deletedFeb 7
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Fair. My one caveat would be that polyamory should be addressed (at least for the purpose of this discussion) as a possible candidate for a luxury belief: the kind of lifestyle that confers status, and maybe some sort of happiness, on wealthy people from the Bay Area, while inflicting costs on the lower classes who are going to watch a gazillion TV shows about polyamory over the next decade and are going to break up marriages and leave children unattended and fuck themselves up even further, because cool people do it. So, from that point of view, it’s perhaps healthy for society that a bunch of narcissists give us their takes on their terrible experiences, so we lowly journalists can write them up and poor people can link to them on their Facebook feeds. Sounds Effectively Altruistic to me.

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I read section II and thought, "Hmmm. I should conduct a close analysis of the things I do gracefully and effortlessly and try to write about what I discover..."

Then I read section III and thought, "No... I really shouldn't."

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I know this isn't the point of your post, but "Treat every day as a gift from God" is much better relationship advice than non-violent communication, etc.

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I'm slightly disappointed you didn't format "(have I just accidentally re-invented televangelists? Fine, I’ve just re-invented televangelists; I recommend against marrying one.)" as a Song of Myself joke.

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Sorry if this is somewhat off-topic, but I don't have a subscription to The Atlantic: did Tyler Austin Harper (a professor of English at Colby College who, I believe, specializes in stuff like late Victorian sci-fi novelists like H.G. Wells) mention how Silicon Valley polyamory is linked to American Golden Age sci-fi authors like Robert Heinlein?

For example, Heinlein worked hard to normalize polyamory in his last book before his cerebral problems, the 1966 libertarian cult classic "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress." Like most people in the Luna colony, the regular guy narrator Manny, a computer repairman, is in a group marriage. This, he explains, is a remnant of the early days of the moon colony when there were far more men than women. Nowadays, the sexes are more equal in number, but Loonies found that they still prefer group marriages for reasons. Manny discounts all the hubba-hubba snickering: polyamory is purely a sensible way to organize that side of life and it's good for the kids!

My impression is that Heinlein had a normal heterosexual man's urge for sexual variety, and he was born without the Jealousy Gene, so, being a reasonable guy, he thought a share-and-share-alike system made sense.

Many of the older tech tycoons like Musk and Bezos are big Heinlein fans. And Heinlein studied his readers carefully and respectfully. Although not a nerd himself -- an Annapolis grad, he struck his fans as a glamorous officer-and-gentleman type who'd be played by Franchot Tone in a movie, which helps explain why they always deferred to him as "the dean of science fiction" even as he got older and crankier -- and he seems to have noted their tendencies such as polyamory and even transgenderism.

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I rather like IMDB's mini-bio of Gaio Giulio Cesare:

> Gaio Giulio Cesare was born on July 13, 100 in Rome, Roman Republic. He was a writer, known for La conquête des Gaules (1923) and Caesar the Conqueror (1962). He died on March 15, 44 in Rome, Roman Republic.


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> I think this goes beyond polyamory. The people I know from various oft-discussed groups - transgender, super-religious, autistic, rich, etc - are all nicer and more normal than their public representatives would lead you to believe.

I think this may have something to do with how said public representatives are algorithmically selected to be maximally rage-inducing to the "other side".

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Your comments about who writes advice books reminded me of a little conundrum that I faced when I studied martial arts: who do you turn to for advice on self-defense? The best self-defense is to not get into trouble in the first place, but the people who don't get into trouble don't usually think about it and don't have much concrete advice beyond "well, keep your eyes open and don't hang out with assholes and criminals". The people who do have a lot of experience have a skewed perception: either they are professional bouncers/ bodyguards/ SWAT team members etc, and the conflicts they see may be much different from what you or I could expect to face; and/ or they are violent asshats, and you shouldn't associate with them or imitate them.

Eventually I decided that "keeping my eyes open and not hanging out with assholes" was good enough for me, and stopped worrying about the whole issue.

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> Someone who tours the country, telling young people that monogamy is right for them, and answering their questions on the right way to be monogamous.

That's, actually, one of the things I really loved about "More Then Two" and most other polyamory-related people I follow - they specifically don't do that (even though each community has it's share of cringe corner cases). The point isn't in "polyamory is right and monogamy is wrong", it's "polyamory is an option, there are people for whom it works". It's representation.

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I haven't read Tyler Austin Harper's essay in The Atlantic, but I like the guy. He's a professor of something or other at Colby College (environmental studies? but he's basically an English professor) who specializes in apocalyptic sci-fi like "The War of the Worlds." He's part-black and has pretty reasonable, moderate views on issues of race and class. He likes rural Maine and is a dedicated fisherman.

My guess would that his perspective on polyamory theory would be pretty similar to Charles Murray's general point in "Coming Apart:" there are a lot of theories about how to organize society that are okay for the right half of the bell curve, not that they are much inclined in that direction, but are bad for the left half. If you are, say, Bertrand Russell, well, you can afford four wives, but for the typical person below 100 IQ, the monogamous will have a much better life and their kids will have much less emotional trauma.

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Do you think your comment about who write advice books also applies to parenting advice? And please do let me know in 2-3 years time if your answer changes

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Are you in a polyamorous relationship?

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I guess the principle applies not just to writers and media interviewees, but also to politicians. Maybe we should take sortition more seriously.

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>"And I’m not mocking the legible-principle-seekers"

Excellent term right there. Are "legible-principle-seekers" fully equivalent with "Rationalists", or are "Rationalists" only the subset of legible-principle-seekers with an affinity for Bayes?

(i.e. insisting on a world model where principles use mathematical rules to process single-dimensional numbers, ostensibly representing probability, and conveniently empowering utilitarian calculus based on numbers pulled out of a hat)

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I feel like a simpler rebuttal to such an article would be statistics comparing relationship happiness/satisfaction in polyamorous people and monogamous people. Does no such comparison exist which is why one must resort to reviewing n-of-1 studies or raising concerns about people deriving generalizations from a handful of n-of-1 studies?

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The monogamy-evangelist sounds pretty much like purity culture in evangelical circles in the 90's and early 2000's, at least as I remember it. Honestly, you're underselling how creepy and off-putting it was/is.

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One of those tantalizing "I enjoyed this post but it feels like there's a missing Section V to tie it all together". Something about how book-writing selects heavily for x, y, z, in the same way as things that bubble to your attention are heavily selected for against natural apex predator memes. And this is one of the big lessons about life in the modern epistemic environment. Everything around me survivorships by selection effects. [link to On Bounded Distrust here]

Also passed up the obvious connection of "activists are not necessarily representative of things they activate for" in exactly the same way as book-writers being outlier exemplars.

Either way, I'll happily read your memoir and/or polyamory advice book if you choose to publish one.

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This seems unusually against the prevailing local ethos of throwing science or at least principle-seeking at things people normally take for granted.

Why are relationships more like walking and less like, say, judo or dancing? As in, we can all sort of naturally grapple or shimmy if we must, and perhaps subdue/impress an opponent/partner if we're lucky or naturally strong/graceful, but there are clearly techniques and body conditioning that make it unambiguously better, and these are generally taught by people successful at it?

(I do accept that it matters how mastery is reached, and the people who had to fight harder for it might be better at teaching the process, in a kind of Berkson's Paradox way - but still.)

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I think the comparison to shopping at Whole Foods is really on the money (no pun intended).

Most people (in fact, an overwhelming majority) shop for groceries at some kind of a grocery store. But if you write a memoir about shopping at Whole Foods, the implication (be it intentional or not) is that your shopping habits are somehow superior to those of the hoi polloi, and perhaps your groceries are elegant and refined -- thus worthy of inclusion in your memoirs. This kind of attitude invites derision, because really all you're doing is buying plain old potatoes at double the price.

Similarly, most people have either slept around at some point, or are at least aware of the concept. So when you write a book about sleeping around in this elegant and refined way with a fancy name like "polyamory", you invite derision, because really all you're doing -- from the average person's point of view -- is hooking up with floozies just like everyone else.

Granted, there's more to polyamory than random hookups (AFAICT), just as there's more to Whole Foods than overpriced potatoes; but the barrier to making that difference clear is quite high, and is probably beyound the reach of the kind of people who feel compelled to write excruciatingly detailed step-by-step guides to polyamory.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

I probably shouldn't comment because I haven't read the Atlantic article or the subscriber only post (both are behind paywalls), but the argument in this post seems to be 'Tyler Austin Harper can't argue against polyamory based on a memoir because memoirs are written by narcissists or activists and advice is written by "defective people"'.

I disagree. Most memoirs I have read give a positive impression of what the author does (e.g. if I read a memoir by a professional gambler, it makes advantage gambling sound exciting). And plenty of memoirs don't give the impression of being written by narcissists. The problem with the passage from the memoir quoted here is not that there is anything wrong with what is described, it is how it is described (and the fact the author presumes anyone would be interested in anything so banal.)

And advice is generally written by professionals, or teachers, or coaches or therapists (obviously these are all "defective people" in the trivial sense of "everyone is defective", but they generally do have some skill in whatever they are writing about, if they aren't frauds).

As far as polyamory is concerned, it is a very controversial issue; a lot of people dislike it or find it immoral and have reasons for doing so before they read any specific memoir.

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While having valid points, this argument taken as a whole seems a bit too reductio ad absurdum. An expert, whether their expertise be gained via siccessful experience with the object of their desire or painful failure with it, need not becCesear to have something valuable to share with others interested in the topic. The easiest example is John and Julie Gorman’s studies of both successful and unsuccessful marriages. Or, using the physical therapist example, physical therapy is NOT based on studying how people who have problems move; rather, it’s largely based on stimuli’s of normal physiology-at least the parts about moving normally. The parts about movement problems are oriented towards diagnosis, not healing. Another example is the field of positive psychology, which primarily focuses on what works. I think there may be a confusion in the essay between what’s popular and what’s effective.

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I think Activist and Influencer are new roles, products of the internet age. Of course there have been activists since forever, and once the world was connected enough for someone to become world famous, there have been plenty of world famous people, many of whom influenced the views or fashion choices of other people. In our era, though, the internet grabs hold of certain people, or some people grab hold of the internet, and then they are inflated like the Macy's floats. They are Activists or Influencers. You can't be an activist or influencer without fucking *tweeting* a chunk of your supposed subjectivity, or maybe strutting it before the world via some other social media format.

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Invectives about polyamory are inevitable now, in the current phase of polyamory Overton window shift. This is the only acceptable way polyamory can be currently portrayed and discussed.

As Overton windows move for new social norms like LGBT and polyamory, the mainstream media narratives evolve along the axis of omission/taboo -> negative/critique -> ambiguity -> struggle/oppression ->positive -> new normal. We have seen LBGT cover almost all these steps during recent 40 years, currently I think we are between positive and new normal. With polyamory, we have just recently moved from omission/taboo to negative/critique. Portraying polyamory as positive or struggling/oppressed in mainstream media is still out of the Overton window, showing ambiguity is now at the edge, only negative critique is in the window. This is also why almost all movies and shows about polyamory are telling a story of a failure of a polyamorous relationship.

Positive polyamory testimonials exist on social media, but usually the comments below are a shitstorm. This also proves how positive portrayal is unacceptable. At the same time, positive polyamory testimonial + shitstorm comments = negative meta-content bundle that itself fits well within the Overton window.

Note that these negative portrayals still promote polyamory somehow, as they at least put it on the map. 10 years ago there were no polyamory movies, shows or social media content - it would have been unthinkable, as we were in the omission/taboo phase back then.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

"The people I know from various oft-discussed groups [...] are all nicer and more normal than their public representatives would lead you to believe"

This has been, very strongly indeed, the absolute opposite to my personal experience!

I think part of why Scott has experienced this is his own personal Niceness Field skewing his experience ( https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/02/different-worlds ) and partly because his social circle has been hand-cultivated to encourage nice people and discourage not-so-nice ones to a greater extent (and with more conscious thought) than the average person's social circle (my own included).

Contra Scott, my personal experience has been that the average person in an oft-discussed, heavily-memed-about group does seem to be more cantankerous, boorish, self-centred, belligerent, and one-dimensional (especially one-dimensional!) than the average person-in-the-street.

(One exception being the rich, who in my experience tend also to be considerably more horrible than the average person, but along different axes)

I think that this might be because the people in such groups are just as vulnerable to the memeplexes ("memeplices"?) Scott describes - perhaps more vulnerable, even, since they're actually in the talked-about group themselves:

> Very few are indifferent to the memes ('cos, as Scott points out, in a Darwinian sense the memes are really bloody effective)

> Some thrive on the memes - these are the self-obsessed public-memoir-writers, public-social-media-ers, etc. who are awful to be around for all the reasons Scott describes.

> Others really don't like the memes at all, and so their mental/inner life is in a permanent state of siege against a memeplex they don't like but can't escape - is it any wonder if such a person ends up becoming overly-self-focused and belligerent?

[Please don't take this as a personal criticism if you're reading this and are in an oft-discussed group - obviously I'm making a comparison between the *average* person from such a group that *I happen to know* and the *average* person not from a group that I happen to know, so A) there'll inevitably be a whole bunch of selection effects going on for me, just as there are for Scott, and B) obviously there will be many non-average lovely people in the group and many non-average awful people outside it. Also I do have to admit that there are definitely some oft-discussed and heavily-memed-about groups - vegans come to mind, but I'm sure there are others - where the average person I m̶e̶a̶t̶ meet does genuinely seem to be perfectly nice, interesting, friendly, multidimensional, etc. and such groups do kinda mess up my nice neat theory a bit..]

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I know this is one of your trigger-topics we disagreed on years ago, and I think that’s clouding your interpretation here.

> But The Atlantic’s complaint was that the book seemed kind of navel-gazey.

That’s a polite way to put it. Did it come up in the subscriber-only post that The Atlantic’s critique only came *after* a wave of glowing reviews that ignored everyone in the book being miserable and borderline-abusive?

Much of the media has an obsession with making poly sound fantastic, and giving this no-name narcissist platforms, book stores will host her but not Actual Person Rob Henderson. The Atlantic published one article to the contrary, and that’s the one you pick on? Hmm.

> I think this goes beyond polyamory. The people I know from various oft-discussed groups - transgender, super-religious, autistic, rich, etc - are all nicer and more normal than their public representatives would lead you to believe.

While I would mostly agree with this, poly has a complete lack of sympathetic public representatives. The other groups have skewed representation- other comments discussed why- but not such a thorough lack. Clearly, it’s no longer an extreme taboo, it’s a luxury belief most media has been portraying positively for a decade now- and yet. Hmm.

No, you and Aella don’t count.

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Doctor, heal thyself!

I only know you through your blog but you seem to be struggling lately with clarity of thought---many of your posts seem to be blinded by some agenda or axe to grind.

You describe this article as, "they conclude they hate polyamorous people" and that the article implies there is something wrong with polyamory. It's almost as if you didn't read the article!

The article ends with a clear statement that polyamory works well for some people. The last paragraph begins, "Open relationships really do provide some people . . . the freedom that they want and need." This follows the previous few paragraphs discussing that it's ethically fine, and that it's nobody's business how consenting adults want to live their lives.

What they seem to hate is uncritical fads and "therapeutic libertarianism," not polyamory. What you seem to hate is...?

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You really need to read actual memoir, not the ghastly nonsense that passes for memoir now.

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Just hate everyone like I do, it’s easier and more effective…

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Feels like the less angry-at-out-group-y, more identity-oriented-yay-in-group-y flavoring of: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2013-04-07

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No, I really do hate polyamory. It is, simply put, evil. I think the negative societal effects will become more apparent over time, both for the people involved and, in particular, for the children involved. (For one thing, that is one hell of a Chesterton's fence you're tearing down.) And even if the negative effects don't become more apparent, polyamory will still be evil.

I'm sure this post will not be appreciated. But I wanted someone to point out that moral absolutes exist, and that someone needs to stand athwart history yelling, "Stop!"

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I'm about to jump on a 12 hour shift running conduit, so I apologize if this is a little disorganized. Id intended to write this for next Monday, but it's topical.

I've been thinking about the structures I've observed in polyamorous groups and the challenges that they face. Very little is codified as generally acceptable in the space, though certain pods may have structural rules that work for them. As a whole though, it's a kind of laissez faire dedicated to maximizing sexual access rather than building cohesive groups of reliable people with healthy relational habits. I suspect this focus on sexual access alone is an accident of how political sexual liberation has affected polyamorous culture rather than an inherent evil that is baked into the practice.

In many, (though not all) polyamorous groups I've seen, kids are often an afterthought who are brought up by single mom's who often find themselves as satellites to several disparate polyamorous groups. The nature of easily picking up a new flame and dropping old ones makes it easy to pick up attractive but difficult people, and get rid of them (and their kids) when they become too inconvenient or unreasonable. Given the inherent complexity of maintaining multiple relationships, I see it a lot. 2 people have 1 relationship to manage, 3 have 3, 4 have 6, 5 have 10... And so on. So many simplify to a wheel and spoke type of relationship structure to simplify. There may be a primary power couple who are tied together financially and they sleep with other people who are easily discarded and have no financial obligations to them. Children produced in this manner are similarly easy to discard, and grow up in difficult circumstances. Some pods have around 4 or 5 people who are part of the primary group and financial obligations are slightly more rigid, though I have often seen an ease of discarding in this structure as well. In these groups I've seen that the kids sometimes stay with the main pod while the satellite parent is ejected. This is marginally better, but still not ideal.

Raising healthy children who have stable family backgrounds could be a primary focus within polyamorous culture in the US if expectations were a little more codified and there were fewer individuals flying the polyamorous flag for hedonic sexual pursuits alone. Kids need a fair amount of support, stability, and need to have connections to people of all ages to grow up as responsible, strong minded people. The small village mentality that could exist in polyamorous groups could reduce the burdens most parents experience in child rearing, because there can be a number of kids growing up together with a number of parents to provide support. But again the lack of codified expectations in that space means that relational churn is prevalent.

I'd be interested to see what effective polyamorous marriage would look like as a legal institution, as it could provide satellites who have kids more recourse. However, it still wouldn't solve the cultural issue of commitment to relationships, which is increasingly rare in monogamous couples as well. How to address that and make people just behave as good people in relationships can't really be written into law. I suspect there may be something about the templates of life we learn from the dominant stories we consume, but that's a whole other tangent.

I think the major point here is that it isn't polyamory so much as the dominant strain of polyamory that is so distasteful. Since it looks like it's around to stay, I'd like to see it hashed out to be healthier and geared towards making good people.

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(Banned)Feb 7

Is this an April Fool’s prank

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

A couple of years ago I visited a Maasai village in Tanzania. They are very traditional, as in "we got to the Stone Age and decided to stay here." The son of the headman asked me how many wives I had. I told him just one. He was clearly disappointed in me as a man--I was a guy who lacked the status and prosperity for multiple wives. He, on the other hand, had three wives and his father the chief had six. Those were men who made it big, despite living in dung-and-stick huts without running water or electricity. So is polyamory for the elites? I guess your cultural mileage may vary.

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Also goes for weight loss advice, where fat people have endless supplies of suggestions and seem especially to try to force those thoughts on non-fat people who are successfully dieting already despite having a lot less weight to lose. In the past when I had bad obsessive compulsive disorder I had lots of advice for how to deal with it, but now that it's been years since I had any symptoms I've mostly forgotten them. I was also a bit insufferably into self-analysis back when it was bad, but since that eventually led to improvement it wasn't a waste.

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"The people I know from various oft-discussed groups - transgender, super-religious, autistic, rich, etc - are all nicer and more normal than their public representatives would lead you to believe."

Yes! I've interacted with all of these groups (aside from super- religious) and despite my worries, I found that even the most ideological of them are willing to engage with you as people first if you grant them the same grace.

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From Tolstoy's dictum, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way", it follows that every happy family's memoir or advice would be repetitive and vapid.

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I'm sure the subscriber's only post does a good job on the specific disagreements, but without that context this feels like FUD more than insight: "Maybe advice is written by defective people. Ok, it's not really advice, but memoirs might be written by narcissists. Or maybe by activists. Maybe all of the above!"

These are probably useful stereotypes to keep in mind, but it's left to the reader to assume they apply in this case. And even so "a defective narcissist activist writes a memoir about their experience" is obviously the thesis of an article titled "Polyamory: the Ruling Class's Latest Fad." You can claim she doesn't represent all of polygamy, but I failed to find that claim in the article anyhow.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't meant this way with more context, but this post comes across like a substance-free attack on the article by casting aspersions at the book the article is attacking.

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Okay, I have two basic objections to polyamory. The first is a broader but weaker point, and the second is narrower and stronger.

1. If you actually love someone, that person should be enough for you. Especially, if most people who claim to love someone do, in fact, find that that person is enough for them. I struggle to see how it doesn't *almost* follow by definition that if Aaron wants to be in a momogamous relationship with Brenda, and Carl wants to be in a polyamorous relationship with Diana, then Carl loves Diana less than Aaron loves Brenda. Now maybe this assumption can be refuted somehow, by reference to irreducible personality types or something, but it certainly seems like the prima facie assumption, and requires an affirmative defence.

2. There seem to be two types of polyamory: the "hippie" kind where a group of people are all in a single demarcated "relationship" with each other, all know each other as either friends or lovers, and having sex with anyone outside that group would be condemned as cheating. And the "open relationship" kind where two people are dating or married but are "free" to sleep with other people (but still have each other as a "primary partner" or some such). The first, while I'm not endorsing it, seems to have decent case for being a form of actual love. The second, unless I'm missing something, looks like despicable pure hedonism. First, because the "primary" aspect shows it really is all about sex, not about sharing your love with someone else. Second, because it's basically legitimised cheating, and for all the talk of mutality what's to stop someone pressuring their spouse to "consent" to "opening" their relationship? (I've seen a number of online stories of this happening, though with beautiful poetic justice where the pressured partner ends up finding someone who actually values him or her and wants a true relationship, and the other partner ending up entirely alone and certainly not finding the harem they were expecting). And third, because it creates *competition* between the two spouses over who can get more partners, and for fuck's sake a marriage is the ONE place such toxic sexual competition should not exist!

And also, I can't find it but when I was reading through the old slatestarcodex archives, I at one point followed a link to a post where Scott's former girlfriend, Ozy someone, was outright arguing that cheating is sometimes okay! As in, actual non-consensual cheating. I think when you've got your activists doing that, it's fair to say your movement has a massive problem. How many monogamous people will you find publicly, proudly saying "cheating is okay, actually"?

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People don't like proselytizers 🤷‍♂️ but proselytizing is at the core of American culture in a lot of ways, so we're screwed I guess

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There's something slightly amusing here, in that I regard you as one of the better legible-principle-finders I've encountered, in fully general. You're quite excellent at taking knowledge which is implicit, and forming it into a legible (implicit) structure.

I find it a lot in people who, for one reason or another, "had to grow up too fast" - sometimes because their parents were crap and they had to step up far too early, sometimes because their effective peer group as a child was more closely aligned to "adults" than "actual peers". (Being very smart can cause adults to be far more interesting as a child than your fellow children.) Not really having the time to make a nice slow gradient descent, they get really good at finding shortcuts - and sometimes this coincides with the ability to actually specify what these shortcuts are.

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This is the more detailed, thoughtful, and charitable version of what I was arguing last night, kudos!

I really want to double-down on the "you should hate people who write books" angle: it is - theoretically - possible to write a book of advice excellent enough that it more than redeems the author from all the errors in judgement led to them gathering such legible expertise. But in practice the writer of a sexuality memoir has not just made a chain of mistakes throughout their life, they are actively and determinedly making a continuous, crowning mistake through the process of publishing their book. It is one thing to screw up a conversation with a lover and hurt feelings; it is another to fuck up so dramatically and so often for this to be a relevant pattern; and it is a third far worse thing to fight to sell the second as entertainment.

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It’s always seemed incredibly fraught to me, and always and only (before we became self-consciously deliberate about these things, anyway) seems to arise in situations where something is happening to drop the numbers of the male population, or else is put in place after such an event to exclude some number of men from the mating population by a religious institution like the FLDS.

I know in my bones an internet comment isn’t going to change many people’s minds on this, but two points because I can’t help myself.

1. Granted, I had one of those childhoods that was so terrible that people find it fascinating but this seems just awful for kids. Again, I’m probably bias because my parents have racked up close to ten marriages between them and I grew up knowing that their first and most heartfelt loyalty was never to me. There would be my brothers and sisters, whichever of my parents we were with, and just some random person they’d decided they loved more than us. And that person definitely made their resentment of us known and usually made whichever of my parents was there perform some sort of loyalty test. Most other people I know in this situation have some kind of similar experience even if the examples are less dramatic and more open to being interpreted as over-sensitivity. Say what you will about monogamy but it makes lines of loyalty very clear within a family unit. That might not matter as much when there are resources to go around for everyone, but when you’re poor it matters a lot because there isn’t that much to go around and one year your step-mom might want to ritually humiliate you and your siblings by giving you socks at Christmas while her children open elaborate gifts.

Again, personal experience, blah blah blah. But you have to acknowledge that the pathways for this kind of thing open up just because you’ve expanded the numbers of players in the game and unaligned their motivations.

2. This seems incredibly susceptible to motivated reasoning as a lifestyle. When we sit down and think about ethics, morality, or whatever, the expectation we should have is that we will walk away from those thoughts having some list of things we are not allowed to do. The whole purpose of ethics/morality/whatever is to figure out how your wants and desires step on the wants and desires of other people. So when people sit down and think through those things in a romantic context and in the back of their head there’s a command that says “and remember, try to rules-lawyer this in some way that you can still get what you wanted at the beginning” it kind of short-circuits the whole thing. When people talk about what they get out of this kind of a thing my biggest feeling is “Doesn’t it make you suspicious that when your partner is expressing their boundaries to you it always turns out that you should just be able to have everything you want?”

If there’s some beautiful version of polyamory where you’re putting bits of yourself into another person and bits of them into you, and your concern and caring for those bits of them in you grows greater than your concern and care for yourself, I would genuinely, sincerely, love to hear it. Otherwise, what I generally take away is a lot of “…. Yes, maybe someone does want that ideally but what about ME?”

3. A third point because I can’t help myself. Once you have kids, I think there’s a biological command in you, or at least there was in me, that shouts “Go fuck myself!” Your kid is the most important thing in the world. I felt that in my bones, anyway. If you’re shy, or don’t want to do some particular thing because it will be too stressful there’s that command “Go fuck myself!” And you just do it anyway.

You don’t want to brush their little teeth because they get wiggly, just do it anyway. You’re too tired to change the dirty diaper, just do it anyway. He’s crying and won’t stop and you’re just about out of fuel to keep going, just keep holding him anyway and kiss the top of his head and tell him it’s going to be okay. That voice, or chemical tug, or evolutionary imperative, or whatever you want to call it, guides you along the path of things that are best for your child.

Whatever anyone does before having kids, I think if you listen to that voice honestly, it tells you to dedicate yourself to a nuclear family unit.

Again, I’m also not typical because even if my wife and I got divorced for any reason I would never get remarried. I would never want my children to feel that my loyalty is divided. I remember what that was like where I was just a little kid and I suddenly knew that I couldn’t count on my mom and dad anymore (or even less than before in my case) and I would never ever do that to my kids.

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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

The real reason to prefer monogamy is that most cultures/societies have been polygynous, but the smaller number of monogamous ones were the winners in the contest of cultural group selection*.

* https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/06/07/addendum-to-enormous-nutshell-competing-selectors/

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Example # 1,000,000 that the map is not the territory.

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“being so good at writing that you can elevate humdrum existence… into transcendent poetry”? Try this:


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Feb 7·edited Feb 7

Isn't the structure of this critique kind of a variant of Bulverism?

From C. S. Lewis, *Bulverism*[1]:

"Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is "wishful thinking." You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not."

And change it to:

Suppose I think, after reading polyamorous memoirs, that polyamorous people are dysfunctional. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is wrong (due to me having made a mistake due to the people I read being memoir-writers and thus selected for dysfunctionality). You can never come to any conclusion by examining my ability to infer whether one's dysfunctionality is related to polyamory or desire-to-write-memoirs. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the polyamory vs. monogamy dysfunctionality statistics yourself. When you have checked these stats, then, and then only, will you know whether polyamory is actually connected to dysfunction or not.

I think many of this post's ideas—that memoir-writers are selected for potentially-repulsive traits which may poison one's feelings on polyamory or whatever else, and more broadly the idea that people might be misled about the inherent properties of X class of individuals due to the consumption of information regarding said class X being confounded by the methods (mediums, groups, personality types, etc.) involved in obtaining information about class X—are quite good and valuable, but one can't help but notice that the proving of what is seemingly the central point ("polyamory isn't (non-trivially) worse") has been left hanging. Much akin to C.S. Lewis' psychologist perhaps being able to find all sorts of interesting psyche-related facts about the guy with the bank account, but not having advanced one whit in confirming whether he has a large balance or not.

So the question remains: does polyamory work similarly well to monogamy? I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but a quick Google search and some skimming tells me[2]:

"Polyamorous relationships aren’t historically the most successful, says relationships expert Neil Wilkie.

He told Red magazine that 20% of couples have experimented with consensual non-monogamy, but open marriage has a 92% failure rate. What’s more, he suggested 80% of people in open marriages “experience jealousy of the other”."

This would seem to suggest polyamory does involve much more dysfunctionality. Perhaps there's some other confounding factor—I can only assume openness to polyamory strongly selects for verbal intelligence, and AFAIK verbally-oriented people tend to have higher divorce-rates; also it seems quite intuitive that people whose relationships were already going south would try open marriage as a Hail Mary—but it certainly goes against the idea that attempts at polyamory are currently as successful as attempts at monogamy, and that such equivalent success is obfuscated by people who write books.

[1] quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulverism#Source_of_the_concept

[2] quote from https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/can-polyamorous-relationships-really-work-out-long-term_uk_64941b68e4b02f808ab3ddb5

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The title here is wrong. I'm perfectly capable of disliking both at the same time.

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Phoo. Well, I've seen polyamory go well and I've seen it go badly. It's not my jam (too much input, and I don't take pleasure in dealing with all the social stuff all the time) - my concern has always been that people get "stuck" on ideas and then pursue them past the point where they're good or enjoyable. I've seen this done with polyamory, but I've also seen it done with monogamy for that matter, way more. It's just that the polyamory stuckness I saw was more of an idealistic thing, and less of a default thing.

A motto I try to live by is "pain means move away." If someone or something is causing you pain, please, retreat from it. Don't double down. If it's not a fun relationship, you can't make it fun because "polyamory is valid." I have seen that happen a bunch. Yes, it's valid, but if any partner you're with is causing you chronic pain, that's not a good relationship, period.

Ya, treat every day like a gift from God. And God wants you to be happy, OK? That's all it boils down to. If you're happy with multiple partners, happy with one, or happy alone, whatever. You do you, boo. Just be happy.

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I just don’t think it’s true that people who are good at things don’t have useful lessons they’ve learned and continue to apply. The lessons might be simpler and less contrived but that’s because they work

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I think there's an easier explanation:

The thing that creates engagement is the worst example of a thing. If you're poly you're common. Everyone knows what you think and either already agrees or doesn't. Either way, you're probably not interesting enough to talk about.

But if you're a poly person who thinks everyone else should be poly, and that "poly" means "allowed to have and abuse a harem," you have a perspective that can create strong feelings, debate, love, hate, jealousy. So if one hundred million poly folks write a book, and an insane publisher publishes them all (imagine if every person in the world could publish their inane stuff every day), the only ones that will get publicized will be exceptionally well-written or reasoned, or ones that make polyamory seem controversial. And it's much easier to do the latter.

Whenever I point this out, I get accused of impugning motive. "You can't just claim every person on the internet is a liar." But that's not my claim. It's a pure numbers game. It's not that everyone who attempts to talk to the public is a liar, it's that of a billion pieces of content, only liars or insane people will get popular enough to get through.

I strongly recommend ignoring or at least casting an extreme critical eye at anything written since 2000.

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The overall form was: “I read a memoir about polyamory, everyone involved seemed awful and unhappy, and now I hate polyamorous people.”

That is not how I felt the Atlantic writer came to a conclusion; it wasn't polyamorous people per se, but rather the self-indulgent, 'I must be my True Self' rooting around for novel experiences by bored, well-off people who think that they have to constantly be gazing in the mirror of their psyche, and that turning everything upside-down is good because never mind the collateral damage, they're being *authentic*. The kind of people who will glom on to polyamory as the newest fad.

The memoir author seems to have remained in a long-term marriage, so maybe they worked out their problems, but the reviews don't paint the entire process as one of happiness. You're probably right about memoirs and the people who write them, and that is why this is a terrible book by (well, calling her a terrible person would be unfair).

But for the second memoir, I have to agree with Freddie. What that person needs is a bucket of cold water in the face, not a book deal to ramble on about how simply super special they are.

"One night, I watched comedy band The Lonely Island, laughing in a crowd alone as they brought out Michael Bolton and T-Pain."

How do you laugh in a crowd alone? You're in a crowd, by definition you're not alone! Were you the only person laughing? If so then that band must have been awful at comedy. If everyone else was laughing, then you were not laughing alone.

Oh, you're trying to indicate your superior delicate sensibility because you mean you didn't know anyone else in the crowd, you weren't connected to them, you were there on your own. Wrong! You are in the set of "people who go to watch comedy bands", so there's your connection.

Somebody hand me a bucket, I need to go to the well and fill it up, there's a pseud needs a face-washing.

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Reducing one's romantic relationships to political statements is a real thing. I spent time for a few years in a polyamory group which turned into a Relationship Anarchy group. They redefined "Polyamory" to mean every bad thing that anyone labeling themselves polyamorous had ever done to them. Some of them eventually did that to the term "Relationship Anarchist" too, and switched to "Political Relater". I wrote more about this here:


In retrospect, I might say to my past self "you don't dislike Political Relaters, you dislike those who attend meetups about things."

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I don't hate polyamory. I do think it's poor social technology that will not work for the vast majority of people. For those that claim it does work, I don't see anyone trying to stop them from (legally) continuing to do it. Social approbation is a good thing if it stops the spread to people who would not do well with it.

This seems like a non-problem at current equilibrium.

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Or, in other words, today's public discourse is dominated by a loud and unrepresentative minority for any particular topic, for any particular group, and the majority of people are far more normal.

As for polyamory: I think there are lots of people with great social skills in long term relationships that will tell you it took a lot of work. And considering that, a great many of us monogamous people simply cannot imagine having to do that load of work with more than one person.

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That's why humans have evolved the tendency to copy the behaviors of successful people, not the things they say. I'm surprised you didn't make this connection to your prior reviews of Joseph Henrich.

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> But I still notice a totally unfounded feeling of contempt (just to emphasize, I’m not endorsing this contempt, and for all I know the writer might be great). If you write this kind of thing in a memoir, and it claims (even as subtext) that you’re a deep and interesting person, then readers are going to make fun of you.

I dislike this, though I can't quite explain why. I feel like scorn is one of the things whose danger is underappreciated. As a general rule, I'd like to live in a world were people were less hesitant to say and do (normal, ethical) things that feel unpopular. Perhaps they'd be more straightforward in their communication, and less afraid of sounding trivial, or immodest, or stupid. And perhaps they'd more readily share their experiences - including simple experiences told in a simple language, like the excerpt in question.

(I'm not stating Scott endorsed that contempt he described - I know he didn't. I just wanted to share my feelings on this matter)

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I’m disappointed by the Philistinism of this article. People like reading about other people’s relationships! Some of the canonical Great Novels are about relationships. Enormous amounts of pop culture dwells on people’s relationships. There’s no need to pathologize it.

I don’t see any reason why someone couldn’t write the great polyamory novel, other than people not writing great novels any more.

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I'm sorry, but this and the prior essay sound a little "the lady doth protest too much, methinks," as in overly defensive. And such defensiveness often comes with a healthy dose of negative judgment against the person who disagrees or just isn't that thing even if they have no issue with its existence. It's a subtle form of predjudice that is just as bad and pernicious as the more well-known forms of predjudice imho.

In general, I find that defensiveness and happiness don't mix well together. YMMV, but nothing in these last two essays has changed my mind. It has been uncomfortable reading because I wonder at the latent angst driving the desire to explain and explain and explain.

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I have spent a lot of time around the poly community and they're almost all suffering stupidly, and the lower on the social ladder they are the worse it is.

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To be honest, it's because the average 'polycule' is made up of the least sexy individuals imaginable. That's it.

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First, what a terrible article. Does no one edit the Atlantic anymore?

Scott's assessment takes me back to something that's on my mind a lot lately. I'm definitely not the first person to have this thought, but it seems to me there's always been a powerful selection bias against happy people in public discourse. Or maybe in any kind of discourse. I noticed this first in feminism; if you took a random sample of feminist writing one could easily conclude that there had never been any authentically happy women anywhere before around 1965, and maybe not ever. But this is probably not true, and quite likely far from true. Like Scott said, happy people who feel like things are going well don't spend a ton of time analyzing much less writing about the ways in which they're going well. See Tolstoy's quote "All happy families are alike..."

I wonder more and more how this the radio silence of actually happy people might have affected us throughout history, and is affecting us now. I feel like a lot of critical writing seems to assume the presence of theoretical happy people somewhere. Often they're cast as an oppressive force, or as sheeple leading unexamined lives, not at all like the author and you, dear reader.

Scott correctly points out that people who have managed to avoid certain problems don't write books about them, and if they did their advice wouldn't be particularly useful. I think it goes somewhat deeper in that we have an uncomfortable relationship with happiness itself. We desire it, and consider its absence a sign that something is wrong, but when we achieve happiness it immediately becomes suspect, because the intellectual position has long been that happy people are inherently doing something stupid or unethical.

At the same time, we almost can't help trying to maximize at least our own happiness. It's literally its own reward system. But because of our uncomfortable relationship with the idea of happiness itself we're necessarily on a poorly-lit path, following either the dim lanterns of happy people (for whom intellect dictates we must harbor some subtle contempt), or the blazing lights of inauthentically happy or downright unhappy people. I think a lot of the conservative-liberal divide could be described as mostly unhappy people attempting to tell each other how to live, and anyone who isn't already strongly aligned with the values of the source noticing their unhappiness and wondering why they should listen to them.

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Hi Scott,

You're a good man, and it clearly hurts your feelings when people criticize polyamory, so I don't want to feel like I'm piling on. Yet, as one of the few women of the ACX commentariat, I'm going to emphasize something that other commenters haven't really focused on:

On average, straight men and straight women differ in their sexual/romantic preferences. For obvious evolutionary reasons, men's sexuality is optimized for variety/novelty/as many partners as possible, while women's sexuality is optimized for emotional attachment/find the best man you can and get him to stick around and help care for your babies. (Obvious disclaimer: I'm talking about trends and averages, not every man/not every woman, blah blah blah.)

For this reason, I'm worried that a widespread embrace of polyamory/open relationships would be a disaster for women. Sure, you'll say that polyamory is all consensual and based on negotiated agreements, so what's the problem? But it's not so simple, and people who are emotionally entangled find it hard to make logical choices, and people are good at lying to themselves. "I can totally accept polyamory as the price of holding onto the man I love! [six months later] I'm so jealous and miserable and I keep hiding in the bathroom so he won't see me crying, but all open-minded people do polyamory nowadays, I can't let this get to me, I'm with the man I love, this is totally the right choice... excuse me while I get another box of tissues..."

If polyamory catches on in society at large, we'll see, at minimum a lot of tearful letters to advice columns from women saying things like, "Dear Abby, my husband wants to open our marriage, I really hate the idea of him being with another woman but I don't want to be an old-fashioned prude, plus I'm afraid he'll leave me unless I agree, but the thought makes me so unhappy, what should I do?"

Other commenters already mentioned the potentially negative effects on children.

To paraphrase something you, Scott, have written in one of your old SSC posts: Going from monogamy to polyamory is not "solving a problem," it's "replacing one set of problems with another exciting set of problems."

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All of this discussion is infused with the American ideas that (1) adultery is a tremendous evil, and (2) discord in marriage is evidence of a serious pathology which must be cured. My quotes file contains:

"Europeans think Americans are a bit naive for thinking that a president of a country, especially, wouldn't cheat on his wife." -- Pamela Druckerman, author of "Lust in Translation"

"Discord and dissolution in mating relationships are typically seen as signs of failure. They are regarded as distortions or perversions of the natural state of married life. They are thought to signal personal inadequacy, immaturity, neurosis, failure of will, or simply poor judgment in the choice of a mate. This view is radically wrong. Conflict in mating is the norm and not the exception. It ranges from a man's anger at a woman who declines his advances to a wife's

frustration with a husband who fails to help in the home. Such a pervasive pattern defies easy explanation. Something deeper, more telling about human nature is involved--something we do not fully understand." -- David M. Buss, "The Evolution of Desire"

Though of course anyone who understands the evolutionary perspective on human behavior understands why discord is ubiquitous.

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I want to defend people who defend a belief or a system of beliefs. While I agree that sometimes they're the kind of people who win a Darwinian battle, the more local practitioners are just ordinary people living their lives and offering advice to the rising population. Here I'm thinking of the Scoutmaster teaching the scouts, parents teaching their children, or the local minister delivering his weekly sermon.

And actually, it's that sermon that seems to me to be the least well understood. Most of the time, it's not there to TEACH the congregation something they don't know already. "Wait, you haven't heard the Christmas story yet? Let me tell you all about it. Everyone else in the congregation can nod off for a few minutes while I waste their time on an inefficient teaching method." If teaching were the point of church, it would be pretty bad at its job and people would stop coming. But a sermon is about preaching, not teaching. Preaching - especially to a congregation of like-minded believers - is about reminding people of principles they already know about and agree to. It's encouragement to Stay the Course, or to get back on track.

I think there's a legitimate benefit to preaching - including outside the strictly religious context. It's an effective method of motivation to achieve a long-term goal, or to maintaining/restarting behaviors you wish to persist in. A lot of these self-help books are a kind of low-grade preaching, and as such aren't always meant for consumption by people outside the 'faith'. As such, they're not entirely worthless, even if the people doing the preaching are sometimes poor role models for the cause they espouse.

If you want to know WHETHER to follow a behavior model, probably look at the statistics for success at your long-term goals to see whether it's a model with a proven track record of achieving those goals. If you want to know HOW, maybe the self-help books could work a little, but there's no substitute for in-person instruction.

If you want to renew your motivation, I can see a place for books like these. There's an old story about a motivational speaker. After his talk, a woman comes up to him and says, "I like what you're saying, but the trouble is I have a hard time staying motivated long after these things are over." The speaker replied that, "I like to shower to stay clean, but the next day I have to do it again. That doesn't mean yesterday's shower wasn't worth doing."

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The stronger the social taboo against something, the more it selects for people who really want to practice the taboo. Polyamory is still seen as taboo to most people in the West, so we should expect that the people practicing it are the best suited to maintaining it (otherwise, they drop out to default monogamy).

As polyamory becomes more acceptable, the selection effect weakens.

A direct comparison of the happiness levels of poly vs. mono relationships probably does not generalize to the whole population.

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The word “polyamory” is silly. Who came up with it? (Who benefits?) That “amor”!

Whatever would we do if instead of words we relied on pictograms?

Transgression has a deal of appeal to some, I know, but it’s hard to view something as norm-breaking when it’s merely a reversion to the norm over much of the globe.

It’s like - Snow People’s Last Hot Wet Summer.

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First of all, agree to all of this, especially the idea of monogamy influencers. If you had never heard of monogamy and read Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus or The Rules (or, god help you, The Game), you would run screaming from this obviously dysfunctional and dehumanizing institution.

Second, the end of this post makes an interesting accompaniment to The Toxoplasma of Rage. Not sure if it makes more sense to pose this as an alternative media stream that functions on less politically-charged issues, or just as one function of that pipeline which creates more toxoplasmic popular examples to select from.

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I kept waiting for the part where Scott was going to tell us how we should form opinions on polyamory. Obviously, favorable anecdotes are also subject to selection effects.

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Feels like this is crying out for a Last Psychiatrist-type analysis of *why* this particular sort of memoir writing makes people so angry. If you're reading it, it's for you; what is it about polyamorous memoir-writing narcissists, specifically, that made them rise to the top of the Darwinian hyper-specialized outrage meme pool? Maybe the feeling of contempt is founded, maybe it's not, but either way I'm more interested in where it comes from and what it implies about Atlantic readers/ACX readers/internet-addicts/people in general.

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All of the happy polycules I have encountered have a lot of trans or autistic people. Just going by personal observation I don't think it works so well with neurotypicals, if you can call solomonesque narcissism neurotypical.

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> But I still notice a totally unfounded feeling of contempt (just to emphasize, I’m not endorsing this contempt, and for all I know the writer might be great)

Yeah I feel it too. I think it's because it sounds like they're doing and feeling everything they're supposed to, *because* they're supposed to. Like we are reading the thoughts of a completely fake person and implicitly being asked to believe that that fake-ness is real-ness. It takes only a slight amount of perceptiveness to realize how false it is. If there's one thing we humans find contemptuous it's fakeness.

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I distrust polyamory on a Chesterton's Fence level, and it annoys me when people like Yudkowsky say that it's the correct evolutionary choice.

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"But if you’re not in this situation, taking their advice will probably go much the same as taking an ataxic’s advice on walking. You’ll overthink it and trip over your own feet."

I guess I'm surprised to see the "probably" here (it's so strong!), especially from someone whom I think of as a (former?) self-help author himself. So many of your (and esp. Eliezer's) writings on rationality are legible principles for seeing truth and achieving success in life ("rationality is winning"). Do you think the probable outcome of trying to follow that advice is the equivalent of "trip[ping] over your own feet"? If not, I'm curious what distinguishes the rationality movement from other forms of self-help in your mind.

Also, if your point here applies to "books on how to walk", then doesn't it also predict that most writing on "how to overcome depression" would be unhelpful (and written by depressed people, as opposed to by therapists)? That seems unlikely to me, or at least like it would be a too-easy way for someone to invalidate the (very helpful!) writing you've done on Lorien. And it predicts that Zero to One (a book you've reviewed positively) would be harmful to most. Anyway, I think your argument here proves too much.

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Do not seek to bring things to pass in accordance with your wishes, but wish for them as they are, and you will find them.


Same advice as "treat every day as a gift from God" really. I feel like this will be that one quote I never forget

An interesting wrinkle is that this state of mind seems to make me more willing to make changes, as I have more confidence in my ability to appreciate the results

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I was poly for two years or so then stopped. Jealousy, in the sense of feeling bad because someone was sleeping with my partner, wasn't a problem for me. I will say what the problems were, and I'll be interested to see responses/links to responses.

I hung out in two polyamorous friendship groups: one was good but very small and not much happened. The other was large, and it was *awful* to be in for a man - to be blunt, because competition for females ended up happening two-faced way - "oh it's so great to see you man!" - while not actually having any interest in one another. I don't think the women were always aware of it (my primary partner certainly wasn't). The problem polyamorous communities have that modal-person-is-monogamous communities does not is that men get an extra incentive to interact with other men: that incentive is a chance of sleeping with your partner. This makes for more shallow interactions.

To say a possibly-related and by-no-means-original thing: polyamory probably makes it so that more attractive men have extra sex, while less attractive men have relatively less extra sex. It seems plausible that this makes men, on average, more miserable (I appreciate this is related to jealousy of course, but not quite the same, because it's not focussed on one person, i.e. one's partner).

I could be wrong about that part - but if you think I am wrong, and that's why you favour polyamory, please let this be a hill you would die on, that is, if I can show you that polyamory leads to misery of this kind, you have to give me that polyamory is therefore bad. I can understand people disliking the principle that some (attractive) people should have their personal lives limited in order to make life a little happier for less attractive ones, but sometimes that's what it looks like to decrease misery.

With respect I also think Scott is not the perfect person to listen to about this, simply because is at the top of a status hierarchy and the people whose welfare I am concerned for are not there.

I'm not a person who thinks poly will be ruinous by the way - even without it there seem to be lots of reasons people are moving away from committed relationships with an eye toward having children. But I don't think it's good.

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> Freddie de Boer recently wrote a harsh review of a memoir, which included quotes like this:

I'm reading the linked post and damn, I never thought I would feel so in agreement with Freddie DeBoer. Not just, like, agreeing on some fact or abstract principle, but a visceral feeling of seeing the same situation the same way. Same for his linked post about disabilities.

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This is a very good writeup which made me LOL (ruefully) several times.

This general point -- "If you want good advice about how to walk, ask someone with cerebral palsy. They experience walking as a constant battle" -- expresses itself to some degree in the world of organized sports. It is a longstanding sports-fan cliche, which seems to generally hold up well to real-world review, that the superelite athletes rarely turn out to be effective coaches and usually fail in the attempt. Or put the other way around many of the most-successful sports coaches turn out to have been active players who weren't gifted enough to reach, or to succeed in, that sport's highest level/league.

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The books I've seen on polyamory are self-help books not memoirs and in that they seem to be sincere attempts at helping people think through what kinds of resources and capacities a person might need to have on board to pull it off successfully. Those books make it seem like a second full-time job to pull it off responsibly, and not a lot of people have that kind of time or capacity. For the people that do, or who pull it off well regardless, there's nothing to hate it seems to me.

I do wonder if there are two kinds of people doing polyamory (just to oversimplify for a minute) -- those who are doing it to try and solve problems in their monogamous relationships and those who are proactively setting out to create polyamory from the start because that's what they want.

As a therapist (and from talking to colleagues) many of our client bases tend to select I think for the first kind, and that does give us a biased view because in that context, polyamory looks like people putting a lot of energy into new and exciting romantic and sexual liaisons while they're having trouble communicating and being emotionally present for their primary relationship. And for a while that may bring a kind of breath of fresh air back into the primary relationship, but it also brings a ton more emotional and psychological complexity which the primary relationship is not equipped to manage. I've seen multiple situations, with and without kids, where polyamory was a transitional step to divorce (and of course that's not an indictment of polyamory itself).

Therapists also see situations where even if the parents manage polyamory well between them, it's very time and energy intensive at a time developmentally when their small kids need a lot of care. Young kids can have a hard time getting enough care anyway with two working parents in late-stage American capitalism with all its demands outside of the family. So seeing the parents' spare going to nurturing second and third romantic interests when the emotional needs of the kids (or the grownups for each other or themselves individually) are not adequately met seems like not a helpful thing.

Now of course polyamory in that frame can join all the other things that people choose or have to put energy into -- substance use, very involved hobbies, workaholism, economic precarity, media consumption, emotional avoidance, etc.

On the other side, the nuclear family in our current culture is pretty widely insufficient for parents and children. As well that narcissistic self-gratification is not an adequate motivation to sustain a marriage. So to the extent that polyamory might offer more social connectivity for people and to the extent people in it create a larger sense of purpose for it than just self-gratification, then maybe it's a good alternative social structure, including maybe for raising kids.

My bias is that many of my data points make it look like people engaging in emotional avoidance by finding another arena in which they can pursue self-gratification. I'd be interested to hear from people happily in polyamorous situations and who have more data points any reflections about whether they see these two kinds of people doing polyamory and any guesses about what the ratios are (and really anything else they might want to say).

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Sure. This is where affection, cultivated or deserved, really pays dividends.

But yeah, the culture is not terribly excited by that.

Our cultural products tend to assume certain things about women’s sexuality that are totally false, though, so perhaps best not to put too much trust in them.

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There seem to be a couple distinct strands of polyamory I've noticed, one has a massive PR problem and the other doesn't want PR at all.

On one hand you have these arrangements that sound like some nightmarish bubbling ooze emerging through several sedimentary layers of Tumblr and Asperger's. "Queer catgirl polycule" kind of stuff that you'll see late-transitioning transwomen post about when they've basically abandoned any idea that they can find a home in normieville. Living arrangements that get broadcast as shock journalism in the Daily Mail, seemingly tailor made for normies to look down on the whole thing. A continuation of the Jerry Springer spectacle, often completely fabricated by the participants, but a spectacle that nevertheless convinced me at a very young age that involving any 3rd person in a relationship would probably just get a chair thrown at your head.

On the other hand, there are various flavors of "swingers", with a surprising amount coming from the ex-military and current law enforcement community, who have semi-stable ongoing activities with another couple. They don't want normies knowing about any of it, and treat it like a secret club. So the publicly successful and well-adjusted members of the community who have secret sexual/romantic lives aren't talking about them, and as a result that leaves only the eccentric outsiders as the "face" of the lifestyle, such as it is.

I have never had an inclination towards any of this, the amount of potential drama just seems miserably high, and I've been conditioned to see it as either low-status or psychologically damaging to a person's self-conception of their social identity ("if you go too far, you'll never get back to where the rest of them are".) I think that a society which encourages people to view polyamory negatively is probably doing most people a favor, as most people will find these arrangements dangerous and unrewarding and are better off being steered towards traditional monogamy. If you decide you really want to do it later in life, you'll find the pineapple people or an adjacent alt-lifestyle group eventually, and you know where California is if you want to go further than that. I don't hate polyamorous people, but I do find them weird, and it's probably for the best if most people feel the same.

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I'm just about 5% of the way through this article right now, so this may be terribly unfair, but I'd like to leave the comment while it's on my mind. If the rest of the article causes me to amend my opinion, I'll edit this comment.

I just want to say that I think it's almost always a mischaracterization to assume people conclude that they 'hate polyamorous people' as opposed to concluding that 'polyamory seems like a shit lifestyle' - and while this might not seem like a significant difference to people on the receiving end of the latter attitude, it makes a world of difference in my experience as to whether people are movable on the issue or not.

[EDIT: I'm rescinding my initial contention because - it turns out - this article is more about criticizing the evaluative process than the conclusion framework.]

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Wait! Is that your secret? In real life are you terrible at everything you write about? Also you don't seem like a narcissist but I guess you must be. TIL

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no, i hate polyamory because its a bad idea, not because its loudest proponents are annoying. The erotic force in people is too volatile to be safely indulged in with multiple people at the same time; its binds people too tightly together. Like good lord, the negative aspects of eros with one woman or man are painful; with two you can add whole dimensions of pain. its a rough sea far better people have shipwrecked in.

as for the "normal," you need to ask how well you know them. People are very good at hiding the bad stuff till it explodes; some may take it to their graves. Once they explode, people can't believe it. They were such a nice couple.

its not a simple as just annoying people. We rarely get the full story from anyone, and people are too good at hiding.

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Similarly you don't hate CrossFit, you hate people who talk about their workout programs.

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"There are probably some acceptable times to write a memoir, like when you’ve just conquered Gaul. But usually memoir-writing means you think your True Self is absolutely fascinating and your experiences are worth recording and analyzing at book length" is a fully general objection to writing almost anything. Reword it as "writing means you think your thoughts are absolutely fascinating and your ideas are worth recording and analyzing at book length," and there's very little anyone should ever write.

This is not criticism; this is in fact why I haven't written anything of note.

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To throw it out there, I think this argument also works against you? "I am friends with stable, generally nice people, some of those people are polyamorous, and they enjoy stable, generally nice relationships. Therefore, polyamorous relationships are stable, and generally nice." Isn't this line of logic making the same mistake as believing that polyamory is bad based on the dysfunctional people who write about it? Selection is occurring in both scenarios, after all. Hope I'm not mischaracterizing things here.

On a different note, even if the memoirs only show the effect of a polyamorous lifestyle on jerkwads, that's still useful info, right? If you're going to have a great relationship no matter what lifestyle you choose, then lifestyle choice doesn't really matter. But, if you are an unrepentant egoist, and a polyamorous lifestyle makes that trait more damaging in really obvious ways, then you shouldn't live that lifestyle, even if it works for others. Norms around long-term sexual arrangements should probably be tailored towards the worst that society has to offer, not the best. After all, the best are likely going to be happy regardless, while the worst will take any excuse to increase their own misery.

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Also excellent advice

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Lotta people commenting on how they can't read the Atlantic article due to the paywall, you can use https://archive.ph/ to get around that and most other paywalls. Doesn't work for Substack, though.

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Harper never said he hates polyamorous people, or anything like that. Scott is misrepresenting the article.

A similar thing happens with the gender debate. Someone describes her concerns about the ideology, and the response is “Well, you just hate trans people.”

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Am I so literal: I read your bit as critiquing the impulse for a poorly informed person paid to read a book by a narcissistic self indulgent polyamorist memoirist to equate the memoirist with all people choosing this lifestyle and to make rather moralistic conclusions about said lifestyle. Your critique is either with the person who wrote the critique or with the person who wrote the memoir. (Both I think)

I’m not sure why everyone here then is yammering on about poly vs mono.

But here goes:

What if poly and mono were seen as both having challenges and issues. Like trying to decide if it’s better to wear hiking shoes or sneakers.

Perhaps in the lifespan it’s better to wear sneakers and at other times it’s better to wear hiking shoes, but no need to dismiss all people who are at a life phase of wearing hiking shoes because one particularly loud one gets a book deal.

Or perhaps the substack post, the Atlantic article and the memoir all exist because we as a group are curious about them and want to read about them (click on them) wonder how others can do it/can’t do it etc etc.

What if: we as a people evolving in bands of 150 people were inherently poly and it’s no big woop. What if the current majority of folks who read sub stacks experienced being raised in nuclear families so have “moral imprinting” that nuclear is better? And now here we are in the middle of something old and wild coming forward again?

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Jeez, I love memoirs. But the ones I like are not by people who are making the case that they are a certain kind of interesting, special entity. They're I yam what I yam books. James Agee wrote one that begins, "We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child."

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> Advice is disproportionately written by defective people.

Maybe in a purely statistical sense of disproportionate. But not really. Advice is written by people who are motivated to give advice. That motivation can be due to a personal defect. It can also not be. For example, the millions of words of financial advice issuing from Wall Street are not a sign of people who are defective about money. Nor do they know less about investing than your average person.

Being defective itself is not a motivation but lends itself to many motivations. For example, your defect might make you intimately familiar with a system and highly motivated to overcome its flaws. Your defect might also create anxiety which you then soothe by trying to normalize the defect by showing it off publicly. Or the defect may give you significant advantages in having interesting things to say and you want to make a career out of some form of attention economy (whether blogs or TV shows or whatever).

The disagreement between you and the other side (I do not have a ready name to hand) is what your motivations are. Your side posits the first version: you want to overcome the flaws of the modern relationship system which you believe you have special insight into because of, effectively, a quirk of psychology/biology/whatever. The other side posits the second or third: that you are defective and less happy but are narcissistically seeking either attention or to normalize your defects to make yourself feel better about them.

At any rate, this is a battle between soldiers and so (to be honest) not incredibly interesting. I am on neither side and no one is truly trying to convince me. I wish you enough space for your oddities but not so much space you deny the other side theirs.

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Why do you attribute the views you are criticizing to "The Atlantic", rather than the author of this particular book review (which was published by The Atlantic)?

I would understand this, if your critique concluded that the review was so bad that The Atlantic should not have published it, but that does not seem to be the case.

Tyler Austin Harper. This post is a critique of the writing of Tyler Austin Harper; but his name does not appear, which reads strange to me.

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I don't hate polyamory, I hate admin and scheduling.

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Polyamory is like... I dunno, snake charming? Juggling knives? It's a risky activity that some people can apparently do just fine (though I've never met any) and which will hurt most people who try it.

This is fine, most people don't even think to juggle knives most of the time. But when I start to hear people promoting knife juggling to the masses as a great and fun hobby, I feel compelled to weigh in on the side of "Yeah, nah, that's still kinda stupid and dangerous, and not even that much fun, have you considered juggling fruit maybe?"

If you hear me saying like this, it's not aimed at erasing the lived experience of all the expert knife-jugglers out there who have been juggling for decades and somehow still have eight, nine, or maybe even ten fingers. It's just aimed at all the inexperienced youngsters out there who might need to be reminded that knives are sharp and hands are meat.

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As someone who has never read a book on polyamory but knows several people who have been or are in those relationships, they are near universally unhappy or one partner is dissatisfied with the relationship. In all these cases, the major friction in these relationships is coming from the structure of the relationship.

I know it is not for me, but I see a lot of my friends who are trying to "have it all" so to speak and very reluctant to confront the problems coming from their arrangements.

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Inviting anyone who would find it entertaining to join me in coming up with the most irritatingly narcissistic book titles they can think of. Such as:

The Adorable Complexity of Being Me

Woke Polyamorous Ayahuasca Meditation -- a Spiritual Path for the Intrepidly Sensitive

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On the subject of “legible relationship principles”: I grew by great and rapid strides when I started reading books in that category, precisely about things like NVC and gaslighting. The impact on my life has been significant. Granted, my use case was mostly “I’m serially attracted to abusive partners and need help realizing this fact, holding a higher bar for others, and believing I can and should stick to it”. It worked for me.

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This makes me wonder if physical therapists/people with cerebral palsy who had to intensely learn how to walk are better at QWOP

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Why this website runs so slow on Chrome?

Chrome's Task Manager indicate that this tab use 520MB memory! Even scrolling is lagging badly. Anyone havesame problem?

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"Relationships work the same way. Go to an elderly couple who have been happily married for fifty years, and they’ll give you vapid old-person advice like “Treat every day as a gift from God.” But go to someone who’s struggled with every one of their last thirty-seven relationships, and they’ll be full of suggestions"

Can you say confirmation bias? I can easily think up at least five different people who are the exact converde of what you are saying. A better takeaway is most people have a hard time articulating advice.

Honestly, this can be barely considered a rationalist blog anymore. Tons of assertations without any evidence simply backed ip by ridiculously anecdotal data to reject possibly correct criticism on a practice that you like. Cmon Scott!

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"You don't hate the Taylor Swift media obsession, you just hate beautiful successful women getting their due".

When you used the unwitting re-creation of the televangelist attitude, you didn't disprove the critics though - happily married committed monogamists who raise their children to value such and who roll our eyes at the polyamorist media focus with the same disdain as for veganism, absolutely can be put off with the Jesus freaks.

And deBoer's point was that if you put your deep thoughts on paper, and it get's published, and you and your publisher promote your deep thoughts as deep thoughts, you can't cry foul when someone lampoons the vacuity and banality of the alleged deepness of the alleged thoughts. There's no contradiction or lapse in logic in any of this.

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No, I hate polyamory.

This defence is just pathetic. You know, I also hate Rationalists, as they are my enemies. Perhaps one reason is that I can point to blog posts like this one and say, "Wow, isn't this not only stupid, but in defence of something inherently oppressive and evil, and obviously so?" But then Scott jumps out and says, "No no, you actually hate me, and other Rationalist bloggers, not Rationalists!"

How does anybody even respond to that? "I hate X due to multiple self-written examples of X showing X as having negative consequences even by those who promote X publicly." And then the defence, "Oh no, you don't hate X, you only hate the public examples of X! I have secret personal examples that show it's okay. You're just falling for confounders!"

Yeah well, I have multiple personal examples of underage girls marrying men in their mid to late 20's, and it not ending in personal horror. That doesn't mean it's a choice equal to others, and that I don't actually hate giant age gaps in underage relationships.

This is probably the first time I've read Scott's blog post and just thought, dude, just stop.

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In my (limited) experience, there are two kinds of polyamorous people:

1) Polyamorous 20-somethings. These guys are insufferable. They jump back and forth between "You shouldn't be so judgmental" and "Polyamory is the only ethical way to hold relationships". "You shouldn't snark at people who are different than you" and "The human heart is large enough to hold more than one person!" "LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE JOYS OF NRE!!!" Toxic people yell "I'm polyamorous!" and, suddenly, the topic shifts away from the toxicity to defenses of Polyamory Theory. Ryan cheats on Chris and the community joins together to tell Chris to be more open-minded and less selfish.

2) Polyamorous 40-somethings. These guys are pretty okay. There's a lot less jumping back and forth. It's not really a "polycule" as much as a "stable triad/quadrad". NRE? Ha! I'd have to leave the hosue. Oh, man. I haven't thought about Ryan for years. I heard they moved to Wisconsin. I think Jamie is still Facebook acquaintances... I'll ask next time we get coffee. You know what? I won't. I don't care. I'm glad they're no longer here.

The problem is that the only way to get a 40-something polyamorist is to take a 20-something polyamorist and wait a couple of decades.

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This was a funny morning read, but your paragraph breaks are disgracefully optimized for online reading.

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This reminds me of all the hate that Christopher McCandless got after Into the Wild came out. In that case it was particularly unfair because he wasn't writing a book. If someone publishes your diary without your permission it's going to make you sound like an asshole

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Feb 8·edited Feb 8

Since I don't see myself represented in the comments, I will add this:

I lived in the Bay Area for many many years working as a software engineer, and I had and still have a number of polyamorous friends, and I've never read a single book about polyamory.

I hate polyamory, not people who write books. Many of my friends have the same experience as me. I know the post is ostensibly addressed to the Atlantic, but it has reduced me out of existence.

I suspect "advice is disproportionately written by defective people" generalizes to many classes of book, including ones supported by this blog and this community, which makes this a biased take. But I can't easily back it up, so I just offer it as an opinion.

For what it's worth, I agree with many of the other commenters who say the value of systems like monogamy and polyamory varies a great deal based on the competence of the executors, or their place on the socioeconomic bell curve.

I think well executed monogamy is best by far. It has stealth benefits that take decades to become apparent, mostly enjoyed by the kind of people who don't bother to explain themselves. This class is rare.

I think well executed polyamory is second best. It very obviously solves some problems with poorly executed monogamy. This class is also rare.

I think poorly executed monogamy is third best. Yeah, it's a shit show, but points for trying. Real utility points for real tries. This class is obviously most common.

And poorly executed polyamory is by far the worst. By far. The downsides are insidious and subtle, and sometimes take years to make themselves known. I do not want to see it become any more common than it is.

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I'm fascinated by the selective looseness of the good/bad person absolutism in rationalist writings. Here you describe yourself as a 'particular type of bad person' (twice) as a qualifier to not-super-unreasonable thoughts. Presumably(?), someone simplistically inferring "Scott thinks of himself as a bad person" from this would be silly. I found an explication of a non-loose variant in https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/11/16/the-economic-perspective-on-moral-standards/.

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Speaking of memoirs, I stumbled across a particularly good example of why someone might want to write one:


"I was a Reagan conservative; what was that about? I was a drug addict hospitalized in a mental institution; what was that about? I was accused of assault with a deadly weapon by a woman with whom I was having an extra-marital affair and it became front-page news throughout the country, because I was nominated for the Undersecretary in the Department of Education position - the number 2 position - in the second Reagan administration, and it was while that nomination was pending that this fiasco, this disaster in my life, et cetera et cetera... I could go on, obviously, in this frame for a long time. You asked me a pointed question, 'why did I write the book'; I'm saying that I had something to explain and I had something to say."

"And I've kind of gestured at why I want to explain it to others because I think I need somehow to contextualize my biographic profile from my point of view, to humanize it and to invite a more sympathetic view of those who will be taking my measure."

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Wow. Where on earth do you get that from? Evidence, please.

Honestly, so many people in this discussion assume that their biases are Truth, instead of seeking out actual evidence.

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Sorry if this has been brought up before, because I am not prepared to read 700 comments, but I did a search for "Klein" in the thread and it didn't show up. So.... Ezra Klein recently had Rhaina Cohen, the author of a new book called "The Other Significant Others" on his podcast. It's so new it's not out yet so I haven't read it, but I did listen to the podcast talking about the book.

If the interview is anything to go by, I think it's going to be a great book about polyamory because it's not a book about polyamory. It's a book about people who choose to live together with partners in a relationship that not conducted as a traditional marriage and who do not regard themselves as romantically involved. Sometimes there are more than two of these partners. They are "platonic life partners" as we call it. Childcare and how people can come together to raise children in a partnership that is not "two people who have sex with each other" is apparently a major theme of the book. This is not a memoir and it is not written by unhappy people.

It is not a book about polyamory, but I strongly suspect we will be able to learn more about polyamory from it than we will from many books about polyamory because it is a book about how people can perform many of the functions of marriage without being a two-person romantic couple.

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I think the reason most people are uncomfortable with polyamory is that it subverts the dearly-held mythology of all-conquering “true love” between soulmates that pervaded western culture for a few centuries until the last decade or-so. Years ago, Jason Pargin (of Cracked.com, back when it was still relevant) said that outsiders looking back at our culture would see romantic love as our religion, and I think he was right.

For the first decades of my life, we were so immersed in it that it didn’t occur to us that it was strange compared to other times and cultures to believe in and focus on finding your “true love,” mutually “falling in love” with a soulmate for an eternally-passionate, all-satisfying, exclusive marriage that transcends and conquers all problems. Most of our popular stories reinforced these myths, from Disney’s “Happily Ever After” twists on ancient fairy tales that originally had dark endings, to hero’s journey stories that required the crucial step of “getting the girl,” to more-disturbing stories like Punch Drunk Love. It was so pervasive that it was shoehorned into the ending of Fight Club, where we barely even noticed that it didn't make much sense.

As these myths have been breaking down in recent years, movies and TV shows have started moving away from them, but to the many people who still hold these romantic myths as dearly as a religion, hearing about people who don't share them can be as frustrating as hearing about the "new atheists" was to fundamentalist Christians in the early aughts.

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things I enjoy about memoir (not having read this one): realistic dialogue from people's heated moments, better social dynamics, less tropey characters, more focus on interiority and a slower pace as a result.

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That's fine, but use the words that have the actual meaning you intend if so. It's simply not correct to say that lower classes have practiced polyamory commonly in the past. It's true for non monogamy. Soyou're arguing they are closely related concepts, but even if so, the latter is more accurate to use than the former, so you should use it instead.

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I’ve been to a talk by a monogamy influencer, and it was actually pretty good. He didn’t have a book deal, but I think he’d given dozens of similar talks. He gave a limited number of examples of things from his life, and talked about some of his reasoning in those decisions. He described the situations in enough detail that it was easy to empathise with the way he made those decisions, and he drew a small enough number of examples from his life that he could stick to meaningful examples. Maybe life advice is different from a memoir, but it’s possible to dispense the former and be in a happy and successful relationship (he and his wife were giving simultaneous talks to men and to women, respectively).

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Something unfamiliar in the style. Topics that catch the imagination? Intelligent focused stream of consciousness? I am starting to search these pieces out.

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The Bay Area Poly thing & discussion reminds me of the old observation: Each generation believes it is the first to discover sex. To enjoy sleeping around is not exactly something new in human evolution.

If it emotionally confuses and hurts children & hampers developing deeper feelings for another person is a different matter. But if children without psychological scars & parents with deep feelings for each other were necessities for human survival, our species would have gone extinct long ago.

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I'm a tall, good looking guy. I was cool and in popular groups. I'm the chad. The cool and good looking guys slept around. The less good looking guys tried but did poorly. The top dogs were shamed by many of the top girls for being 'players', but they would still get involved with us.

Poly came around and you could tell people about it and most would think it was cool, but few would challenge the idea because... well we were cool and they weren't. You can convince uncool people of many things by being cool and good looking.

Cool people never said they were poly back in the day. But we definitely acted poly. Then some more nerdy guys started to say they were poly. This let more moderately attractive people have greater sex choices, something only good looking guys previously had.

I've had multiple girls. Many times. It's not hard to do but it's a headache. I got older and decided on one girl. If you want kids, one long-term partner focused on your children is better (time is resource constrained).

For all the poly people out there, Chads are so much better socially. We get more practice --- the amount of gentle touch to maneuver numerous relationships is large. We're better than you at it. Are we better because of skill or because people are nicer to us? It's probably a bit of both. Most poly people seem pretty bad juggling things and ruin their lives. You get more slack when you're high status or hot. If you aren't high status or hot you'll struggle.

Even with all those skills and numerous opportunities most of the Chad guys I know (85-90%) pick one girl eventually, because it's tedious! You will become more bored of sex (not entirely but a lot) and you'll want other things than sex optionality as you age.

Hot guys have sex optionality in monogamous relationships. We can cheat faster than you stumble getting her number. But we overwhelming don't. It's a tremendous waste of time. This 'support relationship' or whatever nonsexual relationship you might also think about having is a waste of time.

I don't know how else to write this. I feel like my writing skills are sorely lacking compared to the more bookish people on this website. As a man who's lived the poly life poly people romance. It's not worth it. It's rationalized horniness.

IF you plan to never have children, poly is fantastic. The Chads I know that didn't pick one girl are either dead or taking drugs and will likely remain bachelors

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I generally agree with this, though not sure the framing of the Atlantic piece is fair. If I remember rightly, the Atlantic author has no issue with polyamory as a general practice, and certainly doesn't "hate polyamorous people". Rather, they take issue with the uncritical (professional middle class) championing of it – especially when that championing presents polyamory as a radical challenge to capitalism, when in fact the two are wonderfully compatible. I may well be conflating their tweets and what they actually wrote in the piece. Either way, I think the 'radical challenge' point is fair and useful.

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I find it so fascinating that the older I get the more insight I can have on people just from a few words.

I can tell that Scott comes from a divorced family and was raised by his mother and doesn’t have a lot of married male friends he hangs out with solo.

I know this because men talk a lot about what it takes to have a successful marriage while women attribute it to their mere existence.

I talk with my male friends and father about being a good husband and father a lot. And it isn’t because I have the equivalent of MS for relationships. It’s because I know that relationships are so,etching you actually do have to work at to get right.

That’s not a bad thing because it leads to a happy life.

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