Twosome? Threesome? Wholesome!
In the concluding statement of my previous Entry 56, I call for wholeness in our (loving) relationships, whereby I literally reveal my Oligoamory as being deeply imbued by holistic ideas.
Regular readers of my bLog will have noticed this anyway, since in almost every second article I invite them to experience each other as “more than the sum of their parts” when participating in multiple relationships and the adventure of such a kind of special togetherness.
After reading my last Entry, I noticed that I consider it important to “take a stand” one more time, concerning the background of oligoamorous thinking and acting in that regard.
And that’s why there will be a theoretical section at first, until I try to describe at the end why I have chosen that approach for myself (and thus also for the Oligoamory) – especially in terms of both “personal relationship capability” and pragmatic down-to-earth conduct of relationships.
Since the middle of the 20th century, two approaches to systems and forms of organization have developed; meanwhile, both are regularly applied to biological, technical, sociological and even psychological contexts:
On the one hand, there is “holism“, which is based on the proposition that systems and their characteristics have to be considered as a whole – and not just as a mere composition of their parts. Holism holds the view that a system cannot be fully understood from the interaction of all its individual elements, and that the meaning of the individual parts depends on their functional role in the whole.
A simple example is the famous “baby’s rattle”: If we were to take such a rattle apart, we might end up with two shells, a handle, and a few plastic beads, but we would not be able to reveal the actual “main function” of the object – the rattling sound.
The same would probably happen to us if we would try to reproduce 100% correctly a human organism: We could assemble all elements completely and absolutely precise, but we would not be able to evoke “life” or even “consciousness” this way.
And even if we were to observe a complex organization such as the “United Nations“, we would have as constituents people, buildings, logistics; we would identify committees and councils, financial flows, a charter, sub-organizations and much more – but these components alone would not be enough to explain the success of the UN in restoring peace and stability, for example in Liberia (UNMIL).
A completely different approach, however, is pursued by the conception “reductionism“. It assumes that a system as a whole is determined by its individual components. This includes the complete traceability of theories back to proper observations, of terms back to tangible entities, or of logical correlations back to causal events. Thus this theory assumes that a cause is followed by exactly one effect, which in turn is the cause for another effect, and so on.
Based on our examples above, reductionism would conclude that the impact of the plastic beads on the shells of the rattle – due to the movement of the object – could convert the kinetic energy of the particles into sound waves.
Reductionism would also probably argue in this way that “life” or “consciousness” are causal consequences of the 100% correct arrangement of all components in a living being, which eventually would functionally build up on each other in their processes.
Similarly, the success of the UN Liberian peacekeeping mission would be reductionistically comprehensible, since the path of the process from the application to the last soldier leaving the country could be traced in detail, step by step, consecutively through all parts of the organization.
As so often in philosophy and science, it seems to be once again only a dilemma of one’s own point of view and choice of method, in which way one tries to explain a certain result…
Therefore, in order to slowly approach our own domain of “relationships”, I would like to apply both approaches to the example of a piece of woodland that contains different habitats (light, shadow, water, different soils, etc.) and is home to different living beings (microorganisms, fungi, plants, animals).
A holistic approach to this issue would be what we usually call “ecological” today: Such a forest represents a complex, structured system of elements that interact with each other in a variety of ways and thus produce properties that can no longer be explained by an isolated view of the individual elements. Environment and biodiversity influence each other in such a way that in the end a state is reached in which the community of species becomes a unit together with the habitat it has created (Example: Fungi live in symbiosis with the roots of a tree, so that the tree grows more efficiently, by that the tree nourishes numerous other animals, whose leftovers in combination with the shade of the tree benefit again the fungi in the soil below etc.).
If, on the other hand, such a piece of woodland were to be examined in a reductionist way, all the components present in it would be considered separately and independently: There are spots in the soil with acid pH, several basalt rocks, there are puffball mushrooms, some pines, eight squirrels, a fox, etc. This approach is based on the individual: In that area all features and species coexist that have arrived there and have found suitable environmental conditions. They are not bound in their existence to fulfil functions for others or a more comprehensive context. And even evolutionary this argumentation would be plausible: Evidentially, nature holds on to all components, as long as they “do not disturb” a system (The “residual horns ” on the heads of giraffes are such an example. Among giraffe-progenitors, these horns must have played an important role once – as among most other herbivores. Regarding present day giraffes, these “remnants” are simply still there, because they “didn’t get in the way” during the further evolution of the modern giraffes).
And with this we have already stepped on oligoamorous soil.
You haven’t noticed how?
Well, because also in the world of multiple relations there are exactly those two different viewpoints, which I have presented here in such detail.
There are the reductionistic trailblazer of personal freedom, who postulate verbatim that “even in a loving relationship they are not bound in their existence to fulfill any kind of function for others” – and there are the idealistic holisticists like me, who want to emphasize that in our loving relationships we’re “all together“ and that togetherness and corresponding interrelated actions are the pivotal point of every “common whole” and every “mutual we”.
I personally furthermore believe that we simply cannot afford a reductionist view, at least not in those relationships that contain that sublimely metaphysical component “love” as bonding characteristic. For reductionism would indeed mean that we would surround ourselves with circumstances and people, who would thus be part of our life, “because they do not disturb / don’t get in the way” [which means: no one has to put in any committed contributions!]. As I already wrote in Entry 2: “As a result the danger of seriality and substitutability increases in my opinion. For my part, that would display a rather unethical treatment of my loved ones – and I myself don’t want to be viewed or even treated accordingly by my beloved vice versa. […] And what might befall us if one day we ourselves become ill, senile or handicapped? How much loving and caring is left in such a strategy after that?“
In Entry 54 I quote Mahatma Gandhi with the holistic statement »We are one, you and I. I can not harm you, without harming myself.« Positively formulated, the wise Indian tried to describe in this way that a conscious togetherness arises from the realization that every effect we perceive in the outer world originally started as a cause of our own inner world. For beyond this, Gandhi also wants to express that every selfish thought (“I want it now/immediately…”) will always evoke merely selfish effects, which even in the best case results in mostly indifferent or insignificant “successes” for ourselves. At worst, any attempt to gain an advantage by exploiting the weakness, inexperience or neediness of others inevitably leads to our own disadvantage in a relationship medium term.
“Holistic” on the other hand is every request, every thought, every action, if the resulting process benefits as many (or even better: all!) participants as possible, who are involved in the process.
Let’s think briefly about our forest example above, in case the mushrooms at the foot of the tree would start to ignore or damage the tree. They would thus not only immediately end the maximization of the general benefit of their “activity” (far beyond the tree and themselves!), but in the end would also deprive themselves of their basis of existence.
In relationships – and entirely in our loving relationships – we are always part of a larger “whole” in a very similar way. And as no part of it can fight against (or ignore) another part in the medium term without damaging itself, so the well-being of all participants depends on the recognition of this interdependence in the interest of the whole (See also Entry 53: To “consider” the other participant).
You diligent readers* who have followed me so far: I have to admit that in this respect I myself often still feel like the buccaneers in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean” – asked to reach the legendary “Isla de Muerta” – for as Captain Jack Sparrow puts it: “An island which can only be found by those who already know where it is…”.
Even the American psychiatrist and psychotherapist Scott Peck, who has devoted much of his time to relationship and community building, once said in an interview that living in committed, love-based relationships is not a ” cure-all” – in the sense that once you have established such a connection in a holistic way, you will no longer have to overcome any difficulties and will only feel good all over. On the contrary, Peck explained – because reality would still continue to exist. Frankly, he would even admit that in his opinion (loving) relationships are always more dynamic, more emotional and therefore even more painful due to more participants than an existence as a solitary being. But therefore they would also provide e.g. more and deeper joy.
On the whole, for him the most characteristic thing about a living “in relationships” was not the fact that it was less painful, but that it felt more alive in every dimension.
The Franco-American psychologist Richard Beauvais (1938-2019) has summarized this in my view beautifully and poetically as follows:
»I am here because there is no refuge,
finally, from myself,
until I confront myself in the eyes
and hearts of others, I am running.
Until I suffer them to share my secrets,
I have no safety from them.
Afraid to be known, I can know neither myself
nor any others; I will be alone.
Where else but on this common ground,
can I find such a mirror?
Here, together, I can at last appear
clearly to myself,
not as the giant of my dreams,
not as the dwarf of my fears,
But as a person, part of a whole,
with my share in its purpose.
In this ground, I can take root and grow.
Not alone anymore, as in death,
but alive, to my self and to others.«