6/25/07 - Citation Note: This article was written in 1998 (when I was 19), was later edited in 2005, and was not originally intended for publication. For that reason, I did not properly cite sources as I would for a published article. Though I did not take any direct quotes from any other works, please note that the description of the concepts "psychological visibility" and "private world," and the logical progression for the argument for why psychological visibility is a need (w hich I included in the "Background" section of my article), are based on Nathanial Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem and The Psychology of Romantic Love, specifically his discussion of the "Muttnik Principle." The argument I make for monogamy based on these ideas is entirely my own, however, and my views are not necessarily shared by Mr. Branden.
Psychological visibility is the experience of perceiving a psychological "mirror" in reality that reflects one’s most fundamental values. This experience has epistemological and psychological significance because man needs a direct perceptual experience of the connection between his mind and reality. One is able to focus on a relatively limited number of entities at one time. The contents of your mind are vast and you are able to consider only a few aspects of your own consciousness at once. Through another living being one can experience the reflection of many of his values, all at the same time.
One gets this experience on a limited level when looking at plant or lush landscape. A tree grows towards the sun and pushes its roots deep into the earth, in an effort to gain those minerals and chemicals that sustain its life. Man shares with a tree his struggle for survival. He perceives in the tree a miniature mirror of his values and experiences the actualization of those values as an emotional sum. He shares even more values with animals, which have the capacity of perception and locomotion. Animals also possess a rudimentary form of emotion, which is obvious to anyone who has ever owned a dog. The dog can often tell if one is happy or sad, excited or stagnant, and it responds in kind. One experiences pleasure when a pet displays recognition of his intentions.
Through another human being, one is able to directly experience almost all of his most treasured values. Your good friend not only possesses intelligence, but also knows those aspects of your personality that make you different from any other entity in the universe. One generally thinks of himself as a flow of thoughts and perceptions, but he think of others as a united whole, like “Dan,” “Kelly,” and “Chris.” When one lays his eyes on a close friend, he can feel as if all is right in the world, and that he shares life with another being who truly understands him. This is greatest experience and potential of psychological visibility.
The need for romantic love is a corollary of the need for psychological visibility. Romantic love is the most powerful psychological mirror because, ideally, a lover reflects all of the fundamental aspects of self. Like a close friend, she shares most of one’s philosophical ideals and appreciates the unique aspects of one's personality. Beyond that, she is able provide immediate perceptual realization of one’s body. She can provide physical as well as emotional pleasure.
Merely looking at one’s friend can cause a feeling of inner contentment. Making love to one’s romantic partner is the ultimate celebration of life. All perceptions are active at that moment. One can see his lovers face, hear her voice, smell her scent, and touch her body. It’s almost a perceptual overload. This is the most intense perceptual-emotional experience of psychological visibility possible. For most of us, it is the greatest form of happiness we ever feel.
The Morality of Monogamy:
Monogamy is a long-term romantic relationship in which both partners preserve romantic and sexual exclusivity. I hold that monogamous relationships are the ideal channel for romantic love over the long term.
Psychological visibility is of critical importance to romantic love relationships. Through a lover, one can experience the deepest form of self-love possible. In order to attain this highest level of happiness, it is necessary to directly perceive another being that reflects both the broadest and the most specific aspects of self simultaneously. The person must reflect one’s broader intellectual values like philosophical and political beliefs, and also the specific traits, personality quirks, and physical attributes that make him unique.
Self-love is a psychological prime mover. I don’t need a reason to love the fact that I am a man, have green eyes, like to play chess, and tell stupid jokes. I would not want to trade my life, my personality, or my body (or especially my girlfriend) with anyone else. Most individuals with a healthy self-esteem feel the same way. It is appropriate for one to highly value his own optional value judgments and individuality. The direct, perceptual experience of a being that psychologically mirrors many or all of these specific traits will generate an emotional reaction in proportion to the depth and scope of the reflection. A lover can provide such a mirror.
Through interaction, shared experiences, and physical contact, two lovers can build an immense private world with one another. Those who have been in a rational and mutually beneficial relationship for an extended period of time are able to read each other’s minds, anticipate each other’s choices, and generally display an acute understanding of each other’s distinguishing attributes. In a good romance, no one knows your various likes and dislikes as well as your partner.
Lovers become a part of each other as they share life experiences. This is not any kind of second-handedness, but a marvelous consequence of living and growing with another sentient, rational being. Often, one’s most treasured memories are of things he learned or experienced with a loved one.
The more one grows as an individual, the greater capacity he has to experience an even higher emotional sum in response to his values. There is more self to sum up, i.e., there are more aspects of self automatized in the subconscious. In a long-term romantic love relationship, memories and experiences of one’s lover become a substantial part of that sum. Your long time wife is not only a value because she is wonderful, but because she has been wonderful for years. If you both continue to grow individually and with one another, the shared private world embodied in your partner can become your highest perceivable value.
The problem with polygamy is that the value of psychological visibility is judged by its intensity, not its quantity. The private world between two long-term lovers can become massive, and it is automatized into each partner’s subconscious. It cannot be transferred to someone else at whim. The private world is intimately, physically connected to one particular person. The fact that exactly one perceivable entity represents a host of one’s values is what makes psychological visibility possible. An infinite number of casual romances will never add up to the degree of happiness that monogamous, long-term relationships can provide.
If one focuses his time and energy on one person, a private world is able to grow faster and deeper over a period of time. It would be impossible to develop the same kind of depth with even two people, much less three or more. It is simply more time-efficient to pursue one relationship at a time, and to pursue a long-term monogamous relationship when possible. There is no salary cap on the spiritual paycheck. The private world continues to grow as long as each partner grows as an individual.
Sexual exclusivity is also important because man attaches a symbolic value to the act of love making, creating a channel though which he experiences the emotional sum of psychological visibility. Just as we punish criminals proportional to the severity of their crimes, so we honor loved ones according to their ranking in our hierarchy of values. One does not French kiss complete strangers. He doles out physical affection proportionate to his degree of intimacy with each individual. One hugs his friends, kisses relatives, but usually goes no further than this except with a romantic interest. If a man begins to focus on one romantic relationship, he ought to be sexually exclusive with that partner, because in this way he connects the greatest possible emotional and intellectual pleasure to the greatest possible physical pleasure. He reserves sex as the highest celebration of his values, which will only be shared with the one who maximizes his feelings of happiness and self-esteem.
If two lovers preserve sexual exclusivity, then their sex life becomes an even more intimate part of their private world. It is something shared with one individual, and no other. One automatizes the symbolic value that he places on sex, which adds even more to the emotional sum he experiences with his lover.
During my adult life, there has never been a question in my mind about what kind of romance I want: One woman, one wife, one life-long friend to grow old and raise a family with. Most of us have dreamed about it since adolescence. It is time we recognized that monogamy is the ideal form of romantic love. Anything else is like a genius aspiring to be a janitor.