A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

My response to "Everlasting Novelty"

Hugo Schwyzer writes an anecdotal piece about monogamy and relationships in his piece, Of "everlasting novelty", male weakness, and the ecstatic satisfaction of virtue. In it, he writes,
I learned, over time, what it took to be faithful. The answer is not "meeting the right person"; no relationship alone is enough to guarantee fidelity. Infidelity is always about the person who chooses to cheat, and rarely about the person being cheated upon. My wife is beautiful, strong, and I love her with all my heart. Her looks and my devotion to her are not the foundation upon which my commitment to monogamy is built. I don't cheat on my wife because of a commitment I've made to myself. In the end, if I'm unfaithful to my spouse, she might not find out. But I will know that I am a cheater; I will have betrayed not only my wife, my family, and the community that trusts me but also the man I have worked so hard to become. Polonius is a fool, but his most famous line, "to thine own self be true" resonates for me here, even if I quote it out of the original context. Love alone is not reason enough to be faithful. Fear of being discovered isn't sufficient either. In the end, the strongest and best reinforcement for the will is the profound desire I have — that I think everyone has, deep inside — to be a person of radical integrity. In a strange way, it's radically selfish. (It's also, I think, consistent with Aristotle, but that's for the philosophers to deal with.)

Ah, the classic monogamist argument: "...this is one of those areas where private moral satisfaction and communal good are coherent with each other." As if the only correct path is monogamy. But if we're really honest here, what we're trying to do is justify an existing moral code.

Am I saying that moral code is inherently wrong? No, of course not. I am saying that this moral code is not inherently right, either. What this piece is effectively doing is trying to reinforce the notion that monogamy is the only acceptable practice, and that we just have to train ourselves into it.

But, given our national and global propensity for cheating, it would seem that we're not very good at this training. Yes, we have some faithful few like our author who have learned to achieve this divine state after a few failed marriages, but by and large as a species we're pretty bad at it. So why not consider alternatives for those who don't have the willpower to go to the gym three times a week and sweat at the barbells?

Our patrilineal mindset automatically assumes that I'm just trying to justify womanizing. Most people don't believe me when I promote women's sexual rights as well as men's. But that's really what it's about. Relationships aren't about possessing people. Commitments do not confer a deed of ownership (unless you're into that sort of thing). A lasting, loving commitment can be made that does not include sexual or emotional fidelity. People do not have to be indoctrinated to believe that having more than one friend or lover automatically cheapens their relationship. I think you'll find that to be a product of socialization rather than biology.

We want what we want. This is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. But we're inclined to pursue what we want regardless of the cost, and that's where problems enter. An alternative solution is to accept that we're not wired the way we've been taught to expect and to be open and honest about our desires. If we can actually talk to our partners about what excites us, what we desire and what we want to pursue without our partners automatically assuming that it's an affront to them, we might find a peace never dreamed by our Puritan-minded ancestors.

In purely anecdotal evidence, as offered by the author, the solution I've outlined above has been working for me. I know it won't work for the author, just as the author's solution hasn't worked for me. There is no single solution that works for everyone. Only solutions that work.