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  #11  
Old 04-13-2014, 08:03 AM
InfinitePossibility InfinitePossibility is offline
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If everyone is honest and kind about what they want and can offer I don't see how it's unethical to have relationships with varying degrees of life enmeshment. Neither my boyfriend nor I want another primary relationship. I'm married with kids and he lives with his girlfriend a couple of hours drive away. If everyone is informed and happy no worries surely? To use bdsm terms, safe, sane consensual means actions that might otherwise be harmful instead can make people happy.
I think that certainly honesty and consent are necessary for any relationship to be ethical. I also think that there is more to it than that.

Human beings can find themselves consenting to lots of things that they themselves don't think are ethical. I have watched friends of mine behave in ways that they see as totally unethical just because somebody who they think knows a bit more than them on the subject suggested that they behave that way. See Stanley Milgram's obedience to authority experiment for details.

If situations like that can arise, it seems very likely that people can also be convinced to get into situations that they don't see as unethical but maybe wouldn't have considered for themselves. You see those sorts of stories regularly on here.

So for me, it depends on the consent. Two people who have for reasons of their own decided that they would like a relationship that is limited for whatever reason deciding to have that relationship with each other is likely to be ethical consent.

A situation that I read about lots where a limited relationship is between two people one of whom is partnered and lives with their spouse the other of whom is single. It seems common for the partnered one to be the one who is exploring non-monogamy from within the safety of their relationship and the single one to be somebody who had never thought of non-monogamy but is okay about giving it a go. To me those situations are ones where the consent is much less likely to be ethical. Because of the tendency to obey authority - somebody who has read up on non-monogamy is necessarily in a position of authority over anybody they speak to who hasn't ever seen it as a possibility. Even a mild suggestion that it might be a good thing to try out can exert fairly strong control over lots of people. So even though the single person may appear to freely consent, this is an illusion. The consent is not being given freely and so to me the ethics of it are kind of murky.

I'd guess that's why I read so often about problems in that kind of arrangement. The single person is sometimes upset that their relationship can't grow or change (even though it seems as if they consented to that). The partnered person is sometimes upset if the single person looks as if they are going to start a new relationship with somebody without the same limitations.

I believe that a lot of the time the relationships I read about here that have tons of boundaries and regular discussions to resolve issues are like that because the consent at the start wasn't ethical.

I should say that I in no way intend to say that the partnered person in that scenario is being unethical. Of course they aren't. They are looking for a way to make poly work for them without it causing upset and pain in their existing lives. Of course they will talk about what they've read and about the positives of poly. They are not being unethical or manipulative.

Nevertheless the situation around those conversations means that ethical consent cannot be granted by the single person. The single person is being manipulated - but more by the situation and the workings of their mind than by a deliberately manipulative partnered poly person.

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  #12  
Old 04-13-2014, 09:07 AM
Confused Confused is offline
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Yes, I can see that's true. I hadn't approached it from side of whether someone is truly giving informed consent from a place of equal power. I know relationships are murky and even in mono world one partner generally holds more power than the other to steer the relationship whether by experience, circumstances or personality.
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  #13  
Old 04-13-2014, 04:14 PM
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Can hierarchy or couple privilege be ethical? What if you’re solo poly, and the only relationships you have (or perhaps want) are non-primary? How well does the culture of your poly community reflect your personal values and ethics?
Of course hierarchical relationships can be ethical, the same as relationship anarchists, and total power exchange agreements. Everyone involved has given their consent without coercion.

I'm not sure approaching this from the stance of ethics is going to produce the kind of discussion you are looking for. Have you considered the approach of which structures encourage well-being? Sam Harris gets a lot of traction on this topic in The Moral Landscape.

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It seems common for the partnered one to be the one who is exploring non-monogamy from within the safety of their relationship and the single one to be somebody who had never thought of non-monogamy but is okay about giving it a go. To me those situations are ones where the consent is much less likely to be ethical. Because of the tendency to obey authority - somebody who has read up on non-monogamy is necessarily in a position of authority over anybody they speak to who hasn't ever seen it as a possibility. Even a mild suggestion that it might be a good thing to try out can exert fairly strong control over lots of people. So even though the single person may appear to freely consent, this is an illusion. The consent is not being given freely and so to me the ethics of it are kind of murky.
I'm not following your logic here. If Bob knows more about polyamory than Carl, and Bob says "hey, let's give poly a try" and Carl says "huh, never really thought about it, sure let's give it a try".... Carl has not given consent? Or he's only given the illusion of consent? That is releasing people from taking responsibility for their own decisions.

It's not a confidence job, it's just an invitation into something Carl doesn't have much information about. If being in a secondary position is something Carl decides isn't working for him because of what he has learned over time he has simply grown as a person. He gave full consent, grew from experience, and made a decision accordingly.
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Old 04-13-2014, 08:44 PM
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I'm not following your logic here. If Bob knows more about polyamory than Carl, and Bob says "hey, let's give poly a try" and Carl says "huh, never really thought about it, sure let's give it a try".... Carl has not given consent? Or he's only given the illusion of consent? That is releasing people from taking responsibility for their own decisions.

He hasn't given informed consent. Of course, it's his responsibility to gather the information for himself, but in the throes of NRE, that can be hard to do thoroughly. Just like, say, if you're a woman in labor and have read a tad on cesarean sections while pregnant, but haven't fully taken it in, in the excitement of all the other getting ready activities. But you're now in labor and the doc says you "have to" have a c-section, hands you a paper to "read" (while contractions are coming every 4 minutes and lasting a minute). Are you really giving informed consent to the reasons why you "have to" have a surgical birth, and the hazards of that surgery? The dr's lawyer might say yes, but we might think differently.

Quite often we get people here, women usually, pleasers, who are secondaries and have bought into the idea that the boyfriend and his wife come first, "of course," but, she is so miserable she could about die. Ethics are figured out after the pain has begun.
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  #15  
Old 04-14-2014, 12:50 AM
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He hasn't given informed consent.
Your example relates to the situation of two fully functional adults deciding to go into a poly relationship how?

I'm going to assume that this is about to become a "language fluidity" discussion and let you guys have at it.
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Old 04-14-2014, 05:47 AM
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I tend to agree with Marcus on this. There are manipulative relationships in all areas of life, some are clearly wrong because they are against the law while others are not what we would want for ourselves or the people we love, but ultimately adults are free to make poor decisions.

I think it is a bit insulting to say that the consent given by a single person in a poly relationship where the other person is part of a couple can not be ethical. People make choices based on their needs, their wants and their lifestyle and some people choose a secondary or a less attached role for their own reasons. As long as the other person is honest about their situation and about what they can offer I can't see why that is unethical.

Rules and boundaries being renegotiated happens because relationships develop and change over time; this happens with all relationships not just poly relationships. Sometimes things don't turn out as expected, but that is more about making poor choices or finding that you no longer want what you thought you wanted.

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Originally Posted by Magdlyn View Post
Quite often we get people here, women usually, pleasers, who are secondaries and have bought into the idea that the boyfriend and his wife come first, "of course," but, she is so miserable she could about die. Ethics are figured out after the pain has begun.
Vulnerability comes in all shapes and sizes and it seems to me that pain and unhappiness is just as likely to be expressed by the weaker or less dominant person of the couple because he or she feels that s/he was nagged or coerced into accepting poly and is very unhappy with the way things have worked out.
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  #17  
Old 04-14-2014, 07:09 AM
InfinitePossibility InfinitePossibility is offline
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I'm going to assume that this is about to become a "language fluidity" discussion and let you guys have at it.
I think that this is a discussion about how human beings are viewed rather than about "language fluidity".

There is much around on these boards and in the media in general about how humans operate in the world as fully autonomous individual entities. In this view, we all as individuals freely make decisions in the world. Lots of things are based on this view.

The UK criminal justice system - when a crime is committed, the court's job is to find out if the individual who is accused has committed the crime and if they have then to punish them for it.

When UK and US soldiers are found to have been torturing people in Afghanistan, the individuals who have committed the torture are thrown out of the military and reported in the paper as being bad apples.

CBT and the growing positive thinking movement very much operate from that stand point.

So that's one way of looking at humans.

There is another - more complex and messy way of looking at humans. In this second way, autonomy exists, of course. People do have responsibility for their actions - but it is more limited. Autonomy isn't, in this view, as perfect as we would all like to think it is.

Autonomy is limited by lots of things. Past experiences, current living conditions, the media, other people in our lives, hopes and dreams.

One of the things that limits our autonomy is our tendency (at least in the US and the UK) to obey authority. Stanley Milgram studied this extensively. He set up experiments where people could be convinced to electrocute complete strangers in spite of them screaming in pain to the point where they would pass out. Most people would do this on the say so of a man in a white coat. A stranger to them who held no actual authority over them and in a situation where the people knew they could walk out at any point. Milgram famously said when being interviewed about his experiment that he reckoned he could staff a Nazi style death camp from any medium sized American town. The experiment was repeated loads of times and the effect of authority on people can be witnessed all over the place.

I hear it talked about most in dog training circles during attempts to console people when they realise that advice they've followed from an "expert" has been psychologically and sometimes also physically abusive toward their much loved companion.

The other factor that limits our autonomy in messy, hard to pin down ways is the effect the environment we live in has on us. Again, there are repeated experiments examining this. Phillip Zimbardo conducted one of the more famous ones. He set up a fake prison at Standford University. He selected a bunch of students - screened them all to make sure that they were psychologically healthy and arbitrarily assigned some of them to the role of prisoners and some to the role of prison guards. They were all fully functioning human beings.

The experiment was due to run for 2 weeks. He had to stop it after just one week because the prisoners were becoming depressed - none of them thought to leave even though they were free to do so at any time. The prison guards were becoming abusive toward the prisoners. This was a radical shift in the normal behaviour of these students who had been selected with the intent of making that sort of outcome unlikely. So - autonomy is likely to be more limited than we might imagine. I remember reading Zimbardo's book a few years ago and talking to people about how it is one of the most frightening things I've ever read. The stuff of nightmares, really. I read a lot of horror but that book was worse than any of it.

Anyway - romantic relationships are a good case to look at. From the moment we are born in the UK and US, we learn that romantic relationships are the pinnacle of connection between human beings. The message is repeated over and over in films, books, on the radio, from our friends and families. We make big deals of weddings. We are endlessly fascinated by people getting together.

People who choose not to engage in romance are seen as weird, suspicious, sad and lonely. The narrative about those people is that they are going to die alone and miserable at the end of a depressingly lonely life. That they miss out on human connection. In fairy tales they are witches. In documentaries they are hoarders who can't get into their own houses for piles of paper. In thrillers they are serial killers.

Not surprisingly almost everybody you meet wants to be in a romantic relationship. Or at least the semblance of it. People will pretend - sometimes for years - that they are still with a partner when in fact the relationship was over years ago. People talk about being in romantic relationships with folk they've never met who live on the other side of the world.

With all of that behind us, it is difficult to imagine that any discussion around romance is taking place from a neutral stand point. So - going back to the 2 fully functioning adults.

If Bob is opening his happy, strong relationship to poly and has done lots of reading about it and approaches Carl who he is friends with and to whom he's been attracted to for some time and suggests they enter into a poly arrangement. Carl - who's been single for ages and who is worried that he'll never meet somebody to share his life with - agrees. He's never heard of poly but Bob knows lots about it and talks about it positively and lends him a book or two that talk positively about it.

Carl is approaching this from a place of fear of being alone. A limited relationship is not at all what he wants. He wants somebody to share his life. His agreement is - at least in part - due to the authority that Bob's superior knowledge gives him and Carl's fear of being alone.

Taking the individualistic view of humans, that's Carl's look out. He's an autonomous, fully functioning adult and able to make his own mistakes and learn from them.

Taking the view that humans aren't as autonomous as we might think, it would have been kinder for Bob to get to know Carl well enough to understand what Carl wants from a relationship and then - as they are friends - help him to find it. Bob could have found his additional relationship with somebody who genuinely wants that sort of relationship.

I see that individualistic view of people as overly simplistic and I see it leading to a tendency for people to have a lack of responsibility for the possible outcomes of their actions. I'm not okay with these things and it isn't how I want to live my life. So I don't.

Complexity is fine with me. Thinking things through is fine too. I surround myself in work and in my personal life with people and situations that support my view of people (myself included) having limited autonomy and the care that needs to be taken as a result of that.

I think that the tendency to see people as individuals existing in a bubble who are responsible only for themselves is a big part of why we see so many really sad tales on here.

So - no. Not really about language differences this time.

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  #18  
Old 04-14-2014, 08:04 AM
InfinitePossibility InfinitePossibility is offline
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Of course it's not just the field of psychology that points to humans being heavily influenced by environment and us having more limited autonomy than we might like to think we have.

Medical studies have to be set up in such a way that the researcher knows nothing about who is getting what drug. In large part because humans have such limited autonomy that even when researchers try to be impartial, they simply can't be. The only way to make it happen is to set things up so that the researcher doesn't know what's going on. See Ben Goldacre's book Bad Science for details.

The new and growing field of epigenetics would suggest also that even at a genetic level, environment matters. Bruce Lipton has a nice book on this subject called the Biology of Belief

I understand why the view of humans as individual, autonomous adults who act as they choose in the world is a comforting view to have. Means you only have to worry about yourself and your reactions and everybody else can do the same. Much less complexity and thinking involved all round really.

Excellent for those of us who are white, middle class, confident, reasonably well educated and have good jobs. We have the resources to get counseling if we make a mistake and end up being damaged. We have the confidence to influence those around us in ways that are suited to us - and if we maintain that belief, we can wriggle out of any nasty ethical worries by saying that anybody we hurt chose that situation for themselves. Things are good for us if we hold that world view.

But - the sheer volume of evidence against that notion is so vast that I'm amazed anybody still holds onto it.

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Old 04-14-2014, 11:41 AM
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Magdlyn Magdlyn is offline
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Your example relates to the situation of two fully functional adults deciding to go into a poly relationship how?
My example was of 2 hormonal states (NRE and labor) getting in the way of rational decision making. Being in extremis can cause one's ethics to become submerged for a time.

Quote:
I'm going to assume that this is about to become a "language fluidity" discussion and let you guys have at it.
Don't ask anymore questions then!
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  #20  
Old 04-14-2014, 12:04 PM
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I think that was a good example. The difference is that although you may not be able to provide informed consent for the caesarean, the vast majority of people would want it if they understood that their baby is distressed and at chance of birth injury. Waiting for the woman to have enough information may cause her more harm than her having a caesarean with minimal consent. The harm would be a injured or dead baby. In an emergency situation, you have to get some sort of consent but no, it isn't the optimum consent one should try to achieve from a patient in a non emergency situation. That's why medical ethics differs in emergency situations.

You cannot give consent for an emergency caesarean whilst you are pregnant. You can talk about why it might be indicated and gauge their views on it but you still have to get consent at the time, in the throes of labour. It's that consent that counts. Not anything written or discussed prenatally. All those birth plans and all of that simply provide a starting point for the birth attendant gaining consent during labour. It's a conversation starter. It doesn't mean much legally.

In terms of the Bob and Carl situation, both are at fault. One didn't give enough information to achieve informed consent and one didn't ask for enough information to give informed consent. Bob could proceed with the poly relationship, but it would be at a relatively high risk of miscommunication and drama. It becomes unethical if Bob habitually brings Poly Noobs into his life without allowing them enough information to consent to a poly relationship, his way.
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