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  #11  
Old 03-10-2013, 06:44 PM
opalescent opalescent is offline
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I just wanted to mention that you did a kind thing in trying to engage with the OP on that thread. He was not in a place to see that but I do.
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  #12  
Old 03-10-2013, 07:07 PM
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I just wanted to mention that you did a kind thing in trying to engage with the OP on that thread. He was not in a place to see that but I do.
Thanks. I hope that it may eventually mean something to the OP.

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And yeah, as for the other thread... I realized that I was probably identifying with it more than was necessary/reasonable, and once I stepped back a little mentally it was better. There are relatively few models for the lives we're living, so I think it becomes easier than it ought to be to project when we see a situation that reminds us of our own.

Of everyone, you were probably the best positioned to possibly help, but, yeah, help wasn't actually possible.
I think this is right. You identified with the situation, as you've said, as someone who is a "secondary" in a relationship.

I identified with it as someone in a "primary" relationship that has been, um, complicated lately. No, scratch that. It's a relationship that I managed to complicate much more than it needed to be complicated, by not attending to it mindfully enough.

I've at least seen the beginning of the path that might lead to where the OP in that thread is now, and I'm slightly terrified by it.

I need very much to not be emotionally invested in the outcome of his story.

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If the thread had started where it is now, we'd still try to help but it wouldn't be difficult to witness in the same way. It's just watching that moment of dramatic disintegration, that tipping point, and feeling like maybe you could do something in some small way to arrest it, except you can't, that's really hard.
It's a little too much like reading Sophocles, if you know what I mean. He reminds me more than a little of Creon, and the situation reminds me of just how wrenching irony can be.

(Sometimes I'd like to step into the play, take Creon by the sleeve, and give him a good talkin' to, you know?)

I'm on the fence about whether to take another pass at intervention in that thread. The OP left a little opening, asking me a direct question, but I have my own mind to sort out, given the contrariwise dramatic turn my story took last week.
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  #13  
Old 03-10-2013, 07:34 PM
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Default Some Half-Remembered Philosophy, Oversimplified

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The point is that something has, very suddenly, turned around in my brain, and I can see possibilities where before I only saw problems and limitations. I can see the strength of my partnership with Vix where before I only saw the (actually very small) disagreements, points of divergence, and unavoidable irritations of living with someone who will continue to insist on being not me.
What I wrote a few days ago as an off-hand joke has shaken loose a half-remembered philosophical idea that, I think, has some clarifying power.

A few years ago, for a project I was working on, I went back and read Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. This is an important and influential work in European philosophy, dating from the early 19th century.

It's not an easy read, and not a project I took on lightly.

The Phenomenology can be taken as a kind of novel, which relates the story of human consciousness as it develops from simple awareness through self-awareness, through other-awareness, to what Hegel calls Spirit . . . but which might also be called culture, or the moral community, or human solidarity, or something like that.

At a crucial moment, the emerging subject encounters another subject, and the two enter into a kind of life-and-death struggle, each attempting to subdue the other and reduce it to an object. Eventually, one of them wins and establishes mastery over the other, which is reduced to slavery.

(If you've ever heard the phrase, "master-slave dialectic" - in a context other than kink, that is - it refers to this moment in the development of consciousness, according to Hegel.)

The wonderful thing about that moment, though, is that the master consciousness is a dialectical dead-end: it never progresses further. It is the slave consciousness that moves on to a new kind of awareness of itself, recaptures its own subjectivity and its own dignity (through labor, as it happens) . . . without losing the sense that others are subjects, too, and not merely objects.

The tale goes on for quite a while longer, with continuing struggles between self and other - albeit with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the other! - until matters reach a crucial impasse.

(As it happens, Creon and Antigone put in appearance, at one point, as exemplars of a later stage in the conflict.)

What I wanted to focus on here is how Hegel characterizes the recognition, the transformation of consciousness, that ushers in Spirit, which he calls "the I that is a we". As Spirit, I am aware of myself as a member of a human community, what the earlier philosopher, Kant, called the Kingdom of Ends - that is, the community of all moral beings, who are "ends in themselves" and not mere means.

What turns the trick, though, is Forgiveness.

As I read it - and I recognize this is an oversimplification of the idea - while I remain aware that these others around me are not the same as me, I accept that difference . . . which makes it possible to see all that we have in common.

I'm not expressing this very clearly, and should probably go back and find my notes on Hegel before I write any more about it.

Still, I find the idea of recognizing the full humanity, the fully dignity and subjectivity and separateness of others while also, at the same time, recognizing our common humanity and our various shared understandings, a compelling notion.

Now, Hegel is painting a big picture on a big canvas . . . using very tiny brushes. The idea doesn't really translate directly into personal experience with an individual other.

Still, there is some echo of Hegel's notion of Forgiveness in my little off-hand joke about my wife insisting on being not me.

She is not me. She has goals, and freedom, and dignity of her own, which will not be subdued to my ends.

And that's okay.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-10-2013 at 07:54 PM.
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  #14  
Old 03-11-2013, 04:58 PM
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Default Hopes, expectations and anxieties, oh my!

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2. I wrote to the woman on whom I have had a crush, asking her to lunch once again. I asked her a couple of weeks ago, and received no reply.

I was assuming that she was rejecting me, that she was creeped out by my attention, that she wasn't interested even in friendship with me.

That's nonsense, of course. In the spirit of skepticism, I should assume no such thing.

So, I added a post-script to my note, today, which I quote here verbatim:
P.S. Please let me know if my asking again is annoying to you. The last thing I want is to be a nuisance. Be blunt, if you need to be.
It's not very good, perhaps, but at least I've made an opening for her to be direct, if she's so inclined.

I hope she'll respond to the prompt, one way or the other. If she tells me to stop asking her, I may be a little disappointed, but at least I can act based on knowledge rather than ignorance or assumptions.

I haven't heard back from her, yet. If I don't hear from her, I might just have to go ahead and make an assumption about what her response to my post-script would have been . . .
There was a delay in her response, as there sometimes is, and I was starting to assume I knew the answer to my postscript.

My assumption exploded, as assumptions sometimes do, when I received a note from her, this morning. She said, very simply, that it's not at all a bother, but that it has been hard for her to make and keep lunch arrangements with people, because of the dynamics of her workplace.

She suggested we meet for lunch - a brown-bag urban picnic, especially if the weather continues to springify - next Monday.

I'm trying to pay more careful attention to my responses. I do think my crush on her as cooled a bit, but my response to her, and to the thought of her, is still unsettled, with hopes and expectations and cautions and anxieties rumbling around every which way.

I'm trying to hold on to the simple fact that I like her and admire her for the person she is, and that I enjoy spending time getting to know her. The rest can just remain unsettled . . . and entirely hypothetical.

It will be an exercise in consciously managing my own expectations, staying open without assuming or presuming much of anything.
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  #15  
Old 03-17-2013, 01:11 PM
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Default Unsettling

I have been dividing my time this weekend between two conferences: an academic conference by day, and the Atlanta Polyamory Weekend in the evening.

(I can't help but put this in comic-book terms: "By day, a mild-mannered academic; by night . . . !")

Each conference has, in its own way, been unsettling.

The academic conference was unsettling in a way that all good academic conferences should be: challenging assumptions, revealing new questions, shaking me out of complacency and opening up possibilities for understanding and for creativity. It also added substantially to my reading list for the next few months.

The poly weekend is unsettling in a very different way, revealing aspects of a particular corner of the self-described poly "community" that strike me as problematic, leading me to wonder if I really want to be associated with such a community.

To be fair, there is much that has been good in my experience of the poly weekend. Some of the presenters are smart, down-to-earth people who have thought about and lived polyamory very attentively.

Also, to be fair, my response to the poly weekend may just be a function of me being uptight again, or feeling out of place in an unfamiliar context, or coming too close to old traumas and limitations.

I'm still processing all of this, trying not to draw conclusions too soon. Rule 2 (from the post, above) is now in force: I'm assuming I'm wrong about something, that I'm missing something.

Still, as part of that processing, I wanted to start to list some of the things that have been bothering me.

1. I've heard, from Nyx and others, that this particular group has a wide streak of heteronormativity, and I've seen some evidence of that. Most of those in attendance seem to be either straight men or bi women. While the organizers have clearly made an effort to include more LGBTQ voices among the panelists, and to use gender-neutral language, I've seen and heard examples of overt homophobia.

One particularly striking instance of this was during the lesson that preceded the dance last night. Two of the guests at the meeting are, among other things, very fine ballroom dancers. They taught cha-cha as a relatively easy ballroom dance that can be adapted to just about any context.

They made a real effort to avoid gendered language, referring to "lead" and "follow" rather than the traditional "gent" and "lady". Nevertheless, there was an individual who did not present as traditionally female - gender identity unknown, but in appearance biologically male - dancing the follow part. As usually happens, the instructors had the leads rotate to a new partner, from time to time, during the lesson. This particular individual was passed over once in the rotation, I assume because a man dancing lead did not feel comfortable dancing with a follow who did not present as a traditional female.

(I tell ya, gender is complicated!)

This lapse was pointed out to the instructors, but they were busy with other things and perhaps did not perceive the nature of the problem. In the next rotation, the individual in question was passed over again. I was across the room, and tried to draw attention to the problem. I was about to ask leave of my then partner to go dance with the other individual, but the individual fled the room, visibly upset, before I had fully made up my mind.

I think that individual was up against two separate things: the pervasive heteronormativity of the event, and the very powerful heteronormativity built into traditional dance forms. Fred always dances with Ginger, right? Still, it's a pity others present weren't more aware of the potential for a problem.

2. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on hooking up during the convention, and in descriptions of various poly adventures past and present; it's enough to suggest that casual sex is the norm, blurring the line between polyamory and polyf***ery. At the very least, there is a level of hedonism in play that I find distasteful: all urges must be satisfied, every attraction deserves to be consummated.

3. There is also some willingness to assume that monogamous people are somehow automatically regressive, or at least to be pitied. Some individuals have called this assumption into question, but not nearly enough of them. There are those at the meeting, including one prominent poly blogger, who seem to think polyamory is the inevitable, bright future of the human race, and that monogamy is on the wrong side of history. That strikes me as both naive and arrogant, as I really do think the institution of monogamy deserves a more serious evaluation, not just snide dismissal . . . and, in any case, it is an institution that will be very, very difficult to dislodge.

As I write this, I really do think there are a lot of cross-cutting factors that lead me to feel unsettled by the poly weekend. I'm not drawing any conclusions, yet, except that I might not go out of my way to attend next year.
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  #16  
Old 03-17-2013, 04:55 PM
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Default Approach-avoidance

Here's another pattern I need to figure out: the approach-avoidance conflict I have regarding my own possible practice of polyamory.

This is part of trying to make sense of the stress I'm feeling at APW.

(I'm writing this on my smart phone, during the closing keynote address.)

I seem to go through spells in which I am powerfully drawn to polyamory, curious and excited to explore the possibilities of having more than one close relationship. At other times, I'm overwhelmed by . . . some brew of thought and feeling that expresses itself almost as revulsion.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of following my various threads on this forum has seen this pattern play itself out, again and again.

My purpose here is not just to vent about another swing of the pendulum - which, in this case, took just a couple of weeks - but to try to figure out what it is about me that leaves my simultaneously - or alternately - drawn to and repelled by the prospect of being polyamorous.

Here I am at APW, feeling beset by stress, wanting nothing more than to flee. Monogamy is looking pretty good, right now.

But I know that, in a week or two, I may be calm and open again.

What the hell is going on?

I know that part of it is that I need to separate my response to non-monogamy as such from my reaction to this meeting and to the subset of the self-described poly "community" present here.

I'm feeling oddly raw. I probably shouldn't be writing this, now. Maybe I'll have some perspective on it in a few days.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-17-2013 at 05:04 PM.
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  #17  
Old 03-17-2013, 06:55 PM
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Default Skeptics and Other Hedonists

I'm home, now, from APW. As I drove away from the hotel, I started to feel more stable, more ready to think. I'm still feeling a little raw, as if I'd start crying at the slightest provocation.

I simply observe that as a symptom to be set aside, for now, while I try to make sense of my reaction.

Part of it may simply be that I'm tired. Two very different - and differently challenging - conferences in one weekend is almost certainly too much. The academic conference alone is enough to last me a few months, at least. There is a mental and emotional exhaustion that comes from an intensive weekend of workshops and discussions in my particular discipline, and it usually takes some time to recover.

That's surely part of it.

I wonder, though, whether something else is going on in my response to APW in particular. As I drove home, mulling it over, I made one connection that may fill in some part of the explanation.

I am a skeptic, but of a peculiar sort. I am automatically suspicious of dogmatic claims of any kind including, or perhaps especially, those made by self-identified skeptics. (Hence "hyperskeptic".) There was a session on skepticism and poly at the conference this morning, and I found myself sparring with the panelists over just this point.

I don't want to get too far into it, but I see them as being dogmatic about inquiry itself: by their lights, only the scientific method drawing from quantifiable empirical evidence can arbitrate what is real. The words "real" and "truth" and "fact" and "evidence" and "logic" and "objective" and "subjective" were bandied about as if their meanings were simply obvious.

Suffice it to say that, for a lot of complex reasons, I don't take the meanings of those terms to be obvious. The scientific frame is one, very powerful way of making sense of our experience, but its writ only runs so far; there are questions it cannot answer, and there are other forms of rigorous inquiry that can be brought to bear.

Whew. Sorry about that. I could go on and on about this, dropping names (Kant! Husserl!), but I'll refrain.

I was unsuccessful in convincing them because, like all dogmatists, they insisted that any argument I make conform to their understanding of proper method . . . even though that method is itself is just what I was questioning.

Moving on now. Really.

At that session, another member of the audience pointed out that there seems to be a split in the poly community between "hippies" and skeptics, between mysticism and science. Both groups, it was said, are overrepresented in the poly community compared to the general population.

The skeptics clearly hoped - though they wouldn't say so directly - that the hippies would either convert or go away. One panelist inadvertently used the skeptical put-down, "woo", to refer to some of the mystical beliefs and practices of the hippie types.

While I don't have a lot of patience for mystical beliefs and practices, myself, I'm at least willing to acknowledge that human experience is rich enough, and our cognitive abilities limited enough, that people may be entitled to find meaning where they can.

If the skeptics get off on the meaning and wonder of the sciences, as they understand them, that's just fine. (I just wish they weren't so damned arrogant about it.)

As I drove home, I realized there is a deep connection between hippie mystics and skeptics, and with other elements I observed at the meeting: hedonism.

I mean by this simply the belief that all value ultimately boils down to pleasure or to the fulfillment of desires. For deep historical reasons, scientific skeptics (aka dogmatic empiricists) are bound to this view because the only value-related phenomenon they can compass is one that is empirically observable and, perhaps, measurable: pleasure.

This came out in the session with the skeptics, today, when I pushed the panelists on the question of value. We have desires, they said; that is a matter of fact. All we need to do is to find the most effective way of getting what we desire.

(I almost cannot express the inadequacy of this response!)

In a previous session - actually a live recording of a podcast - the panelists and the audience were piling on monogamy, mainly on the grounds that it keeps us from getting what we want, fulfilling our desires, experiencing pleasure.

I tried to put in a pitch for monogamy as perhaps securing other values, perhaps as securing longer-term satisfaction, that may make it worth working through the dissatisfactions of the present moment.

The main response was that we need to live in the moment, and do what we want.

Combined with my observations from last night, part of the revulsion and distress I started to feel today may have been in reaction to what seemed to me an unreflective embrace of hedonism on the part of many, and a smug, almost condescending insistence on hedonism on the part of some.

Now, don't get me wrong. All else being equal, pleasure is a good and fine thing. All else being equal, we should seek to live a life of rich and satisfying experiences.

But there are other values to consider, as well, other kinds of obligations to which scientific skeptics may be methodologically, systematically blind.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-17-2013 at 07:36 PM.
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  #18  
Old 03-17-2013, 07:11 PM
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I know I'm posting this too soon after the previous post - really, just moments have passed! - but I'm processing the conference really quickly and need to work some of it out in text.

Let me say, again, that I am struggling to make sense of what I experienced last night and this morning. Nothing I said in the last post and nothing I say in this post is the last word.

In the last post, I tried to pick out a few elements of what I still think is a tangled mess of influences that led me to experience stress verging on panic at the conference. There were a lot of other things going on, really, and my own reactions to overt hedonism and to condescension from dogmatists were only two of them.

But I also have managed to make a separation in my mind that might be of real, practical use to me.

This one is really very obvious, now that I see it. In fact, it could be published in Duh!, that great journal of things one really ought to have known already.

Ready?

Here it is: My own openness to having multiple intimate relationships is not the same thing as, nor is it conditioned upon, identifying myself as "polyamorous" or as a member of the poly "community."

I don't have to join! I don't have to go to meetups or to conference or rallies! I don't have to speak for "the poly community" nor do I have to be spoken for by it!

What a relief!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lunch date tomorrow . . .

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-18-2013 at 02:33 AM.
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Old 03-18-2013, 04:55 AM
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Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
Here it is: My own openness to having multiple intimate relationships is not the same thing as, nor is it conditioned upon, identifying myself as "polyamorous" or as a member of the poly "community."

I don't have to join! I don't have to go to meetups or to conference or rallies! I don't have to speak for "the poly community" nor do I have to be spoken for by it!

What a relief!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lunch date tomorrow . . .
Yes!!!!

I have also been turned off very much by the vibe at poly gatherings. Sex- and kink-focused, all about hooking up, and arrogantly preaching that poly is "superior" to monogamy. Ugh. How tedious. But your latest post reminded me of an old thread, in which I had posted the following:
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I'm not an activist. I just want to live my life . . . How I choose to conduct my relationships is not all of who I am . . . I'm not crazy about being categorized.

I think it's great when polyamorous relationships get positive coverage in the press and media, but what am I going to come out about? "Hello! I like to have more than one partner! I know how to love lots o' people!" So what? Who asked? It would feel like calling attention to myself in a boastful way. At least that's how it would seem for me.

I feel like I can touch others and effect change or bring about acceptance in society one person at a time, just by being comfortable with who I am and how I live, and letting people see that as I interact with them in my daily life -- not by jumping on a bandwagon.
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. . . I am not afraid of activism . . . I feel now that living life as one chooses, rather than how society expects one to live, is also a form of activism. Quieter, yes, but activism still.

I can make my statement in a way that is right for me, with or without participation in rallies and parades and such. I don't begrudge others their form of activism, I just don't find it works for me. The reason I dislike the idea of a poly "movement" is that a movement then tends to place expectation on anyone who would lean in that direction, and the potential for being judged if not doing it "correctly," or along the lines of what the larger group deems to be the way to do it. I am me and struggling to be me is how I stake my claim in the world, but I don't see waving a banner as the way I should do it. That is all.
That thread has some interesting contributions from other folks, too. It can be found here: National Poly Coming Out Day

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Old 03-18-2013, 11:13 AM
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That thread has some interesting contributions from other folks, too. It can be found here: National Poly Coming Out Day
Thanks, Indie. That's a good thread.
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