The Geek Social Fallacies of Polyamory

In the unlikely event that you may not be aware of them, the Geek Social Fallacies are a list of flaws in reasoning about relationships which are altogether depressingly common in geek social groups.

It’s not surprising that they exist; though it’s less true now than it was, say, twenty years ago, it’s still a fact that many self-identified “geeks” grow up as social outcasts, and create communities that express their own quirks and dysfunctions because of that.

I’ve been pondering some pondering thoughts about how the same idea might apply to polyamorous people, and I think there is a loose correlation between the Geek Social Fallacies and the Poly Social Fallacies. Don’t get me wrong; the poly community, by and large, is awesome, and I scarcely form close friendships with anyone outside of it any more. But we are prone to our own social quirks and dysfunctions. So, here’s a first stab at drafting the Poly Social Fallacies:

Poly Social Fallacy #1: Polyamorous People Don’t Get Jealous

If we were to meet someone who claims immunity to an emotion like, say, disappointment, or sadness, or frustration, or doubt, we’d probably look at her like she’d just sprouted an extra head or two. Yet when people in the poly community claim an “immunity” to jealousy, often we’ll just nod and say “Yes, that’s awesome, you’re a Good Poly Person.”

Even when they feel jealousy but refuse to acknowledge it for what it is. Which is, I have to admit, something I’ve been guilty of myself when I started doing the non-monogamy thing.

Jealousy is merely a feeling, nothing more. Like all emotions, it’s part of the normal and varied landscape of the human condition. Some people may feel it more easily than others, and some people may go through long periods of time without ever encountering a situation that triggers it, but that’s not the same thing.

As with all emotions, it’s a way for the parts of our brain that don’t have language to communicate with us. Sometimes, what those bits of our brains are communicating might be “Hey, there’s an inconsistency here; there’s something hinkey that might mean my needs aren’t being met” and other times it’s “RAAAARGH! PROTECT TERRITORY! MUST SMASH INTERLOPER TRYING TO TAKE MY PROPERTY!”…but it’s not something that being polyamorous somehow confers an immunity to, any more than being into motor sports magically makes one immune to disappointment.

Carriers of this fallacy can do all sorts of destructive things, from acting out in passive-aggressive ways while refusing to confront the reality of what they’re feeling, to attempting to impose all sorts of micromanaging controls on their partner’s behavior in the name of “setting boundaries.” A better solution is honesty: “Hey, tI’m feeling jealous. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or that you have done anything wrong, but it does mean I’d like to talk about this.”

Poly Social Fallacy #2: Polyamory Is More Evolved

This particular fallacy isn’t unique to polyamory; members of any sexual or relationship subculture often feel like they Have It Figured Out, and that if only their particular thing could be recognized for how brilliant it was by the MainStream Culture, everyone’s lives would be better off.

This is often a reaction to being marginalized by mainstream culture. When you’ve grown up not fitting in with the people around you, finding a community where you DO fit is such an overwhelming relief that you want to spread the joy you feel far and wide.

And, to be fair, the poly community does espouse many values–communication, honesty, communication, problem-solving, communication, negotiation, and communication–that would benefit anyone in any sort of relationship. (Just imagine how much better off the characters in any romantic comedy would be if they would only talk to each other!)

But carriers of this fallacy run off the rails in two directions: first, by assuming that just because someone is monogamous, it must mean they don’t have these skills; and second, by assuming that just because they are polyamorous, it means they do.

It’d be marvelous if membership in the poly community came with these relationship skills. And some folks do seem to feel that that’s how things work–woohoo! Im polyamorous, and poly people are good communicators! That means I’m a good communicator! Go me!–but even a casual look around the poly landscape will show that it doesn’t quiiiiite work that way.

More to the point, there is no single relationship model that works for everyone. Just like monogamy doesn’t work for all of us, polyamory doesn’t work for all of us either. There are monogamous people who are monogamous because monogamy is the most natural fit for them, not because they’re knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who are merely accepting cultural defaults because they have not yet received the blessings of polyamorous Enlightenment.

Poly Social Fallacy #3: The Core Relationship Before All

Valuing relationships is a reasonable thing. Wanting to protect a relationship is a valid measure of respect for the value it brings. Believing that it’s OK to do anything, commit any act, or hurt any person so long as the core relationship remains is unhealthy.

I recently encountered a great example of this fallacy in action. A woman declared that, because she had once been in a situation where her partner didn’t take care to meet her needs when he started a relationship, she realized that the only ethical way to have relationships was to abandon any new partner the moment her husband expressed the slightest discomfort. Her reasoning, you see, was that it is unethical to hurt people, and therefore the only right thing to do was to end any relationship that she was involved in the instant it looked like her husband might have any problem with it at all–because she would never be so cruel as to hurt someone else.

Carriers of this social fallacy venerate their existing relationship to the point where they either don’t acknowledge or simply don’t care about anyone else’s pain. Any new partner is an expendable commodity; any amount of hurt or heartbreak inflicted on any number of people is justified if it “protects” the “primary” relationship.

Sometimes, learning new skills and adapting to new situations is uncomfortable. Sometimes, it’s necessary to accept that a bit of discomfort is OK; it doesn’t mean the End Of Everything. And ethical behavior always recognizes that callously inflicting pain on others–any others–is something to be avoided wherever possible.

Poly Social Fallacy #4: Relationships Are Transitive

This particular social fallacy can take two forms, each pernicious in its own way.

The less common form it takes is the notion that if my partner is sexually or romantically involved with someone, that means I have a right to be involved with that same person, too. It’s sometimes seen by established couples, especially couples new to polyamory, as the perfect solution to jealousy; if I am having sex with the same person my partner is having sex with, then there’s no reason to be jealous, right? (We should all live in a world where emotions like jealousy are so rational…but then they wouldn’t be emotions, would they?)

The more common form is “My partners should all be friends with each other.” While it’s nice when that happens, and it’s definitely true that the members of a poly group should be able to be in the same room with each other and to interact pleasantly without bloodshed, it’s not necessary that everyone be best friends merely because they fancy the same person.

Both forms of this fallacy, taken to their (il)logical conclusion, lead to a creepy place that denies people their own autonomy: If you are to be involved with person X, you are now obligated to like/be intimate with/be friends with/have sex with person Y.” Eww! People make their own choices in friends and lovers for their own reasons; it’s rare indeed that someone will be okay with being told how they must relate to someone merely because they fancy someone else. Trying to dictate how people relate to one another is inappropriate social behavior, regardless of whether we’re talking about friends or metamours or lovers.

Poly Social Fallacy #5: Partners Do Everything Together

Relationships almost always need a certain amount of alone time if they are to grow and thrive. When we first start out in polyamorous relationships, having a partner go off and spend time alone with someone else can feel threatening; it can feel like an exclusion. So why not simply do everything together, all the time?

Unfortunately, this can constrain a relationship. It can also create Drama, when someone feels that his or her needs for intimate, one-on-one time aren’t being respected.

It is rare in the extreme that two different relationships develop in the same way and the same direction at the same rate at the same time, even in situations where three people are all romantically involved with each other. It’s reasonable that there will be times that two of the three will do something on their own, whether it’s have sex or take a walk in the garden, and this is not a reflection on, or an exclusion of, the third person.

Taken to its extreme, this social fallacy can lead to some pretty bizarre places, like “I know I get home from work an hour later than you two do in the evening; I don’t want you doing anything interesting at all (or even “I don’t want you spending time together”) until I get home.”

BDSM Ethics Part 2: Some Thoughts on Making the World Better

In Part I of this essay, I wrote some initial thoughts about the BDSM Pledge Web site. To recap briefly (as if I am ever brief): The BDSM Pledge site is an attempt by, a producer of BDSM-related porn, to start to codify a set of guidelines for responsible, ethical BDSM.

This is not really a new idea, of course. Folks have been thinking about how BDSM is distinct from abuse for at least as long as there have been words for consensual BDSM. A lot of folks have coalesced around two short, bumper-sticker-sized expressions: “SSC” (for “Safe, Sane, and Consensual”), and “RACK” (for “Risk Aware Consensual Kink”). They both have the notion of consent in common, but after that, things go a bit off the bend.

The RACK folks like to point out that no activity, from whipping your lover to climbing a stepladder with a hammer in your hand, is really entirely ‘safe,’ and ‘sane’ is often in the eye of the beholder. The SSC folks, on the other hand, see the notion of risk-aware consensual kink as overplaying consensuality to the point where it leads into some decidedly questionable territory; if two folks decide they have a cover-the-submissive-in-chum-and-drag-him-through-shark-infested-waters fetish, does that mean the unfortunate outcome is okay because they both knew the risks and were on board with the idea?

Honestly, I see both points. It makes sense to me that both SSC and RACK are reaching toward something that’s simple in conception but slippery in the details: different people have different tastes, there is no such thing as perfect safety, and as long as the folks involved understand that and aren’t being totally reckless with one another’s safety, there’s value in letting people get down to it.

But I don’t think SSC or RACK are, by themselves, sufficient for ethical BDSM. In fact, I think they’re both so narrow in focus that they miss something really important: There is more to ethics than what you and your lover get up to in the bedroom (or attic or kitchen or dungeon, as your tastes may dictate).

It’s one thing to be ethical to your partner, your confidant, and/or the source of your nookie. It’s an entirely different thing to be ethical toward members of your community, even ones you don’t like, and toward the great mass of humanity as a whole. After all, we as human beings are arguably hard-wired to behave very differently toward people in our inner circle than we are toward acquaintances or strangers. One of the failings I see in many conversations about ethical BDSM is that the discussions tend to focus on the ways we behave toward our partners, but not on the ways we behave toward folks we aren’t involved with. I think that’s a shortcoming of ideas like RACK and SSC; a code of ethics needs to be broader in its scope.

I’ve written before about how we in the BDSM community tend to talk the talk about consent, but we often don’t walk the walk. I have seen behavior at BDSM events and play parties which I think violate the ideas of consent and autonomy, in ways large and small–swatting the ass of that cute submissive who walks by, wrongly believing that just because she’s a submissive so that makes it OK; disregarding people’s boundaries because it’s an acceptable thing to do (after all, isn’t the point of BDSM to challenge people’s boundaries? Right?); even full-on sexual assault. Granted, no community is perfect; take any group of people (folks interested in BDSM, folks with red hair, folks with medical degrees, folks who drive Toyotas) and if it gets sufficiently large you’ll find some bad actors.

But it’s particularly worrisome, to me, to see people behaving poorly in the BDSM community, precisely because the BDSM community claims to value consent so highly.

Consent is the cornerstone of what we do. Consent is the defining element that separates us from abusers. Yet, in spite of that, I have seen far too many examples of non-consensual behavior in the BDSM community for my liking, and more to the point, I’ve seen non-consensual behavior tolerated. That’s something that a code of ethics needs to address.

When we talk about people behaving unethically in the community, it’s surprising how many times it seems that everyone knows who the bad actors are. There’s a good essay on this topic called The Missing Stair over on The Pervocracy. When something bad happens in any community, far too often everyone already who the perpetrators are. The bad actors are like a missing step in a staircase, in that when you become accustomed to jumping over that step, you can forget how dangerous the missing step actually is.

A comprehensive set of ethics must include not only ethical treatment of our partners, but also ethical treatment of other people in the community. And, as an important element of that, it must include creating a community that does not shelter people who behave badly.

I’ve seen the BDSM community close ranks behind a member who sexually assaulted submissive women in the community, without their consent; I’ve seen how people who came forward to talk about the assault were ostracized. This is something that simple slogans like “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” or “Risk Aware Consensual Kink” don’t address. Ethics means more than “I will only engage in consensual behavior toward others;” I think it also extends to “I will not excuse non-consensual behavior on the part of others in my community,” too.

I read recently about sexual assault that took place at Burning Man, and one of the things that struck me about the story was the commenter who said “I’m sure this guy [the rapist] knew someone out there… where were they to keep him in check?”

Which, I think, misses the point. In any community, it is not the responsibility of the people who know the bad actors to keep them in check. It’s everyone’s. If you’re there, that means it’s yours. If I’m there, that means it’s mine.

It is incredibly difficult to intervene when we see something bad happening. It’s easy to ignore evil; it’s easy to rationalize non-intervention. Someone else will do something, we say. It’s not my job to police the community. Where are his friends? They should be the ones to keep him in check. I don’t even know this guy; why should I be the one to step in?

And so, nobody does. The missing stair goes unfixed.

So, let’s get down to the meat of the issue. If I were to invent a set of ethical guidelines for BDSM, what would it include? It’s important to understand that ethics go beyond simply taking responsibility for our own actions; they also extend to not standing idly by while other people behave unethically. And, most importantly, any reasonable code of ethics must include the idea that each one of us bears responsibility for making our community an ethical place.

So I were to invent a set of ethical guidelines for the BDSM community, it would probably look something like this:

• In my interactions with partners, I recognize that their ongoing participation is voluntary, even in total power exchange or M/s style relationships. I recognize the agency of my partners, and I understand that the moment I attempt to do things to a partner that he or she no longer wishes to participate in, or that a partner attempts to do to me that I don’t wish to participate in, we have moved away from BDSM.

• I recognize that my tastes are not shared by everybody, and other people’s tastes may not be shared by me. Because of that, I respect the agency of the people around me. They are more than simply a role; I will not make assumptions about what is and is not permissible to do with someone simply because that person identifies as “at top” or “a bottom” or “a submissive” or “a dominant,” without actually considering that not everyone regards these roles to have exactly the same meaning.

• I acknowledge that unethical behavior is something that can happen in my community, and when it does, that is a reflection not only of the person who is committing the unethical acts, but also on me, and on the rest of my community. I can be judged positively on my willingness to intervene against unethical acts, or negatively on my willingness to look the other way.

• Consent is the cornerstone of ethical behavior. Even small violations of consent are unethical acts. Therefore, I will make consent a priority. Sloppy attitudes about consent, such as swatting the ass of any attractive submissive who walks by, or barking orders to anyone who presents as submissive regardless of whether or not any sort of relationship exists, are not acceptable.

• In addition, I will expect the rest of my community to step up and make it clear that sloppiness about consent isn’t OK. There’s a Geek Social Fallacy that says “Ostracizers are always evil.” This fallacy needs to be recognized for what it is. Folks who behave inappropriately need to be told they are behaving inappropriately. It needs to stop being ignored. A person who witnesses inappropriate or non-consensual behavior in the community and does nothing about it, becomes complicit in it. It is not evil to take a stand against people who behave inappropriately. If I am the person witnessing inappropriate behavior, it is my responsibility to be the person who steps forward.

• I will not behave with hostility toward people, especially women and most especially submissive women, who come forward to report abuse. (When my friend was raped–and let me make clear that this was not an edge case, a fuzzy boundary thing, or an after-the-fact buyer’s remorse thing, but a he-physically-restrained-her-and-put-his-penis-in-her-vagina rape–the amount of backlash she experienced when she came forward to talk to other people about it was astonishing. And not just from self-described dominants or from men; the number of women who responded with some variant of ‘well, if you were REALLY a TRUE submissive then you wouldn’t have problems with this’ was just amazing.) I will make it my responsibility to build a community in which this kind of thing is not acceptable. I recognize that people who engage in victim-blaming and rationalization are part of the problem; whether it is their intent or not, they are providing cover for abusers.

• It is an unfortunate fact that abusers can exist at any level within a community, even among community leaders. This creates a particularly difficult situation, because when abuse done by a community leader surfaces, there can be a powerful incentive to look the other way. Rationalizing is astonishingly easy to do. “Well, I wasn’t there and so I don’t know what REALLY happened, and I’ve hung around with this guy and he seems like an OK dude to me, so you know, maybe there’s nothing really to it, I bet she’s just causing drama…” If I learn about inappropriate behavior in the community but do nothing about it, I become complicit in it.

• Reputation and references alone are not necessarily reliable indicators of a person’s character. When a community punishes abuse victims from coming forward and shields abusers, then says “If you want to protect yourself, just see what other people have to say!” the result is to create an environment that makes it almost impossible to spot the bad actors. Of course people who have had bad experiences aren’t going to come forward and say so; the price is too high. The result is a situation like the one my friend experienced where she asked a lot of folks around the community about her attacker and got glowing reviews, even though he was a serial abuser…because the community is so hostile to people who talk about abuse that none of his previous victims came forward.

• Affirmative consent is important. If someone does not say “it is OK for you to put your penis in me,” I will not put my penis in that person. It’s not enough that she didn’t say “no, you can’t put your penis in me.” I will not assume that simply because I haven’t been forbidden to do something, that means it’s OK to do it. (This does not necessarily mean that it’s not OK to play with consensual non-consent, of course. I personally am a big fan of consent play and consensual non-consent. I talk to my lovers about it before doing it; it is absolutely possible to have affirmative consent to engage in consent play.)

• It is my responsibility to be compassionate and receptive if I am told of abuse within the community. There are significant barriers to disclosure, both institutional in the community and personal in the shame that tends to follow sexual assault. I will not add to these barriers. I will not become part of the reason that victims feel they can not step forward.

• Consent for activity A does not imply consent for activity B. Consent to a light spanking scene does not imply consent to a singletail scene. Consent to being tied up does not imply consent to sexual intercourse. At the end of the day, if person A puts his penis in person B without permission, anything that happened in a BDSM context up to that point is utterly irrelevant; it’s assault and it’s not OK.

• There needs to be less trivializing and minimizing when assault happens. “So he fucked you after you agreed to be tied up. That’s not REALLY rape; I was assaulted in an alley by strangers, and that’s far worse than what you experienced!” is not OK. While it is part of human nature to do this, and identifying with the attacker and minimizing other people’s victimization are part of the defense mechanisms we employ against abuse, this kind of minimization of poor behavior creates an environment where poor behavior is tolerated. A policy of no tolerance for assault, violent or not, in the BDSM community is an important part of ethical BDSM.

• On the flip side of the same coin, it is important to understand that if I am assaulted, the assault is not OK even if I did agree to be tied up first, or even if I did agree to play with this person first. People who are assaulted will often tend to trivialize their own experience. Better policing of the community, less tolerance by members of the community for assault, and better education for what constitutes assault are all important.

• It is not OK to play the “shoulda game.” When my friend was assaulted, a lot of folks came forward to say “well, she shoulda done this” or “you know, she shoulda done that.” When the “shouldas” are about things that happen before the assault (“well, she shoulda got more experience with him before she agreed to let him tie her up,” “well, she shoulda said ‘no’ more plainly”), it’s just plain old-fashioned victim blaming. When the “shouldas” are about things that happened after the assault, they’re a form of abdication of responsibility. After the assault, I heard one person in the community who is generally an otherwise decent bloke say “Well, she shoulda gone to the police after it happened,” and then used that as an excuse not to support her, but to support the attacker instead. We can’t expeect victims to follow some script that we make up in our heads and then withdraw support from them if they don’t follow that script. The community needs to be better at policing itself and enforcing standards of acceptable behavior regardless of whether or not people who are assaulted respond to the assault the way we think they should.

Many of these ideas center around the way we conduct ourselves in our community rather than simply in private. This is necessary, both to create a vibrant, healthy community that does not shield abusers, and to help ensure that our community is not targeted as a haven for abusers by the outside world. Whether we like it or not, and whether we agree with it or not, when members of our community behave poorly, it is a reflection on all of us…particularly if we fail to step up and stop it.

My buddy edwardmartiniii has written an essay on the value of policing our social groups in order to create ethical spaces. He also has some suggestions about fixing the problems we see around us. I have linked to these before, but I think it needs to be mentioned again. If we are to do what it is we do ethically and with compassion, these are important ideas.

To that end, I now wear a blue button on my jacket. That button is a reminder to myself: if I am to be an ethical, compassionate human being, it is not enough that I do no evil. I must also choose not to look the other way when others do evil within my community. If I want a community that does not offer a haven to abusers, it is my responsibility to make that happen.


What I Wanted To Do This Week

• Write.

What I Did This Week

• Helped zaiah through the death of her horse.

• Mixed and poured slightly over half a ton of concrete by hand.

• Broke into a house and kidnapped a timber wolf to protect her from someone who was abusing her, resulting in wolf-paw prints in freshly-poured concrete.

• Dealt with a broken washing machine. So. Much. Water.

• Replaced wiring in the bedroom walls.

• Got sawdust all over the clothes in the closet during the rewiring job. Good thing we have a washing machine…oh, wait.

• Installed a new washing machine, carefully lifting it over fresh, still-curing concrete.

• Painted new hardware for the windows.

• Dealt with police officers and K-9 dogs tramping through our back yard searching for a suspect.

• Re-painted window hardware that a police officer stepped on while the paint was still wet.

• Had a difficult conversation with a good friend who did something hurtful to me.

• Learned I now need reading glasses.

A do-over on this week would be nice.

Exploring the Great White North, Part 2: Morlocks and Navies

Before I go too much further into the tale of our adventures in the savage, icy badlands of Canada, there is a small detail which I feel I should clarify.

The cities in Canada are not literally built in the clouds.

There is a common belief that they are; tales of Canada’s sprawling cloud-cities permeate the folklore of nearly every industrialized nation. These tales, like many legends, have some small basis in fact. Seen from a distance, the grand cities of the Canadian steppes do appear to be floating on clouds.

We learned during our trip why this is. The cities of Canada are divided into two parts: the upper portion, with glittering skyscrapers and shopping malls and small outdoor cafes and little sushi places tucked away into business districts, much like you might find in any other city in any other place.

Beneath these parts of the cities, down in the earth where it is perpetually dark, lie the subterranean hearts of Canada’s civilization, where the Morlocks run the strange and ancient machinery essential to the places above.

These dark and mysterious caverns, the foundations of Canada’s cities, emit vast quantities of steam from the enormous, arcane machinery that supplies the parts above with water and electricity and powers the defensive grid. When you combine this with the fact that Canadian cities are almost always built atop natural hills or elevations, in order to provide better protection from Kurgan attack, it becomes easy to see how the casual observer, weary and snowblind, might believe the cities are actually floating on clouds. You can’t actually build a city on clouds in a literal sense; clouds are made of water vapor, a transient and altogether unsuitable foundation for heavy construction of any sort.

zaiah and I found ourselves deep beneath the city, in the Morlock’s territory, as we attempted to leave Canada Place and head back ’round toward the scenic parts of town.

Canada Place, as it turns out, is the main connection between the two Vancouvers, the one that glitters in the sun and the perpetually dark subterranean place of mystery and nightmare. We followed a path behind the building, which descended sharply and then widened into a broad street leading down into the heart of darkness.

Here you can see some of the vast pillars supporting the city, and the eerie red glow of the vast furnaces that supply the ancient machinery with steam. I fear this photograph fails to convey the oppressive nature of this strange place, gentle readers, as I was forced to use a very long exposure in order to record any trace of the details of the place, and thus it appears much brighter than it actually is.

We walked for about half a mile, along the wide passageway where huge trucks carrying coal and other raw materials thundered by. Giant turbines in the ceiling, which I was unable to capture on film, sat poised in readiness to fill the tunnel with cleansing flame should any unauthorized persons dare to venture down this far. As we walked, seeking any doorway or narrow access shaft that might return us to the sunlight and fresh air above, our every step was haunted by the fear of a clanking metal security machine stepping in front of us to challenge us with “Identification, Citizen!” In such an eventuality, we knew we would have little choice but to aim for the eyestalk and run.

Finally, after much searching, we found an accessway that, with many twists and turns of narrow steps, brought us back to the world of light. We were fortunate that the shaft we’d stumbled upon led directly into a construction site; it appeared to be long forgotten, reopened only accidentally and therefore unguarded.

The construction crews paid us no attention. Hearts still pounding, we climbed up onto the sidewalk and tried our best to blend in with the throngs of afternoon businesspeople sipping their lattes. We hurried along the moment we were out of sight of the tunnel we’d climbed through and left the busy sidewalks, circling around behind the business district. There we passed by the fields where, many hundreds of years from now, after the machine uprising, when nothing remains of this city save for her enormous and barely-charted sewers, human beings will no longer be born, but grown.

So it came to pass that we made our offerings of bus fare and blood to a Kurgan driving his bus in that direction, and soon found ourselves walking in a pleasant breeze along the docks that ring the island.

We arrived at exactly the right time of year, as it turned out.

The Royal Canadian Navy was hosting its annual fund-raising, during which citizens are permitted to rent some of Her Majesty’s naval fleet for private excursions in the glittering water surrounding the island. As we walked along the dock, zaiah pointed out this vessel, the Limited Offensive Unit Probably a Bad Idea.

This vessel, equipped with the latest Man-Powered Rotary Reciprocating Dual Thruster Units, looked to us to be a fine way to explore Canada’s territorial waterways, so we resolved to rent it at once.

We negotiated an exchange of currency with a man wearing an “Obey” T-shirt, and set off.

The first thing we noticed as we paddled furiously away from the dock was the…no, wait, I take that back. The first thing we noticed as we paddled furiously away from the dock was that the man in the Obey T-shirt had placed many safety supplies into a small plastic chest, but neglected to give the chest to us. We turned around and paddled back to retrieve it, in the event we encountered some unfortunate incident that might otherwise have led to our certain doom.

The second thing we noticed as we paddled furiously away from the dock was the strange piles of rock carefully erected along the stony shore, offerings to the temperamental denizens of the deep waters, who are loathe to grant safe passage along her surface without these ritual tokens of submission.

At this point, I must pause to reveal that we were on that day the source, no doubt, of many interesting stories the Vancouverites exchanged with one another. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were both out in deep water paddling our small craft like mad, or the fact that your humble scribe was once again wearing bunny ears, but we were for whatever reason the source of much waving and pointing, and many shouted words drown out by the constant thrashing of our pedal-powered propellers.

So agitated by our unlikely presence did the Vancouver citizens become that another naval vessel, the Rapid Offensive Unit Unconventional Use of Weapons, was quickly dispatched to check us out.

Upon determining that we were an unarmed American woman accompanied by a man in bunny ears paddling our way around the False Creek sound and therefore unlikely to pose a threat to the safety and security of Her Majesty’s State, we were left to continue our journey in peace, though the continued reactions of Her Majesty’s subjects reminded us that there would be many a story around cozy campfires that night that started with “Hey, you aren’t going to believe what I saw this afternoon!”

We made our slow way beneath one of two bridges that span False Creek. This bridge, erected during the famous Art Deco era in Canada’s dim past, still bears the reminder of an ancient part of Canada’s history, now nearly forgotten by the youth of today.

Time was when balconies like the one you see here could be found on every bridge in Canada’s western half. According to the history books, when the Canadian government negotiated its treaty with the bridge-trolls that inhabited this part of the continent, these balconies were provided as a service to the trolls. Each morning, as the sun came up, the trolls would ascend to these balconies to announce the tolls for crossing the bridge that day, their low, guttural cries of “One copper! One copper!” or “Three copper! Three copper!” informing the tradesman what it would cost to do business on the other side of the bridge.

The trolls are long extinct now, disease and destruction of their natural habitat having been too much for them to adapt to. Architects today still sometimes include these balconies when they design modern bridges, though they do so only for tradition’s sake, without fully understanding why.

As we traveled farther along, we paddled by the enormous concrete Canadian Palace of Culture and Sport, erected at the same time as the Vladimir Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport was being built in Tallinn, Estonia, during Vancouver’s short-lived attempt to reach out across the Iron Curtain and recognize that ancient Medieval city as her sister in spirit.

Once, Canada’s athletic elite gathered here to compete for the honor of leading the front lines in the regular campaigns against the Kurgan raiders. Today, it is used as a storage depot for concrete, making it, on the whole, rather more successful than the edifice that sits crumbling to ruin in Tallinn.

We saw this graffiti painted on the side of the structure.

I must confess, Gentle Readers, that though my knowledge of Canada and her ways has been vastly expanded by our travels there, I have absolutely no idea what it means.

But Apple is evil! Some thoughts on how economies work

I’m still in the process of writing about my experiences with my Android phone, which will see at least two more sections (on the OS itself and on T-Mobile). The short version is I started with an iPhone, got rid of it for a 4G Android phone, decided that Android just doesn’t have it going on, and am switching back to the iPhone.

Now, one thing I’ve seen repeated many times since I’ve started talking here and elsewhere about my Android experiences is a common refrain: It’s not about the phone. It’s not about the operating system, or user experience, or call quality, or ease of use. An iPhone is a bad choice because Apple is an evil company.

With no disrespect intended for any of the dozen or so people who’ve said this to me: I find that to be a remarkably silly thing to say, but not for the reasons you might expect. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, before I get into that, let me start by destroying a childhood myth that we all learn in school.

When you make a product for sale, you do not determine the price of your product in the marketplace by taking the total cost of making it, adding some percentage to the cost of making it that represents your profit, and then selling it at that price.

An astonishing number of people seem to believe that this is how the price of goods is arrived at, and I am constantly surprised by how many folks believe it’s true. That isn’t the way it works at all.

When you sell a product in the marketplace, you price it at the absolute tippy-top highest price the market can bear. Then, you drive the cost of making it as low as is humanly possible, using whatever means you can. The difference between the highest price the market will bear and the lowest cost you can make them for is your profit.

Everything is priced this way: cell phones, computers, cars, winter jackets, tea, pencils, small remote-controlled toy helicopters, batteries, electric razors, suitcases, light bulbs, plywood, sofas, dishwashers (and the dishes and detergent you put into them), stereo systems, ice cream, gasoline, you name it.

“But Franklin!” I hear you cry. “What about competition? If I can get my cell phone or my ice cream from many different places, they will compete with each other on price until they have arrived at the lowest profit margin they can accept!”

Which is true, in the same world where unicorns cavort with dragon whelps over fields of cotton candy.

Yes, businesses will sometimes compete with one another on price, to a limited extent, in order to create market share. But let me let you in on a secret: It is better for me to capture only 40% of the market and make a profit of $50 a widget than to capture 90% of the market and make only $3 a widget.

Companies know this. Industries develop a sense of what their expected profit margin ought to be, and then compete on price only so long as it doesn’t erode that. The supply-demand curve they taught you in grade school? It’s rubbish. It doesn’t account for the fact that when consumers expect to pay a certain amount for something, they’ll keep paying that amount even if the cost of production falls. It doesn’t account for the fact that consumers will often rate a product as more desirable if it carries a higher price, even if the quality is exactly the same as a lower-priced item. It doesn’t account for the fact that supply and demand do not exist in a vacuum, nor for the fact that demand is not infinitely elastic, nor for the fact that demand depends on many factors, quite a few of which have nothing to do with supply.

It also doesn’t account for the fact that supply is not always responsive to demand, for reasons that may range from capitalization costs to the fact that low availability can create that air of increased desirability I just mentioned.

Even supposedly “commodity” goods like oil and wheat are not priced according to the strict laws of supply and demand; things like futures and derivatives can change their price even when supply remains exactly the same. (If there is a sudden increase in trading for oil futures, for instance, the price of oil may rise even though the production of oil is completely unchanged and the demand for oil hasn’t budged one bit.)

So when people say things like “You’re stupid to buy an iPhone; if you get a high-end model, you’re paying $100 for $20 worth of additional flash memory,” they’re speaking from a profound ignorance of how any market system works. Sorry, Mr. Savvy Consumer, but you do that same sort of thing all the time, when you buy anything from tennis shoes to lumber.

So back to Apple’s supposed “evil.”

It is deeply silly to say “I’m not going to buy an iPhone because Apple is an evil company.” Not because it’s false, but because it’s trivially true. Well, duh. Of course Apple is an evil company. Apple is ruthless, anticompetitive, and sociopathic. This is not a terribly profound insight. Yes, Apple is an evil company; in other news, the sky is up and water is wet.

Apple is an evil company because every successful multinational corporation is evil.

They have to be. The laws governing and regulating corporations pretty much guarantee that any publicly-traded corporation must be sociopathic in nature. Any company, large or small, doesn’t succeed by leaving money on the table if it doesn’t have to; public corporations are legally obligated to seek maximum return for their shareholders, by whatever means are available to them. A corporation that has the opportunity to increase revenue or lower costs and fails to do so can be sued by its shareholders.

Let’s look at Google, the company whose motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” They make an operating system that is touted as being “open,” that is supposedly “open source,” and that anyone can use to make a smartphone, right?

Right. And those unicorns in cotton candy land just love it.

The reality is rather different; Android is not really “open” in any meaningful sense of the word, and Google is as big a bully as Apple, but less public about it. Google, for example, recently forced Acer to cancel a smartphone built around a rival operating system, threatening to cut Acer off from source code and revoking Acer’s right to use Android if it didn’t comply.

You know how anyone is free to download and build the Android source code? Well, err, that applies only to older versions, and even then only to some parts of the Android code base, excluding Google’s apps that run atop it. You know how anyone can use Android on their mobile phone? Well, err, the name “Android” is trademarked, so you have to license the use fo the name from Google…and how many consumers going to buy an Android phone that’s advertised as running an “Android-like operating system”?

That gives Google considerable leverage. So much that they can tell a hardware maker “We demand you cancel your phone that uses a rival operating system” and the handset maker will comply so fast that journalists will still show up for the product launch and end up milling around an empty hall.

Yes, Apple is an evil company. Google is an evil company. Microsoft is a company of such breathtakingly creative evil that even the Department of Justice is effectively powerless to reign it in, no matter how egregiously it has broken the law. If you find yourself with warm, fuzzy feelings about any globocorp, it is only because that globocorp has paid good PR money to program you with those feelings. To believe anything else is naivety in the face of overwhelming evidence.

Those underpaid workers making iPads in Foxconn factories? They’re making gizmos for Dell and Cisco and Microsoft and HP and Motorola and Nokia and Samsung and Intel, too…and under working conditions that the folks making sneakers for Nike would give their right arm to enjoy.

Of course, not all evil is created equal. The evil of Google and Apple might reach farther than the evil of Nike, but the evil of Nike is probably a lot more serious for those on the pointy end of it. As evil as Nike is, it’s a whole lot less evil than the Wall Street companies that crashed the economy (and then blamed the wreckage on “poor people buying homes that were too expensive”), or the company you likely bank with if you use a large bank.

Me? I use a small, local credit union. And I’m still buying an iPhone.

Exploring the Great White North, Part 1: Of Raids and Raiders

So it came to pass that on Labor Day, or Labour Day in the modern language of Canada, zaiah and I ventured to take a train ride up to the frozen wilds of our northern neighbor to visit her.

I was not quite sure what to expect. I’ve heard the stories, of course: fierce raiders riding armored polar bears, carrying evil spears fashioned from ice; the great floating cities in the clouds, their perimeters patrolled by armed police riding the backs of furred, horned wyverns; the enormous, heavy tomes, their pages made of thin sheets of iron hammered from fallen meteorites, containing all the wisdom of the Elders in the nearly-forgotten language of the ancients. But I’d never seen any of these wonders with my own eyes, so it was with both fear and excitement I boarded the train, carefully stowing my borrowed polar bear saddle above the seat.

We arrived in the Wildlands in due course, bourne there by the great machine of iron and thunder, and within minutes of setting foot on Canadian soil our problems began.

Those of you familiar with the writings of your humble scribe are no doubt aware that I am often prone to wearing bunny ears in public. This is a not-atypical photograph, showing me in my everyday, about-town ears, which are equally at home during a formal evening in a fancy pub or while traveling the rugged, rocky slopes of America’s midwest.

So it will be no surprise to many of you that I was wearing bunny ears–indeed, these very same bunny ears–on the trip up to the frozen north.

Canadian customs officials, whose numbers today are carefully selected from the most savage of the Kurgan raiders (about whom I shall speak more later), with only those who best their competitors in savage hand-to-hand combat too terrible to write about here allowed to win the honor of protecting the border from their unkempt southern neighbors, were not amused by the ears.

Not at all.

I was questioned about them, at great length and by at least three different people, before zaiah and I were taken into a small room for additional screening.

Now, I am loathe to go to the hardware store, much less to a strange and distant land, without my bunny ears. The story of the ears is too long to recount here, though I will try to sum it up without too much damage to this narrative. The ears are a gift, or perhaps an inheritence, from my London sweetie emanix, who I met while standing in line waiting for an elevator (or as they say in the native British tongue, a “lift queue”) at a convention of perverts, sodomites, and other fine folks. She was, as regular readers will recall, dressed as an Easter bunny and passing out candy at the time. Since strangers have the best candy, I immediately accepted her offer. Fast forward a few years, a couple trips abroad, and an orgy in a castle in the south of France, and the torch has well and truly been passed. So to speak.

The source of my woes

Anyway, there we sat, just moments from disembarkation, sitting in a small room under the cold and watchful eyes of three people in bulletproof vests, who grilled us both about our motivations for making the long and dangerous trek into the icy plains of Canada with bunny ears. They demanded a list of every place I had lived for the past twenty years, whereupon they announced they would do a background check on me in all of them.

During this time, the lovely Eve, the namesake of the woman who chose knowledge over obedience, sat (or, rather, stood) outside the gate waiting. I was forbidden, in the strictest possible terms, to make any attempt to contact her, or in fact to use my cell phone at all.

Eventually, and grudgingly, they let us through. The entire ordeal took even longer than the unfortunate time I made the mistake of telling a British customs officer I was traveling to the UK to visit my girlfriend, which is, apparently, right up there with “I just came back from Columbia with thirty-seven kilos of the finest diamond-grade Bolivian blow ever to choke an elephant” and “I will avenge my people!” on the list of Things You Never Tell A Customs Agent. But I digress.

Customs behind us, we passed through the great hall into the lands of Canada, where I stood blinking, bag in one hand and bear saddle in the other, looking for our transport.

The saddle turned out to be unnecessary, as it appeared Vancouver was a Cosmopolitan enough city to have heard about and embraced the wonders of internal combustion. We loaded up into a Honda of some description or another–or perhaps it was a Toyota–and made our way past the barges laden with animal pelts and the street vendors hawking rhubarbs and small cursed figurines with glittering ruby eyes toward the home of someone who had graciously offered to accommodate us during our travels. (It turns out, in a strange twist of the-world-is-smaller-than-you-know, that her friends were companions of a woman I met in London at emanix‘s birthday party. The world is small, and strange, and really quite amazing.)

The next morning, we rose to brave the twisted ways of the Vancouver public transit system.

Now, I have used public transit in at least five countries. I have ridden a streetcar in Poland that was ancient before the sun was born. I have navigated London’s tube and lived to tell the tale, thanks to the warning to mind the gap. But I was not quite ready for what we discovered when we boarded the bus in Vancouver.

Vancouver’s public transit drivers, like Canada’s customs agents, are drawn by and large from the ranks of disaffected Kurgan tribesmen, unsatisfied with the raider’s life, which leaves too little opportunity to wreak violence upon the rest of Canada’s people. Those who fail to win the coveted spots at the border crossings often become bus drivers, where they greet requests for navigational aid or questions about the fare with the traditional cry “Hark’on dûl goth Khan dok’tôl Akan gol’Kosh Trk’han,” which translates roughly as “With my ax I shall destroy all that you love.” The bus drivers of the greater metro area belong to many different clans, which wage ceaseless war with one another in the dead of night along lonely, deserted streets while the city sleeps.

We learned from an unfortunate fellow passenger to stand quietly and pay attention, leaping from the bus as it crossed the intersection where directions, scribbled in strange glyphs on a large sheet of runed paper called a “map,” instructed us to depart.

We stopped at a charming cafe to collect lunch, then walked to Canada Place to sit beneath the sun and eat. The view from our benches was quite spectacular, with the banner of Canada’s dominant tribe fluttering gaily in the breeze:

There is a secret horror lurking in the design of Canada Place, a grim reminder of an ancient evil, which I will get to in a moment.

Our repast complete, we journeyed forth once more to visit Vancouver’s Police Museum, an excellent place for zaiah and I to amuse ourselves with tales of law enforcement throughout the ages .

The history of law enforcement is the history of weaponry. So it is probably no surprise that the most interesting part of the Vancouver Police Museum, by far, is its weapons room, entry into which is permitted only under escort through a large, locked steel door.

There is also, in another, much larger part of the building, a display of improvised and more exotic weaponry, most of which is made up of all manner of strange and lethal variations on the theme of “I will hit you with this until you die.” There were handmade spears, and flails, and whips, and a spring steel cobra (a fine weapon I was introduced to by a friend of mine in my misspent college days); blowguns, and shivs, and butterfly knives; brass knuckles, and clubs, and axes with curved handles. It was an inspiring display, which made me long to disappear into my workshop for a few days and come out with a doomsday weapon that I could use to hold the moon for ransom. Ah, those glorious days of my youth…but again, I digress.

In front of the museum is a rather…peculiar statue, commemorating the pledge made by Canada’s law enforcement officers to be the friends of small, strangely-proportioned, bipedal space aliens with oddly-configured heads and tiny hands whenever they might be in need:

Vancouver’s finest, known throughout galactic sector R-4 as a friend of any being in need

Rumo(u)r has it that a pod person once saved the police commissioner’s life, during a massive and unlikely conspiracy involving time travel and wildly improbable space aliens who look like crosses between sentient ivy and lingerie models. The next Men in Black movie will reportedly be based loosely on this story.

Our visit done, and reluctant to board a bus again, zaiah and I chose instead to walk the streets of the city, to better learn her customs and culture. Our wanderings brought us over a grand, soaring bridge, where we found this message spray-painted on the pavement, a chilling reminder of the Kurgan raiders who to this day live deep in the Wilds and stage occasional incursions into the civilized parts of the country.

Through messages like this, they seek to remind Canada’s citizens of their grisly practices of ripping the hearts from the chests of their enemies, lest the citizens become too complacent.

On the other side of the bridge, we spied the stylized peaks of Canada Place from the other side.

There are few alive today who remember the days of old, when Canada was known mainly for her hordes of ravening wildmen, who set sail in small, fast warships to plunder up and down the Western coast of the United States in search of treasure and women.

Though the design of this building seems innocent to modern eyes, there was a time when the sight of peaked sails just like these, traveling from over the horizon, would strike terror in people for hundreds of miles along the coast, as they signaled another assault from the Canadian longboatmen. This is why to this day nearly every city on the Western seaboard is still surrounded by tall, thick stone walls, with peaked watchtowers along the coastal side. Once, those towers were practical rather than ornamental; from them, watchers would stand guard, day and night, endlessly scanning the ocean for the first sign of those curved white sails, ready to sound the alarm that would bring men and boys rushing to arms to try, hopeless as it might be, to repel the invaders.

There are few who still remember; today these peaks do not bring the terror they once did. But I will confess, Gentle Readers, that when I saw the building, there across that narrow inlet of water as we crested the bridge, a chill crossed over my heart. It was soon gone; I know, in the rational part of my brain, that there is no longer any reason to fear that Canada will return to her warlike ways. But perhaps that fear has passed into the collective unconscious, a faint echo in our DNA of the trials we once faced from the rampaging northmen of the sea.

We faced a different trial on our way back from this place, one born of dangers subterranean rather than seafaring. But that part of my tale will have to wait until next time.

Some Thoughts on Morality and Power

If someone walks up to you and starts talking to you about good morals and the importance of morality, what’s the first thing you think of?

If you live in the US, odds are pretty good that anyone who wants to talk morality with you is actually talking about sex. How to do it, where to do it, when to do it, in what position to do it, who to do it with…the term “morals,” especially in political discourse, has come to be a synonym for “sex.”

And if the person talking to you is a conservative Evangelical, ten will get you twenty that somewhere in that conversation about morals, you’re going to hear about sex with a partner who’s the same sex as you are–something that seems to be right down at the bottom of the Pit of Immoral Behavior, just slightly below pedophilia and at least two and a half yards beneath genocide on the relative Scale of Morality.

And that’s really weird.

Or at least, it seemed really weird, until I thought about it for a bit.

The word “immoral” isn’t used to describe people very often these days. At least, it isn’t used to describe heterosexual, monogamous, married cisgendered people very often in the court of political discourse. It’s still quite popular among some segments of the conservative religious community, but it generally gets applied to sodomites, gay and bisexual people, transgendered folks, and other folks who don’t fit tidily into the prescribed box of sexual norms…with occasional side-branches directed at atheists, of course.

In the late 1800s, notable cynic Ambrose Bierce defined the word “immoral” to mean “Inexpedient. Whatever in the long run and with regard to the greater number of instances men find to be generally inexpedient comes to be considered wrong, wicked, immoral.”

And I submit that the laser focus on sex that we see in almost any popular political or religious dialog has at its heart a very potent expediency indeed, because it serves to distract us from true immorality, and causes us to focus on that which doesn’t really matter to the betterment of some very evil people indeed.

Take Pat Robertson.

No, I don’t mean take him out behind the chemical shed and shoot him; I mean take him as an example. Pat Robertson has made himself a very wealthy, powerful, and influential man by talking endlessly about morality. Or, more specifically, talking about sexual morality: sex before marriage (he’s against it), homosexuality (against), gay marriage (against), non-traditional sexual unions (against), sex work (against, even though he admits to having employed the services of prostitutes), oral sex (surprisingly, for…as long as it’s between a married man and his wife. He’s silent on the subject of whether or not they can have onlookers watching the act.).

And yet, for all his preaching about morality, Pat Robertson is by any reasonable standards of decency an astonishingly, breathtakingly evil man.

Pat Robertson has yet to meet a wealthy foreign dictator he doesn’t like, at least when it’s economically expedient. He cozied up to Liberian strongman, sex trafficker, and war criminal Charles Taylor in exchange for a gold mining contract in Liberia. He owns African Development Company, a corporation which snuggled up to Zaire’s warlord Mobutu Sese Seko to win rights to so-called ‘blood diamonds’ mined by slave labor.

Or look at “Family Values” candidate and politician Newt Gingrich, who divorced his first wife after an affair, married his mistress, then divorced her to marry his second mistress. Said second mistress, who is still married to him, is apparently spending her time these days doing fundraising for the Romney campaign…on a platform of (wait for it) family values.

Gingrich, despite being a serial adulterer, is perceived by many folks on the right as being “moral,” presumably because hey, he ain’t gay. Yet to anyone who believes that morality lies in treating others with compassion, he is unquestionably an evil man.

This is not a new observation, of course. Many of the people who talk the loudest about “morality,” on both sides of the political divide, are deeply and profoundly evil. Mahatma Gandhi was quoted as saying “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” It’s not exactly a revelation that those who use talk of morality, particularly religious morality, in the public sphere are very often deeply immoral people.

Which is where Ambrose Bierce comes in.

It is not simple hypocrisy that explains the prevalence of evil among those who speak of morals. It is not that we are all born of frailty and error and each of us relates imperfectly to those around us.

It is, rather, a calculated and deliberate expediency.

Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and all their ilk are evil people, consumed by a desire for power and wealth. They do not hide this at all. But there is a dilemma. In a Third World country, powerful strongmen can do pretty much whatever they like, without needing to justify themselves to anyone. But in an industrialized nation, maintaining power and wealth often requires maintaining the general goodwill of the people. How to do that, then, when you are a serial adulterer? How to do that when you own a mine that uses slave labor?

The answer, brilliant in its simplicity and obviousness, is to change the public dialog about what it means to be good, and what it means to be evil.

An evil man can gain the favor of generally good people, if he can set the tone of the dialog about good and evil. If he can redefine “evil” so that, rather than meaning “exploiting slave labor in Third World countries to become fabulously wealthy” it means “having sex in the wrong way,” he not only can deflect attention from his own evil, he can short-circuit the conversation about his own evil before it even begins.

When this image dominates the public dialog about morality, someone is being snookered.

We have come to a place where “morality” means “sex” because that state of affairs is expedient to powerful, wealthy men who want to be able to indulge their lust for wealth and power unchecked.

According to the Bible, it is the love of money which is the root of all evil. It is not premarital sex, nor gay marriage, nor the burning question of whether or not married couples are allowed to give head.

Yet among the Religious right, discussion of money is strangely absent from the morality debate. The beginning and end of morality revolves exclusively around who one has sex with, and under what circumstances.

That didn’t happen by accident. That isn’t a coincidence. It happened because evil men set out, systematically and deliberately, to focus the lens of morality away from their own evil.

Every time we accept this definition of morality, every time we allow the conversation about morality to get bogged down in irrelevant sexual minutia, we work in the service of these evil men.

All sin lies in treating one another poorly. Rather than talking about the morality of gay sex, perhaps we should talk about the morality of slavery. Perhaps, if we re-focus our dialog about morality onto the evil that those who campaign on platforms of morality and virtue do, we will begin to see a better world. I would far rather that Pat Robertson divest himself from his blood diamonds and give the vast wealth he created from slave labor to the poor, than see him continue to hold influence by talking about how immoral we are if we don’t have sex the same way he does.

Complicit in a Complicity

Since I first moved to Oregon, one of the things I’ve been most struck by is the quantity and quality of the scenic natural beauty around here, which the state leaves carelessly lying all over the place. It’s been part of life since the move, so it’s fitting that when zaiah and I decided to have a commitment ceremony, we would do it in a place that had a particular abundance of it lying about.

The place we chose was the ruins of an old stone cottage in a large park here in Portland. This particular park has a ruined stone cottage a short hike from the road, that we thought might make a lovely place for a gathering of friends and family.

We first started mooting the idea of a commitment ceremony about a year or so before it happened. One of the things that was important to both of us was the idea of a ceremony that wasn’t just about the two of us, but that was about our entire extended networks. Being part of a polyamorous network can be a bit tricky, sometimes, in that there is a tension between dividing up into couples and honoring all of the people who are important to you. zaiah and I wanted a ceremony that showed our commitment to each other, but also to the people we have chosen to make part of our families.

Even the name we chose, borrowed from figmentj, was an expression of the fact that this is something that involves all of us. Rather than a commitment ceremony, we opted to call it a “complicity,” and to make everyone who attended an accomplice in our union.

Not everyone in our extended networks was able to show up. In particular, my sweeties emanix and figmentj weren’t able to be there. A lot of people did make the trek out to Portland, though, including my entire Florida network–people I don’t get to see nearly often enough.

We gathered together and hiked out to the ruins of the stone cottage. Along the way, we passed over a small foot bridge where someone unknown had written good wishes on strips of masking tape and placed them on the path.

I have no idea who wrote this, or why, but I think these are good sentiments.

As I’ve mentioned, Oregon is known for the abundance and exuberance of the scenic natural beauty it manufactures and scatters about the landscape. Even the walk up to the stone cottage was drenched in it, which can be a bit disorienting for folks from places like Florida, where scenic natural beauty is kept tightly guarded and is sold in small parcels by licensees of the Disney corporation. The Florida part of the network paused along the way to recover from the onslaught of gorgeous, which they had developed little natural resistance to.

That’s my sweetie joreth, her boyfriend and my former archnemesis turned apprentice datan0de, my partner Shelly, datan0de‘s wife femetal, redheadlass, and her partner zensidhe. These are folks who have been my family for a decade or more, datan0de‘s attempts to eradicate me, destroy the world, and crush all of you beneath the massive iron treads of his robotic war machines notwithstanding.

When they had recovered sufficiently, we finished the journey out to the stone cottage. We’d tried to be selective in the number of folks we’d invited to this part of the Complicity, but it was still a bit of a tight fit.

My friend edwardmartiniii graciously agreed to oversee the whole shebang, and did an absolutely fantastic job of it. Here, he is seen at the start of the Complicity asking for volunteers to be given over to the Great Old Ones, so as to appease them and call down their blessing of protection upon all who attended. My friend Amanda volunteered; I’m sure going to miss her.

KIDDING! I’m kidding. Of course I jest. There were no sacrifices to gods ancient or modern; for one thing, where would we even find a virgin these days?

Why yes, don’t mind if I do!

One fo the central parts of the ceremony involved passing out dollar coins, which everyone made a positive wish on and then placed in a container. As people left, they drew out a coin, to bring into the world with them with a wish for good things.

I like the idea of mindfully passing out something which represents a desire for good. The wish itself may not have any material effect on the coin–there is no metallurgic Transubstantiation at work here–but the idea that this represents something is a powerful one, I think.

A part of the ceremony that we’d planned for quite some time was the creation of human Langdon charts, using lengths of rope to indicate the connections between the various people there.

What we hadn’t really counted on was the size and complexity of the network, and how much space (and rope!) it would require. Plus, with not all of our sweeties in attendance, it would have been impossible to create a full chart anyway.

But we were able to map out bits of it. Here are zaiah and I with the Florida part of the Squiggle:

We also did Langdon charts centered only on certain parts of the network. Here’s zaiah‘s Portland portion of the network:

Here’s the bit that centers on me, with the partners who were able to make it (emanix and figmentj, you were both sorely missed!):

It’s fascinating to me how human communities of all sorts tend to follow the same structure. If you map romantic connections in poly networks, or business contacts on Linkedin, or friends networks in a large company, you see the same patterns emerging: most folks have small numbers of connections, with a smaller number of people forming large numbers of connections that act as bridges between different groups. There’s something really interesting lurking somewhere in there. I’d love to make some software that lets people easily and quickly create charts of their poly networks, and then analyzes the network and puts the data into a database somewhere.

I still like the idea of doing photographic Langdon charts. I’d very much love, if everyone in my network could ever get together in one place, to do a photo that shows all of us. Perhaps if I suddenly find myself receiving a suitcase full of cash from shadowy government figures in exchange for, like, foiling a plot to hold the moon for ransom or something, I will fly all of us out to Easter Island to do a picture with all those funky statues of giant heads. Or, less ambitiously, maybe I’ll just register or something. (Anyone know a good database programmer?)

But I digress.

I won’t say that I am lucky to live the life I do. I don’t think that’s accurate, for reasons that I outline here. But I will say that I am profoundly grateful for, and humbled by, the people who I have chosen to be my family, and who have chosen me as well. These are all people who, every day, make my life richer simply by being who they are.