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Unknown knowns: Why did you choose to be monogamous? (lesswrong.com)
15 points by wglb on June 27, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 32 comments



Personally, I think there's nothing wrong with polyamory. Whatever blows your skirt up. Biologically speaking, men wants to inseminate as much women as he can. I also accept the author's point about freedom and different kind of experience that monogamy cannot give. But then the author would also have to agree, that monogamy may have the depth that any non-monogamous relationshop lack, so it might be a trade off. Then medically speaking, monogamy is safer. Psychologically, there are also trade offs: it's usually difficult enough to get along with one person - I believe issues multiply when you have many. For example, I don't see anything particularly scary about having multiple wives (western culture thinks it's some sort of barbaric behavior), but if you look at it closely, you would understand why it only works in traditional societies like muslim: because they have mechanisms for holding it all together. Men there have obviously more authority and thus they hold the power of getting it all together. In the western world the task gets a lot more complicated because people are more independent and have more rights legally. One thing for sure, divorce cases with this model would be a legal hell.

Please note I have not made up my mind about the particular lifestyle so I'm totally neutral here. I'm not into any relationship right now, but when I think of it, I sometimes think about how would it be a monogamous ones and sometimes I feel more like I'd want to stick with some sort of polyamory.


> But then the author would also have to agree, that monogamy may have the depth that any non-monogamous relationshop lack

This is simply not true. The number of partners has absolutely nothing to do with the depth of any given relationship, poly or mono.

> I believe issues multiply when you have many.

It's actually the opposite. You don't have to get upset because someone is lacking in some area, because you have someone else that covers it. It actually takes a lot of pressure off of a given relationship.


1. I disagree. The number of partners has to do a lot with the depth of any given relationship. The reasonable analogy is learning a skill. The more time you spend on it, the better you become. The more time you dedicate to other disciplines, the more broad interdisciplinary knowledge you gain. It's a tradeoff. And I don't see why this cannot be applied to people.

2. As far as I can tell from everyone else's experience (haha) there are always issues. Issues is not something to be ignored, but rather something to be discussed, otherwise they grow into something you can't actually solve. The more partners you have, the less time you have to discuss those issues.


1. While your basic idea is good, the aspect that you're missing is that relationships with one person can actually enhance your relationships with another. Poly actually encourages the very skills that make relationships work.

2. From my actual experiences, there are always issues, yes. However, they're not as big, because you quickly get very good at communicating and resolving those issues.

I didn't mean to imply that issues should be covered up, sorry. That's absolutely not the case. What I meant was, you can appreciate a relationship with different people for different reasons.


Okay, points taken, they sound valid. Although the problem for me is, I can't take your word for it. I wish there was some research on it with some real data. That would rule out any speculation. For now, there'd be mostly subjective views and opinions with no evidence. If there was some evidence, then we could probably see the general pattern of relationship changing over time and see how humans would handle this in future.


It's true.

It's hard to find out about this for a few reasons. First of all, it's really hard to get good data. This thread is actually the most I've ever spoken about it on the internet, because I'm not really 'outed' in public except to the people who know me in real life. This is largely due to the stigma (and probably some holdover Catholic guilt) that's associated with poly.

Secondly, the data is tainted by people who aren't _really_ practicing open relationships, and only do it to 'spice up' or 'save' a slowly failing monogamous one. I largely attribute my own success to it being one of the preconditions on my relationship being formed.


I'd like to just throw my hat in the ring in support of Steve here, who wrote exactly what I would have in response to you. And I'm talking from experience as well. Your assumptions are quite common though, so it's nothing unusual.


Guess: when you're looking at one good-looking woman you're thinking monogamy. when you're looking at two good-looking women you're thinking polyamory. ;)


I think philosophically, it would be wrong to refer to subconscious drives, etc. as "knowledge", much as you cannot know a falsehood (you can only believe in it). That's why there's no category of "unknown knowns".


you cannot know a falsehood (you can only believe in it)

Let's just say that N philosophers have at least N+1 definitions of what "knowing" means, not all of which are consistent with your position, and leave it at that.


Hmm, I know epistemology can be hard to fathom (and frankly is not my thing, my thing being philosophy of language), but I thought my statement was one of the basic definitions. I would be interested if you can point me to work that considers a statement like "I know that Chicago is the capital of Illinois" (it's Springfield) tenable. I was taught that this was an incorrect usage of know.


Although he's probably right that Rumsfeld should've mentioned it, because there's something like unknown knowns for groups with a coordination problem (like the 17-branched US intelligence community), where some people know something but that knowledge doesn't propagate to the rest of the group.


The article is not referring to subconscious drives as knowledge. It refers to cultural assumptions that few people question as "unknown knowns". Many of these assumptions are the kind of things that PG refers to in "what you can't say".


"This, then, is your exercise: spend five minutes thinking about why your choice of monogamy is preferable to all of the other inhabitants of relationship-style-space, for you."

With most "decisions" about my lifestyle, I keep the societal default until unhappiness with it prompts me to change, rather than considering all options from a neutral state. I wonder what the pros and cons of the default-first and neutral-first strategies are? Default first automatically directs your attention to "pain points" in your life, but may make you blind to larger, more existential choices. Default-first also takes into account the "wisdom" of the masses, at least some of which is probably right. Neutral-first keeps you from being locked into any one lifestyle by fear or other attachments.

Examples of things that I've consciously changed from the default settings: I'm vegetarian (animal-rights motivation), I cut my own hair (I like the simplicity and the control).

For reference on the neutral-first strategy (with a pleasingly mathematical twist): http://www.astatespacetraveler.com/a-mathematically-proven-w...


Easy one. Monogamy: the cooking and housework are taken care of! Haha.

Kidding. I'm the cooking obsessed clean freak in the relationship.


I'm not sure the word 'polyfidelity' works. Maybe it does in a dictionary sense, but as I understand it 'fidelity' or 'fealty' carries a heavy connotation of loyalty to only one individual, rather than simply loyalty.


Actually, the feudal concept of fealty did not only bind a vassal to a lord, but - to a lesser degree - also to that lord's lord and so on.

Why do you care? It's a fairly clear word for a new-ish idea, IMHO.


I don't care. It just seemed like an odd choice in words.


It's a very established term in that community.

If you want to pick on a word for technical reasons, 'polyamory' itself is actually pretty popular. I can't find a link to the quote now, but it was something along the lines of "Half greek, and half latin? Obviously wrong."


E.g. http://www.zazzle.com/polyamory_is_wrong_tshirt-235470507350.... Yes, it's a stupid term, but it's established at this point...


You can be loyal to an individual or a group though. With polyfidelity it is the latter. It is a closed network of intimacy.


I've always understood to simply mean "truthful" or "trustworthy."


Monogamy is safer (on many levels) and not as complex as poly-relationships.


Yes, non-monogamy is similar in this regard to most other interesting and desirable things: it's neither easy nor simple.


I don't see how this is relevant to this crowd.

For a choice between between monogamy and polygamy to be relevant, the subject must have the capability to secure multiple partners. How many subjects reading hackernews could possibly have this ability?

edit: wow, I must have hit a nerve. This was purely tongue-in-cheek.


Nice try [to tease]. You forgot about another side of the story: you may have only one partner and still be involved into polygamous relationship (because of your partner).


Who said we can even secure the one? Or that we can secure the ones kinky enough to dig polyamory?

You got me though :)


I am currently in a polyamourous relationship, actually.


Are you straight? If so, has said relationship been successful for a while? I think Gene Roddenbury is the only non-fictional male I've heard of who has been in a successful polyamorous relationship with women.

When you're gay, things are much simpler in such relationships, so that seems to be annectodally more common. Probably selection bias, though.


I am quite straight. The opportunity has been there many times, and I've had no desire to take it. My partner is bisexual, but the vast majority of her experiences have been with other men. It's been just over two years now.

I have a feeling your intuition regarding homosexuality is probably true, at least from what I've seen.


There are plenty of rich people on HN. You can predict the rest of my argument.


I could write a script to do it.




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