Some politician - and it doesn't matter which one - recently said that allowing gays to marry is a slippery slope to the day when assholes like him no longer have the power to tell you how to live your personal life. At least that's how I heard it.

Actually, I think he said something about gay marriage leading to *GASP* polygamy. And so I asked myself what's wrong with polygamy, assuming there aren't any child brides and cult overtones? I couldn't come up with an argument against keeping polygamy illegal. I'm not sure I've ever heard one.

Polygamy always gets conflated in the media with some sort of child-endangering, brainwashing, cultish pit of evil. But what if polygamy is just, for example, two dudes and one woman who work well as a trio? How does that hurt anyone?

Employee benefits, such as healthcare, would need to be adjusted in a polygamous world. You can't have one worker automatically qualifying for employee-paid healthcare for seven spouses. But that sort of thing is easy to tidy-up with legislation.

If anyone knows of an argument against polygamy, based on science as opposed to holy books, please let me know in the comments. And remember that polygamy can include one woman with multiple husbands. And just to keep things clean, assume the polygamous arrangement is based on practicality and not a religious belief.

This line of thinking made me wonder how one might organize society if there were no laws, customs and culture already in place. In other words, if no one had ever heard of traditional marriage with two people at the head of a nuclear family, what would be the most natural way to organize society? Are traditional marriage and polygamy even in the top five options?

I remember reading that people in arranged marriages were just as happy as those who married for love. That says a lot. And so I wonder: If you looked at every human society, past and present, and studied their marriage and social organization, would you find one model that just sticks out as working best? And what would it be?

Who knows the answer to that?

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Jul 3, 2013
Dear Scott,

though I am not that big fan of Penn&Teller, in this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y40Hr5r8QVY they make some truly great points about "the myth of traditional American family". The ones about polygamy - are identical to yours.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2013
"But that sort of thing is easy to tidy-up with legislation." No, no it's not. And this attitude is why we can't have an efficient and effective set of laws.

"And just to keep things clean, assume the polygamous arrangement is based on practicality and not a religious belief." While you are at it, you may as well assume that all lawmakers are wise and benevolent.
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Jul 3, 2013
@G33v3s: "As to says who? I guess that's the crux of the whole argument isn't it."

I think it is the hallmark of a living (as opposed to petrified) society that you can ask about any law, rule, habit or generally "feature": "Apart from 'we always did it that way', what else makes it so important that we have to forbid or compel <something>?"

A typical watchword for things needing a review is "tradition".
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 3, 2013
bfloria: <Slope problem restated>

I think most of your fears can be dealt with by one requirement: All participants must be able to give their informed consent.

This sorts out (at least) your child marriages, pets, plants and mentally ill.

On the other hand, there was http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/video-games/6651021/Japanese-gamer-marries-Nintendo-DS-character.html .

And the wedding rings of some nuns signify a comparable bond to their god. I don't know how the informed consent thing goes in such a situation.

Uh - and at least from the god's side, it would be a pretty clear case of polygamy, marrying the nuns of whole monasteries. I'm not an expert on all that cristian stuff, but if their god does it, the followers should be ok with it too, right?
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Jul 3, 2013
Scott, you can't just dismiss religious beliefs to make a point. Many of our current ethics and laws are based on ancient religious rules. To dismiss religion is taking a significant part of the reason away. But, to your point about a slippery slope, here you go: We started with one male / one female. Now we can go one on one regardless of sex. Next, is there an age limit? What about species? What's the harm in marrying my dog or cat? What about plants? There are traditions for a reason and throwing them away throws away the essence of who we are as human beings.
Jul 3, 2013
Polyandry (one woman, multiple men) is very rare compared to polygyny (one man, multiple women). And usually, polyandry involves brothers marrying the same woman, for instance with the Mosuo people in Mongolian China.

So legalizing polygamy would lead to lots of single males and the state has an interest to prevent this.

Jul 3, 2013
People have three brains.

The lowest level - the amygdala - deals with the basics, fear, food and fornication.

The middle layer - the neo-cortex - evolved when we became social animals and deals with peck order and social interaction.

The third layer - also in the neo-cortex - is much more recent, only evolving to handle speech. We call it the rational brain, but it actually spends most of its time interpreting the other two layers and putting them in words.

Sex is a basic instinct. We evolved not only to have sex, but to pair up with the person we have sex with. Since our children take so long to become self-reliant, this pairing behaviour gave couples an evolutionary advantage.

That advantage may not be there any more - children from separated parents do just as well - but the monogamous, long term partnership wiring is. It may not be logical - but it is what the other two layers of our brain are working towards. And they are stronger than our rational brain.
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Jul 3, 2013
Drowlord: "Sterility is grounds for divorce and even annulment in nearly all religions, nearly all countries, today and historically."

We aren't talking religion here, nor church marriage.

You are married, if you've signed the paper at the town hall. Whatever additional ritual you decide to go through at your golf club, company, alumni society or church is irrelevant to the question.

The legal reasons for divorce are given here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grounds_for_divorce_(United_States)
Jul 3, 2013
When you "wonder how one might organize society if there were no laws, customs and culture already in place" it occurs to me that everything that can be tried has been tried in American history. The Oneida Community (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oneida_Community) was a utopian experiment where communalism in all things (including free love) was the norm, and like many utopian experiments it was a serious experiment in the perfectability of mankind. There are other historical examples, e.g. early Mormon communities, and there are modern day communities. America has always been fertile ground for groups who want to live in radically different ways. What these groups have in common is they are generally spiritual or open minded utopian experiments with charismatic leaders. They typically die out or evolve to conform when the leaders who inspire them die. So it is possible for charismatic leaders to bend the bellcurve and create subcultures that are radically different, but it's a short-lasting effect because there are many forces, including human nature, which cause these groups to self-destruct or evolve back towards the center of the bell curve. So you can still buy Oneida tableware today but the utopian movement behind the name is now little more than a historical curiosity.

As with most things "utopian" involving radical experiments changing social and economic structures - my feeling is the end result tends to be dystopian because the experiments don't work any better or they have very serious flaws. The American Revolution is one of the rare exceptions and it forever changed the relationship of the individual to the state in ways the world had never seen before. But the comment about laws, customs, and cultures seemed a bit off to me because America is extremely fertile ground for revolutions and social experiments; our history is littered with it. It's probably easier to start a utopian community than it is to get the building inspector to approve a new awning.
Jul 3, 2013
If it's legalized, it's easy to imagine a scenario where the IRS takes an interest in unofficial polygamy (i.e., cheating) much as it takes an interest in barter as a means of tax evasion.

Sleazy but perfectly legal adultery would suddenly involve audits, paperwork and public records. A guy who sounds like Ben Stein would call your girlfriend to confirm that it was, as you stated on form 69-1, just empty sex (line 25) with no intent of commitment (line 38) with a floozy (see page 57, "Recognized Non-Marital Acts").

He'd then interview your wife to make sure she wasn't complicit in an off-the-books second marriage, confirming that certain expenditures (Schedule Q: Relationship Expenses) were not approved by her.

And then, as you deal with an ugly divorce, boiled housepets and the collapse of your re-election campaign, you get the good news that the IRS recognizes your adulterer status for tax purposes.
Jul 3, 2013
"And so I asked myself what's wrong with polygamy, assuming there aren't any child brides and cult overtones? I couldn't come up with an argument against keeping polygamy illegal."

I had trouble parsing the 2nd sentence above. Immediately following the question you asked, it seems to me you meant to say "I couldn't come up with an argument FOR keeping polygamy illegal." or maybe "I couldn't come up with an argument against MAKING polygamy LEGAL." No?
Jul 3, 2013
I agree with PAJ, that the laws alone could be horrible to administer. If the statistic that close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, dividing things up in 3, 4, or more ways, including kids and visitation, could be a nightmare. But on a strictly human level, it seems obvious to me that someone in the relationship gets screwed.
If you assume that the group doesn't meet and fall in love simultaneously, then it almost certainly evolves like this:
You meet someone, fall in love, become emotionally and probably financially invested. Then one day, they say "I met this great other person - I think we should marry them too." Whether they're the same sex or the opposite one, the odds are remote you're equally into them. More than likely, you would only agree out of fear of losing your partner. Or because you really need the financial support that person brings. Either way, it sucks.
I would posit that in most polygamous societies, someone (almost always the woman) is pressured to endure such an arrangement because of religious of financial pressure. Not something we should emulate.
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Jul 2, 2013
Thank You! It's nice to know that I'm not the only one!
Jul 2, 2013
There was a UBC study published last year which showed the social problems associated with polygamy and why cultures evolved towards monogamy.


"Considered the most comprehensive study of polygamy and the institution of marriage, the study finds significantly higher levels rape, kidnapping, murder, assault, robbery and fraud in polygynous cultures. According to Henrich and his research team, which included Profs. Robert Boyd (UCLA) and Peter Richerson (UC Davis), these crimes are caused primarily by pools of unmarried men, which result when other men take multiple wives."
Jul 2, 2013
THANK YOU, thank you, thank you. I've never been able to understand why polygamy is wrong (barring, as you point out, abuse); it's always struck me as a possible excellent arrangement for child-rearing and the general domestic arena. I mean, how awesome would that be if one partner was tired and other partners could step in and clean, cook, mind the kids and engage in sexual activities?

Sounds AWESOME to me, but I should point out I don't have kids, literally lack the jealousy gene and find both men and women attractive. Ain't no political party or church wanting MY participation.
Jul 2, 2013
Speaking of healthcare employee benefits, big companies are becoming very proactive about reducing healthcare costs. The easiest way to reduce this cost is to replace old, sick employees with young, healthy employees but that's legally sticky.

Companies are starting to charge paycheck penalties for being a smoker, and penalties for not taking a yearly physical. I can see an obesity penalty on the horizon -- and not just for employees, but also spouses.

So from a corporation's viewpoint, a solitary healthy employee is the most cost-effective, but he's a rare bird. Hiring a polygamist with a dozen kids all with various chronic diseases is the worst-case scenario for a company's healthcare bottom line. A healthy gay male with a spouse, on the other hand, could be a cost effective hiring since there would be no kids.

Now with the idea of marriage being stretched to the limit, why wouldn't the corporation of the future promote robots as spouses? A healthcare rebate could be offered for non-carbon based spouses.

Jul 2, 2013
If there is such a thing as natural selection in cultures, then there is no argument here. compariatively, the percentage of people who have ever engaged in any sort of "non-traditional" marriage compared to those who have engaged in "traditional" marriage is beyond microscopic. It is not traditional marriage that requires some exterior societal/religious structure to support it. All other forms require that to a much greater degree.
Jul 2, 2013
Sterility is grounds for divorce and even annulment in nearly all religions, nearly all countries, today and historically. The ability to conceive children has always been a central part of the marriage contract. It is, in fact, the only reason I can think of which universally (or nearly so) justifies ending a marriage, and it's the only reason at all in many cultures and religions.
Jul 2, 2013
My great-great-great grandfather was a polygamist (a religious one). I think he had 4 wives, my great-great-great grandmother being the 3rd. He was the spiritual leader of the village. But the thing is, my great-great-great grandmother was the political leader of the village. By all accounts she was a very dominant woman, and used her marriage to consolidate her influence.

While her husband handled spiritual matters, she organised public works, education, and arts and culture, and her children were able to marry other influential people as well. (it actually came as a shock to nearly everyone that my great-great grandfather managed to convince one of her daughters to marry him.

For practical purposes, polygamy was a great boon to my great-great-great grandmother, and by extension the rest of my family.
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Jul 2, 2013
@vjshuta well technically he called him an a$$hole for stating that the slippery slope was to said ahole not being able to control your life and then extended the slope out to polygamy. So the trolling mastery is even greater for effectively putting words in the ahole's mouth...
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