Blank-ogamous, Polyamory, & NPR

Today, the Humans are Blank-ogamous series made an appearance on NPR’s Blog “13.7: Cosmos and Culture.” In her post “A Cultural Moment for Polyamory,” friend Barbara King (who has been very kind over the years by sharing my writing on social media), wondered why it is that polyamory and non-monogamy seems to have reached a critical mass.

She asks why is it being seen in so many different places recently? Have we crossed some threshold in society? I’m not sure. I think there is growing acceptance of different arrangements and relationship styles, at least in some corners of the country and the world.

It will be interesting to see how readers will respond to the post. NPR disabled the “comments” feature on their site some time ago because, as seems to be happening everywhere, comments became full of not-very-constructive, angry criticism about virtually everything. From monitoring social media, however, there doesn’t seem to be the reaction I thought there would be. Sometimes these things are crap shoots. Timing matters when a post is published, and maybe we’re all overwhelmed by news from the political world. Perhaps it’s Trump fatigue. Or, maybe polyamory has become mundane, and people aren’t reacting with the same degree disapproval they once did. It’s hard to say.

For my part, I didn’t argue in favor or against non-monogamy. I think it’s probably true that all types of relationships have their own pros and cons. Barbara quoted from a couple of places in the series, where I was basically saying that people are complex. 

In a blog post (one of a series) about humans’ flexible sexual behavior, Clarkin writes:

“In my readings, I noticed that different researchers seemed to arrive at a fairly similar model of erotic relationships, which is that they have three main components: sexual desire, passionate love (aka romantic love or infatuation), and companionate love (aka comfort love or attachment). One model included a fourth piece: mania or obsessive love.

These are among the more powerful of human motivations, but they do not always overlap perfectly, setting up the potential for flexibility as well as for conflict. One reason for this is that the different parts, whatever we want to call them — lust, romance, limerence, companionate love, friendship, commitment — are somewhat biologically distinct, and these can be arranged into different combinations and felt toward different people.”

Finally, although I finished the Blank-ogamous series a while ago, I never got the chance to blog specifically about polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy. Maybe I should. 

Irish Refuse & The Golden Rule

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”Irish Proverb

 

The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Enda Kenny gave some remarks at the White House for Saint Patrick’s Day. Among his comments was a nod to the difficult history of Irish immigration abroad to countries including (but not exclusive to) the United States. You can find video of his speech here.

Enda Kenny (skip to 6 mins, 34 seconds):

“Ireland came to America, because deprived of liberty, opportunity, safety and even food itself, we believed. Four decades before Lady Liberty lifted her lamp we were the wretched refuse on the teeming shore. We believed in the shelter of America, in the compassion of America, in the opportunity of America. We came and became Americans.”

To some observers, this is a reminder of global current events, where refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere are seeking sanctuary. In addition, an estimated 20 million people are on the verge of famine in four countries:  Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria. Some of this is due to drought, but the primary reason stems from conflict, which blocks access to food, water, and other essential supplies and medicine, as well as a lack of action from other nations.

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Should Cambodia Pay War Debts to the United States?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the U.S. is seeking $500 million in repayment from Cambodia for a Vietnam War-era loan, primarily in the form of excess maize. According to the SMH:

The debt started out as a US$274 million loan mostly for food supplies to the then US-backed Lon Nol government but has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a re-payment program.

As the article also pointed out, many people across the political spectrum are outraged by the request, given the role the U.S. played in bombing Cambodia. According to Yale historian Ben Kiernan, from 1965-73 U.S. planes dropped nearly 2.8 million tons of bombs over the eastern part of the country. This was part of a larger war meant to deny communist troops and supplies from North Vietnam from reaching the South via Laos and Cambodia.

Although casualty estimates from war are notoriously difficult, U.S. bombing was estimated to have killed 50,000 to perhaps hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, many of them civilians. Furthermore, historians such as Kiernan have argued that without the bombing, the Khmer Rouge might not have grown as much as it did, with people radicalized against U.S. brutality and into the arms of the K.R. Their rise to power, of course, led to more atrocities and genocide only a few years later. 

Given all of that, it seems preposterous, or at least tone-deaf, for the U.S. to request repayment. And it’s not just Cambodians who think so. Also noted in the SMH article was a quote from James Pringle, a former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, who was near Cambodia during the war: 

“Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover.”

 

U.S. bombing of Cambodia from 1965-1973 (by Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan). Source.

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Extraordinary Cases of Compassion and Forgiveness: The Secular and Divine

As a kid, I went to Catholic school for several years. In addition to our lessons in traditional educational subjects of reading, science, math, history, and social studies, we also got regular lessons in Church teachings. Although I consider myself atheist or agnostic today, I distinctly remember that some of the religious lessons – particularly some of the parables of the New Testament – simply “felt” good.

In particular, I remember that the parable of the good Samaritan said something to me – try to help others in need, even if there is risk, and even if they are somehow different from you. Likewise, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (at least to me) emphasized the importance of being humble. The parable of the prodigal son contained themes of contrition, mercy, and reconciliation.

When we read those lessons – in class or in Church – they often came with a pleasant physical sensation. At the time, I interpreted that feeling as evidence that the parables were divinely inspired. After all, other stories didn’t give me the same emotional response (though at that age, I didn’t have many examples to compare). Of course, now I interpret things differently. The biological anthropologist in me would say that the pleasurable sensation is part of a human neurobiology that promotes pro-social behavior. This, in turn, reinforces the rewards that we gain from being connected to others.

Does that sound too cold? “Oh, you materialist!”  I hope it doesn’t. Whether the sentiments are divinely inspired or a part of an evolved emotional response, the effect is the same – they help maintain our connections, which we absolutely need. No human being is an island. Instead, we are obligatorily social primates. And, regardless of whether we take a religious or secular perspective, the effect is the same. We are still left with the angel and devil on either shoulder, whether we interpret that literally or figuratively. We all make our choices that are based on a combination of character, the information at our disposal, and our surrounding circumstances.  

I have to admit that I still get that inspirational feeling whenever I read about extraordinary acts of compassion, forgiveness, or simply someone who’s made an effort to seek out another’s humanity. I’ve collected them for a while. After a few accumulate, I feel the need to share them. Below are a few fairly recent examples, followed by a more comprehensive list. Collectively, they all give me hope, as they span the range of humanity – secular and religious – from many societies.

The mother of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh removes the noose from around the neck of her son’s killer, sparing his life, April 15, 2014. Image via Arash Khamooshi.

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Testosterone Rex & “Humans Are (Blank)-ogamous”

Two friends and colleagues of mine, Barbara King and Meredith Reiches, separately notified me that the “Humans Are (Blank)-ogamous” series from this site was cited (positively) in Cordelia Fine’s new book “Testosterone Rex: Myths  of Sex, Science, and Society.” I’ve not yet seen the book, though I will have to soon.

Barbara was kind enough to take a photo of the relevant passage and send it to me. It looks like Fine cited Part 1 of the series, and I will have to see where it fits in the context of the book (not to mention learning from Fine’s other insights as well). In any case, I’m grateful — for friends who keep an eye out for me, and that Fine thought the series was worth something. 

cordelia-fine

For those who are interested, and don’t want to read the entire (Blank)-ogamous series, a summary can be found here.

Also, this is a publisher-produced video and synopsis of Cordelia Fine’s new book.

AP Story: The Return of Sudden Death in Nepali Workers

nepal

A young wife in Nepal cries as she leans on the coffin of her 26 year-old husband, a migrant worker who died in his sleep in Qatar. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) Source.

In December, an AP reporter named Martha Mendoza called me to ask about a blogpost I’d written about a phenomenon called SUDS (Sudden Unexplained Death During Sleep) that occurred in Southeast Asian refugees. Apparently, the story was published in December, but I didn’t know it until a Nepali official in Saudi Arabia contacted me about it, as he was concerned about young migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States who were dying in fairly high numbers there.

I originally wrote “Killer Ghosts & Broken Hearts: The Mystery of Sudden Unexplained Death in Sleep in Asian Men” way back in 2010, and it’s been one of the more widely read posts on this site. I think the reason for that is because it’s hard to find accessible information on SUDS, and because there are still many people in Asia who are worried about it (particularly, it seems, in the Philippines). 

My interests in the topic started simply from having Hmong, Lao, and Khmer friends in college who told me they had been attacked by ghosts at nighttime. By the time I got to graduate school, I ended up looking at the culture and biology of this in Andrea Wiley’s class on Medical Anthropology, and whether it was connected to SUDS. I almost pursued the topic for my dissertation, but was advised that it would probably be a dead-end because there weren’t as many fatal cases by that time. 

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