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Setting The Default

[Epistemic status: I predict everyone except me will respond to this with “Duuuuuuuuh”, but I found it changed some views of mine]

I.

I recently did couples therapy with two gay men who’d gotten married a year or so ago. Since then one of them, let’s call him Adam, decided he was bored with his sex life and went to a club where they did some things I will not describe here. His husband, let’s call him Steve, was upset by what he considered infidelity, and they had a big fight. Both of them wanted to stay together for the sake of the kids (did I mention they adopted some kids?) but this club thing was a pretty big deal, so they decided to seek professional help.

Adam made the following proposal: he knew Steve was not very kinky, so Adam would go do his kinky stuff at the club, with Steve’s knowledge and consent. That way everyone could get what they wanted. Sure, it would involve having sex with other people, but it didn’t mean anything, and it was selfish for a spouse to assert some kind of right to “control” the other spouse anyway.

Steve made the following counterproposal: no. He liked monogamy and fidelity and it would make him really jealous and angry to think of Adam going out and having sex with other people, even in a meaningless way. He argued that if Adam didn’t like monogamy, maybe he shouldn’t have proposed entering into a form of life that has been pretty much defined by its insistence on monogamy for the past several thousand years and then sworn adherence to that form of life in front of everyone they knew. If Adam hadn’t liked monogamy, he had ample opportunity to avoid it before he had bound his life together with Steve’s. Now he was stuck.

Adam gave the following counterargument: yeah, marriage usually implies remaining monogamous, but that was all legal boilerplate. He had wanted to get married to symbolize his committment to Steve – committment that he still had! – and he hadn’t realized he was interested in fetish stuff at the time or else he would have brought it up.

Steve gave the following countercounterargument: okay, this is all very sad, but now we are stuck in this position, and clearly only one of the two people could get their preference satisfied, and given the whole marriage-implies-monogamy thing, it seemed pretty clear that that person should be him.

So then of course they both turned to me for advice.

The rules for psychotherapy are a lot like the rules for Aaron Burr: talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for. This last principle is generally known as “therapeutic neutrality”, and it demands that we not take sides in our patients’ disputes or dilemmas. Instead, we try to remain an impartial discussion facilitator, teasing out our patients’ true values and concerns until they are able to come to a conclusion on their own.

On the other hand, their friends probably don’t have the same scruples and are going to be offering them advice. And I wondered what advice I would give, if I were their friends and not stuck in metaphorical Switzerland.

II.

Assume Steve’s analysis is right; this is a zero-sum game and there’s no way for them both to come out of it happy. Which side do we choose?

A quick retreat to a simpler situation: suppose Adam really wants to keep all the windows in the house open all winter with no heat on, so that the inside temperature is 10F and the house is full of snow. Steve does not want to do this. Both of them want to stay together for the sake of the kids, but this do-we-freeze-our-house thing is really getting in the way.

This problem is easy. Adam, you’re crazy and your preferences are stupid and don’t count. Suck it up and keep living with Steve at normal-person temperatures.

Another retreat in the other direction: suppose Adam wants to sometimes take a shower, but for some reason the thought of Adam being in a shower pisses Steve off and he refuses to allow it. Once again, both of them want to stay together for the sake of the kids, but this can-Adam-take-a-shower thing is really getting in the way.

This problem is also easy. Steve, this time your preferences are stupid and don’t count. Suck it up and let Adam take a shower.

A third new situation. The one Unit of Caring recently discussed on her blog. A transwoman wants to have Christmas with her family, but her family doesn’t believe in transgender and insists on calling her by her original male name and male pronouns. Both her and her family don’t want to “ruin Christmas” by refusing to get together as a family or making a big deal of this. Who is in the right? Unit of Caring writes:

Anyone who does not respect their siblings enough to call them by the name of their choosing does not then get to go “oh! you not wanting to let me repeatedly hurt you is breaking apart our family, how unreasonable of you!” If you want people to spend time around you, call them by the names they chose. If you wouldn’t repeatedly slap your siblings in the face, don’t deliberately misgender them either. (And if you would repeatedly slap your siblings in the face, then you shouldn’t have to look too far to figure out whose behavior ruined Christmas.)

If it doesn’t bother you that you’re hurting someone, then you don’t get to act wronged when they decide you’re not worth spending time with.

I agree with this assessment, but only because I agree with Unit about the object-level issue of transgender. It seems like if you wrote in the same question to your local priest, they’d say the trans woman was being unreasonable. I don’t think there’s any good way for Unit and the priest (or the woman and her family) to resolve their differences except by one convincing the other of their position on the object-level issue of transgender.

(well, if you really really really understood utilitarianism, you might be able to say you should take the highest-utility solution, but no one understands utilitarianism that well)

This seems to be true of my patients’ problem too. Unless we can decide whether wanting to go to a fetish club and have sex with people besides your husband is a reasonable request, we can’t solve Adam and Steve’s disagreement. I mean, Steve’s argument about the contract isn’t bad, but if it were something we disagreed with – let’s say some old-timey marriage contract where the woman vowed to always serve and obey her husband, and now she’s a feminist and wants out – we would probably be pretty sympathetic despite the precise wording of what she’d “agreed” on.

III.

I come to the table with personal baggage. I come from a very permissive subculture. I’ve had some very happy open relationships and wanting to be open seems like a reasonable request. I’ve had some friends who are very kinky, and wanting to be kinky seems like a reasonable request too. I’m not personally very good at feeling jealous, so wanting your husband to never go to a club, even if he doesn’t tell you about it, or make you think about it, or even agrees only to do it when you’re away on a business trip in another city – seems a bit odd. Honestly I would be tempted to take Steve aside and ask him whether he’s sure that he couldn’t deal with Adam going to this club, and whether maybe he wants to give it a chance, and whether maybe he just wants what’s best for Adam even if that makes him a little uncomfortable.

But go back two hundred years and ask the people of that culture, and this choice is a no-brainer. Fetish clubs (or the closest 19th century equivalent) are weird, vile, sinful things, and Adam’s desire to go to one is totally beyond the pale. He should never even have made the request. But since he did, we can strongly and clearly tell him that this is morally wrong, that he should apologize to Steve for the trouble he put him in, that he should realize there’s more to life than kinky sex, and that he should want what’s best for Steve even if that means he can’t satisfy his libido quite so much.

If Adam and Steve were in the traditional culture of the 1800s there would be no debate. If they were in some ultra-permissive sexually-open subculture of the 2100s, there would also be no debate. The culture would tell one of them that they were wrong, just like someone who wants to make the other live in a 10 degree frozen house is wrong, that person would grudgingly agree, they would stay together, and that would be that. The problem only comes when they’re in a culture with a lot of different subcultures that haven’t made up their minds yet. Like ours.

We all hear the stories of the economists who start by assuming perfect rationality, and then add in deviations from that assumption when they come to them. I kind of like to start from a liberal assumption of perfect atomic individualism and add in deviations when I encounter them. And, well, this is the latest one I encountered.

Adam and Steve’s individual personalities and situations will help resolve their conflict, but the tiebreaker vote is always going to be cast by the culture around them. Realizing this has made me more open to activists who are trying to change the culture – and, symmetrically, to conservatives who are trying to prevent the culture from being changed. People with unusual sex lives like to say that what they do in the privacy of their own bedroom doesn’t hurt anyone else – neither breaks their nose nor picks their pocket – but the fact is that the partial social acceptance of fetish clubs and of open relationships is what gives Adam a leg to stand on. And some religious conservatives like to talk about how they only want to defend their own right to practice and express their beliefs instead of being forced into the broader cultural revolution all around them, but the fact is that their beliefs are what’s supporting Steve. My sympathies will always be with the atomic individualists who want to come up with some clever Adam-Steve contract that solves their problem on the meta-level as long as all actors are rational, but I am starting to worry the culture warriors have a point here.

UR said that “the sovereign is the one who sets the null hypothesis”. Once you’ve let the culture set a default – going to fetish clubs is a reasonable request, going to fetish clubs is an unreasonable request – then given sufficiently good liberal norms people who want to deviate from the default can absolutely do so, but as soon as a conflict springs up the identity of the default option still matters a lot.

I’m not suggesting a total war of all against all, and there’s always the Archipelago option, but I guess sometimes culture wars do need to be fought beyond the point where you just leave people alone, if only to shift the default in your direction.

Speaking of culture wars, an apology to gay people. I always obfuscate details about my patients to disguise their identities, but I feel particularly bad about making this couple gay because it reinforces the stereotype of gay people as hypersexual and bad at committment. I made them gay anyway, because when I tried to write them hetero, their gender seemed to skew the problem too much to one side or another – for example, when Steve was a woman, he was the poor innocent wife wronged by a horny husband who insisted on thinking with his crotch. I worried that if I made the couple hetero, my readers for one reason or another would bring their own baggage and wouldn’t be able to see it as the difficult and evenly-balanced problem it seemed like when I was in the office with them.

Which itself says something about how our culture sets default hypotheses.

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1,091 Responses to Setting The Default

  1. Yootles says:

    I thought that I read about yootles on your blog, but the search function tells me otherwise, so here, have a link:
    http://messymatters.com/autonomy/
    There are n participants, each with some share – i.e., some fraction – of a decision. Everyone submits a sealed bid, the second highest of which is taken to be the Fair Market Price (FMP). The high bidder wins, and buys out everyone else’s shares, i.e., pays them the appropriate fraction of the FMP.
    We’re usually in the special case of two players and 50/50 shares

    Caveat: I realize that this isn’t actually useful to you, since you can’t actually suggest this to Adam and Steve any more than you could suggest effective altruism to a patient.

    (As a more-rambling aside, even though being a therapist and being a blogger involve none of the same skills, I wonder if the therapy-mode-of-thinking is why I like reading what you write.
    It seems 85%+ of the comments are criticism saying Adam shouldn’t have cheated in the first place, meta-criticism of you for NOT leading with “of course Adam is a terrible person who will get his just deserts in the nonspecific afterlife”, meta-meta-criticism and the various people arguing with *those* people. None of which is, per this post, technically pointless, since it’s all part of the culture war, but it’s a very different way of thinking about the problem.)

  2. Vegemeister says:

    Having read the thread up until now…

    What is wrong with you people? No debate in the 1800s? There would be no debate now. Adam is a worthless slut undeserving of the name “husband”. Getting married isn’t boilerplate. Steve should divorce Adam as quickly as practical. It would be right and good if, on his way out, Steve tricked Adam into confessing on camera and posted the video on Adam’s mother’s Facebook page once a year. No one else should ever be cursed with a presumptively monogamous long-term relationship with Adam.

    I have been happy to have polyamorists out there doing their own thing and having negotiated open marriages and whatnot. But if this is what you’re going to do to the Overton window, you people need to be stopped.

  3. Peter Gerdes says:

    I don’t see the case for concluding that whoever sets the null wields substantial power.

    The problem here was simply a lack of awareness about what the null hypothesis is. If it was crazy salient at the time of marriage the parties would have either agreed to abandon the null or both agree they both committed to it (you can still want to change things but that has nothing to do with the null). Sure the null matters in the sense that the person who wants to deviate from the null in marriage is at a disadvantage because it is easier (other things being equal) for the pro-null person to find an appropriate alternative.

    Even if everyone knows that in some sense the null is no fetish clubs that’s not enough because the norms about marriage come in varying strengths. It’s both true that people expect that as a part of marriage they are sexually faithful and that they both reside in the same home almost every night. However, the second norm is very weak while the first is quite strong so the fact that your spouse can allege you are violating their expectations going into marriage doesn’t carry much weight in the second case.

    IN NONE OF THESE SITUATIONS DID THE PREFERENCES REALLY NOT COUNT. Rather, in the cases where they supposedly don’t count they were all instances of either unstated reliance on contrary expectations (if the guy who wanted it at 10 C had stated this strong preference up front before any reliance to the contrary it would be a valid point of negotiation), clear net utility losses or implied insult.

    Someone who didn’t want to use trans pronouns because they had a totally irrational dislike of short words with certain sounds but was totally happy to use other stand ins wouldn’t cause a problem. It’s not refusing to use them (consider someone who just can’t remember) it’s the attitude people infer as a result.

    This is why your being a dick not to use trans people’s preferred nomenclature but my wife is perfectly justified in refusing to call me primus (yes I really do want to be refereed to by that title…but not enough to get upset and refusing to isn’t insulting)

  4. Gauge says:

    “I recently did couples therapy with two gay men who’d gotten married a year or so ago. ” Stop doing this dumb shit.

  5. Matt says:

    Gay, hetero man, hetero woman… didn’t matter to me. I was team-Steve in every case.

  6. The original Mr. X says:

    He argued that if Adam didn’t like monogamy, maybe he shouldn’t have proposed entering into a form of life that has been pretty much defined by its insistence on monogamy for the past several thousand years and then sworn adherence to that form of life in front of everyone they knew.

    For thousands of years, marriage has been pretty much defined as a union between one man and one woman,(*) but Steve clearly didn’t care about that when he married Adam. Why should the expectation of fidelity(**) be any more sacrosanct than the expectation of sexual compatibility?

    (*) Arguably, the man-woman aspect of marriage was more important than the fidelity part. Lots of societies have tolerated extra-marital affairs (or even expected them — among the 18th-century French nobility, for example, any man without at least one mistress would be considered a bit of a cissy), but none of them before a few years ago have recognised same-sex unions as marriages.
    (**) I think this is what you’re talking about here, rather than monogamy — the example could work just as well if Adam was cheating on his two partners Steve and Geoff.

    • It was obvious to both parties that it was a same sex marriage, that in that respect they were changing the usual meaning of marriage. It doesn’t follow that they were implicitly abandoning all the rest of the meaning–indeed, if they were, there would be little point to calling what they had a marriage.

      I agree that the issue is fidelity not monogamy.

    • For thousands of years, marriage has been pretty much defined as a union between one man and one woman

      But only by default, because the alternative had never been rationally considered. In other words, it wasn’t really part of the definition, it was just an unjustified assumption.

      (By way of analogy, it was assumed for many decades that cars had to be powered by fossil fuels. But when it turned out that you could use electricity instead, we didn’t say that being powered by fossil fuels was part of the definition of a car, and the manufacturers of these new devices would have to use a different name. Instead, we dropped the unjustified assumption, while keeping everything else pretty much the same.)

      • Nornagest says:

        because the alternative had never been rationally considered

        I’m for gay marriage, but it still seems a little presumptuous to say that about any number of cultures over 8000 years of history, many of which were perfectly comfortable with gay relationships.

        (Electric cars are almost as old as gasoline ones, incidentally, and were quite popular early on before better roads and other changes made internal combustion’s better fuel density decisive. It’s better batteries that’ve made them practical again over the last few years, not some kind of epiphany.)

        • Not my intention. I was talking about Christian culture only (and perhaps its immediate forebears) since that was how I interpreted the comment I was replying to.

          I’m still probably wrong, because I almost always am when I say that sort of thing. But I’m thinking I’m probably close enough for the purposes of my original comment, and if not, I’ll at least learn something interesting. 🙂

          … I don’t think the electric car thing spoils my analogy too badly. The average person still thought of a car as something powered by gasoline, and that’s what matters.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            Not my intention. I was talking about Christian culture only (and perhaps its immediate forebears) since that was how I interpreted the comment I was replying to.

            If you are talking about one man and one woman, are you including or excluding 19th century Mormons in Christian culture? 🙂

      • keranih says:

        But only by default, because the alternative had never been rationally considered

        …I’m confused. Are you actually saying that no homosexual pair of lovers looked out at the community of married people and said “I want that“, ever?

        And if it is not that, then please expand.

        • No, I’m saying they wouldn’t have dared to ask for it. Or been taken seriously if they did. (I could of course be wrong, but I’m not aware of any part of the Christian world in which homosexuality was considered acceptable until relatively recently.)

          • keranih says:

            Well, marriage isn’t exclusive to the Christian world. (Nor is the incidence of homosexuality.)

            So I don’t think that we can say that homosexual marriage has never existed because it “has never been rationally considered” – I’m not a huge fan of this latest move in the US culture, but I find it easy there to have been some point in the last ten thousand years for two “sister wives” or “battle brothers” to say th’ heck with the lot of you, I am bound to this person and will live the rest of my days with them. Probably several.

            And given all the different things which humanity has found itself able to be okay with – from bound feet to infanticide through chattel slavery – it’s really odd that we don’t have records – at all, to my knowledge, much less sporadic and scattered – of this sort of institution being established.

            This is strange. Why haven’t we done this?

          • Well, marriage isn’t exclusive to the Christian world. (Nor is the incidence of homosexuality.)

            No, but that’s the context in which the original claims were mostly being made, so it’s the one I was focusing on. Partly because my knowledge of history is shaky at best, but I also wasn’t sure whether our modern conception of marriage had any sufficiently close analogues outside of our own part of the world.

            As it turned out Onyomi’s comment about pre-modern China helped point out to me that even in our own part of the world the conception of marriage for much of the past two thousand years might not be close enough to ours to be relevant, and in fact there may not be a consensus even now. So possibly the whole question is moot.

            So I don’t think that we can say that homosexual marriage has never existed because it “has never been rationally considered”

            Well … as far as I know, we have no records of anyone ever considering it rationally. So if the absence of any records of gay marriage is to be considered as statistical evidence that it has never existed, the absence of any records of people rationally considering gay marriage should probably be given a similar weight. (I’m not attempting to present a logically sound proof here, of course, just an argument of plausibility.)

            We also don’t have any records of gay marriage having been allowed and turning out disastrously, which is kind of curious too. As you say, humanity has done all sorts of things despite perfectly rational reasons not to, which makes me suspect that gay marriage has indeed historically been prohibited mainly for irrational reasons. We seem to pay more attention to those ones for some reason. Or perhaps I’m just overly cynical.

            (It also seems odd to me that, assuming gay marriage has always been prohibited in the past for one or more rational reasons, we’ve somehow forgotten what they are.)

            So, uh … I guess I see your one odd thing and raise you another two. 🙂

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’ve seen plenty of conversations (and been involved in a few myself) that went roughly like this:

            “Look, here’s a logically valid philosophical argument against gay marriage.”
            “Pfft, we all know that that’s *really* just a code for ‘God hates u faggots’, so I’m just going to ignore everything you actually said and argue against the straw man I’ve constructed! Then I’m going to tell everybody I meet that your side is a bunch of obscurantist theocrats who think ‘God hates fags’ is a good argument!”

            Given this, I hope you’ll pardon me if I treat arguments along the lines of “If there are good arguments against gay marriage, why haven’t I heard any?” with extreme scepticism.

          • Of course. Even from my point of view it’s little more than a tentative hypothesis, pending further evidence. Skepticism is entirely justified.

            That said, I have seen quite a few arguments that were based on religion without being open about it, often in fairly obvious ways. While I’d hope I wouldn’t be so impolite as to call that “code” or to assume that the writer was deliberately trying to hide the connection, I can understand why people might do so. (I have to admit I was sometimes reminded of Intelligent Design, so some cognitive bias there.)

            Apart from that all I can honestly say is that I’ve never seen an argument that I found both rational, comprehensible, and convincing. But then legalizing gay marriage wasn’t all that controversial in my part of the world – passed through Parliament as ordinary legislation, the courts weren’t involved – and it isn’t as if I’ve ever gone out looking for people to argue about it with. (IIRC, I tried to seek clarification on arguments I couldn’t understand once or twice, but the author was always either unwilling or unable to do so. That doesn’t mean much either, of course.)

            I would guess that, just like other sorts of bias, it can be difficult for a religious person to realize when they are unconsciously depending upon their religious belief as a premise of or to bridge a gap in an argument. But no doubt it is equally difficult to realize when you’re overlooking a subtlety in an argument because you’re assuming a religious bias.

  7. Max says:

    What we’ve got here is failure to communicate, made easier by the mere existence of a presumed default. Eliminate the default, and this sort of thing will be something a coupling (and certainly a marrying!) pair (group) would have to discuss before coupling (and certainly before marrying!). “Forced choice” is a thing for a reason.

    • DavidS says:

      I don’t think you can remove all the defaults though. There’s also a default that you won’t sacrifice your first-born to Moloch (used to be other way round?), that you will maintain a certain amount of personal hygeine, that you will provide certain sorts of emotional support, that you won’t attempt to raise elder gods etc. etc. You can’t discuss everything, which is why people basically assume an immense amount of defaults when marrying, (should) discuss things that are more varied (e.g. whether they want kids), and (should) raise it if there’s something in the ‘obvious default’ pile that they are an exception too – e.g. ‘by the way, I want to marry you but not live in the same house’, ‘I want our sex life to be entirely in the medium of caressing each other with giant foam fingers from football matches’ etc.

  8. Bryan Hann says:

    Just call them “Sam” and “Pat”.

  9. JDT says:

    Dear SSC,

    Obviously you know your patients better than I do; but I think I may know monogamy better than you do, so I feel I have something to add.

    I think that the characterisation of feeling upset if your other half sleeps around as “jealousy” is usually wrong and harmful. I see many commenters have made the same mistake. I think the use of the language here leads us into a polyamory-biased-sink of “well, jealousy is bad, right? We all know that. So your feelings are bad.” Related is the concept of ownership of your spouse — I’ve heard people say “well, I’m okay with sleeping around because anything else is ‘ownership’ — and ownership of people is wrong”.

    I felt very bad about myself for feeling so upset about being dumped, or someone cheating on me, or not wanting my partner to sleep around for these reasons — until I realised that they’re nonsense.

    I advise you listen to the song “You Oughta Know” (from the album “Jagged Little Pill”) over and over again.

    There’s no jealousy in it: she isn’t upset her boyfriend is sleeping with someone else because she wants him to be sleeping with her.

    She is upset because it has totally destroyed her sense of self-worth. In a monogamous relationship, part of the mutual emotional benefit is that here you have someone “’til death do part” who is on your team — who is there “to have and to hold” “in sickness and in health” to love — “a man cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh”.

    No longer are you alone in life — you are someone’s exclusive responsibility, and they are yours. The physical expression of love is a physical manifestation of this.

    But then, your husband sleeps with someone else… the feeling is of WORTHLESSNESS (not of jealousy!) — of “am I not good enough” and betrayal.

    Somewhere around the middle of the amusing book “Catch the Jew” the author speaks to a Bedouin woman (who has only known a culture of polygamy) and she confides how it tears her apart that SHE IS NOT ENOUGH and her husband would just go and marry another woman. However she basically feels her emotions are totally wrong: her culture’s version of this “jealousy” idea is that she is being simply unreasonable: this is how things are.

    Leah named her children after her own devastation that Jacob married another: she named them after her own aspirations of self-worth but actual lack thereof.

    If I could rewrite your post as “I do feeling worthless really badly — so I thought about asking this man if he wouldn’t mind just trying it.” It sounds a bit… harsh — because you are no longer simply saying “oh, grow up man — you don’t own him!”

    So yes, I think the word jealousy misleads the discussion.

    Another way it misleads the discussion is that it makes the issue sound peripheral to monogamous marriage: your article makes it sound like they’re arguing over the small print on the contract. In fact, this is the basis of the mutual emotional commitment that monogamy affords.

    Finally, say a gay person gets married to someone of the opposite sex — so they can realise a mutual ambition of having and raising children and having a positive family life. I don’t mean as a legal dodge, or in an emotionless way: I mean imagine they are fully wedded to the concept that they are married and their souls are intertwined forever more — but they simply have no attraction, and never will. And that’s part of the deal.

    Weird right? This just sounds totally wrong to me and it’s easy to formalise why but I don’t think it’s necessary: what I’m trying to demonstrate is that sex (or at least attraction) in is some sense CENTRAL to this sort of relationship. CENTRAL. CRUCIAL.

    So what are you saying if you then take this central crucial thing, and start spreading it around?

    • RPLong says:

      Fantastic comment.

    • Murphy says:

      I think your argument is good but you also conflate a few things.

      If you drew out a picture of the emotional experience, yes, “jealousy” does not do it justice but jealousy can be a very real part of it.

      I’ve been in a happy monogamous relationship for the best part of a decade yet what you describe still sounds like dressing up some slightly unhealthy tendencies in more respectable clothing.

      I could freak out and convince myself I’m worthless every time my partner made a yummy sound at a shirtless male celebrity and she could freak out and convince herself she’s worthless whenever a glance at a pretty woman but that would not be a remotely healthy relationship. It would imply both of us having some serious “issues”.

      You conflate loss of trust, not being a person who is “on your team” with any situation involving either partner being attracted to anyone else. That’s not how teams work.

      You start by criticizing the use of the term jealousy but then you describe some of the more toxic elements in a relationship that can be fueled by real simple jealousy and mix it in with other more reasonable elements.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        JDT can no doubt defend their comment better than I could, but I certainly didn’t get the impression that they were talking about freaking out every time your partner looks at somebody of the opposite sex. We’re all human, and all have lustful thoughts about people who aren’t our partners from time to time; but there’s a massive difference between having these thoughts and actually putting them into practice. (I’ve occasionally entertained fantasies about smacking my annoying colleague/boss/neighbour over the face a few times, but I recognise that actually putting those fantasies into practice would be a whole order of magnitude worse.)

        And yes, there is a lot of jealousy in relationships. But I wonder how much of this is actually due to the sense that your spouse is meant to be “someone “’til death do part” who is on your team — who is there “to have and to hold” “in sickness and in health” to love”.

    • As a polyamourous person, I guess I’m not seeing the insight regarding jealousy, since jealousy always automatically translates to ‘I feel insecure about what you’re doing’ to me. I don’t find it reasonable behaviour, not in the strictest sense (though, yes, I can absolutely understand where it comes from; I have huge self-esteem issues – and I think it needs to be respectfully addressed, but in the same way you would address someone feeling angry: You still acknowledge anger is a bad thing, but it’s showing you something important).

      I think in a relationship, if you get the impression your partner isn’t sending you enough signals that they love you and you’re important to them, something is wrong that is completely unrelated to the fidelity question.

      Since 2003, my primary partner is someone who, in his heart, is monogamous. He couldn’t imagine having other relationships, but he knew, getting together with me, that I would want them – that I’m polyamourous. I am a bit sad that he doesn’t have other people in his intimate life space, but it’s his choice.

      About a year and a half ago, we had a huge blow-up that at first looked like a monogamy : polyamoury debate, but very quickly resolved to “I want you to spend some of your vacation days with me!”, which I hadn’t been doing because I live with my primary, he sees me every evening, every weekend, and my other two relationships are long distance and need to be enjoyed in batches – thus using up vacation days. What did I do? I spoke to my employers and asked them if I could take an unpaid month of vacation each year, on top of the vacation I already get. I explained why it was important to me, and that I was flexible about how this affected my work contract. They said yes (at no further detriment to my contract).

      This year we actually had that happen for the first time and it went very smoothly.

      So the problem was not that I was seeing other people, it was time management. I simply wasn’t spending enough time with him to make him feel properly appreciated.

      Read as, I agree with you that it’s important to make people feel appreciated, but jealousy (<- I keep using this shorthand; I hope it's still clear that I am referring to the emotions you mean) in my experience usually is not at all about what it first appears to be about. Personally I'm a bit wary of legitimising jealousy as some kind of fundamental emotion (for lack of a better phrasing) because it might hide the real problems.

      I understand that may just be my concern, though. Ultimately, if it works for other people, then that's cool. 🙂

  10. Sam Rosen says:

    Saying the guy who wants to live in the 10 degree house “is stupid” is itself ridiculous. Instead of having endless culture wars over defaults, we should just learn that collectively using the ‘default’ to adjudicate zero-sum conflicts is insane. When you have zero-sum conflicts you can either compromise, trade, flip a coin, figure out what you previously promised to do, figure out if either request is immoral, figure out if anyone owes anyone favors, figure out who has the stronger preference and do that, or break up.

    • Jiro says:

      we should just learn that collectively using the ‘default’ to adjudicate zero-sum conflicts is insane. When you have zero-sum conflicts you can either compromise, trade, flip a coin, figure out what you previously promised to do…

      In this case, the default affects “what you previously promised to do”. Scott thinks that since the default is to consider marriage vows meaningless, no serious monogamy promise was made at all. Almost everyone else thinks that the default is to consider marriage vows meaningful, in which case a promise actually was made.

      Also, marriage vows contain promises about monogamy, but not about 10 degree houses.

    • DavidS says:

      I think the point is that ‘figure out what you previously promised’ includes lots of implicit promises based on social norms.

      E.g. when getting a new person for a flatshare, you might specify agreements on pets, levels of tidiness, late noise etc. But there are also some implicit ones you might not bother mentioning but in some cultures would be default. E.g. ‘don’t wander around stark naked all the time’ or ‘don’t sacrifice goats in the living room even if you wipe up the blood according to the cleaning timetable’. If you are strongly outside of the default, you should flag this to others where relevant.

  11. Bram Cohen says:

    Funny, I have baggage for both straight and gay couples, and while I waffle about the straight situation (plenty of negotiation can go on there), with a gay couple it seems strange that the one insisting on monogamy can’t get over it already. In fact at the beginning I found it odd that a gay person was being so weirdly insistent on monogamy in the first place.

  12. Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

    So, a large part of the disagreement in this sort of situation is, I think, conflating different kinds of norms.

    See, there are actually two different kinds of norms. “These are the things I am expected to say” which I will call performative norms vs. “these are the things it is acceptable to do” which I will call functional norms. (Terrible names, we’ll just roll with it.) I seem to remember seeing an anecdote around here about someone–Ozy maybe?–saying they didn’t realize that food could actually taste good. They got caught up in the first type of norm, everyone must loudly proclaim how much they love pizza any time someone proposes ordering one, without realizing that it was acceptable (or even possible) to have a different preference. By confusing performative with functional norms, they ended up spending decades acting in a sub-optimum manner. And very importantly, they didn’t even realize that that their preference was different than what they had been saying all those years.

    So when I see something like this:

    Steve made the following counterproposal: no. He liked monogamy and fidelity and it would make him really jealous and angry to think of Adam going out and having sex with other people, even in a meaningless way. He argued that if Adam didn’t like monogamy, maybe he shouldn’t have proposed entering into a form of life that has been pretty much defined by its insistence on monogamy for the past several thousand years and then sworn adherence to that form of life in front of everyone they knew. If Adam hadn’t liked monogamy, he had ample opportunity to avoid it before he had bound his life together with Steve’s. Now he was stuck.

    … it makes me wonder how much Steve really cares about monogamy and fidelity, and how much Steve has just been norm’ed into claiming to be jealous and angry.

    The reason I wonder this is specifically because of the bit about “a form of life that has been pretty much defined by its insistence on monogamy for the past several thousand years.” See, that is what people are expected to say, but isn’t actually true.[*] Because Steve’s argument rests on a performative claim, it begs the question [sic] of whether his stated preference is performative as well. If your reason for not wanting a hamburger is “everyone has always know pizza tastes better” it seems reasonable to conclude your stated preference may be the result of a misapplied norm. You could have a true preference for pizza over hamburgers, but if that is the case you are going about supporting your preference in a bizarre way.

    I think this generalizes to a broad range of the kinds of serious disagreements you go to a counselor for. The reason they are so intractable is that both sides think they have the overwhelming normative support for their position. Steve can lay claim to the performative norm that monogamy is The Most Important Thing. (His true preference being unknown to an observer, possibly even to himself.) Adam claims the functional norm that, after making the required performative declarations, monogamy can be discarded As Long As We Are Committed To The Relationship. They both think they are right. They both are right in their own way.

    This is why Scott’s Leave All The Windows Open analogy is poor. One side has full support and the other has none. There is no cross-normative controversy. [Insert obligatory Kurt Gödel joke.]

    [*] Realizing that the details are made up to protect the patients, I’m not going to spend much effort rebutting the particulars. For the sake of simplicity we will say that a lot of traditional marriage systems were largely indistinguishable from an ownership contract. A man is disallowed extramarital sex only insofar as all women not his wife belong to someone else. Being on the other end of the ownership stick, women are expected to reserve themselves exclusively for the benefit of their owners male relatives. (In some cases it may be acceptable to ignore it when all the women in town join a mysteries cult that may or may not involve all female kinky sex parties. But as soon as they start admitting men to the cult, holy shit, we need to outlaw this crazy thing!) The church fought a long time to supplant these traditional systems, which brought along the monogamist verbiage, but that process was not completed in, for example, England until somewhat less than a thousand years ago. But even with the church firmly in control of marriage, the actual participants revealed their true preferences by their completely disinterested treatment of prostitution (and the frequenting of the same by married men) until very recently. And even then, the backlash against prostitution was very much driven by ownership concerns. Look at the poor fathers of these Nice English Girls that are selling themselves to Perverted Johns on the Continent. They’ve been denied their parental rights! By God, something must be done, or we wont have enough unspoilt women left to marry all the young men off to! What? Oh yeah, and, uh… whatever the Archbishop was yammering on about.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      False consciousness arguments are always going to be uphill fights for three reasons.

      The first is that they’re damn near unfalsifiable: whatever someone says or does to indicate that they do, in fact, have the preferences they have you can just say it must be a really strong false consciousness and igore them.

      The second is that it has the same basic problem as communist central planning: you can’t make good decisions on other people’s behalf because you have orders of magnitude less information than they do and much less incentive not to screw up.

      The third is fuck you. As in, if you tell someone that they don’t want what they want, and actually what they really want is the thing that you would prefer they wanted, they will tell you to go fuck yourself. And they will be right to do so.

      I mean, it’s not like Steve doesn’t have experience with Adam fucking other people. He literally just caught Adam cheating. He knows, better than anyone else, how that makes him feel. Dismissing it as performance without a shred of evidence for a revealed preference is preposterous and insulting.

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        I mean, it’s not like Steve doesn’t have experience with Adam fucking other people. He literally just caught Adam cheating. He knows, better than anyone else, how that makes him feel. Dismissing it as performance without a shred of evidence for a revealed preference is preposterous and insulting.

        Well, first of all, I was ignoring virtually all of the details because they are (a) almost certainly not actually true for Adam and Steve, and (b) not really relevant to my point. But then,

        False consciousness arguments are always going to be uphill fights for three reasons.

        This is exactly my point.

        If you want to talk about an example that gets your dander up less, consider cooties. The thing about cooties is that they don’t exist, and pretending they do is all an act children are expected to put on. And that expectation is very strongly enforced norm on the playground.

        But when the act is over, it is perfectly acceptable to go over to a girls house and play with her toys if you want. So it is acceptable to like girls or not however you prefer and to play with them or not at your own preference, as long as you follow along with the act while on the playground.

        (There are, of course, certain things it is definitely not okay to do with a girl at that age. So there are two sets of norms: what you are expected to claim on the play ground, and what it is acceptable to actually do.)

        The problem is that some people don’t realize that cooties are just an act, and it is acceptable to have other preferences. That when you’re on a play date, you are expected to shut the fuck up about cooties. That if you did shut up about them, you may (or may not) find you like playing with girls. That when you discover your real preference on the subject you are expected to articulate it directly, instead of falling back on cooties. If you don’t, when your parents set you up on a play date with a girl and you have an absolute melt down about cooties, it is really, really, really hard for them to tell if you genuinely don’t like playing with girls or if you have misapplied the performative norm.

        This particular normative conflict is especially intractable because both parties have the full support of a whole set of norms. Norms that are, by the way, simultaneously held by all the same people. “But I actually like playing with girls” is met with a chorus of “well, that is a perfectly acceptable preference to have;” while a response of “BuuuuUUuuuut cooties” will be met by a chorus of exactly the same people saying “neiner neiner cooties!”

        But let’s bring it closer to our original sphere. When you’re an adult going to a relationship counselor if you include cooties in the list of reasons in support of your kinky sex preferences, it is liable to raise some serious eyebrows. They very well could be your true preferences! But it is worth exploring the possibility that maaaaybe you are taking the performative piece a bit too far.

        Several thousand years of strictly enforced male monogamy, like cooties, isn’t really a thing. But the last few hundred years, men have been cajoled into making performative displays about how much they believe in it. So when you’re an adult going to a relationship counselor and you include that in your list a reasons in support of your preference for strictly enforced male monogamy (which very well could be a true preference!) it raises the possibility that you are taking the performative piece a bit too far. Like having a melt down on a play date, it makes it really, really, really hard for anyone else (specifically, your partner) to figure out what your true preference is. Unlike your parents, your partner does not have the practical option of stuffing you into the car kicking and screaming and taking you anyway to see if you like it–if they do, it is a massive violation of trust and is casus belli for a divorce lawyer.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          If you want to talk about an example that gets your dander up less, consider cooties. […]

          Actually, this kind of comparison is exactly what gets my dander up about these arguments. You have, without any evidence whatsoever*, decided that a particular preference is the equivalent of a childish tantrum and that the only mature response for people who express it is to shut up and realize that their true preference is whatever you say it is.

          As my three points above illustrate, this is a claim which 1. cannot be empirically tested, 2. runs into the economic calculation problem if implemented, and 3. is extraordinarily rude. There is no justification to make this sort of claim.

          *(Unlike the average SSC reader, most people are not very well versed on the history of marriage. And beyond that, people who are upset are understandably prone to hyperbole. This doesn’t make their objections mere performance.)

        • Bryan Hann says:

          And here I had always thought ‘cooties’ was a term for lice or something. Every visit it SSC is a learning opportunity! 😀

    • HlynkaCG says:

      @Who wouldn’t want to be Anonymous

      In my mind, the fact that you think there is a difference between what you call “performance norms” and “functional norms” is indicative of a serious systemic failure. I’m not even sure how best to articulate it as it would seem to cast doubt on the very definitions of fundamental terms.

      IE

      Does agreeing with someone actually require agreement?

      does true = false?

      • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

        Have you ever heard of “Yes Men?” People whose entire purpose is to agree with their boss regardless of their actual level of agreement. Or “from the mouths of children?” They have the annoying habit of telling the truth because they haven’t internalized all the different things you are supposed to lie about.

        In a platonic sense it doesn’t really change much. But in the real world, everyone lies all the time. So much so that everyone assumes everyone else is lying all the time. So much so that in a lot of situations expressing a preference is a damn good way to convince everyone that you really hold the opposite preference.

        It is especially evident if you ever go to an asshole’s funeral, which is why that particular situation is such a common comedy trope. In fact, about 95% of comedy is mined from the same vein. Where expected or even socially acceptable internal preferences conflict with external performance requirements.

        • HlynkaCG says:

          The Idea the personal preference and social norms can be in conflict is neither new nor is it the issue. “Don’t speak ill of the dead (especially in front of their loved ones)” is a social norm just as “don’t argue with the boss in front of subordinates” is.

          The issue is your apparent belief that communication has 0 epistemological value and that no agreement can be considered binding.

          In all honesty I’m not sure why I’m continuing to engage you. As it is obvious that anything that I say to you will be dismissed as false consciousness. And anything you say to me will be coming from someone who’s communication has 0 epistemological value.

          ETA:
          Actually, I think I know why.

          There is also the sneaking suspicion/hope that you don’t actually believe any of the bullshit you’ve been spouting. A suspicion made stronger by the fact that you yourself have stated that it is normal to lie about such things.

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            The issue is your apparent belief that communication has 0 epistemological value and that no agreement can be considered binding.

            I seriously cannot find a reading of anything I’ve said that implies that. The fact that certain situations result in communications carrying abnormally low epistemological value does not at all imply that all communication carries zero. Like… what?

            When a stranger asks you how you are doing today, it is considered rude to give them a complete diagnostic report of all your vital functions and emotional state. Except for a few edge cases, some variation of “fine” is generally the proper response. The only information that really conveys is that a few edge cases are slightly less likely to be the case than if you had given a different response. When your doctor asks you how you are doing, on the other hand, you really aught to tell them about that pain in your chest. And when you do tell your doctor about a chest pain, it carries an awful lot of weight. I fail to see how pointing out (for example) after someone is rushed to the hospital after passing out at Denny’s, the doctor should give less weight to their stubborn insistence that they are fine (or that their protestations should be given even less weight if, after pointing out to them they are obviously in considerable pain, they reply with variations of “I don’t want to be a bother”) in any way implies that communication or binding agreement is impossible.

            The Idea the personal preference and social norms can be in conflict is neither new nor is it the issue.

            But that is the only thing I have actually claimed. I was using a subset of the instant case to illustrate a particularly intractable mode of conflict that I find interesting. Precisely because both parties believe their preference to be in line with social norms. And both parties preferences are in line with social norms. The mode of conflict that, I believe, lies very close to the root of the instant case. The actual details of the case are largely irrelevant because they are almost certainly made up to mask patient confidentiality. But I think the mode of conflict is particularly relevant to Scott’s discussion about the rule that norms play in resolving conflicts.

            I think you’re getting sidetracked by my assertion that marriage vows have never been treated as a binding agreement of male monogamy. By society. In practice. In order to get married, however, you are obligated to say a bunch of words that are (almost always?) chosen by someone else. The fact that those words invariably include a promise to monogamy whether or not you, or society at large, actually expect you to follow through causes a conflict which undermines the epistemological value of those vows.

            Sex and marriage are emotionally charged subjects, and I seriously considered moving the original post completely into the abstract to avoid that problem (and only if anyone actually cared move more towards specific examples) but figured nobody would actually read it since there were already something like 800 replies to this thread.

          • Salem says:

            Don’t worry about it Hlynkacg. It’s obvious that Who Wants To Be Anonymous agrees that Adam and Steve’s stated preferences are what’s important, and all this false consciousness talk is just argle-bargle. It’s just that he feels obliged to engage in a performance of espousing different norms, which we need pay no attention to – we all know what’s really in his head.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            When a stranger asks you how you are doing today, it is considered rude to give them a complete diagnostic report of all your vital functions and emotional state.

            It is rude, but it is hilarious. Or you can just go with Allan Sherman’s preferred answer: hang your head and say, “I have reached a disastrous crossroads in my life.”

  13. Matt says:

    From time to time, I would like to see enter/exit poll results on your blogs. I’m guessing your writing on polyamory has the opposite effect of what you intend.

    NOTE: I’m a Libertarian living in SF

    • FacelessCraven says:

      I don’t think the intent of the article was to argue in support of polyamory. It seems to me that Scott acknowledges that this realization actually pushes back noticeably against the idea that acceptance and tolerance are a universal solution.

  14. Aleksander says:

    I don’t think I agree with this analysis. Framing this as a moral question in the first place is the problem. Sure, Adam secretly going to a sex club was probably immoral, but their decisions from now on can be made with full information and consent.

    The only question here is each person’s preferences. Steve doesn’t seem to leave any room for infidelity, so if Adam continues to be unfaithful he will divorce. In effect, Adam has to choose between a fulfilling sex-life and Steve. I agree with Scott that 19th century Western culture would favour Steve’s case, but I don’t think an ultra-liberal 21st century culture would favour either; Adam’s request is completely legitimate. Sure, they should have talked about this before marriage, and Adam should have thought much more about this before-hand. But now they are in this situation, and Adam has to make a choice between his preferences. Divorcing would mean he realized after marrying that monogamy wasn’t for him, and then it doesn’t make any sense for him to stay with Steve. Avoiding sex-clubs means that he values Steve’s company over a kinky sex life.

  15. Rose says:

    This case example makes me think of a previous post re fat people not getting proper medical attention because all the doctor sees is their fat. So a happily married person, with kids, suddenly decides they must have weird, high risk sex to be sexually fulfilled. Surely their shrinks first thought should not be, well I’m a cool guy so weird sex is ok, just one of those things to negotiate.

    I’d want to know when it started- what else changed physically and in their lives. He should be tested to see why his normal libido declined and now he is attracted to new, more extreme sexual behavior. Is it a sad and destructive response to the normal changes in aging? Does he need a testosterone supplement? Is he depressed? Is it some other sign of a physical,illness? Is he deficient in the normal coping mechanisms for maturing in a marriage?

    Routine sexual infidelity is inevitably a terrible loss of trust and intimacy in the marriage – why is this person wanting to sacrifice those wonderful relationship benefits for cheap thrills? I would wonder about problems with intimacy.

    I would want to know his fetishes and kinks. What do they reveal about the problems with his conjugal relationship and sexuality.

    Is it a free choice or compulsive behavior. Hers someone who made great efforts to create a family and is now shitting in his own bed and pretending it doesn’t smell. What’s going on?

    Just harking back to my old days as a therapist in the 70’s and 80’s. About a third of my practice was gay.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I don’t have anything to add, besides the fact that I hadn’t really thought of this but it sounds plausible and definitely something that should be examined.

    • Nathan says:

      A third is surprisingly high. Were they typically openly gay or in straight relationships being impacted by their homosexual inclinations?

    • PGD says:

      Agree completely with this. This post seemed to reflect a very odd perspective on an inter-personal problem, particularly from a therapist. Although maybe it doesn’t represent his therapeutic approach, I don’t know.

  16. Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

    This sort of thing has a very long, very sad history in the fetish community generally, and is not at all confined to hypothetical hypersexualized homosexuals. Here is one of the seminal essays on the topic, from the point of view of a woman who discovers she’s a sexual submissive after entering a long-term relationship/marriage.

    http://www.fetishalliance.net/Training/Play/PonyPlay/pearlsbeforeponygirls.html

    It happens in all fetishes, all sexual preferences, and it happens all the time. The explosion of Internet sites devoted to fetishes and bringing people who have them together has made it much more common than it used to be, but it is not a new thing. It’s very sad, and it’s extraordinarily difficult for a vanilla relationship to survive.

    While I see Scott’s point and find his discussion interesting and reasonable, what this really is is a great example of a situation where the “use the default” utterly breaks down. It is nearly impossible to give up something like this once you realize how deeply it affects you. And it is nearly impossible to get a vanilla partner to understand and participate in it. There are no good choices, but any attempt to “use the default” will, I promise you, just make things worse.

    For everybody.

    It will make the vanilla partner feel justified and deepen their confusion (if not actual disgust and repulsion) with the other’s desires, and it will make the other feel even worse about their “unnatural” desires and the heartbreak they have caused their partner. Citing what society expects in this kind of situation is the absolute worst thing either the partners or any third party (therapist/counselor/friend/etc) could possibly do.

    • AlexC says:

      “It is nearly impossible to give up something like this once you realize how deeply it affects you.”

      This seems to be rather presuming, though, that Adam is someone for whom it does have an extremely deep effect. I don’t see that that’s necessarily implied by the phrasing. There are some people for whom it has a very deep effect, sure. There are others for whom it’s something fun, something they’d rather be able to do than be forbidden from doing, but without which they can actually cope just fine.

      Perhaps deep in the fetish community you only encounter the former, but it’s my understanding that there are plenty of the latter around as well. In general I’m a big fan of self-control, subjugating one’s id to one’s superego anyway. So it seems like by assuming this interest in kink on Adam’s part must be something having a deep, lifechanging effect, you’re throwing away the possibility that Adam might be able to learn a bit of self-control and self-denial and find fulfillment in the long-term relationship he committed to.

      • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

        Again, it’s a matter of degree. But if you don’t make that presumption you rapidly arrive at the conclusion Adam is a spoiled, shallow jerk and Steve would be better off without him anyway. 🙂

        • Tom Richards says:

          When I read the scenario posited, my first, instinctive reaction was that, all questions of contracts or social expectation aside, it was clear that only Adam could conceivably be expected to yield by a reasonable person, because Steve had so much more utility at stake. Adam might as well have been a man who discovered he liked peanut butter while married to someone with a severe nut allergy.

          Hot on the heels of that response came the thought that, given that I believe myself to have atypically strong jealousy responses and only an average at most sex drive, there was a distinct possibility I was projecting – that while I would find Steve’s position in the “Adam Wins” world to entail repeated unendurable agony were I placed in it, and Adam’s in the “Steve Wins” world merely moderate dissatisfaction of a kind to which I am in any case habituated, this did not entail that either of those things need be true of Adam, Steve, or other SSC readers imagining themselves into either situation.

          So, if you would be willing to provide it, I would be genuinely very interested in a description of the qualitative experience of being deprived of access to a desired class of sexual activity – and the reasonable expectation of that deprivation being ongoing – for someone whose urge/need/compulsion for that activity is extremely strong, as yours appears to be. I hope this request doesn’t come across as loaded, insincere or any sort of attempt at point scoring: I am entirely willing to believe that the negative feelings involved would be extremely acute; I would just like to be better able to imagine what they would be like.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but my response to it is to become obsessive and despondent. When I say “despondent,” I am talking about the kind of depressed that isn’t sad, but disassociative. The world is wrapped in cotton, and it’s impossible to get excited about anything. I try not to think about the object of my paraphilia, but I don’t want to think about anything else. So it’s hard to think at all.

            As it progresses it becomes very difficult to care about anything. Everything negative that happens is proof that the world sucks: everything positive that happens… well, it’s difficult to see anything that happens as positive. If something good does happen, it seems irrelevant at best, and as a cruel joke by the Universe at worst.

            The other thing that happens, at least to me, is a sort of self-loathing about how easily I let the subject dominate my mental state. “Really? Is that all there is to you? Is that why you let the rest of your life fall apart? You’re so weak. Pathetic. Just get up. DO something!” This at the same time that I become more and more obsessed with erotica featuring the object of my paraphilia, which results in a vicious cycle/spiral that is a thing of almost mathematical beauty.

            (I once again acknowledge that a lot of this sounds very similar to the experience of some drug addicts. On the other hand, it also sounds similar to the experience of people involved in what a poet might call a starcrossed love affair. Drug addiction is merely the thing that is currently most familiar to members of our society when it comes to this level of obsession and its negative results: there are many other human experiences which are similar.)

            I’ve never been actively suicidal over it, but I’ve definitely been in a place where I could understand the person who said, “I wouldn’t step in front of a bus, but I’m not sure I’d step out of the way if I saw one coming.”

            I’d like to add, however, that I’ve always been mopey, with more than a few incidences of pretty serious depressive episodes over my lifetime. It might not be outside the realm of possibility that the paraphilia (along with other obsessions I’ve had, which have numbered many) is an attempt by my brain to get passionate about something and try to pull out of the ever-lurking depression. So if you concentrate on the paraphilia, you wonder why I don’t try to get rid of it, since it makes me unhappy. But if you think about the fact that I might quite likely be unhappy anyway, you realize that this might be a sort of self-administered therapy. (Again the analogy to drug addiction is obvious.)

          • Jiro says:

            I don’t think that’s the right question to ask.

            I think a bigger question is what each party can reasonably expect–not how much each party would be damaged. Polygamy is not something which can be reasonably expected without an agreement permitting it. It’s certainly not something that can be reasonably expected with an agreement explicitly prohibiting it, with the rationale that the explicit prohibition is boilerplate that nobody has to follow anyway. The amount of damage caused to a polygamist by not being allowed polygamy isn’t relevant.

            (Well, there’s one way it’s relevant: something likely to cause a lot of damage if violated is more likely to be part of the default. But that depends on how often it causes damage as well as on how much damage it causes. People who are really damaged by not allowing polygamy are rare.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Tom Richards
            I would be genuinely very interested in a description of the qualitative experience of being deprived of access to a desired class of sexual activity – and the reasonable expectation of that deprivation being ongoing – for someone whose urge/need/compulsion for that activity is extremely acute

            Tom, perhaps you might try imagining yourself where the default sexual activity for married couples is light front-seat petting, and you are unable to go elsewhere on the side occasionally.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            That’s a great analogy.

            That being said, for me the experience is mental, not physical. I experience something similar if I don’t have an orgasm at least once a day. But it’s nowhere near as bad, and masturbation can take care of it for the most part. Regular vanilla sex does not help very much with the paraphilia/obsession, though.

        • It occurs to me that I may have had an analogous experience not involving paraphilia.

          For a while, some years back, I was taking medicine to shrink an enlarged prostate. One of the occasional side effects was said to be “reduced libido.” What that actually meant, in my experience, was impotence. Having discovered that I stopped taking the medicine and the effect eventually went away.

          What was interesting was that it was impotence in both senses of the term. I not only could not readily engage in sex, I also felt powerless. I wonder if that is similar to what you report from being unable to act on your paraphilia.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            “I want to/need to/can’t” is certainly one of the thought chains that causes the problem. Ironically the feeling, not necessarily the actuality, of impotence is something which is inversely related to both of my paraphilias. So even though I’ve never had that experience I think I see where you’re coming from. (NPI.)

  17. houseboatonstyx says:

    Adam and Steve’s individual personalities and situations will help resolve their conflict, but the tiebreaker vote is always going to be cast by the culture around them. Realizing this has made me more open to activists who are trying to change the culture – and, symmetrically, to conservatives who are trying to prevent the culture from being

    Sheesh at myself. To disagree with these point/s, the least sputtery phrasings I can think of are, “Any such Procrustean default has no place in a personal relationship”; “Switching one Procrustean default for another is only accidentally helpful, if that”; and “SJW means can ruin even the best ends”.

    Drifting down toward object level, yay Blue Tribe late marriage. Before getting into practical committment (eg shared housing etc), a couple had best get to know each other’s true attitudes about things like monogamy … and boilerplate … and (though not by those names) Deontological/Virtue stuff in general.

    Hm, here’s another use for stories, whether Great Literature, Reality TV, or internet forum. Couples might well argue about such stories and find out whether their attitudes are compatible, before getting too deeply involved with each other.

  18. TomA says:

    Cultural values are an imperfect codification of ancient wisdom. This does not mean that they are always the best option in difficult edge cases, just that they work best in most situations most of the time. Think of it as prudent guidance when faced with an important, but difficult decision.

  19. Leo says:

    Then shouldn’t we try to change the marriage institute to include paragraphs and explicit discussion with all involved parties (no need to restrict to two persons) on what they understand under marriage and how they handle if a fundamental conflict of interest arises? And also including a way how to get out of the contract. Then the people who want to be married need at least once to think about the various forms open marriage and kink and so forth and even a divorce might get easier if a previous agreed “manual” for it exists.

    • HlynkaCG says:

      How deep does that rabbit hole go?

      how many paragraphs do you devote to explaining the concepts like “obligation”, “commitment”, “this is not ‘boilerplate’ this is for real” and “for real”?

  20. Eli says:

    It’s not about culture. These two should get divorced. IF they had wanted to negotiate an open relationship, they needed to do it BEFORE Adam cheated. His proposal would be somewhat favorable IF he had brought it up BEFORE COMMITTING THE ACT. And if Steve said no anyway, too damn bad, because preexisting commitments and relationships do take precedence over new desires if you want to remain in those relationships as a trusted partner.

    Violating his relationship and then asking to have Steve’s trust back is delusional in a way that proposing to change the terms of their marriage going-forward isn’t.

    (Of course, if Adam doesn’t care about destroying his relationship, then he can go ahead.)

  21. Jon Roueful says:

    Very interesting article. The psychotherapist blames everything on culture, which is not accurate. Culture is not at fault, it is the human. If you are in a very close relationship with another human as in marriage and one party wants an open relationship and the other party does not, then they need to split.There is no other solution.

    The therapist is making the party who does not approve of an open relationship to be at fault which is also not accurate. Everyone is entitled to their own preferences. You can’t be ok with one preference and not the other.This makes you into a bigot.

    Some people prefer open and some people prefer closed. In a free nation, both preferences are allowable. Neither is at fault. That being said, there is no compromise if the two humans are romantically involved. They must split.

    • blacktrance says:

      If you are in a very close relationship with another human as in marriage and one party wants an open relationship and the other party does not, then they need to split.

      What if both of them prefer the other kind of relationship over splitting up? “I want our relationship to be open/closed, but I’d rather be in a closed/open relationship with them than to be without them” seems like a plausible preference.

      • caryatis says:

        Then you’re effectively in an open relationship, even if one party was reluctant to agree to the openness. I think this is the case with some relationships where the “cheating” is done obviously. Leads to a very unequal relationship dynamic, but that seems to be acceptable to some.

        • blacktrance says:

          Why would it be open? Their preferences are symmetric, so why would Adam get his way?

          • John Schilling says:

            Their preferences are symmetric, but their ability to implement them is not. Adam can privately transform the relationship from monogamous to polyamorous any time he wants, by walking into a kinky sex club and having at it. Steve cannot transform the relationship back to monogamous, or even maintain it in that state, without Adam’s cooperation. If neither side is willing to terminate the relationship over this, and if Adam knows that, he’s eventually going to go to the kinky sex club. Adam wins.

            Unless there’s another axis beyond monogamous/polyamorous and married/divorced at work. If, for example, Steve tolerates freezing nights and Adam doesn’t, Steve can hint that if Adam goes to kinky sex clubs the furnace is going to mysteriously stop working. But going down that path rapidly leads to nobody winning.

          • blacktrance says:

            Adam can cheat anytime he wants, but presumably that’s not a satisfactory solution for him, because now that he knows that the promise of monogamy isn’t just “legal boilerplate” for Steve and that Steve would strongly prefers for Adam to stay monogamous, he probably doesn’t want to go against that. He would like Steve to be okay with clubs, but as long as he isn’t, he at least feels conflicted about it, even though Steve can do nothing to stop him.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            One option that no one seems to have suggested yet is time-sharing: do 6 months according to Adam’s preferences, then 6 months according to Steve’s, then repeat. Take turns. (If I’ve missed a reference to this in the thread, I’d appreciate a pointer to the comment.)

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff

            It doesn’t work that way. (Although it’s an interesting turn on the phrase “serial monogamy.”) Steve’s acceptable level of non-monogamy is zero. Think of it as tolerance for being stabbed. It’s not okay for me to stab anybody six months out of the year, or even one day out of the year. Even if they’ll recover fully.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            @Slightly Anonymized Poster

            Interesting analogy. You might be right, then again…

            Think of it as tolerance for being stabbed. It’s not okay for me to stab anybody six months out of the year, or even one day out of the year. Even if they’ll recover fully.

            Bloodplay is a known fetish. There exist people for whom tolerance for being stabbed is above zero.

            Returning to the original scenario:

            Steve’s acceptable level of non-monogamy is zero.

            How can you know that? We know that “this club thing was a pretty big deal”, but that isn’t enough information to say whether Steve and Adam could have reciprocally gritted their teeth during the 6 months that it wasn’t their turn or not. There is a wide spectrum of reaction to nonmonogamy, ranging from it being a non-issue to immediate murder. We have some data on where Steve falls, but not, I think, enough to know whether turn-taking might be viable for him.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @Jeffrey Soreff

            I am well aware of bloodplay, but when I say “stabbed,” I mean “stabbed.” Not stuck with some piddly little needle. 🙂 There may be people who do bloodplay that qualifies as stabbing in my book, but they won’t do it more than once. (I don’t do bloodplay. I do other things. People who do bloodplay are sometimes squicked by me. I don’t judge, but I do giggle to myself.)

            Kidding aside, while doing it without consent obviously didn’t help, what I took from Scott’s original story was that Steve’s counteroffer (“No.”) was pretty non-negotiable. His objection wasn’t to the lack of consent, it was to the whole idea. It didn’t seem likely there was any wiggle room for scenarios like the one you suggest. If you took it differently, well, I’ve been wrong before.

          • Jeffrey Soreff says:

            I am well aware of bloodplay, but when I say “stabbed,” I mean “stabbed.” Not stuck with some piddly little needle. 🙂 There may be people who do bloodplay that qualifies as stabbing in my book, but they won’t do it more than once. (I don’t do bloodplay. I do other things. People who do bloodplay are sometimes squicked by me. I don’t judge, but I do giggle to myself.)

            Point taken 🙂

            what I took from Scott’s original story was that Steve’s counteroffer (“No.”) was pretty non-negotiable.

            True, that is additional data which I hadn’t been accounting for, and it does make turn-taking look substantially less likely to be a viable solution.

  22. Sastan says:

    I have a question along similar lines:

    Does a partner in an intimate relationship have some duty to provide a minimum amount of sex, or a minimum amount of various fetishes if it is the other partner’s preference? Is a partner whose sexual needs are not met to an acceptable level justified in going elsewhere*, or is ending the relationship the only ethical means of protest?

    *assume not-marriage here, disentangle from contract

    • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

      And to take it a step further, if the relationship has always had a strong sexual element, and then for whatever reason one spouse diminishes the amount of sexual interaction they are willing to provide, is the other spouse now justified in seeking it elsewhere? Is it different if the diminishing spouse does the diminishing for reasons of physical health versus reasons of moral evolution?

      • Sastan says:

        I’m seeking clarity myself here. But my gut-stab at it would be it does matter the reasons, health issues are obviously a better reason than others. And it seems to me to matter how much it is diminished. I mean, if a couple goes from thrice weekly sex to once weekly, that’s worth examining, but not detonating a relationship. If they go from thrice weekly to thrice annually on the other hand…..I like typing “thrice”.

        When I was young and never had a serious committed relationship that ran into the years, I always thought “well shit, if she ain’t putting out, move on!”. Age and experience has made this seem glib in retrospect. It’s a logical move, but not a terribly attractive one, nor one that feels correct.

    • Anonymous says:

      Absent marriage, no.

      In marriage, yes.

    • caryatis says:

      A person who voluntarily stops satisfying their partner’s sexual needs is acting badly. But, if the partners agreed to monogamy, then cheating would be acting badly too. Assuming that it’s not possible to resolve the dispute and that the second party finds their sexual needs more important than preserving the relationship, ending it is the only ethical option.

      • Sastan says:

        I guess the counter would be that agreeing to monogamy implies some -gamy 😛

        And I wonder if it matters how “reasonable” we think the sexual desires of the unfulfilled partner are? It seems wrong to me to say that once you get the “I do”, you can cut off all sexual contact forever, and the other person has no recourse. Then again, it seems wrong to divorce or cheat because your partner won’t wear leather hooves and a pony-tail buttplug, but those are normative arguments. How much sex is enough? How weird is too weird?

        And if ending the relationship is the only recourse, that has the effect of making any argument along these lines “do this for me or I leave you”. And that too seems wrong to me. And deeply unsexy to boot.

  23. nonymous says:

    SSC blindspot to be guarded at all costs:

    Has consumerism and how its shaped our expectations and demands,
    our impatience with inconvenience, our insatiability for novelty, a role in this discussion?

    Its almost as if economic power, corporate power, systemic power, didn’t exist at all here.

    Here the risk posed by feminist overreach dwarfs that posed by corporations, lately freed from all legal and contractual responsibilities to the societies they feed off.

    In what way is that rational?

    In the future when people search SSC +Trans-Pacific Partnership, the only thing they’ll find in the search results will be chatter about sex-reassignment surgery.

    • Eli says:

      While you’re making a good point about this blog and its readership (namely, they’re horrifically liberal in the bourgeois sense of the word), consumerism has not been strongly linked to cheating on one’s spouse (which has happened since basically forever).

      • nonymous says:

        Google: ashley madison, “porn destroyed my marriage”, etc
        “This traps us into a cost-benefit approach to relationships that ultimately disappoints us, as it contradicts expectations inherited from previous constructs of romantic love. The discrete ontology posited for emotions makes them commensurable, exchangable, measurable, and thus subject to rational calculation, evaluatable by abstract criteria (as opposed to the demands of the moment). The capitalist acceleration of consumption then takes hold of relationships, meaning that our emotional choices and experiences are driven by considerations of convenience. Internet dating exemplifies this: It “has introduced to the realm of romantic encounters the principles of mass consumption based on an economy of abundance, endless choice, efficiency, rationalization, and standardization…. Romantic relations are not only organized within the market, but have themselves become commodities produced on an assembly line, to be consumed fast, efficiently, cheaply, and in great abundance.”
        -Rob Horning
        https://marginalutilityannex.wordpress.com/

  24. caryatis says:

    Relevant to the discussion, here’s someone considering divorce because her meat-eating husband decided to become a vegetarian. (Scroll down)

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/carolyn-hax-bawdy-humor-comes-between-girlfriend-family/2015/11/25/ba3e5530-923a-11e5-b5e4-279b4501e8a6_story.html

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Vegetarianism vs. meat-eater seems like it could legitimately be the basis for a divorce.

      I agree that it would be silly if it were just a matter of culinary taste. (Though speaking as a meat-eater, it is really frustrating not being able to take a vegetarian girl to a certain restaurant, or wondering whether her dish will be adequate, or not being able to see whether she likes a certain dish you like.)

      But potentially, it reflects a huge moral split between the two. Of course, religious people and atheists stay married all the time, and that’s a much bigger split, but if either of them felt very intensely about the issue, it could be a problem. And the same goes for vegetarianism.

  25. Daniel says:

    For Adam and Steve, the problem took root because society gives out a single select vision of “real marriage.” Whether today or in 1800, people “know what real marriage looks like.”

    If Adam and Steve made it too obvious their marriage was different, they couldn’t reap the normal social rewards of getting married. So neither of them pushed to make sure their marriage contract matched both their real intentions. So they wound up in the therapist’s office.

    An economist might say the standard marriage contract exercises a “monopoly” over the social rewards of marriage. The ideal solution is to break up the monopoly. Establish a vibrant competition among multiple models of marriage. Let a hundred contracts bloom!

    But “more competition is better” doesn’t always work in social coordination games. We don’t want “competing models” over which side of the street people drive on — everybody should have the same model, should drive on the same side as others, or driving is unsafe. We don’t want “competing models” over basic meanings of words — everyone should have reasonable overlap in word meanings, or communication is impossible.

    On the other hand, words do shift meanings over time, and that’s a good thing. Else how would we talk about “chat rooms” where nobody uses their voice, and “prime ministers” who serve a public mandate rather than their king?

    So “how much competition/drift is ideal in social norms?” seems like an interesting underlying question to me.

    If there was more competition in the marriage-models market, Steve and Adam wouldn’t have this particular problem — they’d have settled this issue earlier, or not gotten married.

    But if there was more competition among different models of marriage, would “married couple” still be as useful a social construct?

  26. Avo says:

    I’d like to comment on “therapeutic neutrality”. This, it seems to me, is a terrible idea. I think that a real Adam and Steve would be much better off reading what Scott wrote here than whatever non-thing Scott would say to them under “therapeutic neutrality”.

    What is the evidence that “therapeutic neutrality” is a better strategy than a therapist saying what s/he really thinks about a given situation? The latter is what I craved (and didn’t get) when I was briefly in therapy.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I think the Objectivist psychologist Nathaniel Branden has some very interesting things to say about this. It is not beneficial for the therapist to morally condemn the patient (even when he is condemnable!), especially when it’s not just the two of them in the room. That will just encourage him to shut down, become defensive and recalcitrant, and accomplish nothing.

      Of course, Scott wasn’t really condemning either party in this post, but the therapist is not supposed to judge or take sides.

      [Ayn Rand] used to say to me, “I don’t know anything about psychology, Nathaniel.” I wish I had taken her more seriously. She was right; she knew next to nothing about psychology. What neither of us understood, however, was how disastrous an omission that is in a philosopher in general and a moralist in particular. The most devastating single omission in her system and the one that causes most of the trouble for her followers is the absence of any real appreciation of human psychology and, more specifically, of developmental psychology, of how human beings evolve and become what they are and of how they can change.

      So, you are left with this sort of picture of your life. You either choose to be rational or you don’t. You’re honest or you’re not. You choose the right values or you don’t. You like the kind of art Rand admires or your soul is in big trouble. For evidence of this last point, read her essays on esthetics (Rand, 1970). Her followers are left in a dreadful position: If their responses aren’t “the right ones,” what are they to do? How are they to change? No answer from Ayn Rand. Here is the tragedy: Her followers’ own love and admiration for her and her work become turned into the means of their self-repudiation and self-torture. I have seen a good deal of that, and it saddens me more than I can say.

      Let’s suppose a person has done something that he or she knows to be wrong, immoral, unjust, or unreasonable: instead of acknowledging the wrong, instead of simply regretting the action and then seeking, compassionately, to understand why the action was taken and asking where was I coming from? and what need was I trying in my own twisted way to satisfy? — instead of asking such questions, the person is encouraged to brand the behavior as evil and is given no useful advice on where to go from there. You don’t teach people to be moral by teaching them self-contempt as a virtue.

      […]

      Even if what people are doing is wrong, even if errors of morality are involved, even if what people are doing is irrational, you do not lead people to virtue by contempt. You do not make people better by telling them they are despicable. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when religion tries it and it doesn’t work when objectivism tries it.

      If someone has done something so horrendous that you want to tell him or her that the action is despicable, go ahead. If you want to tell someone he is a rotten son-of-a-bitch, go ahead. If you want to call someone a scoundrel, go ahead. I don’t deny that there are times when that is a thoroughly appropriate response. What I do deny is that it is an effective strategy for inspiring moral change or improvement.

      • Avo says:

        I was asking if there is any scientific evidence to support “the therapist is not supposed to take sides” as the best practice. I doubt that there is.

        • The Anonymouse says:

          Which may be why many people prefer to seek out their priest/pastor/rabbi rather than a therapist. At least a priest can straight-up tell you when one of you is acting the fool.

        • RPLong says:

          There’s not a lot of very good evidence to suggest that therapy is actually beneficial at all. A lot of people go through years of therapy, come to a better understanding of themselves, and still don’t change. Assuming they need to change, this is an odd outcome. How would you feel if you went to the doctor for a broken arm, he helped you come to a full understanding of how you broke your arm, and then sent you off without setting the bone or casting it?

  27. Josiah says:

    But go back two hundred years and ask the people of that culture, and this choice is a no-brainer.

    You don’t have to go back 200 years. It’s a no-brainer for the vast majority of people *today*

    • Adam Casey says:

      This. It’s so weird sometimes reading US liberals who imagine they are not fantastically weird and freakish people. I mean, I’m a very weird and freakish person, but I at least know that I am.

  28. birdboy2000 says:

    It took me halfway through reading that to realize what you had done with the names. (God made…)

  29. Rose says:

    You are not thinking like a therapist. It is only after the marriage and adopting not one but two kids that one partner decides monogamy is intolerable and his partner has to be made miserable by his self indulgence? It sounds like the cheater needs to create distance, be in control, assert dominance

    • Randy M says:

      Yes, Scott’s neutrality between contract enforcement and hand-waving it away as old-fashioned ritual is a rather big tilt in the favor of Adam here.
      I take that in marriage counseling, as in law, choice of aribter is often the winning move.

  30. Urstoff says:

    Seems like needing a cultural setting is a result of framing it in terms of someone being in the right or justified in their feelings and the other party having to acquiesce. In this case, it simply seems like the very human case of some changing as they get older, and their changed self not matching the situation their older self chose. You can sympathize with both sides and then simply admit that it’s bad situation that happens sometimes and there’s not a solution that is going to satisfy both parties or even stand on some moral high ground. The best long-run solution (in this case, probably separation) is just the best of a bad lot.

  31. zzb says:

    There appears to be a consensus that cheating is bad but voluntarily (even if reluctantly) agreed to polyamory is fine. How about the hoary “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” logic? That would say that it is better to cheat in secret (assuming you can avoid detection and also diseases and other physical consequences) than to be open if you knew that your partner would consent to but nevertheless but hurt by your request. I feel like there is something wrong with this logic, but what? Damages are awarded for breach of contract in compensation for injury. What is the injury if one never finds out?

    • JBeshir says:

      http://lesswrong.com/lw/v0/ethical_inhibitions/ proposes that a lot of it might be that there is just plain a persistent error in human cognition that causes us to overestimate our chances of getting away with things, such that even from a selfish perspective ethical inhibitions make sense.

      For consequences beyond that, the overall rate of people cheating in secret is going to leak and that has impact on society-wide trust levels, maybe that’s significant?

    • roystgnr says:

      What’s wrong with the logic is that it depends on assuming hedonistic utilitarianism rather than preference utilitarianism, and if you start down that path then we might as well just shave everyone’s heads and plug in the drouds as soon as possible.

      In practice, though, it doesn’t matter if we think that damages shouldn’t be awarded for secret injuries: damages can’t be awarded for secret injuries, by definition. If you find yourself at the point where you’re deciding whether or not to award damages, the injury clearly isn’t a secret any more, and the question of what to do for secret injuries is moot.

      • Jiro says:

        You can award back damages for the time period where it was secret. You would then have to decide whether back damages for secret adultery would be worth more or less than back damages for non-secret adultery.

        • roystgnr says:

          Huh – that is an interesting question.

          I still don’t think it’s quite the same question, though. Even if you don’t award any back damages at all for secret adultery, you’ve still got to award damages for the revelation of the secret adultery, and you’ve got to consider that the revelation of “your SO just had an affair” isn’t going to be nearly as damaging as the revelation of “your SO has been having an affair for years”. If an outside observer doesn’t know your thought process then they’ve got an underdetermined system to solve: did you award extra damages because secret adultery is damaging or because revelations of longer-standing secret adultery are extra-damaging?

          If this outside observer doesn’t know, should they care? 😉

  32. RPLong says:

    I’ll add that one thing that is conspicuously missing from this analysis is any sort of discussion about the impact on children of having a parent who frequents fetish clubs. Sure, it’s all permissiveness and hunky-dory laissez-faire, but watch closely what happens to the mental health of the children when Adam openly admits, simply and plainly, at the dinner table, what he’s doing on Friday nights. And no, there isn’t an “age-appropriate time” to find out about your dad’s sexploits. If Adam doesn’t understand that his behavior is damaging to more than just Steve then his problems have only just begun.

    Like The Last Psychiatist said, the problem with [he said sex addition, but it applies here, too] isn’t that it ruins your life; the problem is that it ruins everyone else’s lives.

    • Jeffrey Soreff says:

      Interesting that you bring that up.
      Yes, it seems orthogonal to all the other points being discussed.
      It would still be something which could be commented on if the couple were hetero,
      had agreed to the fetish club in their prenup, and attended them together.

      To my mind, that aspect of the scenario is no different from any other moderately edgy, mildly disreputable adult activity that the parents might attend – say EST seminars, for instance. Then again, personally I’m childfree and I have only a mild interest in what happens to children…

  33. RPLong says:

    Couldn’t possibly disagree with SA more here. The couple needs to separate because the word “marriage” means something different to both of them. If two people can’t even agree on what a marriage is then in what sense can we even say they are married?

    This isn’t an uncommon problem, and it’s not about social norms. Many of us have been in love with people who claimed to love us back, but who – when push came to shove – didn’t love us in a way we could accept in the long run.

  34. Esquire says:

    I think the idea that we don’t care what’s in the marriage contract and need to rely on object-level reasoning and defaults is really sad and bad.

    Among other things, it makes relationships all Parfit’s Hitchiker scenarios. If society is unwilling to enforce marriage agreements (through law or social technology like shaming) and if we collectively agree that object-level considerations, social norms, and feelings usually invalidate agreements about relationships… then… we don’t have any way to credibly pre-commit to each other. Marriage vows will always be sort of fraudulent!

    One of the game-theoretic benefits of an enforceable marriage, going back to pre-history, is that it provides a stable platform for long term investment. Then in things like crops, herds, huts, children, etc. Now in things like education, career, home ownership, children, etc. This seems important!

    So… though I am very supportive of Adam’s kinkiest hypothetical fun, it seems to me that in any workable stable social system, he clearly loses.

    • Deiseach says:

      If we take it on the very basic level of a civil marriage is a civil contract, then it has to be considered as any other contract.

      For A to argue that they only agreed to certain terms as legal boilerplate and had no intention of fulfilling them means that they are in the wrong. The same as if they said they had no intention of paying the penalty clause if they ran over time, or had no intention of paying the invoice within the standard forty-five days, or when they signed off on an agreement that they would supply 6mm stembolts they were really going to supply 5mm stembolts.

      A really can’t argue that B is being unreasonable to assume the standard interpretation of the contract, especially if A is only now deciding they want to have sex with other parties and/or in fetish clubs. If A did not intend to be bound by the contract, A should not have made it.

      Saying that it was intended as a signal of “commitment” then requires A to define their understanding of commitment: that they are going to live in the same house and share bed and board with B? That they will have a joint bank account and mortgage? Given that A has already been slippery with their definitions, B would need to have it very clearly set down what A means by “commitment” – and if all it means is “you are the person I am currently experiencing romantic attraction towards”, that is not a hell of a lot. For one thing, it means that if B falls in love with C, then all that ‘commitment’ flies out the window.

      • Esquire says:

        I think we 100% agree, right?

      • HlynkaCG says:

        That is essentially my take as well.

        Regardless of one’s position on marriage and/or kinky fetish clubs it’s obvious that Adam did not sign the contract in good faith.

  35. blacktrance says:

    Determining the terms of the contract doesn’t resolve the issue. Suppose that Steve is right and Adam is bound to be monogamous – would he really want to tell his partner “Do what I want or leave”, even though he’s entitled to do so? Or suppose you’re in an indissoluble marriage and your wife wants a divorce – you wouldn’t tell her that she’s stuck with you regardless of what she wants. Part of being a good partner is caring greatly about your partner’s well-being, and if their contract with you is causing them to be significantly worse off, keeping them bound to it would be contrary to being a good partner. If your partner says “I’ll follow the contract but I’ll hate it”, that’s not a satisfactory conclusion.

    Keeping someone to a contract works when you don’t care about them much and care more about what the contract is getting you, which is why this isn’t a problem for contracts in the marketplace. But when there’s strong mutual concern, that doesn’t work.

    • Esquire says:

      But on the other hand… if you take this view then marriage vows (or any setting of terms in a relationship) is never enforceable or reliable. Maybe this is true! But scary!

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Welcome to the real world! 😉

        I know some people here (including myself) would like marriage to be a thing where you simply give your word and stick to it. And in the ideal case, that is what happens. But we don’t always live in the ideal case.

        Two people can get married with the best intentions in the world, and then discover that they have irreconcilable differences. There are then only four possible outcomes:

        a) They reconcile their differences. But then their differences are not irreconcilable!
        b) They remain together in a miserable and unhappy relationship.
        c) They divorce and possibly find happiness elsewhere.
        d) The Leibnizian best possible world some cultural conservatives seem to live in, wherein no couple has ever had truly irreconcilable differences.

        I sincerely do not think d) is the world we live in. And, by hypothesis, we can remove a) from consideration.

        Forcing people to keep their word no matter what just makes c) impossible, leaving us with b) as the only thing left. It doesn’t cause a) to be the case! And I simply don’t see the rationale (either for the benefit of the couple or the children) to force people to stay together in unhappy marriages.

        Nevertheless, there is an argument cultural conservatives can make for forcing people to keep their word. Essentially, it is that the State, in its capacity as the all-knowing planner of society, is confident that by forbidding divorce it can encourage a sufficiently great number of couples to find that their differences are reconcilable after all—as opposed to choosing “easy divorce” because of their silly cognitive biases—enough to outweigh the number of people stuck in b) rather than c). But it seems to me that the evidentiary basis for this is very loose.

        (It’s also much more in the vein of folks like Cass Sunstein who want the government to “nudge” everyone than it is typical of conservative thought.)

        • Randy M says:

          I’m not sure how rare it is that people mistake reconcilable diffreences for irreconcilable. Most marriages have hard times. Many who consider divorce and don’t are glad they stuck with it. But I don’t have actual studies at hand.

          Also, you left out e) They divorce and spend twenty years going between the bottle and people as equally crazy as their ex.
          Comparing to the right counter-factual is important. Sometimes, perhaps, one just can’t be happy with their spouse, but sometimes one just can’t be happy.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Sure, I suppose it’s possible that the state really knows better than people who want to divorce, since their reason is clouded by their emotions. (It’s similar to Scott’s argument about prohibiting suicide.) But I think we ought to err on the side of liberty when we are not sure about these things.

            And I think it would be good for people to be able to choose something akin to covenant marriage instead of a marriage than can be ended instantly and on any whim.

            As for e), I did say in c) that the two only “possibly” find happiness elsewhere. Of course some people will never be happy either married or single. But (as I’m sure you will agree), “some people will not be any happier divorced than married” is not equivalent to “no one will ever be happier divorced than married”.

          • Randy M says:

            You did say possibly, I didn’t see it. It seemed an odd ommission. I retract that point.

          • Salem says:

            But what about other people who may have placed reasonable reliance on the marriage? Y’know, children. You can’t just hand-wave away the externalities. Sure, it may sometimes be better for the kids if the parents divorce, but the parents have a massive conflict of interest in assessing that, which may require a third party to step in.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Salem:

            What exactly are you proposing? That the state hire a psychologist to analyze the household and decide whether the children would be better served by a divorce or continued marriage? It’s an interesting idea, I guess.

            Also, there is the fact that the parents have rights and interests, too, not just the children. Parents’ obligations to their children are not unlimited. They aren’t required to make themselves miserable in order to give the children a small amount of extra happiness (even supposing it would work).

            For instance, suppose you could prove that the children in one family would be slightly happier if their mother quit her job and stayed at home with them. But suppose the mother really loves her job (as a world-renowned scientist, say)—and really the children would do quite fine with nannies. It doesn’t seem to me obvious that the mother ought to quit her job.

          • Salem says:

            No, that’s too complicated.

            The standard solution to externalities is a Pigouvian tax. That should apply here. I’m simply suggesting that anyone who seeks a divorce, or engages in conduct (e.g. adultery) that would justify the other party in seeking a divorce, should have to pay (say) 5% extra income tax for the rest of their life.

            Ideally the government would also encourage social shaming, but baby steps.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I went into marriage with the assumption that I would reach a point where I wanted out, and determined not to bail when that happened. It is a terrible thing to be driven by fickle emotions. I still have a while to go, but so far I do not regret choosing a firmer foundation.

        • Anonymous says:

          All your examples have the couple both wanting a divorce. I think that the case for letting them do so in such a scenario is much, much stronger than in what I think is the real issue of divorce: one party wants it, the other doesn’t.

    • Deiseach says:

      Part of being a good partner is caring greatly about your partner’s well-being, and if their contract with you is causing them to be significantly worse off, keeping them bound to it would be contrary to being a good partner.

      That’s great to give Adam liberty. But what about Steve? If Steve is experiencing genuine emotional pain, what does he do? The inclination here seems to be that Steve should not alone change his mind about letting Adam be sexually intimate with strangers, but that he should be glad to change his mind and he should enthusiastically adopt a new belief-system or way of thinking about these matters.

      But why is that nicer, better or fairer than expecting Adam to change his belief or way of thinking? If it’s bad to ask Adam to make a coerced change into “I am so happy to do what you want”, how is it good to ask Steve to do the same? It’s a question of happiness and contentment for both of them, not just one party.

      There’s a lot of pitfalls even if Steve agrees that Adam can have sex outside of their marriage. For one, Steve will likely doubt Adam about a lot more things: what other promises did he make without intending to keep them in their private life? In his work life? With friends? Family?

      Second, their intimate life can’t be strengthened by this; Steve will be thinking when he and Adam have sex that Adam is only doing this out of duty, doesn’t enjoy it, prefers the fetish club sex. And if Adam protests that this is different, that what he has with Steve is meaningful, it still means it wasn’t enough to keep him from looking for meaningless purely physical sex.

      The bad old days of the 1900s (you don’t have to go as far back as the 1800s for the expectation of monogamy and fidelity within marriage) may have meant one partner was dissatisfied and unhappy in the marriage, but the brave new world of the 2100s isn’t going to mean more happiness and liberty and greater utility, as one partner will still be dissatisfied and unhappy in the marriage – the more restrictive partner, this time.

      But does that mean that their unhappiness doesn’t count or counts less? If it’s bad to try and force Adam to go against his desires, isn’t it just as bad to force Steve to go against his? The argument here is that if you love someone, you want to make them happy. And Steve, if he loves Adam, should let him do what makes him happy.

      But that applies equally to Adam, so it’s no solution (particularly if Adam insists he married Steve to show his commitment): if Adam loves Steve, shouldn’t he do what makes Steve happy?

      That’s the trouble with making marriage solely a private relationship between two individuals based on emotional gratification: the problem of competing happiness cannot be solved easily one way or the other.

      • blacktrance says:

        I’m not suggesting that Steve should change his mind. Open marriages aren’t right for everyone, and they may not be right for him. I’m just pointing out that even though holding Adam to monogamy gets Steve the enforcement of the contract he wants, it imposes significant costs on Adam, and since Steve cares about him, he still doesn’t get what he really wants: an Adam who doesn’t find monogamy to be an imposition. And you’re right, it’s symmetric from Adam’s perspective: what he wants isn’t just an open marriage, but an open marriage that Steve finds unobjectionable. That’s why it’s a hard problem.

        That’s the trouble with making marriage solely a private relationship between two individuals based on emotional gratification: the problem of competing happiness cannot be solved easily one way or the other.

        That sounds like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because sometimes there are problems like this doesn’t mean that marriages aren’t better when they’re not based on emotional gratification.

        • Error says:

          I think this gets at the heart of things fairly well. Any time you have preferences about others’ preferences, there’s room to have a bad time in a way that can’t be fixed by any form of mutual agreement. You can commit to indefinite monogamy, legally or otherwise. You can’t commit to wanting monogamy indefinitely; we don’t have first order control over our own preferences yet.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Any time you have preferences about others’ preferences, there’s room to have a bad time in a way that can’t be fixed by any form of mutual agreement.

            That’s a very nice formulation. It really gets to the heart of this issue.

            Marriage isn’t just about wanting someone not to divorce you. It’s about wanting someone not to want to divorce you. If someone wants with all his heart to divorce you, it’s small comfort to know that he is Immanuel Kant and will always place his “duty” over his happiness.

          • Error says:

            Vox: It gets even more fun when taking into account that people often aren’t honest about their preferences. You can construct all sorts of situations where two people are each unhappy in their relationship, but can’t take any steps to either separate or fix the misery because its existence isn’t common knowledge.

      • Jiro says:

        The bad old days of the 1900s (you don’t have to go as far back as the 1800s for the expectation of monogamy and fidelity within marriage) may have meant one partner was dissatisfied and unhappy in the marriage, but

        As someone else posted, you don’t need to go to 1800. You just need to go to 2015. Scott’s idea that marriage vows are seen, by default, as boilerplate and nobody expects them to be followed is bizarre for pretty much everyone outside of a polygamy bubble, and even there, I would expect the partners to *explicitly* deny monogamy, not to make monogamy vows but to assume by default that they don’t mean anything.

    • Randy M says:

      “you wouldn’t tell her that she’s stuck with you regardless of what she wants.”
      Yes, I would. Well, I’d phrase it a bit differently, in personal ways that aren’t relevant here, but the clear implication would be that her ‘following her heart’ instead of her vows would be a grave betrayal and in all ways inexcusable.
      I would expect no less if the roles were reversed, of course.
      (This is assuming that I haven’t breached the contract already, giving her just cause, but since I haven’t and have sworn not to, it’s a fair assumption)

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        Suppose that your wife told you that she hates you and would like nothing more than to divorce you, but that she will stay married to you out of duty. (I realize this may be hard to project.)

        What value would there be left in the marriage at that point? Wouldn’t you rather be with someone who doesn’t hate you? If you still loved her, wouldn’t you rather her be someone she loves? Wouldn’t you like your children not to grow up in a household where their mother can barely contain her hatred of their father?

        If your answers are “No”, I will just say that I think you have very strange preferences and that I don’t think any good will come of them.

        • Randy M says:

          That is an inconvenient feeling for her to have, certainly. It would be made clear that while it persists she would be expected to pretend otherwise in view of the children, feigning at least indifference. Quite likely the feeling would change, as they are wont to do. If not, it would be a personal tragedy to which I cannot predict perfectly my reaction, but merely express a full desire that I would continue, setting an example for kith and kin of honor and devotion.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Close your eyes and think of England, eh?

            Very well.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            to concur with this answer, presumably the wife didn’t marry a person she hated all along, which means that at one point her emotions were positive, and they changed to hate for some reason. If emotions are changable, why can’t we expect or even demand that they be changed back?

            More generally, why do admittedly temporary emotional states trump long-term commitments?

            [EDIT] “Close your eyes and think of England” generally refers to the idea of a partner “submitting” to sex they don’t want. The argument being made above is that they should be actively working to self-modify to be compatible with their partner. Actively agreeing to that sort of self-modification is an integral part of what marriage is generally held to be by its proponents.

          • blacktrance says:

            People can change over time, and if the husband and wife both change in incompatible ways, their once-good marriage could deteriorate. This is especially likely if they were only marginally compatible enough for marriage to begin with. So it’s hard to bet on it being temporary.

            More generally, why do admittedly temporary emotional states trump long-term commitments?

            You can make a lifetime commitment to live with someone and be monogamous with them, because those are all under one’s control, but you can’t commit (at least not in the same way) to love someone (or even enjoy living with them) for the rest of your life because you only have limited control over that. And when that changes, that’s a problem even when the controllable parts of the commitment are kept.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Blacktrance – “People can change over time, and if the husband and wife both change in incompatible ways, their once-good marriage could deteriorate.”

            Then they have an active duty to avoid changing in those ways. This does not seem impossible to do. Challenging, maybe, but few worthwhile things are easy.

            “So it’s hard to bet on it being temporary.”

            What I’m objecting to is that it’s uncontrollable, that differences are actually “irreconcilable” as opposed to “inconvenient”. “Ireconcilable” *actions* exist, but society abuses the term beyond recognition.

            “You can make a lifetime commitment to live with someone and be monogamous with them, because those are all under one’s control, but you can’t commit (at least not in the same way) to love someone (or even enjoy living with them) for the rest of your life because you only have limited control over that. ”

            Love is the sum of choices. We choose to love, or not to love. Love is not a more emphatic version of enjoyment. Treating it (and many other things, like Will for example) to involuntary, reflexive emotions is a large part of the current problem.

          • blacktrance says:

            Then they have an active duty to avoid changing in those ways. This does not seem impossible to do.

            I can think of some things one could do to make it less likely that one would change in those ways, but nothing that would put it sufficiently under your control for you to be able to make that commitment. How do you propose fulfilling that duty?

          • At a tangent …

            “Close your eyes and think of England” purports to be Victoria’s view of sex. There is no support for that belief. The closest anyone has found, in her correspondence, is a reference not to intercourse but to childbirth.

          • @Blacktrance:

            Suppose, as seems plausible to me, that your emotions, in particular whether you love someone, are partly but not entirely under your control. There is then a tradeoff between costs and benefits of irrevocable commitment. The benefit is a strong incentive to try to love your partner, to suppress any inclination to hate her. The cost is that sometimes the attempt fails and you end up stuck in a loveless, perhaps hostile, marriage.

            I don’t know what Randy’s view of the subject is, but all his position requires is that the benefits are larger than the cost.

          • Nathan says:

            I think people have a great deal of control over the ways they change. E.g. When single I was extremely cheap and stingy with money. In marriage I have actively worked at becoming less so, to eliminate a potential source of conflict with my wife. We’re together forever, it’s going to be a lot more fun if we don’t argue.

            (8 years married, 2 kids, and yet to have our first fight)

          • Randy M says:

            “Then they have an active duty to avoid changing in those ways. This does not seem impossible to do.

            I can think of some things one could do to make it less likely that one would change in those ways, but nothing that would put it sufficiently under your control for you to be able to make that commitment.”

            It is hard to argue without clear references here. What ways do you suppose people change such that they are incompatible?

            There’s a movie called “The Story of Us” where a couple is being advised separately by their friends on their marital problems in one scene, with him being told “People change!” and her being told “People don’t change!” both of these being reasons for forgiving the now-obnoxious behavior of the spouse.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            That movie sounds like a dramatization of the old saw that women marry men thinking they can change them, men marry women thinking they will never change, and they are both hilariously wrong.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @Faceless Craven:

            Then they have an active duty to avoid changing in those ways. This does not seem impossible to do.

            Note to self: a spouse who develops multiple sclerosis and causes their spouse to experience a loss of marital expectation just isn’t trying hard enough.

            Yes, that’s harsh. But frankly, that’s what I heard when you said that, only going the other way. “Just don’t change like that.” Well, just don’t develop MS.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Slightly Anonymized Poster – “Yes, that’s harsh. But frankly, that’s what I heard when you said that, only going the other way. “Just don’t change like that.” Well, just don’t develop MS.”

            That was my comment, not BlackTrance’s, and we were explicitly discussing changes of emotion and desire, not illness. Emotion, desire and will may be difficult to control, but they are not uncaring forces of nature. That it is currently fashionable to pretend otherwise changes nothing.

            If you’d like to bring illness into it, though, I’m pretty sure I’d rather have a relationship where, if I am struck by horrible affliction, my partner has committed to sticking with me through it rather than kicking me aside once I no longer offer sufficient net utility in the short-term view. Your construction above sounds closer to Blacktrance’s position than mine.

          • anonymous says:

            Without intending to be unkind, after having read all of SAP’s post in this thread the way s/he describes kink sounds like nothing so much as a drug addiction. Someone can discover/develop it relatively late in life after which it is near impossible to give up, and the indulgence of which becomes more important than any of the relationships or values that were most important to him in his prior life.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @FacelessCraven:

            Sorry, I thought I fixed that. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that a person should abandon their spouse in either context, although I would think very negatively of their spouse if they did not allow the person some alternate means of relief, especially if the relationship had been highly sexual up to that point. But whatever I think of them, I’d think even more negatively of a person who abandoned someone they promised to stick by.

            @anonymous:

            I can hardly complain about anybody else’s blunt talk after what I said to FC, now can I? 🙂

            It may surprise you, but I think your comparison is not without merit. (I am, by the way, in favor of drug legalization. So I won’t draw that distinction for purpose of this discussion.) Drug addicts don’t know they’re drug addicts until they encounter their drug of choice for the first time. People with paraphilias or full-blown fetishes likewise don’t know about them until they encounter them for the first time. However, it’s a matter of degree, in both cases. And your opinion of the matter depends a great deal on how much you believe in willpower/free will/genetic and environmental determinism in both cases as well.

            If you (not you personally) are the kind of person who thinks that all drug addicts could stop being drug addicts if they would just try, darn it, then it is entirely consistent to think that paraphiliacs/fetishists/etc could do the same. And if you want to blame the drug addict, for whatever degree, for allowing themselves to be exposed to the drug and beginning the addiction cycle, likewise. Though I might suggest it’s easier to randomly encounter a picture of somebody being tied up and spanked* while making your way through the world than it is to accidentally use heroin for the first time.

            But whatever you think of those questions, the fact remains that there are drug addicts in the world, and there are paraphiliacs et cetera in the world, and telling them that they are just being weak-minded is not very helpful in many cases. If you think that they should just not have relationships, fine. You might even be right. Maybe they ought not to have relationships. They do, though. Would you suggest that such people should just abandon human contact/be discarded by society if they won’t toughen up? If not, what would your alternative be?

            *Neither of these are one of my primary paraphilias, incidentally. I don’t care to reveal them. Suffice to say they are very uncommon but far from unique.

          • anonymous says:

            I was’t going for a Real Men can just willpower away a heroin addication angle. Nor for what it is worth do I support the criminalization of drugs. But what about treatment? Maybe none exist yet, but if drug addiction is a good analogy shouldn’t we start to look for some? And if there were some wouldn’t it be reasonable for a spouse to ask his or her spouse to seek a cure?

          • John Schilling says:

            Drug addicts don’t know they’re drug addicts until they encounter their drug of choice for the first time.

            I would argue that an addict who doesn’t know it, isn’t an addict at all. Or maybe that’s just semantics, but we definitely need a term for people whose behavior is actually being modified by their “addiction”.

            Regardless, it’s a pretty strong argument for not experimenting with drugs that are expensive, illegal, dangerous, or debilitating in ways that you can’t afford to be addicted to. Or, in this context, for not visiting kinky sex clubs or watching fetish porn without first running it past your spouse and making sure they’re OK with the possible consequences.

            And for enforcing social norms against putting fetish porn (really, any kind of porn) in places where people are likely to come across it unawares, just as we enforce the norm that heroin is not an acceptable ingredient in your cocktail party’s refreshments.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @anonymous:

            Maybe we should seek a treatment for being gay, since someone could discover/come to realize they were gay after entering a heterosexual marriage. Does that sound reasonable?

            @John Schilling:

            The porn ship has sailed, returned, sailed again, and become a tourist destination in San Francisco Bay with live streaming to everywhere. Treatment for gayness sounds more achievable than restricting porn. Especially when you consider that not all porn, or activating material, or whatever you want to call it, is graphic or even especially erotic. There is a particular fetish which a large minority of people were first exposed to by watching Scooby-Doo cartoons.

          • anonymous says:

            I’m not sure if you are making the comparison to being gay for the purpose of saying “yeah good luck with that” or more like “how dare you”.

            I would have thought we were past the latter when you accepted that the drug addiction analogy was not-terrible.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @anonymous:

            Definitely the first one, and I apologize if I seem excessively hostile. Obviously this is a subject I have strong feelings about and a great deal of personal experience with.

      • blacktrance says:

        You’d want her to stick with you even though she doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to? I realize that this sounds uncharitable, but – how much do you actually care about her? Because if I were in that situation, and my partner said that, I’d assume they care more about preserving the form of the relationship more than they care about me. And then the relationship would be functionally dead.

        • Randy M says:

          I differ from you in this because I see myself as both more and less than you see yourself. More in that I am more than wants and feels; I am will, I am honor, I am an immortal soul. Less in that I am not longer an individual, but a member of a family; in a sense you are right that the relationship matters more than me or her, but that’s because we are the us instead of the I.

          This is all quite an antiquated view, no doubt, but it one we share and has served us well in terms of fulfillment over the last decade and a half, through various losses of career, three children, and a major illness/surgery, and I think that the holding of it makes the negative hypothetical suggested less likely in the long run, despite the risk being more severe.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            More in that I am more than wants and feels; I am will, I am honor, I am an immortal soul.

            I can’t speak for blacktrance (though I seem to agree with him on many issues), but I certainly think I am a mind—and I am perfectly happy with using soul as a synonym in the classical fashion. I don’t have any particular reason to suppose I am immortal—though it would be nice!

            I think I am more than momentary whims and emotions. I think I have a free will (though I don’t know if I’d say I am a will).

            “Honor” has always seemed to me a very nebulous concept combining such various things as virtue, self-respect, pride, social status, and public reputation—some of which I value more than others.

            Less in that I am not longer an individual, but a member of a family; in a sense you are right that the relationship matters more than me or her, but that’s because we are the us instead of the I.

            Here’s where the real disagreement lies.

            “Atomic individualism” is like the atomic theory of matter. The atomic theory of matter denies that macroscopic objects are anything more than the sum of their atomic parts. We don’t have a large grouping of atoms and also a tree besides. Neither is the tree a special element within the atoms. The tree is a large grouping of atoms, looked at in a certain way.

            Atomic individualism denies that there are any such ontologically basic entities as “relationship”, “family”, “nation”, or “race”. A relationship, a family, a nation, a race is nothing more or less than the sum of all the individuals within it. You do not have four individuals and also a family; “familiness” does not “inhere” in the individuals. “Family” is a way of referring to a certain group of individuals, from a certain perspective.

            Nothing can be “good” for the relationship, the family, the nation, the race except through being good for one or more of the particular individuals such terms refer to.

            Margaret Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society”, but I think the full context of her statement expresses the contradictory tendencies in conservatism:

            And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.

            There is no such thing as society, in the precise sense Thatcher meant: that it is not anything beyond individual men and women (and this is a basic tenet of “atomic individualism”). But in exactly the same respect, there is no such thing as the family. Yet conservatives often want to reject the reification of “society” while accepting the reification of the “family”.

          • Randy M says:

            “Here’s where the real disagreement lies.”

            Sure. I do not know whether the “one flesh” that a husband and wife become is metaphysical, purely symbolic, or poetic phrasing of biochemical changes that tend to occur, but I do believe it has a reality bigger than either of us individually.

            I will agree that a relationship including marriage that is “not good” for an individual is in need of change, but I think that that harm needs to go beyond not feeling like it some day (or even for a while).

            Also, above, I didn’t mean to imply that an unhappy spouse of mine would need to simply “suck it up” although that might be the last resort; the hypothetical was basically an unlikely sudden and unremitting hatred regardless of response. In the real world there is obligation to alter behavior to both parties satisfaction (though not necessarily in ways that would satisfy the Adam of the original posting).

            In any event, thanks for making me think through my quick responses.

            ” I think I have a free will (though I don’t know if I’d say I am a will).”
            I think that partly comes from a discussion in the sci-fi book Wyrms, where one of the characters introduces himself as Will, with it later coming out that this is more of a philosophy than a name. The view that a person is the sum of his behavior rather than of emotions or impulses that are not expressed (due to better judgment or cowardice or whatever) has stuck with me to an extent.

  36. John Schilling says:

    Generally speaking, I think the meta-level debate Scott is trying to provoke here is not well-served by the example of a nominally gay marriage. Marriage does generally include an object-level default of “No going to kinky sex clubs behind your partner’s back”. But, outside of the Red Tribe Heartland, it also includes couples writing their own wedding vows, prenuptual agreements, no-fault divorce, and a recognition of things like swinging and open marriages as weird but still marriages. And the Red Tribe cultural defaults went bye-bye when the spouses were named “Adam” and “Steve”.

    Just about everywhere else (in the contemporary US), marriage comes with a whole lot of defaults, one of which is “of course YMMV and you’ll want to customize this at least a little bit”. Which weakens the cultural power of all the other defaults and throws us back to the object-level question of whether in fact Adam negotiated a deal that encompassed kinky sex clubs instead of the default contract that disallows such.

    • gbdub says:

      But to say that monogamy cannot be assumed as the default for this marriage because the partners are gay is to explicitly admit the stereotype that Scott apologizes for perpetuating in the last paragraph. Scott tries to sidestep this by saying that everybody thinks wedding vows are boilerplate, but that’s not really true, and he seems to be trying to have it both ways. You can’t say “stereotypes are bad, but defaults should be ignored if you’re one of those people, who we all know are different”.

      • John Schilling says:

        In this context, “those people” means “everybody but hardcore Red Tribe”. Gay marriage is only relevant in that it reliably indicates we’re not dealing with hardcore Red Tribe. Anything that signals Not Red Tribe would have the same effect, in this case it just happens to be married + gay.

        And I think, “openly married gay people are not culturally members of the Red Tribe heartland” is not so much a stereotype, as nearly a tautology.

        • Gbdub says:

          I am 100% certain that the default position that marriage includes monogamy is NOT confined to the “hardcore Red Tribe”.

          Sure, other tribes are more accepting of “YMMV”, but you don’t say “your mileage may vary” unless you’ve already declared a default position! Acknowledging that you can negotiate outside the default is not rejecting the default or accepting that the default can be ignored sans discussion, which you seem to be asserting. “Weakened”, maaaaaybe, but not gone.

    • Deiseach says:

      But open marriages, swinging, write your own vows, pre-nuptial agreements and all the rest of it are negotiated or at least known to both parties before hand. You can’t make a unilateral decision in secret that “When I say ‘red’ I really mean ‘blue’ and my partner should realise that without me telling them”.

      If you turn around after a couple of years and say “Oh, you should know, when I said I would cherish you all our days I really meant I only wanted your money”, then you have no right to be offended when the other person is hurt.

      • Yes, exactly. I think you have to take the situation at the time of the marriage into consideration – if a couple were monogamous at the time they decided to get married, but one partner doesn’t want to be monogamous forever, it has to be their responsibility to make that clear.

        On the other hand, I don’t think many people would consider someone in the wrong to insist on a divorce even though they failed to explicitly point out “by the way, I don’t really mean that bit about until-death-do-us-part, if it turns out we can’t get along after ten years” before the wedding ceremony. So the broader culture is still important. It just isn’t the only factor.

  37. orthonormal says:

    Aha, so it *was* Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve…

    (Your stealth puns are the best.)

  38. I won’t fight a culture war so a few people can be more comfortable in some ‘default’ circle. Find people who like you *even though* you’re a pervert or an anti-transgender fossil. We have cities and Internet. Archipelago. (I do feel badly for people with unloving biological extended families simply for a setting of the social default, but their familial loyalty+love deficiency is the real culprit).

    Dude shouldn’t have married+adopted. What a prick (and a liar – he knew he’d screw around, regardless of fetish). Still, easy to fix (divorce, or monogamous husband learns to don’t-ask-don’t-tell – except for ending things, all solutions are some variation on how hard you wink).

    Nice observation that “default for gay men” is more orgies and less monogamy. Definitely colors things.

  39. Tom Scharf says:

    It could just as easily have been written:

    “Anyone who does not respect their * parents * enough to allow them to call them by their given name does not then get to go “oh! you not wanting to let me repeatedly hurt you is breaking apart our family, how unreasonable of you!”

    I am growing weary of the “biggest victim wins” contest regardless of the facts and the values of the people involved. Particularly victimhood is increased when it is counter cultural. But a child molester can see himself as a victim of an oppressive majority pretty easily. A conservative social scientist can easily declare he is a victim of an oppressive majority. But they are the wrong kind of victim, because they are outside the tribe, yet being a victim outside the tribe is supposed to enhance your victimhood, right?

    You need to have a defining characteristic that is different, but still be in the tribe for this to work. You need to be an allowable victim.

    It’s pretty relative and Mr. Cynic seems to think this is just another manipulative tool to advance a tribal social agenda. This technique allows one to bypass moral judgments of the opposition by declaring their moral judgments superior merely by the fact that they are either a minority or are self diagnosed as hurt more. Being a wimp is power! Or something.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      Yes, that is Scott’s point, at least as far as I understood it.

    • Technically Not Anonymous says:

      > But a child molester can see himself as a victim of an oppressive majority pretty easily.

      He would be wrong, because he raped children. What he describes as oppression is actually justice.

      >A conservative social scientist can easily declare he is a victim of an oppressive majority.

      It’s much less severe than what transgender people face, but he would be more or less correct. Relevant reading.

      • Anonymous says:

        He would be wrong, because he raped children.

        What if the “child” was actually a young adult, and their intercourse was consensual? Per the legal system, that’s rape too.

        • caryatis says:

          Not true, unless your definition of “young adult” is under 18.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            Are you talking legal definition or social definition? Because if the first, sure, it is what it is. If the second, there are a lot of seventeen-year-olds who are way more emotionally and intellectually prepared for sex than some nineteen-year-olds.

          • Anonymous says:

            Talking about ~13+ year olds, ages at which males can impregnate and females can become pregnant. In the past, it was not considered especially weird for marriages to occur at these ages.

          • caryatis says:

            @Slightly Anonymized: True, but there is also a value to having a clear and predictable legal rule.

            To the extent that statutory rape laws prevent adult men from having legal sex with teenagers in the 13-17 range who are mature enough to consent, I think that’s a small price to pay to prevent the greater number of sex acts between teenagers and adults that are not fully consensual. (Consider, for instance, that most relationships 13-17-year-olds have are not going to last; and consider that the law doesn’t outlaw romantic relationships, it just mandates that until the younger party turns 18 the relationship cannot be sexual.)

            @Anonymous: neither legally nor morally does ability to become pregnant equal ability to consent.

          • Anonymous says:

            @caryatis

            Being a sapient human qualifies you to consent. By the time people are sexually mature, they are (barring severe medical conditions) sapient.

            (Consider, for instance, that most relationships 13-17-year-olds have are not going to last; and consider that the law doesn’t outlaw romantic relationships, it just mandates that until the younger party turns 18 the relationship cannot be sexual.)

            The law should arguably permit these sexual relationships, provided the parties are married.

          • Anonymous says:

            A bizarre and highly rare medical condition is not a refutation of policy suggestions intended for the healthy majority.

            Re: sapience – by that standard, the vast majority of human beings are non-sapient.

          • caryatis says:

            Early menstruation is not that uncommon. Since you’re saying that you should be able to have sex with children if the child is able to become pregnant, the age doesn’t matter.

            Edit: yes, sapience is too high a standard for determining ability to consent to sex. I think you meant sentience, although that’s too low a standard since every human, even an infant, is sentient.

          • Anonymous says:

            Yeah, I meant ‘sapience’ in the common meaning of that mental quality that separates us from animals.

            I see nothing inappropriate about basing the legal permission to have sex on the ability to have that sex productively and with relative safety. A precociously menstruating girl is iffy on both counts. A teenager, especially with access to modern medicine, is on solid ground for that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            I think there is solid legal, developmental and practical grounds to restrict those who have not fully developed from fully engaging in the adult world. This protects both the adolescent and the the world.

            Around sex and 13 year olds, especially in a culture that does not very frequently talk about sex honestly and openly to those 13 year olds, I think this is especially relevant. The kinds of interactions that would occur between 28 year olds and 13 year olds would be highly likely to be damaging to the 13 year old.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sure.

            Doesn’t meant that a different policy is necessarily wrong, given specific circumstances.

  40. perpippity says:

    This is crazy. Steve should leave Adam immediately, or decide he’s okay with a.) the constant comparison to all these other sex partners and b.) the massive risk that Adam will catch an STD of some sort (the rates of which are far higher among gay men than any other pairing) and pass it along to Steve, either by not knowing about it in time or by remaining silent– and it’s not as though Adam has huge amounts of credibility on the personal-honesty front. Steve is, frankly, a fool for getting hitched to someone that it seems fairly clear he doesn’t know very well, but since the status quo is on Adam’s side, Steve needs to fish or cut bait.

    My advice, if it wasn’t clear, would be to Steve to face the fact that there’s going to be massive disruption of his life as he extricates himself from an idiotic marriage, plunge ahead with it, figure out what to tell the kids (since as the more responsible partner he will probably, and should, end up with them), lick his wounds, and vow to be more careful next time.

    • Deiseach says:

      Definitely if Adam has been patronising fetish clubs and having sex with strangers without telling Steve, there is a huge breach of trust there regarding the possibility of STIs. And that doesn’t matter if they’re both male, both female, one of each, or any other variation.

      The more sexual partners you have, the greater your chance of encountering an infection. I presume fetish clubs are pretty careful about using protection, but the only 100% foolproof never fails method is to not have any sex with another person at all, so the risk is definitely there.

      If Steve is unaware of, or has not agreed to, Adam being sexually active outside of marriage and Adam has done so or intends to do so, then Adam needs to be very sure he’s not going to infect Steve.

    • Avo says:

      I’m shocked that Scott and all commenters up until now ignored the STD issue. This is objective, not cultural (if we assume that all cultures believe that getting diseases is bad). Steve is being asked to assume a new risk to his own health. Whether that risk is “big” or “small” has a cultural component, but Steve, as an individual, has the right to set that new risk at zero if he so chooses. So it seems to me that there is an objective answer here, that Steve is right.

      • caryatis says:

        We don’t even know whether the sex act in question involves STI risk.

        • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

          Thank you.

          As a live example, sexual contact, or even physical contact, is optional for both of my preferred erotic activities. (If it’s my option, I’ll take it, but it’s still optional.) I know many people for whom it is not only optional, it’s rare-to-never-happens.

  41. Deiseach says:

    This is why I could never be a psychiatrist/psychologist/counsellor either therapeutic or marriage. Or Dan Savage 🙂

    I’m much too inclined to go “You got married. What do you think that meant? Put up or leave.”

    I don’t care if the couple is same-sex, opposite-sex, any combination of orientations of the alphabet of LGBTQIA+. First, I presume A and B were cohabiting before deciding to marry. And only now B finds out they like kinky stuff and their sex life was too boring and vanilla? Yeah, right.

    Second, why the hell get married if the pair of you haven’t discussed what your understanding and expectations of marriage is and are? This is why the Catholic Church requires couples do pre-marriage courses! Of course, the couples usually consider those in the light of box-ticking exercises they have to go through before they can have the Big Fairytale Wedding and don’t take them seriously as preparation, but at least it should make some of them think about what they are getting into.

    If A has one idea of what marriage means and B has another, sooner or later they are going to run into problems. This is what you sort out before you start planning the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses, because this is what is important (were I dictator of the world, one of the first things I’d do is ban all romantic comedies and the stupid ‘big princess dress under the floral arch we wrote our own vows’ ending because that only perpetuates these overblown notions of a wedding being one day only).

    Third, there are kids involved. Adopted, foster, natural, from previous relationships – it doesn’t matter. Now the pair of you are supposed to be parents and adults and you put their needs first. If your tingle in the loins gets in the way of the happiness and health of the minors dependent on you, tie a knot in it.

    This is partly why crusty old conservatives like me are always banging on about marriage is not about Twu Wuv romantic feelings and the Big Fairytale Celebration. It’s what comes afterwards and what you have to do to live together, and it is a big, freakin’ deal.

    I’m not going to render judgements on anyone. I don’t care if A is guy, gal or other, and likewise for B. I don’t care if B is the put-upon husband or the wronged wife, and I don’t care if A is the man who can’t keep his hands off a little strange or B is the woman looking for that romantic soul-mate who will fulfil her (or indeed vice versa). Doubtless both parties feel equally hard done by and misunderstood.

    You want to gamble through the meads picking the flowers of passion and great kinky sex? Knock yourselves out. But not when you’re married – unless both of you are very clear you want an open relationship and/or are polyamorous. And it’s not about you, or even the emotional wishes of the couple. Marriage is family, like it or lump it. If you can’t both agree that monogamy is for the birds, then don’t marry. Especially if you only marry because you feel you are being pressured into it, either overtly or subtly, with expectations from your partner/your families/others that it’s about time you settled down, you’ve been together for years, well it’s not looking like any better offer is on the horizon, you/they want kids, your career would go better if you were seen to be in a stable relationship like marriage, etc.

    • Fen says:

      I agree with this.

      (I would also like to say, Deiseach, I always enjoy reading your comments, even when I don’t agree!)

      Regardless of what your (or their) specific desires are, communication is of the utmost importance before entering into any sort of contract. Make sure, as much as you can, that no one’s preferences are going to make future aspects of your combined life difficult.
      And if you realize that they will, no contract.

      On a related note, I’m a little confused on the emphasis on libido in some of the other discussion? There are lots of things which humans find pleasurable, but which we limit because indulging (too much/too often/at all) could be harmful to ourselves or our situation. Why is sex any different?
      Obviously this is my own preference showing, but I don’t see why resisting sex clubs is a huge burden, especially if the other potential burden is losing someone you love and your family.

      • perpippity says:

        “There are lots of things which humans find pleasurable, but which we limit because indulging (too much/too often/at all) could be harmful to ourselves or our situation. Why is sex any different?”

        You are, apparently, not a man. Women in general have a hard time realizing how often a man would have sex and with what array of partners if he could have anything he wanted. (I am a straight man, and the ability to be that promiscuous is one of the things I would ask gay men about, if I knew any promiscuous ones.) It’s so alien to women’s perspective on sex, and so repellant to those women who want to believe that what’s true for them is true for humanity, that the delusion otherwise is one that men don’t generally bother trying to dispel.

        • caryatis says:

          This isn’t a dispute about how strong someone’s libido is. Even assuming that you’re right about the male sex drive, many men are still able to exercise self-control. A man who has agreed to be monogamous is obliged to do so.

          • Anonymous says:

            Of course.

            It’s a pity that the societal expectation of marital obligations in our times has gone from max(his_libido,her_libido) to min(his_libido,her_libido), though.

          • Fen says:

            Exactly.

            There is nothing “repellant” to me about someone who wants to have sex 100 times a week, etc. But if having sex 101 times a week causes serious stress in other areas in their life, why do it?

        • blacktrance says:

          That’s the stereotype, but to what extent are men actually like that? I’m a man and am not asexual, and yet these kinds of desires sound alien to me. Nor do most of my male friends seem to be like that.

          • stillnotking says:

            I would enjoy having anonymous sex with many different attractive women, but it seems a bit like eating ice cream for every meal; I would definitely want a stable, affectionate, monogamous relationship eventually. Probably after not very long, although never having experienced quite that much abundance, I can’t say for sure. 🙂

          • Patrick says:

            I wouldn’t make assumptions based on how men “seem.”

            If I lived in a fantasy land where I could have consequence free sex as much as I wanted with whomever I wanted, I think about three times a day with a variety if partners would be my break point. But I don’t live there. I live here. I lack the charisma to make that happen, and in any case I have other emotional needs that are fulfilled via a monogamous relationship with a very specific woman. Were I given the option to choose, I would pick the life I have. People try to maximize preferences globally, not locally.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            I Know that this is an impertinent question, so don’t answer if you don’t want to.

            Do you get “blue balls”?

            Until my mid twenties I just assumed that every post-pubescent male on the planet had to either get laid (or otherwise self service) on a fairly regular basis if they didn’t want to walk around grumpy, irritable, and with their nuts in vice.

            https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/

          • 578493 says:

            ‘Blue balls’ can be cured by a quick wank though, yeah? For that reason I’ve never quite understood the idea of a purely physical desperate need for frequent sex.

          • blacktrance says:

            No, I’ve never experienced anything like that. I once tried going for an extended period without any sexual activity just to see what would happen, and after several days my sex drive disappeared altogether.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            @ 578493

            Provisionally yes, but my own experience is that a quick wank is a poor substitute for a proper orgasm and that anything more than temporary relief is going to to require a bit more time/effort than simply “rubbing one out” in the bathroom.

            @ Blacktrance

            Fair enough, and intellectually I get that. But at the same time the experience is a bit alien to me in much the same way it would be to imagine being color blind.

          • Anonymous says:

            To HlynkaCG, speaking as a man who has a robust sex drive:

            The whole idea of “blue balls” is alien to me.

            I’m not a native English speaker; as far as I can tell “blue balls” can mean two things:
            1 – frustration or grumpiness from not having sex or masturbating for a while.
            2 – frustration or grumpiness from being around an attractive woman for a while without having sex with her.

            I do enjoy orgasms a lot, but I never, ever feel grumpy or frustrated just because I skip them.
            And no, my sex drive doesn’t disappear if I go without masturbating, but the thing is, unreleased sexual tension feels alright to me.
            And if I’m around an attractive woman, even if she does not have sex with me, it makes me feel better, because female beauty and sexiness are uplifting, and yes, I feel more sexual, which, again, is alright, whether or not there is a release.
            Don’t all men enjoy looking at attractive women, whether or not they have sex with them?
            Sex is something I want a lot, but not because I think I’ll be in a bad mood if I miss it.

          • “Blue balls” is an actual physical reaction to being sexually aroused for an extended period of time without orgasm. I have very occasionally observed it in myself. In my case mildly uncomfortable, not excruciatingly painful.

            http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/q-and-a/a815/blue-balls/

        • Anonymous says:

          Um. Speak for yourself.

          More verbosely: Sure, sex drive is powerful for (many) men. More powerful than the drive for, say, chocolate. But both drives can be subordinated to the will, and indeed need to be for the man to function in adult society.

        • John Schilling says:

          People seem to be talking past each other here; there are two assertions in play. First, that men who have agreed to monogamy ought to refrain from having sex with other women. Second, that men who have agreed to monogamy ought to not want to have sex with other women. Please make sure you are being clear as to which you are addressing.

        • Svejk says:

          Are there many modern western women who have not been repeatedly exposed to the idea that men have voracious sexual appetites? It seems it has thoroughly permeated popular culture, and is enthusiastically disseminated by men themselves. If I had to pick an under-appreciated dark secret of human sexuality, I would point to womens’ seemingly far greater inherent potential for kink (as indicated both by measured arousal capacity and the truly extraordinary array of erotica currently produced for consumption via Kindle ). Women do seem to be keeping mum about that.

        • LHN says:

          I remember that one. (Or at least I’m pretty sure I do– I remember a megathread that sounds a lot like it, circa 2000.)

          Oddly, while a few headers from the discussion can be called up in Google Groups, the articles themselves seem to have gone down the memory hole. (Clicking on a link gets “The requested topic cannot be found. It might have been deleted.”)

          Perhaps it was determined that it was best the secret remain buried.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Sexuality is probably seen as being more central to a person’s identity than, say, drug use, or their taste in junk food.

        But hasn’t there been a movement in general towards a greater acceptance of indulgence of people’s various appetites?

    • Drdg says:

      Your comment, I think, is a good example for the problem discussed in the original post. (Our judgment for the case being strongly influenced by our background – cultural, social, individual experience etc.) You believe that the best for the family would be to stay together, and for the adults who don’t feel happy in their marriage to just suck it up and stay for the kids. However, I can assure you that there are many people who would strongly oppose to this sentiment and call it a harmful idea: they are people who grew up in dysfunctional families where the parents hated each other but stayed together just *for the kids*.

      “And only now B finds out they like kinky stuff and their sex life was too boring and vanilla? Yeah, right.”

      Are you suggesting that sexual preference is something constant and couldn’t possibly change over time? Strange belief.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think something as large as “sex with you is too vanilla and unsatisfying” is a big leap, if they’ve been cohabiting before marriage (and I have no reason to think they’ve been living chastely and saving themselves for marriage).

        There’s a couple of questions involved here, and I’d rather stick to calling them A and B because I don’t want to make any suggestions or implications or what you will about gay versus straight versus men versus women.

        A may or may not have been aware of their sexual requirements, needs, fantasises and desires before getting into a relationship with B. A and B may or may not have tried to compromise on these. Is it the particular kink A gets off on, or is it that the kink is with strangers? Because if the important part is “this is with a stranger I don’t know and will never meet again”, it’s going to be very tough to come to an agreement on that. B agreeing to shove custard pies in A’s face will not satisfy A if the thrill is from a stranger doing it, not from the custard pie qua custard pie.

        The second question, and the really fundamental problem, is when A says that they had no intention of sticking by the promises they made. That their understanding of what is involved in marriage is different from that of B. That apparently A never discussed with B their different interpretations of “is the monogamy and sexual fidelity requirement live or simply an archaic social expectation?”. That seemingly, for the sake of peace and not rocking the boat (and selfish motives as well as selfless ones are both at work here), A has been willing to let B think that they are on the same page, so to speak.

        This is the real breach of trust. What other ‘obvious’ things is B wrong about? What else has A paid lip service to, without meaning to carry it out? Myself, the first thing I’d look at is the finances: has A run up large bills or loans with no intention of repaying them, and will B find themselves carrying the can as spouse for paying them (this happened a client of ours; when her husband left, she found herself responsible for paying debts she had no idea existed).

        • Drdg says:

          Well, I don’t find it a surprisingly big leap, keeping in mind how much anxiety, self-doubt and shame there still exists in society when it comes to the topic of sex.
          Especially, if something as not widely accepted as kinky sex is on plate – I could very easily imagine the person A struggling with their *disgusting urges* for years before coming to terms with themselves.

      • Randy M says:

        I grew up during the “dysfunctional but together” part of my parents life, versus the divorced period of the my younger siblings.
        I definitely think I got the better end of that bargain.

        • Drdg says:

          Of course NAPFDF. Hoped that would be readable from my comment.

          Besides, there are many degrees and varieties of the type of dysfunction starting from lack of warmness between spouses up to them trying to beat each other to death, and very important variety – the level of children involvement in all that mess.
          However, I was pointing out that this is again the same question of how our background influences our judgment when discussing a given case.

          • Randy M says:

            Surely, and I don’t claim to speak for anyone beyond myself here, just that I think we’ve reached the level where the new conventional wisdom has moved past “stay together for the children” well into “get divorced for the children” and wanted to provide an annecdote for the former.

    • caryatis says:

      Agreed. It blows my mind that someone would consider divorce over a fetish. If you develop a sexual interest your spouse isn’t into, you get to masturbate, but that’s it. Fulfilling every possible sexual desire is not a basic need.

      You weren’t forced to marry, and you weren’t forced to agree to monogamy, so you are bound by the terms of the contract you freely entered into.

      • Drdg says:

        “Fulfilling every possible sexual desire is not a basic need.”

        It’s not, but for some people it is crucial for their psychological comfort. As for the example case, it goes down to the possibility for both parties to negotiate new arrangement (from maintaining monogamy up to divorce). For us bystanders, it’s the reminder to check the origins of our strong opinions about the case.

        • Fen says:

          “It’s not, but for some people it is crucial for their psychological comfort”

          For those people, how many consider that more important to their psychological comfort than maintaining an otherwise completely fulfilling relationship?

          I have a hard time imagining someone who would say, “Having x amount (or y type) of sex is more important to me than the fact that I’ve found someone whom I love, respect, enjoy, agree with on major life issues, have compatible goals to, etc.”

          I got the impression from the post that all other aspects of Adam and Steve’s relationship were mutually beneficial?

          • RPLong says:

            The truth is that in a real-life marriage you can’t separate sex from all the other aspects of marriage. No one can carry on a meaningful long-term relationship with a spouse that just happens to be absent of sex.

            So, as you can see, celibacy is one example of a situation that refutes your point. The question is whether there are other such situations?

            I believe there are other such situations, one of which being Adam and Steve’s situation. Adam’s behavior is incompatible with the needs of his family. Steve will never be able to form a close bond with Adam – as close a bond as is needed to see their marriage through things like Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, the death of a child, etc. – if Adam continues to engage in activity that pains Steve to such a degree.

          • Fen says:

            (For whatever reason, I’m not able to reply to RPLong’s comment…)

            “The truth is that in a real-life marriage you can’t separate sex from all the other aspects of marriage. No one can carry on a meaningful long-term relationship with a spouse that just happens to be absent of sex.
            So, as you can see, celibacy is one example of a situation that refutes your point.”

            I’m not so sure about that. I’m personally familiar with relationships made of people who have no sex, or very little, or very vanilla, etc, who at least appear to be (and express to me that they are) as happy as the happy couples I know who have average/lots of sex.

            Granted that could just be my weird bubble, but it seems like a stretch to say that celibate marriages are somehow inherently invalid.

          • RPLong says:

            @ Fen

            I’m not sure you’d be able to detect the issue by observation. Plenty of couples are ostensibly happy despite private discord. You’d need greater insight than that to know for sure.

          • Drdg says:

            “For those people, how many consider that more important to their psychological comfort than maintaining an otherwise completely fulfilling relationship?”

            How could I know “how many”? Besides, the primary factors for the psychological comfort can change with time. A poly person fells in love with a mono person so deeply, that the poly has no second thoughts about give up that part of their preference just to be with the mono person (primary factor – the fulfilling relationship). But some time later, while still being deeply in love with the mono, the poly person realizes that this mono arrangement is becoming more and more like a torture. (Now which is the primary factor? Is it only one?) And then you have the story of Adam and Steve, what will they do? How they will solve this problem?

        • caryatis says:

          “For some people [fulfilling every possible sexual desire] is crucial for their psychological comfort.”

          How do you know this? I can’t prove it, but it’s intuitively obvious to me that no particular sexual act is necessary for happiness. Why are you so sure that having a desire and not acting on it will cause psychological discomfort?

          • Drdg says:

            @ caryatis

            Apparently, it seems obvious to you because you don’t have experience with some kind of abstinence notably influencing your psychology.

            There are people who can live all their life in complete sexual abstinence and don’t feel any disturbance in their character, and then there are people who after a month of abstinence become a caricature of a teenage boy.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            s/for\ happiness/for\ my\ happiness

            Fixed that for you.

            You’ve never been in my head. You don’t know what it’s like. I’ll thank you not to try to tell me you know it better than I do. For one thing, if you did, you’d never sleep again. For another, no you don’t.

            As someone who does have two extremely powerful paraphilias – one of which is this/close to being an actual fetish – and a sex drive which most people would assume was some sort of joke, I assure you that your intuition is not serving you well.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Slightly Anonymized Poster – On the one hand, I have no real idea what your life is like, and would hate to presume. On the other hand, sexual activity being necessary for psychological well-being sounds an awful lot like “incel”.

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            s/”incel”/”incel”\ to\ me

            I can do this all night. Well, no I can’t – I have to go to bed at some point – but I’m sure you take my meaning.

            I do not doubt that my sex drive is outside most people’s experience. It is, nonetheless, real, and it has nothing to do with “incel.” And I am quite confident that while it is unusual it is far from unique.

            I will make you a deal: I will not call you a bloodless eunuch or any metaphorical equivalent thereof, or imply that you are one, if you will not call me a nymphomaniac or any metaphorical equivalent thereof, or imply that I am one. What do you say?

          • caryatis says:

            But isn’t it true that some people are obligated not to act on their sexual desires? For instance, if you couldn’t find a partner or if you developed a fantasy that couldn’t or shouldn’t become real, you would have to abstain. I guess you’re claiming that you would be unable to be happy in that case?

          • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

            @caryatis:

            Of course it’s true, if for no other reason than acting on some of the more… exotic… ones will get you legally sanctioned and/or incur a massive cleanup bill.

            However, that (at least the first one) was true of homosexuality for a long time in most places and is still true of homosexuality today in many.

            If you are speaking of the benefits of self-discipline in general, we’re back to the “Have you tried not being gay? I’m sure you could do it if you tried” mode of thinking. A person could avoid doing homosexual stuff. They could not avoid being homosexual. How much doing the first while living the second will affect your ability to be happy is dependent on the individual, just as it is for heterosexuals. And the same applies to paraphiliacs and fetishists.

      • overfragmented says:

        Which of these is driving your response: the pettiness of sexual needs or the agreement to enter into the contract? Are your intuitions different if it is a new, non-sexual desire? If it’s a desire that Adam made clear he had and expected to get met before the marriage, and Steve agreed to?

        • Esquire says:

          Jumping in, but I don’t really get your confusion.

          (A) Non-sexual desire – seems same intuitions clearly apply.
          (B) Desire they mutually agreed to – seems clearly the opposite.

          What would be an example of a steelman non-petty sympathetic desire? A desire to selflessly dedicate one’s life to charity – say moving to the DRC to hand out mosquito nets?

          I would still say “tough luck buddy”, but maybe I’m atypical?

          • overfragmented says:

            The comment I was responding to made two points. One of them was about sexual desire (“not a basic need”) and one of them was about agreements (“bound by terms”). I wanted to know which one was the driving issue in the conclusion. I did not find this obvious.

        • Deiseach says:

          Mutual agreement is different. If Steve and Adam had agreed before marriage that it would be open, and then Steve found himself struggling with jealousy and with not wanting Adam to be sexually intimate with others, Adam would have reason to be aggrieved.

          Now, if Adam has only recently admitted to himself “I really like dressing up as a penguin and having people shout abuse at me”, then that’s an entry on the sympathy for his position side. If he was unaware of such desires, or thought that by marrying Steve he could squash those impulses, then he wasn’t being completely deceitful.

          But if Adam contends, as he seems to be doing here, that he got married and made the vows with the clear intention of not sticking to them, and that he had no intention of being faithful, and that he regarded such a requirement as nugatory, then he should have made that clear to Steve before taking such a step. And by not doing so, and by letting Steve continue in the assumption that what he intended by marriage was the same as what Adam intended, then Adam has been consciously, deliberately, and wilfully deceitful – and deceived the person he claims to love, to be most close to, to be emotionally and otherwise committed to, to be the one with whom he has meaningful physical intimacy.

          It’s a breach of trust and it’s hard to mend. What else has he been crossing his fingers about? What other surprises will Steve encounter? What does Adam mean by commitment?

        • caryatis says:

          overfragmented: “Which of these is driving your response: the pettiness of sexual needs or the agreement to enter into the contract?”

          Both. Generally people should be held to agreements they make. There is an exception, as Scott said, for an unconscionable contract like someone selling herself into slavery. But (as I think even polyamorists would agree) promising monogamy is not unconscionable, so the default of holding people to their promises applies.

          The same applies with a new non-sexual desire of sufficient importance (something like agreeing to have children or not).
          Not sure I understand your third question. If Adam and Steve agreed to nonmonogamy before marriage, then both would be bound just as above.

          EDIT: Taking out the part where I suggested there’s a difference between minor and major changes to the agreement. After further thought, since marriage is such a complex and long-lasting agreement, not everything can be spelled out explicitly at the beginning of the relationship. So it’s reasonable to request a change (either with a minor or major thing.) But, where there is an explicit agreement, the burden is on the party who wants the change to either convince their spouse that the new way is better or else deal with the old arrangement that they agreed to.

    • Lasagna says:

      Great comment. This increasingly old, and starting to flirt with crusty-conservatism agrees. 🙂

      Third, there are kids involved. Adopted, foster, natural, from previous relationships – it doesn’t matter. Now the pair of you are supposed to be parents and adults and you put their needs first. If your tingle in the loins gets in the way of the happiness and health of the minors dependent on you, tie a knot in it.

      You use a word here that I (and the other posters that have agreed with you) entirely missed, and it’s the most important one: adult. I feel like there isn’t much acknowledgment here that the hedonism of youth should give way to the responsibilities of adulthood, particularly after marriage and definitely after kids.

    • Jaskologist says:

      A lot of people upthread are talking about “but what if I later decide I don’t want to be married?” as if it’s some unforeseen edge case. It’s not; dealing with those are precisely why the marriage vows are structured to very explicitly emphasize that it is a pledge for life. If you didn’t want to commit for life, the proper course of action was not to commit for life.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        But the amount of self-binding in relation to the future one is allowed to do is limited.

        That’s why you cannot sign a slavery contract, or a non-dischargeable debt, or an agreement to submit to private sharia arbitration for all the offenses you commit in the future, or a no-divorce-allowed marriage.

        The reason these things aren’t allowed is essentially that it is not thought to be in the public interest to enforce them. And the fundamental reason for that is essentially the Lockean idea that there is an inalienable right to liberty: that liberty is a fundamental requirement of human life and happiness; that it is never rational and thus always immoral to fully abdicate one’s liberty; and as the law exists to promote the welfare of people by protecting their rights, it shouldn’t enforce even the voluntary abdication of one’s liberty rights.

        Of course, it is a balancing act. Any contract restrict’s one’s liberty to some degree. The question is where the line is to be drawn. And it seems it ought to be drawn in a place where the benefits of self-binding tend to be outweighed by the harms.

        Locking people into foolish marriages for life with no recourse for divorce at all seems well to the “more harm than good” side. But perhaps only allowing “at will” divorce is too far to the other side. Covenant marriage, which one can get out of but with many restrictions, might just be a good balance.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Did Locke himself argue that pledging oneself to lifelong marriage is wrong? (Genuine question, not some “gotcha” attempt.)

  42. Patrick says:

    The initial act of cheating can be condemned without first accepting any social norms about monogamy as objectively proper. All we have to do is ask whether it was reasonable of Adam to assume Steve would be ok with his sex club visit without bothering to check. We can use cultural values to predict Steve’s likely preferences without accepting those values.

    Example: a hypothetical culture where it is the predominant practice that one spouse will ritually honor the others deceased ancestors once per week. Sally and Carl are native to this culture, and Sally has been performing this ritual for a year. One day she stops without telling her husband. We don’t have to agree that this ritual is a good idea to notice that her husband will probably be hurt when he finds out, and to think that the moral thing for Sally to do, if she wants to stop performing the ritual, is to talk to her husband about it first. This is true even if we think the ritual is stupid; this is true even if, after talking to her husband, it turns out her husband is fine with it.

    The question of how Adam and Steve should structure their relationship is separate from the one of whether it’s ok to restructure the relationship without your partners advance consent, particularly on a subject like fidelity where there is no reasonable excuse for not knowing that the cultural context in which you live is one in which your partner is likely to consider this issue particularly important and emotionally involved.

    And it’s difficult to analyze this without the context of Adams initial and significant moral wrong.

    TLDR- you’re framing this like “Our marriage isn’t working for me. I’d like to change it.” But it sounds more like “I’ve been secretly doing something I reasonably expected would hurt you and you caught me; screw you and your feelings, I’ll leave you if you insist I stop.” However you feel about kink clubs, the larger issue is an apparent willingness to risk Steve’s feelings and to use divorce brinksmanship to blackmail him into accepting it after the fact.

    TLDR more- it’s fine to stick it in, it’s not fine to stick it in without asking on the assumption that you can browbeat her into not making a scene.

    • stillnotking says:

      Yep, I agree. I don’t think the object-level issue has much to do with anything at all. Unless you believe that it’s perfectly OK to break an agreement in a knowingly hurtful way without consulting the other party first, which is an incoherent position on any account of morality that I’m familiar with, Adam was clearly in the wrong. The moral status of extramarital sex itself is irrelevant.

      The further stipulation that the wronged party has priority in deciding consequences and remedies seems equally obvious.

  43. Darcey says:

    I’m going to be one of the “Duuuuuhhhh” people, but this is extremely clear, concise, and well-written, and now I will have something to refer back to next time this topic comes up. =)

  44. Joe says:

    I have to disagree with the transgender example. I don’t think you have to agree with gender theory to call someone by their chosen name or pronouns. Just like I don’t think you have to be Catholic to call a priest father. It’s just polite to humor other people and their beliefs even if you think the other person mentally ill.

    • perpippity says:

      I don’t think your call-a-priest-father example works, because it’ll be a rare priest who will insist that you call him father. I also don’t think there’s a solution with the TG example. Either the family will agree to it or not, and the TG person will decide to come or not based on the conditions set by the host. It’s just a matter of who wants what, more. As has often been said, the person who is most able to walk away controls the deal.

      • Joe says:

        My point was that neither party has to adopt the others worldview. The family can just be polite and use a chosen name and pronouns without believing in gender theory. I would expect the family to capitulate to the transgender person because “she” is the volnerable mentally ill family member.

        • gbdub says:

          Eh, using the priest example, it’s more like you’ve been calling him “Father” every day for a decade and came to love him under that name, and now he insists you call him “Rabbi” and gets very angry if you don’t.

          If names are really just names, then “politely accepting what other people call you for a day” should be no more troubling than “politely accepting what someone wants you to call them for a day”.

          Of course it’s not that easy because identity is very important to people and can affect our mental health. But while I think it’s fair to say that your personal identity is more important than your mental model of another person’s identity, it’s not fair or true to say the latter holds no weight at all. It certainly means a lot to a transgendered person to have other’s accept their gender identity – but a child is a huge part of a parent’s identity too, and asking them to flip their mental model of their child’s gender isn’t as simple as “politely swap names and pronouns for a day”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ gdub
            If names are really just names, then “politely accepting what other people call you for a day” should be no more troubling than “politely accepting what someone wants you to call them for a day”.

            In any case, _remembering_ to say ‘tomahto’ instead of ‘tomayto’ every time is a lot more difficult. Fumbles will happen, people out of the loop will be confused, big deals will be made. With all due support for TG, perhaps this is a case where the TG might ignore pronouns and such for the space of the holiday.

            I wonder what Miss Manners would say to this question. Or probably has, bless her.

    • How far are you willing to carry the “just polite” position? Orthodox Jews have objections to using the name of God. I don’t know the details of the rules, but they produce written usages such as G*D. If you are carrying on a conversation in text online where one of the participants is Orthodox, would you feel it was polite to do the same?

      Muslims, when mentioning Mohammed, routinely add “God’s blessing upon him, his kindred and his companion train.” If you got into a conversation with a Muslim where Mohammed was mentioned, would you feel politeness obliged you to do the same?

      How about, if you were a believing Christian talking with a Muslim, referring to Jesus as “The Prophet Issus Ibn Maryam?” That comes closer to the case we are discussing, since that locution implies a factual belief (Jesus as a prophet rather than divine) that the hypothetical you doesn’t hold. Like referring to someone you consider male as “she.”

      • Joe says:

        No I would feel no obligation to use the modifiers you discribe. I have never heard of Jews or Muslims asking this of people they’re talking to. If they did make such a request I would probably lose interest in talking to them.

        • Why is their requesting that you use terminology that is important to them unreasonable, a transgender person insisting on using terminology important to him or her reasonable–in both cases as requests for politeness?

          • Joe says:

            Because in the situation in the OP the transperson is family. Most Jews and Muslims don’t kill themselves because someone didn’t use the same modifiers as them.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I think a closer analogy is insisting upon calling God “the invisible sky faerie” in every discussion you have with a religious person—and indeed bringing this up whether or not the topic of the discussion is religion. Perhaps God is nothing more real or worthy of respect than an invisible sky faerie and you’re just stating the truth as you see it: but insisting upon mocking their religious beliefs at every opportunity is just being an asshole.

        Insisting upon misgendering transgender people in every conversation is mocking and insulting in the same way. (We’re not talking about doing so accidentally.) Not only are you implying that you think their beliefs are full of shit, you’re making every conversation about the issue.

        More importantly, I think the beliefs of transgender people really objectively do deserve more respect because they are actually true—or at least quite likely to be true. Of course, that’s not the argument Joe was making.

        But given that this is the case, I think the situation is more akin to a fundamentalist Christian calling Hindus “devil worshipers”. “I ain’t gonna call ’em no damn HIN-dooohs. They worship the devil, and I’m gonna call ’em what they are: devil worshipers!” He is calling them what he sincerely believes them to be, but in fact Hindus do not worship the devil. So not only is he being needlessly insulting, but he’s wrong on top of it.

        • Mary says:

          “Insisting upon misgendering transgender people ”

          You assume your conclusion right there. That is the very point under dispute.

          • Joe says:

            I think that’s my beef with the Scotts OP heteronormative defaults are so meta and fundamental they can’t be changed. At what point does “kink” become “vanilla”? As soon as you reset the default.
            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=U5qutHb0BUE

            Try coming up with gender theory without strong heteronormative gender stereotypes/roles clothing hairstyles.

  45. Oliver Cromwell says:

    This is an uninteresting problem caused by contractual ambiguity and raises no important moral dilemma. Neither of these men knew what they were signing because marriage no longer has a commonly understood meaning. (It is mildly ironic that this problem is biting two gay men in the proverbial ass but not really the key point.) Contractual ambiguity is a generic problem not specific to social relationships; contractual ambiguity, and state limitations on the range of possible contractual terms, retarded economic development for millennia. The solution is freedom of contract.

    In this general circumstance the solution is to abolish state-sponsored marriage which is, as you point out, “legal boilerplate”, forcing people to agree individually tailored contracts that meet their actual needs and desires from a binding legal framework for their relationship. I did this when I rented my apartment and wanted to replace the floor so why not when I marry someone and want to go to a fetish club? Seems kind of obvious.

    In the specific case the solution is to dissolve the contract. Clearly neither man understood what he was agreeing to, proximally due to the enormous social confusion that now exists around the nature of marriage, and so neither ever really gave informed consent to the contract. If they want, they can create a new contract but then both have to negotiate from scratch and either can walk away if it doesn’t suit.

    In practice that means that the fetish club guy wins. I guess most peoples’ default will be against him, but personally I have little sympathy for his partner if he as the one big on monogamy and commitment didn’t even bother checker that that was what his partner was signing up for. In any case it doesn’t matter; a contract someone was duped into signing, whether by active fraud or exploited stupidity, has no moral force.

    “I mean, Steve’s argument about the contract isn’t bad, but if it were something we disagreed with – let’s say some old-timey marriage contract where the woman vowed to always serve and obey her husband, and now she’s a feminist and wants out – we would probably be pretty sympathetic despite the precise wording of what she’d “agreed” on.”

    No I wouldn’t, assuming that she actually had in full knowledge agreed to that, just as I would expect to have to pay my cable bill even if I later decide that I think cable is bad for me and I should never have bought it.

    The reason you react against that example so strongly is that you live in a society where marriage is commonly understood to no longer impose any particular duties on the woman, so you view the man insisting on such duties as a breach of good faith rather than the woman not agreeing to perform them. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who want marriage contracts that impose significant and enforceable obligations on the women, nor that there aren’t women who would knowingly agree to such contracts.

    If you think you will change your mind in a big way then you should write sunset clauses or a dissolution mechanism (without or without penalty clauses) into your contract. I expect most people these days would include some sort of way out, but likely not the specific template used by the divorce courts. In particular I doubt partnerships in which one partner is a primary breadwinner will agree to asset and income sharing after no-fault divorce.

    • I agree with you about the virtues of freedom of contract, disagree with you about the example. As described, I think it reasonably clear that Adam was agreeing to monogamy, both by the words of the ceremony and the previous practice of the couple.

      A common rule in contract law is expectation damages. When one party unilaterally breaches, it is obliged to make the other party as well off as if the contract had been fulfilled. In the case of marriage and moral obligations, one plausible interpretation of the situation is that Adam is only entitled to breach if he is willing to compensate his partner in ways that make his partner no worse off. Implementing that might be hard in practice, but it seems a reasonable objective.

      And, of course, one way of achieving it is not to breach–to continue the marriage and stay away from the sex club.

      • Oliver Cromwell says:

        In the scenario as stated the two seem to have a genuine disagreement about what the deal means, rather than just buyer’s remorse. While I think the fetish club guy’s interpretation of the meaning of marriage is probably on the fringe of those acceptable, it’s not totally unreasonable either, especially for a form of marriage that has little established precedent behind it.

        I do agree with you though that if his turn against monogamy contradicted a long precedent within his own relationship, that would be strong evidence that he interpreted the agreement as requiring monogamy. In that case buyer’s remorse seems more likely to me than honest misunderstanding.

  46. walpolo says:

    It seems to me that the main tiebreaker between Adam and Steve should not be whether fetish clubs are OK, or whether monogamy is valuable… it should be which of them is most psychologically flexible about the issue. Which of the two guys is capable of changing his attitudes or behavior.

    To change the example, let’s suppose that Adam has always shaved every day, but after they get married he starts to grow out his beard. Which doesn’t violate their marriage contract in any way shape or form, except that Adam knows Steve finds beards disgusting. Steve is no longer attracted to Adam, and their sex life falls off a cliff, making the relationship intolerable.

    You might think Steve is the unreasonable jerk, and in a sense he is, but for normal people under normal conditions you can’t change preferences like Steve’s distaste for beards. I’m not saying it’s nature as opposed to nurture, probably not, but by the time you’re an adult there’s nothing much you can do to change what turns you on. On the other hand, it’s completely possible for Steve to just go back to shaving and save the marriage.

    My point is, the main consideration should not be these cultural background norms, but rather who is flexible about the issue and to what extent. The cultural things matter only insofar as people are less flexible when they’ve been more thoroughly indoctrinated.

    • Darcey says:

      I see a lot of arguments like this, and I think they’re all wrong. Because first of all, a lot of preferences are mutable, even ones that seem very set-in-stone at first, and you only discover how mutable they are once you’re put in a situation where you need to change them or else. So using the rule “go with whoever’s preferences are least flexible” won’t work, because people don’t have good insight into how flexible their preferences can be. In particular, people who always get their way, and who are not used to compromising, will probably underestimate their own flexibility. Which leads to all the obvious problems and structural inequalities.

      I think that having this rule incentivizes people to become highly inflexible utility monsters. In general, any rule that says “favor the person who’s in the most pain” will incentivize people to become utility monsters.

      And yeah, there will be cases where someone’s preference really *is* that strong, and maybe the other person should be more flexible to accommodate it. But in that case, we need some reliable method of signalling strength of preference. In your situation, if Steve is monogamous, and has a high sex drive, and *still* chooses celibacy over sex with a bearded Adam, then we can probably infer that his preference is pretty strong. But in general, if we’re going to use “who has the strongest preference”, we need very credible signals that are very costly to fake. We can’t just say “hey guys, both of you please introspect to see how flexible your preferences are”.

      • walpolo says:

        I agree with all of what you say, but I still think it’s the right rule to follow. It just happens to be a *difficult* rule to follow. One of the ways that loving relationships are hard. And different from other social relationships.

    • anonymous says:

      This reminds me of the Hand Formula in negligence, which (basically) dictates that a party that can mitigate a risk for cheaper than the risk adjusted cost of an accident has a duty to do so.

    • RPLong says:

      Yes, that’s very basic John Gottman stuff you’ve got going right there. Everyone has a set of things they are willing to give up, and a set of things on which they will not compromise. If monogamy is a point on which neither one of them can budge, then it’s time to separate.

  47. Troy says:

    A quick retreat to a simpler situation: suppose Adam really wants to keep all the windows in the house open all winter with no heat on, so that the inside temperature is 10F and the house is full of snow. Steve does not want to do this. Both of them want to stay together for the sake of the kids, but this do-we-freeze-our-house thing is really getting in the way.

    Many married couples do have substantial disagreements over temperature, albeit on a rather (ahem) milder basis. (In my experience it’s usually the man who likes it colder.)

  48. Corporate Lawyer says:

    I think you too casually dismiss the fact that they have both agreed to a certain course of conduct and now one person wants to back out of their agreement. A little legal background would have helped to clarify your muddled thinking here because you confuse some very fundamental issues and proceed to go onto an analysis of who sets what in the legal context would be called the “reasonable person.” Yeah, that’s important, but that’s typically more relevant in situations when you are dealing with strangers and you need to set guidelines of conduct, but is actually much less important in a case where two people have an ongoing relationship and expectations.

    Adam first dated and them married Steve all while knowing that Steve expected the relationship to be monogamous. Whatever you want to say of the exact wording of the marital vow, which I don’t think is very important and is more ritualistic then anything else, I think at the very least both partners expected that marriage meant their current relationship, with its expectations and rules, would continue but with even more expected commitment. Adam clearly violated Steve’s expectations and that I think is the single most important issue here, not what some third person thinks the default standard of marriage meant. If Adam and Steve had an open relationship before getting married and now Steve decides that he wants Adam to be monogamous, the issue is the same and Steve would be in the wrong.

    It’s one thing to argue over the meaning of a phrase like “obey and serve” and another to clearly violate a fundamental expectations that the other person had. Of course the law gets into “reasonable expectations,” but that occurs when expectations are not explicit or not based on the expectation that past behavior will continue, and neither applies in this case since the expectation was both explicit and was based on the prior relationship of Adam and Steve.

    So, bottom line: Adam is in the wrong, and he should either stop the behavior and remain in the marriage, or exit the marriage and pay the costs of the exit to Steve. No need to go into an analysis about society’s definition of marriage. That’s just the kind of thinking progressives enter into when they want to set aside people’s right of freedom of association and contract.

    • schall und rauch says:

      I agree. Regardless of the culture and rules of society: When you willingly enter an agreement with rights and duties on both sides, you should be bound to your agreement and your word (unless both parties agree that you are no longer bound), or you should break the whole agreement. If you don’t hold up your end of the contract, but expect everything else to remain the same, then the justification of “but everybody else is breaking contracts left and right” sounds weak to me.

      • Corporate Lawyer says:

        Yep – and in this scenario you don’t even need to go into the minutia and weeds of contract interpretation canons or the marginal cases because it’s indisputable that the expectations were clear and one person violated them.

        Scott’s discussion of setting the default is interesting, but his main example of a fighting gay couple is a poor way of analyzing the issue. He would also benefit by, I dunno, taking a stab at at least reading the wikipedia behind the centuries of thought that have gone into how to set a “reasonable expectation.”

        • Bryan Hann says:

          I find Wikipedia unhelpful on this point.

          I had considerable anxiety upon being called to jury duty that the judge would not look kindly on my questioning about such things as ‘reasonable doubt’ before swearing in.

    • Vladimir Slepnev says:

      Yeah. Progressive-bashing aside, it was Adam who breached Steve’s prior expectations, not the other way around. The situation isn’t as symmetric or as strongly dependent on culture as Scott says.

    • Darcey says:

      But this entire argument relies on our culture’s default expectations: (1) that contracts are binding, and (2) that two people entering into a marriage can expect their relationship to continue the way it’s been going, and have a right to be upset if the other person starts acting dramatically different.

      • Many people’s reaction to the scenario, mine included, is based on the idea “that contracts are binding” or, more generally, that one has an obligation to keep promises. That is a very widely shared moral belief–consider the common attempt to justify state authority by an (imaginary) social contract.

        I can’t prove it is true, since I have no way of deriving normative truth. But I think it would be imprudent to engage in any long term relationships with someone who didn’t believe it.

      • roystgnr says:

        “Contracts are binding” isn’t a cultural expectation any more than “even numbers are divisible by two” is. Those are definitions. We do also allow people to make statements of future intent which they can revoke without penalty or opprobrium; such statements just aren’t called “contracts” (or “marriages”).

      • Randy M says:

        It’s not that “contracts are binding” is merely our convention. Contracts are just a formalization of trust. If we do not have a convention of setting expectations of a persons behavior based upon their stated intentions of what that behavior shall be, we do not live in a society in which trust is possible, nor any kind of long term social interaction. So it is a little trite to call “contracts” a mere convention, as if we could assemble and equally functioning society without being able to ever believe a precommitment.

  49. Lasagna says:

    From the “atomization is overrated” team:

    While I certainly believe that you live in a permissive subculture where everyone involved is cool with extra-marital affairs, it doesn’t work for most people. Monogamy in marriage didn’t spring from nothing; for the majority of us, it’s part of what keeps marriage functioning.

    The question “who wins in this case, the individual or the culture?” assumes that everything else is equal. Your hypothetical couple has children; as a new father myself, the idea that Adam will be able to regularly slip off to kinky sex clubs and still raise a solid family is dubious. The idea of adding another level of complexity to a marriage and parenthood, that you can be a committed family unit while indulging yourself to that degree… it’s hard for me to believe that this would work. Navigating relationships is difficult enough without bringing other people into your bed. I suspect that Steve doesn’t want the arrangement in part because he reasonably believes that Adam’s dalliances could become more than anonymous sex.

    My wife is never going to accept that I can go off and boink other women without putting our marriage at risk. I don’t get particularly jealous either, but even if I (theoretically) assumed that I could handle the arrangement, it certainly wouldn’t HELP us form a closer bond and raise our child(ren). It could only hurt. And I probably don’t get jealous because I’ve never attempted an open relationship. And now that I’m married with children, being married and raising a family comes way before any regret that my life is more circumscribed.

    Adam and Steve’s family unit doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There will be repercussions outside their control, should the arrangement become common knowledge. How are the children going to feel when they find out that Adam has other boyfriends? How’s the PTA going to feel? What happens when one of Adam’s boyfriends inevitably starts hanging around? Yes, it’s cultural pressure that prevents Adam from getting what he wants, but that doesn’t mean the cultural pressure is wrong, or even neutral.

    The older I get the less resonance the “but I WANT to” argument has with me.

    • overfragmented says:

      There are married couples that are non-monogamous in various ways, have happy family lives, and are discrete enough about it so that the PTA is not finding out and neither are the kids. (Heck, probably some of them are on the PTA.) This is a thing that happens.

      I’d argue it doesn’t happen a lot, and this is probably the exception. Non-monogamy is indeed a risk. But people engage in a lot of things that are potentially quite risky for their marriage/unlikely to bring them closer together and we don’t have strong norms against all of them. For instance, working a job with very long hours, deploying as part of military service, starting your own company, or even pursuing a really time-consuming hobby. Just because something is potentially stressful for your marriage, it’s not clearly wrong. All of these actions have costs and benefits, and being happier sexually is a benefit. Maybe in this case it’s not worth the costs. But it’s not in a totally different class of things from stressful-on-marriage actions that are more socially sanctioned.

      • Lasagna says:

        I understand the point you’re making, but equating “willing to risk your life to serve your country” with “wanting to fuck other people” doesn’t sit well with me. Just because they both involve risks and rewards doesn’t make them of the same kind – one is noble, the other is selfish.

        • overfragmented says:

          Is your perspective something like “sexual gratification is a relatively selfish pursuit, such that even a small/moderate risk to your marriage/family is not permissible. In pursuit of other things, like money or service to your country, much greater risks are permissible”?

          • Lasagna says:

            Pretty close, I suppose, with two caveats plus one moral belief.

            First, the caveats:

            (1) “Not permissible” is a little strong. Despite my arguments here, I’m a live and let live kind of guy.

            (2) “Pursuit of money” wasn’t what I thought you were getting at when you brought up working long hours. I thought you were weighing the benefit of providing more resources for your family vs. the cost of not being around much, rather than “I like shiny things.”

            Now the moral belief:

            Horsing around at sex clubs when you have children has an immoral component that goes beyond simply being selfish, and doesn’t lend itself to an analysis that starts off with “well, I have a less than 1% chance of getting caught”. You shouldn’t do it because you shouldn’t do it.

            This doesn’t mean I’m castigating people who screw up, by the way (hence my hedging about the phrase “not permissible”). We’re all flawed, and I have the utmost sympathy. But it is, to my mind, still screwing up, and isn’t justified because you thought the risk of your children finding out were low.

            Other than that, yeah, I think you’ve got it about right.

          • overfragmented says:

            If it were “I like shiny things,” “working a lot and earning a lot of money make me feel important,” or “I find my spouse and children tedious”, would you feel as strongly negative about it as the sex club thing? How bad does the work-related behavior have to be before it’s as bad as the sex club thing?

          • Lasagna says:

            Pretty bad. The damage done doesn’t seem equivalent.

            I’m not sure what you’re getting at. 🙂 You keep equating infidelity with other things, as if I have to assign them both a value on the same scale.

  50. schall und rauch says:

    Regarding the utilitariarism comment: So given a situation that the parents are unwilling to use the prefered label and this causes harm to the trans woman. And given that the three siblings are willing to use the correct label, but are very hurt if the trans person does not appear for the Christmas reunion, because family relations are very important for their well being. And given that the combined utility the three siblings receive from the the trans woman coming to celebrate Christmas together is higher than the loss of utility of the trans person being hurt by the incorrect label of the parents. In that situation, the only correct moral choice for the trans person according to utilitariarism is to come to the family celebration. Even though she gets hurt.
    I have a serious problem with that. And because of the underlying principle, I have a serious problem with utilitariarism. Or maybe I just don’t understand utilitariarism, in which case I would ask you to correct me.

    • Adam Casey says:

      The utilitarian principle is exactly the one you point to: “you must sacrifice yourself if the cost to you is less than the total gain to others”. No misunderstanding there.

      But the trick with utilitarianism is being able to fudge the numbers so they turn out to favour your preferred outcome. So if you were utilitarian you’d argue that the cost to the trans person is far more than the benefit to others.

      • schall und rauch says:

        No, I wouldn’t tweak the cost. I can understand that the cost of the siblings is higher. I find it wrong that one should sacrifice herself for others, even though there are others — in this case the parents — who simply will not budge, even though THEIR cost is very little (labeling correctly) to make the whole situation all right again.

        It’s not a matter of “finding the right utility function”. It’s a matter of it going against my principle to sacrifice one person because others are too stubborn to pay a much lower cost (but they won’t).

        It also leads to a missattribution of blame: In the utilitarian world, the trans woman bears a lot of the blame. In my world, she should bear no blame at all.

        • JBeshir says:

          Utilitarianism (in the “optimise for all people’s wellbeing equally” moral injunction sense) taken as the sole determining factor of action tends to require absurd levels of self-sacrifice in general.

          In your example, I think it’s likely that the trans women would be, to get the maximum utility outcome, obligated to not attend the dinner or celebrate Christmas but instead to save the travel money, sell all her unnecessary possessions and donate all the proceeds to efficient charity, where it can do far more to help people in Africa than it could do to help her or her family.

          The usual fix for this by people who like utilitarianism in principle is to accept some level of focus on yourself as healthy and normal, because demanding too much self-sacrifice is at the least psychologically infeasible. Certainly, attributing blame to people for being less than absolutely self-sacrificing is not a workable social practice.

          Then, having put enough into your own comfort, if you think utilitarianism describes what you care about in the world when it comes to others, you can use it to allocate your remaining energy/time/money.

          https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/19/nobody-is-perfect-everything-is-commensurable/ kind of gets at this, I think.

          Edit: After the fact, it strikes me that maybe your intuition is more grounded in “This is applying the wrong social pressures to the wrong people and this is bad.”. This is another problem with naive utilitarianism applied by limited human minds; it can’t factor in Nth order consequences.

          My personal idea is to solve this by adding on a deliberate bias when naive utilitarianism goes against a principle of some kind, scaled to how central a violation of the principle it is and how important the principle is, to approximate a non-naive calculation better, but you do definitely need to step outside of simply multiplying however you solve it.

        • Bryan Hann says:

          Whereas in my world, there is no blame at all.

  51. njnnja says:

    You have made the leap that science made a century or so ago from looking at things from a purely reductionist view to looking at systems. Or, as you say, “duh” 🙂

  52. I know a woman who absolutely cannot sleep with the windows closed, not even in winter. She is married now. I suspect that she and her husband sleep in different rooms.

  53. Adam Casey says:

    Like literally everything else in the universe this reminds me of Common Law.

    In a common law court the judge looks at the black letter of statute, at the black letter of contracts, at the evidence in front of him about other agreements and circumstances. And then he declares what the law is by interpreting these, in so far as possible, to be in accord with ancient principles, ancient rights, ancient customs, and all the other background expectations of culture. (Here ancient means as long-standing as is relevant, in land usage a hundred years at least, in software usage a year maybe).

    So a common law judge might look at a contract and say “it seems this says X, but that goes against everything the two parties would expect, so that’s not what it says unless it’s incredibly specific that yes indeed X and we both know what we mean by that”. A common law judge might look at a marriage and say “it seems like they agreed fidelity in the sense Smith argues, but that’s not what most people think fidelity means, so unless it’s very clear that that wanted to override expectations and mean something unusual by that then Smith is wrong.”

    I think this is a slightly more helpful model than “culture gets the casting vote”. In that case we ask “what would culture do if it were the dictator”, which is roughly right. But doesn’t quite give the agreements made between those two in particular enough weight. In the common law model we ask “how can we interpret this agreement or relationship or interaction in terms of the background expectations the people had about it, letting those expectations be nothing more than expectations if they are overridden, but giving them weight if the situation is ambiguous.”

    • Error says:

      This sounds like the legal equivalent of what, in software, is called “Do What I Mean” (as opposed to what I literally say). The ideal, unattainable goal.

      Perhaps less unattainable in the field of human agreements. On the other hand, DWIM gone wrong can have horrible results.

  54. overfragmented says:

    This is of particular interest to me because it’s similar to a discussion my spouse and I are having. Except we were non-monogamous from the start, and both of us dated other people (although I more so than my spouse). But after we had a kid, spouse said it was very important that we be monogamous and that if I didn’t start, they might leave me.

    My spouse has no actual objections to specific things I was doing (safety/health issues, frequency of dates, my choice of partners). That is, there’s no compromise position here where I do less non-monogamy. Rather, spouse’s objections have to do with non-monogamy being morally wrong and also disastrous for relationship (which has some support from what we’ve seen of our friends’ open relationships).

    So far I’m not being monogamous and my spouse knows this, although we minimize talking about it.

    If someone can convince me that I’m in the wrong, I’d actually really like that. My spouse is great in general but I feel like they’re being wholly unreasonable here.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you believe that sustaining your marriage/primary relationship/whatever is important, I can see two arguments in favor of monogamy. One is that the more other partners you have, the smaller a part of your love life is made up by your relationship with your spouse, and so the cost of leaving them would be smaller. Another is that the more of a substitute for your spouse you are permitted to make other people, the less risk there would be of leaving your spouse. If divorce would entail having nobody, being single, having to look for a new partner all over again, there is significant risk involved; if you have a replacement spouse lined up, there is fairly little risk.

      • Saint_Fiasco says:

        Since they have a kid, I think the cost of defection is already high enough. Having to get a replacement kid sounds much worse than having to find a replacement spouse.

        • Anonymous says:

          Possibly – as far as I’m aware, married couples with children divorce at significantly lower rates than married couples without children. But I think my argument still applies. Married couples with children do still divorce, and making it more difficult for yourself to do so, either to correct for your perceived irrationality or to convince your partner that you’re serious, might well be a good idea if you feel it is important to maintain the marriage in the face of difficulties.

    • no one says:

      Have you considered trying it for a while, say a year? In the reverse situation, this is often not possible. It’s opening Pandora’s box; your wife may never be able to trust you again, can’t get that image out of her head, always tastes her lips when she kisses you, etc. But in the other direction, the cost is that you have a less satisfying sex life for year. That’s really it. At the end of it, you may find that it helps your marriage and you like the new situation or you may find that actually you really miss the variety and want to go back. I’m about 9 months into a similar experiment and while I was unhappy for a while, I’m coming out the other side of it feeling differently. It did take many months of retraining the way I think before it stopped feeling like a prison, and active months at that, meaning consciously redirecting my thoughts away from feeling bitter. It may not be sustainable, but at least for now looks like the juice was worth the squeeze.

      • overfragmented says:

        How did you keep from feeling bitter? Just the thought of having to be monogamous makes me feel trapped. It’s not even the actual monogamy – I’ve gone months between dates at times – it’s the idea that I have to do it, that every desire I have has to either go unfulfilled or be met by my spouse, forever and ever.

        • no one says:

          It was pretty hard for a while and still is from time to time. But it required retraining the way I think. When I caught myself being bitter or daydreaming about some girl, I made myself think about the wife instead and why I chose her. Eventually, I seemed to have retrained my thoughts. I don’t yet know if it’s permanent, but as of today, I seem to be happier for it. I have no idea if it’s generalizable.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          As the spouse, I’m not happy about that chore, either. Yay young mistresses.

    • I think it is unreasonable for your spouse to demand you change the terms of the relationship, not unreasonable to try to persuade you to. I’ve never been in an open marriage, but my elder son was an articulate supporter of polyamory. He eventually changed his mind. You might find his reasons interesting:

      http://patrissimo.livejournal.com/1499649.html

      • overfragmented says:

        These largely fit with my intuitions and what I’ve seen from other poly couples: they are less stable and have different, less-close relationships.

      • semiautorabbit says:

        I remember when Patri first posted this, because it contains one of favorite lines ever written:

        “[I]n the startup world, a co-founder who is “committed” to multiple ventures is not really committed to any. (Yes, Elon Musk, but you aren’t Elon Musk. You aren’t even the Elon Musk of love. Also, Elon Musk is now a double-divorcée).”

  55. moonshadow says:

    “He had wanted to get married to symbolize his committment to Steve – committment that he still had!”

    I still don’t understand what people mean when they say that verbally but their actions appear (well, for the understanding of “commitment” I seem to have implicitly ended up with…) to demonstrate otherwise.

    If you say you are committed to a partner/partners or a relationship, but then enter another relationship with another person/other people against your partner’s/partners’ wishes… what did you mean? Is that not surprising? If not, what subsequent observations would we consider surprising if someone said they had a commitment to something? – that is, what can we learn from the statement?

    • Murphy says:

      Well, someone might not have strong urges towards sexual fidelity yet still be willing to do lots of other things we’d normally associate with commitment, risk their life for that person, be willing to donate bone marrow or kidney to that person, be willing to merge resources with that person, be willing to change many of their life plans to facilitate spending their life with that person etc

  56. Salem says:

    As any lawyer will tell you, contracts are necessarily incomplete, so, yes, there will need to be certain default assumptions which, yes, will rest on broad social values, which, yes, can and do vary over time and place. But that’s not the issue here.

    They agreed on this specific point. But you don’t want to give weight to that agreement, because you don’t like what they agreed to. So you pretend they didn’t mean it. You pretend it was just boilerplate.

    And yeah, you’re “just” their therapist – but this quickly becomes political, whether in family law or elsewhere. People like you claim the issue is “societal defaults”, but then refuse to give them any way to change that default, and ignore their attempts to do so. Then, you choose for them a “default” that is emphatically not the default choice of the overwhelming majority of people, whether in your locale or elsewhere. And then you say you’re all about choice and setting people free.

    Ah, but I’m being unfair. It’s about “true choice,” and saving people from the agreements they’ve been subtly pressured into. Yet others have written far more eloquently than I could about the tyranny of privileging an imaginary agreement that you think hypothetical people should have made in a philosophical construct over the real agreement real people really chose to make.

    • Corporate Lawyer says:

      I agree with you and said much the same thing in my post below. Basically Scott confuses two different ways of interpreting an agreement as an excuse to throw out the agreement entirely and go to an analysis of what the culture thinks, which is not necessary to resolve the dispute.

  57. Anonymous says:

    The obvious difference between the monogamy situation and your hypothetical open windows and shower situations are that in the former, the couple made a verbal agreement to follow one set of rules and not the other. In the latter, they didn’t. When no explicit agreement has been made, I agree that you might have to judge who is being more reasonable by what your culture considers normal, but when that agreement is there then you don’t. It seems obvious to me that Steve is right and Adam is wrong. Had they agreed to a polyamorous marriage and then Steve suddenly demanded that Adam become monogamous for him, it would seem obvious to me that Adam was right and Steve was wrong.

    If you take the rule ‘support whatever people have agreed to’ to its full extent, you end up having to be okay with people selling themselves into slavery and doing all sorts of other things that are clearly not in their best interest. But in order to not do that, you don’t have to go completely the other way and have what kind of thing people can agree to be defined entirely by what is popular. You can set a boundary, treating as acceptable anything that is not beyond a certain level of perceived badness. My preference is for this boundary to be set far toward the permissive end, such that choices are only viewed to be wrong when they are considered very, very, very bad by virtually everybody who is part of the culture.

    One argument for this view is that if people are mistaken in what preferences they think are reasonable, they still will be whether they are making those decisions for themselves or for others, but in the latter case they won’t have any incentive to get the answer right. Another is that, the more power you give some group to decide what everyone else is allowed to do, the more efforts will be wasted by people on all sides struggling to be the ones who get to make those decisions.

    I suspect that the opposite view to mine – strong support for paternalism, a very low threshold for how bad something has to be before it ought to be banned – might, to some extent, be based on a feeling of there being a special distinction between the numbers 0 and 1. A policy which will inevitably allow bad things to happen, even if only very very occasionally and to a tiny number of people, gets treated with great suspicion. The idea of banning something, so that it doesn’t happen at all, anywhere, ever again, is intoxicating. And the negative consequences of this option are much less obvious as they don’t sit on a Schelling point.

    • It’s worth distinguishing between what contracts should be enforced and what contracts people should feel some obligation to keep. Consider the “sell yourself into slavery” example. Suppose I want to immigrate to the U.S. but can’t afford the cost. Someone offers to pay my expenses in exchange for my agreeing to work for him for a year at a specified low salary.

      Under current law, that contract will not be enforced by specific performance, although I might owe damages for breaking it. But I should still feel obligated to keep it, and other people will properly think less of me if, as soon as I arrive, I accept a job with someone else who offers to pay me more.

      (Historically, of course, such indentured servant contracts were the way in which many people got to the U.S.).

      Similarly here. I don’t have strong views on to what extent the marriage contract ought to be enforceable in the courts. But I do believe people ought to keep their promises.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        @ David Friedman:

        To me, it really depends on the kind of promise.

        I absolutely think that people ought to be open and honest, and that one should never cheat on one’s partner. I think Adam’s behavior in this scenario is completely out of line.

        But on the other hand, if Adam, before having anything to do with the sex club, says that he honestly doesn’t feel as if he can keep to the terms of the agreement to monogamy, it seems to me like a different situation. As foreign as such an experience would be to me, the fact that he would (we suppose) be miserable in this marriage is perfectly good grounds for renegotiating the terms. And if no agreement between him and Steve can be found, he seems justified in terminating the contract. (If indeed his desire is reasonable, which I don’t think it is, but suppose.)

        I think the same applies for the indentured servitude contract example you used. The employee shouldn’t feel morally obliged to keep working in that position if he can find a better job.

        Ideally, the financial penalty for breaching the contract should be equivalent to the value which the employer expects to receive. So if the employee takes the job elsewhere, breaches the contract, and pays the penalty, both end up better off.

        Such “efficient” breaches of contract seem like a major innovation and improvement to me. And I would apply it to divorce: in the case of irreconcilable differences, divorce is an efficient breach of the marriage contract and ought to be allowed, in return for whatever kind of asset split and/or alimony is set beforehand (either as a default or in a prenuptial agreement).

        • In another comment, I already suggested expectation damages as a possible model for breach of the marital contract.

          But consider the case, very possibly the Adam and Steve case, where the breaching party has no way of fully compensating the victim of breach. He can, however, choose not to breach. Does he have some obligation to do so?

          Similarly for the indentured servant. If he cannot fully compensate the employer, is he still morally entitled to quit the job he agreed to?

  58. wubbles says:

    You might want to change that 1800’s. Victorian society had prostitutes ply their trade openly, including places catering to the English vice. Venus in Furs was written around that time, as was Havelock Ellis. What happens in London is different from some small country village. As for the hypo, I imagine it depends on the city how much this sort of arrangement is accepted in the gay community, which might matter more for norms then the broader society.

  59. Setting the default is at some level an illusion. Nature sets the defaults. (You can recognize smarter Liberals by the fact of them realizing they are at war not only with Conservaties but also with Nature, and are hence explicit, committed Transhumanists.) Humans (not transhumans) who try to override Nature’s defaults get outcompeted and go the the way of the dodo. I think this is why Moldy proposed not simply monarchy but competitive monarchy, where sovereigns who set the correct defaults, the natural ones, win the game. This was also Carlyle’s metaphor about the ship.

    “Your ship cannot double Cape Horn by its excellent plans of voting. The ship may vote this and that, above decks and below, in the most harmonious exquisitely constitutional manner: the ship, to get round Cape Horn, will find a set of conditions already voted for, and fixed with adamantine rigor by the ancient Elemental Powers, who are entirely careless how you vote. If you can, by voting or without voting, ascertain these conditions, and valiantly conform to them, you will get round the Cape: if you cannot, the ruffian Winds will blow you ever back again; the inexorable Icebergs, dumb privy-councillors from Chaos, will nudge you with most chaotic “admonition;” you will be flung half frozen on the Patagonian cliffs, or admonished into shivers by your iceberg councillors, and sent sheer down to Davy Jones, and will never get round Cape Horn at all!”

    Natural defaults are not that difficult to detect, we just need to stop hamstering and see the obvious. In case of fidelity, the natural default is that married women must be strictly loyal. Married men are allowed to stray but not allowed to commit resources to bastard children (as it would count as not upholding their side of the deal with the wife: Cathelyn Stark was right to be pissed at having to accept Jon Snow into the household, even when it was a special case of a bastard sire before, not during marriage), therefore, they should engage only in adventures where there is an either explicit or socially accepted tacit precommitment to not support eventual bastard children at all, the most common case of such socially tacit precommitment being prostitution. And it really doesn’t matter much what gays and lesbians do, they are out of the natural game (reproduction) anyway. Presumably, according to the Gay Uncle Hypothesis, they default should be helping their siblings family one way or another and what they do in the fetish club is their business. We all know from old literature the stereotype of the strict, tough, bulldogish aunt. Miss Ophelia from Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Perhaps they were closeted lesbians who were recruited into helping out their extended families.

    • Drdg says:

      ” In case of fidelity, the natural default..”

      But everything that follows in your comment are social or economical, not natural reasons for monogamy, as in, why would you find it troubling if you are raising your neighbor’s child? He is, in fact, raising your child!

      Besides, in nowadays western societies with the available range of different contraception methods, even the economical risks (support for bastard children) can be overcome. (So in the given example there is no significant difference if we discuss the poly/mono problem of same-sex or hetero couples.) Therefore, as far as I see it, sexual monogamy nowadays is (ok., should be) only the matter of individual emotional preference.

      • I like to describe paternity testing as the stealth reproductive technology–fully developed, but nobody treats it as very important.

        Despite the fact that it changes one of the central facts of human reproduction, one on which the mating institutions of all or almost all past societies were based. It is no longer only a wise child who knows its father. All it takes is a competent laboratory.

        • Drdg says:

          It’s not cheap enough yet. Therefore, it’s usually used in cases when there are very strong doubts about the paternity.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Not cheap enough? A paternity test kit is $99. Compared to the cost of raising another man’s bastard, the expense is negligible.

          • Drdg says:

            I’m from Eastern Europe, a quick search in my homelands internets suggests cost of more than 200eur, and for many in my country it’s half of the monthly salary. So I apologize for the misunderstanding due to different economies.

            However, I would like to argue that my statement about paternity tests usually being taken when there are strong doubts could be still valid for US. And especially for those with smaller income.

  60. Murphy says:

    Am I the only one who’s more bothered by the person going to the club prior to negotiation?

    I don’t tend to feel terribly jealous and I can totally see the rest of the negotiation as perfectly reasonable from both sides. Sure they made promises earlier but one partner wants to make changes to the agreement. No problem. Totally understandable. Open, honest, free choices all round.

    One person might really want to go have sex with other people, the other might not be up for that. I can totally see both sides as reasonable here. Open, honest, free choices all round.

    But just ignoring earlier agreements and just going and doing it without prior consultation kind of destroys any modicum of trust. Not open, not honest.

    Perhaps I’m weird that I value trust far more than fidelity. I can see myself being totally find if by SO wanted to have a fling with someone but being really deeply hurt if she went and did it behind my back without any prior agreement.

    Ok, lets shed some of the social baggage. Clown dolls. There is neither a social position saying clown dolls are normal nor that it’s normal to ban them.

    So it doesn’t have to be about fidelity. If I had a really huge phobia of clown dolls and I’d gone to the point of formally signing something with my partner with witnesses that she agreed to never bring clown dolls into our shared accommodation there’s a big big difference between coming home one day and flicking on the light to suddenly be faced with clown dolls facing me from every surface vs my partner coming to me one day, saying that her uncle who owns a super-sentimental creepy-clown-doll collection has just died and left them to her and they’ve only got one day to move them and our place is like the only place that they can be kept for a little while.

    The first is horrifying surprise betrayal of trust, the latter is a request to change an earlier agreement and involves no betrayal of trust.

    • Tom Womack says:

      The arguments I see in this sort of direction all suggest that asking unpleasant hypothetical questions likely to elicit the answer no is costless; whereas the only non-hypothetical example in this comment thread is one where mindreader talking about the possibility of non-monogamy immediately blew up what seems to have been a happy relationship.

      It sounds like a situation where asking beforehand would almost certainly blow up the relationship at that point, whilst Adam just going ahead and doing his damnedest to ensure that Steve doesn’t find out has a reasonable chance of leaving Adam fulfilled and the relationship initially un-exploded.

      Going to a sex club as an unfulfilled member of a couple with kids strikes me as rather a different experience from going as a new divorcee whose husband just left with the kids.

      • Murphy says:

        I have the feeling you’re switching into some form of utilitarianism here and treating it as a matter of Adam getting X utility points for cheating and not getting caught thus Steve should just sort of shrug and go “well, he was just trying to maximize utility”.

        I’ve had frank discussions with my partner over the years on the subject and while neither of us wants to just go and fuck random people without the others involvement it didn’t tear us apart or screw things up to let each other know about things we’d like to try.

        Again. Trust is a big thing including trusting that you can discuss things like this in good faith without the other person treating it as an intentional hurt.

        • 27chaos says:

          It’s a commitment problem, literally. Being unable to keep one’s commitments in cases where breaking commitments would lead to utility means no one will ever offer you such commitments, which decreases utility overall. Credibility is important to success, even if it’s true you can get short term success through lies.

    • Patrick says:

      Exactly. You don’t even need idiosyncratic issues like clowns, and you don’t even need prior agreements. Between existing course of dealing during our relationship and my knowledge of cultural context, I can make reasonable inferences about what is or is not likely to emotionally harm my wife. It would be wrong of me to do those things without sussing out her actual feelings on those issues. I may not be able to perfectly predict every issue where my actions might hurt her, but trying is morally obligatory. To do otherwise suggests that I don’t care about her.

    • Error says:

      I propose your clown dolls as our future Standard Baggage Free Social Issue, because it is hilarious.

      (also, I agree, not discussing it in advance is the part that was out of line. That’s kind of rule 1 for every form of ethical non-monogamy I’ve encountered).

    • pdan says:

      I noticed that the specific acts weren’t discussed, but that Steve “considered” them infidelity. I can imagine plenty of things that Adam might legitimately consider OK, but which Steve did not. Spanking, foot worship, etc.

  61. Neanderthal From Mordor says:

    Going back to the question provided by Unit of Caring about misgendering people I believe that I have a right to say (at least in my private life) the truth about reality as I perceive it. My brother is fat and he hates being told that he is fat, so I don’t tell him that, but I don’t have to tell him that he is thin, we just avoid the subject.
    If he told me that he is a woman now and I have to call him “her” we would have a problem because I don’t believe that one can change his sex or gender and avoiding the topic would not be possible because language is full of pronouns.
    Of course, I could see this like humouring a crazy person who thinks that he is Napoleon I, and you placate him by calling him “mon empereur”.
    Still, I don’t see how refusing to engage in a game of pretend is a slap on the face.

    • Anonymous says:

      Precisely.

      • DavidS says:

        I find it hard to read this as anything other than “I value my abstract ‘right to say things as I see them’ above not being a total douche to people I care about”

        Might be useful to have some sort of analogy to a less loaded sort of case than transgender. The only analogy mentioned is to crazy people, which I think is clearly different – you can disagree with someone without thinking they’re completely delusional.

        I’m also frankly sceptical that anyone really think their right to ‘speak the truth’ over-rules basic courtesy in this way – the old ‘does my bum look big in this’ type questions etc. It’s perfectly possible to tell someone that you don’t believe people can change gender, or e.g. that you think only Catholic marriage is valid, without insisting on using pronouns that cause them distress, or refusing to recognise their secularly-married wife as their wife.

        • Anonymous says:

          Did NFM not specify that his approach is to simply avoid the topic, rather than rub it into the face of the person they interact with, or knowingly lie?

          • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

            Indeed.

          • DavidS says:

            Yep: thus not ‘I deliberately aggravate those I care about’. But when it comes to a choice between using a pronoun that NFM thinks is inaccurate or hurting someone NFM cares about, the authenticity of ones own pronoun usage trumps the feeling of the sibling. Seems odd to me.

            And not convinced you can really call it a ‘lie’ to use someone’s preferred pronoun. Adopting others’ linguistic conventions is something people do all the time for clarity, courtesy or both. It’s not like anyone in the room would be duped into thinking said sibling had two X chromosones by NFM’s use of ‘she’.

          • Error says:

            I think I’m with NFM on the meta-level even though I mostly-disagree with them on the object level.

            When you use a transgendered person’s preferred pronoun rather than the one that seems right to you, you’re not just adopting a convention of politeness. It’s not precisely endorsement, but it’s something close.

            Personally i suspect that this is the real reason transgender activists are so adamant about the pronoun thing; much like the gay marriage thing, they want the implied social recognition of legitimacy. I think I can agree with refusing to transmit that implication if one doesn’t actually believe it’s legitimate; of course, the implication “it’s not legitimate, you’re really not what you claim to be” is why misgendering is a slap in the face.

            It’s sort of like the Diseased Thinking essay, with the “he or she” node playing the part of the “disease or character flaw” node. People aren’t arguing about what they claim to be arguing about, they’re using it as a stand-in for something else.

            As an answer the practical problem of “how do I avoid causing the slap in the face while not implying endorsement or recognition, when pronouns are unavoidable”, I suggest singular They and the use of internet handles when possible. It’s not ideal, but it’s worked for me. A friend came out as transgendered a few years back; it took me a while to figure out what I thought about it. Adopting that strategy allowed me to avoid taking an implied position while not instigating a problem.

          • DavidS says:

            Well, I think there’s a difference between accuracy and politics. If you think that transgender people referring to themselves the way they do is actively BAD in some way, then you might not want to give ‘aid and comfort’ to misdeeds. E.g. if a thief referred to the money he’d ‘earned’ you might insist ‘not earned, stole’. Accepting the language gives implicit endorsement of a position you oppose.

            That’s very different to just ‘I don’t think they’re actually a woman’ though.

    • Murphy says:

      Do you make goal based choices?
      If so what are your goals?

      If your brother had converted to some new religion but your families old religion was like Catholicism and maintained that once baptized he was always and forevermore a catholic no matter his opinions on the matter unless formally excommunicated. He’s super into the new religion. Would it be reasonably for him to consider it insulting for everyone in the family to keep referring to him as catholic or to keep calling his new religion a game of pretend?

      • Anonymous says:

        Catholicism recognizes apostasy, FWIW.

        • Murphy says:

          Technically yes but back when the catholic church was being dragged through the coals about abuse in ireland a lot of people were formally defecting. So they formally removed the official system for formally defecting from the catholic church. To quote:

          “the sacramental bond of belonging to the Body of Christ that is the Church, conferred by the baptismal character, is an ontological and permanent bond which is not lost by reason of any act or fact of defection.”

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        We can change beliefs and religions, but we can’t change our chromosomes from XY to XX.
        How pretending that he is still a catholic make any sense?
        I already said that I would avoid to call my brother fat, but avoidance is impossible with trans people because gender is pervasive in language, so I would avoid a contentious topic if possible.

        • Murphy says:

          How pretending that he is still a catholic make any sense?

          How indeed.

          If your personal opinion on the ultimate classifier is genetics don’t forget XXY, XYY, XXX, XX(but phenotypically male), XY(but phenotypically female) or mosaic phenotyes with both XY/XX.

          Genetics can make a kind of crummy classifier. It’s why the olympic committee dropped classification based on chromosomes, they classified someone as male based on their chromosomes who later pushed out a baby which makes for a pretty convincing argument for being very female.

          If your ultimate classifier is internal brain structure then it can just be a matter of assuming an earlier classification error.

          • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

            Intersex people are not transsexuals.

          • Murphy says:

            @Neanderthal From Mordor

            Your point?

            Some people appear to be clearly male or female but some aspects don’t match either phenotypically or genetically.

            If one of those aspects is the important one inside the persons brain which shapes their internal experience how is using that as a classifier inferior to any other genotype or phenotype based classifier?

          • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

            Maybe some transsexuals have a phenotypic or genetic mismatch, but it is definitely not necessary to have one to be a transsexual, because transsexuals are people who self-identify as such, no other evidence needed.

          • Murphy says:

            @Neanderthal From Mordor

            That is another reasonable classifier though that’s partly what I meant by internal experience.

            So I’m still unclear, do you have some objection to these alternative classifiers or think they’re less reasonable?

          • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

            The only classifier is self-identification. There is no alternative classifier.

          • Murphy says:

            Ok, so you have only one classifier you consider reasonable.

            So truth as you perceive it is based on that classifier, self identification.

            So where’s the problem with your trans family member? Under your own belief system wouldn’t it be easy to use the pronouns that they prefer?

            I’m now confused by your original post.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Murphy:

            I think you are misinterpreting (the) Neanderthal From Mordor.

            What he seems to be saying is that the only requirement for being considered a transsexual by society is self-identification. That is, there is no objective test for transsexuality. (Therefore, presumably, in his opinion it is a made-up condition.)

            Of course, he is not fooled by this (alleged) mumbo-jumbo and intends to keep calling self-identified transsexuals by the gender they were assigned at birth.

        • Drdg says:

          “We can change beliefs and religions, but we can’t change our chromosomes from XY to XX.”

          Language seems to be more similar to beliefs and religions that can be changed, not to chromosomes that are an objective biological facts. You know that there are other languages than English where people have different words for “he” and “she”, right? 🙂

          • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

            Here, in Mordor 🙂 , we don’t speak English and we have different words for he and she. Actually even nouns are gendered in my language.

          • Drdg says:

            In my native language too, besides we have only two not three grammatical genders like they have in Russian or German.

            My point was, that in the case of your hypothetical transitioning brother no one is asking you to deny his chromosomal status (of which you actually cannot be 100% sure before tested), just to change some words you use. I mean, wouldn’t you find it odd if a native English speaking person would learn your language, but would insist on using the English “he” and “she” when addressing people in your language with a strange argument that these English words are inseparable from your chromosomal status. 🙂

    • Drdg says:

      “Still, I don’t see how refusing to engage in a game of pretend is a slap on the face.”

      Lets say you had a fat brother and he didn’t openly object to you calling him “my fat bro”. But it turned out that he actually felt terrible being fat, so he changed his life around, lost weight and became fit. Now he feels much more like *himself* and is not happy to be constantly reminded that he was once fat, because that brings back painful memories. However, you insist on your, em, rights to keep calling him “my fat bro”, because that’s your beloved nickname for him, or smth. I don’t think that many would disagree with your brothers choice to dissociate himself from you, as being in your company means a guarantee of constant remainder of his painful past.

      I had similar experience when I legally changed my given name 10 years ago. One of my friends told me he thinks it is stupid (as in the fact I changed name is stupid) and that he’ll never call me by my new name. As a part of my reason to change my name was of psychological origin, it did indeed felt like a metaphorical slap on the face every time he called me by my old name. Guess if we stayed friends for long.

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        I already said that I would avoid to call my brother fat, but avoidance is impossible with trans people because gender is pervasive in language.
        If he would try to rewrite history and photoshop family photos, Ministry of Truth style, I would probably call him out on it.
        When people asked me to call them by another name, I of course complied. I doubt anyone has a problem with name changing.

        • Drdg says:

          “gender is pervasive in language.”

          So is the custom to address people by names (that are sometimes replaced by nicknames like “my fat bro”). The hypothetical I offered was not about if you personally would or wouldn’t call your brother “fat bro”, it was about why people feel that misgendering feels like a slap on the face for them, which was sort of your question. Your reasoning was that your belief that gender cannot be changed (similarly, my former friend believed that given names shouldn’t be changed) should overrule the hypothetical siblings wish to be addressed by different pronouns. Which leads us to unsurprising outcome of alienation between siblings (or friends).

          • Bryan Hann says:

            If calling someone my a particular nickname is to be called a ‘custom’, and the use of gendered pronouns in English is to be called a ‘custom’, then it should be clearly stated my someone that these customs are of very different orders, and so I will state it.

            These are customs of very different orders!

      • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

        I have sad news for you. India and Bangladesh have straightened their border.
        “The project of the transgender movement is to propose a switch from using chromosomes as a tiebreaker to using self-identification as a tiebreaker.”
        The India-Bangladesh border was complicated, but with a GPS one would know exactly in which country he was.
        Modern zoologists and biblical jews use different ways to determine in which category the whale belongs, but both have a logic that allows you to categorize whales.
        Self-identification is purely and completely arbitrary.

        • metagameface says:

          When was the last time you checked someone’s chromosomes in order to figure out their gender? Just asking them seems like it would be a lot less hassle.

        • brightlinger says:

          “The India-Bangladesh border was complicated, but with a GPS one would know exactly in which country he was.”

          Yeah, because the GPS already contained all of the information about the complicated borders.

          You could, in principle, design a G(ender)PS device which connects to a database of every person on earth, and their (self-identified) gender. Now you have a device which indicates self-identified gender as reliably as GPS indicates country, and by the same method. This is impractical primarily because humans are more numerous and harder to catalog than borders, not because borders are less arbitrary.

          Also, gender identity disorder is 62% heritable. That’s a pretty alarmingly high number for an arbitrary personal choice.

          Modern zoologists have methods to categorize whales and etc. Do you have a criterion other than identity which successfully categorizes humans into genders, outside the special case of transgender people? Chromosomes don’t work, for reasons pointed out above. Anatomy doesn’t work. Appearing to be unambiguously one gender at birth doesn’t work (see: Penis-At-Twelve syndrome).

          I’m not aware of any criteria which successfully categorizes all non-trans people, which doesn’t ALSO categorize trans people as their preferred gender. All of the ones THAT ACTUALLY WORK end up being isomorphic to “self-identification”.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Chromosomes *do* work, quite well. Anatomy works, too. That a test doesn’t work 100% of the time is not a strong knock against it, because none of our tests work with that accuracy. By your criteria, the existence of wholphins means we don’t have tests to categorize whales, either.

          • brightlinger says:

            Sure, there are “objective” tests that work in a large majority of cases. Yet in a small fraction of cases, we resolve things in the opposite way. What criteria do we use to do that? Because here we have another small fraction of the population that is quite insistent about the chromosome thing not being correct for them.

            So far as I can tell, there are two options. First, a list of unprincipled exceptions; “I made an arbitrary list and didn’t put trans people on it” is not particularly convincing. Second, something isomorphic to self-identity.

    • Language is full of pronouns, but it is possible, with a little care, to avoid them. And the simplest solution to the particular problem you raise.

    • Bryan Hann says:

      I think this might be somewhat like my referring to a particular Mohammad (since it is a very common name) as “the so-called prophet Mohammad” because I do not want to make the assertion that this particular fellow was a prophet. This offends some people, but I see no warrant to them being offended.

      Of course if you were to still call your fat sibling ‘him’ that would be doing more than simply refraining from calling your fat sibling ‘her’. Perhaps you could call your fat sibling ‘it’. You could ask at least.

      [And for those who think I am being insulting with the repetition of the ‘fat sibling phrase’, that thought also lacks warrant. Under the context of the hypothetical I did not want to call the fat sibling either ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, hence ‘sibling’. And because of this change of term from ‘brother’ to ‘sibling’ /might/ have led to confusion (because we are not all perfect parsers), I modified ‘sibling’ with the one powerful adjective that the creator of the hypothetical had used.

      Such is the awkwardness created by the use of gendered pronouns. The pronoun ‘they’ works to some degree, but has troubles of its own. I vote for ‘it’. FWIW, I don’t mind being called ‘it’.]

    • Anon says:

      “If he told me that he is a woman now and I have to call him “her” we would have a problem because I don’t believe that one can change his sex or gender and avoiding the topic would not be possible because language is full of pronouns.”

      The solution I have come up for situations like this is to use neutral terms like ‘my friend’, ‘my acquaintance’, ‘my child’, ‘my sibling’, ‘my parent’, in place of gendered pronouns ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘(other preferred pronoun)’. This would allow you to avoid deliberately misgendering the person while still not fully engaging in “a game of pretend” thus being able to reach the same equilibrium as with the fat person.

      This should work out assuming that the person’s offense to the pronouns is actually due to being missgendered and not a histrionic fit for control.

      • Essentially my solution as well. In the case I am thinking of, the person in question uses a gender indefinite name, so I can usually use the name instead of the pronoun.

  62. John Nerst says:

    Hi, long time reader, first time poster. Just thought I had something to add this time.

    I very rarely disagree with Scott, but this time I’m surprised to find myself more of an atomic individualist than he is. I’m certainly willing to bite a bullet and say that a hypothetical preference to live in a freezing house is fully legitimate (if sincere) and to dismiss such a thing with “it’s stupid and doesn’t count” seems distinctly out of character.

    That doesn’t mean that people with unusual preferences have any right to demand that society as a whole (or larger contexts within it) caters to them (re: safe spaces, trigger warnings and such things) – if you belong to a small minority you’ll need to accept that you’re not the norm and most things will not be done with you in mind.

    But if Adam and Steve live in a house together, they each have a full half of the decision-making rights and the weirdness of their preferences in a wider sense should not enter into it.

    If we assert that legitimacy of a preference is independent of its “normalness” and norms/defaults only play a communicative role, we get the added benefit of defusing destructive, tribal, zero-sum culture wars. It’s always been my favored approach to norm-related issues, is it not as obvious as I think it is?

    • Muga Sofer says:

      >I very rarely disagree with Scott, but this time I’m surprised to find myself more of an atomic individualist than he is. I’m certainly willing to bite a bullet and say that a hypothetical preference to live in a freezing house is fully legitimate (if sincere) and to dismiss such a thing with “it’s stupid and doesn’t count” seems distinctly out of character.

      Came here to say this, thank you.

      The only way I can see it is that those preferences look to be symptomatic of mental illness, and so might not be “true” preferences – f’rinstance, hating the idea of showers makes me think it might be OCD, and so in some sense a false *belief* rather than a false *preference*. And it’s difficult for me to buy that a house literally full of snow is just a preference for lower temperatures, given that would ruin the house, freeze the children etc.

      But that doesn’t seem at all analogous to the married couple’s problem. A better analogy would be … um, I could have sworn Scott has written somewhere about having sound-processing issues and worrying people take his requests for quiet as him being a selfish jackass rather than something really important to avoid causing him distress, but I’m pretty tired and can’t find it. Maybe it was some other rationalist who has issues with sounds.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      As a fellow atomic individual, I agree completely.

      The standard isn’t: whose preferences are less socially deviant? It’s: whose preferences are objectively better at satisfying their shared goals?

      If human beings are actually happier and healthier with a house at 10F and full of snow, then that preference is better and the other spouse should give in and learn to deal with it because it’s in his own interest. On the other hand, if having a house at 10F is ultimately destructive even to the guy who wants it, that preference is irrational (given that he wants to live and be healthy more than he wants a cold house), and he ought to give in because it’s in his own interest.

      If it’s a case where one person has an extremely strong desire to put scented candles all through the house, while the other has an extremely strong aversion to scented candles (i.e. neither is mistaken about anything; they just have conflicting objective interests), then they both have to decide what they value more: the relationship or their preferences. If they both value the relationship more, then the best resolution is for the one whose desire or aversion is genuinely stronger to get his way, and for the other to compensate in some other way. This is the best way to satisfy their shared goals.

      In the case at hand, we first have to consider whether the case is more like “house full of snow” or “scented candles”. My personal bias is toward “house full of snow”: Adam is just wrong, and the sex club is not even good for him in the long run. But maybe someone else could think Steve is just wrong: as much as I would like the issue to be settled, it really isn’t.

      Or perhaps it is a “scented candles” case: where the sex club is good for Adam and monogamy is good for Steve. Then they simply have to decide: my preferences or the relationship? And if they choose the relationship, the one who gets his way ought to be the one who would really be more devastated by not getting his way.

      (If you’re worried about this creating a “utility monster” scenario, the solution is not to marry a utility monster, i.e. an extremely needy and unsatisfiable person.)

  63. Hei_mailma says:

    I have a problem with the hypothetical “ultra-permissive sexually-open subculture of the 2100s”. If you cannot find an example of a culture where sexuality is not in some way linked to commitment, doesn’t that suggest that sexuality and commitment are in some way intristically linked? Similarily to how in mathematics there is a theorem that (with some assumptions on “theory”, “model”, …) if a statement is true in all models of a theory, then it must follow logically from the theory, I think that if an association holds in all non-hypothetical cultures, you should expect the association to have some intristic value. In this sense, I think your argument from a hypothetical culture is far weaker than an argument from a concrete cullture. If we’re not willing to look at “ultra-cold-enduring, window-open-leaving subcultures of the 2100s…”, I don’t think that “ultra-permissive sexually-open subculture of the 2100s” add much to the argument either.

    • anodognosic says:

      Um, in current Western liberal culture, plenty of sexual activity is not linked to commitment, to the extent that it has become (not the only, but) a cultural norm for a subset of people. And in less sexually permissive cultures present and past, non-committed sexual activity is ubiquitous even if condemned. So, um, the contention that sex and commitment are intrinsically linked seems to fall a tad short of being as airtight as a mathematical theorem.

      • Hei_mailma says:

        My point was more about the use of a hypothetical but non-existent culture instead of using a real culture.

    • Adam Casey says:

      Every culture I’ve read about includes prostitution. Ie sexuality devoid from commitment. They are linked sure, but separable everywhere.

    • This ties into the Margaret Mead/Derek Freeman controversy. Mead’s work on Samoa purported to show the existence of a sexually free culture. Freeman argued that it was a fiction. That set off a very heated controversy. One of the bits I enjoyed was a piece by a friend and sometime colleague of Mead, arguing that indeed her portrayal of Samoa was a fiction and a good thing too–that it was intended to have, and did have, a desirable effect on her own culture.

    • nil says:

      You’re assuming birth control didn’t change everything.

      • Anonymous says:

        You’re assuming birth control didn’t exist before modernity.

        • Nornagest says:

          There’s always been birth control, but until modernity it was always some combination of unreliable, uncomfortable, or dangerous. Unless you believe some of the wilder claims about silphium, but that was probably a typical herbal abortifacent.

          • Anonymous says:

            The current high-tech methods aren’t a great improvement on low-tech methods in terms of reliability – same order of magnitude of failure on anything requiring user proficiency. Hard to say about discomfort, it seems a personal preference issue – is coitus interruptus more uncomfortable than wearing a condom, is sodomy more uncomfortable than an injection? Per danger – note that birth itself was also dangerous: low risk/low risk vs high risk/high risk.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_birth_control_methods

          • Nornagest says:

            on anything requiring user proficiency

            That’s a pretty big caveat when you have stuff like copper IUDs in widespread use.

            It’s also worth mentioning that the failure rates given there for typical use include “conscious user non-compliance with method”, i.e. not using the birth control you say you’re using. That might be useful from a public health standpoint — a lot of these tables are compiled around issues like teen pregnancy — but it doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re trying to estimate the method’s effectiveness as birth control.

          • Anonymous says:

            “widespread” is an exaggeration. Something like 5-6% of women use IUDs of any kind, compared to like one-quarter+ who use the pill. Hell, sterilization is five times more popular than IUDs.

            I wonder if conscious non-compliance includes the other party having different ideas – like puncturing condoms, etc.

  64. Mark says:

    The key point isn’t that social norms are important when a dispute is resolved socially (sorry, this is obvious), but rather than social norms can determine individual preferences.

    If it was me, as I am, it wouldn’t matter what advice people gave me, I wouldn’t tolerate a snow filled house. That is simply a deal-breaker.
    But if I lived in a society where snow filled houses were the norm, my preferences might be entirely different.

  65. >Adam gave the following counterargument: yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in marriage about remaining monogamous, but that was all legal boilerplate. He had wanted to get married to symbolize his committment to Steve – committment that he still had

    That is some master level hamstering. What he really wanted, of course, was the status and respect straight married couples have. Let’s be realistic here. It is all about that. I mean it was even in some court decision in the US admitting that gay marriage is all about an attempt to engineer respect/status for gays, a sort of an official validation?

    BTW Adam is right, it is sham marriage anyway. The true purpose of monogamy is that women don’t get knocked up by men who aren’t their husbands, hence the husbands can be sure they are spending their resources on kids who are biologically theirs. Every marriage that is not about biological reproduction is just a fake social signal, be that infertile straight couples or gays. Steve is being stupid, you are gay anyway, why pretend to be respectable and monogamous and all that, is it all about telling mom you are not like those really bad gays but somehow less bad? There is a Jewish saying that if you are eating pork anyway, fucking gorge yourself. (Not accurate quote.) If you are being a sexually liberated modern guy who isn’t primarily using his dick for procreation, there is little point in sticking to rag remnants of respectability. So, give up the status and just fuck everything that moves. Unless Steve is afraid of HIV, which is actually a reasonable argument.

    > because when I tried to write them hetero, their gender seemed to skew the problem too much to one side or another – for example, when Steve was a woman, he was the poor innocent wife wronged by a horny husband who insisted on thinking with his crotch

    Holy shit Scott, everybody in your social circles is _that_ blue-pill? Women automatically get the sympathy? This sounds fairly bad as today women clearly have far more sexual power than men, especially now that consent is taken very literally and very seriously. Men may still dominate corporate boards or stuff like that but the sexual aspect of life is absolutely dominated by women now – it is a long story why, but basically the important empirical data is which group is handing out more rejections, and the actual rejection ratios are like 10:1.

    • Aapje says:

      “The true purpose of monogamy”

      Who gets to decide that? If a person decides that monogamy makes them happy, then that is the ‘true purpose’ of an agreement of monogamy for that person.

      You are confusing (simplistic) collectivist notions of the value of monogamy for humanity/society with individualist notions of the value of monogamy for individuals. A monogamous marriage can not involve reproduction, yet have great value for the individual.

      “Every marriage that is not about biological reproduction is just a fake social signal”

      No. Marriage has legal & social repercussions and it also marks a commitment between two people. None of this is fake, because it changes the life of the people involved.

      “why pretend to be respectable and monogamous”

      You are very arrogantly saying that his monogamy is fake. How do you know? We know that jealousy exists and that plenty of people have no desire to sleep around. Those people are monogamous in reality, not pretending.

      It seems to me that you are just projecting your desires on others. Your argument is as silly as me saying that people who don’t like fish are just pretending, because I like fish, so obviously they must too and are brainwashed into pretending not to like it.

      • Anonymous says:

        “The true purpose of monogamy”

        Who gets to decide that?

        He’s arguing from the evopsych angle. It makes perfect sense there.

        • DavidS says:

          So, any inclination we follow not directed at the evolutionary roots of said inclination is a ‘fake social signal’? E.g. if I eat food because it tastes nice and not because it has some nutrients or other (presumably why we evolved to like the taste) then I’m giving a ‘fake social signal’?

          I hope that’s not the argument he’s making, because it rests on a totally ridiculous equivocation around ‘purpose’.

          Incidentally, I can’t see any argument that the true purpose of monogamy is reproduction that doesn’t say the true purpose of sex is reproduction full stop. I mean, in both cases it’s probably more complex, but while we’re grossly simplifying we might as well be consistent. So anyone using contraception is sending fake social signals too. Bunch of posers.

          • Anonymous says:

            I can’t see any argument that the true purpose of monogamy is reproduction that doesn’t say the true purpose of sex is reproduction full stop. I mean, in both cases it’s probably more complex, but while we’re grossly simplifying we might as well be consistent. So anyone using contraception is sending fake social signals too.

            The purpose of monogamy is paternal certainty, not reproduction itself. (From the other side of the equation, it also serves a purpose of resource dedication to the wife’s children, rather than bastards from her husband’s flings.)

            The purpose of sex is reproduction.

            Anyone using contraception is basically engaging in multiplayer masturbation.

          • anodognosic says:

            >The purpose of sex is reproduction.

            Whose purpose? Certainly not people’s – most sex is had for purposes other than reproduction.

            Many of us are atheists, so we’re not going to accept “God” as an answer. Nature? I’d call that mind-projection fallacy – nature has no purposes (any contention to the contrary is just theism of a different flavor). Any apparent teleology is an artifact of evolution.

            We can imagine an abstracted social purpose, sure, or something like it, that *society* survives through the reproduction of people. But then you get into the thorny philosophical question about which is the instrumental and which is the ultimate purpose, individuals’ or societies’ – on which I tend toward individuals’. (Not to mention that other social purposes of sex, like conflict resolution and pair-bonding, are well-documented in nature and in human society.)

            So, in a word, no.

          • @anodognosic

            Read e.g. Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos who argues for teleology from an atheist angle. Teleology is merely a word, a blegg, a map, if you dislike the word “purpose” you can replace it with “function”. “The purpose of the heart is to pump blood.” Whose purpose? Okay, whatever, then just call it “The function of the heart is to pump blood.” It is the same statement. You don’t need to have a conscious entity in order to have a function. A function is something that exists in a system. The function of carrion eating animals is to prevent plagues. Nobody told them so, it is simply how the ecosystem works.

            The human ecosystem is largely about intergroup competition, up to and including war. If too many humans get dysfunctional in their group, well…

          • Zykrom says:

            You might not agree with evolution = telos but it seems like a good way of thinking about things.

            Also, the concept of “multiplayer masturbation” doesn’t really make sense.

          • anodognosic says:

            The word “purpose” is usually a good enough approximation in talking about evolution and organs, but in this particular context it’s pulling more weight than it can legitimately bear. In particular, the argument attempts to impute an evolutionary/physiological “purpose” to individual and social purposes. That oversteps its bounds because, for one, “purpose” has a normative tinge that, say, “function” does not. Also, because “purpose” is often exclusive, so you can sneak in the proposition that procreation is the *only* purpose of marriage.

            And it’s patently not, even for, as you say, “low-IQ” individuals. Just off the top of my head, here are a couple of solid reasons for marriage that are not procreation and are not limited to an intellectual aristocracy nor rely on a government bureaucracy: companionship, efficiency arising from domestic division of labor, changing social relations (especially with the spouses’ families), establishing expectations for the relationship, having someone to take care of you if you are sick or injured.

            Regarding sex: it plays a *huge* role in maintaining intimacy and trust, I personally find it has some positive psychological effects, and it’s good for its own pleasurable sake. I see no reason to elevate the evolutionary “purpose” above any of these.

            (Also, it’s hard to overstate how strongly I reject Nagel’s naturalistic teleology.)

          • Nero tol Scaeva says:

            “The purpose of sex is reproduction.”

            If the purpose of sex was *only* reproduction, then humans would only be having sex while women were ovulating… like the vast majority of other sexually reproducing animals.

          • Anonymous says:

            And we can reliably perceive female ovulation now? Human females ovulate non-seasonally, making the de facto practice of frequent sex all year productive.

            There are, certainly, other purposes that sex serves. But the primary core without which all the others are meaningless is reproduction.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If you don’t like the term “multiplayer masturbation,” try “wireheading” instead. Or, for the non-LW equivalent term, “drug use.”

          • Zykrom says:

            @ anodognosic I agree that the word “purpose” is carrying too much rhetorical weight, but I like natural teleology. What do you hate about it? (also, please do me a favor and reply to this in a top level comment if you have much to say)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            “And we can reliably perceive female ovulation now? Human females ovulate non-seasonally, making the de facto practice of frequent sex all year productive.”

            The fact that we can’t reliably perceive female ovulation is Nero tol Scaeva’s whole point.

            If we are arguing from an evo-psych angle, the fact that humans do not reliably perceive ovulation tells us that sexual activity in humans is not a simple matter of reproduction alone. Otherwise we would have kept that mammalian trait.

          • Anonymous says:

            If we are arguing from an evo-psych angle, the fact that humans do not reliably perceive ovulation tells us that sexual activity in humans is not a simple matter of reproduction alone. Otherwise we would have kept that mammalian trait.

            How does that follow? Why does evolution care about traits that don’t encourage successful reproduction?

            Ovulation is costly to females. In many animals, they only do it when circumstances are right (correct season) for bearing offspring. Humans, especially in the ancestral environment of Africa, aren’t constrained severely this consideration, but ovulation is still a cost the female has to bear – wasted effort, should she not get inseminated at that point. The frequent but not constant ovulation is adaptive for the human condition in terms of allowing peak reproductive ability.

            And this ignoring the fact that you can get pregnant even if you have sex during a supposedly infertile period.

        • anodognosic says:

          To the extent that the evopsych purpose is the true purpose.

          I mean, I kind of expect that sort of simplistic analysis from someone who keeps dropping redpill shibboleths, because uncritical application of evopsych is the redpill schtick. But I tend to hope that people on this forum at least grasp the basics of the adaptation executor/fitness maximizer distinction.

          • Yes. Doesn’t matter. Evopsy is about how ancient intra- and intergroup competition shaped us. But both kind of competition is an ongoing process, it didn’t stop when history started, in fact it got only intensified. The smart critique is asking whether strategies evolved for the old kinds of low-tech competition are still workable in the newer kinds.

            I’d say surprisingly often they are, but for different reasons. For example back then sheer manpower was really important. Today, TheAncientGeek keeps telling me that a geek pressing a button could incinerate a city. Yes, but Progs will keep preventing that, for ethical reasons. Due to the ethical constraints set by Progs, sheer manpower is really important again. Here in Europe Progs don’t let us shoot the illegal immigrants (“refugees”) at the border, and they are many, hence many end up getting in. So the most primitive kind of ancient conquest method, locking the woman in the home and keeping her pregnant and having 12 kids, is actually working for them.

            Red-Pill as a subculture gets often ridiculous, like the women-are-evil kinds of whines. But the basic theory is correct, I think, have you found anything demonstrably incorrect with it? Just examine the behavior of low-IQ human groups. Examining yourself or people around here or your social circles is obviously a bad idea: high-IQ overrides instincts (Kanazawa). But go to any secondary specifically designated to dumbfscks (some Euro trade schools are a a good example) and you see RP behavior abound. Of course they are not fitness maximizers, they are too stupid for that: they are adaptation executres. But that is the whole point! RPish theories tell you what kind of adaptions do humans execute, at least stupid humans. Smart humans often override them.

            This is why it is so ridiculous when Holly from Pervocracy complains RP theories totally don’t predict her. You have, like, 140 IQ? Why the eff should a theory about two legged animals predict you???? It predicts 85 IQ behavior perfectly.

          • anodognosic says:

            I’d say that the core redpill beliefs are demonstrably limited. They constantly commit is/ought and adaptation execution/fitness maximization category errors, and importantly, they slice human behavior and psychology along a single dimension. Yeah, there’s some truth to it, but redpill in particular comes at the expense of putting on blinders to everything else.

            (I’d also add that the primary motivating mental state for redpilling is resentment, but I heard that Bulverism is frowned upon ’round these parts.)

          • I agree that it looks like resentment. The problem is that certain ideas are assigned low status, they will attract low status people, and often they are low status for a good reason. Mechanism explained here: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/the-suppression-feedback-loop/

            The problem is, they can still be true. If true ideas are suppressed (in the broad sense: ridiculed as redneckbeard fantasy etc.) they tend to attract too many scumbags. Still they are true.

            But I would like to see some examples, because I suspect what you call core is what I would call extreme. For example, do you accept that a man may not be very handsome but having power and status and more importantly behaving like someone who has power and status, having this commanding presence, does excite a lot of women? I find this core, you may consider this common knowledge. Stuff like “women always cheat” is something you may consider core, I consider extreme. Ultimately what I consider the core idea is that monkey instincts tend towards Sultans having Harems, not monogamy and especially not egalitarian monogamy.

          • anonymous says:

            As borderline as much of the published literature in evopsych is in terms of the scientific method, the kind of crap we see from internet neo-social-darwinists (of both the sexist and racist strands) is far far worse. It barely deserves the moniker pop evopsyche.

      • > people who don’t like fish are just pretending, because I like fish

        I would say people who don’t like chocolate ice cream would be really weird, and perhaps just pretending. We are evolved to crave fat and sugar, chocolate (bitter) and coldness masks the taste of sugar so the psychoactive effect can get even stronger without the disgusting taste. So if you claim to dislike chocolate ice cream, you are either 1) a mutant with a superpower 2) had a traumatic experience like your puppy beaten to death with a chuck of frozen ice cream 3) posturing. Which one is most likely?

        • PSJ says:

          Your psychology isn’t predetermined at birth, and we would expect the learning mechanisms associated with developing taste (just to isolate psychology, I’m sure there are many biological reasons for taste difference as well), to lead to different results given different inputs. Different flavor profiles can have more or less in common with others independent of nutritional content, so if I’ve oversampled food that tastes similar to chocolate but has negative phisiological effects, I might develop a perfectly reasonable dispreference to chocolate ice cream.

          Furthermore, you say we are evolved to crave sugar but at the same time say that the cold hides the disgusting taste which just seems totally contradictory in your own framework.

          Psychology (especially post-development) is not easily analyzable at the level of evolutionary drive. Go read some actual literature on chimp social dynamics–even these are not predictable from first principles.

          Furthermore, you except high-IQ people from necessarily being controlled by these drives while ascribing low-IQ people this characteristic in large amounts. The difference in intelligence between high-IQ and low-IQ people is minuscule compared to the difference between humans and other primates, so to say that you can describe behavior of low-IQ people to a high degree of accuracy from observation of other primates while high-IQ people can deviate significantly is absurd.

          So to answer your question, the most likely reason is that they actually don’t enjoy chocolate ice cream.

        • Mark Z. says:

          This explanation predicts the existence of strychnine ice cream.

          That’s the great thing about evopsych. It explains everything, including things that aren’t true.

    • anodognosic says:

      You just have *everything* figured out, dontcha?

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        I honestly find TheDividualist‘s comments completely insufferable.

        I just can’t take the nihilistic, you’re-no-better-than-an-animal, evolutionary pseudopsychology and pseudoethics, if-all-you’ve-got-is-a-hammer, women-are-evil-sluts, nonwhites-should-be-killed, completely collectivist, namecalling (“Progs”) […] shtick. Overall, everything he says is just a straight application of the “clearheaded thinking equals maximum cynicism” heuristic.

        And I’m certainly not a “progressive”! Though I do believe in actual material, cultural, and moral progress, which I suppose TheDividualist is opposed to on principle.

        I guess this might be an instance of stooping to ad hominem myself, but I’m just tired of this crap.

        • What you feel is the internalized status dynamic. You are (probably) a product of a guilt culture, not a shame culture, so you internalized the socially unacceptable, low-status ideas as something immoral. How can I tell? By your exaggerations. “women-are-evil-sluts, nonwhites-should-be-killed” is something I would obviously never say, it is like confusing a social democrat with a Stalinist, but the whole point is that they sound like something extremely socially undesirable, something really low status, internalized as something immoral.

          The problem is, clearheaded thinking only begins after shutting down the while social status calculus engine in your head. Both external and internalized (guilt, morality, ethics) versions.

          This isn’t really cynicism. Cynicism is usually the idea that other people are evil but I am not. But of course I am evil too, or more like, what is called evil is normal, or even more like, what is called evil is mostly just internalized social status calculus.

          There is of course a deeper level of ethics that goes beyond this calculus, which is mere reciprocity, the only non-signalling type of ethics because actually useful. For example, if I tried to illegally immigrate to a country, I would totally expect and find it fair that after some warning shots and repeated shouts to stop, they’d shoot at me. They are called border guards for a reason and I have absolutely no rights to go in the territory of a sovereign that does not want me, and they are valid to stop my violence, that is why they are sovereign. And of course this isn’t “shooting nonwhites”, it is border (para)military doing their job. So this is an example of reciprocal ethics.

    • nonymous says:

      * it is a long story why, but basically the important empirical data is which group is handing out more rejections, and the actual rejection ratios are like 10:1.*

      Thanks for the incel baseball- i mean- inside blueballs- i mean…

    • Zykrom says:

      “Which group is handing out more rejections” should always be expected to be the group that ~isn’t~ socially expected to be doing the asking, right?

      • Not expected to or does not need to because gets proposed anyway?

        • Zykrom says:

          The two would look the same, I think.

          It does seem like the party that initiates a transaction is going to be the less powerful, but haven’t males always been the initiators most of the time?

          • gbdub says:

            Actually, assuming that the non-initiating party is explicity not-allowed to initiate, then the initiator has more power. After all, they have both the exclusive power to initiate, AND the power to reject (by not initiating).

            The US Congress has more lawmaking power than the President, even though the President has veto authority.

          • Zykrom says:

            Initiation is a power, but the person with that power is often otherwise less powerful, I think. I’m the initiator in my interactions with merchants and employers, but I have less power than they do.

          • Gbdub says:

            In terms of a purchase or employment, YOU have more power over whether the transaction occurs. A merchant or employer can reject your purchase bid or your application, but they can’t force you to enter their store or apply for their job. Yes, in the global scheme a megacorporation has more power than you, but that’s for reasons that are not inherent to the initiator/acceptor relationship. If the convention was that employers all went around and asked people to apply, and didn’t accept any other applications, the employers would still have more global power than the employees even though the role of initiator had swapped.

            Anyway my point isn’t that there are never cases where an initiator is less powerful than an acceptor. Rather, I objected to your statement that “it seems like the party that initiates a transaction is going to be the less powerful” as if that was a general rule requiring explanations for exceptions.

          • Zykrom says:

            The party that initiates the transaction should be the one that ~needs~ the transaction to take place more, right?

            The more valuable employees are also often the ones who are recruited by corporations instead of having to jobhunt. They have more options, they have more power, so they don’t have to initiate.

            It’s also a truism that you shouldn’t be the first to make an offer in a negotiation.

          • The 19th century idea was that when unmarried women spot an eligible bachelor, they kind of seduce him. So initate informally, and get the man to initiate formally. This is probably about men being (or expected to be, whatevs) more blunt and less attentive to nuance.

    • Vladimir Slepnev says:

      What’s the point of having these sharp insights into human behavior, if they just make you angry and unhappy? Has the TRP community determined experimentally that being negative is the only way to social success?

      • Salem says:

        What’s the point of saying TheDividualist is angry and unhappy? Do you know him personally? Does he say he’s angry and unhappy? Is this just some kind of status move you’re trying to pull here?

        • Dirdle says:

          That is some master level hamstering. What he really wanted, of course, was the status and respect straight married couples have.

          What’s the point of having these sharp insights into human behavior, if they just make you angry and unhappy?

          Is this just some kind of status move you’re trying to pull here?

          This kind of false consciousness argument/armchair psychoanalysis/extreme cynicism is really unproductive and unpleasant no matter who’s doing it. Can’t we agree not to?

          • I think you and I have really different ideas about what is pleasant. My idea of pleasure is not to validate the gigantic amount of lies others humans tell to themselves, and I expect others to return the favor and pop my own self delusion bubbles if they find any. What would be the point of being idiotically nice and just nod when fat people call themselves beautiful, women who break down crying at the first offense call themselves strong and independent, or gays call themselves married? They know it is not true, it is childish behavior and the basic respect is to ignore the childishness and treat them as adults, so talking about what is real and not what they hamster. To me this comes accross as pretty pleasant, a cold breeze of grown-up sanity. I don’t know if you read Jerry Pournelle
            ‘s novels, like Falkenberg novels, I really like the way they talk, objective, precise and not sugarcoating anything. It is not extreme cynicism to see through the very basic level delusions even most normal children can see that they untrue. And it is not false consciousness either- that is a Marxian idea, untrue, I think, but fairly serious. It is not even something serious, just the kind of overgrown babies of the current generations living in their personal fantasies. Just imagine for a moment how any man from the past who was realistic, not even conservative just realistic, like Robert Heinlein, would tear this bullshit to shreds in a minute. Or any serious survivalist situation.

          • Dirdle says:

            Just imagine for a moment how any man from the past who was realistic, not even conservative just realistic, like Robert Heinlein, would tear this bullshit to shreds in a minute. Or any serious survivalist situation.

            The principle that asks you not to reject people’s statements of what they want as being a cover for secret “real” wants is the same principle that asks me not to reject your assessment on the grounds that it clearly stems from the old right-wing destructive urge. Kreider put this well: some conservatives seem to want the world to end. You buy up your guns and your jerky and your basement bunker and post on /pol/ to all but drool in anticipation of the latest race riot spinning out of control, or war with Russia, or the day the Chinese finally attack. Because then you’d finally be useful. You’re intelligent, you can see that almost everything society does is busywork – masturbation by any other name – but you can’t imagine yourself having value just for being a person, and so you secretly hope the whole thing will implode and you’ll be able to genuinely accomplish things. You are so starved of warmth that you call the moon the sun and claim that it is pleasant to walk naked in the cold night.

            There, see? I’m completely wrong, right? Didn’t understand you at all. And it sucks to have someone pretend like they know you better than you know yourself, then act like they’ve made an actual point by doing so, isn’t it? So let’s just not do that.

            However, I infer from your post above that you actually just think you know better than everyone else what they want (and certainly not the other way around), possibly on account of some vaguely-understood evolutionary psychology. So, uhh, have fun with that I guess?

          • No, you understand me very well. Collapse Porn is absolutely part of the rightie mindset, including mine, precisely because a man cannot have a value as a person, only through what he does, and the Bonobo Masturbation Society does feel like a crime against human nature in this regard, and yes, precisely because these days it is far rare to get the chance to do great deeds than when it was just cutting down a lot of foes was considered one. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2012/07/everyone-a-harlot/

            Being aware of it, and separating collapse fantasies from the actual probabilities of it – and actually likely scenarios – is absolutely a challenge on this side, perhaps, one of the biggest psychological ones. I think the probability is high because history is cyclical, but there is definitely an eagerness, motivated reasoning in it, yes.

            See? I think the primary difference is that while everybody has their unreality and wishful-thinking bubbles, we actually like to be aware of our own bubbles.

            Mind you, I am a Euro so Collapse Porn works differently than in the US. It is just standard old war / civil war, the continent becoming Bosnia, where stockpiling stuff does not help much, you will probably join an ethnic militia and share the stockpile and then they eat it in a week. So here it is assumed that some semblance of statehood never goes away, in the worst case it is separatist proto-statehood, again, Bosnia as an example. The every-man-for-himself scenario is distinctly American, and as far as I can tell largely because the US Government actually stoked this prepping thing in the Cold War in order to have citizens survive a nuclear war. Read Farnham’s Freehold from Heinlein. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnham%27s_Freehold Related: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallout_shelter#History

      • I am not angry and not unhappy, in fact I enjoy popping some silly bubbles, but I do sense there is a lot of frustration in the TRP community, this is why I am not a part of it. I just think the core tenets happen to be true. In fact, almost trivially true, just study orangutan or chimp behavior.

        Even logically true – it is how people necessarily must behave when things are tight. Every zombie apocalypse survival group would have to become “red pill” by necessity.

        TRP does tend to attact scumbags, because of the suppression feedback loop: https://dividuals.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/the-suppression-feedback-loop/

        • Vladimir Slepnev says:

          That’s a very civil response, thanks! It would be good if someone tried to repackage TRP ideas in a warm and appealing way, though I guess it’s very difficult. On the other hand, Eliezer has managed to take some topics that sound even more abstract and unpleasant (cognitive biases and existential risks) and make them warm and appealing, so maybe there’s hope for TRP yet.

        • Drdg says:

          “just study orangutan or chimp behavior”

          And this is what’s usually wrong with evo psych ideas. Now compare chimpanzee and bonobo behavior – what can the noticeable differences tell us about humans? Nothing. The ancestral species of all three split at least 4 million years ago.

          Majority of the evo psych ideas, at least the most popular ones that rotate around like the good little urban myths that they are, is just wishful thinking + cherrypicked facts from very different fields (general zoology, soc. anthropology, prehistory, what have you).

          • It is not about that. Try to see evolution as something closer to economics – it teaches you not simply what happpened in biology but also what makes sense, what is efficient in biology. We know why bonobos are like that: no gorillas around. Far lower competition for food. Bonobos are humans in a welfare society basically. Chimps are humans in a resource-scarce frontier society. The point is learn how evolved behavior actually makes sense in what circumstances, to understand the quasi-economic logic behind it, not to treat it as raw data.

          • Drdg says:

            “We know why ..”

            Actually, we don’t know why.

            We can only come up with more or less reasonable speculations, but they are not verifiable. And I’ve encountered enough cases, where some field’s historical paradigms (the most reasonable speculation at the time) looks silly in light of new finds, so I don’t rely strongly on this approach.

            Added: not saying that speculations should be eradicated completely, that would make history books incredibly boring, but I wouldn’t take seriously so far-reached, but fundamental conclusions about modern human behavior from pure speculations about some other species behavior’s reasons.

          • Drdg says:

            “Bonobos are humans in a welfare society basically. Chimps are humans in a resource-scarce frontier society.”

            Oi, just realized: this is in total contradiction with your belief in usefulness and reasonability of evo psych approach.

          • Aapje says:

            “Oi, just realized: this is in total contradiction with your belief in usefulness and reasonability of evo psych approach.”

            Indeed, it just allows him to cherry pick behavior and claim that example as natural. Monogamous homosexual behavior is observed in some animals, so it’s easy to find counterexamples if ‘natural behavior’ is counted as proof.

    • Deiseach says:

      because when I tried to write them hetero, their gender seemed to skew the problem too much to one side or another – for example, when Steve was a woman, he was the poor innocent wife wronged by a horny husband who insisted on thinking with his crotch

      I have to agree this much with TheDividualist; it would have been as easy to write Steve as the nagging, shrewish wife who drove her husband to sex clubs for what he was not getting at home (this, after all, is the rationale of Jacopo Rusticucci, one of the sodomites in the Inferno who blames his wife’s cold, proud nature as the reason he turned to having sex with men. To which all I have to say is, if your wife won’t sleep with you and you’re committing adultery, how come you decided to have sex with guys instead of girls if you’re really straight?).

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        (Speaking of the guy in the Inferno.) Maybe he’s bisexual?

        Certainly, Classical and Medieval cultures didn’t have this rigid idea of sexual identity, such that gay sex was limited to “gay” men. The condemnation of gay sex seems to have been simply because it was an “unnatural” pleasure that tied men too closely to the material world and led them away from God / the Forms. No different from liking sweets too much; or singing hymns more for the pleasure of the music than for the glory of God; or engaging in the “gratification of the eye” (i.e. science) for the sake of the mental pleasure obtained therefrom.

        Actually, it reminds me quite a bit of Scott’s post from a while ago where he elaborated a hypothesis to the effect of: “we have to forbid gay sex because if we didn’t, everyone would do it…right guys”?

        • Aapje says:

          “we have to forbid gay sex because if we didn’t, everyone would do it…right guys”?

          Which is why a lot of the most vocal anti-gay conservatives seem closeted gays. It makes perfect sense, since they do in fact have to suppress their desires to meet the norm in their community.

  66. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Somewhat related, Jane Galt’s “A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other”. Galt’s piece mostly deals with economic incentives, but also notes that when those incentives push the first few marginal cases to break the cultural norm, that makes it more socially acceptable for other people to break the norm, too, which in turn creates the next batch of marginal cases which is just barely willing to break the norm, and in short order the norm is destroyed.

    • Nornagest says:

      The trouble with this line of thought is that it doesn’t allow you to change anything unless you have some way of figuring out the magnitude of the feedback. Not even the Amish are that conservative.

    • onyomi says:

      That piece is really excellent, though might bias one too strongly in a conservative direction, as Nornagest suggests. Still, it’s striking to think how slippery some slopes have truly been, historically, considering how often people still scoff at slippery slope arguments.

    • And somewhat related to that: does anyone have an example of a society where (a) something similar to our conception of marriage existed (i.e., with both ceremonial and legal aspects, and amounting to more than a property relationship); (b) romantic homosexuality was socially acceptable for both partners (i.e., not Ancient Greece); and (c) marriage was heterosexual only?

      That is, I’m looking for an explicit example of a society that was completely comfortable with homosexuality but nonetheless prohibited gay marriage, in support of the claim that there must be a good reason why marriage has always been heterosexual-only in the past. Bonus points if we know why said society prohibited gay marriage. 🙂

      PS – since a recent discussion elsewhere went rather sour, and I’m still a bit sensitive about it, I’d like to explicitly state that if I do not get any responses to this question that should not be interpreted as evidence that no such society existed. I guess that goes without saying around here, but YMMV.

      • onyomi says:

        In premodern China same-sex marriage would have been unthinkable, yet same-sex relations, though mildly frowned upon in some cases, were much less stigmatized than in the west. Certainly not a mortal sin; more like a weird preference no one worried about so long as it didn’t get in the way of marriage and child-bearing (one imagines the premodern Chinese parents hearing their son admit he likes to sleep with other men, to which they might respond, “okay, that’s fine. Do what you want in your own time, but you still have to get married and provide us with a daughter-in-law and grandchildren to take care of us”).

        Female homosexuality could even be a plus if it meant one’s multiple wives got along better.

        • Hmmm. I don’t think that insisting on someone continuing to have heterosexual sex counts as accepting homosexuality in quite the sense I meant.

          Thank you, though, it’s certainly an interesting example. And it reminded me of the connection to fertility, which I had somehow managed to forget about entirely – d’oh!

          If I’d been thinking more clearly yesterday I’d probably have added something like “amounting to more than a means of encouraging population growth” to the list of things that would disqualify a society’s conception of marriage from being similar to ours. Of course that may not be entirely fair; unless my memory is playing even worse tricks on me, quite a few conservatives have in fact argued against gay marriage on precisely the grounds that it might adversely affect the birthrate.

          It’s true that I don’t accept that argument, since in my opinion we’ve got too many people already. But I can at least understand how someone could honestly believe it.

  67. Dan Davis says:

    “Once you’ve let the culture set a default”

    Isn’t that the last thing an “atomic individualist” would do is let the statistical collective decide? Particularly in a romantic relationship, do I have to give a shit what “culture” thinks?

    Win-win, or no deal.

    This is what those two jokers are missing. What they’re trying to do is cudgel each other over the head with an argument presupposing an objective standard of value to appeal to, *instead* of trying to appeal to what the other *actually* values, which presumably is their relationship above all.

    They’re negotiating over a new division of the surplus value their relationship generates for each. They could actually *negotiate* that, trading value for value, instead of playing winner take all mortal combat.

    If you really want something you know your partner doesn’t want, are you willing to give anything in return? This is a very tricky thing, as it requires a lot of *trust* in the good faith negotiating of the other person, and even trust in their own self awareness, and sense of fairness.

    (From your description, I don’t think either has that, or either merits that.)

    I don’t have a good solution for dividing surplus value, but the *start* is at least an acceptance that neither has the right to demand subordination of the other. Your life is your own, and my life is mine, and we’ll see if we can find a way to have a life together we can both be satisfied with. Win-win, or no deal.

    • One thing the surrounding culture does determine is the meaning of language. The link between a particular sound or pattern of letters and a meaning is a matter of social convention.

      In a society where the normal meaning of marriage includes sexual fidelity, saying “will you marry me” is an offer of sexual fidelity unless explicitly qualified. The moral issue is not “is sleeping with someone else immoral,” a question which would not be answered by social convention. It is “is breaking promises immoral,” where social convention isn’t what makes it immoral, but is (via language) what defines the promise you are breaking.

      • Dan Davis says:

        Sure.

        I would also assume that marriage included fidelity, unless otherwise specified.

        Well, Super Freak wants a new deal. And I don’t think “until death do us part” is considered anything more than aspirational these days. People know that marriage is subject to renegotiation and cancellation.

        So again, it’s up to what they can negotiate together, and neither need feel bound to accept the general societal preference as a binding tie breaker then they preferences clash.

        • JBeshir says:

          In practice, deviating from “default” contracts and actions is something people only do if they’re motivated and aware enough to consciously act to do so. Otherwise, they stick with the default. There’s somewhat of an art to exploiting this under the name “nudge theory”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_theory, used for altering behaviour without altering anything that would, to a perfectly rational agent, be a non-negligible incentive.

          I tend to think of this as a “transaction cost” to being non-default; it probably isn’t one and probably doesn’t follow the model of transaction costs in other respects for all I know, but it is a bit of friction that has to be overcome in reality before people act in the manner theories would predict.

          Because of this, I’d predict that most people would agree to whatever the default marriage agreement was, and only deviate insofar as it was very important to them most of the time, which would give culture noticeable weight.

  68. wanderer2323 says:

    “Once you’ve let the culture set a default then given sufficiently good liberal norms people who want to deviate from the default can absolutely do so.”

    And, in deviating, of course, they pave the way for the next cultural conflict that sets the next default. This is what is called the slippery slope.

    Also, 2100s are “ultra-permissive sexually-open” only as far as dissociative neurostimulative VRs allow, publicly the “neo-victorian chill” sets tone for the behaviour (so no kink clubs north of Bombay); otherwise this article is perfect.

  69. Cord Shirt says:

    Rather than “duuuh” I’ll say that yes, “culture sets the default” is intuitively obvious to me, and it’s why I became a feminist, started supporting same-sex marriage etc.

    But I’m uncomfortable with how willing you are to just up and declare things “reasonable” or not. I have too much experience with being an outlier to be comfortable just…dismissing someone’s unusual preferences quite as completely as you do. (Yes, I know you’re exaggerating for effect; *even so*. It just…makes me very uncomfortable to see anyone ever flat-out told, “Your preferences are stupid and don’t count”–even a fictional anyone, even as a joke.)

    (Of course, this discomfort with just dismissing someone makes me a sitting duck for insincere crybullies. No matter how out of touch with reality their attack is, I look for the grain of truth or “what philosophy they’d have to hold to make it seem true” or etc.)

    “suppose Adam wants to sometimes take a shower, but for some reason the thought of Adam being in a shower pisses Steve off and he refuses to allow it.”

    …just have him take a freaking bath, yeesh. 😉

    Meanwhile, this:

    “But go back two hundred years and ask the people of that culture, and this choice is a no-brainer”

    made me LOL. In “Belmont” (as opposed to “Fishtown” as well as, apparently, “many other places Murray didn’t address”) you’d only have to go back 20 years, if that. (Example: I knew a couple who got divorced in the ’90s because he wouldn’t stop going to *strip* clubs. Everyone who knew this agreed the divorce was his fault.)

    Personally, my reaction to Adam and Steve’s story is that it’s very sad, and unfortunately they’re going to need to go ahead and divorce. And Steve gets the kids.

    That’s because my experience with different individuals and different cultures has taught me that you really can’t rely on the assumption that something is “just boilerplate,” you really can’t. For relationships not to crash and burn, you always, always have to pay attention to the actual words, the actual agreement. And if there’s anything we really need culturally enforced, it’s that. The agreement is the agreement–and so the non-violator gets the kids.

    (Indeed I *would* be sympathetic to a woman who wanted out of a sexist marriage, and I would feel a great deal of sympathy for her likely desire to save her kids from being raised with those beliefs; even so. Steve still gets the kids.)

    • Vladimir Slepnev says:

      Yeah, that was my reaction as well. Divorce and let Steve have the kids. Adam can’t be very serious about marriage anyway. Marry, adopt and cheat within one year? I don’t think that will be reasonable even in 2100.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think that looking at marriage as a cause (rather than an effect) of the relationship contract is incorrect.

      I think it’s very rare for the rules of a relationship to change in much if a substantive manner because of a marriage itself. If you expect fidelity from your spouse, you expected it before the formal ceremony.

      • Anonymous says:

        You can expect things with different degrees of confidence, and make plans based on those expectations. I think people typically expect their spouse to make more of an effort to sustain the relatoinship, and to try to repair it if things go wrong, than they would expect of them before the marriage.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          But going into the church, saying the words, and signing the marriage certificate don’t actually cause these changes. Sure, there is some extra cost to terminating a relationship once the marriage has occurred, but I don’t think those costs are what drives the behavior of, say, fidelity.

          Rather, agreeing to the terms of the relationship is the pre-condition for engaging in the ceremony. There may be some people who intended no fidelity even when planning the marriage, who then are changed because of the marriage itself, and some more who won’t go through with the marriage because they realize they can’t be faithful, but I would posit that the overwhelming majority go through the ceremony and then do what they would have done.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t disagree, but the problem is you have no way to see into someone else’s mind, and so can only understand their intentions by their actions. Someone marrying you is evidence that they intend to put more effort into sustaining the relationship in the face of hardship. I’m not saying marrying causes them to change their mind and get serious but that it’s a way of demonstrating their seriousness.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Anonymous:
            Oh, I completely agree that one useful feature of the marriage ceremony (and the whole of the marriage ritual) is that it makes possible a very clear communication of commitment.

            But again, that doesn’t make it the cause of the commitment. The desire and willingness to commit is the cause. One can have the exact same commitment without ever having had a ceremony or certificate or ring. This is one reason why we have the term “common law marriage”.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m not sure I agree.

        There’s a lot of cultural weight behind calling yourself “married”, a lot of norms and expectations linked to it. Maybe there’s not much physical difference if you were already living together, pooling your finances, and so forth, but people often change their behavior when they’re exposed to a new set of norms even if they don’t come with any material changes. And then there’s those vows, of course; I reckon there are still a few people that take them seriously.

        This might be less true for gay couples than straight ones, since that form of marriage is so new, but they’d still share some of it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Oh, I agree there is a great deal of cultural weight.

          But this weight is understood by those going into the marriage. It’s not a surprise. Therefore it is the willingness to be bound by those expectations, as modified based on the individual couples communication, that is the precursor. Marriage is a useful shorthand for the terms of the agreement and makes good boilerplate to be modified by mutual agreement.

          But if, say, someone is cheating on their S.O., or even having agreed to sex outside of the bonds of the relationship by mutual agreement, up until the day of the marriage, it seems to me that the mere fact that one signed a marriage certificate is highly unlikely to result in a long term working monogamous marriage. You won’t just change your behavior or preferences on a dime by dint of being married.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s not entirely about the expectations, it’s also about the participants’ responses to them, and that’s often a surprise even to the people in question. I’ll bet you’ve seen someone’s personality change in ways you didn’t expect after a promotion at work, or found yourself hating a friend after moving in with them as a roommate? Same principle.

            If you’ve only ever known someone in one cultural context (“boyfriend”; “colleague”), you’ll usually find yourself discovering plenty of new things about them when they move into another. The preferences behind those things probably existed already, of course, but you’ll never know all someone’s preferences.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:

            Did you just “move the goalposts”? You are the one who brought in the significance of the cultural weight and now you seem to be eschewing it.

            In any case, I certainly agree that for many the act of marriage marks an inflection point. Cohabitation starts for many at this time. Sexual activity may start if it was not present, although this is not as common as it was in the past. Reproduction may now be considered when it was not before. Perhaps for one party there is a clarity that they have now made a lifetime commitment and this may be problematic.

            But of course it’s possible for all of these things to happen without being married. Marriage marks the time when a couple has agreed that they will make these changes in the relationship. At some point arranged marriages forced these changes on people, but not anymore (in the West, for the most part, etc.)

            So again, it seems to me that marriage is a useful short hand for people to use to explain their feelings about the relationship. The ceremony seems to me to be very useful, don’t get me wrong! I cherished my wedding day. Still, the fact that we got married was a result of my desired relationship with my wife, and the fact that she agreed, not the cause of it.

          • Nornagest says:

            Did you just “move the goalposts”? You are the one who brought in the significance of the cultural weight and now you seem to be eschewing it.

            The cultural weight is where these changes come from, but it’s significant in different ways for different people. You can’t just look at the institution and predict exactly how your fiance is going to handle it, unless you know them much better than most people know their partners.

            It’s true that marriage doesn’t mark as big a change in a relationship, on average, as it did fifty or a hundred years ago. But even if every couple was cohabiting, having sex, considering kids, etc. before marriage was on the table, I still think that just calling yourself married has serious enough cultural implications to bring out parts of your fiance’s personality that you might not have seen before, especially if they’ve been brought up in a somewhat different cultural environment. And I think they might not always be aware that that’s going to happen, or of how predictable it is from the outside if so.

            At least in 2015. Maybe “married” will be synonymous with “shacked up long-term” in 2115, I don’t know, but that’s not the world we live in.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:

            How is that different from “I thought I wanted to be in this relationship with you, but I don’t”? And how is “being married” a different stress than “moving in together and considering having children”?

            Now, if what you are trying to say is that some people agree to getting married who don’t actually want to be married, then, sure, I agree with that. But people also agree to date monogamously when they want to play the field.

          • Nornagest says:

            How is that different from “I thought I wanted to be in this relationship with you, but I don’t”?

            It’s analogous, but “married” has different cultural connotations than “in a relationship”, or even “moving in together and considering children”. It means you’ll be presenting yourself to others as a wife or husband, and that means people will expect different things of you, respond to you differently. The rules, to bring this back around, have changed. You might not find yourself comfortable with your new status. Or you might find yourself more comfortable. My point is that it’s hard to tell beforehand, even if literally nothing material about the relationship has changed other than that you spent one afternoon at the courthouse signing papers.

            I saw this happen firsthand a couple years ago when my dad married his girlfriend (now my stepmother), whom he’d been living with for something like fourteen years — about as close to marriage-as-formality as you could hope for. The rules, to bring this back around, had still clearly changed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:
            OK, I don’t disagree with anything you are saying there

            But I still don’t see how that maps onto “not faithful before marriage, but faithful after”. Perhaps the wearing of the ring changes how people react to you? But then married men have a tendency to take off their ring when they are out cheating, if they are the type do that. And even then, that isn’t the individual changing their own expectation nor their expectations of their spouse.

          • Nornagest says:

            I was responding to this:

            I think it’s very rare for the rules of a relationship to change in much if a substantive manner because of a marriage itself.

            …more than this:

            If you expect fidelity from your spouse, you expected it before the formal ceremony.

            I agree that monogamy (or non-) will usually be established before marriage is on the table, though there’s exceptions to everything in a custom this complicated. But cheating (or not yet actual cheating, but chafing at the bonds of monogamy) can be an effect of stress in a relationship as well as a cause.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Nornagest:

            I agree that monogamy (or non-) will usually be established before marriage is on the table, though there’s exceptions to everything in a custom this complicated. But cheating (or not yet actual cheating, but chafing at the bonds of monogamy) can be an effect of stress in a relationship as well as a cause.

            It seems important to me to differentiate the desire for (and agreement to) the basic terms of the relationship as separate from the psychological effect it has on the individuals to actual meet the terms of the agreement (or the effects that come with societal expectations which happen to differ from the actually agreed contract).

            Certainly the psychological effects happen, but that is different than whether the marriage itself creates the basic agreement or results from it, especially when we are talking about the basic fundamental pieces like fidelity or cohabitation.

            Now, sexual activity seems like it could be a confounder here. Among those who strongly believe that sexual activity must be abstained from until marriage, I can easily see people having a primary goal of sexual activity and everything else being secondary. I think that is why my wife’s grandmother got married at 16 (crossing state lines to do so), but that (mostly) isn’t the society we live in today.

    • Deiseach says:

      The cynical part of me thinks that yes, Steve probably ends up with the kids, because having to take care of and at the very least arrange child-minding/babysitting for two kids is going to drastically cut into Adam’s time and opportunities to visit fetish clubs. Bit hard to get a good scene going when you have to be home by half eleven to let the babysitter home on a school night!

      Ignore me, I’m not a nice person 🙂

  70. Anthony says:

    Imagine you were good friends with both Adam and Steve, and one day, Adam called you out of the blue to complain about Steve’s sexual blandness. It would be uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? It would be strange because Adam would be asking you to inject your judgments into a sphere over which you have no legitimate agency — that being, Adam and Steve’s relationship. The only who people who have a legitimate say over that are Adam and Steve.

    You’re correct that morality is contingent on time and place. Your archipelago idea hints, accurately, that it’s also contingent on the actors involved. A close relationship begets a peculiar moral code that binds only that relationship’s participants. What that means is that you, the friend, pronouncing on who is morally justified in Adam and Steve’s relationship makes as much sense as it would for me, a secular left-wing Jew, to tell a conservative Baptists how he or she should feel about adultery.

    Morals are common norms which are both accepted by, and simultaneously define groups of people. When two people marry, they make a moral pact with one another which henceforth defines their relationship. That moral pact can be as close to or as far from the general moral pact of the larger society as they’d like it to be. Culture warriors are troublesome not because they have the wrong viewpoints, but because they attempt to reach into other people’s personal relationships and dictate their moral terms.

    I think you’re right that modifying cultural attitudes towards what makes a “normal” marriage harms some folks’ ability to use those mores as leverage in fights with their spouses over how their relationships should look. I also think that using those mores as leverage in that manner is confused and leads to bad outcomes. If you’re appealing to the values of family, friends, or (god forbid) “society,” for why your partner should behave in the way you want them to, you’re doing the whole relationship thing wrong.

    Unless your marriage contract is all about the community getting up in your and your spouse’s business, in which case, God bless.

  71. Kevin C. says:

    “We all hear the stories of the economists who start by assuming perfect rationality, and then add in deviations from that assumption when they come to them. I kind of like to start from a liberal assumption of perfect atomic individualism and add in deviations when I encounter them.”

    I see this, and I immediately think of my half-written essay (entitled “Society is not a van der Waals Gas”) arguing against this view. Given that we are social animals, embedded in a culture, and shaped non-trivially by our relationships, social role(s), and surrounding people; and that as individuals approach isolation, they approach not an idealized “atomic” individual reflecting the “true” humanity to which social forces add “deviations”, but instead weirdness and dysfunction. (My essay further discusses Xunzi’s view of what distinguishes the human species from other animals; as I rephrase it in modern terms, humanity is the animal that constructs social roles.) If one needs a physics analogy, humans are more like quarks in QCD.

    Society is a network, not a gas; the edges are at least as important as the vertices (rather than a perturbation to be added as a second-order “correction” to the model of atomic vertices). In fact, I would argue that if there are “atoms” to society, it is interpersonal relationships rather than individuals, and that one should model society in the reverse of your method, starting with the “edges” of relationships and then adding the “deviations” of individuals as the correction.

    • I wholly approve of this model. It seems obvious at this time in my life that society is a network, and relationships are primary social units, rather than epiphenomena disturbing the pure individualist substrate. OTOH I remember how long it took me to come around to this view, so it’s definitely something that needs to be argued for.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Worth pointing out that Aristotle independently reached the same conclusion:
      “Man is a political animal.”

      Confucius (obviously this is in the same thought-stream as Xunzi) quite clearly conceives of the relationship as the fundamental unit, and getting those into proper shape was his whole project.

    • Harold Lee says:

      I’d be very interested in reading this essay.

    • moridinamael says:

      Mainly just fourth’ing that I think this is an excellent insight.

      Since I was a child, I’ve been aware that my personality, including my thoughts and unconscious attitudes, alter in response to who I’m interacting with. I automatically tailor myself to my friends. I don’t think I’m some kind of weird alien, I think everyone does this, with greater or lesser degrees of self-awareness.

      It’s almost impossible for my to nail down my “actual preferences” outside of interpersonal contexts.

    • W.T. Dore says:

      This essay sounds very interesting!

  72. DavidS says:

    PS: on social norms, sometimes (not always) these also feed in to the ‘contract’ argument. I.e. the implicit sense of a marriage contract (in the UK…) now does include not cheating, doesn’t include actually committing to not get divorced even if you’re miserable. So in that sense if your values are wildly dissonant with the social norms, I think it’s fair to say you should give people fair warning! This does allow for more localised social norms, i.e. if all Adam+Steve’s married friends are in open relationships then maybe the presumption of monogamy is weaker, or if Adam+Steve are Catholics (OK, maybe not…) then the assumption that divorce is regrettable but OK might not apply.

  73. DavidS says:

    Hah, I was thinking about exactly your disclaimer point halfway through “Bit tasteless to make them gay. Wait a sec, if they were straight you’d have to have either ‘kinky husband’ or ‘kinky wife’ and that brings baggage too. Huh”

    I think one huge thing is that personally I feel ‘who is in the right’ can be a quite damaging question in close relationships (romantic or otherwise). Many times, I would advise my friends to try to do what’s most considerate of the other person either in the Adam or the Steve role. And try to do the same myself. The list of ‘what I expect other people to do to be morally acceptable’ and ‘what I am willing to do’ should not be the same thing!

    Also just a side-note: I may be wrong, but growing up with my main experience of church being liberal Church of England, the idea of a priest siding against the trans person feels completely alien and horrible. And linked to the ‘I agree at the object level’ point – I used to basically thing trans people were posers. Even then, I’d have thought someone refusing to use the name they preferred was shitty. And I’m pretty sure I read something very similar on an earlier blog of yours (in the context of the principle of a strong default to openness and being nice to neo-cons if I recall correctly)

    • On the name/gender/trans case …

      I think the reasonable solution, if you see someone as of one gender and that person wants to be seen as the other, is to avoid gender specific language. I’ve been in that situation, although not with someone literally trans. It feels wrong, dishonest, to call someone “she” who I perceive as “he.” It’s rude to call someone “he” who self-identifies as “she.” The solution is to do neither.

      So far as names are concerned, I have always been unreasonably bad at remembering the names of people whose names I ought to know—colleagues, for instance. So long ago formed the habit of avoiding the use of names most of the time.

      But it might be considerate, if someone wants to switch gender identification and name, to select a name that isn’t gender specific.

      • Lignisse says:

        I agree with much of your comment. This was the solution my parents adopted when I first spent Thanksgiving with them after transitioning, and I found it suprisingly workable (superior, even, to an insincere use of my chosen pronouns, since that would have created a sense that I was controlling them, which would have been mutually unpleasant). Of course it’s my hope/expectation that eventually they’ll move to a sincere use of my chosen pronouns and remove the conflict, but in the meantime, your suggestion is highly endorsed.

        Your second suggestion (gender non-specific names) does have that same small advantage, but there’s also a large downside that you may not have fully considered. Unlike you, many (most, in my geographical region) sincerely desire to call people by their chosen pronouns. When physical gender presentation is ambiguous or confusing, a strongly gender-marked name clears up the confusion nicely – thereby satisfying their preference to know what pronouns to use.

    • Deiseach says:

      Even then, I’d have thought someone refusing to use the name they preferred was shitty.

      For the family side – for X number of years they have known this person as their son, their brother, their nephew. The name may even have significance as a family name from a grandfather or other close male relative.

      And now all of a sudden their son is claiming not to be their son and wants to be called some strange name. And if they slip and call him by the name they know him, they are bad horrible people who are deliberately being shitty. And they are supposed to do all the changing and compromising when they don’t even know what is going on – is he gay? is this a phase? a mental illness? what is trans anyway?

      It’s not easy for either side here and yes, maybe the best solution is to avoid the family event altogether. But surely you can see why people might have pain themselves when their son turns around and tells them all their memories, all their years with him, never existed because that person wasn’t real? That they were wrong when they thought they had a son and instead they are supposed to switch immediately to thinking, acting and remembering about a daughter instead?

      • DavidS says:

        I understand they might find it difficult – as some parents do if they find out their kid is gay, or doesn’t want to do the job they always saw them doing, or whatever. But I didn’t say them ‘slipping’ made them shitty – mistakes happen. What I said was shitty was ‘refusing’ to use the preferred name/pronoun. There’s a massive difference!

        Your pain that your child is not as you expected does not justify you DELIBERATELY taking a stand that undermines them as they are.

        Incidentally, I think this is true of siblings/friends etc. as well but part of the different feelings here might be about the parent/child relationship. My upbringing etc. are very much permeated with the sense that the main responsibility here is for parents to nurture and support children, and kids basically don’t have a responsibility to be what their parents expect, obey them, follow their principles etc. beyond the degree to which this is inevitable in childhood. Obviously a worldview where the child is seen to owe more of a duty to the parent than vice versa might skew views on this.

        • Anonymous says:

          Your pain that your child is not as you expected does not justify you DELIBERATELY taking a stand that undermines them as they are.

          What they are is the salient point of contention here! The transdenialists don’t accept the self-identification as valid, even if it is made honestly. The transcredulists simply accept it at face value.

          The transcredulists would have it so that the transperson’s self-identification is binding on other people’s interaction with them, even when they disagree with the transperson’s choices.

          • DavidS says:

            I don’t mean ‘what they are’ in a deep way. Taboo the question ‘what sex are they actually’ and we can describe the person, e.g. ‘has XY chromosones’, ‘earlier in life had appearance associated with being a man’, ‘now identifies as a woman’.

            My point isn’t that the parent not using their preferred pronoun is undermining them ‘as a woman’ – it’s undermining them as a PERSON.

            Now, the answer to this might be ‘good, I want to undermine them, I have decided that trans is a social evil of some form and I will confront it wherever I see it’. But at that point you can’t act surprised that this is causing conflict!

            Also, you talk about disagreeing with their ‘choices’ which seems weird here. If my son married a woman I disapproved of, I wouldn’t respond by refusing to describe her as his wife…

          • Anonymous says:

            >My point isn’t that the parent not using their preferred pronoun is undermining them ‘as a woman’

            Because they’re not (barring some weird case of ambiguously-sexed children being assigned the wrong label and cosmetically altered based on the physician’s best guess).

            > – it’s undermining them as a PERSON.

            No. Female humans and male humans are both fully persons.

            >Also, you talk about disagreeing with their ‘choices’ which seems weird here.

            Transgenderism is determined by self-identification. Unless you’re truscum, you don’t even need to claim to feel dysphoria over your physical sex. From the standpoint of an external observer, it is impossible to tell what reasons the transperson has to act this way – which, in itself, contradicts observed facts of their physicality.

            >If my son married a woman I disapproved of, I wouldn’t respond by refusing to describe her as his wife…

            Because being married takes more than just deciding one day to call yourself married – the consent of another, a written contract, witnesses, etc, etc. If your son came home with a woman he called his wife, but whom you could verify was not married to him, you would be well within your rights to call her his concubine, or lover, or girlfriend.

          • DavidS says:

            I think we’re just coming at this from radically different contexts. E.g.

            “If your son came home with a woman he called his wife, but whom you could verify was not married to him, you would be well within your rights to call her his concubine, or lover, or girlfriend.”

            In dealing with those I care about I don’t stand on my RIGHTS like that and (to keep the term I started with) I think doing so is deeply shitty. I have the right to call my son’s (alleged wife) ‘Your current strumpet’ if I want. But I’m not going to, because why would I be deliberately offensive. Do you REALLY think it’s reasonable to respond to ‘hey mum, meet my wife’ with ‘I demand to see the marriage certificate and verify this with the listed witnesses. Until then, I will call her your concubine’?

          • Jiro says:

            DavidS: You’re talking abut a situation where someone *tries to find out* whether they are married, while he’s talking about a situation where you *already know* whether they are married.

            Those aren’t the same thing.

          • Anonymous says:

            @DavidS

            First of all, I would expect you’d be mad that he didn’t invite you to the wedding, didn’t ask for your opinion on his bride, hidden the fact of marriage from you until that point, etc, etc. It would be quite reasonable for you to doubt that said marriage was quite legit.

            Consider a different situation: Your son out of the blue announces he’s married to some woman, and has been for years. He takes to wearing a wedding band, but his supposed wife never seems to be around – except when you’re not around. No-one else has seen her, either. Sure, he might be telling the truth, but a reasonable person might suspect that their son has gone crazy, with continued lack of substantial evidence that his wife exists, and even if she does exist, the situation is quite bizarre enough.

            I guess the question here is – is it okay to feed a crazy person’s delusions to keep the peace between you two?

          • DavidS says:

            So to clarify, the idea here is that the people refusing to recognise transgender and insisting on using previous names/pronouns are either
            a) just being factual because ‘they already know’ the truth to the point that they can just blank ignore the position of the person involved. Maybe they’re baffled as to why this person keeps using the wrong pronouns!
            and/or
            b) have decided that trans is some sort of delusional mental illness… and that the best resolution to this is to make them miserable at Christmas and drive them away from the family

            Just doesn’t sound hugely plausible, I’m afraid.

          • @DavidS:

            I don’t think you are correctly describing the attitude.

            Some people strongly object to lying. If I perceive someone as male and that someone insists that he is female, for me to use female pronouns is a lie, since it clearly implies that I accept the claim, and I don’t. It doesn’t follow that I am unaware of the claim or that I regard it as a mental illness, still less that I want to drive the person away from the family–any more than the person making the claim implies that he wants to drive the family away from him.

            Consider, as an analogous case, a traditional Catholic interacting with a family member who has married a divorced woman. To refer to her as his wife is to imply that he believes she is his wife, and he doesn’t. If he wants to avoid conflict, the solution is not to refer to her as a wife but to avoid referring to her in ways that emphasize the fact that he doesn’t–for instance to refer to her by name instead of as “your wife.”

            Similarly here. Making a point of the use of male pronouns might be an attempt to drive away. Avoiding the use of female pronouns is not.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            Making a point of the use of male pronouns might be an attempt to drive away. Avoiding the use of female pronouns is not.

            That sounds like a good strategy, for whatever reason. Though I accept “A woman is anyone who says she is”, I prefer to avoid collateral damage to third parties. At a holiday dinner, it’s not nice to confuse some elderly relative by using counter-intuitive pronouns.

            To avoid offending the TG person by using the accustomed pronoun, some of us may need some practice using sentence fragments.

        • DavidS says:

          @DavidFriedman: Fair enough, I think this might be a very strong Typical Mind thing. I used the wife example elsewhere as an example of a similar thing on the assumption people wouldn’t act that way and that the trans issue was an outlier.

          I think there are two things here, though. The person who is just unwilling ‘to lie’ (who I think takes themselves and their own sense of purity far to seriously compared with the wellbeing of others) and the person who thinks that trans people are either ill or footsoldiers in some army of social change, and that either way, this must be confronted. The difference between ‘lying’ and ‘giving aid and comfort to the delusion/enemy’.

          The latter I can understand if you really think you’re right, but you shouldn’t be shocked that the person you think is mad/enemy doesn’t see you as a friend! The former I literally don’t think I’ve ever encountered in real life. If their concern for truth over politeness to others (e.g. refusing to call someones alma mater a university if they considered it a polytechnic, refusing to call the charity someone works for a charity because they consider primarily govt funded things not to be charities or whatever their views are) then I wouldn’t see it as an anti-trans thing. Though I doubt this makes them fun to be around and it would worry me if they’re in positions where you might need to be closesly involved with others who disagree with you (which ranges from ‘being a boss’ to ‘being a parent’)

          • Anonymous says:

            (I think you replied to the wrong post.)

            It is fully possible to believe both that the transperson is both delusional and a footsoldier, whether willing or not, of undesirable social change – these are not contradictory.

            Re: purity. It’s not simply about personal purity, which is important in itself, but also a matter of resisting false propaganda. When you knowingly lie under social or legal pressure, you become, to some extent, an agent of the propagators of the falsehood.

            “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”

            ― Theodore Dalrymple

            Calling a polytechnic a university and vice-versa is not lying unless the speaker knows the difference and considers it substantial enough not to fit under general approximations (I wouldn’t call saying it’s half-past six, when in reality it is 18:34, lying). People in general do know the difference between a male and female, on an instinctual level, and these terms cannot be taken as approximations of each other.

          • Anonymous says:

            People in general do know the difference between a male and female, on an instinctual level, and these terms cannot be taken as approximations of each other.

            Trans people also know the difference between male and female, and do not believe these terms can be taken as approximations of each other, otherwise they would not be trans. You’re problem is that their definitions don’t accord with yours.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well, yes, obviously.

  74. Rehill says:

    When I read this, I immediately thought of the Coase theorem which leads me to think that both Adam and Steve have both caused the problem. If Adam and Steve didn’t have their preferences, there wouldn’t be a problem.

    Given this, it just becomes a question of bargaining in my eyes. The two could negotiate a compromise by giving up other things. The real important question is what would it take to set up the necessary institutions to enforce an agreement?

    • Aapje says:

      “If Adam and Steve didn’t have their preferences, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

      The difference is that Steve’s preference was explicitly made clear at the beginning, which makes his preference part of an existing agreement. Changing an existing agreement isn’t as simple as bargaining to end up in the middle (which can’t really be done here anyway).

      You can’t be expected to compromise to half your pay when your boss demands that you work for free. And if you need that money to live on, you can’t just accept non-monetary compensation to ‘make up’ for the loss in income. So people have hard limits and it’s not for you or me to say that it is reasonable for them to compromise on a certain issue, just because it is not our hard limit.

      • Tom Womack says:

        We don’t know whether it was explicitly made clear.

        Using the standard words for the marriage service because they are the standard words, honed over hundreds of years, part of the ritual, embedded in every piece of romantic literature, and not particularly caring about what they explicitly say isn’t that unreasonable an action to take; personally-written vows can come across amazingly clunkily in that finely-crafted context.

        I don’t know whether there is a degree of pre-marriage counselling in which it is pointed out (to both sides separately, and to the couple together) exactly what they are committing to and they need both to confirm that they’re happy with it. I’m not really prepared to accept that going through the Standard Ritual Like In Four Weddings And A Funeral actually counts as that degree of fully-comprehending mutual acceptance.

        • Adam Casey says:

          Do you think that if one uses the standard employment contract downloaded off a government website that makes the contract automatically unenforcible because it’s just the standard?

          • Error says:

            Seems to me there’s a difference between a contract that can be enforced, and one that should be. How many contracts out there only exist — only can exist — because almost nobody reads them or enforces them as written?

            I am thinking of things like EULAs, apartment leases, and the like.

          • Aapje says:

            The main issues with EULAs is that there are too many of them too read, too little at stake for normal people and no way to renegotiate if you disagree.

            None of that is true for a marriage contract.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Tom Womack
          Using the standard words for the marriage service because they are the standard words, honed over hundreds of years, part of the ritual, embedded in every piece of romantic literature, and not particularly caring about what they explicitly say isn’t that unreasonable an action to take; personally-written vows can come across amazingly clunkily in that finely-crafted context.

          This. Polite society runs on white lies. Standing in white lace reciting words to make my parents happy, I used the standard words to make them happy.

          I’m rather squiked at the idea of a ‘marriage’ depending on words spoken years ago rather than how one really feels each new day. Dagny Taggart Flower Child, here.

          (Yes, no children.)

          • It would be easy enough to recite the usual words during the ceremony but take the precaution of first informing your husband to be that you did not really mean them and intended an open marriage (or polyamory or whatever).

            That’s why I am unconvinced by the people who claim that Adam was forced into a promise of monogamy by social custom. Pretending that a marriage is monogamous when it isn’t is mildly dishonest to third party observers. But the person the promise is actually being made to is Steve, and Adam had lots of opportunities before the wedding to make clear and explicit to Steve the real terms he was agreeing to.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman
            … forced into a promise of monogamy … the person the promise is actually being made to … the real terms he was agreeing to

            Let’s leave aside Adam and Steve. Your words are begging the question. They assume that reciting some poetic cliches while in fancy dress in front of an audience, somehow constitutes a ‘promise’ that’s being ‘agreed’ to. It never occurred to me that he might take this socially required ceremony any more seriously than I did. (In fact I hope and trust that he did not, but really stayed with my by daily love, as I did him … for our 50 years till death.)

          • John Schilling says:

            @houseboatonstyx:

            How does a person go about making a promise in your world? How do you make promises that you intend to keep even if you later change your mind about their ongoing desirability?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            How does a person go about making a promise in your world?

            Email is pretty good. I prefer top-posting.

          • HlynkaCG says:

            Email is pretty good. I prefer top-posting.

            That is really weird to me.

            Is it the act of writing it out that determines a promise’s epistemological status? or is there something special about the medium of EMail and/or top-Posting in particular?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ HlynkaCG
            Is it the act of writing it out that determines a promise’s epistemological status? or is there something special about the medium of EMail

            Once it’s clear what’s in the proposed agreement, and why, then the parties can decide how much certainty to give each part of it. With a written record, in plain current language, there’s no problem of forgetting and less problem of misunderstanding. The negotiation (defining, hashings-out, etc) is all right there together for later reference and re-negotiation if necessary. The more brainstorming and research the better, and email facilitates that.

            Here’s an example of a reasonable long term promise. “Okay, I’ll give up our nice house here if you promise that all our future homes will be comparable: old houses with lots of trees, in nice small towns.”

            In my Blue Tribe World, this wouldn’t even come up till we had been living together for long enough to know we wanted to stay together, and had become very familiar with each other’s feelings about the current house, town, etc. So the negotiation and promise should be all in private, to avoid outsiders’ defaults for ‘nice’, ‘old’, ‘lots’, ‘trees’ etc; what matters is what we’ve discovered matters to each of us over the years. Where our own disagreements have been … those are the points to spell out in an agreement.

        • Aapje says:

          “Using the standard words for the marriage service”

          That is not necessarily the marriage contract, which consists of a mutual agreement, that can go much further or even be at odds with what was said at the service. But in the absence of a specific agreement, people can be expected to stick to the default.

          “I don’t know whether there is a degree of pre-marriage counselling in which it is pointed out exactly what they are committing to and they need both to confirm that they’re happy with it.”

          Sane, rational people don’t need to be told, but realize that they need to work out the main issues before getting married.

  75. Spaghetti Lee says:

    there’s always the Archipelago option, but I guess sometimes culture wars do need to be fought beyond the point where you just leave people alone

    What I’ve never understood about the Archipelago (which is an interesting and useful concept, I hasten to add) is what to do with the groups for whom “leave people alone if they’re not harming you” isn’t a viable option, according to their own code of conduct. For example, religions that see evangelization, even of the unwilling, as a divine commandment, or racial supremacists who see their control and domination of the weaker races as totally righteous and justified, or SJers who decide UniGov is just another tool of cisstraightwhitemale oppression and declare its rules against cultural infiltration null and void, for the causes of justice and diversity.

    The obvious solution is just to tell them no, you can’t do that, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it? They have the right to their norms, and their norms conflict implacably with other people’s. Someone is walking away unsatisfied.

    I admit this doesn’t do much for poor Adam and Steve (as if I was qualified to talk about relationship troubles anyway), who I hope can come to an amicable conclusion, but I wasn’t around for the original archipelago post. But there are certainly parallels. The realization that some problems in life are just there, and can’t be rationalized, incentivized, or even structuralized away, has taken me pretty far into an anti-political mindset I couldn’t even conceive of having a few years ago.

    • blockcaster says:

      The Archipelago option parallels liberal neutrality in general and Scott’s fondness for going meta and avoiding ‘object-level’ disputes in particular, I think. It has plenty to recommend it as a political solution, but it can be misleadingly sold as somehow setting its proponents above the fray, painting them as too advanced for low-level squabbling about values, when really it’s just an attempt to impose yet another set of values, albeit one that has more chance of achieving a relatively broad consensus and leaving 80% of people mostly satisfied. Some people’s lower-level values will still be ridden roughshod over, and those who support this can only do so because they’re confident it won’t be theirs.

  76. mindreader says:

    To let you know, I’m gay–your example felt like I was reading about myself.

    I am actually going through this situation right now with my boyfriend. From a pretty early time in our relationship, I was open with him about how I am sexually adventurous and want to let some of that energy out since I’m not going to be in my 20s for much longer. I told him that I wanted us to be a very casual thing as I’m just not ready to settle down. He told me he was ok with me going out to see other guys in town but he didn’t feel like doing that himself, and he just didn’t want to hear about my escapades. I sensed at the time that he said it but just didn’t mean it, and I really liked him, so I never did go sleeping around.

    Well, about a year passed and we started to go steady and later on even settled down more. I felt worried about continuing in the way we were going and did feel like my libido wasn’t getting all of what it needed, but brushed it aside because I love my boyfriend. All of a sudden, he told me he wanted us to get married since gay marriage had been legalized and he is more traditional like that, always looking forward to when he could get married. I had my doubts about it, and so I opened up about my feelings on still wanting to see other guys before or during marriage. I told him about my feelings in an open and honest way, but instead he took this as a huge insult and now wants nothing to do with me. He’s treating me like I did something to hurt him, but I never did anything but be honest about who I am inside and what kind of life I want to live. I even told him I was willing to stay monogamous if it means we can be together still but he wasn’t having any of that.

    Am I a jerk for telling him this now? Am I the bad guy?

    • Aapje says:

      He is a major jerk, you are a minor one. Let me explain:

      You made him think that your desires were unimportant to you, by not acting on your stated desires. His stupid assumptions on this issue make him a major jerk. But you did realize that he probably was lying to himself and you didn’t act sufficiently on that, which makes you a little guilty of stringing him along and thus makes you a little jerk.

      Telling him again about your desires when he proposed marriage made it really clear to him what you wanted, so that part makes you less of a jerk, not more (having married him without discussing this again would have been the jerk move).

      That said, I think the best action on your part would have been a ‘shit test.’ You could have left some (real or fake) evidence of ‘an adventure’ for him to find and that would have forced him to come to terms with his self-deception.

      So my advice: don’t feel bad about yourself, but see this as a learning experience. A lot of people deceive themselves and sometimes it’s better to give them a reality check.

      • mindreader says:

        “You made him think that your desires were unimportant to you, by not acting on your stated desires.”

        But he has no way of knowing whether I did or didn’t act on my desires. (I didn’t, but that’s besides the point).

        “But you did realize that he probably was lying to himself and you didn’t act sufficiently on that”

        I did act sufficiently. I stayed monogamous at that stage of the relationship, knowing it would hurt him if I did anything else.

        “That said, I think the best action on your part would have been a ‘shit test.’ You could have left some (real or fake) evidence of ‘an adventure’ for him to find and that would have forced him to come to terms with his self-deception.”

        That seems a bit worse than just breaking up to save us both a fight.

        “So my advice: don’t feel bad about yourself, but see this as a learning experience. A lot of people deceive themselves and sometimes it’s better to give them a reality check.”

        🙂

    • Murphy says:

      By my personal standards you’re ethically in the clear here.

      You were open and honest. Your partner’s goals and yours couldn’t be fully reconciled but that doesn’t mean one of you is the bad guy.

      • Gbdub says:

        Please note that I am being intentionally a bit harsh here to give the other side a fair shake.

        In some sense, mindreader was NOT open and honest, in that he seems to have suppressed his actual desires and doubts and continued being monagamous even though that’s not what he really wanted, for a long enough time that his boyfriend started making the understandable assumption that he wanted to be monogamous, or was at least happy with it. Even now, mindreader is trying to offer monogamy to save the relationship – so which is it? Is the relationship more important, or is non-monogamy?

        From the boyfriend’s perspective, they’ve been lead on. They thought they were making the person they loved happy, when really they weren’t, and now that’s been sprung on them after a year of monogamy. Now the person they love is saying “well, you’ve been enough for me for a year, but now the shine’s wore off and I might need more”. They’re going to be full of self doubt and am-I-the-jerk thoughts too in all likelihood.

        I don’t think either one of them is necessarily a jerk. They are probably just two people who love each other but want mutually exclusive things. I’m just saying that I don’t think mindreader is completely blameless – he did the right thing by being clear up front at first that he intended to be non-monogamous, but then entered a de facto monogamous relationship anyway. For better or worse, the social norm is that even if a relationship starts casual and non-monogamous, it “evolves” into greater exclusivity – mindreader even uses the term “going steady”, which is part of this norm.

        Actually blame is not really the right word either, but just that I understand the boyfriend’s hurt and don’t think it’s totally unjustified.

        • Gbdub says:

          Going back, I notice two more key things in mindreader’s account: first, that he sensed from the beginning that the boyfriend was uncomfortable with non-monogamy, but continued the relationship anyway. Also, he describes the marriage proposal as “all of a sudden”… I would personally not describe a marriage proposal after a year of increasingly serious relationship sudden, and I doubt the boyfriend did either. These things give me additional sympathy for the boyfriend.

        • mindreader says:

          “In some sense, mindreader was NOT open and honest, in that he seems to have suppressed his actual desires and doubts and continued being monagamous even though that’s not what he really wanted, for a long enough time that his boyfriend started making the understandable assumption that he wanted to be monogamous, or was at least happy with it.”

          But like I said above, “he had no way of knowing whether I did or didn’t act on my desires. (I didn’t, but that’s besides the point). For all he knows, I did fuck other people like he told me I could.”

          “They are probably just two people who love each other but want mutually exclusive things.”

          That’s true and sad right now.

      • mindreader says:

        That’s what I’d thought!

    • Publius Varinius says:

      Meta-advice: wait until someone else comes along, and in the meantime, don’t rely too much on Aapje’s answer.

      • nope says:

        Um, wow, that’s… incredibly callous. I mean, I know people do this with significant others, I just didn’t think anyone with a conscience did.

      • Aapje says:

        Can you clarify why you say this? There are several people who agree with me on this issue, so I don’t think I’m saying something extreme.

    • nope says:

      🙁 I’m really sorry you’re in this situation. This is what happens when two people love each other so much that they refuse to see a fundamental incompatibility that is probably not reconcilable.

      I’m going to go out on a limb and take a wild and totally uninformed guess that the real reason your partner is mad at you is for not breaking up with him. He can’t live with nonmonogamy, but it seems really important to you, and he sees that this is not going to change over time in the direction he would prefer. He probably expects you to either be lying about the concession you tried to make, or sees it as an impossible promise about future feelings (along the lines of “I will never value my partner’s feelings less than I value my own sexual satisfaction”, which is a promise many, many people make and fail to keep). He feels that his choices are either to stay and be secretly cheated on/wait in misery for the day he’s less important than “just sex” to you, or to break up with you. Since the former is untenable, sense is telling him he has to break up with you, but he feels he can’t because it’s just really damn hard to break up with someone you love. Which is why he wishes you would do it for him.

      • Dirdle says:

        Second nope’s thoughts on the motivations behind this behaviour, and reiterate the note that being open about what you want is overwhelmingly likely to be the right thing to do, and it’s just sucky that things turned out this way :(.

      • mindreader says:

        “I’m going to go out on a limb and take a wild and totally uninformed guess that the real reason your partner is mad at you is for not breaking up with him. He can’t live with nonmonogamy, but it seems really important to you, and he sees that this is not going to change over time in the direction he would prefer.”

        Then he should grow a sack and break up with me right?

        “he has to break up with you, but he feels he can’t because it’s just really damn hard to break up with someone you love. Which is why he wishes you would do it for him.”

        It’s not like it’s any easier for me though.

    • FJ says:

      I’m hetero but have been in a similar situation (mutatis mutandis, of course). You have my sympathies.

      Without knowing both you and your boyfriend well, I’m reluctant to pass judgment on your specific situation. But I have no such compunction about myself. In my case, I also sensed that my partner was only reluctantly agreeing to an open relationship (my ears sensed this, when she said out loud, “I am reluctantly agreeing”). I took this as consent. Maybe technically it was “consent,” but I should have realized that such grudging consent was no basis for even a casual relationship. I was honest about what I wanted, which was necessary but not sufficient. I ought to have been a better caretaker of my fellow human’s feelings, even to the extent of refusing a relationship we both thought we wanted but that I knew she would later regret.

      I want to emphasize that I suspect your circumstances are different from mine in important ways and that none of the above necessarily applies to you.

      • DavidS says:

        Agreed with this. In practice, I do not think this is one of those things where it is healthy for one person to put up with it because they want the relationship. And in fact, I have ended a relationship because I didn’t want to commit and she did even though I was offered this as it was obviously a terrible idea (for us).

        Not saying it’s always wrong or that it never works out (you can move past that phase into a resolution one way or the other where they’re actually happy or you’re actually monogamous). But it’s unstable at best. And the ‘but they said they didn’t mind’ or worse ‘but they knew I was like this and didn’t leave me’ are not brilliant foundations for relationships.

      • mindreader says:

        “In my case, I also sensed that my partner was only reluctantly agreeing to an open relationship (my ears sensed this, when she said out loud, “I am reluctantly agreeing”). I took this as consent.”

        It’s such a tough call!

        “I want to emphasize that I suspect your circumstances are different from mine in important ways and that none of the above necessarily applies to you.”

        Have you found a good polyamorous situation for yourself?

    • Alex Z says:

      “Am I a jerk for telling him this now? Am I the bad guy?”

      You won’t get anything good out of even attempting to answer those questions.

      Being open about the boundaries of your relationship is important if you want said relationship to succeed. Not telling him would have likely left you in the situation later on where you would have to choose between violating the implicit rules of your relationship or yourself being unhappy. That’s likely something you want to avoid. In the future, you may want to consider that even though you like or love somebody greatly, you might not be able to have a fulfilling relationship with them. It can be difficult to see because as a human being you probably want to fool yourself in that regard. But you will probably make better choices if you consider the question “can I have a good relationship with that person?” separately from whether you like or love them.

      • mindreader says:

        “Not telling him would have likely left you in the situation later on where you would have to choose between violating the implicit rules of your relationship or yourself being unhappy. ”

        Unfortunately I ended up unhappy anyway. I’m an idiot for not leaving in the beginning…

        “In the future, you may want to consider that even though you like or love somebody greatly, you might not be able to have a fulfilling relationship with them.”

        You’re right.

    • caryatis says:

      You essentially turned down his marriage proposal. (Or, to be precise, you said you didn’t want to be married under monogamous terms.) So I don’t think either party did anything wrong; you were honest, and you’re entitled to turn down a proposal. But you should not be shocked that the BF is hurt and questioning the future of the relationship.

    • Deiseach says:

      No, you’re not a jerk. You were open about what you wanted and intended. He may have some hurt feelings, and that’s a natural human thing because we’re not all always perfectly rational and we put things in the best light for ourselves.

      If this really is a sticking point for him, and if you really think you will be unhappy in a completely sexually monogamous marriage, then it’s probably best not to get married yet. I’m not going to say “You should break up!” because that’s none of my business and it’s your choice.

      But being honest all the way from the start is definitely better. The worst thing would be to pretend to agree to his terms, never say anything, let things get really serious and even marry, and then either have the feeling of being unfulfilled turn to resentment which would eat away at the relationship, or end up cheating on him which wouldn’t be good for either of you. (If you both know about it and agree to it, it can’t be called cheating. If you both don’t know about it and/or haven’t agreed to it, it’s cheating).

      I wish you luck, whatever happens. Some relationships don’t work out, even if both parties really like or even love one another. And someone getting hurt when a relationship ends is often unavoidable. Be as careful of both yourself and him as you can be, but keep on being honest. Don’t make a compromise now that you are not sure you can stick to for the future.

      • mindreader says:

        “If this really is a sticking point for him, and if you really think you will be unhappy in a completely sexually monogamous marriage, then it’s probably best not to get married yet. I’m not going to say “You should break up!” because that’s none of my business and it’s your choice.”

        It looks like we’re breaking up at this point, but it’s a tough one.

        “then either have the feeling of being unfulfilled turn to resentment which would eat away at the relationship”

        This is what happened.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      we started to go steady

      That’s not language I hear very often in this day and age.
      What do you mean by it?
      Is it the term you or he used?

    • Acedia says:

      “He’s treating me like I did something to hurt him, but I never did anything but be honest about who I am inside and what kind of life I want to live.”

      Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can hurt someone BY being honest about who you are inside, if who you are inside isn’t what they expected or wanted.

      • Aapje says:

        “You can hurt someone BY being honest about who you are inside, if who you are inside isn’t what they expected or wanted.”

        Exactly. Furthermore, when dealing with an irrational person, behavior that assumes rationality may not be appropriate. And everyone is irrational to some extent.

      • mindreader says:

        You’re right about that

    • pdan says:

      You’re not in the wrong. You were trying to make a concession to your partner’s feelings, and have now realized that you can’t continue. Relationships aren’t guaranteed to work, they’re experiments. In this case, it seems that the two of you aren’t compatible. Better to know that now, than later.

      Now that you know, you should probably maintain open relationships in the future. It’s easier for someone who’s on the fence to adapt early, before they are emotionally invested. And then as the relationship gets more serious, they don’t see it as a new threat. My GF initially wasn’t happy with me seeing other people, but now she doesn’t care- she feels loved, and isn’t afraid that me having other dates will mean that she’s not part of my life.

      • mindreader says:

        “Now that you know, you should probably maintain open relationships in the future. It’s easier for someone who’s on the fence to adapt early, before they are emotionally invested.”

        I did try to do that by telling him from the start, but he lied to me about it.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ mindreader
      “I even told him I was willing to stay monogamous if it means we can be together still but he wasn’t having any of that.”

      Sounds like a good outcome, at least temporarily.

      I don’t know if you’re rooming together or involved in other practical ways. If not, then it sounds like a good time to back off, continue your life on your own, find your other resources. Let him do the same. Maybe he will cool off and reconsider.

      Hopefully he will reconsider his whole philosophy and seek therapy. And/or, after you sow your wild 20s, you may get tired of that and be ready to settle further down, and you two may be better suited for each other.

      But you’ve done nothing wrong, except perhaps the very human thing of trying to go along with his way as far as you honestly could. Good for you, for biting the bullet and telling him before it went further.

  77. Vadim Kosoy says:

    First, IMO the Archipelago is not “an option”, it is “the option”. Any sufficiently large body of people should have the right to segregate and live according to their own laws and customs, and this should be a right as basic as other human rights.

    However, I also think that a good society doesn’t put social pressure on people to adhere to its cultural defaults. People should resolve personal disputes by bargaining based on their own preferences and disregarding everything else. There is no god given “right answer”, there’s just the game theoretic outcome they arrive at in the end. If they’re close enough to superrational and know each other sufficiently well, it’s an approximately pareto efficient outcome (maybe in some sense the Nash bargaining solution is the right answer).

    This applies to all of your examples: the freeze-house person, the no-baths-allowed-person, the transgender woman and the original couple. If freezing the house is super important for one person and the other is willing to compromise to stay with them, then freezing the house it is. In the transgender woman example, Kelsey’s advice is sound not because of strong assumptions about transgender but because it is likely the woman will be happier away from her family so it is the rational choice *for her*.

    • JBeshir says:

      As someone who isn’t a fan of Archipelago, I think letting people form arbitrary subcultures is good and we should probably even try to facilitate this process above and beyond “if you can get enough people and find some unclaimed land somehow no one from outside stops you”, given similar kinds of limits and exceptions to those Scott’s formulation came up with about child rearing, cross-regional compensation for costs, no limits on exit, etc, although I’d probably add some more myself. Simply because it’s the liberal thing to do and we expect it to make people happier on average.

      The issue I’d take is with this actually being able to cure what ails us, so to speak. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why, but one particular concern I have is that Exit is simply not ever going to be nearly fluid and cost-free enough to avoid needing to worry about whether the society we’re in works well. In particular, it’s much more fluid and cost-free for people with lots of status, money, connections, and personal productivity, so they can get out of things and brush off issues by responding with “Exit”, instead of being inclined to use their power to actually tackle the thornier problems involved in making people better off here.

      And this is kind of what the problem here is. They *can* split up, but Exit is not costless, it’s very expensive with children involved, so costly that both would rather their preference go unsatisfied than do it. This means they are stuck dealing with the object level disagreement, and the liberal “well if you don’t like it you can leave” thing offers little value. Internal trading of preferences doesn’t work if the two don’t have anything else to bargain of comparable value, so it comes down to which one of the two is willing to play brinksmanship harder if they can’t find some cooperative way to agree on what’s more important and what’s best for both of them.

      And surrounding culture strongly influences what everyone suggests and what they may believe to be best for both of them, and I think this is where the culture wars having impact even given liberal attitudes may come into it.

      • Vadim Kosoy says:

        Saying that the exit option offers little value sounds weird to me. It’s like saying that open borders is a pointless idea since nobody is going to use it.

        When I mentioned bargaining, I didn’t mean money, I meant bargaining in the game theoretic sense. Basically it amounts to talking, understanding each other’s preferences and eventually deciding on either one or other compromise or on breaking the package. Just business as usual in personal relationships IMO, no reason to bring society into it.

    • Muga Sofer says:

      Archipelago reminds me a lot of the various kind of “Anarchism” – in that we already have it, people just used that “freedom” to form nation-states instead so they could go to war with each other. Freedom is the base layer of reality all other layers were built upon; it’s like suggesting a revolutionary new system of programming based on AND, NOT and OR gates.

      It’s incredibly weird to me that Scott apparently thinks even his idealised, powered-by-magic Archipelago is in any way stable, let alone the version he occasionally suggests might be formed by the splintering of society into internet-based subcultures. Have you seen internet-based subcultures? They’re in a state of constant warfare and self-censorship!

      • Vadim Kosoy says:

        I don’t think Archipelago is anything like anarchy. Archipelago assumes a global government that has important powers and responsibilities: solving disputes between the constituents (peacefully) and other legal questions that fall outside individual jurisdictions, protecting freedom of movement, solving global coordination problems etc.

        • Gbdub says:

          But here we’re explicitly talking about “marriage” a concept with legal meaning imposed by the relevant government, and with cultural norms within that larger society. If you want a marriage to be an island of 2, that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean you can sail over and find a spouse from Marriage Is Monagamous Atoll and expect them to exit that society and all its norms without explicitly consenting.

        • 27chaos says:

          Muga is saying that they expect Archipelago will create to a society much like today’s society, just as some forms of anarchism fail to provide any mechanisms that prevent government from existing. They are not saying Archipelago is an anarchy, they are making an analogy between those two aspects of those systems.

  78. Anonymous says:

    If they were in some ultra-permissive sexually-open subculture of the 2100s, there would also be no debate.

    Isn’t that a big Whig of you, Scott? 🙂

    I mean, Steve’s argument about the contract isn’t bad, but if it were something we disagreed with – let’s say some old-timey marriage contract where the woman vowed to always serve and obey her husband, and now she’s a feminist and wants out – we would probably be pretty sympathetic despite the precise wording of what she’d “agreed” on.

    There is the POV that freely made agreements are binding against your future self. And there are people who disagree that the wife would have a leg to stand on. In this very comment section. Living. Breathing. Making comments!

  79. blacktrance says:

    If it were only a matter of determining what agreement was made, and using the default to fill in ambiguities, it would be less of a problem than it really is, because you could just negotiate a contract that deviates from the defaults in your preferred aspects. But the culture wars affect not just the default but the more important Overton Window, outside of which it can be dangerous to even ask for a non-default contract. “I acknowledge monogamy as the default but I don’t want it, so here’s a different marriage contract” may be fine in some subcultures, but in many it will not just be met with “no” but with “how dare you?!” and the end of the relationship. And when you don’t want certain contracts to be made, you have a reason to fight in the culture wars to push culture in your desired direction.

    • DavidS says:

      In terms of it being ‘dangerous to ask’: surely you’re not suggesting it’s responsible/ethical for people to go into a marriage knowing they want to be non-monogamous, but not raise this ahead of the ceremony because their spouse might respond the wrong way…?

      • blacktrance says:

        Definitely not – when you make a promise, you ought to keep it, and “I was afraid to ask for what I actually want” doesn’t get you out of anything. But if you want people to be monogamous, you can largely ensure that by pushing non-monogamy out of the Overton Window via culture war. For some things, the details of the contract can be negotiated away from the default, but for others, even proposing an alternative is dangerous. And if, for a specific person, your preferences are open marriage > closed marriage > no marriage, and revealing your preference for open marriage can cause no marriage, it can be rational to keep quiet. So those of us on the pro-polyamory side of the culture war need not make polyamory the default, we just have to make it not sound crazy or for the desire for it to be an automatic reason to end a relationship.

    • Randy M says:

      If the relationship were to end in that scenario, that would be a good thing if the other person were really so hostile to the concept (and the first were sincerely asking).
      If you are saying that they were objecting to the point of breaking up reflexively but would consider it in a more open society, perhaps that’s a point, but I think that the current overton window in that regard has evolved to the point of satisfying more peoples long term preferences, so if people aren’t easily convinced to deviate, that is probably a good thing. There is no reason to re-invent every detail of an arrangement with no consideration of what has grown to accommodate human nature, especially as people aren’t perfectly introspective.

  80. samedi says:

    Tell them to break up. I think this leads to the spouse with more to gain from continuing to stay together (not necessarily vis-a-vis the other spouse, but perhaps on an absolute scale of utils?) to compromise MORE in order to keep the marriage a going concern.

    It seems somewhat fitting that the spouse that values the relationship more should compromise more for the sake of the relationship. Almost Solomonic, if a bit callous in how it’d be a rule in life that rewards, yet again, the game-player with more-sociopathic traits.

    My layman’s impression is that IRL family court tends to favor the sexually more-conservative spouse, and that’s certainly a decisive resolution, which perhaps will enter into the “who needs who the worst” calculus I alluded to above.

  81. HeelBearCub says:

    I think there is a forest and trees problem here.

    Adam and Steve ae both concerned about being right. That concern is a tree in the forest.

    The forest is their marriage, which does not hinge on who is right on this issue. It hinges on what kind of a relationship is acceptable to each person. Unless they can agree on the terms of the relationship, their marriage will fail.

    The words you say in the marriage ceremony are largely irrelevant. But the marriage ceremony itself is symbolic and clearly embodies the concept of a shared agreement on what the relationship consists of. To the the extent that Adam and Steve did not have a clear understanding of what they were agreeing to, this already constitutes a severe problem, regardless of the default. To the extent that they did have a clear understanding, and one party wishes to enforce a new agreement unilaterally, this also constitutes a severe problem.

    The default is only useful because it makes communication easier. For instance, at one time asking someone if they wanted to “go steady” was an explicit offer of fidelity if accepted. If accepted both parties were agreeing to remain faithful while the agreement was in force. Ending the agreement could be done by either party by informing the other party. That is a lot of words, but “going steady” communicates them all.

    But that doesn’t mean this is the only possible form of dating. It just means that you have to be clear on what you want.

    • Slightly Anonymized Poster says:

      “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?” is a phrase practically-minded marriage counselors more or less have tattooed on their hands for easy display.

  82. Bugmaster says:

    I realize this is going to sound callous, but still: I’d be very interested to find out how this situation ended up being resolved. It sounds to me like the kind of incredibly sad no-win scenario that humans run into every day, so if Scott manages to fix it, then… well, “Scott for Supreme Overlord 2020” may be going too far, but still…

  83. Daniel Speyer says:

    These “simpler situations” (the hypothetical window and shower) don’t seem so simple to me. I tend to agree with the object level conclusions, but I’m not convinced there’s a general rule here.

  84. Jiro says:

    If Adam and Steve were in the traditional culture of the 1800s there would be no debate.

    If Adam and Steve were in the traditional culture of the 1800s, just being in a gay marriage would be seen as as kinky and as unacceptable as the actual kinks that one of them is complaining about. Presuming that they were in the 1800s, and interested in a secret gay marriage, they would have to be well aware that anything they do is frowned upon by society, so the claim that society had demanded monogamy for thousands of years wouldn’t make sense–society has demanded separation from each other, not monogamy.

    This would also apply to modern-day gay couples appealing to thousand year traditions of monogamy. Just by being a gay couple, they are inherently violating thousand year traditions no matter what they do–not obeying them.

    • anonymous says:

      I once read on here that it was rude to introduce an object level objection in a meta-level discussion. But I guess if gayhate is just bursting out of your chest, you gotta do what you gotta do.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      Tradition violation is not a binary state. There are degrees of violation. If one family has a pizza for their Thanksgiving dinner and another one doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all, I think it makes plenty of sense to say that the second family is violating society’s Thanksgiving traditions way more than the first. A shoplifter is violating the tradition of obeying the law and not hurting people way less than a serial killer is.

      Similarly, gay nonmonogamy is a much bigger violation of tradition than gay monogamy. Gay monogamy differs from an archtypical relationship in one way (the gender of the participants), while gay nonmonogamy differs in two (the gender and number of participants).

      This makes me wonder if many opponents of gay marriage have a binary view of social norms, and that is why they intuitively seem to consider it a much bigger change than I do. If this is true it helps me understand their position better, though not sympathize it. The idea that all crimes and norm violations are equal is an extraordinarily harmful one that completely destroys the incentive structure that crimes and norms are supposed to create.

      • Nathan says:

        Speaking as an opponent of gay marriage, from my perspective that’s not a motivating factor. I can’t speak for anyone else, obviously.

      • 27chaos says:

        I agree with your perspective, but in defense of that perspective, if most people believed that we should weigh the specifics of norm violations and punish them commensurately it seems reasonable to think it would produce more rule breaking than if most people believed the law was sacred and acted accordingly. Even a version of the second belief involving some self-inconsistencies might be superior to the first belief. I believe there’s actually been some research done on this issue, and the extent to which people view the law as intrinsically moral is a good predictor of crime rates. Humans are algorithm executors, not utility maximizers, in this view.

      • HlynkaCG says:

        I wouldn’t social norms as binary. But I do think that once you establish that the terms of a norm “negotiable” that people will try to negotiate it.

        The definition of marriage is now negotiable so who’s to say that your concept of marriage is more valid than any other.

    • blockcaster says:

      “This would also apply to modern-day gay couples appealing to thousand year traditions of monogamy. Just by being a gay couple, they are inherently violating thousand year traditions no matter what they do–not obeying them.”

      I don’t really get this. When an old institution is opened up to a new set of people, why would/should the traditions of that institution fail to apply in their case? We don’t usually renegotiate a system of norms from scratch whenever a single one is changed. And I can’t think of an analogous claim about, say, women or African Americans in a realm that they used to be excluded from, that doesn’t seem silly at best.

      • ” When an old institution is opened up to a new set of people, why would/should the traditions of that institution fail to apply in their case?”

        In this particular case, there is at least one obvious reason. Part of the function of marital fidelity is making sure that that the wife’s children are the husband’s children. Male homosexuals don’t get pregnant. So that function does not apply.

        The same point is at least one reason for the familiar double standard. Husbands don’t get pregnant either.

        • blockcaster says:

          Sure, the traditional form might not suit the new group so well, and that might lead them to fork off their own set of norms, and/or cause a shift in the shared set. In this case, gay people might tend to be less committed to monogamy (and/or the rest of society might care less about enforcing gay monogamy), and eventually we might reach a point where (gay) marriage no longer implies monogamy — each couple will be expected to negotiate their own set of ground rules, with no strong social default to fall back on. But the traditional norms don’t just melt away automatically as soon as the new group is admitted. At least at first, the traditional understanding of marriage will continue to shape people’s expectations and default assumptions, despite having been modified in one important way.

      • You know, I don’t think “marriage is between a man and a woman” actually was a tradition. I’d call it instead an assumption.

        To call something a tradition is to acknowledge that it is a choice. Now, some traditions have very good reasons behind them, some are more or less entirely arbitrary, some are strongly enforced and some are entirely optional, but not following the tradition is always a possibility – it may be a choice that shouldn’t be taken, but it is nonetheless recognized as a choice.

        For most of human history, though, gay marriage wasn’t recognized as a choice, not because doing so would violate tradition, but because doing so was inconceivable. To fall back on my favorite gay-marriage analogy, the electric car, “cars can seat five passengers” is a tradition, but “cars are powered by fossil fuels” was an assumption.

        … once people started writing laws against gay marriage, then it might have become a tradition, except that I don’t think said laws lasted long enough to count.

  85. Briefling says:

    In this case it may not matter which man we sympathize with. For minor disagreements it matters a great deal which spouse has society’s support — because that spouse has a much stronger game theoretic negotiating position. “I am going to yell at you until you stop behavior X because X is widely considered insane” is a very credible (hence strong) position!

    But the misbehaving spouse always has the nuclear option — to dissolve the marriage and continue behavior X — and if X is sufficiently important to him, game theory will not prevent him from exercising that option. It seems likely that Adam is willing to use the nuclear option, since his actions have already seriously endangered the marriage. Which means there are only two outcomes here: either they stay married and Adam continues going to sex clubs, or they break up and Adam continues going to sex clubs.

    So the only choice belongs to Steve, who will either divorce Adam or not. And he will likely choose the highest-utility option for him and his children. The only purpose of advice is to help him work through the utility calculus (which is nontrivial, of course).

    One caveat: it sounds like maybe Adam just needs kinky sex, and is willing to be monogamous if Steve will give it to him. If that’s the case, I would strongly advise Steve to try to give it to him.

    And, an unrelated side note: Scott, I feel like you’re always saying, “I support arbitrary contracts in principle, BUT…”. Have you considered that maybe you don’t actually support arbitrary contracts? I personally think unconditional government enforcement of arbitrary contracts would be completely insane — not to mention completely antithetical to the libertarianism you espouse elsewhere.

    • Randy M says:

      “not to mention completely antithetical to the libertarianism you espouse elsewhere.”
      Eh? Is it Wednesday already?

      • Briefling says:

        What does this mean?

        • Randy M says:

          Scott has said something to the effect of his being a Libertarian on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, iirc. He’s also written an anti-libertarian FAQ. I was just pointing out that you may be assuming more strength to what libertarian convictions he has than there is.

          • Briefling says:

            Gotcha. But it doesn’t matter that Scott doesn’t fully identify with libertarianism — I certainly don’t either. I think anybody with any sympathy for libertarianism should have sympathy for the contracts-are-unenforceable-by-default position.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      > And, an unrelated side note: Scott, I feel like you’re always saying, “I support arbitrary contracts in principle, BUT…”. Have you considered that maybe you don’t actually support arbitrary contracts?

      Supporting with many exceptions is still different from opposing. It’s the difference between “you need a good reason to make that contract” and “you need a good reason to prevent that contract”.

      • Briefling says:

        Absolutely — but to me it seems very clear that contracts should be unenforceable by default, rather than enforceable by default. If contracts are enforceable by default, it’s way too easy to blow up your life by putting your signature on a piece of paper.

        Plus, you know, the libertarian argument. The government should only use force (or threaten force) against me if there’s a significant societal benefit in doing so.

        • nope says:

          Well, here’s a societal benefit: unenforceable contracts derive their utility from personal honor – a person who breaks his word is dishonorable, and is punished by being excluded from those things that require personal honor to participate in. This works great, until you get into situations where personal honor is either not important, or not as important as a person’s whims.

          For instance, monogamy is still important in marriage to many people because jealousy is a huge source of misery and conflict. Marriage largely revolves around creating a workable family situation. Family situations cannot be left easily, especially when the younger members come along. Let’s take a housewife as an example: if she left the relationship, she would be at a great economic disadvantage and possibly be unable to handle single parenting if child support and alimony didn’t exist, giving her no leverage in a scenario that makes her miserable but which the husband wants. However, child support and alimony make her husband’s commitments to her enforceable. There are lots of non-sexual, non-romantic ways to apply this concept as well, of course. Most of them involve money.

        • Salem says:

          That’s a funny kind of libertarianism.

        • JBeshir says:

          I would very much agree with you if I could work out a decent definition for what kinds of contracts were permitted that covered almost all contracts which were good for everyone involved.

          As is I can only define this by enumerating what contracts are *bad*. Contracts which suffer from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unconscionability in one way or another are the main set. Standard contracts (ones which aren’t individually negotiated- EULAs, terms and conditions, typical contracts with service providers) which effectively mislead as to costs/benefits or shunt risk onto the consumer in negative ways or fail to provide exit equitably (the latter two because empirically, humans are bad market agents at valuing those things). And so on.

          I do think the current system works okay, because a lot of the reasons for invalidating a contract are very vague, like unconscionablity, and so can be adapted for any bad contract. It does mean we lean on social default to judge legality of contract quite a bit though.

  86. 27chaos says:

    I don’t have a problem with not adhering to cultural standards, but cultural standards are the default presumption automatically and only an idiot would not know this. In edge cases, the proper course of action for a minority group is to talk about your opinions, not to pretend the possibility of disagreement does not exist. For example, it would be unethical for me to marry a Catholic without proactively disclosing my atheism to them. Avoiding the subject and tagging along when they go to Mass or take communion might not technically be lying to them, but it’s close enough that the technicality is stupid.

    I find it somewhat unlikely that this person only discovered their fetish for sex-clubs very recently, that their betrayal of their partner’s trust was just some kind of accident, and that they honestly believe it’s none of their partner’s business and they’ve doing nothing blameworthy here. That conjunction of layered defensive arguments smacks of “I didn’t kill the man, your honor, and also it was in self-defense”, though at least it is not outright contradictory. Failed communication by intentional omission is blameworthy, in my eyes. Maybe they’re telling the truth and they didn’t discover the fetish until they’d gotten married. But even if so, they should still have talked about the fetish before acting on it, for all the same reasons we’d expect someone to disclose their opinions on marriage before agreeing to marry someone. If they didn’t outright know their partner would frown on their attending the sex club, it’s got to be because they’re so selfish that they didn’t care to ask. No one but an imbecile could genuinely fail to recognize the possibility of such actions hurting their partner or the marriage, and imbeciles should not be married anyway.

    If you discover that you’ve accidentally miscommunicated with your partner and betrayed their trust or expectations, and your partner is very important to your life, then you should probably immediately start making concessions and attempting to rectify the situation. It should be shocking and heartbreaking to be someone who discovers that they failed to understand their partner’s expectations in such a dramatic way. But it sounds like the sex club person is being quite stubborn and trying to deny that they have played a significant role in the problem. That speaks badly for their priorities and empathy for their partner.

    I don’t think jealousy is necessarily a good reason to leave the sex club spouse, but expecting future lies or manipulation certainly is. Even in the most generous interpretation I can think of, if the sex club person is so bad at communicating with their partner that they can unknowingly engage in a perceived betrayal this dramatic, the future of the marriage will likely involve lots of similar troubles.

    Have fun playing Switzerland, this sounds like it’ll be a doozy.

    • Jiro says:

      I think that’s the right answer. Just because you can describe each partner’s situation in symmetrical terms of violating the expectations of the other partner doesn’t mean they’re in symmetrical situations. Violating the expectations of a partner with a default expectation is *very different* from violating the expectations of a partner with a non-default expectation.

      And lying by omission is still lying. Defaults are what makes there even be such a thing as lying by omission.

    • Anon says:

      I think you’re getting hung up on the object-level details in the post.

      That Adam has already gone to the club is pretty much irrelevant to the interesting part of the post. If you like, just remove that one paragraph, leaving you with the rest: namely, Adam has recently (post-marriage) found out that he requires kinky nonmonogamous sex to be sexually satisfied, and Steve doesn’t want him to. Now what do you do?

      Whether or not this is empirically likely is also beside the point, but I can say with some experience that it does happen as described.

      • 27chaos says:

        In my view, the interesting part of the post is that it points out how cultural defaults shape people’s assumptions. My response to the post is that this means good communication is important, especially if you’re someone who can anticipate your spouse will likely disagree with you. I don’t see what’s interesting about the post that isn’t answered by that response. I don’t think there is any particularly justified way to resolve disagreements between people who disagree about how disagreements ought to be resolved, if that is the aspect of the post that interests you. That question seems mostly pointless and like it will depend on specific facts about the relationship to the extent that it is even vaguely answerable, so I’m not eager to tackle it on the meta level.

        • Anon says:

          I think the interesting part of the post is not just “cultural defaults shape people’s assumptions” but also “cultural defaults shape people’s perceptions of which preferences are reasonable, and this affects how disputes such as this are resolved or at least which person will receive external support”.

          And I’m not sure good communication buys us much, here. Suppose Adam learns he has a strong preference for sexclub sex after getting married. He immediately goes to Steve and says “I have this strong preference”. Steve responds “I have a strong preference that you not do that”. There isn’t really much more communication they can have, but the situation still needs to be resolved one way or the other just as it does as originally described.

          The observation this post makes is that how this conflict is resolved – or at the very least, which of the people will receive support from the people around them – will often depend on which preference is culturally regarded as the default.

          • nope says:

            I think the way this scenario was drawn is causing a lot of confusion. There’s usually a lot more gray and possibility of mutual compromise, even in this situation alone, that is not being represented.Here there is an obvious choice that most in the kink community would think of immediately: why not try non-sexual play with other people?

            The problem with your versions of hypothetical Adam and Steve is that they’re incredibly unempathetic with one another, which makes conflict resolution very hard, and probably impossible in the long run. Adam tells Steve “I’m unhappy” and Steve doesn’t care enough to discuss the issue any further than that? Even if it is an issue with the potential to hurt Steve, he doesn’t just tell Adam to suck it up if he’s properly compassionate, he tries to find a solution, or tries to find someone else who can find one.

            Scott’s Adam can be interpreted in one of two ways: a) he’s a complete asshole who doesn’t give his partner’s feelings a thought before acting, or thinks his feelings are more important than his partner’s, or b) he trusts Steve so little to actually give a shit about his feelings that he doesn’t bother discussing this thing he feels he needs with him and decides to just look out for #1, consequences be damned. The whole “did it without telling Steve first to avoid hurting his feelings” is a red herring because if he thought these kinks were important enough to act on, then he knew there was a good chance they weren’t going to just go away after he tried it once, and that in that event Steve was going to have to find out and be a lot more hurt than if all that happened was Adam making these desires known to Steve.

          • Deiseach says:

            The question is tangled because there are two things going on:

            (1) Steve expects monogamy. I am going to assume that even if they weren’t married but were cohabiting, Steve would not be comfortable with Adam cheating on him and would probably break up with him.

            (2) Adam does not see this as cheating. He came out and said he had no belief in or intention of holding to the literal expectations of monogamy in marriage. Again, whether they were married or not, Adam would probably look for sex with other people/kinky sex.

            So it’s not the marriage as such that is so urgent, it’s the expectations of fidelity and monogamy in a committed relationship. Being married has just made this more stark a choice. Maybe Steve was aware Adam liked a bit on the side before they married and thought getting married meant Adam was giving all that up. Maybe Adam didn’t realise he really liked kinky club sex until after he was married and had to go without it for a while.

            The main problem is differing expectations of what commitment entails. Adam thinks commitment means – I’m not sure what, that he romantically loves only Steve? Anyway, sexual fidelity is not part of it. Steve thinks it is. If they can’t sort that out, then whether they’re married, living together or dating, this relationship is going nowhere.

      • Jiro says:

        Then Adam got really, really, unlucky. He now owes something that he finds it unpleasant to provide.

        Situations where one partner says that he really doesn’t like keeping to the agreement that he put down on paper are typically stupidity, willful ignorance (or lying to oneself), or an attempt to maintain plausible deniability about a contract that he never had any intention of keeping to in the first place, but where he wants the benefits without the costs. In all those cases the partner who wants to violate the contract is at fault, though in different ways. Having one spouse genuinely come to a sudden and unpredictable realization that he can’t stand monogamy is a rare and noncentral example.

        And even in that rare case, the other spouse’s reliance upon the promise was reasonable. The kinky spouse did not similarly make reasonable reliance upon something.

        • Anon says:

          > And even in that rare case, the other spouse’s reliance upon the promise was reasonable.

          OK, but how do you decide what “reasonable reliance” is? It depends on the cultural default, presumably. (For example, I’m not sure in modern times it would constitute reasonable reliance to assume one’s spouse will never ever want a divorce, since a majority of people [in some reference classes] who say “until death do us part” eventually wish to renege.) Which is part of the point of this post.

          This is especially true when making the contract is part of a ritual: I’m not sure you can reasonably rely on such contracts any more than you can on the contract which is the pledge of allegiance.

          Similarly, there are some things you can contract for such that people will not regard it as reasonable to hold you to the contract even if you meant it in full when you made it: a wife promising obedience to her husband in all things, for example. How do we know which things are in this class?

          • Patrick says:

            The way in which reasonable reliance depends on cultural defaults does not require normatively ratifying those cultural defaults. It only requires acknowledging that we make decisions based on available information, and cultural defaults are part of that information.

            I also feel some obligation to point out that the ritual of marriage is typically voluntary in our society. The idea that the pro forma nature of ritual promises means that one cannot reasonably rely on promises made in a voluntary ritual that exists almost entirely for the purpose of publicly committing to those promises is the sort of argument is expect to hear from Satan in a Mark Twain story: a clever-clever turn of phrase that seems plausible as long as you aren’t given time to think about it.

          • 27chaos says:

            Relying on defaults is necessary in order for communication in general to function.

    • alexp says:

      It’s possible Steve discovered he had the kink while browsing porn.

  87. 1. Start out by pointing out that any successful marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition. If both parties don’t think they’re on the giving side of a 60-40 relationship, it won’t work.

    2. Ask Steve whether there’s any chance he’d be happy with an increase in the amount of kink in the relationship. Ask Adam whether a somewhat wilder monogamous life with Steve would be satisfying enough to keep him from straying. It’s kind of important to ask both questions in the presence of the other so they each see that the other would be making a sacrifice in order to continue the exclusive relationship that they both wanted at some point. If they go for it, you have a win. [A variant of this worked for me.]

    3. The general situation you present is still interesting. If there’s no halfway position that works for both, you need a Schelling point or a split. Breakups are seldom the best outcome, particularly when children are involved.

    • Evan Þ says:

      2) Suppose Steve says yes, but six months down the road, he realizes that he’s really, really uncomfortable with acting out a kink that repulses him. And suppose Adam says yes, but realizes six months down the road that he’s still not feeling satisfied.

    • Alex Z says:

      I would argue breakups are the best solution much more often than people think, especially when children are involved. Parents that grow to resent and despise each other is not particularly fun when you’re a child and spend many years stuck in their presence.

      • Tom Richards says:

        Very much seconded. I wish my parents had divorced years before they did. Sure, the ideal would be happily married, but I’d take amicably divorced over unhappily married any day of the week.

  88. Watercressed says:

    I am not sure how good the ten degree frozen house/showers example are. When I ask my brain why those preferences are stupid, it says something like “no human actually has those preferences, so the person claiming them has some ulterior motive”.

    • Pku says:

      I actually have a (less extreme) preference in that regard (I never, ever close the windows, which isn’t as bad in Jerusalem as it would be in Michigan but still annoyed the hell out of my family).

    • JBeshir says:

      My experience has been that people switch to “your preferences are a pretence for an ulterior motive” for significantly less weird preferences than actually exist in reality, so it might be difficult to get “distant, to the point we think they’re completely unreasonable” without it triggering that reaction, and yet have it be a fair point that this is an issue for dealing with actual humans.

    • Anonymaus says:

      I would assume that the “default” set by the culture gives us some prior information about the distribution of human preferences. Someone living in the 1800s with everyone living monogamously would assume that monogamy is really important for people in general, and that Adam is probably getting less utility from infidelity than Steve is losing.

    • Nathan says:

      I personally feel like being asked by my spouse to constantly live in a frozen house would be significantly less unreasonable than being asked to allow her to go off and bone random strangers.

      I think this is an inevitable problem of redefining concepts. Whether ‘marriage’ is better defined as two monogamous heteros, two non-monogamous gays, multiple people of indeterminate gender or whatever is more or less irrelevant to me. But as long as there is a clearly agreed standard meaning, then people who want something different can say “I want something like marriage, except for X”.

      As an example, to the extent that there is a common agreement of what marriage constitutes in Western culture, it includes the understanding that it can be dissolved by divorce. When I got married I made it clear to my now-wife that I wanted an alternative version, which involved a commitment and not merely an intention to stay together forever. She was pretty happy with that and so we both went into it knowing exactly what we were agreeing to.

      Same reason I like socially accepted gender roles. Not because I care who does the laundry, but because it allows for a starting point for discussions.

  89. keranih says:

    I worried that if I made the couple hetero, my readers for one reason or another would bring their own baggage and wouldn’t be able to see it as the difficult and evenly-balanced problem it seemed like when I was in the office with them.

    Maybeso because all the other people involved in the public support and enforcement of a public contract like marriage already knew that it’s not, actually, an evenly-balanced problem out in the real world. Which is why we have marriage contracts, for the social institution of marriage. To help make it even, and fair, for the man and the woman – and their kids, and the rest of the community – in the contract.

    I swear to God Scott, you’re a really smart guy, but sometimes you’re dumber’n a box of rocks.

    • Paul Kinsky says:

      Marriage is just an example chosen to illustrate a scenario. If Scott simplified the example to get as close to the platonic form of the scenario as possible, that’s an entirely valid rhetorical strategy.

    • I have no idea what you’re getting at here, so I guess I’m also dumber’n a box of rocks.

    • Outis says:

      I fail to see how the marriage contract presently available in the US makes things even in any way, for anyone. If I were to get married, I would be giving another person the opportunity to, at any time, walk away with half of everything I have, and a sizable portion of my future earnings. In exchange, I would get… what?

      • Tom Womack says:

        I think if you’re asking that question you’re probably not in a position to consider marriage.

        How vicious are American laws on disentangling non-marriage relationships? I would expect to end up obliged to pay child support to the hypothetical mother of my non-existent children, if the relationship broke down after we’d lived in a financially intermingled manner, whether I had been to the registry office or not.

        • gattsuru says:

          Child support is expensive, but it’s an entire different class of things than alimony and divorce proceedings, and goes to someone that you usually don’t like.

        • Outis says:

          I think asking that question *is* a necessary part of considering marriage. I agree that you should not proceed with marriage until you can answer it. So humor me: what’s your answer?

          Under American laws you are going to pay child support to the mother of your children period. There does not need to have been a relationship or any financial intermingling. The woman can be your rapist and you still have to pay child support (yes, this has actually happened in child molestation cases).

          In the US, men have no reproductive rights, and child support is treated as a strict liability.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            Child support is completely orthogonal to men’s reproductive rights.

            The justification for child support as a strict liability is: a) we’ve got a child here, b) somebody has to pay for it, and therefore c) it makes more sense to have the father pay for it, even if he didn’t really want it, than to have the taxpayers pay for it, as they surely didn’t want it.

            Since the woman actually bears the child, it naturally becomes her decision whether to have an abortion (as it is not thought proper to allow men to force women to have an abortion). And if she has custody over the child, she can choose to give it up for adoption (as can a man if he has custody).

            I don’t necessarily agree that forcing men who were raped or deceived to pay child support (or indeed forcing them to pay child support at all to women who can afford to bring up the child themselves) is either necessary for children’s welfare or just in regard to the men. But the issue is one of the rights of the child, not of the reproductive rights of the father.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Vox –

            Abortion is completely orthogonal to women’s reproductive rights.

            The justification for banning abortion is: a) we’ve got a child here, b) somebody has to birth it, and therefore c) it makes more sense to have the mother birth it, even if she really didn’t want to, than to have someone else birth it, since that would involve complicated and risky surgery.

            Maybe you don’t agree that a fetus is a child. But that’s beside the point, since almost everyone who opposes abortion -do- think that.

            There are several major faults with your line of reasoning, in general:

            First, you omit the possibility that the -mother- pay for the child, as opposed to either the father -or- taxpayers. This is the modern world, after all.

            Second, you claim it makes more sense to make the father pay for it than taxpayers. (Why does it make sense to force anybody to pay for children they don’t want? Why should one person make more sense than another?)

            Third, child support doesn’t go to the child, it goes to the mother. Yes, in theory, she’s supposed to spend it on the children. But – well, I’ve seen women who deliberately have children for the child support, of which relatively little is spent on the child. This is particularly true when the father is more affluent, and thus more is extracted from him.

          • anonymous says:

            @Vox
            I agree that the state has an interest in not having to pay to support a child, but that isn’t always the only alternative. I never quite understood / agreed with the state’s interest in seeing that a child is raised with the standard of living the state thinks his parents can afford. As long as no one is asking for welfare and no one is being abused through neglect, I don’t see any reason for the state to intervene. Even if the case where the parent that wants custody can’t afford the child without state assistance if the child is adoptable transferring custody to willing and able third parties seems preferable to dragooning in an unwilling one.

            As for the child of a female rapist, as she should in jail and unavailable for parenting duties, the child should be put up for adoption (with right of first refusal to the victim).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Orphan Wilde:

            Abortion is completely orthogonal to women’s reproductive rights.

            The justification for banning abortion is: a) we’ve got a child here, b) somebody has to birth it, and therefore c) it makes more sense to have the mother birth it, even if she really didn’t want to, than to have someone else birth it, since that would involve complicated and risky surgery.

            Maybe you don’t agree that a fetus is a child. But that’s beside the point, since almost everyone who opposes abortion -do- think that.

            Precisely. If you believe the fetus is a child with rights, abortion is completely orthogonal to women’s reproductive rights. Anti-abortionists don’t think women shouldn’t be allowed to decide when and if they get pregnant by using birth control (okay, maybe Catholics do…). They simply think they ought not to be allowed to murder their children.

            Pro-abortionists also think women shouldn’t be allowed to murder their children. The dispute is a factual one, over the question of whether the fetus is a child and thus a person capable of being murdered.

            No disagreement from me on this.

            There are several major faults with your line of reasoning, in general:

            First of all, it’s not my reasoning. Perhaps you didn’t see the part where I said I don’t necessarily think the current child support regime is either necessary or just. But I’ll repeat it. In fact, I’ll just come right out and say I think it is in need of great reform.

            First, you omit the possibility that the -mother- pay for the child, as opposed to either the father -or- taxpayers. This is the modern world, after all.

            Second, you claim it makes more sense to make the father pay for it than taxpayers. (Why does it make sense to force anybody to pay for children they don’t want? Why should one person make more sense than another?)

            Third, child support doesn’t go to the child, it goes to the mother. Yes, in theory, she’s supposed to spend it on the children. But – well, I’ve seen women who deliberately have children for the child support, of which relatively little is spent on the child. This is particularly true when the father is more affluent, and thus more is extracted from him.

            In any case, I return to the guise of at least providing a semi-logical basis for the current system.

            First, the mother does always pay for the child. Child support occurs when the mother has custody and thus directly incurs all the expenses of raising the child. In the rare cases when the father has custody (the rarity is its own issue), the mother must pay.

            Second, the logic is presumably one of moral hazard. If the state offers to pay for all the illegitimate children a man fathers and doesn’t want, perhaps he is less eager to use a condom, or to take similar precautions. Even in cases where crazy women poke holes in condoms or such things, the man at least has a certain ability to avoid having sex with women who seem crazy (or whom he has not known long enough to tell). If he’s worried the woman might be crazy and put him on the hook for child support, he thinks twice. If the taxpayers are footing the bill, he doesn’t.

            Third, this point is sort of irrelevant. The purpose of child support is to support children. The state just doesn’t have the perfect ability to enforce this. Similarly, the purpose of disability payments is to prevent cripples from starving on the street. But the state isn’t able to stop all cases of malingerers abusing the system.

            @ anonymous:

            I’m very sympathetic to your position.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Regarding the mother paying, I think you miss my point. But I ascertain that your argument focuses on furthering the interests of the state, which is a fundamentally different perspective. Given that the state has any [edit: any->no] inherent interest in providing for children, the state’s interests are best supported by spending no resources addressing the problem at all. Provided the state does have a fundamental interest in providing for children, it should do so itself directly, rather than imposing additional costs to achieve the same ends by maintaining/enforcing a larger legal code.

            You ignore the moral hazard of the woman, who also has agency; her decisions (abortion versus not aborting) impose risk on the man. To treat sex as a fundamentally reproductive choice is to ignore the realities of modern existence; most sex is not a reproductive choice, and the reproductive elements of sex are an undesired potential side effect which only one party has full power to avoid (women, given abortion).

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Orphan Wilde:

            Regarding the mother paying, I think you miss my point. But I ascertain that your argument focuses on furthering the interests of the state, which is a fundamentally different perspective. Given that the state has any [edit: any->no] inherent interest in providing for children, the state’s interests are best supported by spending no resources addressing the problem at all. Provided the state does have a fundamental interest in providing for children, it should do so itself directly, rather than imposing additional costs to achieve the same ends by maintaining/enforcing a larger legal code.

            People don’t want children to be left dependent on the goodwill of strangers for their survival (presumably, they think this means children would be starving in the streets), and so they demand that the state ensure children are provided for. (Whether they are right to think this is another matter.)

            The state wants to limit the number of children it has to provide for. Thus, it wants to discourage both parents of a child (it does usually still take two to tango in this day and age) from burdening society with superfluous children.

            Rightly or wrongly, it is thought that mothers already have a good deal of incentive to refrain from having child after child: pregnancy is painful, inconvenient, and expensive, and the mothers usually have to raise the children anyway. But fathers could (and quite often did, in the days before child support) freely “sow their seed” in every available field with no consequences.

            The solution is to internalize the fathers’ externality (which is of course created by the state’s provision for children in the first place) by making them pay for some of the costs of raising the child. This makes them more cautious and reluctant to get into situations that might lead to the birth of illegitimate children the state must support; this limits the state’s costs.

            In sum, the reason the state does not provide all the care directly is that it doing so would actually increase the size of its burden. (It would also be unwieldy, but that’s a separate issue.)

            Again, however, I’m not saying that this is all perfectly necessary and just, but that seems to be the rationale.

            You ignore the moral hazard of the woman, who also has agency; her decisions (abortion versus not aborting) impose risk on the man. To treat sex as a fundamentally reproductive choice is to ignore the realities of modern existence; most sex is not a reproductive choice, and the reproductive elements of sex are an undesired potential side effect which only one party has full power to avoid (women, given abortion).

            Her decision not to get an abortion does result in the man having to pay additional costs. But those costs are also caused by the fact that he did something to get the woman pregnant.

            Since it is not thought appropriate for the man to be able literally to force the woman to have an abortion without her consent, the result is that if the woman chooses not to abort, a child will exist whether the man likes it or not. The child needs someone to pay for it.

            The state compels the man, a partial cause of the child’s existence, to pay for it.

            That is the reason. Whether this is the only good way of doing things is another matter.

          • alexp says:

            “The dispute is a factual one, over the question of whether the fetus is a child and thus a person capable of being murdered.”

            Vox- While this is true from a idealized, logical grey tribe perspective, I think in the real world people choose a position on abortion based on the implications of that position and their opinions of reproductive rights and what political tribe they belong to, etc. and then decide which side of the factual dispute they fall on.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ alexp:

            Are you suggesting people don’t adopt all their political beliefs rationally? Tell me more! 😉

            (In all seriousness, of course you are correct. In that sense, abortion is connected to reproductive rights. But then it’s also connected to gun rights and whether we should abolish the Federal Reserve.)

          • Outis says:

            Orphan Wilde already made excellent points. I want to stress the fact that the concern of adding millions of unsupported children to the taxpayers’ burden is unwarranted.

            Women from the middle class and upwards are able to support the child on their own, and so would not burden the state. Instead, removing the ability to extract support from an unwilling man would encourage women to enter a stable relationship before having children. This would decrease the number of children who grow up without a father, and thus would produce a net benefit to the children’s outcomes.

            Women from the lower class are unable to support the child, but in most cases, so are their men. Many men in this class become delinquent on child support, change jobs and fly under the radar, and get maybe one paycheck garnished in a year. The taxpayer ends up picking up the tab anyway. Removing strict liability won’t make things any better or worse in this stratum of the population.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Generally speaking, if you want to internalize externalities, you have to identify those who are most responsible for them and have them pay the appropriate costs.

          In the case at hand, the mother has usually the most responsibility for the existence of the child, since the mother can opt-out by having an abortion. Therefore the most efficient wa