Miss Manners has weighed in on proper etiquette as regards persons in “polyamorous relationships.” I am fascinated here by at least three things: 1) the reference to the polyamorous community; 2) the blithe acceptance of such relationships; and, 3) the increasing confusion and fragility of persons within these relationships over their “status.” JMW has been arguing that marriage must be grounded in our natures and lead to the fulfillment of such, and that ideas such as “happy for their happiness” are too thin to bear the weight of human sexuality and serve mainly to mask the untethered nature of ones own sexual impulses. I take this to be further evidence.

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Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Oh well, Prof. Polet, we’d better get over it an accept it. We wouldn’t want to exclude people from the human “community” based on our irrational and unscientific “prejudices”.

    Because as we know, anthropocentric idolatry trumps all.

  2. One wonders what type of advice Miss Manners (Why not “Ms.”?) might offer to folks worried about offending bestialists. I must admit that other than, “Dude, you are sick…,” I would be at a loss for words should someone at the next cocktail party introduce to me their current “partner,” Fluffy. Seriously, how long before Americans “blithely accept” zoophilia?

  3. I am fascinated here by … 3) the increasing confusion and fragility of persons within these relationships over their “status.”
    … Whereas I am fascinated by the blithe assertion of #3, which, as far as I can see, has absolutely no textual basis in the letter to which Miss Manners is responding. The letter writer is expressing some confusion, yes, but he or she is neither within such a relationship nor part of the community, merely a friend perhaps over-anxious about not wanting to give offense. And the advice that the writer’s friends within the community have given–“Just call them up and invite them!”–hardly seems indicative of either confusion or fragility.

  4. Random polyamory is a public health hazard, but the “line marriage” infused by Robert A. Heinlein in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress has at least some beneficial logic to it.

    Miss Manners, some years ago, mentioned that there are those who believe sex was first invented in Berkeley California in the early 1960s, but she is certain they must be wrong, because she happens to be descended, on both sides of her family, from people who practiced it. I infer that any etiquette for the polyamorous must contain an kernel of sarcasm and parody. She couldn’t be serious.

  5. I thought this was a website that distinguished itself from the stereotypical kind of conservatism that is merely bigotry toward any and all differences, whether or not they affect you or are in any way your business, and instead focused on the things that really matter. Apparently I was under a false impression, as posts like this reveal the true colors. How disappointing.

  6. Ah, the “community.” All the members of that community that I used to know decided to leave it after too many bouts of emotional exhaustion dealing with the inevitable challenges of conflicted intimacy or, by contrast, got tired of only having sex that was severed from intimacy. Polet’s #3 is not a blithe assertion; in my experience, it’s pretty spot on. And yes, if you must know, in the late 90’s most of the people I knew were ‘polyamorous’ in one way or another.

    As for our lurker, perhaps (s)he’d be consider whether it might be helpful to distinguish oneself from the stereotypical ‘liberal’ who apparently thinks that any negative moral judgment is ‘bigotry’ and that anything that we wouldn’t be justified in coercing people not to do is morally neutral; when berating people for being stereotypical, it helps not to commit the sin yourself. Furthermore, why I or anyone else should think that the dominant sexual attitudes of the culture in which we live do not affect us, are not in any way our business, and don’t really matter is beyond me. By the same logic, I ought not to care when my straight male acquaintances talk about women as though they were something akin to sexual meat rather than fellow human beings, since, after all, it’s none of my business how depraved my acquaintances make themselves, and as long as they don’t violate anybody’s consent it doesn’t really matter.

    Since when, I wonder, did ‘liberals’ care so little for anyone but themselves?

  7. Now that we’ve gotten the disingenuous (and hyperbolic) rhetoric out of the way, does anyone (perhaps someone capable of making statements that aren’t entirely empty) want to try to explain how other people’s polyamorous lifestyles affect you in such a way that your “negative moral judgment” is anything other than petty bigotry? Or link to the previous article or blog on this site that has already provided such an explanation? You see, it’s not that I’m a stereotypical liberal who thinks there’s no such thing as a justified negative moral judgment, it’s just that I fail to understand how this could be one of them.

  8. How’s about the post you just responded to? In one short paragraph I laid out a few basic problems with polyamorous relationships: when they aren’t creating tremendous conflicts of intimacy between their participants, they’re severing sex from intimacy and thereby cheapening it and leading their participants to embrace objectifying attitudes to others. It is therefore reasonable to object to them on the same grounds that it is reasonable to object to other forms of sexual objectification, the disjunction of sex from personal intimacy, and modes of relation that are inherently structured in ways that frustrate the development and sustaining of that intimacy. These practices are not only detrimental to the people who engage in them; to be a part of a social environment in which such practices and their attendant attitudes are cultivated is detrimental to those of us who do not engage in the practices ourselves, in precisely the same way as being subjected to objectifying and superficial attitudes of other kinds is (thus the example in my previous post, which you perhaps failed to notice).

    I apologize if I haven’t provided a fully satisfactory philosophical argument to defend these conclusions to the satisfaction of all minimally rational inquirers. After all, it’s just a blog post.

    If it makes you feel any better, I, perhaps unlike many or most of the regular contributors to this site, have no principled objections to homosexuality or to sex outside of marriage just as such.

    Since you insist that you aren’t stereotypical like your opponents, perhaps you would care to give an example of a negative moral judgment which is not directed at some act which directly harms another without that other’s consent and which you are prepared to say is definitely not an instance of bigotry or some other suitably dismissive term.

    For a view rather different from my own, you might also read Polet’s article, ‘Whom You Have Sex With Is My Business’: https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/03/who-you-have-sex-with-is-my-business/

  9. “posts like this reveal the true colors. ”

    Alas, you seem to think that conservatism is monochromatic. Or do you think that posts of this sort should be verboten? If that’s the case, who’s the one pushing for monochrome here?

  10. “I thought this was a website that distinguished itself from the stereotypical kind of conservatism that is merely bigotry toward any and all differences”

    In other words, milquetoast pseudo-conservatism which seeks to “conserve” nothing but liberal modernity.

  11. “and instead focused on the things that really matter.”

    If something as fundamental to life as the meaning and purpose of sexuality and family don’t “really matter” what does?

  12. A. Lurker comes out of the woodwork with passive aggressive accusations of bigotry. Generally, I think that is a bad way of commenting at any site, but it’s especially misplaced here.

    As noted above, Jeff Polet has already addressed the subject in question.

  13. “they’re severing sex from intimacy and thereby cheapening it and leading their participants to embrace objectifying attitudes to others.” That is your opinion. It must be terrible to be able to get inside others heads like that. are you licensed by Psi-Corp? “It is therefore reasonable to object to them on the same grounds that it is reasonable to object to other forms of sexual objectification,” What’s objectionable? I like looking a the SI swimsuit issue and the Victoria Secret catalogs, am I subject to your objection? The only reason you could assume that the the polys are objectifying each other is if that’s how you treat people you find sexually attractive (not going to make any assumptions here)

    Like those first two sentences, the rest of your comment is opinion asserted as fact.

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