Category Archives: Skepticism & Atheism

Rational Relationships: The Illusion of Transparency

The illusion of transparency is a common cognitive bias wherein people overestimate both the degree to which their internal thoughts are apparent to those around them and the degree to which they understand the internal thoughts of others.

The classic example was a 1990 Stanford study where test subjects would tap out the rhythm of a well-known song (e.g. Happy Birthday or The Star-Spangled Banner) with their finger across from another test subject, who was supposed to listen to the taps and guess the song. Before the listener guessed, the tapper was asked to predict whether the listener would be able to guess correctly. Tappers predicted that listeners would guess correctly about 50% of the time. Listeners actually guessed correctly about 3% of the time.

The disparity came from the fact that tappers couldn’t help but hear the song in their heads as they tapped the rhythm, and had an enormous amount of difficulty imagining what it was like not to know the song. Try it yourself! Tap out the rhythm to a song, and try to imagine trying to guess what song it is. It seems much easier than it actually is. Meanwhile, the listeners are just hearing a sequence of taps with no context for what they mean, and tend to have no idea what the song could possibly be.

It’s not difficult to see how this could affect our relationships. The number one piece of relationship advice that tends to be given, especially in nonmonogamous relationships, is to communicate. The reason that this advice is so popular is because of the illusion of transparency. We tend to assume that our partners know what we want and how we feel to a much greater extent than they do. Likewise, we tend to assume that we understand how our partners feel to a much greater extent than we actually do.

Like most cognitive biases, the best way to avoid the negative consequences of the illusion of transparency is simply to be aware of it and expect it. If you want something from your partner, and you think it’s obvious, say it anyway. There’s a strong chance that your partner simply wasn’t aware of what you wanted. If you think you’re giving your partner what they want, make sure to check in periodically. It’s likely that there may be an issue that you weren’t aware of that your partner thought was obvious. This can happen with big topics, such as whether to have children, and small topics, such as what to have for dinner.1this is one reason why I recommend that all people planning to be married employ a marriage planning agreement We can overlook the fact that a partner is preparing to leave or the fact that a partner is deliriously happy.

Some people find it romantic to imagine a situation where partners “just know” what each other are thinking without having to say anything. Romantic as it may be, it’s a dangerous ideal precisely because it reinforces and encourages the illusion of transparency. In the real world. it’s almost always better to say what you’re thinking, even if you think your partner already knows.

Wesley Fenza is an attorney practicing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His practice areas include divorce, criminal defense, and civil litigation. If you are in need of legal advice, please contact him.

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1. this is one reason why I recommend that all people planning to be married employ a marriage planning agreement

The Creation Museum is Horrifying

So Gina, Amber, and I are on a road trip from Jersey to Colorado and back. Today we passed through Kentucky on our way to Nashville, and we figured we had to stop at the Creation Museum. For those of you who don’t know, the Creation Museum is a project by Ken Ham, which exists to evangelize young-Earth creationism and biblical literacy. The main draw to us was that we heard that much of the museum was dedicated to the idea that Adam  and Eve coexisted with dinosaurs! We figured that we were in for some amusing scenes of biblical humans riding triceratopses, and the standard fire & brimstone about Jesus and Heaven. It started out innocuous enough:

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The opening hallway was pretty much what we expected. Lots of preaching about how the Bible is the word of god, quotes about great beasts in the Bible, and about how evolution is wrong:

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Grimlock, Gina's little T-Rex, was very excited to see the dinosaurs

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The main exhibit area starts out similarly. There are these charming lads:

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Then there is a bunch of propaganda about how important biblical literacy is, and a room featuring a family engaging in drugs, pornography, abortions, and gossip! And then, PLOT TWIST! The family’s preacher has decided that they should just leave the science to the scientists, and not worry about the age of the Earth or how people were created. No wonder the family is drowning in sin!

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Then there is a room full of humans and dinosaurs! It’s just as amusing as expected, despite the fact that you are not allowed to pet the raptors.
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Adam and Eve frolic in the garden of Eden, joined by deer, rabbits, squirrels, and random dinosaurs. Also, there was a pretty impressive Noah’s Ark diorama.

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It’s after this room that the museum gets truly disturbing. While everything up until this point was rather silly and amusing, the remainder of the museum is a true monument to ignornance. It replicates the look and feel of a natural history museum, with large, bright photos aside “scientific explanations” about how creationism is true. Each exhibit gives what “secular scientists” say, then gives the biblical interpretation, explaining that the only reason secular scientists and Christian scientists come to different conclusions is that they start with different assumptions.

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The terrifying part is that so many of their explanations sounds plausible if you don’t have a pretty sophisticated understanding of biology and ecology. How was the Grand Canyon formed? We don’t know! But there have been events where large canyons were formed in just a matter of days due to volcanic eruptions…. Why are dinosaur fossils buried so deep? Because the global flood deposited massive amounts of sediment on top of them, of course! In fact, the global flood explains a lot of the state of the Earth’s surface. How do we explain the fact that we can observe evolution in bacteria? Some convoluted explanation about how that’s just natural selection, not evolution. You see, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are actually inferior to other bacteria (all mutations are mistakes), and would die out as soon as antibiotics were removed from their environment. And therefore evolution is false.

Secular scientists say that beetles evolved a mating call? Think critically! How could female beetles evolve the response to the mating call at the same time males evolved the call? Secular scientists say that Goliath beetles evolved the ability to fly? Think critically! How could something so heavy evolve that ability? Isn’t it more likely that it was designed by an intelligent creator?

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Rather than come out and say that the scientific community is wrong, Ham’s museum instead takes the often-used strategy of sowing doubt and encouraging people to make up their own minds, along with heavily suggesting that the “secular scientists” aren’t to be trusted. The last few rooms of the museum are dedicated not to promoting anything, but rather tearing down science.

It’s scary because it works. The museum is hugely successful. Innumerable parents bring innumerable children to the museum every day to be indoctrinated against human reason. While we came in expecting amusement, we left fighting off depression at the deviousness of Ham’s assault on progress. The whole museum seemed designed to worm into the heads of impressionable children (and adults) the idea that scientists know nothing, can prove nothing, and are advocating only for their own alternative faith-based worldview. The museum proceeds not by making straightforward arguments, but by pretending to approach the natural world in a scientific way. Ham’s museum presents creationism as a science, the only goal of which is to accurately explain the natural world. Disagreements with the vast majority of the scientific community are presented as simply different schools of thought rather than fundamentally different approaches toward understanding the world.

The Creation Museum scares me. It is devastatingly effective at spreading misinformation and ignorance, and it is emblematic of a widespread backlash against the march of progress, which undermines holy truths at every turn. The Creation Museum looms as the proverbial conservative, standing before the tide of history and yelling “stop.” Except rather than a single doomed figure, it is an army of soldiers for Christ, dedicated to dragging us all back into the 18th century.

See My FTBCon 3 Panels!

This weekend, I had the privilege to appear on three separate panels at FTBCon 3, the third annual FreeThoughtBlogs online conference. My first panel was entitled “FtBCon3: Kumbay-Ahh-Ahh-Ahhh!!!: Building a Community Around Shared Sexual Interests.” We discussed how communities built around things like poly and kink function, how to have strong communities, and how to keep them safe. It was moderated by Neil Wehnemen, and the other panelists were Karen Hill and Trina Gardinier.

Notice the festive Christmas decorations that are still up!

The next panel was the one I moderated, entitled “Reasonable Relationships: How Does Our Skepticism Influence our Romantic or Non-Romantic Relationship.” This was an idea that grew out of my Skeptical Monogamy presentation. When I gave the presentation at Atlanta Poly Weekend, a lot of the discussion became about how logical fallacies influence and distort our relationship thinking. It was such a great conversation that I thought it would make a good panel discussion all by itself. I was joined by More Than Two author Franklin Veaux, and bloggers Miri Mogilevsky and Chana Messinger. It ended up being a great discussion, and touched on a few topics in my Rational Relationships series.

My final panel, also moderated by Neil Wehneman, was entitled “Did You Remember Your (Love) Life Vest? Polyamory in the Deep End.” At FTBCon 2, there was a panel on polyamory that focused on 101-level questions, and this one was intended as a sequel, to get into some higher-level questions. During this panel, we got into some of the more advanced topics such as when/if to come out, long-distance, and poly misconceptions that grind our gears. Also on the panel were Miri and Karen from the community panel, as well as Heina Dadhaboy and Danny Samuelson.

FTBCon was a great experience, and they have lots of other great discussions up on the homepage. I encourage you to check them all out.

If you’d like to see more of my presentations, I’ll be presenting on relationship anarchy at Poly Living in Philadelphia the weekend of February 20-22, and Atlanta Poly Weekend, June 5-7.

Ethics and Philosophy: Ethics are Not Normative

Some time ago, I started reading philosophy. Since then, I have been trying to get a handle on leading philosophical views on ethics and morality. This post is my attempt to sketch out my current views on moral normativity. Everything here is tentative and open to revision. I welcome all argument, especially from people who know way more about it than I do. I have read very little philosophy, and what I have read has been somewhat abridged, so I welcome argument and debate on this topic.

I. The Sources of Normativity

My biggest stumbling block in most ethical philosophy is this: is there a rational reason why I should care about other people? Why is selfishness wrong? I did not find a satisfactory answer to this anywhere in Betrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, so I asked my friend and prominent philosopher [1] Dan Fincke for recommended reading. Dan correctly labeled the subject of my inquiry as “the normative question” and suggested Christine Korsgaard. Korsgaard has published her defense of ethical normativity in her book, The Sources of Normativity. However, because I’m allergic to paying over $10 for a book, I opted to read Korsgaard’s Tanner Lectures on normativity, which provide the source material for her later book.

Korsgaard identifies four sources for normativity, all of which she labels correct. The first is Voluntarism:

According to this view, moral obligation derives from the command of someone who has legitimate authority over the moral agent and so can make laws for her. You must do the right thing because God commands it, say, or because a political sovereign whom you have agreed to obey makes it law. Normativity springs from a legislative will.

According to this view, morality is normative because it is imposed from an outside authority. The second source is realism:

According to this view, moral claims are normative if they are true, and true if there are intrinsically normative entities or facts that they correctly describe. Realists try to establish the normativity of ethics by arguing that values or obligations or reasons really exist or, more commonly, by arguing against the various forms of skepticism about them.

Korsgaard goes on to explain that the realist view simply declares certain thing to be intrinsically normative “by fiat.” The realist decides that something is intrinsically normative, and that’s that. The third source is reflective endorsement:

This view is favored by philosophers who believe that morality is grounded in human nature. The philosopher’s first job is to explain what the source of morality in human nature is, why we use moral concepts and feel ourselves bound by them. When an explanation of our moral nature is in hand, we can then raise the normative question: all things considered, do we have reason to accept the claims of our moral nature or should we reject them? The question is not “are these claims true?” as it is for the realist. The reasons sought here are practical reasons; the idea is to show that morality is good for us.

This view argues that, as we reflect on our decisions, we will involuntarily approve or disapprove of them, so the “moral” action is the one of which, upon reflection, we approve. The fourth source is the appeal to autonomy:

Kantians believe that the source of the normativity of moral claims must be found in the agent’s own will, in particular in the fact that the laws of morality are the laws of the agent’s own will and that its claims are ones she is prepared to make on herself. The capacity for self-conscious reflection about our own actions confers on us a kind of authority over ourselves, and it is this authority that gives normativity to moral claims.

This view argues that it is our own identities and wills which obligate us to perform certain acts and avoid others. These views are fleshed out very well in the linked lecture series, and I encourage anyone interested in the topic to read it. At just over 100 pages, it’s rather short for a work of philosophy, but not what I’d call an easy read.

Korsgaard argues that it is our own practical identities that compel our actions. She defines a practical identity as “a description under which you find your life to be worth living and your actions to be worth undertaking.” She argues that your practical identity is “not merely a contingent conception of your identity, which you have constructed or chosen for yourself or could conceivably reject. It is simply the truth.” Because, upon reflection, we will disapprove of actions inconsistent with our practical identities, then we are obligated to conform to them. The “reflective structure of human consciousness” obligates us to behave in ways that are consistent with our practical identities.

Korsgaard argues that the structure of the human mind makes it impossible for us not to value our identities. To act, we must have reasons, and to have reasons for action, we must see our own actions as worthwhile. We must see ourselves as beings whose actions matter. “Since you cannot act without reasons and your humanity is the source of your reasons, you must endorse your own humanity if you are to act at all.”

Korsgaard goes on to argue that we can obligate others because the act of communication and socializing creates a shared consciousness, that our experiences are not completely private, and that we can involve others in them through communication. We can think and reason together. Therefore, Korsgaard argues, we can obligate one another in the same way that we can obligate ourselves.

II. Morality is Not Normative

Korsgaard’s arguments break down for me in two places. First, I am not convinced by Korsgaard’s description of a practical identity. Second, I do not see the logical connection that Korsgaard draws between shared reasoning and obligating one another.

Korsgaard describes the practical identity as simply a fact, not something that could conceivably be rejected. I think this overlooks the elasticity of identity. Korsgaard claims that when reflection reveals that an action is inconsistent with a person’s practical identity, “she must reject that way of acting, and act in
another way.” This seems self-evidently false. There are two additional options: (1) she can change her identity; or (2) she can change her mind about whether the action is consistent with her identity.

If Korsgaard were correct, and a person’s identity was unable to change in response to threats, there would be no such thing as a religious convert. Many formerly religious people were extremely devout, so much so that “pious” or “faithful” were part of their practical identity in the terms Korsgaard gives. Yet people change this identity, sometimes gradually, sometimes all at once. Similarly, people often begin identifying as nonmonogamous in response to performing an act inconsistent with their practical identity as a faithful, monogamous partner. Rather than reject the action, people often change their identity and/or change what their identity means (i.e. deciding that being “faithful” just means being honest, not being monogamous). There is no such thing as an immutable identity. Once it is acknowledged that practical identity is a fluid concept, Korsgaard’s argument loses its force. Acts cease to be obligatory and merely become optional. Certainly, some people have strong enough identities that they are unchangeable, but that is hardly universal, and thus it is not normative.

The second issue is that the fact that we can reason and think together does not mean that others share our practical identity. Practical identity, as described by Korsgaard, is an incredibly strong concept. It must be so strong that “an agent would rather be dead” than to contradict it. Above, I’ve expressed skepticism about whether this concept applies universally to every individual. However, I can say with near-certainty that this level of devotion to identity cannot be forced on anyone from an outside source. There is nothing I can do to force you to adopt my values on such a fundamental level. While some people are susceptible to that kind of thing, not all people are (and I would argue that most are not), and thus the concept is not normative.

III. Conclusion

Korsgaard’s arguments for normativity are the most convincing that I’ve been able to find, but I still find them unconvincing. Because I can find no evidence for normative morality, I am forced to conclude that morality is purely subjective (although that still leaves room for intersubjective morality). I am forced to conclude that the only coherent moral philosophy is egoism.

I’m planning a future post on the implications of this view, but for now, I’m interested in any comments people have on the sources of normativity, or lack thereof.

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1. Not as prominent as he should be. As someone who is repelled by most philosophy, I find Dan’s writing to be equal parts accessible and brilliant. He is also rebelling against out bullshit higher education system by offering independent classes over Google Hangouts. If you’re interested, you can see his class schedule here.

Rational Relationships: The Motte-and-Bailey Doctrine

MotteandBailey

The motte-and-bailey doctrine is a concept created by Nicholas Shackel as a critique of post-moderism. I was introduced to it through Slate Star Codex

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.

So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

An example:

The religious group that acts for all the world like God is a supernatural creator who builds universes, creates people out of other people’s ribs, parts seas, and heals the sick when asked very nicely (bailey). Then when atheists come around and say maybe there’s no God, the religious group objects “But God is just another name for the beauty and order in the Universe! You’re not denying that there’s beauty and order in the Universe, are you?” (motte). Then when the atheists go away they get back to making people out of other people’s ribs and stuff.

SSC give several more examples, which are very helpful if you’re not quite getting the concept. To me, it refers to a situation where your position is not easily defended, so you retreat to a stronger position when challenged. Then, after the challenge is over, you go back to the weaker position.

We do this all of the time in relationships. The most common area I see this in is STI risk. STI’s are a real danger, and taking precautions against STI’s is an extremely defensible position. “What?! I just want to be safe” is the motte. The bailey ends up being all kinds of emotional needs, accommodating jealousy, or soft veto power. There is almost no restriction that one could put on a partner that could not be somehow justified by pointing at STI risk. Want veto power (bailey)? Just say you don’t trust the other person’s sexual safety (motte). Want to cut your partner’s dating pool significantly (bailey)? Insist that all partners receive extensive STI testing by our sponsors every six months (motte). Want to be the only person who gets to do kink with your partner (bailey)? Point out that it’s riskier from a sexual health perspective, and say you’re not comfortable with that risk level (motte).

It can also be used with other legitimate concerns. Don’t want your partner to stay overnight with other partners (bailey)? Claim that you can’t sleep alone (motte). Want to limit the amount of time your partner can spend away from home (bailey)? Come up with a household duty schedule that conveniently requires your partner to be home most of the time (motte). Want to make sure your partner stays closeted (bailey)? Say that your boss is a total bigot and would fire you if they found out you were poly (motte).

The motte-and-bailey doctrine is so dangerous precisely because the “motte” positions are really good reasons. It’s totally legit to want to minimize your STI risks, and communicating that to a partner is something we should all do! Some people can’t sleep alone! Some people have terrible bosses! There is no way to tell the difference between when someone has an honest issue and when someone is just trying to control their partner.

Worse, we can even fool ourselves with motte-and-bailey thinking. Human motivation is complicated, and there are often multiple reasons motivating us for a single action or position. Often, when examining our motivations, we will seize on the most palatable motivation and ignore the others. So it’s possible that we can have legitimate fears about STI’s, but weigh those fears more heavily because we have unaddressed insecurities which motivate us to control our partner(s). Our fears about coming out may be less about getting fired and more about wanting to avoid conflict or awkwardness with our friends.

The only real solution is to rigorously examine and communicate our motivations, which can be incredibly demanding and difficult. It’s not easy to sort out your primary motivation from numerous contenders. The key question is this: but for your stated reason, would you be comfortable with the behavior at issue? For example, if there was no risk of STI’s, would you be ok with your partner dating promiscuous people? If your job was safe, would you have any objection to coming out? If you would still object, then your stated reason is not your actual reason.

Knowing and admitting our motivations is a key step toward personal growth, and the growth of a relationship. We must always be vigilant that our motivations are what we think.

More Than Two: This is the One We’ve Been Waiting For

MorethanTwoI often get asked the question “how can I learn about polyamory?” Until now, I haven’t really had a good answer. Now I do: read More Than Two, the new book by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, available September 2.

More Than Two, in a nod to the roots of the poly movement, starts with a foreward by Janet Hardy, one of the authors of The Ethical Slut, the 1997 book often touted as the poly Bible. More Than Two, however, quickly departs from its roots by tackling a subject previously avoided by almost all writing on polyamory: ethics. From pg. 36:

One of the things you’ll hear a lot from poly people is that “there’s no one right way to do poly.” This is true. There are many ways to “do poly” (live polyamorously) that give you a decent chance of having joyful, fulfilling, meaningful relationships with low conflict. But when people say “There’s no one right way,” it sometimes seems they mean there are no bad ways to do poly. We disagree.

And herein lies the need for this book. Too often, the polyamory community, skittish from the insufferable moralizing that’s been directed at us, is averse to anything resembling criticism of our lifestyle. More Than Two is full of such criticism. The book takes a humble, but firm stance. If there is a coherent theme to the book, it would be this: learn from our mistakes. Far from the moralizing you’ll see from conservative critics, almost all of the advice in More Than Two comes from experience the authors (or their friends) had. Each chapter is interspersed with personal stories illustrating each point being made. These stories add credibility to the authors’ perspectives and give the reader the benefit of some real-life examples, often of what happens when the authors’ advice is not followed. In additional to the personal stories, each chapter ends with several questions to ask yourself related to the advice given.

The other thing I love about More Than Two, which will not be a surprise to readers of this blog, is that the authors come from a skeptical, secular perspective. I have been an avid reader of Franklin Veaux’s for some time, and the reason is that he comes at polyamory from a skeptical standpoint, rather than the pagan, woo-filled, or spiritual approaches of many other writers. Veaux’s skepticism is apparent throughout the book, from headings such as “Evidence-Based Polyamory” to admonishments to remember the difference between feelings and facts.

More Than Two is divided into five sections: (1) What is Polyamory; (2) A Poly Toolkit; (3) Poly Frameworks; (4) The Poly Reality; and (5) The Poly Ecosystem. Part 1 seems mostly written for newbies or people who’ve never heard of polyamory before, and will likely bore anyone with any substantial experience. It goes through polyamory basics, some glossary, and different relationship styles. It doesn’t really pick up until Chapter 3, where the authors lay out their vision for ethical relationships. Veaux and Rickert propose two axioms for ethical relationships (pg. 41):

  • The people in a relationship are more important than the relationship.
  • Don’t treat people as things.

These axioms underlie the entire contents of the book. Also notable in Chapter 3 is the Relationship Bill of Rights.

Part 2: A Poly Toolkit

Part 2 is mostly about developing the skills required to be polyamorous. In the words of Veaux and Rickert, from pp. 51-52:

We keep hearing that polyamory is hard work. We don’t agree-at least, not for the reasons that people say. But developing the skills to be successful in poly relationships? That’s a different story. Learning to understand and express your needs, learning to take responsibility for your emotions… that’s hard work. Once you’ve developed those skills, poly relationships aren’t hard.

Part 2 gives advice on how to develop the skills necessary for successful poly relationships. It includes advice on emotional management, learning new skills, dealing with jealousy, and two full chapters on communication. Communication, as we all know, is the cornerstone of successful relationships, and the topic is covered extensively. Especially noteworthy are the discussions regarding the differences between communication and coercion, and how to foster good communication from our partners.

Part 2 may have been my favorite. It is filled with useful, practical advice for anyone in any kind of relationship. Advice ranges from philosophical (nurture a view that relationships are abundant) to the practical (don’t expect someone to do anything unless they’ve agreed). One of my favorites, from pg. 80: “We would like to suggest the radical notion that being uncomfortable is not, by itself, a reason not to do something, nor to forbid someone else from doing something.” There are so many gems in this section that I was afraid my highlighter would run out of ink.

Part 3: Poly Frameworks

In Part 3, Veaux and Rickert dive deep into the nitty-gritty details of poly styles, discussing rules, boundaries, structures, agreements, and even including an entire chapter on veto arrangements. Part 3 is likely to inspire the most controversy in the community, as the authors pull few punches when expressing their distaste for rules, vetoes, prescriptive hierarchies, and other frameworks that (generally couples) use to protect or codify their relationships. The authors don’t go so far as to say that such structures should never be used, but they leave no doubt as to their view that such structures are extremely difficult to use ethically and ought to be avoided whenever possible.

As a relationship anarchist, I’m rather opposed to prescriptive structures of any kind, so I didn’t personally benefit much from this part, but I was happy to see Veaux and Rickert tackle these topics in a compassionate but unyielding way.

One of my disappointments, however, was in the framing of rules vs. agreements. The authors chose a somewhat arbitrary distinction by which “rules” could be condemned and “agreements” could be acceptable:

An agreement is a covenant negotiated by all the parties it affects. Something negotiated between one set of people-a couple, for example-and then presented as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to others is not an agreement as we define it: we call that a rule.

The rest of the chapter is very harsh on rules (with good reason) but seems to give a pass to what they call “agreements.” The problem with this approach is that many of their criticisms of rules (i.e. they judge people’s character on the basis of adherence to the rules; they have an inverse relationship to trust; they transfer risk onto others; they’re susceptible to creeping concessions) are applicable to agreements as well. I worry that people will read this chapter and think that their relationship structures aren’t problematic because, well, they’re not “rules.” The distinction seems largely artificial to me, and while rules present additional problems, the majority of the problems with rules are also problems with agreements.

Part 3 ends with the authors’ vision of what empowered relationships look like. It’s an inspiring vision, and one to which I believe we should all aspire. From pg. 248: “the best way to create security in a relationship is to create happiness.” It’s a noble ideal, and one that we would all do well to remember.

Part 4: The Poly Reality

Part 4 deals with practical issues in poly relationships. While much of the advice in the book is applicable to all relationships regardless of structure, Part 4 largely deals with issues unique to poly. It give practical tips for how to be an ethical pivot (i.e. the partner in the middle of a vee), balancing the needs of multiple partners, long-distance relationships, raising children, opening from a couple, mono/poly relationships, sex and sexual health, relationship transitions, and specific danger spots to watch for in poly relationships.

A lot of the advice in Part 4 is situation-specific, so it doesn’t have particularly broad applicability. However, for a person actually in the situation being addressed, the advice can be invaluable. I particularly appreciated the section dealing with how concerns ostensibly related to sexual health can actually be about possessiveness or emotional comfort, which is a big, largely unaddressed problem in the community.

Like the previous parts, Part 4 contains a large amount of valuable information that the authors have amassed through experience. Poly people of all experience levels would be wise to take heed of their words and learn all they can from Veaux and Rickert’s experiences.

Part 5: The Poly Ecosystem

Part 5, the final portion of the book, has three chapters: Your Partners’ Other Partners; Finding Partners; and The Rest of the World. I did not find Part 5 particularly helpful, though some people may feel differently if they are facing the particular struggles addressed.

I was somewhat unsatisfied with the advice regarding dealing with metamours. Mostly, the advice seemed focused on keeping the peace and staying out of metamour conflicts. I don’t actually think this is good advice. I think pivots should take sides in a conflict, if they believe that one partner is right and the other wrong. I think staying out of a conflict is often the wrong choice.

The chapter on finding partners was a mixed bag. “Where can I meet partners?” is generally one of the first questions asked by new poly people, so I was glad to see it addressed. However, I generally find Franklin Veaux’s advice on finding partners somewhat unhelpful. In his life, Veaux has been lucky enough to bump into potential partners in a lot of unexpected places, and his advice is generally to replicate his behavior. In other words, Veaux advises people just to live their lives and be out about being polyamorous, and they will meet partners. For reasons I’ve covered before, I don’t think that’s good advice. I recommend that, if you want to meet partners, join OkCupid.

However, the majority of the finding partners chapter was not about where to meet partners. It was about how to exercise good partner selection. The advice given on this topic was excellent. From pg. 419: “You can skip right over vast quantities of relationship problems by exercising good partner selection skills at the outset.” Veaux and Rickert give a lot of practical advice for how to recognize warning signs in a person and how to recognize qualities that you find compelling.

The final chapter is about how to relate to the rest of the world. I was somewhat disappointed in this section, as it didn’t give any advice on how to create positive poly communities. Specifically, I was hoping for advice on how to create a culture of consent, which I have seen both Veaux and Rickert address previously. Most of the chapter focused on whether to be “out” about being poly, and gave the generally good advice that yes, you should be out, if can safely be so.

Conclusion (tl;dr)

Make no mistake, aside from the few minor quibbles noted above, this book is fantastic, and has the potential to be revolutionary. I have been waiting for a book that I could confidently tell people contains the collective wisdom of the poly community. This is that book. Veaux and Rickert have done an amazing job filling each page with need-to-know information for, in large part, anyone who wants to have fulfilling relationships (not just poly relationships). I will be purchasing multiple copies and encouraging everyone with the time and energy available to read it. I’m already passing around my advance highlighted copy, and I plan on getting more.

More Than Two ends with a plea to our better natures: “Love More, Be Awesome.” Sounds like good advice to me.