Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rude awakening

'Occupy' memo could discourage victims from reporting assaults
(Via Contentions) (emphasis mine):

Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.

The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse "are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee," which will investigate and "supply the abuser with counseling resources."

Sounds like Little Miss Attila was right when she wrote:

... someone’s going to come along and ... say that this is not American Sharia law: after all, we only enforce our notions of sexual purity when it comes to Republican women, or women and girls related to Republican women. [snip]

This is American Sharia, assholes. The practitioners of Sharia in Muslim countries are at least consistent in their contempt for women and in their practice of gender apartheid: you, on the other hand, want sexual slavery for some women in this country; others, whose opinions you prefer, can live in relative peace and freedom. You will allow it.

If you are giving women and girls the “gift” of not being badgered for being female, and threatened with misogyny and sexual assault, they are not truly free—only living in a state of grace, contingent upon performing the right tricks, spouting leftist verbiage like seals at Sea World, balancing balls on their noses in the hopes of getting fish thrown into their mouths.

And any woman who doesn’t understand this fundamental truth about the misogynists living among them could be in for a rude awakening at any point, because that attitude will infect those who harbor it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Polygamy (6): Kits, cats, sacks, wives

[This is the sixth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

When I began thinking about how the fight over legalizing gay marriage would affect the fight over legalizing polygamy, I had a persistent sense that opposing gay marriage on logical grounds had been the wrong tactic for those who did not want to see it legalized. I eventually sort of, kind of short-handed that sense as the idea that institutions like marriage evolve organically, which is, of course, the argument Megan McArdle is making in her discussion of the unknowability of the possible repercussions of gay marriage. (You know, the really, really, really long post of hers I keep citing over and over.)

However, that didn’t really capture what my uneasiness was about. What I was really wondering was why it is invalid to simply say: I do not want to live in a society where gay marriage is legal. Or for me (since I am not worried about living in a society where gay marriage is legal): I do not want to live in a society where polygamy is legal.

I understand there are problems with this formulation since people can - and have - said: I do not want to live in a society where Blacks and whites live together on equal footing. Or, not so long ago: I do not want to live in a society where women can vote. And yet, still, I think there is validity to the majority of people in a society having a say in legal changes that will - even probably will - change the form of their society. Perhaps that is simply the definition of a conservative: someone who believes the status quo is the best way unless and until it becomes overwhelmingly clear to a majority of society that something has to change.

I was never sure quite how to write about this but I have now (via NRO Web Briefing) run across an essay at Public Discourse that discusses this in terms of pornography. I’m not sure I agree with the entirety of the article but this paragraph captures much of what I wanted to express but couldn’t quite manage (emphasis mine):

Even in defending what he believes is a moral right to pornography, Ronald Dworkin has identified the public nature of the interests damaged in communities in which pornography becomes freely available and widely circulates. Legal recognition of the right to pornography would, Dworkin concedes, “sharply limit the ability of individuals consciously and reflectively to influence the conditions of their own and their children’s development. It would limit their ability to bring about the cultural structure they think best, a structure in which sexual experience generally has dignity and beauty, without which their own and their families’ sexual experience are likely to have these qualities in less degree.”

The author is, as I said, speaking of pornography and, more generally, of vice; he is also speaking of an area he believes has “profound moral significance”. However, I think the same ideas apply to any major changes to the fabric of society: women voting; equal rights for Blacks; equal rights for women; gay marriage; polygamy; massive immigration; widespread use of languages other than English; legalizing abortion; and, now, re-criminalization of abortion. All of these changes have limited or probably would limit people’s “ability to bring about the cultural structure they think best”.

This does not mean there is never a reason to make such changes. It does mean, at least to me, that “I do not want to live in a society where” should be given weight in arguments over such matters and, so long as a substantial majority is making that statement, it should not be overridden lightly.

Now that I’ve written that down, it appears so obvious as to be trivial. Surely that’s what democracy is about: a majority deciding what their society should look like. And yet it seems to me that we have largely lost that conception of democracy when it comes to cultural issues. We have so totally accepted the idea that all such issues are analogous to what the article’s author describes as:

pitting the “rights of individuals,” on the one side, against some amorphous “majority’s dislike of smut,”on the other

that we ignore the underpinnings of that dislike: “[t]he public interest in a cultural structure”. Rather than accept that such an interest exists and is both “concrete” and valid, we now require that such an interest be justified - and we always begin with the idea that it is virtually impossible to do so against any invocation of the rights of individuals.

I believe I understand why that is the case: there were cases - like racial equality and women voting - where the public interest was on the wrong side morally. I imagine there are and will be other such cases. But our reaction to those cases has been to throw out the very idea that there is a “public interest in a cultural structure”. That has helped individuals who want legal sanction to do things most of us would rather they didn’t but it’s not clear it’s helped society as a whole. And without a healthy society, individuals - whatever their private predilections - don’t stand much of a chance.

Polygamy (5): Each cat had seven kits

[This is the fifth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

There are a couple of posts up at Grim’s Hall on polygamy:

Politics and Principles - Posted October 8, 2011

Aquinas on Polygamy - Posted October 13, 2011

These have been up for a while - I’m late getting links up.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mirror image

I have to say that in general I think the Occupy Wall Street group is as dumb as a whole yard of grass (although I do think they’re right about bringing back Glass-Steagall). However, the juxtaposition of two posts at Contentions brought into focus the fact that it’s dangerous for the Right to simply dismiss the whole shebang.

In the first post, entitled “The Stupid Party”, Peter Wehner considers it stupid for the Democrats to associate themselves with people who think like this:

Another 37 percent [of Wall Street protesters interviewed] say capitalism can’t be saved; it’s inherently immoral. And when asked to explain how they would fix Wall Street, New York magazine received the following responses: “A maximum-wage law.” “President Elizabeth Warren.” And “Burn it down.

A few posts later on, John Steele Gordon is writing about Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and says:

... as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the tax code cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new tax system.

I agree with Steele and disagree with the OWS view of capitalism. But the same sense of helplessness in the face of an existing structure can be seen in both views: this can’t be fixed; we need to wipe it out and start over. Imagine the OWS position being stated as:

... as I suspect the people know and the chattering classes don’t want to know, the current economic system cannot be reformed. Any changes just add to its monstrous and deeply corrupt complexity. It will be a dead weight on the American economy until it is replaced with a brand new economic system.

Sounds a lot more reasonable, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds kind of like what the Tea Party is saying. Now, the Tea Party means “get rid of crony capitalism, hack back the socialist elements, get government out of the way of business”; OWS means “get rid of crony capitalism, hack back the capitalist elements, get business out of the way of government”. But they’re both responding to the same sense that something has gone very, very wrong and, specifically, gone very, very wrong in the nexus of Big Business and Big Government.

I don’t think OWS speaks for - or represents - 99% of the people in the United States. But I strongly suspect that much of their anger resonates with much of the country. Instead of deciding OWS is stupid, those on the Right should be pointing out that what the protesters are angry about is what all Americans should be angry about - and then go on to lay out why the Tea Party’s solution of less government is a better way to fix things than is the OWS solution of more of the same.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life is good ...

... and human beings are pretty amazing:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

YouTube link, has sound, starts right up.

(For those of you who’d like to try this at home: sheet music.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Polygamy (4): Each sack had seven cats

[This is the fourth of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

Grim started off by proposing that if a woman wanted to marry a man who was already married, why shouldn’t she? His argument seems to be that it’s better for a woman to be one of many wives of an alpha male rather than the only wife of a beta or gamma or, I suppose, omicron or - Heaven forfend - omega male. Maybe all women won’t think so but why prevent those who do from following their bliss?

In comments to a responding post by Cassandra, Grim talks about his unease with the feminist’s invocation of “false consciousness” and the implication that a woman who chooses polygamy does so because she doesn’t know what she really wants:

The argument is that someone who is being oppressed cannot see that they are being oppressed because they are trapped in their circumstances. The only way to prove you are not oppressed is to demonstrate your liberation by adopting the correct opinions. Thus, the Marxist would say, the opinion of the worker in a factory who wants to overthrow the government is legitimate and should be heeded; but the worker who was proud of his job, his role in society, and so forth is simply to be ignored because he is too oppressed to know better.

You can see why this approach bothers me: it is a violation of several principles I hold dear. Thus, in the present instance, [a Saudi Arabian woman] who did choose polygamy would be in a trap. Simply by virtue of having made the choice, she would be said to have given evidence that she wasn't truly free and equal; the only way she could prove her free equality would be to reject polygamy.

Cassandra replies that one’s culture and upbringing always shape one’s view of the world and oneself: a woman who has been taught her whole life to want to be one of multiple wives will almost certainly want to be one of multiple wives. That doesn’t mean it’s a good decision for her and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s a good decision for society.

These two views of false consciousness - that it’s patronizing, that’s it’s simply a recognition of the power of nurture - bring into focus something I’ve been thinking about for a while: what does it mean for something to be wrong? Or, more accurately, do I have the right to simply say, “This is wrong” - or even, “I think this is wrong” - without being required to offer reams of justification for it? To me that is the interesting thing about false consciousness: it assumes there is a right way and a wrong way to think about things. In a lot of areas, I reject that idea. But in this area, it’s impossible for me to believe that any woman who had not been socialized into it would choose polygyny - and perfectly possible for me to believe that women who had been socialized into polygyny would choose monogamy if they could. I believe that polygyny is always a misinformed choice for an individual woman. So sue me.

What about for society? Cassandra offered a list of reasons for society to prefer monogamy to polygamy; I believe they are all answerable but in my gut I think polygamy is a really bad idea. In my last post, I came up with a reason to think polygamy would never be legalized. It was essentially a technical reason, however, and offered no particular support for the idea that polygamy is wrong, just for the idea that polygamy would be too big an upheaval for society.

The idea that some things are simply wrong (by which I mean “a really bad idea” rather than a moral judgment) ties in turn back to the idea of how societies develop their institutions. Nobody wakes up (or sits down) and says, “Let’s figure out how marriage, child-raising, education, medicine, etc. is going to work in our society.” Instead, people try things, some work, some don’t; the ones that work are kept, the ones that don’t are discarded or if they aren’t discarded, the communities, cities, societies that hang onto them go out of business. So messing with basic institutions seems like a very dangerous idea. The Abbess in Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede talks about changing who holds what offices in the monastery and says:

It’s like pulling stone out of a carefully balanced stone wall. Much of the wall comes tumbling down.

And yet. Surely one of the big stones recently pulled out of the wall of society was feminism, which I support whole-heartedly. My hope, expectation was that feminism would leave the basic structure of society intact and simply give women a chance to participate in all arenas of it - while giving men the opportunity to participate in arenas where they did not do so traditionally. That doesn’t seem to be what has happened. And yet to me the way things were was simply wrong. (And here I mean wrong in a moral sense which gives you some idea how confusing I find this whole topic.) After all, the aforementioned Abbess made her comments in the context of reshuffling almost all the officeholders in her monastery because it was the right thing to do, for the individuals and for the community.

The bottom line for me is that polygamy - in any form - is a really bad idea for individuals and societies. I can’t justify that bottom line rationally; I can see holes in arguments against it; but there it is. I feel oddly uncomfortable being so convinced of this, as if I’m not allowed to think something anyone wants to do is a bad idea unless I can provide chapter and verse on exactly what specific harm will be done to some other person by the desired action. I have to resist the notion that my not wanting to live in a society that permits certain behaviors is not enough. This is odd because it seems to me that for a very long time wanting a particular kind of society was more than sufficient as a basis for opposing changes. I'm not sure when or why that changed, how a society that has become less and less Libertarian in most senses has become more and more Libertarian in the "do whatever you want" sense.

Anyhow, in response to Grim’s question:

Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?

my answer is, “Yes”.



Reconsidering sexual repression - from Armed and Dangerous. Language warning.

This is probably worth a post of its own - and I wish Cassandra would write it. I mention it here because it touches on the organic growth of societal institutions:

... sexual repression and the double standard weren’t arbitrary forms of cruelty that societies ended up with by accident. They were functional adaptations. By raising the clearing price that women charged for sex, they actually increased female bargaining power and raised the marriage rate.

and it formalizes Grim’s point about women wanting to marry alpha males:

Women are hypergamous. They want to marry men who are bigger, stronger, higher-status, a bit older, and a bit brighter than they are. This is massively confirmed by statistics on actual marriages; only the “a bit brighter” part is even controversial, and most of that controversy is ideological posturing.

I’m not convinced by the author’s conclusions as a whole for a variety of reasons - like I said, warrants its own post. In particular, though, I’m not convinced that his claims of hypergamy are valid; at least, I’m not convinced that women want all of those things. I base my lack of conviction partly on what I see in friends - an increasing number of women who make more money than their husbands and are fine with it - and partly (don’t laugh) on romance novels. Nora Roberts, for example, has had a little run of novels where women marry “down” in terms of wealth and status - while marrying either laterally or “up” in terms of size, strength, age, and that perennial favorite, hunkiness. (Intelligence is not much discussed.) This may reflect the changing reality that women must no longer rely on their husbands for money or status.

(I will grant that even women who make more money than their husbands seem to want those husbands to work - and the husbands themselves seem to want to work. The idea of a house-husband or stay-at-home Dad does not seem to have gained much traction.)

The comments to the post are worth reading as well which I don’t usually find is the case, outside of Grim’s and, occasionally, TigerHawk.

A really, really, really long post about gay marriage that does not, in the end, support one side or the other - I’ve linked, recommended, and referenced this post by Megan McArdle a zillion times but it’s worth doing so again in any discussion of the organic nature of societal institutions and the dangers of changing them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Polygamy (3): Each wife had seven sacks

[This is the third of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

A post in which I start out convinced legalizing polygamy is inevitable and end up convinced it’s impossible.

Cassandra has advanced ten reasons to prefer monogamy to polygamy. Her post lays them out in detail, with supporting links. Cassandra is citing problems with how polygamy (more accurately polygyny) really works in the communities and countries where it is currently practiced and is arguing that there is a compelling societal interest in avoiding those problems. I agree there is a compelling societal interest in avoiding those problems but I don’t agree polygyny must include those problems. Rather, as I argue below,* many of these horrible aspects of polygyny exist not because of polygyny but because of the lack of any recourse for the women caught in those cultures. Others are a consequence of the need to hide the practice of polygyny. Still others are a part of the cultures of which polygyny is also a part: correlation not cause - or effect.

So would we have the same horrible outcomes if we legalized polygamy - which would mean it didn’t need to be hidden - in a country where women had extensive legal rights - which would mean women could opt in or out and it wasn’t restricted to polygyny? This is a tricky question to answer. I would say, no, we wouldn’t, insofar as polygamy then occurred among people whose culture does not promote these outcomes otherwise. That is, if people who do not condone child marriage, cousin marriage, and the treatment of women as chattel engage in polygamy, these outcomes would not occur simply as a result of the polygamy.

On the other hand, legalizing polygamy in Western nations would almost certainly increase its incidence among recent immigrants and long-term residents whose cultures do condone these practices. There would be one less bar to the practice of child marriage, cousin marriage, and the treatment of women as chattels. I agree with Cassandra that this reality is worth considering when we come to talk about legalizing polygamy.

I do not, however, think that this reality actually will be considered in discussions of legalizing polygamy. Those discussions will not focus on how polygamy is currently practiced; rather they will focus - as did the discussions on gay marriages - on identification, compassion, and civil rights.

First, identification. As TigerHawk says:

I tend to think that one's position on gay marriage has a lot to do with one's circle of friends. As somebody who has a fair number of gay friends in committed relationships that strongly resemble marriage, I have a hard time seeing how the institution of marriage is weakened by including them.

Most of us who are not gay know gay people who are just like us in occupation, interest, lifestyle, and so on. If they’re just like us and we want to get married, why is it unreasonable for them to want to get married?

I think presenting polygamy this way will be more difficult: how many of us who are not polygamous know people in committed polygamous relationships? On the other hand, at one time how many of us who are not gay knew gay people in committed relationships, at least openly gay people in openly committed relationships? Perhaps polygamy will follow the same arc of being largely de-stigmatized, followed by being widely practiced outside the law, followed by legalization.

Second, legalizing gay marriage was presented as a matter of compassion. Supporters of gay marriage told of gay couples, together for many years. The couple pools their financial resources. Although they are unable to adopt any children jointly, each of them adopts a child or children individually. If one of the partners dies, the other partner has no rights: he or she cannot collect Social Security, cannot inherit, has no say in funeral arrangements. He or she has no right to maintain a relationship with any children adopted by the deceased partner, much less retain custody of those children. He or she may well be treated badly by the deceased partner’s family who will probably take the children away to raise themselves. It does seem the compassionate thing to do is to allow such couples to marry.

However, what of, say, a family unit composed of a man and two women? They all love each other; they have lived together as a family for many years; each of the women has children by the man. Yet the man has only been able to to legally marry one of the women. If the husband and his legal wife die in a car crash, the remaining partner has no right to collect Social Security based on her relationship to either deceased partner. She has no legal right to continue raising the legal wife’s children; no legal right to the family home; and she may very well be treated extremely badly by the husband’s family and the legal wife’s family (who may well swoop in and take the legal wife’s children). Why should we not have the same compassion for this situation that we do for gay couples?

Finally, civil rights. This is the real killer when it comes to polygamy. As far as I can tell, the civil right enshrined in those cases where gay marriage was legalized by judicial fiat was simple: people should be able to marry whomever they want. What, proponents of gay marriage ask, is so special about male-female unions that they deserve special treatment while those who want to marry someone of the same sex are treated as second class citizens?

But surely the same right to marry whomever they want exists for those who prefer polygamy. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to create unions in whatever form they prefer? What is so special about two-person unions that they deserve special treatment and protection while those in multi-person unions are treated as second-class citizens?

An interesting question that will arise about polygamy is whether proponents will attempt to strengthen the civil rights aspect of it by invoking religion. Since polygamy (really polygyny) is - or is considered to be or is claimed to be - an integral aspect of Islam and of some Latter Day Saint sects, there would be room to make a civil rights argument based on religious considerations. I don’t think this tactic will be tried, for the simple reason that the societies and communities which practice polygyny on these grounds don’t look good - as Cassandra’s post makes abundantly clear.

At most, we may get some thoroughly Americanized Muslim women, well into their twenties, explaining why they think polygamy is a good idea - although what they will mean, of course, is polygyny. Similarly we may get some blue-eyed blondes, again female, again well into their twenties, explaining why their particular sect’s practice of polygamy - by which they, of course, mean polygyny - is a wonderful thing. We may also get some elderly women from either community talking about how great their lives have been as one of multiple wives (“just like sisters”) - although, of course, never one of a lot of multiple wives; just two or three or, okay, max four. It’s possible there will be some elderly men talking about how much they love all (again, two or three or, okay, max four) their wives.

More likely, though, we’ll see thoroughly secular people talking about polygamy: two women (well into their twenties, of course) talking about how they’ve been friends forever and when they both fell for the same guy, well, what could make more sense than that they become one big happy family? A woman like the one I discuss above, bereft over the loss of her “husband” and sister wife and their children. It would be good PR to dig up a family composed of two men and one woman if possible - all well over 21, of course, and preferably over 25 - to make the argument that this isn’t about polygyny after all.

So I believe that proponents of legalizing polygamy will avoid the religious rights approach and focus on the lifestyle choice approach. Concerns like those Cassandra raises will be dismissed as artifacts of practicing polygamy in non-Western societies and non-mainstream communities, probably accompanied by a swipe at the corrosive effect of patriarchal religions and communities. This will parallel the discussions about gay marriage that dismissed some of the less generally acceptable manifestations of homosexual behavior as artifacts of a sub-culture that no longer exists and/or as the inevitable outcome of having to conceal ones sexual preferences.


* This is the “argue below” part where I walk through Cassandra’s points one by one and where this post made a sharp turn.

As I said, I want to walk through Cassandra’s points, explaining why I think they are more about women’s rights, hiding polygamy, and culture than they are about inevitable consequences of polygamy itself; and explaining how I think society can avoid these undesirable circumstances even if it chooses to legalize polygamy. Again, Cassandra has discussions about each of these points, including supporting links in her post at Grim’s.

1) Polygamy leads to inbreeding. Inbreeding makes it more likely that recessive genetic conditions will be expressed and spreads those conditions throughout the population.

Inbreeding is not an inherent result of polygamy. In the two examples Cassandra gives, inbreeding occurs in the first because of the religious leaders refusal to allow in outsiders (although (a) I suspect it originated in the need to conceal the practice and (b) I’m not sure any outsider would want in); in the second because polygamy is illegal and the areas that practice it are isolated. In fact, one can argue that legalizing polygamy may decrease the expression and spread of serious genetic conditions by making exogamy possible.

Polygamy can be legalized without causing inbreeding so long as we write clear incest laws and enforce them strictly. This will have the rather amusing effect of putting the State in the position I believe the Catholic Church once held when it came to royal marriages: examining genealogies of prospective spouses to see if there exists the impediment of consanguinity. Or, more prosaically, making a DNA test part of the marriage license process. (Probably an excellent idea anyhow, given the over-enthusiastic use of sperm donors.)

2) Polygamy leads to forced marriages and child brides.

This is correlation rather than causation: cultures which practice polygamy (really polygyny) are also those which practice forced marriage and female child marriage. Polygyny is possible without forced marriages and child brides; whether any adult woman would freely choose polygyny is another question. (Grim’s question, in fact, and one I’ll address in a later post.)

If we legalize polygamy, we will need robust age of consent laws (I’d like to see 25 as the age of consent to a polygamous marriage but would settle for 21). The age of consent could not be waived by parental consent for a polygamous marriage. And we’d have to start aggressively enforcing statutory rape laws - which I think would be a good thing anyhow.

3) Polygamy leads to aging fathers. Aging fathers mean aging sperm which means more birth defects.

This is not so much a necessary consequence of polygamy as it is a necessary consequence of forced marriage. If women have a choice about whom to marry, there’s no reason they would be more likely to marry an excessively old man under polygamy than they are under monogamy.

4) Polygamy leads to more “wives” living below the poverty level and more immigration issues when polygamous men in Western countries return to their home countries to acquire child brides.

I think the poverty level ship has sailed. The idea that mothers and their children are the responsibility of the State rather than of the children’s father is so well-established that the question of polygamy versus monogamy is irrelevant to it. I could also argue that it’s possible more women will be married to someone if polygamy is possible. In communities where few men are interested in marriage and/or there are few men women consider worth marrying, more marriages might occur if the interested, acceptable men could take on more than one wife.

As for immigration issues, that can be solved in a variety of ways: do not allow child brides - or women who were underage when they were married - into the country; do not allow wives taken after a man immigrates to enter the country - or do not allow more than one such wife to do so; do not allow men who have married child brides into the country - or back into the country after they do so.

5) Polygamy puts more wives and children at financial risk. If a man with many wives and many children becomes poor, more people suffer as a result.

I think this is partially covered by my first paragraph under 4, above. Also, I’m not convinced the risk is any greater than that posed by serial monogamy.

6) Polygamy is fertile ground for jealousy.

If women live in a country where they have a choice about whom to marry and whether to marry at all, women can decide for themselves whether jealousy will be a problem for them. We would, of course, have to build into marriage licenses the decision about whether additional spouses would be allowed. The decision would have to be symmetrical (a couple could not approve additional wives but disallow additional husbands); specific (how many additional spouses); and irrevocable. We would also have to build in a cascade: if Husband and Wife 1 agree to one additional spouse, then Husband/Wife 2 is forced to agree to none.

7) Polygamy leads to paternal neglect. Men with dozens of children are unlikely to be involved in their children’s lives - and may not even recognize them on the street.

This is partially covered by my first paragraph under 4, above. In addition, having so many children a man doesn’t recognize his own is not an inevitable consequence of polygamy. If a man has four wives and has two children by each, he has eight children - not an unmanageable number. This problem is actually one of multiple wives combined with family sizes well outside the norm in Western countries. And, again, this ship may have sailed via the sperm donor tide.

8) Polygamy is often forced upon the first wife.

This is covered by my rules for marriage licenses under 6, above.

9) Polygamy gives the husband more power than a husband has in a two-person marriage. Each wife must compete with all the other wives for her husband’s attention, money, etc. He can leverage one against the other

Again, in a society where women can choose whom to marry and whether to marry at all and where divorce is easily obtainable, women can choose whether they are willing to be in that type of relationship.

10) Polygamy complicates divorce: “How is marital property equitably disposed of when there are multiple wives, each with children?”

I originally thought that inbreeding might be the most powerful argument against polygamy; now I think this is. Not because of the issue of child support in a polygynous union - that is analogous to a man who marries, has children, gets divorced, re-marries, and has children with his second wife - and perhaps a third. The guy is on the hook for child support, his current family feels the pinch, that’s just the way it is.

Splitting marital assets is where things get interesting. I think you’d be looking at the divorcing wife getting either the family’s assets divided by the number of people in the marriage or half the family’s assets divided by the number of wives. So in the case of a man with four wives, a divorcing wife would get either 1/5th of the family’s assets (she’s 1/5th of the family) or 1/8th of the family’s assets (the husband is half the family, the wives collectively are the other half, so a single wife is 1/4th of 1/2 of the family). Which it would be leads me into a discussion of why I think this problem might make polygamy impossible in a Western society where women have rights and where - ahem - gays can get married. What do we mean by polygamy?

Let’s look at the definitions of polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry:

Polygamy: The state or practice of having more than one wife or husband at one time.

Polygyny: The condition or practice of having more than one wife at a single time.

Polyandry: The condition or practice of having more than one wife at a single time.

All these definitions are about a single person (call him or her the “primary spouse”) having multiple spouses (call them the "secondary spouses"), implicitly of the opposite sex. So:

Adam is married to Beth.
Adam is also married to Cindy.
Adam is also married to Diane.
Adam is also married to Ellen.
But Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are not married to each other.

However, we’re not going to write a polygamy law that is restricted to polygyny; that would never fly. So we can end up with:

Zoe is married to William.
Zoe is also married to Victor.
Zoe is also married to Tom.
Zoe is also married to Sam.
But William, Victor, Tom, and Sam are not married to each other.

So far, so good. But what about:

Adam is married to Beth.
Beth is also married to William.
William is also married to Cindy.
Cindy is also married to Victor.
Victor is also married to Diane.

Now we have what we can call “chain marriage” or, if Diane marries Adam, “circle marriage”. I don’t see any way we could legalize polygamy and keep this from being legal.

Furthermore, once gay marriage is accepted, we’re not going to write a polygamy law that would be restricted to heterosexuals. So, obviously, we’re going to end up with a situation where:

Adam is married to Bob.
Adam is also married to Charles.
Adam is also married to David.
Adam is also married to Ed.
But Bob, Charles, David, and Ed are not married to each other.

Of course, Bob, Charles, David, and Ed could be married to each other; it would just take a few more ceremonies and now we’ve got not polygamy but group marriage.

Or we could end up with a group marriage that looks like this:

Adam is married to Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen.
Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are all married to each other.
Beth, Cindy, Diane, and Ellen are all also married to Bob. So is Adam.

I still believe that within a few years it will be possible to convince a majority of society that polygamy in the traditional sense of one primary spouse and multiple secondary spouses is okay, whether those secondary spouses are of the same sex or the opposite sex. I’m less convinced that it will be possible to convince society that chain marriage, circle marriage, or group marriage is okay. Even if it is possible to do so, accommodating such marriages would require a massive overhaul of our legal system and of our government benefits system.

Gay marriage is pretty simple legally: Two people get married (just like two-person heterosexual unions); they have or adopt kids (just like two-person heterosexual unions); they are entitled to each others benefits (jlt-phu), the law already spells out what their rights and duties are in the marriage and with regard to children (jlt-phu); the mechanisms for dissolution are already in place (jlt-phu).

We might be able to handle straight polygyny and straight polyandry (one primary spouse to whom each of the secondary spouses are married) by treating them legally as simply a series of two-person unions. We’d have to fight over whether each person in the marriage has rights to an equal fraction of the family’s assets; I think we’d decide he or she does. We’d also have to fight about things like Social Security; I think we’d decide that Social Security benefits stay as is and get shared on a percentage basis with the others in the marriage. We’d have to add more signature lines to income tax forms.

Even these cases, though, would get tricky very fast. In legal transactions that require the consent of both husband and wife, do we require the consent of the primary spouse and all secondary spouses? What if the legal transaction seems to directly involve only one of the secondary spouses, say, taking out a loan to buy a car that will be registered only to the primary spouse and that one secondary spouse? Do all the other secondary spouses have to agree? If so, they’re on the hook for the debt; if not, how do we keep them from being on the hook for the debt? We can’t just pick up the rules used by the societies and communities that currently practice polygyny; those rules are based on women having no legal rights. We have to make this all up as we go along.

Now throw in chain marriage and circle marriage. How on earth could we write laws and design government benefits for those? And even if we could manage it for those - I shudder to think what the “buying a car” example would look like - once we accept gay marriage and can thus end up with true group marriages, I think the necessary changes would be simply too much for society to be willing to take on.

I started writing this series convinced that we would inevitably end up legalizing polygamy, largely because of the way the gay marriage battle had gone. Now I’m pretty much convinced that polygamy is almost certainly not feasible in a society with robust women’s rights and is absolutely not feasible in a society with gay marriage.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Polygamy (2): I met a man with seven wives

[This is the second of a series of posts on polygamy. The first - simply an intro - is here. The series is collected under the category “Grim Polygamy”.]

Marriage is whatever society says it is. Since it looks like gay marriage is on its way to being legalized everywhere, we’ve pretty much decided that marriage is no longer the union of one man and one woman; it now includes the union of any two people. There’s no reason to think that our redefinition of marriage will stop there. The success of gay marriage proponents has shown proponents of polygamy how to fight their battle and has pretty much insured their success.

I started writing about the relationship between legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy as a comment to a post over at TigerHawk:

And I know that it's considered the height - or depth - or bigotry and stupidity or some other detestable "y" to raise this issue seriously but once we begin redefining marriage I truly do not understand what the logical, rational argument is against expanding it to include polygamy. There is no rational reason to consider marriage something allowed only between a man and a woman; it is simply the way we've always done things. So why is there a rational reason to consider marriage something allowed only between two people?

All of the arguments that will be made against polygamy* were marshaled against gay marriage: it is forbidden by religion; it is unnatural; it will undermine the institution of marriage; it may well have unintended consequences; it is bad for children to be raised in such a situation. These arguments failed against gay marriage and they will fail against polygamy. Let’s look at these arguments in the context of polygamy and see how their lack of validity in the face of gay marriage will render them useless against polygamy.

Polygamy is forbidden by religion: This is simply a non-starter. No argument based on religious dogma is going to gain traction in a lifestyle debate. In the case of gay marriage, it was simply thrown out; in the case of polygamy, it probably can’t even be raised given the historical acceptance of polygamy among major religions.

Polygamy is unnatural: Based on the historical record, polygamy (or at least polygyny) appears to be for more “natural” than gay marriage. As for the argument that homosexuality is biologically based*, there is no shortage of people arguing that polygamy (at least in the form of polygyny) is what humans are biologically wired for.

Polygamy will undermine the institution of marriage and thus destabilize society: Why assume that legalizing polygamy would result in enough incidences of it to undermine the institution of marriage? Those who support gay marriage scoff at this argument when applied to same-sex unions. Surely, they say, people who are currently committed to heterosexual marriage will not fall by the wayside simply because those who are not can now get married. The same argument seems just as valid with regard to polygamy: Surely those who are committed to two-person marriage will not fall by the wayside simply because those who are not can now get married.

Polygamy may have unintended consequences: Any time you change a millennia-old institution, you’re taking a risk on the consequences. And, again, the historical record shows more support for successful societies that practice polygamy than that practice gay marriage.

Polygamy is bad for children: Supporters of gay marriage take as given that homosexual couples are as likely to be good parents as heterosexual couples. On what rational basis can one assume differently about polygamists? In fact, one could argue that in an age where both father and mother work to make ends meet, having an additional mother around to do childcare is quite a good idea. Having two fathers and two mothers (or four fathers or four mothers) is even better: three adults can work and one be the primary caregiver.

Beyond that, there is the normative argument that marriage is properly a relationship between two people. But there is no reason this argument is any more valid than the argument that marriage is properly a relationship between two people of the opposite sex.

It’s not just that the arguments that will be marshaled against legalizing polygamy failed when they were marshaled against legalizing gay marriage that makes it unlikely polygamy will remain illegal in this country for much longer. It’s also the characterization of those who argued against gay marriage. Those who opposed gay marriage, for any reason, were not considered simply people who preferred a different definition of marriage, who had genuine concerns about the effect on society, who believed that a millennia old institution was altered only at great risk, or who held sincere religious beliefs. No, those who opposed gay marriage were characterized as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. How can anyone who leveled those charges at those who opposed gay marriage now argue credibly against legalizing polygamy?

I do not object to gay marriage. However, I do not consider those who do object to it to be stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. Instead I respect their position, acknowledge the validity of their concerns, and couch my position in terms of my own preferences and my opinion that legalizing gay marriage will not undermine the role marriage plays - or should play - in holding society together. This leaves me free to oppose legalizing polygamy when the time comes. I realize full well that when I do argue against legalizing polygamy, I will be denounced as stupid, ignorant, bigoted, shortsighted, ridiculous, not worthy of response, or crazy. I’ll have to put up with that but I don’t plan to give anyone grounds to also denounce me as inconsistent.


* Cassandra has made a number of arguments against polygamy that could not be made against gay marriage. With one possible exception - inbreeding - I don’t think any of them will gain any traction against polygamy. I’ll address them in a later post.

** My personal opinion on the issue of homosexuality being biological, a result of environment, or a choice, is that there is probably a continuum, just as there seems to be in an increasing number of human traits: some people who are simply biologically programmed to find the same sex attractive; some who have biological tendencies which can be expressed or not in response to environment; some who have no biological tendencies but become homosexual as a result of environment; and some who choose to live as homosexuals. I may be one the last people on the planet who remembers that some Feminists explicitly choose lesbianism as a reaction to male patriarchy and resent being lumped into the “mainstream” LGBT movement.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Polygamy (1): As I was going to St Ives

I started writing about the relationship between legalizing gay marriage and legalizing polygamy as a comment to a post over at TigerHawk. My comment got way too long to actually be a comment so I posted something shorter - and crankier - over there and spent some time trying to turn that comment into a blog post. I could never find quite the right frame for it so I set it aside.

A few days ago Grim wrote about polygamy, inspired by a school assignment that quotes a twenty-year old Islamic woman as saying she has no objection to her future husband taking multiple wives. If a woman wants to be one of multiple wives, asks Grim, why shouldn’t we let her? He concludes by asking:

Is there some fundamental reason to prefer monogamy, or is it just what we're used to seeing?

In response, Cassandra has presented ten arguments against polygamy. In commenting on Cassandra’s post, I remarked that I had a post about this topic 90% completed and would get it up on Friday. I didn’t, obviously, for two reasons.

First, whenever I say I’ll post by a deadline I don’t do it. There’s something about writing to schedule that makes me utterly inarticulate.

Second, and more important, I thought I would be able to do one post, tying together everything I had to say about my original points, Grim’s argument, and Cassandra’s rebuttal. Not happening. I’m going to end up with multiple posts. I hope to get the first one - which will be basically my original one - up over the weekend. Then one on Cassandra’s points and then one on Grim’s argument. Plus probably one or two side-trips along the way. (We’ll see if I end up with enough posts to finish the riddle.) I realize that by the time I get this all done, everyone except me will probably have lost interest but I’m just glad I’m once again looking forward to doing some long, twisty writing.

As usual, I’ve created a new category to track the related posts: Grim Polygamy.