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A Day Without Pain

Some musings, then politics, then a topic.

Musings and misc:

  • Fall has always been a season-of-many-migraines for me; I'm still slogging through it, and still losing a few days here and there. Today and yesterday have been the other side of that; a physical high combined with greater-than-normal sharpness of thought. I probably should figure out some way to make better use of these really good days.
  • I posted some pictures of IndyHall on my Google+ space, and I've been thinking it'd be great to see CoWorking spaces set up in more cities. IndyHall does have a bit of a vibe I don't really like, in that it's more business-entrepreneur-tech rather than geeky-academic-science-tech, but it's close enough to what I want to be likable and well-worth-subscribing-to. I thought this article on how IndyHall was started/funded was pretty interesting.
  • Making trip to Greater Cambridge soon for MIT job interview. Also talking to a few other potential employers in various places.
  • I've also been rocking out to dummeh, AKA Blake Robinson, who does really great covers of classic videogame music.
  • There's a chance I'll be making a short trip to DC to visit my cousin and do a bit of database/CGI volunteer work for her immigration-rights-related employer.
  • Semi-recently went to an atheist meetup downtown. I didn't like it that much; ended up seated across from a Russian Objectivist who kept wasting my time trying to simply articulate how much she disliked socialism (basically stumbling over the same spit words rather than having any kind of productive discussion). The group did have an okay conversation on morality alongside that though. It might've been better if more of the people there wern't trying to out-atheist each other. I'm comfortable in my atheism, and it's a waste of my time to hear people gleefully find ways to spit on religion, particularly when I feel I have to correct them when they say other stupid things along the way (like the idea what eliminating religion will result in easy world peace). I think some of this is because so many people go to these groups for the first time while living a life where they have to hide their atheist identity, and not feeling that pressure gives them license to "stretch out" and say cathartic things. Still irritating, even if understandable!


  • I recently came across this BBC article on voluntary cash-gifts to the US government. I think this is generally a good thing, although I resent Grover Norquist's suggestion that this is a reasonable alternative to raising taxes on the wealthy. Our government needs stable sources of funding, and ideally it should do much more than it does today. The distinction between luxury-wealth and survival-funds makes heavily-gradated taxes fundamentally just (see also wealth as revokable privilege to goods/services); our tax policy should reflect that.
  • As you may have heard, recently Saudi women gained the privilege to vote and to stand in elections for the advisory body. Saudi Arabia does not have much of a formal political system (although informally, it has a vibrant and interesting one); now women have equal meagre privilege in what little formal system exists. The right to drive without male accompaniment is still being fought over in the informal system, and the wrangling in the legal system reflects that.
  • I am still aghast at the stupid things coming out of would-be Republican Presidents' mouths. Huntsman and Roemer might be okay, and Gingrich would be meh, but the others seem to be a mix of despicable and crazy. I'd like to see a more inspiring Democrat run against Obama, but that probably would not go anywhere.
  • If I end up in Cambridge, I might volunteer for Elizabeth Warren's Senate campaign; despite her being considerably to the right of me, I believe she'd be likely to push very hard on issues of campaign finance reform and consumer welfare. Likewise, if Buddy Roemer were somehow to secure the Republican nomination as a presidential candidate, I might vote for him over Obama, over the same issues.
  • I generally like Vladimir Putin as a Russian national leader, and don't object to his continued leadership. However, I don't think it's very classy that his finance minister was fired for objecting to some of his policies. I believe we should judge national leaders by the effectiveness and decency of their leadership, democratic or not, but it should be generally understood that dissent (even open dissent) is okay even among their team provided it does not prevent implementation of their policy. To carry this over into analysis of Syria, and to contrast it to Soviet-era managing of the revolution, any crushing of dissent must only be entered into as a last resort and weighed carefully against the human and political costs. Governments should not be about the glory of their leaders. Crushing the Kronstadt rebellion was unacceptable because the demands stated in the Petropavlovsk resolution were reasonable and in accordance with what should've been the goals of the revolution. Likewise, Assad's heavy-handed response to the rebellions in Syria are unacceptable because the reasons for the rebellion (objections to his family's continued stewardship of the nation, objections to stifling dissent, and similar) are reasonable. By contrast, the initial forms of the Soviet Revolution, including the execution of the Romanovs and the military struggle against the White Army, were reasonable in that they sought and gained substantial positive political gains for the Russian people and permanently buried the possibility of the continued leadership of the Tsars.

Topic: Sex, Porn, and FeminismTwo of the more divisive issues in feminism are porn and sex. On the topic of porn, I am familiar with the following perspectives:

  • Pornography generally objectivises those portrayed in it, contributing to a tendency to treat women as sex toys rather than actual people. In doing so, it continues mail dominance in relationships as males who have pornography as a regular part of their have unrealistic sexual expectations of women. As men gain sexual gratification without putting effort into a balanced relationship, they discount the comprimise necessary for that, leading to bad relational habits.
  • While most pornography treats women as disposable sex toys, devoid of depth beyond a sex drive, and leads men to demand those characteristics of women, it is possible to create acceptable porn (see "feminist porn") that is not objectifying in problematic ways. By criticising porn that does objectify women, we can open the door to nonobjectionable porn that treats women as real entities who are seeking to have their own interests/needs met rather than have them act as recipients of male desire
  • Anything goes in porn, because porn is not reality and we trust that people's sexual interests will either be met with a willing/enthusiastic partner or that porn will act as a release for some of those interests that don't need to be carried out in their actual sexual relations.
I tend towards the latter opinion. I believe that sexuality is very personal, and while I respect the argument that we might reasonably want to prevent a surplus of men who are sexually dominant (and certainly prevent a surplus of relationally dominant men), I do not want to suggest that sexually dominant people of either sex are to be rejected. There are sexual submissives of both sexes, as well as people who enjoy (or do not mind) objectification; I am unwilling to shape culture in a way that would condemn their inclinations, even for real benefit. What I am willing to do is take a stand that any universalist claims for the dominance or submission of either sex be rejected, and push for the creation of porn that embodies dominance-submission and subject-object triplets (one-way, other-way, neutral) of all sex-permutations of people involved. "I enjoy submissive XX people" is acceptable because it is not normative; it is personal. "XX should be submissive" is worthy of criticism because it is normative. My position then is that provided it makes no normative arguments, porn of practically any stripe is acceptable.

Beyond this, I believe that porn is generally a positive thing, and should be societally accepted but enjoyed mostly behind closed doors because of how personal interests are and how people often don't-want-to-know about the sexual specifics of those around them.

On a related topic, on sex-workers, I believe sex-work as a profession should be rejected and illegal, not on specifically-feminist grounds but on grounds more rooted in that of socialism. I recognise the concept of wage-slavery and generally accept it but don't find it more than moderately problematic; I believe that people should be guaranteed a livable-life without labour but productive labour should be required for further privilege, and culturally expected. This is not something I am actively fighting for right now. However, I believe that sexuality is psychologically special, and that we should guard against the possibility that people may effectively be forced into sexual work because of economic necessity (or use of private power often used by pimps), because the harm of being effectively forced into sexual labour is much greater than the harm of being forced into menial labour. This justifies, in my framework, a condemnation and prohibition of paid sex work.

On the topics of free-love, marriage, and polyamory:

  • I accept free-love as permissible, but do not hold it as preferable. I reject the notion of all marriage as a heteronormative institution; women and men in modern western marriages (should) have equal claim over each other, and it is reasonable that people might want to find a life-partner. Beyond being reasonable, I believe (as a personal belief that I am not prepared to justify at this moment) that monogamous relationships between two partners merit a more paved-path than other kinds of relationships. This is roughly where I stand with polyamory as well; it should be permitted but not prized. Some of my stake in this is personal; I am not very interested in a polyamorous relationship (might be persuadable to try, but I think it is very likely it would not be workable for me). I do not want monogamous relationships to lose enough of their normative status that it will deeply further limit my options (and those of people like me) in terms of what I can get in relationships. This is admittedly selfish and insufficient to justify my distaste (there is a part of me that is curious and would like to try one, but it is a minority opinion) for polyamory/open-relationships.
  • I advocate for a societal norm of relationships with even power-balances, with acceptance of relationship-dominance or relationship-submission of people of whatever sex as being acceptable alternatives provided this is a personal choice on behalf of both of those involved
  • I reject any subculture that would excessively-nudge or require people of either sex or social class into a particularly dominant or submissive role, in relationships or otherwise. This is sufficiently undesirable that censorship and/or other use of state power is desirable to prevent its continuation.
On the topic of insular polygamous cults, thinking particularly of the cults in the United States, I believe it is appropriate that they be broken up. This is not because of their polygamy per-se, but rather their effective enslavement of women under their control. The fact that once those women have reached adulthood they may come to accept this slavery is irrelevant; the inculturation is unacceptable (although some other policies I believe in, such as mandatory public schooling, might limit some of this harm if enacted).

There is one perspective on sex-in-general that I have heard but not (yet) come to understand. As an undergraduate, I have met some people who had, as part of their type of feminism, the idea that all heterosexual sex is inherently unjust and has sufficient unavoidable power-dynamics that it amounts to rape. I have not been exposed to enough of the arguments of this way-of-thinking to adequately understand it (and am hesitant to try to extend what I state here further in ways that seem reasonable to me, for fear of misunderstanding their position).



Anything goes in porn, because porn is not reality and we trust ...

while i support this as an end-goal, do we have the enough basis for that trust? there is certainly more objectifying/idealising porn out there than we should be comfortable with (or else the argument would not exist...). it should be the creator's responsibility to not make porn that... damages men's psyches, if you will.

This justifies, in my framework, a condemnation and prohibition of paid sex work.

does this extend to porn stars as well?

I do not want monogamous relationships to lose enough of their normative status that it will deeply further limit my options (and those of people like me) in terms of what I can get in relationships.

What harm would it that cause you if monogamy stops being a norm? Is this some sort of harm that poly-preferring people do not already suffer?

The only argument I see for making monogamy "more paved" (I assume you mean in terms of marriage especially?) is that it already holds the vast majority, with other arrangements as "the exception" -- and arranging for there to be analogous institutions for the non-monogamous crowd seems "harmless enough" in my eyes.

all heterosexual sex is inherently unjust and has sufficient unavoidable power-dynamics that it amounts to rape.

this can't possibly be valid. (as you said earlier, universalist claims are to be rejected.) i suspect the argument is borne of a pre-existing "unavoidable" conception of male dominance.
I am comfortable with objectifying porn, and would not mind objectifying porn of either genders because I do not believe it will spill over into general objectification. If it does, I would want people raised in a way that builds safeguards against that, but I believe all porn is okay porn.

My condemnation of paid sex work does not extend to porn stars, rather to sexual services. I didn't say that clearly enough.

It harms me and people like me if monogamy stops being a norm by adding another significant dimension of possible incompatibility.

I reject universalist claims of the sort made regarding injustice of heterosexual sex, but that doesn't mean I would not like to understand the arguments of that strand of feminism that I reject.
It harms me and people like me if monogamy stops being a norm by adding another significant dimension of possible incompatibility.

do you mean if more people actually start being polygamous, or...? i don't see how the likelihood of compatibility is dependent on, say, governmental provisions that support polygamy.
Yeah -- couldn't one make the same arguments against homosexuality? If homosexuality becomes more of a norm, that introduces one more potential incompatibility for "me and people like me".
Yeah, and furthermore (for both polyamory and homosexuality) it seems to me that making such things more normative is a good thing even for monogamous people and heterosexuals, in that fewer people are getting into bad relationships because they're lying to themselves and/or their partners: those incompatibilities are already there, it's just that now we're talking about them.

I'd really rather know right off the bat if someone is not going to be a potential partner for me because they are not cut out for the kind of relationship I want to be having, and making more "alternate" relationships more normative allows everybody to have a better vocabulary and less shame.
I would be willing to reconsider this were I convinced that poly-vs-mono is more of an inherent inclination rather than something almost entirely a product of social norms. As far as I gather from the research, the spectrum of heterosexual-bi-homosexual is partly biological, so that's a matter of recognising mostly-existing difference. The geometries of relationships, I think, are something where if we introduce new/promote minority norms, we basically introduce new behaviour.

That said, this is not my only reason for "paving the path" for monogamous relationships; I believe the effective and lifelong-intending partial merge of identites between two people easily lends itself to the kinds of privilege (hospital visits, joint property, etc) that marriage traditionally has. Relationships that are neither lifelong-intending nor monogamous don't fit these specifics as well, and I don't see as much social utility in creating whatever analogues of status might be semi-analogous.
I'm not suggesting we don't recognise the people, but we don't need to give polyamorous relationships (of whatever sort) special status in the way we privilege lifelong monogamous relationships.

Offline works; you thinking more in terms of the next time we're in the same city or via email?
I'm not talking about coercion at all.

On the other hand, I don't think we need to encourage/affirm all behaviour. It is ok to consider it permitted/acceptable without going further, even if we promote/affirm/pave-the-path-of alternatives.

I'm not talking about banning polyamory or shaming people who are not into monogamy and are in honest relationships based on that understanding (and yes I know this might accidentally read as suggesting that polyamourous people are likely not to be honest, but that is not what I mean so please don't read it that way).

Edited at 2011-09-29 07:28 pm (UTC)
It might actually be similar; it's a fair observation, except I believe that norms are closer to being memetic than sexual preference (which, at least by the research I've read, is partly biological), and celebrated cultural norms are like any meme in that they spread. I am not interested in using the stronger level of inculturation that would condemn polyamory in the sense that gays are condemned, because I don't see polyamory as "evil". I do not condemn polyamory (and I feel it should be legal and not scorned), but I also do not affirm it in the way that I do affirm monogamous relationships (affirmation is a topic of a coming blog entry).

Any decision that's a matter of choice is, I think, something we might legitimately decide not to celebrate/affirm, for various reasons. We might reasonably hope that certain views don't spread that well if we consider them suboptimal, or hope that alternates do better than they do. This doesn't mean we need to condemn the views or the people who hold them, or to ban their expression. For example, and in a similar case, I do not celebrate christianity, and while I am not urgently trying to stomp it out, I would be happy if it got less prestige and coverage (although unlike polyamory, I am willing to argue directly against christianity and I do have a pretty strong hope that in the long run abrahamic faiths will fade).

Memes are meant to be contagious, and our choice of which we celebrate, which we're relatively neutral towards, which we tolerate, and which we condemn, defines us.
I accept polyamory, but I don't provide it affirmation. I'm ok with people openly practicing it, and I'm fine with it in the same way I'm fine with a number of other things.

Your last statement is accurate. We are all inculturated with various ideas that shape us, and the content of that inculturation is important. Without the idea of Christianity, nobody would be christian. Without the idea of Islam, nobody would be muslim. Without the memes of nationalism, or classical music, or... and so on. It is a bit different in that I am aiming to preserve prominence of certain ideas rather than eliminate others, and to pave a path (in the form of marriage) for monogamous life-partner-aiming couples and nobody else, but the general gist is that of memes.
We should probably *cough* not get into discussing relationships that are transactional :P

I would be ok with mentioning that they exist, and if people want that, that's ok, but I would reserve celebration for other kinds of relationships. Beyond the differences in the legal preferences (which is probably the more strongly generalisable part of my positions), I don't respect polyamorous relationships as much. For people who cannot or do not want to be monogamous, it is certainly better that they avoid monogamous-style relationships, but I would rather our society nudge people towards monogamous lifelong relationships as an ideal than nudge them towards polyamory.

I realise this talk of nudging might sound heavy-handed from some perspectives, but I don't think it's possible or even meaningful to imagine a society that does not inculturate its people in some way. Each generation of society creates the next iteration, and passes down norms. There will always be people avoiding the paved path of marriage, and always people who are not treading on the most celebrated ground. I'm fine with that. I would prefer it be more of an unusual/rare thing though, because it poses an existential threat to monogamy (a side which I have sided with not out of deep philosophical thought, but rather because of personal identity and values that are only as strong as preferences). It is a matter of memes, and I primarily am hoping to see the shaping of most future meme-holders to be for monogamy rather than polyamory.

To reply a bit more directly to your post, it's not preventing the idea from being out there, it's about its prevalence and strength.

Edited at 2011-09-29 10:22 pm (UTC)
I agree with you entirely here.

I would ideally want people nudged to develop in ways that don't incline them to cheat though.

Your idea, as stated here, is not an existential threat to monogamy. Polyamory as a fallback or "alternative" is fine and not likely to be such a threat. Promoting polyamory as an ideal and promoting upbringings that encourage people to develop in ways that polyamory makes sense to them, by contrast, *is* an existential threat.
I don't claim that it's appropriate to (only) legally pave the path to monogamous relationships based on my personal preferences. Nor do I think that paving said path would necessarily shift the distribution of poly/monog-interested people.