Part of a series in which I argue with John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man. Part one here, part two here, part three here.
This section is quite short:
A similar consideration governs the exclusivity of the contract. The Libertine position would allow for open marriages, orgies, three-way, four-ways, n-ways, temporary or permanent alliances and liaisons, but such things are evidently not in the best interest of the parties involved, for reasons covered above: neither the paternity of the children is clear, nor the obligation as to who is to raise the children, nor is the affection of the father engaged, nor is the marriage as a cornerstone of civilization safe, nor is the woman wise to let herself be exploited by the fly-by-night lovers, nor is the man’s position as the head of his own house and father of his own children secure.
We have paternity tests and birth control. I agree that in the absence of paternity tests and birth control polyamory would work poorly with modern American sexual norms, although it works quite well with the practices of the Mosou (among whom uncles care for their nieces and nephews) or the Tibetans (among whom several brothers marry the same woman).
In actual polyamorous families, the primary partner or partners of the woman help raise the children, with possible assistance from her friends and lovers. Many hands make light work, as they say; no doubt many families with four parents wonder how families with two manage it, just as families with two parents contemplate how stressful it would be to be a single parent. If you are a man who is incapable of feeling affection for a woman who is having sex with other people, that is perfectly all right and polyamory is not for you, but you shouldn’t generalize your incapability to everyone else. And if you wish to be the head of the house (not all men do) and you wish to be polyamorous, then you should form a triad or quad with people who want you to be the head of the house, or you should only have one primary relationship. I do find the assumption that men are necessarily the head of the house strange; my understanding is that most people do not want to be in 24/7 D/s relationships.
I continue to be unimpressed by Wright’s arguments that polyamorous marriage can’t also be a cornerstone of civilization or that fly-by-night lovers are necessarily exploitative.
The argument can be made that the competition for the scarce resources (not to mention the limited love and attention) of the father is and must be naturally divided among the several wives in a harem. Even if the women are (as only happens in male fantasies) perfectly content and harmonious with each other, a natural competition of interests exists or may grow up between them, for Darwinian reasons if nothing else, forcing any wife to take any steps they may to remove the father’s love and attention away from the children of rivals and toward her own.
I agree that one penis policies are a terrible idea– you will find many polyamorous people who agree– but have no idea why this is being held against ordinary group marriages, other than Mr. Wright’s failure of both imagination and research. And as for the history of patriarchal polygamy, need I point out the history of patriarchy in monogamous relationships? Within my lifetime it was legal in some parts of the US for a man to monogamously rape his wife.
22.214.171.124 Violence Between Sexual Rivals
In Common Law, even if true love binds Guinevere and Lancelot, it is illegal for him to court her or to urge her to leave her husband for him: the crime is called alienation of affection. This law has been undermined in recent years, but the principle still remains in effect as a moral principle: under the Matrimonial position, is it morally wrong to ask a woman to divorce her husband and marry you, even if you are in love with her and her husband is not, because the bond of matrimony is (in the matrimonial position) exclusive and lifelong…
This means that all the extravagant and even violent things men do to win the attention of potential mates are not closed when a Libertine marriage contract is signed. I know of cases where a young man climbed a roof at night and jimmied a window to break into a girl’s bedroom just to get a chance to speak with her, and this was when the girl was dating someone else; I know guys who broke into girl’s dorm rooms at college. We are not talking about rape attempts here, just desperation brought on by sexual attraction.
Now, here is where my experience may differ from yours, dear reader. There is a man I know—I have stayed at his house—whose brother is serving a life sentence in jail for murder. The murder was prompted by a woman, and she seduced this brother into murdering her husband. I have never met the brother myself, but I have heard tell of him…
I hope you know a better class of guys than I do, but if you do not, the people who act this way exist. We are not even talking about stalkers and obsessives and nutjobs. Just among ordinary young men of ordinary upbringing, getting into a fistfight over a girl, to drive away rivals, is natural.
Are we to assume that men willing to commit trespassing, breaking and entering, assault, and murder, against both social and legal sanctions, but not willing to commit alienation of affection? How is alienation of affection so effective? Is it because it’s a tort? Perhaps we should make murder a tort, if that works so well at discouraging behavior.
Now, perhaps you argue that infatuation makes people do crazy things, and the fear of alienation of affection keeps people from becoming infatuated in the first place, when they are actually amenable to reason. But I don’t think infatuation necessarily works that way. Many people, after all, become infatuated after a conversation or reading another person’s writings or even a glimpse of a person’s smile, and knowing that someone is married does not necessarily prevent you from talking with them, reading them, or looking at them. Even more people become infatuated when they are friends or work colleagues with someone else. While it’s possible to have a society in which straight married men are only friends and colleagues with straight men and straight married women are only friends and colleagues with straight women (this system breaks down for queer people), all the work is being done by the separation of people who might be romantically interested in each other– which, notably, Mr. Wright does not propose.
In the Libertine position, those who may not mate is defined only by those who cannot legally grant consent: children, drunks, and rape victims. Hence even if Guinevere is married, she is not offlimits for Lancelot to court her, since the Libertine position both allows for the possibility of a three-way orgy, pending Arthur’s consent, and allows for the possibility of an open marriage, if Arthur is as stupid as Ayn Rand’s husband, and can be browbeaten into believing that adultery is meaningless.
Since both these possibilities are not open to criticism or condemnation, efforts to persuade the interested parties are likewise not open to criticism.
An interesting question: under the Matrimonial position, is a woman permitted to swear herself to celibacy? Is it is any way gauche to send a marriage proposal to a nun, or hit on a woman who has chosen to spend the next six months celibate so she may focus on self-improvement or her art or her God? After all, Mr. Wright does consider marriage and religious life to both not be open to criticism and condemnation. Surely that means that any interested party may try to pitch a nun on marriage to him.
Obviously, that is not the case. While marriage and celibacy are both valid life choices, it is extraordinarily rude to try to convince someone who has clearly stated that they are currently celibate to have sex with you– particularly if she has sworn a promise to be celibate for the rest of their lives. And under a Libertine framework, while monogamy and polyamory are both valid life choices, it is extraordinarily rude to try to convince someone who has clearly stated one preference to adopt the other so she can date you– particularly if she has sworn a promise to be monogamous (or polyamorous) for the rest of her life. While some people might try to convince other people to be monogamous– just as some people might try to convince other people that they are called to the religious life– it is probably not a good idea to do so if you have a romantic interest in the answer of the question.
5.4 Third Parties to Marriage
According to the libertine position, if Arthur, with her consent, copulates with Morgan le Fay, it is no one’s business but their own. However since Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur, has a claim on the throne, the fact that he was born has an influence or an effect on Guinevere, and any children she might produce.
It seems to me the wisest solution to this problem is not having kings. In the modern era, I may bequeath my property to my children, my favorite charity, or my cats, and I do not think the right of inheritance of the children I have with one partner means I shouldn’t have children with another, any more than it means I shouldn’t have charities or cats.
At best, the Libertine position allows that if and only if Arthur and Guinevere so mutually agree, he will keep his royal member in his trousers for such times and places as they mutually see fit. If she does not read the fine print, or overlooks to get him to make such a vow, he is not bound.
Yes. You do not get to expect people to do things unless you at some point told them that you wanted them to do the thing. People cannot read your mind. (And the Matrimonial position is in the same boat; if Guinevere neglected to ask her partner for exclusivity, she might also neglect to ask her partner for marriage.)
5.4.1 The Father of the Bride
The Libertine position recognizes no interest the father (or mother) of the bride might have in seeing to it that his daughter not be unhappy in marriage.
Of course we do, we just think that the individual woman (perhaps, if she chooses, consulting the advice and counsel of her parents) is best suited for figuring out whether or not she will be happy.
However, since she produces (or abandons) his grandchildren, the question arises whether he has a vested interest in permitting or driving off suitors courting the daughter. The Libertine answer is in the negative: grandparents have no duties to protect and love their grandchildren, and hence no right to meddle with any arrangement the daughter might make or fail to make to provide for any child she might bear.
I speak here of fathers and daughters only because historically this was the most common case: indeed, it is not until relatively recently in history, and only in Christian lands, that a daughter selecting her own mate was the commonplace. While we might look on this type of arranged marriage with distaste, it nonetheless behooves us to note the logic behind the social arrangement: in the modern day, if the father had no role in driving off unworthy suitors, that father is the one most likely to have to bear the expense of raising the grandchild if the daughter returns pregnant and in tears if (as often happens) the unworthy suitor proves to be truly unworthy.
The father is also the one most likely to have to bear the expense of supporting his daughter if she goes off to college and gets a degree in classics, and then discovers to her horror that Cicero translation is not a valuable skill in today’s working world. Indeed, the father is more likely to support her in the latter case, as there is quite a large chance that a pregnant woman in the modern era is capable of supporting herself without her parents’ money, and there is no such guarantee for those of us with nonvocational degrees. Mr. Wright’s argument would imply that fathers have the right to control what degrees their adult offspring get and forbid them from going to any college that would lead them to have excessive student loan debt, or at the very least that colleges should be forbidden from offering frivolous degrees in philosophy and literature instead of computer science and petroleum engineering.
Alternately, fathers have the same control over their adult offspring’s romantic lives as they do over their vocational lives: they may give often-unheeded advice, refuse to financially support decisions they think are poor, and throw their adult children on the street, but they are not permitted to decide for adults. For better or worse, adults have to stand on our own two feet.
My wife’s best friend and roommate from way back was married to an unworthy suitor, an empty-headed boy who did not take the vows of matrimony seriously, and, as it turns out, did not have to. She was completely loyal to him, and he decided he wanted out, and he dumped her in one of the ugliest divorces I ever sat through. There is no certainty that a stricter law of marriage would have sobered up and deterred this boy; but there is certainty that he would not have been able to victimize my friend with impunity, if he could have found divorce only for cause.
I am extraordinarily puzzled by the logic that characterizes a man as an empty-headed unworthy man who had an ugly divorce, and then says that the woman should have been shackled to him in his empty-headedness, unworthiness, and ugliness for the rest of his life. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
5.4.2 The Grandparents of the Child
…are the same people as the father of the bride, at least in most circumstances, so I am somewhat puzzled why this is two sections, particularly since it is covering all the same arguments. I’m not going to repeat my arguments, but I am going to address a side issue.
the specter of an unwanted pregnancy (which is impossible, aside from medical considerations, under the Matrimonial position)…
I call it impossible because the Marriage ceremony is obviously a fertility ceremony: the meaning of the rite cannot possibly (except by committed Leftists) be misconstrued or misunderstood. You might not want to have children when you first get married, but you cannot think the marriage ceremony is a celebration of the fact that you will not be having children: no one can confuse wedding vows with the vows of a nun to maintain perpetual virginity. In any case, even if the point of the mating ritual is lost on you, in the eyes of the law, no additional ceremony or contract or vow is needed to make all the obligations legally enforceable to raise and care for the child once born.
Unwanted pregnancies happen in marriages all the time. While married people are less likely to get abortions (17% of abortions were performed on married women), you will note the important difference between 17% and 0%. Mr. Wright didn’t say “less likely”; he said “impossible,” although I suppose there could be an epidemic of women aborting wanted children without a medical reason because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Of the most common reasons to have an abortion, many apply to married people as much as to unmarried people: for instance, married people may still be poor, overwhelmed by their currently existing children, unready to have a child, or rape victims impregnated by their rapist. Even granting that the marriage ceremony is solely about having children (it’s not), a commitment to having children at some point in your life does not mean that you are ready for any individual pregnancy that might happen.
A bachelor who seduces a foolish girl and leaves her pregnant can argue, and with a surface appearance of justice, that he neither expected nor intended to father a child. He can claim he was relying on the girl to use birth control, or, if he is either a modern man or an ancient Spartan, he can say he was expecting the girl to dispose of the baby either by a visit to the abortion provider or to the pit called Apothetae, where newborns were thrown. For all we know, she may have told him that was the plan.
But no married man can make this claim, not without sounding an utter fool. No man of ordinary prudence gets married without knowing he is henceforth bound to the obligations of fatherhood when and if his bride bears children.
What else can he say? “I was not expecting to be a father! I thought marriage was so that I could treat my sex partner as an unpaid maid and housekeeper!”
Not all married men wish to have children. Childfree married couples are a small but growing minority. Even ignoring the sex issue, there are lots of reasons to get married even if you don’t want kids: personally, as a person of some neuroticism, I like the security that I will have someone I love and whose judgment I value visit me in the hospital, make medical decisions for me when I am incapable of making them myself, and dispose of my body when I die. And even if you want kids, that doesn’t mean you want this specific child. A father and mother can very well disagree about whether their finances will stretch to another child, whether they should abort a child with Down Syndrome, or whether it would be nice to never have to change a diaper again. If anything, Mr. Wright’s proposed solution makes the betrayal worse: a father who has a child he didn’t wish to have must be loving and take care of the child anyway, while a pro-life father whose child was aborted must spend the rest of his life knowing that the love of his life murdered his child. Neither is useful.
There are reasons to get married besides wanting kids and wanting an unpaid maid and housekeeper. You know, friendship, companionship, a comfort in times of sickness and sorrow, a person to share your joys? All that stuff? True love?
Also do your damn share of the dishes, honestly, there is no excuse not to have a fair and equitable chore division.