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Polyamory Relationships & Cultural Subjectivity of Truth

3 August 2009 10 Comments
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Polyamory Relationships

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory is relationships with multiple mutual consenting partners.

The difference between Polygamy and Polyamory is that the former involves multiple spouses, while the latter still has only one spouse, just multiple partners. Essentially it is a belief in non-monogarmy, engaging in loving, intimate relationship with more than one person with the full consent of all those who are involved.

With the rise of the gay community and various wins in the advancement of gay marriage rights, Polyamory believers are starting to become more bold and the public will slowly have to take notice. Some estimate the polyamourous family count to be more than half a million in the United States alone. There are polyamory events, magazines and groups and the numbers continue to grow.

Where did Polyamory come from?

Polyamory may be shocking to some, but in the same time it isn’t all that surprising. There was a time where anything outside of traditional marriage was considered a taboo, completely rejected by all of society. Then as we shifted into cultural modernism, the more “traditional” forms of religious faith and social organizations were seen as outdated with the rise of the new economic and social conditions in the rapidly industralizing world. As each succeeding cultural thought often does, modernism was a direct reaction to the enlightenment way of thinking. The enlightenment thinking still rooted itself in the existence of a Creator. All sense of morality was anchored in traditional Judeo Christian values. Moral Truth was absolute. With the rise of modernism, this “anchor” slowly lost it’s influence.

Then Modernism soon naturally developed into Post-Modernism. We live in a post modern world where the principles of ethics have slowly changed into subjective morality. Basically there is no anchor. All moral truths are subjective. What matters is what one judges to be true for themselves. Everyone has their own idea of what is right and wrong and we should be tolerant of their ideas.

“If I believe this to be true, who are you to judge?”
“If they are happy with it, you should leave them alone.”
“We must be tolerant of all ideas.”

Marriage being Redefined by Culture

Post-Modernism has allowed people, basically to live as they like. If they truly believe something to be true and right, then it has become taboo for anyone to take that away from them. Think about how politicians have to balance out what they say and never fully take sides just to appease all parties. No one has the authority anymore to directly say something is right or wrong.

Definition of Tolerance

“Tolerance” used to mean being tolerant of people. Respecting people despite differences in opinion. However there was still the understanding that there is moral truth. There is a objective standard of right and wrong that we are all held to. “Tolerance” has now encompassed the idea of tolerating ideas. Even the other person believes it is right for them, then we must be “tolerant”.

So doesn’t it make logical sense that the definition of marriages is a source of debate in our current post-modern world? What was once a clearly defined by the Judeo Christian faith as an husband and wife relationship now is being defined as anyone sees fit. Without the “anchor” or objective truth, it is no surprise that different groups are redefining marriage as an social construct that can involves two people of the same gender, or multiple spouses, or in this case, expand the rules of marriage to include external relationships.

Ever Changing Definition of Marriage in a Post Modern World

Husband and Wife? Husband and multiple wives? Group marriages? Marriages between relatives? Marriage between father and daughter? Brother and sister? Sounds outrageous, but when we carry out the belief that truth is subjective, who is to say this is wrong?

Full Reference

  • What are your reactions to Polyamory Relationships?
  • Do you think it is right or wrong?
  • Do you think you have the right to say it is right or wrong?
  • Do you think our culture is heading in the right or wrong direction in post-modernism?

10 Comments »

  • Anita Wagner said:

    Then let’s put a little objectivity to this argumentin the context of the values of the polyamory community. As a long-time polyamory advocate and community organizer, I can assure you that polyamory as commonly practiced does not include marrying one’s relatives. I get your point but still believe it important to make mine – readers may become confused, and it’s important that there be no confusion as to who advocates for what here.

    At least you used restraint and didn’t throw in animals, which cannot give consent, and neither can children. Polyamory by its definition is multiple romantic relationships with more than one consenting adult with the full knowledge and consent of all involved.

    If you want to talk about incest, you’ll have to look somewhere besides the polyamory community. Never in the 13 years or so I’ve been listening to, observing and talking with polyamorists have I ever heard anyone even hint that incest is acceptable and to be tolerated. We get that the line should be drawn somewhere, and would certainly have no problem with a line being drawn that excluded as intolerable a parent marrying their child. The likelihood of emotional damage in that case is huge, which makes it irresponsible. You’d be wasting your time looking for evidence that polyamory between unrelated consenting adults poses such a danger.

    The one thing we polyamorists and those in same-sex relationships can agree on is that we deserve tolerance for the manner in which we as consenting adults responsibly express ourselves sexually and romantically. In both caes it’s about sexual relationship freedom between consenting adults as a fundamental human right.

  • Media Influence said:

    Hey Anita,

    I really appreciate your comments.

    First, to clarify, yes polyamory does not involve marrying one’s relatives. I don’t believe the article mentions such a thing but if anyone is confused, that is not true as Anita said. I’ll put in a subheader to help define it more.

    I also believe those involved in Polyamory also have lines drawn to what is acceptable and not acceptable. The article just makes the argument that “line” has shifted over time and it would not be surprising to have that “line” continue to move in directions we never would have imagined before.

    Anything outside of monogamy would have been thought to be unrealistic and unheard of during the time of the enlightenment age, but as culture shifts and acceptance of that culture shifts in the media, what was once considered completely taboo is slowly shifting into the norm. So the article throws out other scenarios (in terms of the “rules” of marriage) that we would think would be controversial or taboo now.. and how considering the post modern culture we live in, could very well become something more acceptable in the future. For example, the progress of gay rights in our country would have been unfathomable even 20 years back, but it’s part of our daily lives now.

    I truly believe majority if not all adults would think incest is wrong, but the question is, doesn’t a post modern way of thinking give us no way of judging it to be wrong if someone claims it is right for them? I am certain if someone was sick enough to think parent/child relationships were ok, they would argue that that for their particular relationship emotional damage is unlikely. Then what can we say? You are wrong? Under what basis?

    The intent of the article is more to discuss post modernism and how it affects our culture. It just uses the definition of the rules of marriage as an example.

    Also I would respectfully note that I am certain there are many who would argue that polaymory between unrelated consenting adults does pose danger, whether it be emotionally or to culture, family values etc.

    Thanks!
    Media Influence

  • Anita Wagner said:

    Hi again – Thanks for sharing more of your thoughts.

    Certainly people can say anything they want and declare whatever practice that they don’t agree with as wrong and/or harmful, but that wouldn’t make it so. Right now academic researchers are following children raised in polyamorous family households to determine scientifically how well or unwell this works for children. The anecdotal evidence is quite postive, but these things need many years before children grow up and conclusions can be drawn. Polyamory community leaders support this research, since we want to know, too, what is true and what is not.

    I would think that incestuous relationships, especially between parent and child, would be far more harmful emotionally to children, though I suppose this may not be so in all instances. Also, surely scientific evidence already exists as to the negative effects of incestuous relationships, especially between parents and children.

    Ultimately it is surely science that will help us know where to draw the line by determining what is true, what is not, and what is in the best interests of both children and adults in non-traditional polyamorous families.

  • JBDryden said:

    I believe that there is a fundamental flaw in the logic of this argument: a lack of religion does not equal a loss in the anchor of morality. I have a strong sense of morals – of what is right and wrong – without much of an inkling of religion. That sort of moral compass that was once directly rooted in religion is not so much based in a subjective view of the world so much as it based in an open-minded approach to viewing the world in a tolerant and socially-conscious way.

    The definition of marriage isn’t in question in the activism of polyamory. Many of us in non-monogamous relationships are quite happy living outside of marriage in long-term relationships. We’re proposing that folks question the nature, the needs, and the methods of their relationship, not marriage. Marriage is something best defined by the law; relationships are a personal – subjective, if you will – decision.

    Also, I believe that the argument being made here leans towards an assumption that those in non-monogamous relationships have a sense of superiority or self-righteousness that allows them to subjectively claim that their way of life is “better” than those in traditional relationships. I don’t think that anyone in the polyamorous community would make that claim. Perhaps I have misperceived the article; if so, then this particular argument is moot. It just comes across implicitly in the piece.

    I do appreciate the straightforward nature of this article. While poorly edited (sorry, I’m an editor by trade), it comes across reasonably well. I’m interested in reading some of the continued response to it.

  • sina muscarina said:

    There is a good book by Peter L. Berger who writes about the heretic movements.
    Defining a thing as “wrong or right” is certainly not the object here.
    We live in a cultural moving society and nowadays it is important to point out for everyone why he does what he does, and make a distinction. Judging something as morally wrong or right cuts past the definition of values that stay next to each other and are intertwined at some point like orbits moving next to each other, rather than something that is wrong based on the definiton what is right.
    Our cultural norm shifts and is starting to shift even more over time.
    I rather would consider replacing the value of “moral” with the values of “ethics”.
    There is something that can be morally wrong according to some belief systems but it can still be ethically right considering the fact we are talking about consenting adults and not manipulating people.
    So, to stick to the article i strongly disagree with the statement that there is something that is considered to be morally right or not. You would have to point ot some reference to that. Because as it is in psychology or even in social sciences, there is a lack of “objective values” all along.
    Objectivity does not exist in this form, it is rather based in what is considered to be normative or not.

  • Janet Hardy said:

    While it may be true that the Judeo-Christian tradition has defined marriage in this particular way, not all Americans are Jewish or Christian — many of us are atheistic, agnostic, neopagan, Buddhist, Hindu, and other non-monotheistic belief systems. Given that our nation has a constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state, why should those of us who do not subscribe to your religion and belief system be subjected to laws that enforce it?

  • Media Influence (author) said:

    Thanks so much for your comments.

    Unfortunately since I am a working man.. I can’t answer right away with the depth I’d want to. Will hopefully get to it though!

    Just an FYI to all readers – the article is not making a judgment claim on polyamory or saying that everyone should “subscribe” to Judeo Christian thinking. It is simply highlighting the shift in our culture over time and how the continual shift has is a by-product of our post-modern generation. The change in the way we view traditional views of marriage is just the example used to start the discussion.

    JBDryden – You are right. First that I am not a professional editor :) I only wish I could write articles for a living. Ha!
    Also you are right. For those without “religion” people must depend on their own moral compass. That is simply what I am referring to when I say we live in post-modern culture where everyone depends on their subjective views of what is right and wrong. The part I want to highlight is that when morality is based on one’s own subjective “moral compass” it makes it impossible for us to judge others since they are going according to their own “moral compass”. This makes many things that were once controversial, possible since in our culture, who can judge?
    Also I did not intend to make those in non-monogamous relationship sound like they have a sense of superiority. I didn’t think it did that, but apologize if it comes off sounding that way. Again I am not a professional editor.

    Sina – Same point here as above. In religion there is “objectivity” meaning morality and ethics are based on something outside of ourselves. But for those who are not religious, there is no objectivity, only subjectivity since as you said, the idea of “objectivity” is just based on norms.. which is a collection of subjective opinions which can change over time.

    Janet – As noted above, the article is not making claims that people should “subscribe” to anything. But you bring up an interesting point. I think your argument goes both ways. If the government enacts laws that goes against Judeo-Christian beliefs, then why do they have to be subject to it? Especially as the government often has to side with the “atheistic” point of view in order to maintain a separation of church and state.

    The problem is that lot of these belief system conflict with one another so in a given law, it could very well conflict with several belief systems.. so then do those people need to be subjected to the laws that enforce it? But that is a totally different topic :) but it is interesting to think about.

  • sina muscarina said:

    Hi There!
    You said that in religion there is objectivity because it is based on something that is outside from us?
    Well….hmmmm……since i am a psychologist i am inclined to say that this is simply not a true statement, since all religion comes from something that is “within” of us. It’s all imagination and mystical experiences turned into myths and belief-systems for people.
    But basically all religion is based on experience which some might think of as “spiritual” but i don’t like the word spiritual, since it comes from spirits and is based on catholicism. I prefer the word mystical since it refers to experiences on which religions are based on.
    Naughty psychologists with education in child-psychology might even suggest that all religion is based on immaturity and the belief of a “outside” big daddy that takes care of us.
    There have been books written on it – call it stages of development. But the “father – god” and the typical dichotomy of “bad vs. good” (hell vs. heaven) is indeed a very childish black and white thinking…
    so – even if something outside of us exists, which we can never know, i hardly doubt it would be so stupid ;-)…. so to come back to the article:
    No – there is no objective moral outside of us. Moral and ethics and objectivity are all based on values humans create for living together without harm.
    Which makes me come back to monogamy as a source for evil and wars – and for competition and whatever – but that is l,eading to far into capitalistic thoughts….i think polyamory is suitable for true communists and monogamy for true capitalists 😉

  • Media Influence (author) said:

    Hey Sina,

    Thanks for your comments! Welcome.

    First of all, for any readers out there.. let me say my comments below are about “moral objectivity” not about polyamory. :)

    Hmm. Well that is a very strong claim to say that “all religion” comes from something that is “within us” and is just of from “imagination”. There are lot of religions out there and I am just making an assumption here and don’t mean any disrespect, but I doubt you would fully understand the teachings and meaning behind all religion (heck I don’t!). To claim that the billions of people in the world who hold to a religion are all together just in their “imagination” or having “mystical” experience and that their beliefs are “childish” is again quite a claim to make.

    I know there are indeed people who hold religion in a superficial way (I know many such people too!), but I also know lot of very intelligent, brilliant people who started very skeptical, spent years investigating a particular religion as well as other world religions and now hold strong to a particular faith not because they “felt” it was right or some “mystical” experience but because they were intellectually satisfied from what they investigated. Yes, there are a lot of people who won’t be able to defend what they believe at all and base it on all feelings or family affiliations, but they don’t reflect all people of faith because there are many people have sound intellectual reasons to believe what they do. But back to moral objectivity…

    If a person claims that there is no objectivity anywhere, then it makes it impossible for that person to make any claims themselves (including the statement that there is no moral objectivity), since it’s just their subjective opinion. If I may point out, even in your response, lot of your statements are led with words like “i am inclined” “i don’t like”, “I prefer” “I hardly doubt”. If indeed there is no outside objectivity, then none of our words can really hold any weight and a person can’t claim that someone is wrong because they strongly believe their own belief in what is right. As our post modern culture says.. what is true for you is what is true for you, what is true for me is what is true for me. Mass murder and rape could be completely “wrong” in our eyes, but if one day the majority decides it is OK to do so and passes a law making it legal, then does that make mass murder and rape right? or is there a objective moral truth that says this is wrong even if the majority somehow votes that it is right? “objectivity based on values humans create” is innately impossible, thats subjectivity of the collective, not objectivity. Most people respond to this by saying, well mass murder and rape is wrong because it harms others, but again, if there is no objective truth, how can a person claim that is truth in the first place?

    Those who hold there is objective truth will say mass murder and rape are ALWAYS WRONG no matter what the majority says, a true post modernist who says truth is relative MUST say it can’t be called wrong or right because it DEPENDS on the person. If they themselves claim it is wrong they have to be able to admit that this is just their opinion (b\c there is no objective truth) and that if others disagree, that is also true, at least for them. Now a person can say that, but as soon as someone murders someone they love, murder is absolutely wrong and the person wants “justice” and can care less if the murderer thinks it is ok to murder. Basically I am using an extreme example to show that though many in our culture says truth is relative, it is impossible to live out and when push comes to shove, it is not true to reality in the way we live it out. And again, a post modernist (a person who believes “truth is relative”) can’t refute that or claim it is wrong.. his\her philosophy doesn’t allow him to.

    In your statement you say yourself “even if something outside of us exists, which we can never know” then how could you make a confident assertion that “No- there is no objective moral outside of us”. I find that conflicting. Either the argument has to be made that something does not exists and we CAN know this is true, or just say that one “believes” there is no objective morals outside of us.. but has to be completely open that they may be wrong. Can’t claim two things that are conflicting with each other.

    Whew, I wrote more than I thought I would. Thanks for your contribution.

    As for your comments on monogamy being a source for evil and wars… I am not going to touch that one :).

  • sina muscarina said:

    Hello again,
    Yes that is true that mass murderer and rape is always wrong, seen from an ethic perspective, and this is what religion has taught us. Religion is there to spread ethics around the world.
    I do not see mystical experiences as somethind superficial. I have studied religion for a while and the mystical experience as a ground for communication is a very profound and deep one.
    It is hard to really really practice any religion deep, i know that. But even amongst religions there are no “objective truths”, and if mass murderer is wrong than i wonder how war and catholic imperialism could have taken place. Of course that is made from power and has nothing to do with real mystics.
    But catholicism has spread a lot of bad things in this world and destroyed many cultures. So i assume mass murder is only wrong in some cases and in others it is not.
    I strongly agree that truth itself is not solely based on subjective views, but the effect of truth and lies and how they impact our lives are based on subjectivity.
    But that there are facts of “truth” vs. “lies” and if they weren’t no law system could ever exist, that is true.
    I am strongly against any kind of violence and do see that as something ethically wrong. Nevertheless, there are wars outside and i wonder where this comes from. The need to have power over others.

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