About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Poly this, poly that

Last time we got on to the topic of polygamy and polyamory, things did not go smoothly. It's a topic that I raise with trepidation. Still, I'm working on exactly that issue today in my current effort to get a good draft of The Book completed. I have to say something about marriage, and specifically about how the state should respond to Muslim polygamy. It will be briefish, because this could be a large study in itself, and I doubt that I know the best policy response. But something has to be said, however tentative.

By coincidence, there's an article up over at Butterflies and Wheels, by Homa Arjomand, arguing for the retention of a Canadian law that apparently prohibits polygamist relationships. It's created some interesting discussion, including my own contribution to the debate. You might like to have a look and add your two cents' worth.


Anonymous said...

Curly issue. A polygynous society (rather than polygamous) is unstable as it leaves many males without a mate, with all the social ills that brings.

I think there are good reasons for a society to dissuade polygyny (if not actually banning it outright); a small number of polygynous relationships will probably not be too disruptive. But cross a threshold in frequency, and it might be worth enforcing a ban of some sort, or just not legally recognising any spouses above the first.

That said, I can't see a justification for preventing polyamory in general. Individuals who feel so disposed ought to be able to pursue their relationship preferences, and a top-down restriction is likely to cause far more harm than good.

Tricky when it comes to policy, particularly concerning cultures that do explicitly endorse polygyny. These cultures, in their own way, promote top-down values of polygyny - and if it's a conflict of top-down values, I think monogamy comes out on top.

josef johann said...

while it's fresh in my head-

I don't see anything inherently wrong with polygamy, or polyamory. Just, there are high social costs for being the first to say it.

Then, on the other hand, I can see it as repressive and that people may be entered into their relationships by some form of coercion, which can be devastating. Then it is in part enabled by the fact that it is an institution, a thing with a heritage and a history. And the objectionable character of a relationship that it might naturally occur to a human to raise, is muted under the weight of a history and tradition, and the responsibility for any possible wrongness is exported into the tradition and institution.

It is difficult enough to capture truths about our emotional life and express them and get other people to understand them, but even more difficult when your dialogue is not with a person but an institution not amenable to reason or dialogue.

Perhaps that's a reason why relationships have been historically enforced by things we call institutions, subject to approval of an authority. Rather than just unfolding naturally with some sort of common pattern or structure that gets discovered and described after the fact.

bad Jim said...

Consent is the paramount issue in relationships, and it's not well understood when there are more than two partners. It may well be that existing law, which only recognizes pairs but offers some rights to extracurricular partners, is a reasonably adequate approach.

In any event the law should make it at least as easy to leave a polygamous relationship as a monogamous one, with residual fiduciary responsibilities to be borne by the wealthiest partner.

It might be practical to turn a blind eye to affectionate polyamory but still penalize and discourage abuse.

Kirth Gersen said...

I worry a bit about the consent issue, as two people can more effectively emotionally blackmail a third... then again, the fact that a driver can more effectively kill his neighbors does not automatically lead us to ban the automobile. Still, it warrants some thought, I reckon.