The myth of equality

Twin Oaks was founded with behaviorist concepts inspired by the fiction story Walden Two.  In this book, the way members of the fictional community were inspired to do unpopular work (say cleaning toilets) was by giving a slight premium to the number of labor credits they received for doing this drudgery.  Similarly, for work which was popular or considered easy (like cooking or child care) the person doing the work would get less than full credit.  For normal work, you get one labor credit for one hour of work.  For the first few years of the real community Twin Oaks existence, a similar system of slightly differential labor credits was used.

we are now in the lower right

we are now in the lower right

Then a funny thing happened as the community grew.  When we reached about size 40, it turned out that there was no such thing as universally unpopular work.  Nor was there work which we had way too many volunteers for (except one on one child care).  So what ended up happening was even the smallest premiums would cause labor to flock to the drudgery and even the smallest penalties would cause us to lose our work force for desirable labor.  This forced the community into the philosophically desirable place of evaluating all work the same.  Something which is now the cornerstone of the egalitarian community movement.

Someone sloppily posited that romantic relationships in non-central polyamorous groups should be equal.  i barked back.  Perhaps there are some equal rights, but there is nothing like equal attraction, attention or commitment.  Romantic relationships are not (in this way) like egalitarian communities.

to say the very least, but not equal

to say the very least, but not equal

Central to my thinking about polyamory is that you would not actually choose an additional partner who you wanted to treat “equally” to one you already had, because typically you are looking for different needs or desires to be met by a new relationship and these are key to creating the different treatment and attractions.  These differences will nearly inevitably lead to significantly different types of emotional connections and relationships.  Comparing them is difficult, pretending they are somehow equal is a fools errand.

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

8 responses to “The myth of equality”

  1. moonraven222 says :

    I find the references to hierarchy in the context of relationships disturbing. Rather than talking about “the myth of equality”, can we simply agree that all relationships are different? They may deal with different needs and have different degrees of closeness, but that doesn’t make one better than another or make them unequal. Each relationship is what it is to the people involved.

    • paxus says :

      @MoonRaven: The hierarchy reference (as i read this post again) is in contrast to egalitarianism, where it seems appropriate. This is about communities rather than relationships. The non-central polyamorous groups i mention are places where there is not an identified “primary” relationship.

      i have no idea what the break down is, but there are certainly many relationships where one couple is referred to as primary or central (as in planning your life around this person). We might not like it that way, but certainly couples are free to identify that way if that is what they want.

      • moonraven222 says :

        I agree totally that each relationship should be free to identify or define themselves in the way that they choose.

        My difficulty is when you talk about ‘unequal’ as being the same thing as ‘different’, as in “you would not actually choose an additional partner who you wanted to treat ‘equally’ to one you already had, because typically you are looking for different needs or desires to be met by a new relationship and these are key to creating the different treatment and attractions.”

        I might, in fact, choose another partner that I wanted to treat ‘equally’–which doesn’t mean I would treat them in the same exact way. Each relationship is different, each relationship is not necessarily ‘unequal’.

        I often quote what my mother said about her five children, “Every one of them is different and I love them all the same.”

  2. genderfabulous says :

    This post makes me think about the difference between equality (“sameness”) and equity (“fairness”). If all are treated equally, they are treated the same (given the same time, the same attention, etc). However, that may not necessarily be “right” or “fair” to all involved. Equality = everyone gets a pair of shoes, regardless of size or style. Equity = everyone gets a pair of shoes that fit them.

  3. SteveChuPeaches says :

    Pax – I’m imagining there could be a better pic than the “It’s complicated” pic, as it showcases a popular meme of F-M-F-M-F-F relationships where male bisexuality is pretty marginalized. Also, it may make some sense to acknowledge that everyone is required to do a kitchen clean shift or not enough happen. Some jobs are actively avoided, and Twin Oaks does sweeten with carrots. Usually with you 🙂

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