Fidelity (WAS: RE: CFCs and ethics)

Billy Brown (
Mon, 8 Nov 1999 14:18:57 -0600

Spike Jones wrote:
> Consider for instance the <faithfulness in marriage>. Most would
> recognize that this meme is solidly CFC based, and yet I cannot shake
> this one off even if I tried,

I can't speak for you, of course, but in my experience the actual memes are more like <convince your spouse that you are faithful> and perhaps <keep your word>. The first is grounded in biological evolution, and the second seems to be a sound principle in most viable ethical systems. Add in a traditional Western marriage vow, and you tend to get either actual fidelity or hypocrisy.

> and it is unclear to me that I should try.

Interesting. IMO traditional marriage is somewhat harmful even in a traditional society, and becomes much more so when immortality and a significant degree of self-modification become possible. (Of course, the likely emergence of posthumans and SI shortly thereafter renders the question moot, but it is still an interesting topic).

IMHO, the pros and cons of marital fidelity stack up as follows:

1) Actual fidelity reduces the prevalence of Sexually transmitted diseases.

2) Purely monogamous relationships place fewer demands on an individual's self-confidence and tolerance, and are therefore easier for some people to maintain.

1) A fidelity code does not acknowledge the natural variation in human desires. A few people actually want a purely monogamous relationship, but they are at one extreme of a long continuum. At the other end you have complete free-love types, while in the middle are those who just want to have an occasional fling. A fidelity code forces almost everyone to suppress their natural urges, which results in a lot of sexual frustration.

2) Fidelity greatly reduces the spread of sexual skills, while simultaneously preventing individuals from comparing their personal abilities with anything except the unrealistic visions of erotic fiction. The result is frequently a poisonous mixture of ineptitude and insecurity capable of doing a great deal of damage to otherwise healthy relationships.

3) Monogamy also tends to encourage a whole raft of other relationship pathologies. By ensuring that sexual frustration is commonplace and experiential calibration is rare, it makes it easy for relatively minor problems to grow into serious ones. At the root of the problem is the fact that the idea that a single individual will always be able to satisfy all of your needs is simply unrealistic, but under monogamy there is no alternative. Dissatisfactions that would otherwise be manageable will therefore tend to build up indefinitely, ultimately leading to all sorts of unpleasant results.

4) A fidelity code create a perverse ethical landscape. It rewards those who cheat successfully while punishing both those who abide by the rules and those who get caught breaking them. The result is a memetic selection pressure in favor of ideas that support skillful deception (including self-deception) and hypocrisy.

Overall, I think the scales are clearly tipped against fidelity. It may work well for some small fraction of the population, but I expect that a large majority of us would be better off with some alternative system.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I