Friday, April 11, 2014

A few thoughts on impending fatherhood

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you may have recently noticed a post by me stating that my wife is pregnant. I'm going to be a father for the first time. And it still hasn't sunk in yet, not completely anyway. Part of me doesn't entirely believe it. Another part of me thinks it's crazy. Me? A father? Preposterous. But it's true. Barring some horrible mishap, I will be a father by early November of this year.

What can this mean for me? For the life I have with my wife and her other S.O. (significant other)? I'm sure if you're a parent you already have some idea of what this will mean for us. At least, I hope you do! But I have to figure out what it means for us, and me, specifically, beyond just the usual generalizations that can apply to any new potential parents. Here's a few thoughts I've had, in no particular order.

-- I'm going to have to give up sleeping pills, at least for a while. I can't be having myself unable to respond to a 3am crying baby because I'm drugged up for sleep. This is an unfortunate truth, as getting proper sleep has been a big part of dealing with my current episode of depression. It's amazing what benefit there is to not being constantly tired. Somehow, I'll have to adjust. The meditation I've started doing might actually help here.

-- I should probably start paying more attention to politics at a local level than I currently do, especially as it relates to education. I still don't know for sure if I want to pursue home schooling, or if I simply want to supplement the schooling that public school would give. Part of this will depend, I think, on the state of education here in Rochester, MN when that time actually arrives. I do know that I intend to support and teach our child about things like critical thinking, healthy skepticism, respect for others, importance of bodily autonomy, philosophy, and other values that I have. My goal in all of that is to teach our child how to think, not necessarily what to think. I may hope that any child of mine turns out to be a secular humanist, but I'm not going to try and force it.

-- We intend to test for any genetic disorders that can be tested for. I honestly don't know what I'll do, or want to do, if they come back positive. But I know for sure that I'd like time to process it first, rather than being shocked by it when the child is born. I know that I hope there's nothing, that our child is healthy, and won't have to deal with the hassles that come from having developmental disabilities.

-- The other day I had a horrible thought. I realized that someday our child will die. This nearly made me sick, having this hit me, and the child isn't even here yet. I don't recall what I was thinking about before that thought came to me, but I do know it was somehow related to death. At any rate, this may be the hardest thing that I will have to deal with: the knowledge that they will die. I already have trouble dealing with the idea of death.

-- Given that both I and my wife have had to deal with depression, it's an unfortunate likelihood that any child of ours will end up having to deal with depression as well. I intend to try and teach them strategies and thought patterns that will hopefully minimize the effects of depression, but let's face it: that hasn't made me immune to it, and won't make the child immune.

These are just a few of the thoughts that have crossed my mind. I'm sure there will be others over time. I find myself happy and scared at the same time as I attempt to process the idea that I will be a father relatively soon. Here's hoping it all turns out well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On slowly applying empowerment ethics to my life

Recently I came to provisionally accept that Dan Fincke's system of empowerment ethics is the way to go for living a good, ethical life. I say provisionally because it's still possible that I could find a system that holds together even better than empowerment ethics, that maybe finds a weakness in the argument for empowerment ethics, and so I would have to reconsider my acceptance. But for now, I've been unable to spot a weakness in empowerment ethics, and it seems to hold together really well. So in this post I'm going to examine what attempts I'm making to apply this to my own life, and ways that I could probably stand to apply it that I'm not yet doing.

First off though, let me point out two issues that make it more difficult for me than it needs to be for me to apply empowerment ethics to my life. To start, there's the depression. Though I've made great strides in dealing with my current bout of depression, it's still an issue. It isn't gone, and I don't know if it ever will be gone. In some form or another, I will probably have to deal with depression for the rest of my life. And depression is a motivation sapper.

Second, I'm lazy. Motivating myself to do something that looks like work or effort (unless it's something I really enjoy) is difficult. Sometimes it seems impossible (and depression, for me, makes it worse). I've been this way my entire life, but I think I'm finally motivated to do something about it (too bad it's not as easy as saying "I don't want to be lazy anymore"). So to start, I'm working on improving my helping around the house. For example, I'm the guy in this house who's supposed to scoop the cat litter, and in the past I'd just let it go for far longer than I should have, and by the time I got to it, I just needed to dump out the litter and start over. Well, I've been turning it into a habit now to scoop it either when I get home from work, or, if I don't work, when I feed the cats in the evening. How?

A lovely little app for Android called "Habit Streak Plan." I didn't mention this to anyone before because I wanted to be sure that it would work for me. And it has. How it works is that I set up habits in the app that I want to develop, along with a question to be asked each day that I answer either yes I did it the previous day, or not (it always asks about the previous day). So for the litter scooping, the title is "Cat Litter," and the question is "Did you scoop the cat litter?" Simple.

I went with this app because it provides a daily reminder about the habits I'm trying to develop, and in the past I've found that habits, once formed, are very powerful in keeping me doing things. Unfortunately, laziness is partly a habit, and I don't know an easy trick for breaking it. The cat litter isn't the only habit I'm using the app to help develop. I'm also working on doing physical therapy stretches for my back, using flash cards via the program Mnemosyne to study the feats for the Pathfinder roleplaying game (if I find something else I want to study that flash cards would be helpful with, I'll add it, but for now it's just Pathfinder), and writing. I enjoy writing, and the thought processes it forces me into, but I wasn't being very good about keeping it up, so this app has been very helpful in making me write at least a little every day.

So far, it's just those four items in my habit developing app. But it's a start. It's a way for me to combat one of my biggest character flaws (in my opinion), something that has consistently kept me from being the best that I can be. Anyone with other suggestions for beating laziness, let me know!

For the most part, all of that is just battling with a weakness. I'm still working on ideas for actually improving in areas that I'm strong in. The writing does that, sure. Unfortunately, some of my ideas for improving, for empowering myself and others, are currently unfeasible. For example, I really think that if I could go back to school, I could improve my thinking, and my writing, and probably other areas as well. On the thinking aspect, I've thought of taking online courses with Dan Fincke (a man I greatly respect, obviously) which are cheaper than college, and would speak straight to my interests in philosophy. Sadly, at this time I simply can't afford them (even at discounted rates).

So, I have to look to other ways (open to suggestions here). One thing I haven't started yet, but that I'm seriously considering, is beginning a secular mindfulness meditation practice. This is a form of meditation that actually has scientific data backing up it's benefits, and I can see lots of ways that learning to be mindful, focused, and more self-aware would be beneficial. Anything that helps my depression is of course great, and there's evidence it can do that. But simply being able to concentrate better would be of massive benefit in damn near anything I do.

I'm also considering getting back into the gym to work out. Work will reimburse me for my gym membership, so I can afford it, and I don't think I need to reiterate the benefits of a fit(ter) body. I may not be willing to go full bore on eating healthy (it's more expensive, and frankly, I hate cooking and find all the healthy eating I've been taught about to be very boring sounding), but there are still things that could be done.

So far, I'm only talking about things that directly impact me. But empowerment ethics recognizes that we can't be truly powerful without empowering others. So how the hell can I work on that? Well, at first glance, it should be easy. I work with developmentally disabled adults as a career, and a huge part of what my company strives to do is empower our clients! Which is great. Unfortunately, I'm burnt out on some major aspects of my work, and simply have no idea how to deal with that. It's the only job I've ever had where I didn't feel like I was just there to make a buck for the higher ups, but it's also a high stress job. I used to have the energy and motivation for it, but lately . . . well. If I can get that back somehow, maybe I can really find ways to empower my clients. I'd like to.

I'd like to think that I could use my writing to empower some of you, my dear readers, but I'm not quite arrogant enough to think that's something I can consistently, and deliberately, do at my current level of ability. Maybe someday, as my skill grows through practice, and I find things to say that could be empowering.

Still, I've noticed something, something surprising. Since provisionally accepting the argument for empowerment ethics, I've been more motivated. I've been motivated to improve, and be better than I have been. I've even noticed that lately when I envy someone's skill, instead of being a discouragement, it's acting as additional motivation. That's kinda weird, but good. And for that productive desire to be better, that motivation to be better, not just for myself but also those around me, I'm grateful.

This process may be slow, but I'm glad I'm undertaking it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Thinking out loud about the ethics of suicide

Having recently had a scare related to suicide, I find myself wondering about the ethics and morality of suicide. Is it wrong always, some of the time, or never? Is it ever the right thing to do?

Some religious theologies make the claim that one's life actually belongs to God, and therefore to take one's life is to steal from God (in essence). But I'm an atheist. That idea holds no water with me, so I need to approach this idea of suicide from a different angle, or angles.

There seems to be various issues that are wrapped up in this issue. Value of one's life, for example, and whether there are limits to one's right to do as one wishes with one's own body and life. There's also the issue of flourishing in our powers (at least if, like me, you lean toward empowerment ethics), which suicide would seem to contradict. Let's take a look at some of these things.

Value of individual life.

In "Schindler's List" there is a quote given "Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire," which apparently comes from the Talmud. I think there is truth to this idea, metaphorically speaking. Each of us has within ourselves an entire view, a model, of the world, which we construct day by day, moment by moment. It is not a literal world. I do not believe that all of physicality is illusion constructed by mind itself, or anything like that. But the model of the world that each of us creates is nonetheless unique, and powerful. It's powerful because that model shapes, and is in turn shaped by, the way we think, feel, and act. It has very real effects on the world as a result. The world outside of ourselves responds in some way to those effects, which changes (sometimes in the smallest of ways, and sometimes in very large ways) the model of the world that we have in our minds. No model is going to be a perfectly accurate model of the world, but every model will be unique.

Every person is unique in this. No two world models are the same, nor could they be. Similar, yes. The same, never. No two people ever have the same, exact down to the tiniest detail, experience of life. Thus I think there is a very real, metaphorical truth that every human life is a world onto itself.

So, when a human life is lost, a world is lost. What value is there to an entire world? It's priceless, and priceless things should not be destroyed without very good reason.

Right to life or death.

Does this then place a limit of some sort on what each of us can do with our own life, our own world? If it can be said that someone owns a person, it can only be that the person owns themselves. A person may choose to give certain privileges to another, but those privileges are not rights, and in no way confer ownership on the person receiving privileges. For example, my wife may choose to give me the privilege of having sex with her, and I may choose to give her the privilege of sex with me, but in neither case is a right conferred, and most certainly there is no transfer of ownership. If one owns oneself, then it would seem that the only person with any right to decide such things as what to do with one's life falls only to oneself. No one else has a right to take your life from you.

But does having a right to life, give you the right to die?

Maybe if I start by considering what seems to be the easier case: euthanasia, or assisted suicide. Generally speaking, when we are looking at cases of assisted suicide, it's in a situation in which someone is suffering a great deal, with no prospect of reprieve, and potentially a guaranteed death sentence. The prospect of dying in order to escape such suffering is an attractive option. This is when quality of life enters the picture. If we continue with the metaphor that a single life is like an entire world, then in such cases it can be said that a world is suffering, and a world may be dying. It doesn't seem a difficult thing to say that when such is the case, it is kinder to allow the suffering to cease through death. We are willing to give this mercy to our pets, so why not to ourselves?

But what of times when it is not the case that there is no prospect of reprieve?


I think when it comes down to it, I'm left with looking at what it means to live, which will hopefully lead to what it means to die.

We exist, in a crucial sense, as our powers (or abilities). To live an ethical life means to become better, more effective, in our power, or effectiveness. When we speak of being good, we're speaking of being effective: good at chess=effective at chess; good person, morally speaking= effective at being a moral person. If we're flourishing, then we're being effective as our individual powers (intellectual, physical, artistic, sexual, etc). Our meaning in life comes from our personal flourishing, and how it impacts and empowers others to flourish.

When we're flourishing, we're striving. We're striving to become better in our strengths, and striving to shore up our weaknesses. We're doing this not just in ourselves, but in others as well, which increases our own power as it's expressed and spread through others. And other's powers are expressed through us, as they help us flourish and become more empowered. An intricate, complex web is formed through these connections with others. Even with deep introspection we may not be able to see the totality of that web (it's probably not even possible).

When we live, we impact others. We can't help it, nor should we want to. If we are indeed flourishing as our powers, then it's likely that we are helping others to flourish as well (or so one hopes). So when we die, we stop helping. We lose the ability to empower others to flourish more. We break that web. We can no longer save worlds, or help build worlds. If we do this deliberately, then that loss, that incalculable loss, is on us. So from this, it would appear that suicide is not ethical.

But now I need to reexamine the case for assisted suicide. As I said, cases of assisted suicide happen when there is tremendous suffering without hope of reprieve, and most frequently when there's a clear case of guaranteed death anyway. At times like these, it is easy to see that flourishing may very well be out the window. Things may get to a point where all someone has the strength to do is manage symptoms. Striving to empower oneself and others is out the window. I think then that making the choice to end it all is not only rational, but ethical. That decision, however, must rest with the one who's life is on the line, and no one else.

There is more to examine in this issue I think (I'm not entirely confident in my construction of the individual life equaling an entire world, for instance), but for now, this is where my thinking has led me. So, what do you think?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Further thoughts on meaning

Someone recently told me that watching the new Cosmos made them feel small and pointless, like "specks of dust." This got me to thinking a bit more about meaning. I've addressed the question of meaning briefly in my recent "Why I'm an athiest, redux" post, in which I said
I think this was the very first objection I ever got to atheism: "But if there's no god, then what's the meaning of life?" I have to say, I was honestly confused (I was young). My response was "Who says there has to be a meaning?" The question was, and is, a genuine one. We may want there to be a meaning to our life, one that some force greater than ourselves recognizes, but I see no reason to think that the universe is obliged to grant our desire. It genuinely puzzles me that anyone thinks that just because we want a particular thing, it therefore must exist. 
Meaning, if it exists, is something that we provide to our lives. It's not something that is assigned to us from on high, but rather something that we must find or choose for ourselves. I suspect that the "meaning of life" will always be somewhat individual and subjective. One person may find meaning in being a father who raises ethical children, while another finds it in philanthropy, and so on, and so forth. But even if we cannot find something to give our lives meaning on our own, or with the help of other people, that does nothing to prove the existence of a god or gods, or any sort of afterlife.
In the grand scale of the Universe, we really are, to paraphrase Tim Minchin, insignificant specks of carbon dust, in size, time that we're around, and impact. The Universe does not appear to give two shits about us, and I can think of no reason why it should (especially as it doesn't appear to be, you know, sentient or conscious). But I confess, I've never felt small, pointless, meaningless, or any other synonym when confronted with the grandeur of the Universe.

When I've contemplated the immensity of the Universe, I've felt awe, wonder, amazement, and fascination, but I don't recall ever feeling small or pointless. I don't know why. It's possible that I just don't actually grasp the enormity of the Universe. It's also possible that I do (as much as one can), and just am not bothered by it in any way.

We are human beings. We can only live our lives on the  scale of humanity. While we can learn a great deal about the wider, larger Universe, we don't live that scale. This, however, does not mean that we are meaningless. In fact, meaning doesn't even matter at any scale except the scale at which sentient, conscious beings live.

Meaning is something that can only be granted, or appreciated, by sentient, conscious beings. It cannot be granted by an indifferent universe. Living one's life only matters to the those who actually live life, after all. And at the moment, the only beings we know of that are living, sentient, conscious beings are those living right here on Earth. Us. It thus makes no sense to even ask about meaning, unless we are asking what meaning we can find to our lives.

So, there is no grand meaning of life bestowed on us from some outside force/being/whatever that somehow makes our lives not tiny and pointless in the larger scheme of things. I reject that standard. What about personal meaning, something we pick for ourselves? Is such meaning real? Or is any sense of meaning merely a psychological band-aid meant to give us comfort in the face of fear and loneliness, as that same friend suggested? I realize that for some, that psychological comfort may indeed be what they are focused on, and thus it would be easy to conclude that that's all meaning is. But I don't believe that's all it really is. I think there actually is objective meaning, even if that meaning isn't exactly the same in practice for all of us.

When we look at what our nature is, we exist as our various functions or abilities--our powers, as it were. To be good, is to be effective in our functions. So, in one sense, the purpose of living is to grow in our powers, to empower ourselves, and others, to the best that we can (the fuller argument for this assertion is given in my post here, and the links by Dan Fincke at the bottom of that post). Or in other words, one way of looking at the meaning of life is to say that the meaning is to strive to be the best we can be, i.e., the most effective that we can be. That's an objective fact.

But I think there's room for a more personal touch as well. None of us can truly be the best in all of our powers. Inevitably, when we focus on developing one or more of our abilities, some other ability will fall short. That too, is an objective fact. So individual meaning's will vary. A teacher may find meaning in enriching and helping to grow the minds of his or her students. A doctor may find meaning in aiding patients to be healthy, and in minimizing suffering. A parent could find meaning in striving to be the best parent they can be, and in helping their young one(s) grow to be the best that they can be. Some people may find meaning in striving as leaders, and helping their team, whatever that team may be. Pro athletes might find meaning in inspiring others. Being the best friend you can be would be another way to find meaning in life.

These are all ways that people can grow in their own personal power, and in the empowerment of others. There are many, many others. There's no reason a person couldn't have more than one, as well. And it's entirely possible, and even likely, that an individual's personal meaning will change as life circumstances change, as goals change, and as we grow. One's personal meaning in life need not be a static thing. In fact, it would not surprise me if a static personal meaning would be a sure way to stall out in life, and stop growing.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

On suicide

I recently had a little bit of a scare. I was getting ready for work one Saturday morning, in a piss poor mood, when I thought of suicide. I wanted to take all of my prescription sleeping pills, go to sleep, and never wake up. I didn't do it, and I didn't even reach for the bottle. But I was nonetheless serious, very serious. I've had thoughts of suicide over the years that weren't serious, that amounted to a "what would I do IF I were suicidal?" and I went through a long period years ago where I actually was suicidal, and made two abortive attempts (chickened out on one after writing the note, and didn't take enough pills on the other, probably in part because I hadn't been able to say goodbye to anyone). Point is, I can tell when a suicidal thought and desire of mine is serious, and when it's not.

This was serious.

The full impact of what I had thought, and it's implications, didn't start to hit me for several hours. At first I didn't even realize the biggest part: I wasn't scared. I had very calmly had a serious desire to kill myself, along with a plan, without any fear. Always before I'd been at least somewhat agitated by fear when thinking of suicide seriously, but not this time. Not this time.

It wasn't hard to pinpoint a likely cause for the thought. I had recently had to stop taking Lunesta for a sleep aid because of financial concerns. At or near the beginning of the year our insurance stops covering as much for prescriptions and other things while it forces us to meet our deductible (our rather high deductible). As a result, the last time I tried renewing the Lunesta, I was being charged $336 out of pocket (there's no generic version). A phone call to insurance yielded no change. I had to turn it down, as I couldn't afford that. Thus it was that the next time I saw my psychiatrist (not long after, I only had to deal with a few days of poor sleep) we switched my sleeping aid prescription to Ambien (generic version, yay). Way, way cheaper. Only about $10 out of pocket.

I started with the Ambien on a Wednesday night, and had my mood decline until I had my suicidal thought on the following Saturday. The information inserts that come with such medications always warn you that if you experiencing new or worsening depression, or suicidal thoughts, you should contact your doctor. I didn't stop taking it immediately though, because that can also have adverse effects. So, I called Monday morning, and was advised that I could and should discontinue the Ambien. Instead, they put me on a prescription for seroquel. I'd tried that one before for sleep, and it wasn't as good as could be, so the dose was doubled this time.

I do wish I could afford the Lunesta, as the seroquel still doesn't help as much with the sleep as I'd like. But it does help, and I'm not suicidal. So it's a good thing.

Coincidentally, when I was in Barnes and Noble this past Friday, I spotted a book called "Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It," by Jennifer Michael Hecht. From the Amazon description:

Worldwide, more people die by suicide than by murder, and many more are left behind to grieve. Despite distressing statistics that show suicide rates rising, the subject, long a taboo, is infrequently talked about. In this sweeping intellectual and cultural history, poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht channels her grief for two friends lost to suicide into a search for history’s most persuasive arguments against the irretrievable act, arguments she hopes to bring back into public consciousness. 
From the Stoics and the Bible to Dante, Shakespeare, Wittgenstein, and such twentieth-century writers as John Berryman, Hecht recasts the narrative of our “secular age” in new terms. She shows how religious prohibitions against self-killing were replaced by the Enlightenment’s insistence on the rights of the individual, even when those rights had troubling applications. This transition, she movingly argues, resulted in a profound cultural and moral loss: the loss of shared, secular, logical arguments against suicide. By examining how people in other times have found powerful reasons to stay alive when suicide seems a tempting choice, she makes a persuasive intellectual and moral case against suicide.
I read a little bit while I was there, and figured that it seemed interesting. She objects to the idea that people have a right to suicide (though I noticed she might not be against assisted suicide when dealing with a terminal illness), and I'd kinda like to see what she has to say in defense of her position. Could be useful if medication or depression ever brings suicidal thoughts to my mind again. Maybe I'll take some time and examine the question in my own mind, and see if I can come up with an ethical stance prohibiting suicide (or maybe I'll end up agreeing with other philosophers that there is an individual right to kill oneself; one shouldn't start out with a preconceived conclusion).

Before I sign off on this post, let me just reiterate to the concerned out there: I'm not suicidal. This was an aberration apparently brought on by a new medication (or possibly it's interaction with other medications), and I got better after stopping that medication. I write about it here as part of my commitment to talking about mental illness openly and honestly, in an effort to de-stigmatize it, and to hopefully help people realize that an illness of the brain is no less an illness than that of any other part of the body.

Also, I'm grateful to my wife for helping me through this. All of this.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I'm a Feminist

I identify as a secular humanist. I also identify as a feminist. Some people however, think that if you identify as a humanist, there's no need for the label of feminist. I'd like to try explaining why I still identify as a feminist, and think it's still a valuable label.

As I understand it, at it's core feminism is about equality. Equality of pay, of representation, of rights. Yes, all these things. But it's also about equality of respect, of dignity. It's not just about the law, but about attitude and culture. No matter what the letter of the law is, without a change of attitude and culture the law simply won't have the force that it should.

Think of speed limits. Most states in the USA have speed limits in place, but I'm willing to bet that if you live in one of those states, you know someone -probably multiple someones- who speeds, at least a little, on a regular basis. It may even be you (I'm guilty as well). This happens because there isn't an attitude, a culture, that really respects those speed limits. Instead, people try to get away with what they can, even just five miles over the limit. We treat them as an inconvenience. I've even seen cops doing this in their cop cars, with no lights flashing. If we wanted to see a majority of people obeying the speed limit laws, we would need to engage in a project to change the attitudes of people toward speed limits, to change how our culture implicitly views speed limits.

By analogy, such a project is what the feminism movement seems to be about. It is a movement who's aim it is to change the attitude that our culture displays toward women (and all other genders), so that we don't just explicitly show a respect for women's equality (which I take as a given) through our written laws, but so that we also implicitly show respect for the equality and dignity of women, such as through the words we choose when speaking to or about women, or the actions we choose. We're trying to change the unconscious attitudes, not just the conscious ones.

But nothing I've said so far is incompatible with humanism, secular or otherwise. Secular humanism also promotes the dignity and equality of women, and all other people, implicitly and explicitly. So why bother with the feminism label? Isn't it redundant? Doesn't it seem to give preference to one gender over another?

Well, I think the reason I still embrace the term feminism is similar to why I embrace the term atheist, even though one could claim (and some do) that the term "secular humanism" includes within it the concept of atheism. I identify as an atheist because I see the strength and power, and the privileges that brings, being held by the theists out there, and most importantly, the harms this causes.

Identifying as atheist (besides being accurate) is a way to stand in opposition to theist power, to say "your way is not the only way, or even the best way." It allows me to implicitly challenge theistic ways of thinking and believing, simply by stating plainly that I exist with a word that most people know and understand. Because face it, not everyone knows the term "humanist," or what it implies. In other words, identifying as an atheist lets me put an emphasis on a part of my identity that I think needs to be emphasized in our rather religious culture.

Identifying as a feminist is similar. We still live in a highly patriarchal world. While it's certainly true that patriarchal culture can and does stereotype and police men in harmful ways, the brunt of the harm seems directed toward women. By a large margin. We see it in things like less pay for equal work, stereotyping girls and women as being bad at math (which young girls pick up on, internalize, and turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy), having so many of our insults refer to the feminine gender ("cried like a girl," cunt, bitch, pussy, etc), greater rates of domestic abuse and sexual assault directed toward women, and so on.

By identifying as a feminist, I emphasize my opposition to all of that. If there were a specific term for identifying as anti-racist, I'd identify as that as well. It's a focusing term. Humanism is a broad term in what it supports and what it opposes, and this is good, but that very broadness can cause focus to be lost on important issues that are of immediate concern, issues that need that focus if we're ever to solve the underlying problems involved.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I'm Polyamorous

Have I ever explained my reasoning for being polyamorous? At least, on this blog? It doesn't look like I have after a look back at some of my old post titles, so why don't I go ahead and do that now.

There are different paths that I could take to addressing this question. There's the intellectual, philosophical path, and there's the more emotional path. Actually, why not just address them both? Sometimes they blend together anyway.

Intellectually, I look at it this way: multiple close friends, of the sort you might call family, are possible. Indeed not only possible, they seem somewhat common. True, many people will only ever have a couple of such close friends, but the point isn't exactly how many they have. The point is simply that it can be more than one, and more than one at a time. And friendship that is so close one might call the friend family most definitely involves love.

Now, romance also involves love, and having experienced both romantic love and friend/family love, I recognize that there are differences between the two (otherwise, there would be no sense in separating the two linguistically or socially). The tendency in romance (though not the rule) for sex to be involved, for instance. Or the tendency for an increased intimacy frequently not present with even the closest of friends. But there are also important similarities, and I think one of those similarities is the ability of people to experience such love with more than one person. We see this in serial monogamy, in which people will often be "in love" with more than one person, just one after another. This doesn't happen just in dating, but also in marriages that end in divorce (they generally start out with love, at least in mainstream American culture), as well as when widows and widowers remarry.

The love that's experienced in these relationships often involves people that are very different from each other in temperament, beliefs, and other personality traits, yet the love of previous relationships is not invalidated simply by the fact of new love growing. This is especially noteworthy in the case of remarried widows and widowers who love their new spouse dearly, and just as much even as their previous spouse, yet still love their previous spouse simultaneously. Thus, they love, romantically, two people at once.

I contend, as do others, that what is possible in serial monogamy, i.e. loving multiple people romantically, is also possible simultaneously. Empirically, I can also confirm that I have indeed been in love romantically with more than one person at a time.

So that's the basic philosophical path to why I'm polyamorous. On the more emotional path, I have, as I said, experienced romantic love toward multiple people simultaneously in the past. Having experienced that, one has to wonder what would be wrong with exploring those emotions, so long as they are explored openly and honestly (agreeing to monogamy and then cheating is not what I'm talking about here). So, I do. I don't get into a relationship without first being open about my polyamory. If that's not acceptable to the other person, then no hard feelings, but I won't get into that sort of relationship with them.

Currently, I only have my wife. But she has another partner that lives with us. Which makes this the part where people are probably wondering how we handle jealousy. Well, honestly, I haven't experienced any jealousy in regards to their relationship. When I see them together, being a couple, it doesn't spark any sense of possessiveness toward her, or fear that I will lose her. Instead, I find myself enjoying it when I see them together (I'm not involved in their sex life, by the way, so that's not what I'm talking about here). If they're being especially cute, I get amused.

This isn't to say that I've never experienced jealousy in my life. I have. But at some point I realized that at the root of that jealousy, when I looked at it, were two things: possessiveness, and fear of losing someone. Well, people aren't possessions. I have no right to feel possessive of another person. I do not own them, and they don't own me. As for the fear . . .

Confidence removes the fear. I've seen the evidence that my wife loves me. It's there every day in the way she looks at me, the way she supports me, the fun we have, and her continued commitment to our relationship. Next to all that (and more), the words "I love you" are completely secondary and superfluous. I hope that I provide a similar level of evidence of my own love for her. In other words, I'm completely confident that she isn't going to leave me, and that she's happy being with me.

If I were to experience jealousy, that would mean there is something wrong with our relationship. It could be that for whatever reason I'm simply not acknowledging fully the evidence of love and commitment that she gives me, in which case the problem's with me. Or maybe I'm sensing something. For example, is she pulling away, or am I pulling away from her? If so, then it's time to figure out why. But at the same time, I need to remember that if I love her, I want her to be happy. I want her to have positive relationships, including romantic ones, even if they aren't with me.

That's the key to it all, I think. Understanding that love means wanting the other to be happy and fulfilled, with or without one's self involved. I alone cannot fulfill every need or desire that another person might have, and I don't expect any one person to fulfill my every need or desire. Thus, it only makes sense to allow for a polyamorous form of relationship. In fact, "allow" is the wrong word. "Embrace" is a more accurate word.

I embrace polyamory as a fuller expression of love for another.