Sunday in Outer Blogness: Ideas and Advice Edition!

This week it seems like everybody is sharing new ideas and giving (or asking for) advice! Erin is expecting a baby and wonders what to call the new grandma. Andrew is not sure what to call himself. Handing out lists of kids’ pictures, name, ages, birth dates, and addresses to strangers: not recommended. Is a university education a good investment? Should Congress reign in the judiciary? Here’s some good advice regarding my personal LDS pet-peeve. ;) What does chiasmus prove? Testimonies: just for Mormons or also for coffee drinkers? (Here’s another coffee tip.) Ldsgems asks whether atheists billboards in Utah do more harm than good whereas to Saganist they feel like a hug. But perhaps the best advice is to choose happy!

I imagine you guys have heard about the “All-American Muslim” reality show controversy (with the related question of what if Teabow were Muslim?). Note that it’s not always easy to separate intolerance (or even petty jabs) from legitimate criticism, but here’s advice I’ve given Mormons before:

Their argument is essentially, “We want everyone to believe that Muslims are all bad people, and if there’s a TV show which depicts Muslims as good people, it might undermine that belief.” In the eyes of the Christian right, only negative, villainous depictions of worldviews they disagree with are permitted. The same is true with gay people in the media, although they’ve pretty much lost that battle.

This is something that atheists ought to take a strong stand against, because this same prejudice can just as easily be turned against us.

Moving from ethnic intolerance to gender, a clueless patriarch unintentionally inspires sisterhood. And here’s a novel argument against polygyny:

Polygamy causes indirect harms even in cases where everyone is a consenting adult. For one thing, nobody has the authority to engage in a practice that upsets the opportunity for everyone to have a spouse. This is what happens in polygamous societies. There will always be a limited number of women available to marry. And there will always be men who want to marry the available women. Nobody has the consent from general society to collect extra spouses from the pool. In a closed polygamous society, this causes severe shortages and men have to leave the society if they wish to marry. Nobody has consent to affect society this way. There is roughly enough for each person to have one spouse. That is equal. That is not excessive.

(Note: IMHO there’s a lot wrong with this statement, but perhaps it’s interesting enough to discuss in the comments, if anyone’s up for it.)

Homophobia is still alive and well in Utah (despite some resistance). Meanwhile Dialog started a discussion on the theology of gender and relationships. MoHoHawaii argues that gender is a real part of a person’s identity (see, for example, this tale of a transgender kid), and gets to the main point:

In other words, its not so much that gender exists and is important to relationships, its whether gender disqualifies a person from participation in all aspects of society, including marriage and social leadership.

Now, politics! Interestingly, old LDS publications vary widely in their political bent. But to compensate for bias in the mainstream media, I’d like to direct you to some straight-forward economic analysis (plus some other related points).

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s one of the years that Mormons get to attend church on Christmas (always a disappointment when I was a kid, though not as bad as Halloween falling on a Sunday). Time to make lists of our favorite and least-favorite things! Time to reminisce about your past. Please enjoy a missionary Christmas story and a new interpretation of the Nutcracker!

Now I’d like to wrap up with my own request for advice. For a while my SiOB style has been trending in a minimalist direction — that is, I’ve been trying to pack as many interesting links into as little text as possible. But lately I’ve been thinking that people are more likely to follow the links if I include a little more description (like today). Is it too cluttering to include pull-quotes, or is it helpful? Do you guys have any opinions on this point (or any other suggested improvements for this weekly feature)?

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31 Comments

  1. 1
    Chino Blanco says:

    My two cents:

    More pull-quotes would be a good thing. It’s all upside in terms of readability and seo.

    Also, you should think about franchising SiOB and letting some guest posters from Outer Blogness handle this weekly round-up on a rotating basis. Even if it’s just one or two weeks out of the month, it’s about time some of the beneficiaries of your tenacity and constancy stepped up and took on guest editorial roles. /end public shaming

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    chanson says:

    More pull-quotes would be a good thing. Its all upside in terms of readability and seo.

    That’s probably true. And it doesn’t really take any longer to highlight some quotes that stand out as particularly original or thought-provoking.

    Also, you should think about franchising SiOB and letting some guest posters from Outer Blogness handle this weekly round-up on a rotating basis. Even if its just one or two weeks out of the month, its about time some of the beneficiaries of your tenacity and constancy stepped up and took on guest editorial roles.

    That’s a good idea. Anyone who is interested in taking a turn, please leave a comment or email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) — thanks!

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    TGD says:

    I like the long form. Perhaps even longer than this post. You are packing in a lot of reading here, it’s nice to have a bit more summary to what things are so I can easier pick the topics that interest me, especially for slow readers such as myself. It’s ironic, write more so that I don’t have to read more. :-/

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    chanson says:

    @3 — Perhaps ionic, yet not unreasonable. If I link to five posts from a single sentence, it may be less clear at a glance which one(s) you’d find interesting…

    Thanks for the feedback! :D

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    Macha says:

    On polygamy being “unfair” … perhaps if we were only talking about hetero polygyny in a “closed society” they’d have a point, but we’re talking about reality here, so they don’t.

    In this society there are also gay men and lesbians and bisexual people of both sexes, who by the same logic are “taking” spouses away from “the pool” (could this get any more objectifying?) In addition, there are many, many different variations on romantic relationships out there: open relationships, polyamory (which can mean a whole host of different sexual/marital arrangements), etc. There are women who want more than one husband or male partner. There are men who want more than one wife or female partner. There are gay men who want more than one husband or male partner. There are asexual people of both sexes who are taking themselves out of “the pool.” By Cosmo Philosophy’s logic, an asexual person can’t have the consent of society to affect “the pool” that way, and so doesn’t have a right to not make themselves available for marriage. Does this sound absolutely ridiculous yet?

    Basically, the idea that “There is roughly enough for each person to have one spouse” is nonsense.

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    chanson says:

    Macha — Thanks for taking this up — you made a lot of the points I was going to make!

    Before responding specifically to your remarks, let me outline my initial reaction:

    His “everyone” seems to be every straight male — which is perhaps a petty observation, but I think relevant when discussing equality. Additionally, his framing seems to indicate that women should be rationed, like a resource. And I don’t think the right for couples to marry implies a right to have someone marry you whether they want to or not.

    I think that the place where he’s onto something is that societies tend to be more peaceful and stable (for various reasons) when they’re more monogamous (as opposed to having an alpha male class monopolizing the women and an underclass of frustrated males). I just don’t think that legal coercion is the solution. You can make de jure polygamy illegal, but you’ll still have (sometimes consensual) de facto polygyny (eg. wife-plus-mistress or first-wife-then-trophy-wife) as long as women’s economic opportunities are focused around their male “providers”. When women have the economic opportunities to take charge of their own lives, they tend to push towards a more monogamous society.

    What do you say to that analysis?

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    Donna Banta says:

    Chanson, I like the longer form as well, and agree with Chino Blanco, you should let some guest posters give you a break now and then. (You’re the hardest working blogger on the internet.) I’ll take a crack at it sometime in 2012 if you like. :)

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    Chanson, I too prefer the longer form with more pull quotes.

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    Badger says:

    I can’t make any sense of that polygamy link.

    It [polygamy] deprives society of balanced liberties, which are the only liberties anyone has the right to have.

    The society I live in has many unbalanced liberties. Often they are distributed by means of markets. Wealthy straight male A might prefer a single eight-cow wife to eight one-cow wives, while gay male B prefers cows. The happy result is wives all around for straight males C through whatever! Once again the invisible hand guarantees that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

    Passing over the obvious question that must not be asked (i.e., why are women the commodity instead of men?), the next obvious question is, with all his talk of “justice”, “human rights”, and “balanced liberties”, why didn’t the blog author Cosmo Philosophy ever get to this issue? My repugnant version is exaggerated for effect, but it’s clear Cosmo is very sensitive to the injustice of powerful men taking more than their share of women from the less powerful. Injustice to the less powerful men, that is. I imagine he would agree that being traded like black-market organs for transplantation, minus the “black” part, is inconsistent with justice, rights, and liberty for women, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to say so.

    It’s not immediately clear to me whether it’s possible to salvage the argument so that it would work from a point of view that treats men and women symmetrically.

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    Badger says:

    I see something went wrong with two of my links. I was mostly just having fun linking to Wikipedia. They were supposed to go to the articles “Candide” and “Invisible Hand”.

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    chanson says:

    Thanks Donna and Paul! Donna — I’ll email you about when/how to contribute an SiOB — Thanks!

    Badger — I fixed your links.

    Its not immediately clear to me whether its possible to salvage the argument so that it would work from a point of view that treats men and women symmetrically.

    Probably not. I don’t think the argument works in terms of grand ideals of justice and human rights, but maybe there’s something in terms of applied economics in there somewhere. Specifically: if it’s bad for a society to have a large population of straight males who have no opportunity to raise a family, we could ask what policies would encourage the women to distribute themselves more evenly.

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    MoHoHawaii says:

    I’m a big fan of SiOB and read it faithfully. I try to follow most of the links that you provide, but I also like I like the longer form. I like it when you editorialize.

    Also, I would be truly ungrateful this day if I didn’t thank you for writing SiOB so regularly.

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    chanson says:

    Thanks MoHoHawaii!!

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    Badger says:

    Chanson, thanks for fixing my broken links, and I’m overdue in saying thank you for all your effort to put together SiOB as well.

    I don’t know how interesting polygamy-mitigation is as a pure economic problem for someone who wants it legalized but reined in somehow. Creating tax incentives to nudge things in the desired direction doesn’t seem inherently more difficult than any other tax policy matter. If it were some other issue I’d say that in the US one could argue that it’s a slippery slope from deregulation through successively weaker market based incentives to complete laissez faire, so it’s better not to give an inch as a matter of political strategy. But I don’t think legalization of polygamy fits easily into the political ideology’s “deregulation” slot. If the objection to polygamy were entirely based on unequal distribution of spouses (of course it never is), some forms of legalization should be acceptable. Someone who really thinks even a single case of polygamy is intolerable on distributional grounds should logically be an advocate for social programs to get more couples paired up and so do better than the status quo on spouse-distribution. I’ve never heard anyone propose such a thing, but someone probably has. It doesn’t strike me as an obviously terrible idea, actually.

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    chanson says:

    Thanks Badger!

    I dont know how interesting polygamy-mitigation is as a pure economic problem for someone who wants it legalized but reined in somehow.

    Well, I’m sure it’s not interesting for everyone, but I find it interesting. ;)

    I’m not really talking about tax incentives, I’m talking about what happens when we stop framing women simply as goods to be distributed but also as rational actors themselves. Your question “Why are women the commodity instead of men?” is an interesting one. In the heterosexual marriage market, both sides can be viewed as commodities. For example, here’s what I wrote in Polygamy and the armchair primatologist:

    One of the most striking aspects of human reproduction is the tremendous parental investment in each offspring. Instead of each adult producing hundreds or thousands of young and letting the chips fall where they may, human parents devote a lifetime’s worth of effort and resources to seeing just a handful of kids to adulthood. For humans, successful reproduction isn’t just a question of quantity, but also a question of quality: making sure the kids grow up to be healthy and well-placed in society. So both male and female humans tend to seek a mate who will stay with the family for the long haul and provide a strong investment in their offspring. Investment involves not only an economic investment (food, clothing, shelter, etc.), but also social status and personally educating the children.

    Despite the heavy emphasis on quality, however, quantity isn’t irrelevant in human reproduction. An individual male can improve his reproductive success by attracting multiple mates as long as he can do it without significantly diminishing the quality of mates he gets and the parental investment he can expect from them. For example, in human societies whose upper strata involve some sort of nobility, old money, and/or established families, the mother’s social/economic status matters quite a lot to the success of the offspring. A high-status male can’t normally expect that a high-status female would be willing to share him (and his money/status) with another female on an equal basis. This often leads to the wife-and-mistress model: a high-status “official wife” is sometimes willing to overlook a side dalliance as long as the mistress (and her children) get little of the father’s resources and inherit none of his status.

    So what’s in it for the mistress? Typically it’s a case where any legitimate mate she could expect to attract would be low enough on the socio-economic ladder that she’s better off with the leftovers from a fancier table. (Note that — depending on the society — this role is not always voluntary.) Since the father’s personal attention is valuable, there has to be a very wide economic gulf between the alpha male and the omega males before the alpha’s sloppy seconds start looking more attractive than the full-time attention of a lower-status father/mate.

    The main thing that makes females tolerate and accept polygyny is lack of power and status of their own. It’s my impression that polygyny tends to decrease as women are more empowered. In other words, when a woman can expect to command enough (economic) resources herself to raise her children to adulthood, getting a mate who will invest himself 100% in her and her offspring is a higher priority for her than finding a richer or higher-status mate that she might have to share. (The flip-side is that an openly polygynous society — for its very existence — essentially requires that women have no power or status at all.)

    And the relevant point to add for Cosomo’s discussion is the following: Sometimes economic empowerment of women benefits people who are not women. There is no need to try to force women out of polygyny because — even though there will always be some small percentage of women who voluntarily choose polygyny — most will avoid it of their own accord, given the option.

    If the objection to polygamy were entirely based on unequal distribution of spouses (of course it never is), some forms of legalization should be acceptable.

    Personally, I think voluntary polygamous unions should have legal status and recognition if they want it. This is not because I think that polygyny is a good idea, but rather because making it illegal doesn’t benefit anyone. It doesn’t benefit the people who are practicing it voluntarily, and pushing the whole community into the outlaw region doesn’t help the people who want to leave.

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    aerin says:

    chanson, I like siob and my preference for the longer quotes. I would be happy to put together a guest spot at some point as well.

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    chanson says:

    Cool, thanks! Tell me via email your preferences for the date.

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    Badger says:

    Well, Chanson, from the broader point of view you described, I agree there’s more to it. I don’t think I have anything to offer that’s as good as your own opinion and speculation (as you described it on your blog), but I do agree associations between womens’ economic status and family size are interesting. Usually “family size” means “number of children” in a sentence like that, but as you point out, “number of wives” is potentially part of the equation, too. Legalization would presumably make polygyny more visible in official statistics so that over time such associations could be better observed than they are now. Your impression that empowerment of women is inversely related to polygyny is very believable, but it seems much harder to quantify than the corresponding relationship with the average number of a woman’s children.

    I don’t find the idea of legal recognition for voluntary polygamous unions horrifying as some apparently do. I do take seriously the argument that the legal status of monogamy can’t simply be carried over as is to polygamy, as is possible for same-sex marriages, although I also find it annoying to see it used as a trump-card argument against legalization, because I don’t see why something can’t be worked out. It would require some work. Seeing MoHoHawaii’s name in an earlier comment reminded me, as it always does, of his and Tobi’s immigration ordeal, and in fact opposition to same-sex marriage effectively amounts to support for this and countless other cruelties and deprivations in the name of sexual morality. It is a justification I find so inadequate as to be almost irrelevant. But polygamy changes things even with sexual morality completely set aside. I am very uncomfortable at the prospect of aiding a would-be modern day Brigham Young in his acquisition of 55 wives by providing citizenship to 55 mail-order brides. There are perhaps no new issues, but the damage one bad man can do is much greater if he is not limited to exploiting one woman at a time. The law deals with drawing lines in gray areas all the time, and if we decided as a society to grant legal status to polygamy, I’m sure some halfway reasonable policy could be found. But I don’t think it’s obvious from common sense what the policy would be, and there are many other legal attributes of marriage that would have to be re-examined.

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    chanson says:

    Your impression that empowerment of women is inversely related to polygyny is very believable, but it seems much harder to quantify than the corresponding relationship with the average number of a womans children.

    I don’t think people are consciously making such calculations when deciding which (and how many) relationships to pursue. I think that a lot of times (but not always) things that people want out of life correspond to things that help their DNA get represented in the next generation.

    One seeming contradiction is the fact that, in countries with good nutrition and medical care, the overwhelming majority of parents choose to limit their number of children to one, two, or three. But investing more resources into fewer offspring can also be an effective reproductive strategy, and a standard one for humans. (I discussed this in Fertility, Mortality or Sex vs. Death.)

    I am very uncomfortable at the prospect of aiding a would-be modern day Brigham Young in his acquisition of 55 wives by providing citizenship to 55 mail-order brides. [...] But I dont think its obvious from common sense what the policy would be, and there are many other legal attributes of marriage that would have to be re-examined.

    I completely agree. I don’t think that legal marriage (as we understand it today) can be applied wholesale to polygamous unions. I just think polygamy shouldn’t be outlawed, but rather there should be some sort of legal recognition of polygamous unions.

    Immigration is one problem when trying to stretch marriage into more than a partnership, but it’s not the only one. Entering a second marriage contract compromises (sometimes even negates) one’s ability to fulfil their first marriage contract. For example, infidelity is generally considered grounds for divorce. A second relationship is infidelity (even if you call it “polygamy” and “marriage”) as long as your first spouse didn’t agree to open up the marriage to additional relationships.

    Marriage also implies a shared right to ownership of household property and income. If the primary breadwinner takes on a second spouse, then that affects the first spouse’s rights towards the household income. And now which one is the next-of-kin?

    My thought is that taking on any additional spouses should require a modification of all earlier marriage contract(s) to spell out the division of rights and obligations explicitly. And if a would-be polygamist fails to hammer out a contract-annex that is amenable to the first spouse before taking a second, the first spouse has grounds to sue for divorce under the original marriage contract.

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    chanson says:

    Regarding immigration: I think the most logical policy would be to simply make it so that polygamous unions don’t confer any immigration rights. It would just be too easy for couples to take on additional people — even bring in whole families, in exchange for money or services. “Oh yeah, we’re married to them” — and who could say that they’re not?

    As long as the marriage prevents either partner from marrying anyone else, that provides a strong disincentive to creating fake marriages for immigration purposes.

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    This particular argument was something I in which I willfully included the objectification. In a free society, gays and lesbians will likely form bonds among themselves (lest they cease to live as gays and lesbians), so they aren’t part of the formula I’m discussing, which only includes “heterosexuals who wish to have a heterosexual partner.” Since I expect gays and lesbians to form partnerships with other gays and lesbians if they wish, I see no reason to include them in the dynamics. The pool I am only discussing is about heterosexuals who want a monogamous heterosexual partner only. But as selective as those terms may be, that’s a pretty large chunk of the population.

    If some men are legally allowed to marry literally dozens of wives (and since polygyny is overwhelmingly dominant compared to polyandry), other men simply won’t be able to fulfill the simple capability of finding one spouse. And in an ordinary, healthy human society, the capability of having a spouse is something we can at least attempt to guarantee. Likewise, since we expect a certain number of gays and lesbians, we can reasonably guarantee them as individuals the capability to one legal partner at a time. But there will always be a limited number of heterosexuals who simply want a single heterosexual partner, and allowing legal polygamy is to put government’s blessing on the ability of a limited number of men the privilege of legal marriage, while restricting the more equitable capability of monogamy to a guaranteed limited number of men.

    The word “capability” carries a lot of weight in human rights arguments. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum speaks of human rights as a bundle of capabilities which includes being able to have a single partner. If some men practice polygamy, they are limiting the capabilities of other men to have even one spouse. There’s no justice in this.

    Notice, I’m only speaking about marriage. I don’t care who has sex with whom, as long as everyone is in agreement, free from duress and of responsible age. Having sex with many different partners is not polygamy. Some people try to twist the definition of polygamy in an effort to perform reductio ad absurdum. I’m not going there. “Polygamy” refers to being married “or” purportedly married to more than one person; not just being sexually-active with more than one person, which is not directly related to my argument. That’s a separate discussion altogether.

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    This particular argument was something I in which I willfully included the objectification. In a free society, gays and lesbians will likely form bonds among themselves (lest they cease to live as gays and lesbians), so they aren’t part of the formula I’m discussing, which only includes “heterosexuals who wish to have a heterosexual partner.” Since I expect gays and lesbians to form partnerships with other gays and lesbians if they wish, I see no reason to include them in the dynamics. The pool I am only discussing is about heterosexuals who want a monogamous heterosexual partner only. But as selective as those terms may be, that’s a pretty large chunk of the population.

    If some men are legally allowed to marry literally dozens of wives (and since polygyny is overwhelmingly dominant compared to polyandry), other men simply won’t be able to fulfill the simple capability of finding one spouse. And in an ordinary, healthy human society, the capability of having a spouse is something we can at least attempt to guarantee. Likewise, since we expect a certain number of gays and lesbians, we can reasonably guarantee them as individuals the capability to one legal partner at a time. But there will always be a limited number of heterosexuals who simply want a single heterosexual partner, and allowing legal polygamy is to put government’s blessing on the ability of a limited number of men the privilege of legal marriage, while restricting the more equitable capability of monogamy to a guaranteed limited number of men.

    The word “capability” carries a lot of weight in human rights arguments. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum speaks of human rights as a bundle of capabilities which includes being able to have a single partner. If some men practice polygamy, they are limiting the capabilities of other men to have even one spouse. There’s no justice in this.

    Notice, I’m only speaking about marriage. I don’t care who has sex with whom, as long as everyone is in agreement, free from duress and of responsible age. Having sex with many different partners is not polygamy. Some people try to twist the definition of polygamy in an effort to perform reductio ad absurdum. I’m not going there. “Polygamy” refers to being married “or” purportedly married to more than one person; not just being sexually-active with more than one person, which is not directly related to my argument. That’s a separate discussion altogether.

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    chanson says:

    Cosmo Philosophy — I’m glad you’ve come by to join in the discussion of your post!

    And in an ordinary, healthy human society, the capability of having a spouse is something we can at least attempt to guarantee.

    This is the part where I kind of agree with you. I think it’s beneficial for a society to spread the spouses fairly evenly and monogamously (and when women have economic and educational opportunities, that’s what they tend to choose to do).

    You haven’t answered the big question people have been asking, though:

    What about the women’s rights to choose who they want to marry (or not to marry)?

    Women are humans, too, so they should have human rights, too, right? It’s fine to talk about “capacity” in terms of resources (eg. one person’s use of a resource limits another person’s access to that resource), but human women aren’t resources, they’re humans. Your argument seems to imply that men decide amongst themselves how to distribute the women, and the women just passively go along with whatever the men decide on the subject. That’s not how marriage works anymore.

    Let’s take an example. Consider a woman who — of her own free will, as an adult of sound mind and body — converts to Mormon Fundamentalism, and decides she wants to sign on as some guy’s seventh wife (and the guy and his other wives all agree they want her to join the family). Should the law say that she doesn’t have the right to join such a harem, even if she wants to? Does the right-to-a-spouse of some guy she doesn’t want to be married to trump her right to choose who she wants to marry?

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    As far as I can tell, a woman has the best chance of choosing who she wishes to marry under a monogamous system. Under that system, everyone can marry “who” they wish, but not “as many” as they wish. So we have to be careful with that question. Are women really asking why how many men they can marry? As opposed to “who they want to marry?” What usually ends up happening is that polygamy, in practice, destroys the opportunity for women to have any choice at all. Once you’ve convinced her that she must practice polygamy by command of God, her own choices dwindle under the effects of duress.

    If you’re asking about women who wish to marry multiple husbands and are making a serious case for it, I haven’t heard about them. How much political pressure exists for this compared to the political pressure to stop polygamy? At some point, we have to balance these forces, and the women who are asking for the right to marry multiple men aren’t making a case that the men haven’t attempted to make already.

    A government-endowed privilege to practice polygamy is a self-defeating measure. And we can’t make something a “right” unless it’s actually possible to distribute that right to every single individual. The right to a single spouse is really the best the government can reasonably provide. The government can’t provide legal marriage benefits for polygamy under the same system as monogamy. Rights can only be protected if they’re conceptually available to everyone.

    I see no reason why women can’t marry whoever they wish. But society can’t provide more than one legal spouse per person at a time. If we did that, we’d be putting ourselves at risk for abuse.

    I can’t stress enough that I’m talking about marriages and/or purported marriages; not open marriages or other similar arrangements.

    People make loose arrangements similar to polygamy all the time, so I guess it would help to explain that I distinguish between polyamory and polygamy. How I can make that distinction work in law is the next question, but I’m careful to use the term “polygamy” to describe just any open-marriage type situation. Some people are inclined to do this, but it’s not a good move in an ethical argument.

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    kuri says:

    As far as I can tell, a woman has the best chance of choosing who she wishes to marry under a monogamous system.

    What if she wishes to marry someone who already has a spouse? Or, what if she’s already married and wishes to marry an additional spouse?

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    kuri, polygamy is illegal, and for good reasons. We’re just not going to make exceptions. The risk is too great.

    So what if someone wants to marry a person who already has a spouse? Is this truly such a liberty deficit? This is an important question.

    People are committing polyamory in almost every society. In fact, I only use that word “committing” with a sense of irony. I make no moral argument against open marriages. When we say that we should leave consenting adults alone, I quite agree, as long as whatever consenting adults are doing is not harming anyone else either directly or indirectly. These informal relationships typically remain just that: informal. The political pressure to legalize polygamy in the interest of ensuring a marriage license for all members within polyamorous relationships just isn’t there.

    This is a sticking point, but in ethics, we have to weave together the human element with the dry logic. Simply put, we must be rational, but we can’t be unreasonable. The strictly rational “top-down” approach has severe limitations because our goals are simply hypothetical futures that we are trying to bring into actual being. We have to include the bottom-up, reasonable approach when talking about what we should do next, or how we should make our decisions. Would it work if everyone tried to do it? If not, then the hypothetical (or real) behavior can never be called a “right.” That is a logical requirement in human rights. We have to ask this question when considering whether a behavior is something that the government can “reasonably” guarantee for all.

    Hopefully, I can simplify this by just saying that abstract scenarios in which there is no internal harm caused by polygamy, are not justification for arguing that we should lift the ban on a behavior that causes severe harm when practiced on the societal level. Perhaps in individual families, we can conceive of “harmless” polygamy. But because of the effect on the number of bachelors caused by the practice, we can’t simply speak of isolated cases. Everything everyone does affects everyone else. The trick is in figuring out what will bring more harm than good in the end and pursuing that path. Monogamy keeps things simple and equal, which is good for government services. It works for gay marriage too, without causing any upset. Let’s face it, homosexuals are not in the heterosexual demographic unless they cease being homosexuals, and that’s an idea we aren’t going to entertain.

    There’s a difference between informal polyamory and formal polygamy. It’s just a matter of writing the laws in a way that ensures justice for every individual.

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  28. 28
    Alan says:

    Even in places where polygyny is legal (e.g., Muslim countries), polyandry is often illegal. To me, that proves that polygyny in those instances is about patriarchy. In fact, I think in sharia law, there’s a notion that if a woman were allowed to marry more than one man, fatherhood could not be determined, and so polyandry is understood as “logically” illegal on the basis of (1) men want to know they’re taking care of their own children (and are not victims of cuckoldry), and (2) it’s outside of men’s sexual “nature” for several men to stay chaste to one woman.

    Yet, for some reason this same logic isn’t reversed when thinking about polygyny. Apparently, (1) all women are “okay” with raising other women’s children (because it’s in women’s “natures” to raise children), and (2) women are “okay” with sharing a man sexually.

    Interestingly enough, in Middle Eastern history, God’s commandment to be “fruitful and multiply” has in some cases been interpreted to mean that a bunch of men ought to have sex with a woman, and then when she is pregnant, she gathers the men together and chooses who to father the child, and the man could not refuse. So, obviously, the only thing that’s actually set in stone is the fact that only women can bear children — the question of the parenting and/or the desire for sex can and has taken a variety of forms.

    I think the question of immigration law is very important when thinking about this in a modern context. If the government is going to be in the business of “awarding” families with benefits, it should award all families. Historically, the case against Mormon polygamy had to do with its disruption to Western, “Christian” capitalism — Mormons were acting like “Mohammedans or Hindoos.” I believe the same fear of disruption to a “system” is there — although the feminist angle is also important, since Islamic societies do bar polyandry.

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  29. 29
    kuri says:

    kuri, polygamy is illegal, and for good reasons. Were just not going to make exceptions. The risk is too great.

    It’s not clear to me what those good reasons are, nor what the risks are.

    So what if someone wants to marry a person who already has a spouse? Is this truly such a liberty deficit?

    You said that “woman has the best chance of choosing who she wishes to marry under a monogamous system.” Mathematically, a woman would have a wider range of choices if she could marry people who were already married, so a monogamous system appears not to offer the “best chance.”

    The political pressure to legalize polygamy in the interest of ensuring a marriage license for all members within polyamorous relationships just isnt there.

    So, one of the good reasons is that not many people want polyamorous marriages?

    Would it work if everyone tried to do it? If not, then the hypothetical (or real) behavior can never be called a right.

    One could certainly question the extent to which heterosexual (serially) monogamous marriage “works,” although a very high percentage of people try it.

    Perhaps in individual families, we can conceive of harmless polygamy. But because of the effect on the number of bachelors caused by the practice, we cant simply speak of isolated cases.

    Polygyny certainly causes excess bachelors in closed, patriarchal societies with limited populations. I don’t think it’s clear that formalizing polyamorous marriages in a modern society would necessarily have the same effect.

    Theres a difference between informal polyamory and formal polygamy. Its just a matter of writing the laws in a way that ensures justice for every individual.

    Why don’t polygamous families deserve the same legal protections, responsibilities, and rights that (serially) monogamous ones do?

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  30. 30
    chanson says:

    What usually ends up happening is that polygamy, in practice, destroys the opportunity for women to have any choice at all. Once youve convinced her that she must practice polygamy by command of God, her own choices dwindle under the effects of duress.

    The question of free choice vs. duress is a key question when discussing polygyny. But adding more duress (in the form of laws against polygamy) isn’t the solution.

    IMHO, the best way to separate cases of duress from cases of consenting adult choices is to make sure that people have real opportunities to make alternative choices. When it comes to polygyny, the ideal solution is to ensure that women have educational and economic opportunities (so they can support themselves if they want to or need to, without having to rely on a male provider), and ensure that the legal system handles custody and child-support in a reasonable way in the case of divorce (and for this, legal recognition of polygamous unions would help).

    If women have realistic opportunities to leave polygynous unions, some will leave. And those who choose to stay despite having a real opportunity to leave can reasonably be considered consenting adults.

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  31. 31
    Alan says:

    Cosmo@27:

    We have to ask this question when considering whether a behavior is something that the government can reasonably guarantee for all.

    The government doesn’t provide people monogamous marriages. It’s up to people to go out and get one themselves, and then the government and other institutions will award and benefit monogamous couples in particular ways. Are you saying that because the government cannot equally distribute awards/benefits to group marriages by definition of their differing sizes, therefore polygamy shouldn’t be a “right”? Surely, there are ways around this conundrum.

    I think you’re right that historically, polygamy has been mostly polygyny, and that polygyny has been patriarchal. But there are enough instances where the polygamy has been in the service of women, or been egalitarian, that I don’t think it’s fair to just turn one’s back on the possibilities.

    For example, consider a marriage between two bisexual women and one hetero man. Technically, it would be considered a polygynous marriage, but that would ignore the bond between the two women. You might think, “Well, how many people are gonna form that?” Well, that’s what people used to say about gay marriage, and now people can’t stop talking about it. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there for whom egalitarian group marriages would make a whole lot of sense, if only society were better structured or approving of it.

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