Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The right kind of attention

It is easy for polyamory to get attention.  You just talk about orgies and hookups and all kinds of promiscuity and people notice.  I pay a lot of attention to how poly is portrayed in media and I certainly notice articles that lean that way, especially when they pitch it as being full of jealousy and drama.  That happens a lot.

Not all the time though.  I ran into a BBC article from a couple years ago on poly and I was so happy to see how it unfolded.  It did basically everything right, and that takes some doing because there are a lot of ways that you can do this wrong.

There are so many ways to get it wrong:

Poly is about M/F couples looking for a girlfriend.

Poly is about orgies and kink.

Poly is about married couples looking to alleviate boredom.

Poly is just better than monogamy.

Poly is just a coping mechanism for people who can't commit fully.

Poly is a new thing, just recently invented, and all the cool people are doing it.

There are more things that you can easily get wrong but generally they boil down to treating single examples as representative of the whole - stereotypes.  There is nothing wrong with married people having casual reletionships because they are bored, or couples looking for a unicorn for threesomes, or orgies, or just being monogamous.  All of those are fine, but they should all be seen as simply examples of ways to do relationships, not the only way.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that even if you don't want to be poly there are lessons that it can teach you about the ways our culture screws up relationships.  Poly people tend to have much less explosive breakups and be much closer to their exes both because they have more options for relationship styles and don't need to fit into uncomfortable boxes as well as not buying into the myth of "The One".  No matter your relationship style it is helpful to accept the reality that your partner is not destined to be with you and they won't be perfect.  It is also great to examine how the two of you could be together and decide on a relationship style with an open mind. 

As an example, there are people out there who are married but live apart, quite on purpose.  That isn't poly of course but deciding to live this way requires that you reject some of the norms our culture normally imposes on relationships.  Thinking about what you want and how you and a partner work together and finding unique solutions gives you so many more choices, and that is a good thing regardless of exclusivity.

I find a lot of poly people feel pressured when they talk about themselves to portray things in a certain way.  They often feel like if they admit to struggles of any kind it will immediately bring a response of "Well, obviously these problems are all because you are poly" even though those exact same problems regularly occur in monogamous relationships.  We all know that jealousy is a regular feature of monogamy, and yet the first response to admitting feeling jealous (or any other issue) when you are in a non standard structure is to blame the structure instead of just addressing the problem directly.

That makes writing pieces about poly really difficult.  People want to portray themselves in a positive light so that others will see that you truly can walk off the beaten path, but they don't want to lie and pretend that it is some kind of guarantee of eternal bliss; it most certainly isn't that.  I think this article did a good job of writing about the potential positives without overselling poly, pitching it as a viable alternative but not a panacea.    I try to do the same in my writing but it is difficult because writing about new relationships and fun sexytimes is easy but talking about conflict and breakups is hard, not least because the other people in the conflicts usually don't want that information public.

I do often wonder if the people who write such articles are actually poly themselves and try to distance themselves from their own experiences to write objectively or if they simply do a lot of talking and research to try to figure out what to say.  I suppose people might have thought the same about me when I was writing about alternative relationships structures a lot but not out of the closet on my blog here.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Just a few lives

The Naked Man told me I needed to read the book The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  He was right.  This is one of those books that had me thinking for days afterwards, going back over my life and looking at events in my past in a new light.

I will talk about the book, but I won't spoil anything beyond the first couple of pages.  The idea behind it is that some people, just a tiny fraction of the population, is reborn when they die.  However, they are reborn in a strange way - they are born again into the same situation they originally were but gradually regain all of their memories of past lives.  So if you were born in 1920, you would live a normal life, dying in 1990 say, and then be reborn again in 1920 on a new version of Earth.  Each of these people proceeds through Earths the same way - if I meet you on Earth v1, and we both die, we both get reborn on Earth v2.  If I die really young on Earth v2 though, I might next meet you on Earth v3 after you die another time too.

The book primarily looks at what happens when people like this try to cope with other people in the same situation.  They form alliances, get into conflicts with one another, and try to change the world in all kinds of ways.  Having many lives to try to accomplish goals can change your capabilities hugely though - firstly, you have an amazing breath of skills to draw upon.  On top of that though you can just try things over and over again until you succeed, though this might entail living seventy years between attempts!

I have spent much time recently considering how I would handle events in my life if I had all the knowledge and abilities I have now.  How would confrontations with bullies go in grade six if I had the confidence and public speaking abilities I do now?  (Answer:  I would win.)  What would I do in university, given that I already know the things I know?  Would it be better to just take the same courses again and do well without trying, or would it be better to take totally different subjects?  Would I try to be friends with the same people?

How do you decide what to do with your life when you have an infinite number of lives to work with?  Just figuring out goals takes on all kinds of new angles.  If I always die by 2050 I might not care what happens after that since I just live through 1978 to 2050 over and over again forever.  I could just live a life of luxury, coasting off of bets on sports results and lotteries, but after hundreds of years of decadence would I still just want to be rich and sit around playing board games for yet another life?

I suspect I would end up grabbing money and power via gambling and then spend my years whiling away the time as an eternal hedonist.  I don't know that changing the world would hold much appeal when the world will simply reset itself every time I perish.

But you can't be too sure.  After all, people change after a couple hundred years and lifetimes of experience.

This book is fun to read, engaging, and makes you think.  It also holds together remarkably well, which is rare for science fiction that involves time travel.  I recommend it to everyone without hesitation as it combines great ideas with grounded, tight writing.  It is rare to get a book so thought provoking and so easy to read at the same time.  I certainly plan to tackle whatever else Clair North writes to see if I enjoy it as much.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A crime against Batman

I watched Batman vs. Superman this weekend because I knew it was going to be bad and it finally appeared on Netflix so I didn't have to pay real money for it.  I had heard about why people thought it was bad and I was curious to see if I would agree with the haters.

I did agree with them, but not for the reasons they cited.

The problem with the movie was that Batman was the worst.  Superman is a garbage superhero, we all know that.  He is boring, in only the way an invulnerable demigod on a planet full of normal people can be.  Batman can be great.  Just not in this movie.

The thing about the Justice League is that it is full of invulnerable demigods with outrageous powers.  Also Batman, who is a guy who is good at martial arts.  Batman can outfight a half dozen assailants at once.  Superman can throw an aircraft carrier at an army.  These people should not be on a team together.  So why have Batman?

Because he is smart.  Batman is a master tactician, always outmaneuvering his enemy.  Batman plans, and thinks, and gets in people's heads.  That is the only thing he brings to the table that is remotely useful.

But in this movie Batman is an idiot.  He gets outthought by Wonder Woman, Superman, and Lex Luthor.  He is irrational and makes hasty, foolish choices.  His main contribution to the film is to be Luthor's dupe.  So much for The Detective.

Batman also generally has an aversion to guns and refuses to kill.  In Batman vs. Superman he uses guns regularly but foolishly.  He is happy to kill people but insists on giving them lots of chances to stab him.  I can live with Batman who won't use guns and won't kill.  I can also live with Batman who uses guns and kills people.  What is garbage is Batman who wades into combat with heavily armed opponents just using his fists and occasionally uses guns to kill people.  If you are willing to murder with guns, why the hell aren't you using guns all the time?  Be SMART.  The guy who is totally willing to use guns but insists on punching people for no reason is the opposite of a master tactician - he is a fool.  Either be a deadly sniper or be a brawler, but pick one.

Also Batman is supposed to be human.  Tough, smart, well trained, but human.  The demigods on the Justice League can all get punched through a building but Batman can't.  He has to out think his opponents so that he won't get punched through buildings.  Instead the movie decides to have Batman put on a suit of armour and get punched through buildings without any damage done.  No problem!  But he doesn't use the super armour suit all the time, which would make sense - no, he just puts it on when it is time for someone to punch him through a building.  That way he can use a normal suit and get stabbed by random dudes with knives the rest of the time.

I was hoping for Batman vs. Superman.  Instead I got Rich Idiot vs. Cardboard Smile.  I expected the Cardboard Smile, but the Rich Idiot was a real disappointment.

Possibly the Dark Knight series of films set the bar for Batman too high.  In any case, this new Batman utterly fails.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Curious questions

For the past four months I have been involved in a scientific study of polyamorous people.  Every month they send me a survey to fill out that usually takes about an hour.  In general I like the idea of improving scientific understanding of people like me but in practice I wonder if the information and conclusions are going to be much use at all.

They ask questions like "how appealing are the alternatives to your relationship with Wendy?" and I don't know what to say.  Do they want to know that computer games are really fun and if Wendy isn't around I will play Hearthstone and be happy?  Do they want to know if I think I could find somebody else to be in a relationship with if she wasn't around?  Are they wondering if I think she is irreplaceable?  I can't tell, so I guess, and then I think that the combined guesses of lots of people are going to be mashed together into well intentioned but ultimately inaccurate summaries, conveyed to audiences with the tagline "New study shows that polyamorous people think that their partners are easy to replace!"

There are also lots of funny / weird questions that relate to bodies and attraction.  They asked me to rate how important my partner's penis size is to me, whether or not the tightness of their orifices is a big deal, and how much I want my partner to be petite.  It seems like they took a grab bag of stereotypical bodily preferences and just asked a bunch of them to figure out what people care about.  My answers in this regard were at least easy to figure out even if I did think the questions were kind of bizarre.  One thing I had to puzzle out was how to answer the question about petite preferences.  I am a big dude, almost exclusively attracted to females, so the question of whether or not I want my partner to be smaller than me hasn't really been a thing.  I am sure if I was middling height I would have more useful thoughts on the matter but since I don't hang around women's basketball stars I just don't know.

I also wonder if they are going to make more of my changing answers over time than they should.  They ask things like "Rate 1-10 how much comfort you get from your relationship with The Flautist" and I can't really figure out how to answer.  I am sure the answer is on the high end, but I honestly couldn't tell you if I should click 7, 8, or 9.  I wonder if they will see a series of answers over the course of the year that vary between 6 and 10 and conclude that my feelings have changed, when in fact they should conclude that the question is extremely vague and my answers are highly random.

Most of the survey, even if it is not perfectly designed, makes sense.  They are asking about my partners and how we interact romantically and sexually.  At the end of the survey there is a page that focuses almost exclusively on how I react to warmth and cold, and it feels bizarre and out of place.  Why does a study about poly people want me to fill in a bunch of information about whether or not I like cold days and how much I want to share warm beverages with people when I get chilly?

I am getting bored with answering the survey questions as the months go by.  I have eight more months to go and picking numbers largely randomly for vague questions for an hour is getting tedious.  I want to contribute but the frustrations with how little good information my answers are actually passing along make me not care much.  I like doing science and usually I enjoy trying to figure out what surveys are looking for in their questions, especially when they try to be tricky about their actual goals.  But this doesn't feel like a puzzle, it feels more like a mess.

Good science is hard to do, especially when you are sending out surveys to large numbers of highly varied people.  I want to help, but the process constantly illustrates how easy it is to screw it up and draw all the wrong conclusions.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Deception, for the purposes of sexytimes

There was a question asked in a nonmonogamy themed Facebook group I am part of.  "Do you consider it unethical to sleep with someone without disclosing existing relationships?"  That is, if you are thinking about having sex with someone, do you feel obligated to tell them that you are married, or dating, or occasionally having sex, etc. with somebody before proceeding?

Personally I would always let them know.  I am loud and proud about being polyamorous so I have no intention whatsoever of ending up in bed with people without them knowing that.  However, the question was about the ethics of the situation, not my personal tendencies, so I will try to answer that.  Keep in mind that this is about people in general though, not my own approach.

I think a lot of people get this wrong by making the trigger for 'this is immoral!' be the other person's knowledge.  I think the trigger should be an attempt at deception instead.

For example, if two people meet at a party, talk for awhile about cars and beer and sports, end up making out, and then have sex, the fact that one of them is in a non monogamous relationship isn't a problem.  If it didn't come up in conversation they don't have any moral requirement to disclose.  That non monogamy doesn't present any threat to the other person, so it isn't something that must be revealed.

Now the other person might well be interested in that fact, but they might be interested in lots of facts.  They might have an objection to vegetarians, Catholics, hunters, liberals, or clowns and they wouldn't have found out about any of those things either.  If you have sex with someone you barely know and you don't ask about your (completely unrelated!) dealbreakers then it is entirely on you if they happen to be the sort of person who has those characteristics.

However, as soon as someone starts to deliberately deceive the other person then they are being immoral.  If I was on a first date this week and my date asked me about my weekend I could say "Oh, my out of town girlfriend was visiting and she and my wife and me and a few other people went out to dinner to celebrate my wife's birthday."  That would be honest.  I could also say "I went to a birthday party on Saturday for someone I have known a long time."  That would be deliberately deceptive, and I would call it immoral.  Quite simply if you are choosing your words carefully to avoid suggesting that you are non monogamous in order to get laid, you are acting immorally.

In any dating type situation I would say you have a moral requirement to make your relationship style known.  That doesn't mean you have to say everything, because if you say "I am a relationship anarchist and I am open to having multiple relationships at once, but I keep them all entirely private and separate" then your potential date knows what they are getting into.  People have a completely reasonable expectation that a date is an honest, open attempt to discover if there will be romance and/or sexytimes, and discussing your relationship styles before proceeding is important.  If a discussion about dating and styles comes up and you don't disclose yours, you are acting immorally.

It does bother me that people are expected to disclose non monogamy in this way while monogamous people are not expected to.  I think everybody should be explicit about what they want whether or not their relationship style is the most common.

In sum I think there are definitely ways to end up having sex with someone without telling them that you are non monogamous and have it be perfectly ethical.  However, if you are distorting what you do to hide your relationship style or failing to answer questions about the topic honestly and completely then you are being immoral.  That applies no matter what the issue you are avoiding is though!

You do not have an obligation to tell anyone you have sex with things about yourself that don't affect them directly, but you do have an obligation to be honest about those things, both in terms of not lying and also in terms of not deliberately hiding the facts.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Just gimme a reason

Recently I had someone who was scheduled to come to an event with me and they ditched at the last minute.  It wasn't a big deal, but I mentioned it to The Flautist and we had a really interesting conversation about it.  She asked first off if the person who had ditched had given me a good reason.  They hadn't, but I also wasn't looking for one.  I don't even care if I get one or not - it just doesn't matter.

The Flautist, along with most people, seem to want reasons for things like this.  It can be as simple as someone not showing up for a dinner party or as big as giving reasons for a breakup.  In my head though reasons really don't matter; the only important thing is results.  For example, if someone skips an event because their car broke down that would normally be considered a good reason, but skipping an event because you just wanted a night alone would not be one.

But I think both are perfectly fine reasons.  If all the reason someone has is "I wanted to do something else more" then I have no problem with that.  They should do the thing they want to do!  The numbers are what matters.  If I invite someone to 100 events and they skip 5 of them because they felt like having a long bath instead then they are still a 95% attendee, which is good.  If they skip 95% of them because of alien abductions then they are a 5% attendee, and the fact that they had excellent probe related reasons for missing the events simply doesn't matter.  I am going to invite the 95% person to events and not bother with the 5% person.

Since the reasons aren't going to affect my behaviour I don't really care what the reasons are, any more than I would care about that person's choice of activities on any other night.

Same goes for breakup reasons.  If a person breaks up with me then it really doesn't matter much why.  They don't want to see me anymore, so we won't see each other anymore.  I don't mind if they want to tell me their reasons but I certainly don't have any great need to know.  Especially in breakups there is the problem that the reasons given often don't reflect what is actually going on anyway.  Sometimes people lie, sometimes they just say stuff that they believe but which isn't true or useful.  Between confusion, self-deception, and lying the reasons you get during a breakup are not particularly reliable and since I am not going to try to overcome their reasons I don't mind if no reasons are forthcoming.

I wonder how many people are like me in this regard, and why I am like this.  I think some people want reasons because they are afraid that the reason is "You are worthless and unlovable" and getting some other concrete thing is important.  Having something else to blame, something concrete and exterior, can be useful.  But this can't be the only thing because I know people who have a lot of self confidence who still want reasons for things.

Always I try to resolve these sorts of things by looking at my decision tree.  No matter the reason, I am going to invite people to stuff a few times.  If they mostly show up, great, keep inviting.  If they rarely or never show up, then stop inviting.  The reasons for their showing up don't factor in.  If they never or rarely showed up but really want to see me, they will do something about it themselves!

I am curious if there are things I am missing here, so if you have information to share or opinions on why people give reasons, demand reasons, or how they think about them, please do share.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One more reason to be 'rude'

A couple weeks ago I talked about the justifications for being confrontational when discussing racism, sexism, and other bigotry.  Most of that discussion (including a bunch in the comments) was surrounding the efficacy of calling people racist instead of simply having polite conversation where you describe the issues with people's actions without actually calling them out explicitly.

It remains unclear to me how well explicit call outs of bigotry work in terms of changing minds.  It gets people's attention for sure, and sometimes that has value.  On the other hand it makes people angry and defensive and that often leaves them completely unwilling to listen.  On the other other hand though, it means that people who see bigoted behaviour and the backlash against it may change their behaviour even if they don't change their minds, and that is a victory, albeit an incomplete one.

But the thing I most missed was the effect conversations have on the people being discriminated against.  If you are a trans person, for example, and you see an online conversation about bathroom bills that try to force trans people to use the bathroom associated with their assigned gender at birth, it is going to be a shitty experience.  There are two ways that conversation can go though, and one is better for them than the other.

One way is that their 'allies' talk nicely to the bigots and don't use confrontational language and pretend like bathroom bills are a thing we can have a pleasant debate about.  This is going to be a miserable experience for the trans reader, as that conversation will make it clear that those 'allies' are people who will happily pretend in public that bathroom bills are morally neutral, just a thing to discuss.

The other way is the allies can tell the bigots that they are bigots, that bathroom bills are oppressive bullshit, and that they can take their evil and shove it up their asses. 

The second way is the best way.  Neither way is likely to convince the bigot to change, but one accurately portrays the evil as evil, and shows support for those who are actually being affected by this.  It allows the trans person in the example to see that there are people who are on their side, people who are willing to go to bat for them, people who are willing to call the bigotry what it is and not hide behind polite talk.

Calling a bigot a bigot may not work well in convincing them, but honestly very little will.  Usually it takes the experience of someone close to them being in the affected group, or simply waiting for them to die.

The best and biggest reason to call this stuff out is to send a message.  That message will be heard by oppressors and oppressed alike, and it matters.