Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dissecting The Concept of Monogamy

Monogamy can be interpreted in two contexts. The common context relates monogamy to romantic love, and the other relates monogamy to marriage. In this post, I am addressing monogamy in the context of romantic love. The concept of monogamy has two common views. The first one is usually called "strict monogamy", the other is usually called "serial monogamy".

Strict monogamy states that a person has one "true love" in his lifetime. This belief is commonly held but rarely practiced. This belief is a direct derivative of the common imagery of the "one true love", and the fairy tales of the prince and the princess meeting and falling in love and living happily ever after. In this belief, there are two scenarios that can happen. The idealistic vision is that a person will experience attraction and love only once in their life, and this would be their one true love. In more pragmatic visions, a person is perceived to experience love several times in their life, but only one of their experiences in love is "true" love.

The pragmatic vision of strict monogamy is usually characterized by the concept of a "soul mate". So basically, the vision is that people live their lives, fall in and out of loves multiple of times, but those relationships that failed, failed because they were not with their soul mate, their one true love. So the people would be entering relationships in the hope of stumbling upon their soul mate, and having an everlasting relationship! In this vision, previous lovers are pictured as being somewhat inferior to the person that one ended up having an everlasting relationship with. That's to say, they were not instances of "true love", your true love is that love you finally got to after successive failures.

Serial monogamy states that a person can have only one "true love" at any point of time. There is strong similarity between the pragmatic vision of strict monogamy and serial monogamy. So, just like in strict monogamy, a person falls in and out of love several times in their life. Serial monogamy is also a commonly held belief, and is much more practiced in real life. The idea here is that a person gets a lover (usually with the title boyfriend or girlfriend), their relationship is maintained for some time, then they break up, and then enter into a new relationship. The difference from the pragmatic vision of strict monogamy that their is no belief that the love of a given person should be superior to all previous lovers. So in this belief system, you can claim that you had more than one experience of "true love". One does not have to denounce previous relationships as inferior to their current relationship in order to claim that their current relationship is sincere.

After this brief introduction to the various beliefs held for monogamous love, let's look at the implications of those beliefs.

Most people (I guess) would identify with serial monogamy. It is after all how most people conduct their relationships, although for some people their inner thoughts and feelings resonate more with the vision of the pragmatic strict monogamy. Pragmatic strict monogamy in my opinion is very insulting to the concept of love.

When I was first introduced to the concept of strict monogamy I was completely abhorred!! And yes, like most people I was introduced to this concept at a very young age. To see why strict monogamy is abhorrent, let's look at a very simple scenario:
Say that you met someone who you find to be absolutely charming, and that you find yourself in love with that person. You would characterize your love for that person as honest and sincere. In other words, it's love in it's most noble form. But then, you foresee that this person may not be in your life forever. That you may have to part with this person at some future point of time. And then you find yourself in a pickle. If you ever met someone else and felt those same noble feelings of honest and sincere love, then you have to denounce your love for the person you are currently with as "not true love"! This is because in that belief system you can only have one true love, so you either have to admit that your current lover is not the real deal, or that it is impossible that any future love that you experience is also sincere because you already consumed your one shot at true love!!

Such scenario is truly disturbing in my opinion. That if you sincerely love a person now, all your future relationships are a "fraud". Or that if you were going to have a future sincere relationship, then your current relationship is a "fraud"!! It is a very disturbing and counter-intuitive idea, and I find it truly immature to hold such belief!

Needless to say, labeling your relationships as insincere or frauds is insulting to the people that you love. So in this setup, you are being forced to insult either your current partner, or all of you future and past partners. You are being forced to value your relationships in a post-facto (after the fact) manner. Such setup obviously does not make the concept of love noble in any way, but rather one has to hold a belief of inferiority of all your relationships that did not turn out exactly the way a person envisions them.

The obvious solution to this dangerous belief is that a person can indeed have sincere feelings of love towards more than one person in his or her lifetime. To me, this instantly made me believe in polyamory. However, the concept of serial monogamy solves the same problem but with an additional condition. So, in serial monogamy it is believed that a person can have sincere feelings of love towards more than one person in his or her lifetime, BUT you can only sincerely love one person at any given point of time!

That's a really big BUT there in serial monogamy. And I believe this additional condition is misinformed. Once we understand why strict monogamy is problematic, we can easily see why serial monogamy is also problematic. I have already addressed this in a previous post, but let's get over it once more. As we have seen with the problem of strict monogamy, we are being forced to denounce certain love experiences as insincere because we perceive it as impossible to experience true love more than once in a lifetime. However, in serial monogamy we are being forced to make that same denouncement of the sincerity of love if our experiences of love happened to overlap in time.

So, for a serial monogamist, if they find that they are developing feelings and emotional connections with someone, they are instantly being forced to decide that one of their love experiences as being insincere. So, you either love this new person in your life sincerely which means that you should terminate your relationship with the person you are currently involved with, or you see the new person as a threat to your current relationship, and must destroy any emotional connection that is developing between you and that new person.

However, this notion is ludicrous in my opinion. The notion that the sincerity of one's love has to be questioned if they find themselves being emotionally connected to more than one person. In my mind, this problem at it's core is not in any way different from the problem that is raised in the context of strict monogamy. And for this reason, I think that anyone who has a problem with the implications of strict monogamy should be equally disturbed by the implications of serial monogamy!!

Again, the limitation of loving one person at a time is nothing more than a misinformed, not properly thought out, externally imposed limitation. There is nothing in our nature (at least for most people) that prevents us from wholeheartedly loving more than one person at any given point of time. And the introduction of this limitation does not make the concept of love more noble. Quite the contrary, it is debasing and insulting to the concept of love, and to the people we love!!

Polyamory, which is the belief that we can love more than one person (even at the same time), is the obvious and natural response to the problems that are being introduced by the concept of monogamy...

There are some challenges to practicing polyamory in system that idolizes serial monogamy. The problem is highlighted with the concept of cheating. In most relationship paradigms that are practiced today, having more than one relationship is indeed insulting to your lover. This is because for a person to love someone other than the one they are currently in a relationship with would involve cheating. And cheating in my opinion does challenge the sincerity of love one has for another. However, this is a problem of design and construction. In other words, when people design their relationships with the principles of serial monogamy embedded in their construction, they create a system where loving more than one person comes at direct contradiction with sincerity.

So our initial problem is persistent in such a design. If, by design, the only way a person can practice polyamory they need to cheat, then it is an obvious flaw in the design. The very purpose of polyamory (in my personal view) is that we do not undermine the integrity and sincerity of our relationships either past, current, or future. For this reason, the open-relationships design is crucial to practicing polyamory while adhering to the principles that compelled a person to hold a belief in polyamory. For a person to be able to truly love a person without compromising their integrity and sincerity with respect to their already established relationships there needs to be an understanding between partners and lovers about the principles of polyamory. So open-relationships is a paradigm design of relationships such that practicing polyamory does not undermine the concept of love, and maintains its integrity...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blocking Advertisements on The Web

Advertisements are annoying! For this reason, many developers have worked to provide advertisement blocking solutions. I am a Firefox user myself, and I would recommend using this browsers because it is awesome. For Firefox users, an addon titled "Adblock Plus" is a popular choice for many users.

Adblock Plus, just like most ad-blocking solutions, rely on creating "filters" (rules) to block advertisements. Any user can create a set of rules to block advertisements. However, for convenience, something called "subscriptions" emerged. Having a subscription means that you rely on other developers to make the rules for blocking advertisements, instead of making those rules yourself. Of course, any user would benefit from using ad-block subscriptions since most users don't want or need to go through the hassle of creating their own rules.

Learning how to make your own rules can come handy since the web is dynamic and websites frequently change, and new advertisement sources come and go. Subscription lists obviously do get updates, and Adblock Plus automatically updates your lists. Popular subscription lists developers have made a great job of blocking most advertisements, so it would be a very few occasions where you will actually see an advertisement. Blocking an advertisement that is missed is usually as simple as right-clicking the image and clicking "Block Image".

Subscriptions usually have specific coverage and specific purpose. Coverage is usually dependent on language. So, you will have subscriptions targeting English websites, others targeting Dutch, French, or Arabic websites. The purpose is usually dependent on the type of things being blocked. Mostly the target is advertisements both visual and textual. Other subscriptions target what is called "web-bugs" which are used to track users. And finally, some target annoyances like "Share this" and "Follow on Facebook" links.

Personally, there are three subscriptions that I use (all of which are specifically made for English language websites):
  • EasyList: Blocks advertisements. It is the most popular one, with "Fanboy Adblock List" as an equally competent alternative.
  • EasyPrivacy: Block web-bugs and tracking elements. It is the most popular one, with "Fanboy Tracking List" as an equally competent alternative.
  • Fanboy Annoyance Block List: Blocks web annoyances that are not related to advertisements or privacy. Unfortunately, the EasyList group does not provide any alternative for this purpose. This list is not recommended for everyone, since it might block too much for some people's tastes.
When choosing subscriptions three rules of thumb should be followed:
  1. Try as much as possible to not have subscriptions that overlap in purpose and coverage. Some people might think that having two subscriptions to blocking advertisements is a good idea, so they might choose to subscribe to both EasyList and Fanboy's List. That is not a good idea.
  2. Try as much as possible to stick with one group. So, if you choose EasyList to block ads, go for EasyPrivacy to block web bugs. Similarly, if you choose Fanboy Adblock List, go for Fanboy Tracking List.
  3. Keep your ad-block subscriptions number to minimum. Same as the first rule, it is not the case that the more the merrier. So, for example, don't subscribe to a Dutch list if you don't regularly visit Dutch websites, stick to what you really need. That's why they make separate subscription lists, to avoid having too many filters that you don't need, which might hurt the performance of your browser after a certain limit.

Chrome also has Adblock Plus for it. It is not as good as it's Firefox counter part, but works well nonetheless. There is lots of effort being made to improve it and make it quite on par with the Firefox version of this addon. Opera users can also benefit from an ad-blocking addon called "Opera Adblock".

Finally, we come to Internet Explorer 9. I have recently learned that IE9 comes with built-in ad-blocking feature. There have been third-party ad-blocking solutions for older version of IE, but they were incompetent. Most of them did not even have the option to choose a subscription of your choice, but rather came with their own lists, which were not as good as those lists available for Adblock Plus. But now things have changed. However, the ad-block solution provided by Microsoft is not as good as that for Firefox or even Chrome. But at least now there is support to participate in decent subscriptions like EasyList or Fanboy's List.

At this moment, EasyList support for IE9 ad-blocking feature is unofficial, for this reason, I recommend Fanboy's List since they officially support IE9. Simply, go to the link provided, and click "Add TPL". TPL stands for Tracking Protection List, which is the name of the ad-block feature in IE9. A dialog should come up asking you to confirm your decision to add that particular subscription.

Going back to Firefox, for those serious about making webpages look as closely as possible to what they care for, without all the extra things that are distracting, check also Element Hiding Helper which makes it easy to create your own filters when something is not being blocked by a subscription that you want to be blocked. This addon is not for complete novices, it is better used by someone with ability to go through the options and fix things if they accidentally screw things up. The most common problem you might face (occasionally, not that often at all) is to block "too much", which can be easily remedied by removing the last filter created.

As a final note, which has nothing to do ad-blocking, for YouTube users I recommend a Firefox addon called Greasemonkey along with a very popular script that showcases why Greasemonkey is such a great addon, called YousableTubeFix. That script is also available for Chrome and Opera (without the need for Greasemonkey or similar addons). Highly recommended. Make sure you test the different options for this script from the Greasemonkey menu (you have to be on YouTube website to configure the script).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Richard Dawkins on Absolute Morality

In this YouTube video Richard Dawkins -a famous proponent of atheism- is asked the question of how secular morality fits in atheistic worldview. Very interesting video, highly recommended.

Many people claim that religion is an authority on morality, and hence provides absolute morality. However, reality is that religion is not the source of morality. If we are willing to give religion the benefit of the doubt, then the best way to describe the morality that is being provided in religion, is that it is no more than a set of moral codes of the people who designed those religions. It is the morality of some of the people that lived at the time that those religions were established (arguably, good people of their time).

In that perspective, religion should not be taken more seriously than an outdated moral codes that were quite revolutionary at their time, but are nonetheless part of a greater work in progress in the field of morality. If we make an analogy with the scientific field, it is no better than the discovery of atoms for example. It was revolutionary at it's time, but it is outdated for our time.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The False Dichotomy of Friendship and Romantic Companionship

In a previous post I hinted at the problematic distinction between friendship and romantic companionship. I have stumbled upon a very interesting post that expresses my concern in a quite eloquent manner.

The following are excerpts from that post:

I recently witnessed many discussions on how acceptable it is to pursue a friendship with someone you're interested in romantically, and I keep hearing opinions that are absolutely baffling to me. I hear things like: it's wrong, it's dishonest, it's not a "real" friendship, the other person will be rightfully furious at you when they find out, etc. etc.

It seems that, for all these people, friendship and romance are required to develop on absolutely distinct paths, right off the bat; otherwise, they see it as wrong somehow.

I suspect that the difference between us is this: they see friendship as opposed to a romantic relationship, like the two are mutually exclusive, whereas I see friendship as being a part of romantic relationship. Moreover, it is an absolutely vital part – I can’t have romantic relationships without it. All of my romantic relationships began with friendship!

Another point: friendship is not only a vital part of a relationship – it is also the most important one, by far! The most rewarding, the most fun, the most worthy to pursue. Whenever I really like someone, I’ll always be willing to give up the sex in order to be able to be their friend.

When I am trying to become friends with someone, it is because I find them interesting and fun and I want to be their friend. Now, I may also want to sleep with them; but I can’t emphasize the “also” enough. The romance is not mandatory – the friendship is. First, foremost and most importantly – I want to be their friend.

For me, spending time and energy on a friend is its own reward... Otherwise, what kind of friendship is that?! And regarding the emotional turmoil – yes, I agree, it can be not easy sometimes. But it’s totally worth it. (At least for me.)

source: Dishonest Friendship?

Although the concluding remarks in that post are a little bit off-topic, I am going to include them because I find them enlightening and address some issues commonly encountered in practice:

This post has a dual goal:

If you’re my friend, and you realize that I’m in love with you – don’t conclude that my friendship is not genuine. It is.

If you are interested in me romantically, ask yourself: if a fairy told you that she looked into the future and I definitely won't sleep with you, ever – would that knowledge make you not want to be my friend anymore?

If the answer is yes – that you’re interested in my friendship only on condition for the prospect of sex – please, fuck off! I mean it – we’re not right for each other, I don’t need you in my life.
But it is completely okay if you are interested in sex – as long as you are interested in me regardless of ever having it.