Rule by technocrat

This is a good article on France, Macron, and the yellow vest movement, in particular:

Whether on the Right, center or Left, French politicians and senior government officials are an astonishingly homogenous bunch. Almost all of them have studied at the grandes écoles like the École Nationale d’Administration. These institutions serve to furnish a group of highly educated individuals. Commonly referred to as “les énarques,” they rotate between elected office, the private sector, and the state bureaucracy, thereby ostensibly lending stability to France’s notoriously cantankerous politics.

These schools produce well-trained technocrats furnished with the mindset that their primary responsibility in life is to serve the state. This is a very different attitude to that which prevails among graduates of most top-level American universities. But the grandes écoles also facilitate a monolithic outlook, an absence of creative thought, and unhealthy patronage networks.

In more recent times, these dispositions have been accompanied by a habit of embracing pretty much every politically correct nostrum. These range from gender ideology (something which infuriates large swathes of French public opinion, and not just on the Right) to environmentalism as a pseudo-religion. This has exacerbated the already huge gap between the viewpoint, life experiences, and priorities of people like Macron—whose personal career path epitomizes the énarque—and most other French people, especially the France of the provinces.

Anyone’s who worked in a company whose upper management are dominated by the graduates of the grandes écoles will relate to that passage. See also here.

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‘Tis the season to be murdered

This is a surprise, eh?

France has issued a maximum level of alert as police hunt a gunman who opened fire at a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded, eight of them seriously.

People being attacked by a murderous lunatic at a Christmas market in Europe? This is becoming as much a tradition as mince pies, carol singing, and bad jumpers. And wait, we’re not done with the surprises just yet:

The gunman, 29, known to authorities as a suspected extremist, escaped after reportedly being injured.

Of course he was also known to authorities, they don’t like to be caught with their pants down chasing an unknown terrorist. That would be embarrassing. Can we assume the “suspected” modifier will now be removed from his file?

Some 350 officers are involved in the search for the gunman.

There was a time when murderers on the run had their name and photo distributed across the lands to aid their capture. Now their names are withheld from the public in case the earth’s rotation is disturbed by the simultaneous eye-rolling of a hundred million people.

A picture is beginning to emerge of the suspected attacker, although a motive is still not known.

And may never be known. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before.

BFM TV described him as a “repeat offender” and “delinquent”, adding he was part of known extremist networks in the city.

So there are “known extremist networks” in Strasbourg? That’s comforting news. Do the authorities intend to do anything about them any time soon? If this statement from the president of the European Parliament is any guide, I’ll not be holding my breath:


Yes, “let us move” on even though the gunman has yet to be caught and the victims’ bodies are still warm. Naturally the Parliament won’t be intimidated by terrorist attacks because the elites inside are protected by armed guards. But the rest of “us”? Well, best stay away from provocative Christmas markets, eh?

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The Desert Sun Podcast #005

In the 5th episode of The Desert Sun Podcast I talk with Chris Mounsey of The Devil’s Kitchen blog about the state of British politics, business, religion, Brexit, the NHS, libertarianism, and a whole load of other stuff with surprisingly little swearing.

You can listen to it on iTunes here, Player FM here, download it here, or listen on the blog by clicking the link below:

If you liked this podcast, please consider supporting me on my Patreon page.

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Visa applications

Staying on the topic of HR and yesterday’s post, here’s a comment from Bardon:

We do outsource visas, not sure if that is in the HR bag. We use a well know international firm for this, the McDonalds of visas and right now I am thinking that we will be getting our Canadian mob to use them as well.

Visa applications and work permits do fall under HR, but not all manage the process competently. The best I saw was in Russia where the company I worked for had a small team of HR women dedicated to nothing other than renewing the quotas and applying for work permits for the thousand-odd people we had on site. They even arranged the medicals for each person. That said, it took them a few years to get the system working well; incentives were provided by new laws imposing heavy fines on any company caught employing people on a business visa.

The worst I saw was a Malaysian friend of mine seconded to the UK for 6 months by a giant multinational and expected to enter the country as a tourist and work on that. HR didn’t even mention the issue of a visa, but when I asked him about it he made inquiries. HR’s response was that as a Malaysian he shouldn’t need a visa to enter the UK. It seems HR professionals involved in sending people on overseas assignments are not always aware of the difference between a tourist entry visa and a work permit.

The laziest I saw was when I was sent to Australia. My company had a full local HR department who’d decided to outsource visa applications to an agency, presumably being too busy to do the administration themselves. The agency contacted my colleague and me, directing us to the government visa page where we could find the application form along with an instruction to fill it in and send it back to them. So it was left to us to work out what visa we were applying for, what company addresses to put, what durations, etc. My colleague spent several weeks trying to assemble documents proving her grandparents’ birth dates before I eventually wrote a blunt email to the agent asking why this was necessary for a 6 month assignment. He wrote back and said it wasn’t necessary, because we were only on a 6 month assignment. I have no idea what my company was paying this agent on top of their own HR staff, but their added value insofar as visa applications went was nil. In fact, it might even have been negative: they gave us advice on how to renew our initial visa which turned out to be completely wrong when we turned up at the immigration office.

From what I’ve seen, outsourcing visa applications can work well but you need to get the right agent. And if it’s really important and you have a lot of people who can’t be relied upon to do it themselves (e.g. manual labourers), you might be better off keeping it in-house.

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Advance-booked appraisal scores

Allow me to pluck excerpts from two comments from beneath my post on HR robots. The first from MJW:

To get into senior management/exec ranks they need patronage. Ability and tacit understanding is not so crucial as decisions made may destroy the organisation, just not immediately, anything likely to cause immediate damage should be routed to an underling who understands what they are doing. If the senior manager/exec knows what they are doing it’s a brucey bonus, if they don’t it doesn’t matter, the ‘managerialist’ approach treats the business does as a black box administered by generic techniques.

 

Rotating senior managers/execs through posting for ‘for experience’ is mainly done to boost CVs so their patron can elevate them if/when opportunity to put one of their clients in place emerges. It also helps to diffuse accountability and protect both client and patron.

The second from Fay:

Managers were informed by HR that they could no longer rate employees as “outstanding”.

These two comments are actually talking about the same problem. The golden boys and girls who are fast-tracked to senior management need to give something back to their patron that they can wave around as proof their prodigy deserves such rapid promotion. The best thing they can offer besides hours of grovelling to senior management is an “Outstanding” score on their annual appraisal – the highest level. If the prodigy scores Outstanding in successive years, the patron can point to it when haggling for his golden child to take the next plum position, and use it to fend off their detractors. This got to the point where the golden children would be pretty much guaranteed to get an Outstanding score, no doubt due to pressure from the patron on the manager doing the appraisal. Perhaps that’s not even necessary: most managers are fully aware if they have a golden child in their team and get with the programme of not doing anything which might upset their ascendancy. Who knows, they might need to call in a favour sometime in future?

This was working well until someone decided a few years back that too many people were getting Outstanding scores. With brown-nosing so ubiquitous and modern managers wanting the love from their team they can’t get from their wives, pretty much everybody was scoring well on the appraisals (it’s also quite hard to mark someone down if they turn up and merely do the job). Hell, even I got reasonably good appraisals. So they tweaked the system and decided only a certain percentage of people could get an Outstanding score.

What this meant was the patrons in senior management advance-booked these scores for their golden children and issued instructions to the middle management that no mere pleb could score Outstanding, regardless of actual performance. I was in the room when this was announced and I twigged straight away what had happened and started laughing (it’s not like it would affect me). But a lot of people, especially those who probably deserved the highest appraisal grade, were absolutely livid and rightly so. For fun I asked our department manager how any appraisal system worthy of the description can eliminate an outcome before it’s even started, and all I got was a pathetic shrug and bleating that “this is what management have said”.

It seems that with Fay’s anecdote, this wasn’t only happening in my company. What made it worse is the quota system made it necessary for managers to assign bad appraisal scores to people as well. I was a ripe target for that but I could tell my manager had no stomach for the sort of battle he’d have if he tried that on me, so we tacitly agreed I’d get a middle-ranking score. Instead, he hauled in the quietly spoken Asian bloke and spent two hours coming up with one excuse after another as to why his performance had been rubbish that year.

Welcome to modern management, and modern HR.

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Fake blues

I’ve previously (1, 2) covered articles written by Kate Mulvey, the 55-year old perpetually single woman who, with her 2:1 in Italian and French from the University of Kent, is just too damned smart for any man. In the comments under the most recent post, someone wrote:

She seems to have a decent enough shtick writing articles for the Mail & Telegraph designed to generate clicks from equally dysfunctional females and us folks seeking a bit of “look at the nutter” entertainment.

Probably not paid enough to live on so there is likely to be a “real” person (worth in excess of £6k) behind this unlikely and highly unappealing persona.

To which I replied:

You know, I’m rather convinced by the theory this is just an alter-ego, dreamed up for the purposes of writing articles. If that was the case, I’d be rather impressed.

I’m becoming more convinced by this theory. Yesterday a reader sent me a link to this article by the same woman:

Looking back at my mid-20s, I lived a glamorous life. A roving reporter, constant parties and a dating diary full of eligible bachelors, I was footloose and fancy free. In my 30s, the landscape started to change. Friends either got married or tightly clutched the hand of a potential husband-to-be.

So far so Mulvey.

Then nine years ago, aged 46, I met Josh through friends at a dinner party. It was an instant mutual attraction. He was a handsome banker and we lived together in his house in Barnes, South-West London.

When he proposed to me one summer in Italy, I was over the moon. I saw us enjoying a life of comfortable companionship. Just the two of us — neither of us had children.

Then, one day, just shy of my 50th birthday, after four years together, something inside me snapped. I realised that Josh was never going to commit and told him the relationship was over.

In the the first article I fisked she said she broke off a year-long relationship with a chap called Phil when she was 50. She also said she’d never been enagaged. In her second article she said she came out of a seven-year relationship “the wrong side of 50”. Then there was this from the first article:

Three months ago I went to Italy with my then boyfriend, Philip. As we were checking into the hotel, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist in Italian (just one of the five languages I speak). But while I was enjoying myself, chatting away, it became clear that Philip most certainly was not.

He shuffled from foot to foot, muttered something under his breath and rolled his eyes like a stroppy teenager.

Then in the lift he turned on me. ‘I was wondering when you were going to let me join your conversation,’ he snapped. I tried to laugh it off but I knew this was the beginning of yet another argument.

But by the second article it had changed to:

I was about to call it a day and demand my money back, when my matchmaker sent through the detail a publisher from Oxford. We met at a pub near his home.

But very quickly the debonair man who had seemed laid-back in London had morphed into a raging chauvinist in the countryside. When I started to chat to waiter in Italian, it became clear that my date was not happy. He muttered something under his breath and rolled his eyes like a stroppy teenager.

“I WAS WONDERING when you were going to let me join your conversation,” he boomed. I tried to laugh it off but clocked this was a man with a fragile ego.

Now this woman is either nuts or she’s making stuff up and her editors not fussy about consistency between one story and the next. My guess is the whole character is an author’s alter-ego designed in precisely the way my commenter described. In this latest article she’s telling us how she’s moved back in with her parents:

There is still a stigma about a grown woman living back home. Being middle-aged is hard enough. But when you are middle-aged, unmarried and living with your dad, it’s a thousand times harder.

My friends joke that I am the oldest teenager in Britain. Who can blame them? What could be sadder than a woman in advanced middle age who can’t even bring a boyfriend back for a glass of wine or — God forbid — to stay the night.

Is anyone believing a word of this?

On the plus side, I have started seeing a wonderful man, who lives down the road in Fulham.

No doubt we’ll be hearing about this imaginary man’s failings in a few months time. If someone’s paying her for this tripe I suppose it’s worth it, but I do hope she’s not using her real photo to illustrate the articles.

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Macron’s mess

Twitter was rather lively over the weekend concerning photos and videos emerging from the latest round of riots in Paris in which armoured personnel carriers bearing the EU flag are seen rumbling through the streets towards unarmed protesters:


Now various people popped up to say this isn’t really a big deal because the vehicles aren’t really part of an EU authority, and even if they are it’s not really related to the EU because reasons, and for all I know they may be right. But one has to wonder just how tin-eared Macron and his cabinet are to put these vehicles onto the streets bearing that flag at a time like this. Macron was only recently calling for an EU army, and as I said some time ago the first deployment of any such body will likely be against the unarmed citizens of an EU member state. Optics matter, and previous French presidents would have known not to be as cack-handed as this. Macron not only appears incompetent, but more isolated from the country he governs with each passing day.

I read this morning that Macron now intends to sit with union leaders to discuss the crisis. These are presumably the same unions who fully backed the Paris climate change agreement which brought about the fuel tax hikes in the first place*. My guess is he’s talking to them because nobody else has put themselves forward.

*In my last place of work, the white-collar unions were passing around flyers protesting the acquisition of a rival oil company because it was incompatible with global commitments to reduce fossil fuel use and tackle climate change. Yes, the unions were more interested in supranational vanity projects than securing long-term employment for their members.

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HR robots to replace HR drones

One of my observations through my career has been that HR, in the main, is either a remote bureaucracy which might as well be staffed by Martians or a rather dim soul whose jaw hangs half open and does whatever management tells him or her. In the larger companies it’s been the former that prevailed, to the point many HR tasks were outsourced to an office in another country and everyday issues were governed by bulky procedures written by unknown authors who probably couldn’t say what the company does.

This probably doesn’t matter so much when it comes to stuff like contracts, payroll, and holidays but increasingly such personal matters as career progression, recruitment, and even appraisals are getting handled by people who don’t appear to have ever seen the operational side of the business. I’m of the opinion – which might be completely wrong – that businesses which outsource basic human management duties which used to be intrinsic to a line manager’s role are going to end up as bloated, unwieldy bureaucracies filled with unthinking drones who know all about the hierarchy’s latest wheeze but no idea how their activities contribute to the bottom line (assuming they do). As I’ve discussed on here before, I reckon smart, ambitious young folk will start avoiding the behemoths in favour of smaller, more nimble organisations – or they’ll start their own and work in the gig economy. My move into HR was in large part about bridging the gap between operations and HR in order to help a small company grow without creating a sprawling HR bureaucracy which sends anyone capable running for the exit.

I was therefore probably the wrong person to attend a presentation by an HR specialist in a major consulting firm, who wanted to tell us how automation, computers, and AI is going to revolutionise how companies manage their human resources. Now some of it is obvious, such as the aforementioned contracts, holiday approval, etc. and is ripe for automation. But I was rather surprised to see some of the functions which workers currently detest being handled by an HR drone who might as well be a robot are soon going to be done by an actual robot. One example he gave was a version of the MS-Word paperclip answering questions from an employee about their career aspirations and suggesting suitable training programmes. I can’t imagine any ambitious employee with an ounce of self-respect interacting with an automated chat bot to obtain career advice.

One of the biggest complaints I used to hear from my erstwhile colleagues was about the career management system. You’d be assigned someone who doesn’t know you and, if they’ve read your CV, doesn’t care about anything which occurred before you showed up on their doorstep. Most of the time they have no expertise in the positions they are trying to fill, nor the knowledge to appraise an individual’s skills. My career manager had worked her whole life as a translator before being put in charge of the careers of dozens of project engineers and managers. The thing is, it doesn’t really matter: in many large companies, particularly oil companies, the golden boys and girls are hand-picked early on and their careers carefully managed with plum postings while everyone else is just a pleb who gets slotted in wherever they fit, or don’t. For the vast majority “career management” is simply a charade to convince people they have a chance of promotion and recognition. This is why it’s managed by the cheapest person they can find, and it might as well be done by a robot. The same is true for annual appraisals: it’s blindingly obvious to everyone that managers and employees just go through the motions, and treat the whole thing as a painful admin exercise which must be completed before Christmas after which nothing changes. They are becoming increasingly automated, and eventually will be fully so. You can imagine what value an automated employee appraisal system adds, aside from ticking a compliance box that they get carried out. And if companies are going to automate recruitment, I can’t see it bringing an end to the laments of department managers who are kept out of the process and sent candidates that are hopelessly unsuited to the position.

I stuck my paw in the air and asked whether increasing the already giant chasm between flesh-and-blood workers and HR is a good idea and got an interesting response. Firstly I was told that companies aren’t stupid and they wouldn’t do anything which would harm their operations and upset their staff. That HR functions have already been taken away from line management and given to remote, sprawling bureaucracies ought to give lie to that statement. The second was that the move to automation and AI will free up HR resources to concentrate on those more important, human-related tasks. What those were we weren’t told, but I made the point that unless HR actually knows something about the job the workers do, freeing up resources won’t help. HR is not short of resources, they’re short of knowledge and competence. I’m not sure this remark went down very well.

I suspect what’s happening is this. The consultants have come up with very clever software which they’re now flogging to big companies, whose HR directors see a way to reduce costs, get rid of annoying admin tasks, and boost their prestige by being owners of a fancy IT system. Senior managers in big companies are suckers for big tech solutions, which is why there are fleets of high-end Porsches in the car parks of consulting companies. They’ll adopt this software and fire a few drones, but they won’t save costs. Firstly, many HR departments exist to provide jobs: a proper business review would have got rid of them regardless of technological progress. Secondly, the HR personnel who are now free of the admin burdens will turn their attention to more pressing matters – such as sexual harassment trainings and diversity workshops. I’m sure this will cheer the workforce up no-end.

The one thing missing from this architecture was any solid link in knowledge and experience between HR and what the company actually does. Apparently workers were consulted by the designers of these systems, and I daresay in some cases this was done properly and good feedback obtained. But the whole thing looked to me like a top-down, Soviet-style project where clever people sit in a room and design a system to serve tens of thousands of people they’ve never met and couldn’t even describe, and they’ve done it so brilliantly it can be applied anywhere regardless of industry. And the difference between what this and what we have now is it removes every last trace of human contact and understanding. How will this turn out, do you think?

It’s rather ironic that the new era of human resource management, in which whole ranges of human behaviours, desires, and emotions are supposedly considered, is reckoned by experts to be best managed by an algorithm. I waved my paw in the air again and pointed out there’s somewhat of a contradiction between saying businesses must become more touchy-feely as Millennials join who want to feel special and valued from the outset, and mass-managing all personal issues with a robot. But someone piped up and said they were a Millennial and they didn’t care who processed their payroll. Which is true, but they might care who – or what – decides you can’t change department, alter your workload, or complain about how your boss communicates with you.

I daresay these automated HR systems will become the norm in large companies, increasing the gap between them and those outfits which actually do the productive work in any given industry. And they will be yet one more reason for smart, ambitious young people to avoid huge corporations and go somewhere smaller, or work for themselves.

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Pink beats black

The BBC brings news of an interesting play in the great game of victimhood poker:

US comedian and actor Kevin Hart says he has stepped down from hosting the 2019 Oscars following a controversy over homophobic tweets.

Kevin Hart is a straight black male, and if he’s being fired over homophobic tweets it suggests sexual minorities trump ethnic minorities.

The choice of Hart for host was only announced on Tuesday.

But tweets from a decade ago emerged of apparent anti-gay slurs, sparking calls for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to drop him.

Rummaging through decades-worth of social media postings in the hope of unearthing something to be outraged about seems to have become a popular hobby for some. As far as I can tell, this is the offending tweet (which isn’t a decade old, BTW):

My guess is if he’d made a joke about a gay white man he’d have got away with it, but having denigrated all gays his skin colour wasn’t enough to save him. Not if the lily-white, ultra-woke Oscars committee are the ones making the decision, anyway.

In 2015, by which time his profile had risen significantly, Hart addressed the comments in an interview with Rolling Stone.

“I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now,” he said.

Too late fella, there’s no unringing that bell. What’s amusing is, generally speaking, the only people interested in LGBTQ rights are white people living in the developed world. I’m not sure American blacks were ever on board with homosexuality, hence their rap lyrics and Obama disavowing gay marriage until his second term in order not to upset black, church-going conservatives, yet progressives always seem surprised to discover this. And are Asians, and those people wandering over the border from Mexico, strong proponents of gay rights? Those Somalis in Minnesota? I doubt it.

So the organisers of the Oscars have signalled their non-racist credentials by hiring a black guy to host them, only to find he uttered 2018 wrongthink in 2011. They consulted with Twitter and found, under the ever-shifting rules of victimhood poker, his hand lost and he has to go. As contemporary culture becomes increasingly dominated by conflicting and overlapping tribes of lunatics each seeking to be more oppressed than the other, we’re going to see more of this. I confess, as a spectator sport it’s quite entertaining.

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Louis Theroux’s Altered States – Episode 1

After receiving several impatient emails from readers, I finally got around to watching the first episode of Louis Theroux’s Altered States BBC series, which was about polyamorists. It’s a very interesting hour of television, particularly if you knew nothing about polyamory before. But if you’ve been following my blog for a while you’d find it interesting in a different way thanks to all the small details which indicate what’s going on behind the facade.

Theroux moves between three groups of polyamorists, all living in or around Portland, Oregan, which appears to be a city full of complete weirdos – and commentator Howard Roark (readers are invited to ask him to explain himself in the comments). I’ll structure this post differently from the program, and describe each group in succession.

The first is made up of two men and two women, all in their fifties. Jerry is an IT analyst who is married to Heidi, a therapist. Between them they have a daughter who looks about 9. Twelve years ago they “opened up their marriage” because Heidi felt depressed and, to put it bluntly, shagged some fella she knew back in college. So we’re not 5 minutes in and already we learn the underlying reason for this polyamorous lifestyle is mental health problems on the part of the woman. For the past 5 years, Heidi has been with a fellow called Joe, who is big, bald, and bearded. He comes over to Jerry and Heidi’s house once a week and sleeps downstairs in a bed with Heidi while Jerry stays upstairs. The daughter seems fine with all of this – for now, anyway.

Later on we meet Joe’s wife Gretchen, who doesn’t have purple hair but she has dyed the front few strands lilac. She’s fifty years old, and has two kids with Joe, both under ten. When Theroux turns up at her house, Heidi and Joe are in bed together. Heidi is wearing a t-shirt with a reference to polyamory, and you see a lot of objects advertising their lifestyles throughout the program. Theroux has a serious discussion with Gretchen in the kitchen which is revealing. Gretchen seems to resent that she is responsible for her husband’s happiness, and think it’s his issue to deal with. Perhaps unintentionally, she gives the viewer the impression that the only form of happiness she recognises is that derived from sex. She doesn’t like sleeping with Joe and is happy to let someone else “take a turn at the wheel”, and we soon learn why. Gretchen has been going to sex clubs since she was 20 and living in San Francisco, and is still into bisexual orgies with strangers. It quickly becomes obvious that Gretchen doesn’t give a damn, Joe loves Heidi because she gives him attention, and Jerry looks as though he’s about to kill himself. Jerry is not seeing anyone else and isn’t ever likely to: he’s just the poor schmuck who agreed to polyamory because he didn’t want to lose the only women he’s ever loved (one suspects). Heidi sees how much it’s hurting him but is too damned selfish to either set him loose or quit polyamory. He cuts a pitiful figure throughout, but he and his wife deny he’s unhappy even when Theroux presses them. Jerry’s responses sound as though he’s been brainwashed by a cult, and I suppose he has.

Theroux asks Gretchen whether the polyamorous arrangement she has with her husband is not simply “slow divorce”. She denies it, but admits there are problems; like other polyamorists I’ve met, she’s adamant they have nothing to do with their chosen lifestyle. Both Gretchen and Heidi distance themselves from the idea that they have any responsibility towards their respective husbands’ happiness, and that, coupled with shots of them sitting under blankets on the sofa smooching one another, make this group of fifty-somethings come across as incredibly immature.

The second set are a bunch of modern-day hippies who live in a commune consisting of a few houses and a vegetable patch. The main house is stuffed full of books and paraphernalia, almost of all of which has something to do with sex. It’s apparent that sex and polyamory defines them more than anything else, and if those are stripped away they’re unbearably dull and probably not very bright. We are introduced to Mattias, a weedy-looking hipster and his partner AJ, who looks as though she’s just been rescued from a cult. AJ is pregnant with Mattias’ kid (that’s what we’re told, anyway). With them is Joelle, who rents (or owns) the gaff, and first approached AJ for some lovin’ but got passed onto Mattias instead. One gets the impression this bunch aren’t too fussy who they’re with – male or female – provided it’s somebody. Joelle has 4 partners, but she “doesn’t like to use such hierachal terms in her poly-dynamics”. Well, me neither. It turns out AJ was married for ten years in a polyamorous marriage, which is surprising because she looks about thirty. With one eye on the character in my book, I’m half tempted to wonder if she too needed a US residency visa aged 21. Less surprising is the revelation that her husband left her for someone who wanted a monogamous relationship, which made her feel betrayed. Again like my character, it hasn’t occurred to her that polyamorous men might not make the best husbands.

Later on we find out AJ has met someone else, another weedy hipster and software developer called Q. We are told they met at – wait for it – a class she was teaching on how to use sex toys. I swear I’m not making this up. I didn’t even know there were classes on how to use sex toys, but apparently they’re delivered in Portland by pregnant women. Maybe that’s what keeps Mr Roark sticking around? When interviewed, they speak as if they’re on a higher spiritual plane, as if promiscuity has gifted them insight unattainable by lesser, monogamous beings. But I reckon the pretentious language is simply sophistry to avoid admitting they’re hurting each other. Theroux interviews Mattius and asks how he feels about another man shagging the mother of his unborn child and he rambles for a minute or two before admitting that yes, it’s pretty f*****g hard. Like the first group they seem impossibly childish, and matters aren’t helped when they attend a semi-naked costume party and then a soft-porn orgy attended by the sort of fat, ageing, tattooed, ghouls you see in pictures from Burning Man. One of the things I liked about watching this program was how so many of the threads I’d written about on this blog wove neatly together. The physical resemblence of this second group with some of the polyamorist/Burning Man lot I encountered was striking. In the epilogue we learn AJ has given birth to Mattius’ child but “they have decided not to assign the baby a gender”. That meaty slap you can hear as the credits roll is my palm hitting my forehead.

The third group was a woman and two men…sorry, boys…in their late twenties who live together as a threesome. They work in “tech and engineering” and look as though they’ve come straight from an all-night session of Dungeons & Dragons. If these three didn’t lose their virginity to each other on the night they all met, I’d be astounded.

Their relationship started as a threesome, but now Nick and Bob appear to take it in turns with Amanda after finding there were some, ahem, sexual incompatibilities. They all still sleep in the same bed, however. In the beginning they seemed to be fairly happy, but as the program went on it was revealed that Amanda is on medication for depression which she’s had since her teens, when she engaged in self-harm. Both the boys mumbled that they’d prefer to be “enough” for Amanda, but each accepts they never will be. When Theroux remarks that Amanda seems lucky to have a double dose of love and support to help her deal with whatever monsters lurk in her past, it is hard not to conclude it’s attention she craves. She obviously has deeper underlying needs, and whether these can be met over the long term via a threeway relationship with a couple of man-children is doubtful.

In summary, the episode confirmed something I already knew but polyamorists go to great lengths to deny: they are simply not normal. Now I don’t care what polyamorists do, but the idea that these are ordinary, well-adjusted people who simply choose another relationship arrangement is not borne out by the evidence . As I’m fond of saying, for many this is less a lifestyle choice than a coping mechanism, and despite protestations from polyamorists, a lot of them seem to end up hurt or making their existing condition worse. My point is, should you ever encounter a polyamorist on a dating site you should assume they are very, very different from normal people regardless of what they say. And if they used to be polyamorous, they owe you a long and detailed explanation right up front. Even then, you should probably just walk away.

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