book called Marry Him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough. The thesis is that women have extremely high expectations for potential husbands, to the point that they reject perfectly good men in the hopes that something better will come along. Eventually their options dwindle and they find themselves childless and unmarried in their 40s, which was the experience of the author. The problem here is buyer's remorse. Given the wealth of options as well as the emphasis on getting the very best for yourself, this translates into a need for flexibility: form less secure, more temporary relationships until you find the one that gives you everything you want. I don't really know what an improved decision-making process would be exactly, but the fact that our gut reaction to the title "Settle for Mr. Good Enough" is that this sounds patently absurd is a good gauge for our thinking. When this seems like wisdom rather than absurdity, we will know
I disagree with the first sentence. Since my disagreement hinges on the difference between partial and total derivatives I hope it is broadly interesting. When Milton Friedman titled one of his books Free To Chose his underlying model was that happyness was a function both of the number of choices and the quality of the choices: ). His theory is that q is a dependent variable: ). When choices, c, are few, then producers offer consumers poor choices, on a take-it or leave-it basis. When choices are many, producers compete and consumers are offered good choices. is positive and large. is positive and large. What of ? Presumably it is negative, all that comparison shopping is a chore, but in this analysis it is seen as small. Choice is good,meaning )%20=%20\frac{\partial%20h}{\partial%20c}%20+%20\frac{\partial%20h}{\partial%20q}\frac{dq}{dc}%20%3E%200). I see the consumerist position, that choice is good, meaning , as a crude vulgarisation of the argument above. Trying to apply this to a 30 year old American contemplating polyamory, my assumption is that he has experience of how the inner dynamics of the modern American monogamous romance play out. Unhappy experience. Now he is wondering about the dynamics implicit in polyamory. He wants to know whether changing the rules produces a better game, and he knows that he cannot find out via the simple equation: more choice = better. He must consider how the players respond to the changed incentives produced by the new rules.
If q is a function of c, then h becomes a function of one independent variable, and your use of partials here doesn't make sense, because you can't hold c constant while changing q or vice versa.
You are making me feel old. My notation was orthodox in 1958. Indeed, in A Course Of Pure Mathematics, Tenth Edition, section 157, Hardy writes: The distinction between the two functions is adequately shown by denoting the first by and the second by , in which case the theorem takes the form though this notation is also open to objection, in that it is a little misleading to denote the functions \}) and ) whose forms as functions of x are quite different from one another, by the same letter f in and .
I think your notation is still orthodox, or at least fairly common, nowadays. Wikipedia uses it on its total derivative page [], for example, and it seems familiar to me.
I thought that this was the kind of situation partial derivatives are there for. AlanCrowe's just applied the multivariable chain rule [], if I'm getting it right.
Thanks, you (and Alan) are right. Sorry, it's been a while.
This is actually an interesting point; however, sometimes it really is about the rules. Homosexuality was not illegal because that made it even sexier. I think you have to pick one. Either polyamorists are misguided because they're out to piss off the bourgeoisie with their nonconformity, or they're misguided because they're actually rule-bound conformists themselves. (Or they're hypocrites, but that describes damn near everyone anyway.)
So the correct response to a suggestion that you think is: "It's none of your business!"? I thought Lesswrong was all about thinking, and becoming less wrong. The OP didn't demand you explain yourself, merely suggested you ought to consider why you believe what you believe. Seems a reasonable suggestion to me.

Why did I choose monogamy? I haven't. That implies I've got a mate to be monogamous with. ;)

If I could get into a relationship with a harem of hot bisexual chicks, I'd do so. Of course, I'd also just as happily get into a relationship with one girl. Either would be better than nothing.

I would be astonished if your expected utilities for these two cases were identical. It's also worth noting that whether you're looking for monogamous or polyamorous relationships can have a big effect on your likelihood of succeeding (which, of course, varies a great deal based on who you are pursuing). For the record, most bisexual poly women tend to look down on your approach as "unicorn hunting."
Do you mean that you're more likely to get a monogamous relationship with someone monogamous, and more likely to get a poly one with someone who's poly? Or am I missing your point? Hopefully this isn't true, but if it is it's incredibly hypocritical. Why are their relationship choices acceptable but other people's preferences something to be looked down at? Is this a status thing?
Yes, but also that if you're primarily looking at people in the pagan/geek/bi cluster, you'll see many more poly people there than elsewhere (relatively, at least). As for unicorn hunting, it's usually about being annoyed by hypocrisy, so far as I've seen. Bisexual women get annoyed when they have straight male partners who want the rules of their relationship such that the man can date whoever he wants, but the woman can only date other women. This is often derogatorily referred to as a "one-penis policy," and seems to be the result of the man not feeling threatened by lesbian relationships because he doesn't think of women as "real competition." (This is not a straw man. I have actually seen and heard this view stated seriously by some men in the poly community.)
I'm straight, and I'm currently dating a straight girl. One of our close mutual friends is a bisexual girl, and the two of them used to (before we started dating) occasionally make out when we were drunk etc. After I started dating her, this question came up. Instinctively, I feel much less threatened by her making out with a girl than with a guy. That makes sense evolutionarily, since my romantic interest is not going to be having her babies. However, intellectually, I don't want to have different standards for people with different sexual orientations, so they stopped.
I understand that, and it does seem unfair, [] although some couples have reasons for having unequal arrangements, or use them as a stepping stone. [] (Links possibly NSFW.) However, it bothers me that a type of consensual relationship is disparaged as wrong in general, when it's something that the people involved agree to and find workable. All that said, I'm a little confused, because the comment that you responded to was about dating multiple bisexual women, not about a one-penis policy. The comment was: I read this as either referring to a closed, polyfidelity relationship, where everyone is limited to sex with people in the relationship, or as completely open, where any of them can have sex with any other people (male or female). Is there a one-penis policy implication in there that I'm missing? Also, does the one-penis policy objection apply to polyfidelity where there is only one male in the relationship? That situation seems more equal.
Agreed. While the OPP is a common failure mode, it doesn't apply to all relationships one-man/multiple-women relationships. Just usually. The objection really only applies when it is a deliberate policy, as opposed to situations where the genders of a relationship's participants just happen to fall out that way. IMHO, of course.

Slavoj Zizek has talked a lot about the missing term in Rumsfeld's taxonomy.

[-][anonymous]13y 0

I'm a male who is fortunate enough to never feel jealousy, attractive/skilled enough to make girls want to sleep with me, and volatile enough that I can't handle any drama no matter how small. So I went for the most logical choice: have many fuck buddies at once without getting "romantic" with anyone.

For some reason, most girls that end up sticking with me like the fact that I'm sleeping with other girls too. I discovered that more or less by chance. At first I didn't tell anyone anything about anyone else, "don't ask don't tell", but t... (read more)