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Social revolution in the wrong direction - Elf M. Sternberg
Social revolution in the wrong direction
"If we give gays the right to marry, what's next, polygamy?" A common refrain here in the U.S. from those who are opposed to both. Interestingly, the United Nations was recently asked by several member countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands to extend employment benefits to same-sex partners recognized by those countries.

Naturally, this has prompted an explosion. Both Islamic and Vatican-inspired states have objected strenuously. But you'll never hear the polygamy refrain coming from these people.

The U.N. already recognizes polygamy.

[EDIT: It's the Washington Post, not the New York Times.]

Current Mood: amused amused
Current Music: Tori Amos, Heart of Gold

24 comments or Leave a comment
rfreebern From: rfreebern Date: March 18th, 2004 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Sure, polygamy can be next. As long as everyone involved agrees to what's going on, there's no reason why it shouldn't.

What are the arguments against it? "The kids will have too many good role models!"? The Bible already says, quite plainly, that polygamy is okay (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15 for instance).

I think the next few years will be quite exciting.
elfs From: elfs Date: March 18th, 2004 09:58 am (UTC) (Link)
I think this is a simplistic analysis. On the one hand, maybe the government should get out of the marrying business. I suspet that it may come to that in the end. On the other hand, as long as the government is in the marrying business it ought to maintain the institution as best it can to maintain our society.

This is a matter of spreadsheets: In the past, the rich and powerful frequently had more than one woman under their control. This means that down at the bottom of the social ladder, some poor schlub simply got none. For all our handwaving about equality, I see no reason why this circumstance will not arise again if we legalize polygamy.

When you create that kind of situation in a wealthy populace, there are enough rich and powerful men at the top to make a statistical dent in the number of women who are married-- and consequently the number of men at the bottom of the social ladder who will never be able to get married. And these are the men who cause the most crime, especially violent crime. The traditional "safety valve" for these civilizations was to send those poor guys off to war.

This is why I'm generally opposed to legalized polygamy. History records no nation that was rich, at peace, and polygamous, and long historical stretches of relative peace have been maintained only by monogamous civilizations.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 10:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Hrm. So we should criminalize all of the people who practice loving, egalitarian polyamory because polygamy has been used in the past as a tool of oppression?

I'm thinkin' by those standards we should consider criminalizing organized religion. Or possibly just all men.

Or is it that we should criminalize organized religion/all men, but that's not practical, so we'll just criminalize the poly folk, because we can get away with it?
elfs From: elfs Date: March 18th, 2004 10:33 am (UTC) (Link)
So we should criminalize all of the people who practice loving, egaitarian polyamory...

Note that I never said that or implied it. Please don't put words in my mouth, especially not ones that are repugnant to me.

There is a difference between recognition, a lack of acknowledgement, and banning. The government would have a hard time "banning" polyamory, but likewise, as long as it defines the institution of marriage, it has no legitimate purpose in recognizing polygamy.

As long as polygamy remains a fringe phenomenon practiced only by the determined-- much as homosexuality is-- it remains statistical noise. Homosexuality will never, all fundy frothing to the contrary, be a threat to the stability of a community. Legalized polygamy would be, just as serial monogamy already is. We might survive with that kind of instability; I question whether we'd be happy doing so.

Note also that I never said that polygamy is "a tool of oppression." It doesn't have to be in order to be a destabilizing force.

Remember: women throughout history have never had the economic or political power needed to legislate the forms of human relationships. A sad fact, but undeniable. Since monogamy is the current popular legislated form of human relationships, monogamy is a male invention.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
My apologies for putting words in your mouth.

However, I must say that I really don't understand what you're saying. It seems like you're contradicting yourself, and I know you're a generally rational person, so I assume I'm missing something key.

I definitely don't understand why you think that legalized polygamy (by this I assume you mean legal multiple marriage?) is more of a destablizing force than monogamous heterosexual marriage is, much less than legalized homosexual marriage would be.

Unless you are defining polygamy as exclusively polygyny, in which case I can at least see where you're coming from...but I don't understand why legalized poly marriage necessarily has to mean (or even necessarily would mean) polygyny.

I would argue, personally, that as long as government is in the business of encouraging marriages, the only sensical reason for it is because stable families in which children can be reared are an investment in the future. In which case, stable marriages of any configuration should be encouraged, no?

I suppose it's possible you're arguing that the purpose of government's "encouragement" of marriage is simply a form of control, yet another way of keeping those already in power still in power, then I might agree with you that the government has no business recognizing polyamory. But I would then argue that perhaps we should consider changing the situation entire.

Please, if you're willing, clarify. I'm more than a little confused about what you're actually asserting.
pixel39 From: pixel39 Date: March 18th, 2004 11:08 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm guessing that Elf means that at the moment, polyamory and unofficial polygamy (excluding Mormons) is practiced primarily by people who really think about what they are doing. With legalized polygamy, you have lots of people who *don't* think about what they are doing, including lots of rich and powerful men, affecting society by scarfing up more of the marriageable women than they otherwise would. Remember, most of the population of the US is, um, lower on the IQ/common sense food chain than most people who practice poly as a lifestyle decision.

Tangentially, a comment on China:

In China, because the "one family, one child" policy has been in effect for long enough, there are now roving bands of young men who kidnap women to have children by them, or a group of men will hand off one woman so they can all have children, because in China, the preferred child is still a son, and a "family" is defined by the identity of father, not both parents. The daughters are classified as "stillborn", because they are strangled at birth, and the sons are preserved. This has resulted in a huge surplus of men and not enough women, and the problems I outlined above.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 11:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I guess my reaction to this is mostly, "And this is different from the current situation how?" I don't believe that legalized polygamy is any less destructive in these sorts of ways than legalized monogamy is. If you want to argue that the state shouldn't be in the marryin' business, great, I'm right there with you. If you want to argue that the state should be encouraging stable relationships, I'm also right there with you. But arguing that the state should support the current potentially-harmful, potentially-helpful situation but exclude a different potentially-harmful, potentially-helpful situation doesn't seem to make sense to me. At the very least it seems inconsistent.
pixel39 From: pixel39 Date: March 18th, 2004 12:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think he's arguing more along the lines of "if we have to legislate something, the status quo is less harmful than the alternative". I think. Or I'm just putting words in Elf's mouth, and he will correct me before too long.

It's worth noting that marriage, before the Church started to stick their meddlesome noses into it in the middle Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries), was purely a civil contract. You stood in front of a bunch of witnesses and swore you were married. After the advent of Christianity, then you went in and heard Mass. But the actual legal stuff took place outside of the church (although frequently at the door, since it was a convenient place to gather). [Most of this applies to the UK, other countries had different practices, but most of our law comes from English law, common or otherwise, so we're not really counting what they did in Byzantium for the purposes of this discussion.]

There are plenty of legal instances (in the aforesaid MA) where the man went off and took up with another woman, and his first partner took him to court on the grounds that he was married to her first. If she could get enough of the neighbors to testify that the couple was married--usually two non-related neighbors were enough, and all you needed to say was "I thought they were married--they acted like it" or something along those lines. You see this a lot in cases where something tangible, either money or property, is involved.

Personally, I think if the state has to be in the marryin' business at all, it should be considered another form of contract. But that's just me.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 12:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
"if we have to legislate something, the status quo is less harmful than the alternative"

I disagree strongly with this reasoning, though. Both because it can be used to justify all sorts of Very Bad Things (if it's a general argument) and because I don't believe that the current status quo in terms of marriage is really less harmful than many possible alternatives (if it's a specific argument).

And personally, I agree, marriages should just be a civil contract. That's effectively how my spouses and I have managed it.

I will admit that I have some personal stake in the matter -- it galls me regularly that I can be denied a wide variety of privileges that other people who've put far less thought into their relationships can take for granted. Some of those things are potentially very big -- for example, my wife's mother was and is extremely abusive and is very much the sort of person who would try to steal our children, or deny us access to her if she were injured, or so forth. We've got a wide variety of paperwork to attempt to make it clear that my wife explicitly and legally does not want her mother to have any say in her life, but because she's not in a mainstream monogamous heterosexual relationship, we may not ever be able to make it all stick.

That sort of thing frustrates me regularly.
pixel39 From: pixel39 Date: March 18th, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I never said I agreed, I was merely interpreting.

I myself would love to be able to add the man who is my primary secondary to such useful things as health insurance, but because he is not my dependent or my legal husband, I can't, and when we travel overseas, I just pray that nothing happens to either of us that would involve a hospital stay.
elfs From: elfs Date: March 18th, 2004 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess the question then becomes, which is more harmful, polygamy or monogamy? Let's go back to my original statement: History does not record a nation that was prosperous, peaceful, and polygamous.

Polyandry, for all of its practice among an insignificant subculture such as the poly community, would not catch on in the wider world. It's simply not going to be an important factor. Yes, it would happen, but I argue that polygamy would be much more commonplace for one simple reason: children.

Say what you want about the equality of the sexes; biological reality is that only women can bear them. For the first two years of life, women only can do the essential task of feeding and raising them. Not only does this mean that someone else has to do the supplying in the household, but it means that the mother experiences a significant disruption in her career. A hole of two years, in a culture moving as fast as ours does, can be devastating.

Men will always have a practical advantage in the workplace simply because they have a choice in avoiding this disruption, whereas women do not-- not if they want to have kids.

Men therefore have an enormous economic advantange that cannot be erased. And after thirty years of encouraging women to be like men, more and more women are opting out of "being like men."

Here's the classic thought experiment: take a thousand men and a thousand women, and remove all the stigma of polygamy. What happens? Well, if the thousand men and thousand women have the usual power-curve distribution of resources-- money, good looks, health, and so on-- what we'll start to see is men with more than one woman, and far fewer women with more than one man.

The logic behind this is brutal and simple: A woman with more than one man cannot be sure which man fathered her child, and so no man in that state is incentived by the reproductive instinct to "care for his children." Therefore few men would willingly get involved in such relationships because the evolutionarily-described payoff is slim.

For the women "at the bottom" of this socioeconomic ladder, however, the prospect of ditching the guy she's paired with and "moving up," thus acquiring better genes (there is no better measurement of genetic value is there other than the capacity to be "successful" in the given environment) and securing territory and sustenance for her children, is hard to argue against. And for the man who acquires more than one woman, he knows (or at least can have far better reason to believe) that the children he is working to provide for are his genes-- and evolution would naturally encourage that.

Today, we have technological methods for determining beyond doubt parentage, but those methods do not erase the thousands of years in which we've programmed to feel certain ways in certain situations; the vast majority of men would be very uncomfortable in a polyandrous situation, but would be quite pleased with a working polgynous one. Remove all stigma and legal barriers, and a lot of women-- a signficant enough percentage-- would prefer a polygynous one that better guaranteed her and her kids' socioeconomic well-being to a monongamous one that did not.
From: flying_pegasus Date: March 18th, 2004 10:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Excuse Me!

Please forgive if I miss-understood you, but I think not. Plus I am under and just taken another dose of Hydrocodone. I'm under alot of pain cause I miss the last dose. I got to carried away with work.

You quoted:
For the first two years of life, women only can do the essential task of feeding and raising them. Not only does this mean that someone else has to do the supplying in the household, but it means that the mother experiences a significant disruption in her career. A hole of two years, in a culture moving as fast as ours does, can be devastating.

I'm not at the moment poly - I am single mother. If you ever tooken glance at my journal Elfs, your aware that I'm widow. I like to know whom supply my household - My answer is, Me! I didn't run to daddy or the government for help. I had a job and I kept it and no I didn't experiences a signigicant disruption in my career. I wasn't rich in the beginning either. I fought hard to earn what I got now.

Not true - sorry! In the beginning after the death of my love. I moved to Alaska to run from the memories of him. I quit my first job, I ever had. I got hired on quickly in Alaska in something similar. I was on call 24/7 and I establish daycare that ran 24 hours. That was disruption in my pocket book, I manage to get a part-time job that work with my hectic schedule. It wasn't a pretty place to work at, It was a job that pays.

So if the women part in raising a child or your words her only essential task is to feed and raising....Men is at work place. Can I slap you across the face? Hello - Not all poly trads are like that. Women Work and Men stay home or ONE man stay home. Women are lionesses that hunt for thy food or in this case MONEY!.

Personally I rather have A man stay AT home and share him....technoly it's been proven men are better in cooking and cleaning. If you look in the cooking industry there's more men that are Chiefs, than women. Why has it been proven that men are better in handling the kids cause why ? Nerves ! Women nerves are more sensitive than men. Why?

dominic_m_ From: dominic_m_ Date: March 19th, 2004 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

Ok...well im not going to even attempt to field this one...Hell its not even mine to field for that matter. But just saying I highly doubt he meant to offend. I will say no more because this is not mine to respond to.

P.S. hope the pain is not to bad...
From: flying_pegasus Date: March 19th, 2004 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

4 wisdom teeth coming in on horizontal angle + infection that is combine with my sinus. Ouch!

Now to play with Elfs after I do alittle historical research (after I get my real world work square way some what.) to prove something that he may or may not have forgotten. If I'm on same brain wave in where he's going with his response with me. No I didn't take what he said to offensive measure. I'm just in argumentative mood he just looks kind of tasty play with on debatable issue.

Thank You for your concern and response. That was very sweet of you.
dominic_m_ From: dominic_m_ Date: March 19th, 2004 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

Oweees...wisdom teeth..hate those damnd things. Cant we just evolve to not have them???guess not yet at any rate. I never really had a huge problem with my wisdom teeth(I have naturally lots of space and very straight teeth).Never had any yoinked just let those annoyin suckers grow in and out till they finally stuck. Like I said earlier I never really had any problem with them but they still hurt like hell. I have had the wonderfull pleasure of an infected tooth(High speed baseball+side of face=shattered molar leads to infection if not treated promptly). Obviosly you have a big owee so I will not even consider getting on your bad side.(I bet you feel like could slug out a bear right about now). I wish good luck and prompt healing. Die infection DIE!
elfs From: elfs Date: March 19th, 2004 08:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

Does your situation in any way resemble that of women prior to 7,000 years ago? Forget the government, or welfare, or whatever-- you live in a place where, comparitively, food is free. It's as cheap as dirt. The number of hours one must work to acquire a day's worth of calories is now less than one; in 1890, it was three or more.

Prior to 7,000 years ago, you'd've been tiger bait, to use the anthropological term.
lucky_otter From: lucky_otter Date: March 19th, 2004 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

The state of things 7000 years ago has no bearing on what damage might or might not be caused by polygamy today.
elfs From: elfs Date: March 19th, 2004 10:30 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Excuse Me!

I disagree. For all the socialization that occurs among human beings, a lot of who we are and what we like, as men, as women, is seriously hard-wired. (You're welcome to disagree but if you do so you'll be playing into the anti-gay "it's a choice" meme full-time.) From 130,000 years ago until 7,000 years ago, the case as I've laid it out was more or less the norm, the only real pattern for human relationships: polygamy, a strong leader, a small tribe, constant battles against the environment and neighbors. The instincts formed by those who survived through those 8,000-odd generations of human are still with us today; the 300 or so since then have barely begun to change us.

Legalized polygamy (as opposed to social polyamory) would be a step backwards in the evolution of civilization.

Monogamy is a conspiracy among powerful men to affect the fortunes of lower-class men: to pacify them in peacetime and to make effective warriors of them in times of war. In a monogamous society, the lower classes, when they have to go to war, do so with meticulous forethought and utter brutality: they have something to lose if they don't, and comparatively little to gain for battle in the first place.

Legalized polygamy undoes this conspiracy. As much as I admire Flying_Pegasus's success, most women in her condition would much rather have someone look after them. Have this happen enough and you have a shiftless, rootless, desperate population of lower-class men. What happens next is uncomfortably well-documented.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 19th, 2004 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)

I believe your analysis to make a number of incorrect assumptions, and thus I disagree with your conclusions. Primary amongst them being some sort of rational-analysis-of-evolutionary-advantage thing that I don't believe people actually do, or at least that I've never seen anyone actually do.

Personally, I believe the prevalence of polygyny in polygamous history has nothing to do with the forces of which you speak, and has everything to do with male power. In the communities in which there is no particular stigma against poly, my experience is that polyandry is just as common as polygyny.
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 11:19 am (UTC) (Link)

s/less destructive/less or more destructive/

Whups. *grin*
(Deleted comment)
ysabel From: ysabel Date: March 18th, 2004 11:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Certainly my situation (my husband and I have full-time day jobs, my wife is starting her own business which will probably allow her to stay home with kids if she so chooses) means that we have both more money than most couples and we have more overall time available for child-rearing.

I'm not sure what else state-recognized marriages can sanely purport to be encouraging.
From: lazarus834 Date: March 21st, 2004 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's a very interesting argument you present. It never occurred to me that it would tip the balance like that, but I guess that women are less likely to marry multiple men (since straight men are less likely to share?).

I can see another argument against polygamous marriage - governments permit one to bring a spouse into the country and grant the spouse permanent residence. With polygamous marriages, this can open the door to a lot of marriages of convenience. Of course, that's a legal loophole that is easy to close...

Having said all that, I still would like to see legally recognized unions of poly-families though. I honestly believe three parents are better than two, and four are better than three. The two-parent family seems just too "fragile" to me.

In other societies and cultures, multigenerational families take care of the pool of children. But for sex-positive poly-folk living in a christian-dominated society, more likely to stay away from our parents, who probably lead very different lifestyles.

I think that legally recognized poly marriages will make it a lot easier for poly families to form communities and to raise children together. And it would also challenge a lot of popular notions of possessiveness and jealousy. Not to mention, lead to a bunch of interesting bleed-over into pop-culture (imagine the TV shows alone!).

From: (Anonymous) Date: March 18th, 2004 09:54 am (UTC) (Link)

You might want to double check the link...

FYI, the link, The U.N. already recognizes polygamy. (NYTimes, Registration Required.), pointed me to the Washington Post.

Searched NYTimes and didn't find an article so I thought I'd bring it to your attention.
dominic_m_ From: dominic_m_ Date: March 18th, 2004 02:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

polyamory not so bad...polygamy is another story

You see in a close relationship thats not involved in any way with the government I approve of polygamy. Usuall it involves a great deal of thought and lots of agreement between those involved in it. Besides its THEIR lives. But like stated above i dont totaly approve of state/government sanctioned polygamy because it WOULD just get out of control. Although I myself dont care (I dont plan on marrying.....ever) it will adversly affect the population at hand with all kinds of idiots out there marrying everyone they can get their grubby little mitts on. As I said earlier I dont really care for marriage I do believe in meaningfull relationships and a mass exodus of society to polygamy will totally destabilize that notion. Repercussions will be less and thats just one less thing for society to think twice about. I dont like that, society already jumps headfirst into evrything out there without thinking, marriage too but im just not for taking the another thinking process out of the "WHOLE" marriage package.
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