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.

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)
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 Crowley
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. ;))

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.


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.
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?

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.