Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Complexities of Infidelity

I've been thinking about the Governor Sanford Affair sparked by Governor Sanford's affair and JimB goes and sends me this message,

To celebrate my birthday, a few of us decided to travel to Montreal as part of our quest to visit the best breweries around the world. While walking past one of the XXX "Gentleman's Clubs", a bouncer said to us "don't be a loner come on in and get a boner",a quote which had me in stitches. As we made our way to the next stop, I began to think about what the bouncer said. Even if we went into the club, wouldn't we still be leaving the way we had entered, loners? From the perspective of the bouncer, was a "loner" someone who was not with a woman, thereby finding companionship from half/fully nude women who make anyone with a pocket full of money feel like the ultimate ladies man? The topic brought up some good conversation, but most importantly a good laugh at the "wordsmanship" of the bouncer in an attempt to lure us into his club.

I do not know if you have brought up the topic of "adult clubs" etc. on philosophers playground, but I was looking for your thoughts. Does going to a strip club constitute moral/mental cheating, or is it harmless fun, and just another example of market economy of supply and demand?
First of all, happy belated birthday JimB. Second, why do they call them "Gentlemen's clubs" when no gentleman would ever go into one?

The question of fidelity seems simple at first glance. There are certain things you ought not do with someone who is not your committed partner when you have a committed partner. Of course, the question gets interesting when we ask what exactly are these "certain things" and what criteria do we use to put them on the list?

The case of Mark Sanford is the easy limiting case -- don't fly to South America to have sex with your mistress. Certainly, there is a behavioral component here that requires certain body parts to remain out of contact with other people. When Newt Gingrich contended that he never really cheated on his wife who was in the hospital with cancer because he was merely receiving the oral favors of a staffer and not actively doing anything, he was wrong both semantically and ethically. The response, "It didn't really mean anything," does not get you off the hook.

But it is a meaningful claim. There is not only a physical component here, fidelity in body, but also a psychological one, fidelity in mind. When one is engaged in a relationship, the idea is that there is a unique commitment of care. so, there may be a deserved sense of betrayal in cases where the contact is intimate, but not sexual, say a meaningful kiss or embrace.

Jim's case is trickier still because there is no care and no contact, just arousal. On the one hand, no matter how much one cares for and is committed to another, one will come across people who you find attractive. That "wow" moment is not the result of intention. Certainly, there will be situations, say watching a movie, where one will find oneself aroused by someone not your partner. Again, this is not a choice, so there seems to be no problem here.

But what of the strip club? Here the difference seems to be that the primary intent of the action is to seek arousal by someone else. There does seem to be a difference here. Entering into a romantic relationship requires you to engage your arousal interpersonally only with your partner, but does it also require that you will only seek intentional arousal with your partner? I think most would assume it to be so, although you could see cases where within a relationship, creating that sort of unresolved tension would be thought acceptable within the relationship, but that seems the exception.

The only time we've come close to this issue here is one of my earliest posts that considered a yet more ambiguous case brought up in the lyrics of Texas Tornadoes'
Who were you thinking of
When I was making love, to you?

There was a smile on your face
I aint seen for some time

You got more out of it
Than I put into it, last night

Who were you thinking of
When we were loving, last night?
What of the case where you are with the other person physically, but not mentally? Is that infidelity? Is this different from faking it? Indeed, is faking it morally problematic?