Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

July 28, 2017

Peter Singer on the future of polyamory

Here's one not likely to cross your radar elsewhere. In a Polish journal called Liberal Culture, Peter Singer, famous Princeton ethicist, is asked about polyamory and he declares for it, though with biological-determinist reservations that I think are overstated. He guesses that someday it may be adopted by up to 25% of the population.

Peter Singer is best known to the world for pointing out that despite appearances, humanity continues to become increasingly kind, moral, and civilized decade after decade. For instance, the average person on Earth is less likely to die by war or personal violence now than at any time in human history.

On polyamory, the migration crisis and right-wing populism

We meet Peter Singer in a Warsaw bookstore. The biography of Singer’s grandfather, “Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna”, has just been translated into Polish. Although the story’s main focus is on the changing fortunes of Singer’s family, it is often only a springboard to broader questions about ethical challenges we face now.

Emilia Kaczmarek: ...You revealed some very intimate facts about your family’s past. Your grandparent’s relationship started in a very unusual way. They were engaged in a relationship one would now call polyamorous. When I was reading your book, I had an impression that you were astonished by the lack of jealousy between them. Do you think it would be morally better if people could live in open relationships?

Peter Singer: I think it would. Certainly, people living in such relationships talk more openly about it than they used to, there is also more discussion about that in the media. It seems to work for some people, and I welcome that, but I’m not sure if it could work for everyone. I think that this feeling of jealousy might still sit pretty deep in a lot of people for reasons, which are rooted in our evolution.

So monogamy is rooted in nature rather than culture?

I am not sure if it’s more nature than culture, but there is definitely an element of nature in the idea that a man wants to know if the children he takes care of are actually his children, and in the fact that many women want to know if they can rely on their partner to help them provide for a child. In open relationships, the men can never be sure whose children they are raising.

Can you really explain people’s attitudes by this primal need to pass on their genes in times when so many of us decide not to have children at all, which leads to a serious demographic crisis in many developed countries?

What evolution has given us, is a strong drive for sex, not for having children. For 99.9 percent of human history, sex has led to reproduction. The desire for sex hasn’t gone away, but now we can have sex without reproducing. This is why it is completely understandable, from an evolutionary point of view, that nowadays people often choose not to have children. On the other hand, if men are going to care and support children, many of them do want the children to be theirs, in a biological sense.

So you don’t think that polyamory might provide a future model of love relationship in western culture?

I suppose it will become much more popular than it is nowadays, especially in advanced countries where societies aren’t very religious, but I would be surprised if it is adopted by more than, say, 25 percent of the population.

On the other hand, I don’t want to say that the current, typical model of a relationship will not evolve. The problem I mentioned before, the need to know who is the father, could be solved through genetic testing. So maybe in the future people will start to think: “Well, I don’t need to worry that she is having sex with other men because I can still find out whether her child is mine or not.” ...

Read the whole wide-ranging interview (July 27, 2017).




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