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You’re Probably Not the Person I’m Judging
Divorce, hookup culture, and elites
Several times in the past few months, people have said that based on my public writings and interviews, they think I’ll judge them for their choices. One woman said she thought I’d judge her for being a single mother. A father expressed embarrassment when he told me he’d recently been divorced.
Look, I don't judge individuals for their personal choices in these matters. It’s fine; I’m not a hall monitor. I'm not the cops. Life is messy; people are complicated. I get it.
And I grew up around a lot of single parents and divorced families. I remain close with many of them and accept them and love them.
What I detest is when people promote and glorify these choices like they're obviously great and everyone on earth should do them. There’s no shortage of coverage and op-eds and think pieces in legacy media outlets glorifying divorce and subtly (or not-so-subtly) telling you to end your marriage. Sometimes these are written by people who have gotten divorced, sometimes not. It’s one thing to get divorced or have a kid out-of-wedlock and acknowledge it as less than optimal (especially for kids). But so many people deal with their feelings of guilt stemming from their actions by encouraging others to make the same choices. As if normalizing and spreading them will cause their own feelings of guilt and shame to dissipate.
Worse is when highly educated and affluent people publicly promote these behaviors when they themselves do not do them. It’s one thing to make decisions you don’t feel great about and then try to get others to make them too. It’s worse when you don’t make such decisions but promote them anyway.
In the 1881 novel The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, the characters discuss the "radicals of the upper class" and how their ideas are “their biggest luxury. They make them feel moral and yet don't damage their position."
Here is the full excerpt:
“Well, I mean Lord Warburton and his friends—the radicals of the upper class. Of course I only know the way it strikes me. They talk about the changes, but I don’t think they quite realize. You and I, you know, we know what it is to have lived under democratic institutions: I always thought them very comfortable, but I was used to them from the first. And then I ain’t a lord; you’re a lady, my dear, but I ain’t a lord. Now over here I don’t think it quite comes home to them. It’s a matter of every day and every hour, and I don’t think many of them would find it as pleasant as what they’ve got. Of course if they want to try, it’s their own business; but I expect they won’t try very hard.”
“Don’t you think they’re sincere?” Isabel asked.
“Well, they want to feel earnest,” Mr. Touchett allowed; “but it seems as if they took it out in theories mostly. Their radical views are a kind of amusement. … these progressive ideas are about their biggest luxury. They make them feel moral and yet don’t damage their position. They think a great deal of their position; don’t let one of them ever persuade you that he doesn’t, for if you were to proceed on that basis you’d be pulled up very short.”
The essence of luxury beliefs. I have no patience for that kind of “amusement.” These are the people for whom I reserve my judgement.
If someone is drinking and cajoles others drink with them, that’s not great. It’s worse when someone who abstains from alcohol actively encourages others to get boozed up. I have more sympathy for fat people who speak about body positivity than slim people who tell everyone they can be healthy at any size. At least among the former, there’s honesty and an absence of duplicity.
I am an admirer of Geoffrey Miller and Diana Fleischman’s research in evolutionary psychology and their public writing in general. People have asked me what I think about their polyamorous relationship. My view is they can do whatever they want. It’s their life.
What I dislike is when people who live in a polycule act as if their highly novel relationship arrangement can work for everyone, or claim that anyone who isn’t poly is uptight or insecure or squeamish or weird, or try to stigmatize monogamy or jealousy.
Relatedly, there is a strategic reason why people label mate guarding behaviors as “insecure” or attempt to vilify jealousy. The aim is to weaken relationships and poach people’s romantic partners. Mate guarding and jealousy are natural; these are locks. Strategically undermining mate guarding and jealousy is also natural; these are keys. Mate poaching is common. Eighty-seven percent of men and 75% of women report that they have attempted to lure someone who was already in a committed relationship with another person into a short-term sexual relationship.
Anyway, Diana has publicly gone on the record saying that, to some extent, polyamory is a kind of luxury belief. They acknowledge their choice isn’t for everyone. People who are smart and conscientious and educated and affluent are better equipped to navigate these kinds of relationships. I appreciate their honesty about this.
I don’t necessarily condemn anyone for having casual sex. Hookup culture isn’t ideal, but it’s better than withdrawing from social life or spending hours in front of a screen watching other people have sex. It’s sad when people in their early twenties tell me they’ve had a bunch of sex partners but have never had a serious girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s sadder when they tell me they have never had sex at all. Forming a real relationship is the best option. It should be promoted. But hookup culture is still better than being a shut-in.
If you are young and full of energy and want to sleep with lots of people, who can blame you. I started going to bars just before the rise of dating apps, and saw the gradual and then sudden transformation in the aftermath of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc. I gotta say, the early 2010s (and presumably the dating scene before that) was a lot more fun than what came later. Imagine being 21 years old at a party or bar or nightclub where practically no one was looking at their phones, and the default cultural expectation was that anyone who wanted to enter a relationship had to fumble through person-to-person interactions without hiding behind a screen.
And again, it’s one thing to have lots of casual sex partners. It’s another to broadcast and promote and glorify it and claim that there’s something wrong with people who make different choices. Do what you enjoy. But don’t act like partaking in it makes you better than other people. Or confers some kind of superior moral status to you. Make the romantic choices you want to make. But expecting other people to also celebrate you for them is absurd.
Since I’m on the topic of clarifying some of my views, here are a few thoughts about my opinions of elites.
I criticize elites a lot. It’s true. But I have nothing against "elites" as a category. I'm not a communist (though even communist regimes had elites; funny how that works). Individual elites are fine. Some of my friends are elites!
My critiques, though, are aimed at the moronic members of the elite who think they are helping people when often their ideas and policies cause immense harm. It is especially repugnant when they disguise their own self-interest as virtue and, as Thomas Sowell has put it, use self-congratulations as a basis for social policy.
Peter Turchin in End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites and The Path of Political Disintegration wrote:
“Complex human societies need elites—rulers, administrators, thought leaders—to function well. We don’t want to get rid of them; the trick is to constrain them to act for the benefit of all.”
There's nothing wrong with elites, and every functioning (and non-functioning) society has elites and needs elites. If you tried to depose the existing elites, other elites or aspirational elites would simply replace them.
I’m not against elites. I just wish we had better elites, that's all.
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