Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Polygamy

Updated and adapted from rom the Moot, just because I offered a response off the cuff that I'm not entirely sure of and I'd be interested in contrary reactions and elaborations.

Martin raises an interesting question:
Dale, just wondering -- and again, I may have missed it -- where do you stand on polygamy? I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy. Why just "couples"? That's numerical bigotry. I think any group of consenting adults should be allowed to marry. But I also think that this whole debate would be moot if government got out of the business of sanctioning marriage.


Well, as I've mentioned before, I actually personally disapprove of marriage as a largely patriarchal vestige, and what I specifically disapprove is the denial of the already existing right of citizens to marry to samesex couples in particular entirely as the expression of and in the service of the maintanence of homophobia.

I have no "pre-emptive" or "logical" aversion to state sanctioned threesomes, line marriages, temporary marriages, or any number of imaginable alternatives -- so long as one is extremely vigilant about the ways in which these might become forms of exploitation, indenture, and so on.

But I can't say that I am very interested in these or any other forms of affiliation I might come up with off the top of my head if I give the idea extended thought. This is because I think one should confine one's attention in these matters to actual citizens who are being stigmatized and marginalized here and now as they navigate existing institutions, actual citizens who are making explicit demands in the name of justice for our consideration.

As for organized polygamists (I admit I don't know much about this issue), I would need to see exactly what they claim to be denied, exactly what they claim suffer in consequence, and exactly what they are asking for before I would offer up a blanket approval or disapproval of the form, you know?

Martin says I think the logic behind gay rights entails support for polygamy and I see what he means, but I don't really agree that this is a useful way of looking at the question when all is said and done. I say this because I don't think social struggle for greater equity and diversity and democracy is really a matter of logical entailments, so much as a matter of actually existing citizens testifying to suffering, re-imagining their relation to public discourse, and demanding rights.

I hope that doesn't seem like quibbling on my part or just a way of sidestepping Martin's point. I think it is an interesting question, and the fact that it redeems an otherwise frustrating exchange with John Howard is much appreciated.

7 comments:

Martin said...

You don't think polygamists are being stigmatized and marginalized? I think they are.

Granted, I don't have a lot of sympathy for most polygamists, because most actually existing cases of polygamy occur within an oppressive religious context. Sure, those women say on camera that they want to be in such marriages. Their private beliefs may be different.

However, the logic that I'm talking about comes from the simple premise that consenting adults should have the freedom to forge whatever relationships they please. If it shouldn't be limited by race or sex, then I see no reason why it should be limited by number.

I actually don't think that it's a natural human tendency. We are generally monogamous. Same-sex relationships spawn naturally, even in societies that repress them. I don't see the same thing with polygamist relationships outside of a forced religious context (this should not be confused with polyamorous "open marriages," which are transient relationships outside of marriage, and which probably satisfy our tendencies to infidelity).

There were legitimate social dynamic / economic reasons for polygamy in historical times (such as a large loss of the male population after war). None of those reasons exist today. Oppressive religion is the main driving force behind them, so as a practical matter I can see why people are not as quick to support polygamy as gay marriage.

I just think the premise of free association supports both.

Dale Carrico said...

Two things...

You don't think polygamists are being stigmatized and marginalized? I think they are.

I mean it when I say I don't think I'm very educated on this topic. I mean, there are some things I'm glad are stigmatized and marginalized, legally, morally, or just as a matter of manners, right? I don't know enough to know whether the state of play where polygamist struggles are concerned happens to be.

Like Robin I know some polyamorous folks and ethical sluts (hell, I've been one of those), but I think there is some slippage between these formations and a lot that passes for organized polygamy.

I would want to explore actual organized activism on this subject before I ventured some kind of blanket approval or disapproval. It may be that organized activism for polygamy is actually functioning as stealth patriarchal activism to legitimate indentured servitude for women already forcibly silenced by fundamentalism. And so on.

I just think the premise of free association supports both.

But doesn't this just make the actual work of social struggle seem much easier than it actually is?

It isn't clear to me why the fight of samesex couples for the right to marry should include any kind of expectation that they have a position on or need to defend against those who think their rights "entail" a defense of polygamy as well, or what have you. Especially if Rick man-on-dog Santorum or his ilk gets in on the conversation (as they are sure to do).

Ascending to general principles is sometimes clarifying of the stakes at hand in some fraught political contest, but it can also function to tear one off of the actual terrain in which struggle takes place, rendering you out of touch with the actual issues, stakes, formulations, values in play.

I happen to agree with Marxist historian John D'Emilio who proposes that samesex behavior is ubiquitous in humans but that only in the context of fairly complex and affluent societies (mostly just aristocratic courts and eventually mass-industrial capitalist societies) did some people go on to organize romantic life-long affiliations around this always-available affective potential.

Now, take a look at that. I am amazed at how "philosophical" our own discussion became, in just a few conversational turns. Suddenly we're surveying the world historical scene, gathering anthropological evidence, and so on. I mean, all that's very interesting and all, I share with you a philosopher's temperament, after all, but how much is this really clarifying of anything?

I strongly agree with, but at the same time admit I find rather
bland and beside the point, assertions that "all consenting adults should have the freedom to forge whatever relationships they please." I mean, sure. Certainly. Smart generous liberal citizens have said that sort of thing for centuries.

I would submit though that the actual story of the struggles in which ever more people come to have the practical that is to say legible that is to say broadly affirmed right to implement that genial principle has rarely played out at this level of generality, however. It's been actual people with actual stories of suffering and rage to tell, soliciting empathy and organizing to change things that has given substance to philosophical assertions of equity, civil liberty, pluralism, consent.

If that's true -- then at least sometimes what appears to be clarifying about the recourse to general principles isn't actually clarifying at all, but obfuscatory (however satisfying and consoling it may be).

Martin said...

Agreed, agreed, and agreed. Once again I agree with you much more than I disagree. You bring up a good point here:

It isn't clear to me why the fight of samesex couples for the right to marry should include any kind of expectation that they have a position on or need to defend against those who think their rights "entail" a defense of polygamy as well, or what have you. Especially if Rick man-on-dog Santorum or his ilk gets in on the conversation

The war is fought one battle at a time. Since polygamy is probably more marginal and hated at this time, there's no sense advocating for it while we advocate and fight for gay marriage. That helps the enemy. During the civil rights struggle of the 50s, when people were first arguing for desegregation, I suppose it would only have hurt their cause if they simultaneously argued for miscegenation.

One battle at a time.

Also:

Like Robin I know some polyamorous folks and ethical sluts

I love that. Ethical slut. That needs to be a t-shirt.

Dale Carrico said...

Yeah, sounds like we're on the same page. Thanks for raising the point, I enjoyed thinking about it.

I love that. Ethical slut. That needs to be a t-shirt.

It's a book.

John Howard said...

In practice, we already allow people to have kids with multiple people at the same time, so we already allow polygamy. It's a silly restriction that a man should only be allowed to marry one of the women he is allowed to have children with. Unless we want to remind people that adultery is illegal and people should not have children with multiple people at the same time, we should definitely allow polygamy.

Dale Carrico said...

The first weird thing is the ease with which that word "allow" rolls off your tongue when talk turns to matters reproductive. The second weird thing is the way you immediately frame polygamy in terms of what a man wants vis-a-vis the women "he" has children with. Just saying.

Kathleen said...

Monogamy is a Roman Custom, imposed on the Roman Empire when Justinian in the third century. Possibly he did it
for tax reasons, I don't know.

Laws against forced marriages ought to be enforced and enacted where theydon't exist. Cousins should not be allowed to marry to prevent genetic disease.

A fleeting You Tube poster, "Metal Jacket" said that attention to the YFZ Ranch began in 2001-2002. There
was an attempt to raise the Texas Marriage Age [with parental consent] to Sixteen in
Order to be able to charge Jeffs with forced marriage of
14 year olds.

For this reason they had to
charge him in Utah for a forced
marriage that involved a state
line.

I think they should have been warned and the community warned
that new laws had been enacted
that were about to be enforced.

The way this was handled was
devastating and inept. The high
profile cases too old.

Kathleen