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Unknown knowns: Why did you choose to be monogamous?

47 Post author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 02:50AM

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.

Comments (651)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 26 June 2010 06:36:16AM 36 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 26 June 2010 08:33:26AM 8 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 June 2010 05:57:48AM 30 points [-]

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 have freaked out completely if I'd actually had the opportunity to have sex with a woman, but this seems unlikely.

My suspicion is that I could also potentially be happy in a polyfaithful stable triad if all of the sub-relationships were virtually or completely free of drama, but more people than that, or appreciable amounts of romance/sex between triad persons and non-triad persons, or more conflict than "almost none", or any other complications, and I'd want to abandon the entire mess and find myself a nice singular partner.

I suspect that part of this inclination in myself is that I want my relationships to be permanent, reliable fixtures in my life. (I haven't managed this yet, but it is a very stable want.) Polyamories of any kind are necessarily more complicated. There are more practical obstacles, more negotiations, more neologistic rules, more outside perplexity, more spawning points for drama, more ways in which the relationship changes over time, and - if the parties involved are all inclined towards polyamory in the first place - more affordances for dissatisfaction within the established limits of the relationship. All of these things make the relationships less likely to still be around for the long haul in a more or less recognizable form, and that's not a desideratum I could give up nearly as easily as "all of my partner's nookie is for my exclusive use".

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 26 June 2010 01:57:00PM 13 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 04:36:16PM 5 points [-]

It seems to not satisfy some people, however.

Comment author: Kevin 26 June 2010 08:04:44PM 9 points [-]

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?

Comment author: Alicorn 26 June 2010 10:06:57PM 14 points [-]

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.)

Comment author: NullSet 09 July 2010 03:04:37AM 3 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Alicorn 09 July 2010 03:56:45AM *  7 points [-]

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.

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.

Comment author: NullSet 09 July 2010 05:25:01AM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 09 July 2010 03:43:13AM 2 points [-]

One has to be dissatisfied with with the relationship as a whole to decide to leave both partners.

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.

Comment author: magfrump 26 June 2010 06:15:34AM 2 points [-]

Agreed on most if not all points.

Comment author: LucasSloan 26 June 2010 03:10:53AM *  20 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.

Comment author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 03:49:01AM *  6 points [-]

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.

Comment author: PlaidX 26 June 2010 04:45:08AM 16 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 26 June 2010 06:29:25AM 25 points [-]

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. :)

Comment author: HughRistik 26 June 2010 07:24:03AM 11 points [-]

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.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 08:26:21AM 14 points [-]

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.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 June 2010 12:03:56PM 10 points [-]

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".

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 28 June 2010 05:22:36AM *  15 points [-]

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 just look for a combination of people who together satisfy everything on the list. Not that I wouldn't be happy even in a situation where only 85% (say) of the things were fulfilled, but fulfilling more would make me even more happy.

(I don't really draw a sharp line between romantic partners and close friends, and find such a division slightly artificial in the first place. I prefer to just count both of them as members of my 'extended family'.)

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 06:43:52PM 12 points [-]

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.

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 June 2010 08:23:47AM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 June 2010 07:06:00PM 17 points [-]

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

In the spirit of the original post: Why not?

Comment author: Blueberry 27 June 2010 10:31:28AM 4 points [-]

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.)

Comment author: thomblake 28 June 2010 05:52:54PM 4 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 June 2010 06:47:42PM 6 points [-]

In the spirit of the original post: why did you choose to only have long-term relationships?

Comment author: HughRistik 26 June 2010 08:47:25AM 2 points [-]

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?

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.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 June 2010 02:47:00AM 13 points [-]

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.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 June 2010 08:11:58AM 12 points [-]

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.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 08:21:46AM *  11 points [-]

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.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 June 2010 11:56:43AM 15 points [-]

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!

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 03:36:23PM 3 points [-]

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.

Comment author: khafra 28 June 2010 03:56:44PM 5 points [-]

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?"

Comment author: pjeby 28 June 2010 05:50:08PM 9 points [-]

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 through a rather trying period where my wife kept exceeding my then-current level of skills. ;-)

However, once you really "get it", then what happens is that it's like a storm that breaks over you and then goes calm, and there's much more connection and passion there than there was in the flat, no-drama-at-all state, where I was trying to control situations to prevent drama from arising in the first place.

Comment author: WrongBot 28 June 2010 06:16:28PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: FrankAdamek 28 June 2010 06:18:05PM 2 points [-]

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.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 12:30:47PM *  3 points [-]

In general I've found that it's the relationship that isn't going right that most needs time and attention.

Sometimes. Sometimes time and attention is exactly what it doesn't need.

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!

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.

Comment author: Kevin 28 June 2010 03:29:20AM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 June 2010 01:28:56AM 4 points [-]

Having never been in a romantic relationship myself, would you be so kind as to explain what "drama" means in this context?

Comment author: Cyan 27 June 2010 12:36:51AM 2 points [-]

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.

Comment author: xv15 01 July 2010 12:10:29PM 11 points [-]

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."

Comment author: Carinthium 10 November 2010 10:45:36PM 3 points [-]

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.

Comment author: MinibearRex 03 April 2011 07:13:42PM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 09:51:45PM 11 points [-]

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.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 01:21:35AM *  6 points [-]

del

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 04:08:13AM 6 points [-]

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.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 11:15:15AM *  6 points [-]

del

Comment author: Blueberry 27 June 2010 11:02:05AM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: ata 26 June 2010 03:50:36AM *  11 points [-]

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.)

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 04:12:21PM 13 points [-]

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 a direct return.

However, I changed something else in my personality earlier this week -- a particular incidence of learned helplessness -- and afterward, charity suddenly made sense to me in a way that it simply never had before, and I actually found myself being happy about the idea of e.g. contributing to local libraries, and I actually gave some money (out of pocket and spur of the moment) to my regular hair stylist, upon hearing that she'd just been diagnosed with breast cancer and would be struggling financially in a few weeks, post-surgery.

And I felt good about it.

Anyway, this particular change makes me suspect that philanthropy is actually a shibboleth -- while it is correlated with success, there is actually a separate trait driving both the charity and the success, and that it has something to do with lacking certain types of "victim" mindset (one of which I got rid of this week).

So I'm now curious whether I could actually refrain from charitable acts and donations and become more successful... even though my preference and active interest now, is to contribute to certain causes. (And not on a utilitarian basis -- it's strictly warm fuzzies -- something that, AFAICR, I've never experienced before.)

But I'm not sure whether I want to make that particular sacrifice (holding off on the charity until "wealthy") in the name of science or not, especially since there are so many other potentially confounding variables, and in any case I lack a true control.

Anyway... what was I saying? Oh yeah. Compare your beliefs and thought processes with those of people succeeding at whatever you want to do/be/have, to identify what "non-default" settings they're using. Pay special attention to how they think, in the sense of types of processing steps and what emotional attitudes they seem to hold, rather than merely what they think, which often sounds like the default wisdom if the person has not, themselves, thought deeply about what they do differently.

IOW, it's less about "belief" than about "process". What do they do differently in their heads? That's where the gold is.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2010 04:19:10PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 04:44:59PM 5 points [-]

I've assumed that part of charity is the feeling that you have more than you need,

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.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 04:46:57PM 3 points [-]

I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea of personally wanting to give money or time away without a direct return. However, I changed something else in my personality earlier this week -- a particular incidence of learned helplessness -- and afterward, charity suddenly made sense to me in a way that it simply never had before

Can you elaborate on what you changed? I'd love to know how it made sense to you.

Pay special attention to how they think, in the sense of types of processing steps and what emotional attitudes they seem to hold

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.

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 05:28:42PM *  5 points [-]

Can you elaborate on what you changed? I'd love to know how it made sense to you.

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, getting involved, donating money..." And I felt a warm-fuzzy of being a part of library-ness, and a sense of ownership -- like, I would be able to walk into a library and feel like I owned it, kind of. Very awesome.

No wonder charitable campaigns based on ownership (e.g. of buildings) and participation (e.g. we'll send you pictures and letters of "your" child) are so successful -- it appears that some of the emotional circuits for giving are wired here.

Anyway... now that I'm thinking about it in this way, it seems like the critical factor is making decisions based on the benefits rather than the detriments of the options, and that seems likely something that would influence wealth acquisition and entrepreneurial behavior as well. It's likely that the specific thing I eliminated (the family loyalty to helplessness) was simply something that kept me from routinely making decisions on a benefit-oriented basis. (Because to do such, requires a non-victim outlook.)

All that having been said, I still would prefer to do some experiments, but now at least I have a much more specific hypothesis to test.

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.

You have to listen to them in the process of thinking, and especially pay attention to how they correct the thinking of others.

These are both things that are best done live, or by observing recordings of them interacting with or coaching other people. A speech or talk or book won't tell you much unless you can read between the lines of a story with enough information.

For example, before I started making lots of self-help products, I had a belief that making a product was a hard and complicated thing that had to be done just so. This, even after I heard Matt Furey talk a lot about how easy it was. However, on a teleseminar where he was giving a talk, he started on a side story about how he was going up to Missouri to see this eye doctor, and while there he was going to stop at this other guy's martial arts studio and give a class, and the guy was going to charge people a bunch to come, and give Matt some of the money, but maybe while he was there he would film it, and charge people to see it live over the internet, and sell the DVDs later... and I just had an epiphany.

That epiphany was, "I'm making this way too hard."

So, Matt saying over and over again that "product creation is easy" and "making money is easy" did little to change my thinking. Sure, now, years later, when I hear somebody successful saying something I don't believe or agree with, I pay close attention and I think hard about it -- which is why that "give to your source of spiritual renewal" was something that had been on my mind for a long time.

But even so, the example or experience (even vicarious) of how your model thinks is much more powerful than the mere description of it. The thing that impressed me in Matt's story was not that he was doing all those things, but that he was doing them on the spur of the moment - it was simply, "well, I'm going to be in town, so I thought maybe I'd do this". It was the first time I'd realized how easy it actually could be to make products, and money.

Shortly thereafter, I went out and made my first audio product, and netted about $7K in the next 3 months from it. That experience got me comfortable with the idea of being able to produce monthly workshops, recordings, etc., and ultimately let me quit my day job.

My financial results plateaued, however, and I have been looking for the next mental breakthrough of that variety. Many of my mentors have suggested that each new order of magnitude in financial success requires a different mental adjustment. The good news, I suppose, is that the benefits of each shift expand polynomially. (Which I think may be the word people really mean when they say "exponentially". ;-) )

Comment author: xamdam 27 June 2010 03:00:01PM *  2 points [-]

how do you get accurate information on how people think?

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.

Comment author: Kevin 28 June 2010 03:25:17AM *  10 points [-]

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.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 04:08:17AM 9 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: cousin_it 28 June 2010 11:46:40AM *  18 points [-]

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

Comment author: pjeby 28 June 2010 02:58:04PM 9 points [-]

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.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 June 2010 03:23:22PM 6 points [-]

"Deadly unk-unks" is much funnier than "unknown unknowns".

Comment author: WrongBot 28 June 2010 05:50:20PM 2 points [-]

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

Comment author: michaelkeenan 26 June 2010 11:14:18AM 9 points [-]

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

Comment author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 07:02:06PM 8 points [-]

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

Comment author: Alicorn 26 June 2010 10:14:37PM 4 points [-]

I found Friday more compelling than The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The scenes of Friday's family were just dripping with idyll (until [spoiler], of course).

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2010 10:57:13PM *  4 points [-]

I might reread Friday to check-- it's a book about desperately searching for a home, and I suspect that an alert reader might find something fishy, even in the early descriptions, if only from their sketchiness. IIRC, Friday seems to love the atmosphere of the place rather than the individuals.

While we're on the subject, afaik no human society has anything like line marriages. On the face of it, they seem workable. Any theories about why they don't happen?

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 June 2010 08:14:16AM 2 points [-]

Datapoint: I've never read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; I got into poly through meeting poly people at a bisexual convention.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 June 2010 12:52:24AM 8 points [-]

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

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

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

Comment author: LongInTheTooth 28 June 2010 02:30:16PM 5 points [-]

Yes, for me too. I watched a documentary about the lifestyle, and was just baffled that people would shoulder the n^2 communication burden and associated drama.

But a poly friend of main maintains that for him it's worth it. We agreed that the two of us have different thresholds for drama and relationship effort, hence a different result from the same cost-benefit analysis.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 04:09:46PM *  7 points [-]

n^2?

1
2+1=3
3+2+1=6
4+3+2+1=10
5+4+3+2+1=15
6+5+4+3+2+1=21
7+6+5+4+3+2+1=28

Let's see... (n-1)n/2. Yes, n^2 it is.

It didn't occur to me to think of it that way given how important that -1 and /2 are for most practical purposes but that just means I wasn't aiming high enough in with my hypothetical plans to require a harem of bisexual women (sorry guys...). More to the point I suspect I discount my expected exposure to other people's drama by more than a linear factor. With larger polyamorous entanglements I'm more likely to be affected by factional politics. Given how they work I'd estimate a drama exposure of order n*log(n).

Now for the real practical consideration... what is the relationship between number of polyamorous partners and expected depletion of my Pramipexole supply... Yes, Pramipexole enhances libido for both sexes and in the case of males reduces or eliminates the refractory period). ;)

Comment author: Sniffnoy 28 June 2010 10:04:01PM *  3 points [-]

General fact: Summing a polynomial of degree k results in a polynomial of degree k+1. This is easier to see if you use the x choose k basis, rather than the x^k basis.

Comment author: cousin_it 28 June 2010 10:54:09PM *  6 points [-]

This is even easier to see if you remember that summation is discrete integration, which is the opposite of differentiation, which reduces degree by one. I recommend Graham, Knuth and Patashnik's "Concrete Mathematics" for stuff like this.

Comment author: retiredurologist 28 June 2010 11:29:32PM 4 points [-]

" Yes, Pramipexole enhances libido for both sexes and in the case of males reduces or eliminates the refractory period."

If these effects were reproducibly demonstrable, controlling for placebo effect, Boehringer (it's maker) would be all over it with both feet, but they're not. They are the company that recently wasted many millions trying to get flibanserin approved for enhancing female libido. The FDA voted 10-1 that it was no better than placebo, and that the side effects were unacceptable. Boehringer would not likely have gone to all that trouble if they already had a FDA-approved drug (pramipexole) that they could have submitted for approval of a new indication without repeating all the pre-clinical safety trials.

Comment author: Blueberry 28 June 2010 10:43:56PM 2 points [-]

Have you found pramipexole effective in reducing your refractory period? I hadn't realized there were drugs that could do that. I'm interested in trying: how much does it reduce your refractory period? What have your experiences been with it? It looks like there might be a lot of unpleasant side effects.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 29 June 2010 02:45:34AM 6 points [-]

a lot of unpleasant side effects

plus cross-dressing.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 June 2010 04:27:41AM 4 points [-]

That is a seriously funny side effect. I presume it is just related to the boost in appeal of hedonistic activities and general drive towards anything. But still... cross dressing pills. :P

Comment author: wedrifid 29 June 2010 04:25:55AM 3 points [-]

I would be extremely hesitant to recommend taking pramipexole just for the sexual side effects. It works as a powerful dopaminergic receptor agonist. You don't play recklessly with your dopamine system, it's not a toy... that's the acetylecholine system! ;) (Within reason!)

I have used pramipexole but I did so not (just) for the sexual effects but because the overall profile fit well with my needs at the time. I stopped using it because I found it made me work too hard, which has limits. It is also just like to cycle most substances that have stimulatory effects.

Have you found pramipexole effective in reducing your refractory period? I hadn't realized there were drugs that could do that.

how much does it reduce your refractory period?

If I recall it was down to 5 minutes. It was absolutely ridiculous, especially when combined with cialis. I cannot speak for general applicability, studies have focussed on libido but I haven't seen anything except anecdotal evidence regarding refractory period affects.

I'm interested in trying

Be careful and do your research.

What have your experiences been with it?

Positive, but No Free Lunch. I recommend researching other people's experiences, with the Mind and Muscle and Immortality Institute forums being good places to start. The best thing about those forums is that they are absolutely riddled with citations from PubMed. That saves time tracking the solid evidence down!

It looks like there might be a lot of unpleasant side effects.

Not as bad as with SSRIs but that says little. Want something that gives a mild libido boost but is also neuroprotective and an enhance motivation? Try selegiline. It is much less intrusive.

Comment author: cousin_it 28 June 2010 08:26:48PM *  2 points [-]

Pramipexole? Wow, you're serious. Do you just take it quietly, or do you offer it to the girls too? In the latter case they should share the cost :-)

Comment author: Blueberry 28 June 2010 07:36:56AM 4 points [-]

The whole part about checking in with your primary would rub me the wrong way.

I don't think all polyamorous relationships require such checking in, especially if you're uncomfortable with it. But I understand your point about multitasking.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 June 2010 06:09:25AM 2 points [-]

Same here: I am theoretically interested in polyamory, but I am rather monotropic.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 27 June 2010 06:51:56PM *  19 points [-]

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 http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/webfac/bardhan/e271_f05/tertilt.pdf for one attempt to answer the question.

Comment author: WrongBot 27 June 2010 08:06:28PM 16 points [-]

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 is certainly not conclusive), modern contraceptive techniques might make non-monogamous relationship styles viable in a way that they might not be otherwise. Contraception certainly has the potential to limit population growth, which seems to be polygyny's greatest economic downside. And we know from the Trobriand example that polyamory-type relationship styles are quite compatible with contraception.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 28 June 2010 04:58:11PM *  8 points [-]

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.

Comment author: marc 29 June 2010 01:38:37PM *  4 points [-]

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.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 June 2010 10:42:57PM 4 points [-]

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.

Comment author: clarissethorn 28 June 2010 10:26:21AM *  17 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 March 2011 08:05:15PM 21 points [-]

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...

Comment author: clarissethorn 18 March 2011 01:20:11AM 12 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 March 2011 03:28:14AM 18 points [-]

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?

Comment author: clarissethorn 20 March 2011 09:05:58PM 7 points [-]

Hahaha. You wish.

Comment author: MinibearRex 03 April 2011 07:17:22PM 3 points [-]

Omake?

Comment author: clarissethorn 18 March 2011 01:32:59AM 6 points [-]

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

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 March 2011 03:27:24AM 8 points [-]

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

Comment author: Swimmer963 03 April 2011 04:07:37PM 2 points [-]

I want to read that novella. It sounds educational.

Comment author: Nisan 29 June 2010 10:33:17AM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: clarissethorn 29 June 2010 02:42:09PM 9 points [-]

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.

Comment author: WrongBot 29 June 2010 06:22:14PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 06:39:46AM *  5 points [-]

Why did you choose to be monogamous?

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

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

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.

This is counter-intuitive but I find it reasonably accurate. On a related note studies show that women orgasm more often and more powerfully when their partner has been with an other woman even if they are not consciously aware of this fact.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 June 2010 06:47:51AM 16 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 06:55:37AM *  14 points [-]

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

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 07:11:26AM *  7 points [-]

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

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 06:53:20AM 6 points [-]

Don't know, but the whole "double blind" part sounds kinda fun. :P

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 26 June 2010 07:20:26AM 2 points [-]

The problems with monopolies that you learn in economics class apply to relationships too and constitute or cause a lot of the 'drama' of relationships.

This sounds plausible, though no immediate examples of this leap to mind. Can you give some example?

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 08:04:31AM *  12 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: Strange7 27 June 2010 12:04:16PM 3 points [-]

I react similarly to attempts at coercion. Is this perhaps an asp thing?

Comment author: NihilCredo 27 June 2010 04:54:20PM 4 points [-]

More like a self-esteem thing. Nearly everyone whom I have ever known and respected (and, as far as I know, everyone whom these people know and respect) reacts in that way, and that group includes a lot of people who are as far from aspies as possible.

People who were sincerely friendly and submissive towards their abusers got called many disrespectful names, depending on the context: sluts, boot-lickers, whipped boys, pet doggies, etc.

Comment author: HughRistik 26 June 2010 08:39:22AM 11 points [-]

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

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

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

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

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 12:15:31PM 3 points [-]

The trick would seem to be trying to get the best of both worlds. In many cases the game (in this case the temptation to slack off and let yourself go) is played unconsciously. Commitment and trust, however, tend to be higher level features. The best lovers are, by hypothesis, able to foster security and trust while at the same time keeping competitive instincts in play. The impulse to satisfy all the partner's desires before they stray. The spark.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 07:22:13AM 5 points [-]

If you control someone's access to a resource, in this case sex, dating, and romantic interaction, you can set whatever price you want for it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2010 12:35:01PM 8 points [-]

Real world relationships (and real world commericial monopolies, for that matter) would suggest that this isn't literally true. The literal truth is that you can set a higher price than you could get if you didn't have a monopoly.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 04:06:47PM 7 points [-]

To be more accurate, you can set whatever price you want, and the other person needs to choose between paying the price and ending the monopoly (by violating the monogamy agreement or ending the relationship). But in the real world people are often very reluctant to end long-standing relationships quickly.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2010 04:13:21PM 3 points [-]

I probably should have said that you can probably get a higher price than you could get in the absence of a monopoly.

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 June 2010 12:37:01AM 4 points [-]

People shouldn't be missing the point that many people like to have a monopoly and its part of the reason many enter monogamus relationships.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 12:50:29PM 4 points [-]

There are obviously limitations, humans being what they are and all. From what I can tell people can go to more extreme lengths in real world relationships than real world commercial monopolies. When played well people can be made to give everything they have. It's seriously pathetic, and painful to watch.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 12:41:36PM *  2 points [-]

del

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 27 June 2010 01:41:26PM *  4 points [-]

The Bell System monopolized telephone service in the U.S. because of the enormous cost (stringing wires to every customer) any competitor would incur to start to compete with it. (Later, U.S. regulators guaranteed its monopoly but imposed conditions on it, including if I am not mistaken the rates ("tarriffs") it could charge, so let us restrict our attention to the earlier "unregulated" period.)

IBM monopolized the market for computers in the 1960s and early 1970s because of the largeness of the cost (e.g., retraining the programmers, operators and users employed by the customer) for the customer to switch to a different vendor.

Yes, since a large part of the benefit a man derives from a sexual relationship depends on the parties knowing each other really well, the time it takes for 2 lovers to get to know each other imposes a significant switching cost on the man and a significant cost on any woman who would try to compete with the initial woman, but the costs do not seem high enough (especially if the man already has female friends and coworkers) to warrant the use of the word "monopoly" and more importantly, the woman in the relationship faces costs just as high, so the strategic situation is much more symmetrical than it is between the Bell System and a consumer wanting telephone service.

So, "monopolist" is not a good choice of word, IMHO.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 June 2010 05:24:09PM *  4 points [-]

The prupose of monogamus marraige is to ensure male productivity.

In a way monomgamus norm is sexual socialism for men. Almost everyone has a wife, almost everyone has a child. It redistributes sexual power away from women and the top 10% of men and gives it to the remaining 90% of men, forcing us into K selection, slowing the pace of evolution and equalizing outcomes.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 27 June 2010 06:11:50PM *  9 points [-]

Konkvistador:

In a way monogamous norm is sexual socialism for men.

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

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

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

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 07:52:18PM *  3 points [-]

del

Comment author: simplicio 27 June 2010 05:26:41PM 2 points [-]

The prupose of monogamus marraige is to ensure male productivity.

Whose purpose?

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 28 June 2010 12:09:40PM 12 points [-]

Why did you choose to be monogamous?

Logistics.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 29 June 2010 02:52:58PM 12 points [-]

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

Logistics:

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.

Economics:

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 romantic resources. The quantity of those resources may or may not be to our exact liking, but the distribution is not contested. This is a relatively stable system. Once a third (or fourth, or fifth...) party becomes involved, we have a negotiation problem.

There's no feasible method for someone to commit to a set distribution of time/effort/attention between partners. I'm not saying there should be, just pointing out that such things can't realistically be budgeted for or enforced. The absence of such a mechanism makes polyamory highly unstable compared to monogamy, though I suppose this only really sits in the pro-monogamy column if you place a premium on stability.

Comment author: simplicio 29 June 2010 04:04:44PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Blueberry 29 June 2010 05:22:39PM 4 points [-]

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:

There's no feasible method for someone to commit to a set distribution of time/effort/attention between partners. I'm not saying there should be, just pointing out that such things can't realistically be budgeted for or enforced.

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.

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 29 June 2010 05:39:34PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Violet 29 June 2010 07:57:01PM 5 points [-]

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".

Comment author: sixes_and_sevens 29 June 2010 08:35:19PM 5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Konkvistador 08 January 2012 02:26:15PM *  4 points [-]

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

There are also non-trivial opportunity costs in terms of my relationships with others for going for a non-standard option. I'm already having difficulty getting my immediate family to recognize and respect both of my current relationships. I'm having even greater problems with their families.

This is the reason that on the scale of many or few partners, I lean strongly towards few, and I generally tend towards a partner count of one or monogamy. Since I'm in a relationship with two women, both of the relationships are otherwise exclusive, I don't think I deviate that much from my stated preferences.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 18 February 2012 02:28:08AM 3 points [-]

Since I'm in a relationship with two women, both of the relationships are otherwise exclusive, I don't think I deviate that much from my stated preferences.

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

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 February 2012 07:25:59AM *  2 points [-]

We don't have other partners.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 26 June 2010 08:30:34AM *  18 points [-]

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 being OK - having your woman sleep with other men is definitely a status hit for any man - so it's easier for them to engage in non-consensual non-monogamy than polyamory. This is also "efficient" in the sense that it gives them someone to manage their household/come home to, and some thrills on the side. Polyamory may lack those practical benefits, and is difficult to justify in a social setting for most professions, particularly high-paying ones (that are not entertainment). I would imagine showing up with two dates to business functions, or different alternating dates, might negatively influence one's chance of making partner or the like.

Other obvious obstacles include the legal system and some of the practicalities of child rearing, but I really think the status structure explains a lot of people's reticence to consider the lifestyle. That, and, of course, jealousy.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 26 June 2010 06:09:25PM *  5 points [-]

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.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 June 2010 01:19:31PM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 06:56:22PM 6 points [-]

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.

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

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.)

Comment author: michaelkeenan 28 June 2010 03:19:29AM *  6 points [-]

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.

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.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 28 June 2010 04:26:45PM *  2 points [-]

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 childhoods, and some children of extremely successful people will regress to the mean despite their parent's every effort, in many cases quite willingly.

Comment author: SilasBarta 26 June 2010 09:09:19PM 9 points [-]

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

Comment author: PhilGoetz 27 June 2010 03:02:51AM *  13 points [-]

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 himself said (Matthew 19:5-12) that neither men nor women should remarry after a divorce; is that what Paul meant?

The counsel to have but one wife is in both cases in the middle of a long list of good qualities that various sorts of people should have - be temperate, hospitable, not given to much wine, not a lover of money, not malicious talkers, etc. Yet few have insisted on outlawing wine (at least lately), inhospitableness, greed, or gossip based on these verses, even though those are "commanded" more generally to all believers, while the "but one wife" clause is directed only at church elders. (A "church elder" is not an old church member, but one with special responsibilities.)

Supposing that "but one wife" means "but one wife at a time", should an elder have just one wife because more than one is bad, or because more than one would give him too large a family to pay full attention to church business? Paul doesn't say. The latter interpretation is supported by the arguments used in the 12th+13th centuries to say priests should not marry, and by Jesus' view of families as bad things that distract people from God (Mark 3:31–35/Matthew 12:46–50, Mark 10:29-30/Matthew 19:29, Matthew 8:20, Matthew 10:21). (No "family values" for Jesus!) And Paul is the same person who told the Corinthians that it's better not to marry at all (1 Corinthians 7:29-31), because the world was about to come to an end; so why don't we ban marriage altogether?

Nor do Christians pay much attention to the more-clear teachings surrounding these passages. Shortly after Titus 1:6, Paul goes on to say, "Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive." The verses in 1 Timothy are preceded by 1 Timothy 2 9-12: "I also want women to dress modestly, ... not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes... A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent." And they are followed by 1 Timothy 6:1: "All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect,so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers."

In summary: It's not advisable for Christian women to have braided hair, pearls, or expensive clothing, or to teach men. But it is okay for Christians to have slaves and multiple wives.

There may be Christian traditions handed down from the first century, which Catholics would be more likely to know about. I'm not aware of any, though. AFAIK monogamy was just a Roman thing, in which there was no expectation that a married man would have sex only with his wife. Here's a Christian website claiming monogamy is a pagan abomination on that basis.

What I want to know is: What's with all the braided hair today? How can we stamp out this immorality?

Comment author: simplicio 27 June 2010 03:49:46PM 2 points [-]

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?

Comment author: wedrifid 27 June 2010 06:44:18AM 2 points [-]

What I want to know is: What's with all the braided hair today? How can we stamp out this immorality?

That is a moral norm I'm happy to advocate. (I just don't find braids nearly as attractive. ;))

Comment author: MinibearRex 03 April 2011 06:55:42PM 3 points [-]

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

Comment author: cupholder 26 June 2010 09:23:15PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Will_Newsome 27 August 2011 03:05:57AM 7 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 27 August 2011 03:22:01AM *  11 points [-]

Can anyone point me to that quote?

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

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

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Best wishes, the Less Wrong Reference Desk.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 27 August 2011 04:22:38AM *  5 points [-]

Thank you, Z. M. Davis of the Less Wrong Reference Desk! That's exactly what I was lookin' for. ETA: I might just read the whole Thing; Chesterton's pretty seductive.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 September 2011 02:35:56PM 5 points [-]

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

I dislike how readers think an argument is more persuasive when it repeats a simple idea over and over again repeatedly many times with hardly any variation or change in content at all despite the simplicity of the idea. Chesterton could've just written "the wall has a purpose, don't be an idiot" and for the attentive reader that'd have been enough.

Comment author: lessdazed 17 September 2011 10:44:34PM 4 points [-]

repeatedly many times...and for the attentive reader that'd have been enough.

Superfluous

(Skim the first paragraph and read the second.)

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 09:59:53AM *  5 points [-]

del

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 03:54:00PM *  16 points [-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want polyamory, you'll have to make it a principle, not a preference, and (IMO) state it before someone is even in the position of considering a relationship with you. In this way, merely interacting with you expresses a tacit commitment to at least consider it, and as your perceived attractiveness increases, so will the apparent reasonableness of your principle.

And, your attractiveness increases with your perceived willingness to sacrifice for your principles: this is a highly-valued trait, and a big part of why firefighters, soldiers, doctors, etc. are considered more attractive (than the same person without the role), even though an aspect of their sacrifice is decreased availability to their mates.

Edit: fixed typo of "over" for "overt"

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 05:30:48PM *  8 points [-]

del

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 05:36:36PM *  6 points [-]

these girls made a pre-commitment / ultimatum to leaving me if I would not be monogamous.

True - what I said had an implied pre-commitment that they would not be attractive to you (from the initial meeting forward) if they were the kind of person who would make such an ultimatum. So, there's definitely a first-mover advantage from the game theory perspective as well. ;-)

Interesting, really... there are a number of PUA tactics (the entire subject of "qualifying" and "disqualifiying") that could be considered relationship negotiation via precommitment to not be even interested in the first place, unless one's own criteria are met. I don't know if anybody's actually explicitly discussed those things in terms of game theory per se, but that'd be an interesting topic.

Your "principles guy" dynamic can be replaced by a "reformed playboy finally commits" dynamic; a known hot fantasy in fiction.

Yes - but that's when it's his idea because he's so in love that no other woman will suffice to interest him, not because she gave him an ultimatum to give up pursuing those interests.

"We are going to be exclusive for a few month."

Ah. Different subject, then, I suppose.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 06:34:12PM *  7 points [-]

del

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 06:52:35PM 2 points [-]

Again, hot girls will not take the status hit of dating an explicit or known philanderer, unless he is a super-alpha.

'Usually will not'. Identity, affiliation with a subculture can override this consideration at times.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 June 2010 05:11:31AM 4 points [-]

Affiliation with a subculture makes a lot of things way easier. Have you been reading Brad P?

Making a subcultural commitment may actually lower your average attractiveness to the entire population of women (most of who are not in that subculture), but it increases your variance in attractiveness across the female population, increasing the proportion of women who are into you to a high degree.

I don't how well this principle applies in reverse for women attracting men.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 05:19:37AM *  2 points [-]

Affiliation with a subculture makes a lot of things way easier. Have you been reading Brad P?

Never heard of him. Link and/or surname?

I don't how well this principle applies in reverse for women attracting men.

The obvious hypothesis, crude as it may be, is "It applies but is much weaker. Girls still have boobs either way." The premise clearly being that physical attractiveness on average plays more of a part in females attracting males than the reverse.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 07:03:21PM 2 points [-]

One extra benefit of temporary exclusivity was that we got ourselves tested for STDs and didn't need to use a condom from then on.

Couldn't you have just agreed to always use condoms with other people, but not each other, for roughly the same amount of protection in a non-exclusive relationship? ("Roughly" because condoms aren't perfect.)

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 06:55:28PM 2 points [-]

Added: One extra benefit of temporary exclusivity was that we got ourselves tested for STDs and didn't need to use a condom from then on.

Good point. I'd almost forgotten that one. That convenience is a huge benefit.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 01:08:28AM *  2 points [-]

del

Comment author: wedrifid 26 June 2010 04:00:21PM *  6 points [-]

Agree and add that it is also possible to have a 'principle' that commitment to a monogamous relationship is something that you do at times but that it is a big step that really means something in relationships that takes time and a particularly special connection. When things must be earned we experience them as so much more valuable.

A caveat is that principles, particularly more complicated principles, should never be lived (or signalled) in a way that is at all wishy-washy.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 05:47:41PM *  2 points [-]

del

Comment author: juliawise 08 October 2011 02:28:52AM 3 points [-]

Something like this happens in Dorothy Sayer's novel "Strong Poison", and I gather it happened in the author's life (but she couldn't talk about it, it being the 1930s). Man demands non-marriage relationship, woman gives in, man later concedes to marriage, woman flips out and leaves him.

Comment author: Blueberry 26 June 2010 06:48:10PM 13 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: [deleted] 26 June 2010 07:28:50PM *  6 points [-]

del

Comment author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 10:13:01PM 8 points [-]

there is a lot of evidence that the quality of the relationship depends largely on the degree that the man has higher status

This sets off my alarm bells. While evidence for such an anti-egalitarian position is possible and may even be correct, your assertion is general enough that it requires a great deal of supporting evidence. And such evidence is not generally acknowledged in the academic literature on the topic, so far as I've read, so I'm doubly skeptical.

You're also equating status with physical attractiveness, which is demonstrably not true, especially in men (in modern American society).

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2010 12:32:44AM *  5 points [-]

del

Comment author: Blueberry 27 June 2010 10:41:31AM 3 points [-]

In polyamory as practiced by foragers and the urban dating carousel, women strife to 'date up' (again in overall attractiveness) as far as they can, and men try to date as many as they can. Before people settle down or actually fall in love, women maximize quality and men maximize quantity.

While this may be an accurate description in general of how people have evolved to behave, it's not "polyamory" as I understand it. Polyamory can be thought of as a conscious, explicit attempt to fight these natural tendencies.

Comment author: wedrifid 27 June 2010 06:37:18AM 5 points [-]

I disagree, there is a lot of evidence that the quality of the relationship depends largely on the degree that the man has higher status (overall attractiveness).

To clarify the 'degree' relationship I should add that the relationship is not linear. The optimal status for the man to have is slightly higher but not too much. In fact, when the perceptions of status gap between the partners is too great the guy is well served by raising the girl's status or slightly lowering his own. People get insecure when they think they have no bargaining power at all, insecurity is dangerous.

Comment author: Blueberry 27 June 2010 10:44:21AM 2 points [-]

People get insecure when they think they have no bargaining power at all, insecurity is dangerous.

Yes, this is exactly what I meant when I said that "settling" for polyamory was a bad idea. I was thinking of a non-monogamous relationship I was involved in where my partner strongly preferred monogamy, but settled for non-monogamy out of insecurity. It didn't work out very well.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 27 June 2010 06:17:02AM *  5 points [-]

disagree, there is a lot of evidence that the quality of the relationship depends largely on the degree that the man has higher status (overall attractiveness).

I wish that people making such sweeping generalizations such as these would remember to note that these are statistical trends, and not necessarily applicable to any two specific individuals.

Comment author: FrankAdamek 28 June 2010 06:59:25PM 5 points [-]

Agreed. However, it's also good to be wary of using this as an excuse not to update our priors, or to expect an exception without evidence which supports an exception from the trend. I frequently catch myself inching towards either.

Not that I strongly believe the quoted claim, for reasons such as WrongBot and Stefan's above exchange.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 27 June 2010 06:12:56AM 4 points [-]

I would guess that poly relationships where one partner prefers monogamy, but is "settling" for polyamory to be with a particular person, are not likely to work well (and vice versa).

I've seen several relationships like this (both the "poly agreeing to be mono" and "mono agreeing to accept poly" variants) and you're right, that does tend to create more or less tension in the relationship. In some cases the partners do manage to adjust and everyone has a rather happy relationship, in other cases it's just a question of time when this difference will make the relationship fall apart.

Comment author: Morendil 27 June 2010 11:46:36AM 15 points [-]

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 living? One whose goal is to raise children? And so on. Despite giving lip service to the idea that one's preferred relationship style is a matter of choice, you're giving little value to someone who is facing that choice from a position other than yours, where "romantic jealousy" looms large as a consideration.

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.

Comment author: WrongBot 27 June 2010 05:34:20PM 16 points [-]

You:

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.

Me:

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.

Comment author: Konkvistador 27 June 2010 05:09:01PM *  8 points [-]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romantic love is a just a special state of mind not so different from being high on any sort of drug. I shall therefore plan in advance on how to reduce or increase the likleyhood of faling in love so it matches my long term plans. Any drug I take must help me reach my goals according to my values, I despise hedonism.

Repeatedly having sex with the same person increases the likelihood of bonding to them.

Rates of false paternity are overestimated by most popular science claims and urban myths but still a factor to consider (3%).

Psychological differences between men and women. Women are hypergamus. And women on average prefer to be dominated rather than to dominate someone they are sexually attracted to.

For all the above statements I can provide citations and elaborated reasoning on request. I may ask for some patience since I still have a few crucial exams in the upcoming week but I will provide them after this period.

Before proceeding let me first point out I don't consider happiness in itself to be a goal for me. Happiness in some quantity is simply a necessary condition of following my goals optimally.

I have decided that I shall avoid sexual relationships unless I have judged the girl in question to have a sufficiently high IQ and reasonably attractive. One nights stands are an exception to this rule, after analysis I've concluded they feature in like a free prostitute service, so they are accepted when needed but I strictly close of further contact to avoid increasing the odds of paribonding.

I have relationships only with women who I see as potentially good mothers and carrying good genes.

A wild oats strategy unfortunately isn't going to work since I need financial resources to pursue my other goals (living a thuggish baby daddy life may be evolutionary optimal in my country due to the welfare state but I may not have the genes or mems for it) and the state can force me to make payments for children I sire.

I make it clear I will not accept sexual intercourse on her part outside the relationship (any other GFs I have are theoretically part of the relationship but I've never heard any such desires expressed by them).

Also all children will be tested for paternity as policy in order to equalize both our risks (she knows she is the biological mother of her child by default, I without tests do not have that certainty)

I reserve the option to have sexual intercourse outside the relationship and more than one girlfriend/wife. I must however insure minimal risk to STDs and inform the wives/GFs before having sex outside the relationship.

These policies are by most Western standards selfish. However I do lay them bare before beginning the relationships. I see no reason to desist them as they serve me well and women who I date judge my value sufficient to accept them and are fully informed. If they do not consent I politely terminate contact trying to minimize any trauma they experience with the severing of any potential pair bonds or infatuations that may have developed in that short time.

I have not had many relationships since I've implemented this policy. Ironically my relationships have become more LTR and much closer in practice to the monogamous ideal.

In many ways my lifestyle choice and evo strategy is very very conservative and traditional after one reviews how polygamous societies function.

Comment author: simplicio 27 June 2010 10:50:05PM 18 points [-]

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the desires you express above are really your desires, but I am suspicious that they actually represent what you think you should desire "rationally," based on the mistaken idea that maximizing inclusive genetic fitness is some kind of moral imperative. It's not! Your values are pre-rational - you don't need to justify them to anyone, least of all to an anthropomorphization of gene frequency fluctuations.

That being said, do you seriously find this reproductive strategy optimal, in a short and long-term sense? Optimal for what?

Comment author: Kingreaper 01 July 2010 03:21:53PM 5 points [-]

I am very intrigued by this post, because it seems to suggest that your axiom of desire (or at least, a major axiom of desire for you) is evolutionary success.

Is this in fact the case?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 June 2010 10:16:11PM 5 points [-]

Why do you want to have children?

Check out A General Theory of Love for additional reasons to want close bonding. A short version is that many animal species need contact to regulate basic metabolic systems, and humans, as the only animals which can die of loneliness as infants, need it a lot.

Would you prefer marrying a woman who had a similar attitude about goals being much more important than happiness? My impression is that it would be a bad idea for you to marry someone who didn't share your take on things, but this is only a guess.

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 04:38:59PM 13 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 June 2010 12:22:41AM 4 points [-]

Thanks to everyone for all the feedback so far. I especially appreciate being reminded of the possiblity of a ADS. Considering I'm basing much of my actions based on the above reasoning I need other opinions coming from a more rational perspective than is available on most sites. I apologize for going a bit OT but considering the OP I assumed it would still be in the acceptable range.

Now I of course I understand that values in themselves are prerational. To be honest the darwinian obsession comes from valuing life & survival and learning new and interesting things. Living longer is a good way to increase your odds of learning interesting things. Also Konkvistador isn't a discrete entity, should the meatbag be damaged or disintegrated the effects of the meatbag will continue to be felt in the world. Cryonics is ok and I'm sold on the concept, but spreading genes and mems seems like a more fail say way of going about it. What could work better than raising your own children to ensure something of you survives to the future?

I've in the past tried to scale up other values to fill the void of others I have when I noticed inherent conflicts between them. The current system is the only one I've come up with that seems to be a functioning compromise with my personal reality into something liveable.

Anyway wanting sex in itself has always seemed dumb to me. One wants to fill the universe with fluid exchangning mean? Happines? Wirehead yourself if you want happines in itself, I me much happier ;) following some of my own values. Love however perhaps deserves some discussion as a potential value.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 June 2010 06:06:22AM 2 points [-]

I also have cites for a bunch of the empirical claims you make. Trade sometime?

Comment author: wedrifid 28 June 2010 04:31:54PM 5 points [-]

Preferably, trade publicly or just give them to me too!

Comment author: Konkvistador 28 June 2010 03:49:03PM 2 points [-]

If I understand you right please do post them, I'll post the other ones in a few days if they are of any interest to you.

Comment author: bentarm 26 June 2010 10:42:40AM *  4 points [-]

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

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

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

Comment author: jsalvatier 28 June 2010 12:11:19AM 3 points [-]

I recall one of the Evolutionary Psychology books I read discussing this (I think it was The Moral Animal). It claimed that polygamy was relatively beneficial to high quality males and low quality females; high quality males would end up with more mates and low quality females would end up with a higher quality mate than they would otherwise. For the same reasons, monogamy was relatively beneficial to low quality men and high quality females; low quality men would have a higher chance of finding a mate at all and high quality females would end up with a higher quality mate.

Comment author: Alicorn 28 June 2010 12:15:16AM 7 points [-]

high quality females would end up with a higher quality mate.

Don't you mean that high quality females would wind up with the exclusive attention of a high quality mate? The quality itself probably doesn't change between scenarios.

Comment author: cousin_it 29 June 2010 12:21:10AM *  2 points [-]

Interesting point, thanks. I enjoy living in a mostly-monogamous society way better than the alternatives, and your comment gives us old hats a new weapon against those pesky free-love liberals: elect girls who win beauty contests into positions of power. Shouldn't be too hard.

...Wait, did I just confess to being a low-quality male?

Comment author: wiresnips 27 June 2010 02:11:27AM 4 points [-]

Polygamy is definitely to women's advantage. Since there's no real limit to the number of children a man can father, women can agree to share the very best male genetic material amongst each other and leave all the other men out in the cold. Think of the private harems that any number of rulers have maintained. In a monogamous culture, any given sub-excellent male has a much better chance of mating.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 June 2010 02:22:33AM 19 points [-]

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

Comment author: WrongBot 28 June 2010 12:02:25AM 10 points [-]

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

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

Comment deleted 27 June 2010 11:44:33PM *  [-]
Comment author: CronoDAS 29 June 2010 01:46:14AM 4 points [-]

Consider the stereotype: Beautiful young woman marries rich older man, cheats on him with the handsome young pool boy.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 June 2010 06:05:38AM 5 points [-]

See Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife for an extended example for why there's more to life than reproductive fitness.

The author is from a fringe Mormon sect which pushes families to be one man, seven wives, and as many children as possible.Going on welfare isn't feasible because of fears that the illegal arrangement might be discovered. The result is not only a serious level of poverty, but an emotional mess because of jealousy among the women. They each wanted more time and attention from their husband than he had available.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 June 2010 07:02:29PM 6 points [-]

I feel like I should point out that the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has officially repudiated polygamy (except insofar as men can be "sealed" to several wives if it happens that each dies before he marries the next). I've lived in Utah and this repudiation is carried out in everyday social stigma; it's not just on paper. Since "Mormon" is recognized as a nickname for that religion more readily than its spinoffs, calling polygamist sects "Mormon" instead of the distinct "Mormon fundamentalism" is misleading and perpetuates stereotypes. "Fringe" is a nod to this, but it doesn't specify what it's on the fringe of (even standard-issue Mormonism could be considered on the fringe of, say, generic Christianity).

Comment author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 06:09:03PM 4 points [-]

In my experience, the polyamorous community generally includes more women than men, and the women are frequently higher status. Most books on polyamory have been written by women, and they're much more involved in high-level activism than women usually are in other communities; this seems to support your hypothesis.

Comment author: pjeby 26 June 2010 06:30:37PM 4 points [-]

Most books on polyamory have been written by women

That would depend on whether you include the PUA literature, which uses the term "MLTR" (Multiple Long-Term Relationships) to describe more or less the same concept.

Of course, this still might be relevant to the "high-status men might gain most" hypothesis, since the concept of "MLTR" might be a higher status indicator (because it emphasizes the man's choice to have multiple partners) than an interest in "polyamory" (which emphasizes the options of both partners).

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 26 June 2010 03:21:09AM 5 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 26 June 2010 04:06:31AM *  12 points [-]

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

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

Comment author: sketerpot 26 June 2010 10:25:16PM *  8 points [-]

That is a fascinating paper, and engagingly written. I think the most surprising thing from it was that this weird almost-a-spanning-tree structure arises from two simple, local rules:

  1. People tend to date other people with a similar amount of past sexual experience.

  2. People avoid dating the exes of other people who are close to them in the relationship graph, since this makes them look bad to their friends, exes, and so on. This accounts for the lack of short cycles.

When the authors applied these rules in a computer simulation, they ended up with results almost indistinguishable from the empirically-observed sex-graphs.

Comment author: cupholder 26 June 2010 05:44:35AM 7 points [-]

Well, there is a brief mention tucked away in a footnote:

In fig. 2, and in all discussions presented here, all romantic and sexual relationship nominations linking students are included, whether or not the nomination from i to j was reciprocated with a nomination from j to i.

Not that it's very reassuring; I didn't see any data on how many/what proportion of claimed relationships were asymmetric.

Comment author: WrongBot 26 June 2010 04:39:54AM 7 points [-]

The relationships in that high school are similar but not necessarily analogous to a polyamorous network. Because the relationships that make up that graph don't overlap temporally at their connecting nodes, an STD that enters the graph can only affect people that form a new connection after its appearance. An STD in a polyamorous network can spread to every member, regardless of when they join the network.

That's kinda bad. Poly folk tend to be very concerned about STDs; common best-practices are to use barriers with new partners (or all partners), get tested for new infections regularly (usually monthly), and to require one's partners to do the same.

This lines up pretty closely with Daniel's recommendation, but even if you take every precaution imaginable, being a part of a large polyamorous network will increase your risk of exposure by at least a little.

Though it may be worth mentioning that that effect may be offset by the generally high level of caution in the poly community and increased certainty about your partner's partners, what with cheating being (almost entirely) out of the equation.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 26 June 2010 05:20:12PM *  4 points [-]

Another huge problem is unwanted pregnancy. Contraceptives are generally less reliable than most people like to think, so if you're not OK with abortion as the backup option (and certain that you'll actually be able to exercise it), it is a sword of Damocles hanging over any heterosexual relationship between (fertile) people who aren't ready for a baby to pop up.

Admittedly, if you use contraceptives with great care and protective redundancy, they can be extremely reliable. However, I don't know how many people can actually pull this off in a consistently precise and disciplined manner; probably not too many. (Not to mention how badly such unrelenting discipline tends to kill fun.)