Entry 51

Follow-up Five

[The fifth follow-up of a four-part series?
Really, Oligotropos, this is getting a bit peculiar…
]

The first birthday of the Oligoamory Project has passed as quietly as it appeared. An active first year and a busy one, especially with regard to the respectable pace: A whole year with four entries per month, more than 50 entries in total. Each entry is at least three A4 sheets long (usually more…), that accounts for a total of 2300 words per posting and thus the dizzying number of well over 115,000 words that I have already written on the subject of “Oligoamory”. And since my website is bilingual, there are in fact probably more than 230,000 words on it, because every entry is faithfully and personally translated by myself (and as well as I can do) into English, which is normally done within three days after the German original text has been released. All in all, a passionate commitment which…
…is not sustainable at this point any more.
Apart from the marginality, that my bLog is of course completely non-profit and therefore strictly an ad-free medium, it is mainly the enormous amount of time needed to create a useful entry in one week – and that simply pushes me to my limits, because “mass” is not supposed to replace “class”, and accordingly only those articles go online, about which I am (reasonably) satisfied with myself in terms of quality management.
But since I am in this capacity of course quite exclusively “my own motivator”, I consequently entered into negotiations with myself, with the result that I would now like to announce the outcome of this internal meeting:
“Until further notice” from today on the Oligoamory-bLog will be a monthly magazine.

Well. In the spirit of radical honesty, however, it seems appropriate to me to admit that, in addition to the essential factor of time, another circumstance has led me to the self-imposed literary diet in the matter of Oligoamory – and with this I finally turn to “Follow-up Five”, since this reason arises directly from the findings of one year of work on the basic theme of my bLog – “committed-sustainable multiple relationships” – and in this, once again, especially concerning the quintessence of the preceding four-part series on the (historical) roots of Oligoamory [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ].

For very correct readers might object that though in this sequel I would have been able to present the history of Polyamory in a somewhat acceptable way, in the end I would have tarried in revealing the link to my own creation, “Oligoamory”. Which in a certain sense is actually true, as well as being a reduction of the whole: For just as in Michael Ende’s Neverending Story the history of Fantastica unfolds only as it is written down by the “Elder of the Wandering Mountain” ¹, so too the “History of Oligoamory” is always developing by the words that I add to it here. Or rather, it already exists in so far as I have already added to it.
By which point – also an analogy to the “Neverending Story” – the snake starts to bite its own tail a little bit, because especially in Entry 1 and Entry 2 I described my very personal steps and reasons, why I headed for the remote island of Oligoamory – and why I undertook this very journey to get away from the shores of Polyamory.
These reasons are as important to me today as they were when I wrote them down; however, my own one-year involvement with Oligoamory has made it even clearer to me what dimension my exploration of the possibilities and viability of ethical multiple relationships would actually reveal.
Especially my “History of Oligoamory” with its parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 has once again confronted myself like a kind of “super-concentrate” with the essential “core ingredients” of ethical non-monogamy, which I identified in Entry 50 as alternative spirituality, humanistic psychology and integrative feminism.

However, those “core ingredients” are exactly what leave me sceptical to some degree about the extent to which liveable and successful Oligoamory currently lies within our reach at present – especially in our actually existing everyday lives.

Spirituality:
Well, who would have thought that I would write this someday on a bLog concerning multiple relationships – that I consider it favourable if the participants were able to find a basic form of spirituality within themselves.
As you can see, I have already omitted the word “alternative”, because from my point of view it is quite possible that also a “traditional faith” can have the same function – if this faith is not so inflexible that its traditional structures only legitimize purely heteronormative thinking (and treat any deviation from this norm, such as multiple relationships, promiscuity, sex positivity, same-sex love, individual disposition regarding sex or gender, etc. as “sin”).
Why do I think that spirituality is an important “core ingredient” for ethical multiple relationships? Because I believe that strong multiple relationships benefit from people who acknowledge and appreciate that – concerning their existence – they are part of something bigger than themselves. This kind of thinking contains a virtue that is not always in vogue at the moment, namely, temperance. And temperance, according to Wikipedia, “is synonymous with “modesty”, “frugality”, “simplicity” and “restraint”. The psychologist and specialist in German studies Siegbert A. Warwitz once called temperance the “Key to Happiness”, as it would protect against an exaggerated attitude of need, which otherwise could quickly turn into an “attitude of demand”. Which, from my point of view, – in terms of Oligoamory – is the reference to my subtitle keyword “sustainable” : Whoever is modest and sustainable, won’t claim all resources, all speaking time, all the space and all the attention for him*herself. Concerning the creation of small communities, as I would like to imagine in Oligoamory, this would be an important prerequisite for interacting with each other.
Even more than that, however, a well-founded and established spirituality still appears to me to serve something that is of particular importance to me: A respect and a sense for the “enchantment of the world”. The economist and sociologist Max Weber once described its opposite – “disenchantment” – as a rationalistic, secularized, bureaucratic belief that “all things – in general – can be mastered and controlled by assessment”. Such a philosophy of “disenchantment” is the essence of all market-economical and utilitarian thinking, which ascribes to all things a “purpose” or “usefulness” as the (only) reason for existence. Spirituality, on the other hand, with its “enchantment”, leaves room for “purpose-free” existence – and for phenomena such as idealism, romanticism, creativity and fantasy, for ideas and structures in other words, which tend to elude considerations of usefulness or the allocation of a (market) value. Thus, people who feel, think and act “spiritually” will not only perceive a tree as a piece of wood, a pig as a potential roast and a human being merely as workforce, but will acknowledge those entities as living beings and companions as themselves. The accomplishment of harmony, respect and peace – as promised in all religions in their visions of the Kingdom of God, Shangri-La“, Jannah or Nirvana – could thus possibly actually present itself if we all in this way would be able to recognize “divinity” in all things – and consequently also discover it in ourselves.

Humanistic psychology:
Without presenting here a too deep introduction into the world of thought of humanistic philosophy, I can tell all my readers that the basic views of this school of thought are woven like a golden thread through my conception of Oligoamory everywhere. Excitingly enough, it was only while exploring Oligoamory that I myself discovered that “this child already had a name” – actually that of “Humanistic psychology” – which obviously influenced me decisively while writing. The following principles were formulated by the humanistic psychologists James Bugental and Tom Greening in 1965, I will briefly comment on them in relevance to Oligoamory:

  1. Human beings, as human, supersede the sum of their parts. They cannot be reduced to components.
    Comment: What else can I say? This insight contains what I have probably expressed most on this bLog since the very first hour and therefore represents my most important goal, to the experience of which the Oligoamory should contribute. I have just as often spoken out against the “compartmentalization” of loved ones as “need fulfilment assistants”, since I particularly reject this type of interpretation of current Polyamory (Entry 2).
  2. Human beings have their existence in a uniquely human context, as well as in a cosmic ecology.
    Comment: Here the humanistic philosophy applies directly to what I have already expressed under “Spirituality” above. By building close, intimate and loving communities, I hope for a more comprehensible realization that we have to deal with the whole creation (of which we ourselves are a part) in a responsible and respectful way – and that our resources are finite and we have to strive for added value thus.
  3. Human beings are aware and are aware of being aware—i.e., they are conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.
    Comment: Oh happy day – if only it was always like this! Of course, “awareness” at all times would be a great asset, especially for good decision-making. But we are also human – and therefore we should allow ourselves a little fallibility… However, what is much more important to me at this point is the direct reference to our interpersonal relationships. Jürgen Margraf, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy and Dean of the Faculty of Pyschology at the Ruhr University Bochum, said just last week in a Newsreel interview »We are social beings. As humans, we have historically evolved in small communities with a few dozen individuals. This environment has been relevant for our survival, evolutionarily we are no loners. We need these contacts.« Exactly that is what I wanted to express with my bLog from the very first hour as well. And that’s exactly why I reject all that “propaganda of aloneness“ (see Entry 8), with its platitudes like “The measure of how developed we can interact with others depends on how developed we can be alone with ourselves.” ² S*he who really believes that s*he can become a developed human being by practising “Aloneness” is completely wrong from my point of view. Because an integral aspect of human existence, which is the pervading awareness and the imprinting of being a social being, would have to be deliberately ignored, even split off. Which would lead us back to 1.
  4. Human beings have the ability to make choices and therefore have responsibility.
    Comment: In Entry 3 and Entry 4 I have written down the essential values of Oligoamory. In doing so, I have also listed responsibility, which I have specified as “accountability”. “Accountability” is our chance to finally get away from any “concept of guilt and blame”, because that way we are allowed to admit self-responsibly our causality. And this self-responsibility is in turn the most important component of any interpersonal interaction and communication, if it is meant to be “honest”. Genuine “honesty”, however, requires great courage as well as substantial self-knowledge, in order to dare under certain circumstances a leap of faith into the dark spots of one’s own soul and thus possibly to experience not always pleasant feelings (and more: to entrust oneself to other people despite of it).
  5. Human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity.
    Comment: “Meaning, value and creativity” are exactly those elusive and “non-prizeable” components which, however, are the ones that can give a human life its true significance. When we talk today about models of living and working that are no longer merely owed to an economic “higher-faster-further”, our “quest for meaning” in particular returns to the center of attention. And thus the unfolding of an overall “human potential”, which we have probably only tapped to a small extent until today.

Being political
Instead of just listing the socio-political movement of feminism again, I prefer to write “being political” here, as a representative of “being involved”. For just as the main concern of the 4th wave of feminism at present is the fight against “intersectionality” – i.e. the countering of overlapping forms of discrimination – the guidelines of humanist philosophy also show that such goals can hardly be realized if we continue to consume our world saturated while sitting on the couch.
In this sense, until that ideal world, which I briefly described in the section “Spirituality”, arrives, we would first have to courageously become “Homines politici” – political people – for quite some time.
We live in a world which today is predominantly oriented towards aspects of market economy – and so far we have subordinated almost everything to these aspects of market economy and to the omnipresent realization of profits. This concerns our model of society – and thus the choice of social coexistence down to the smallest units of human communities, it concerns our educational policy – which is supposed to turn us into hard-working drones and eager consumers, and it dominates our thinking in such a way that it is difficult for us to imagine a “meaning of life” beyond “demonstrable success”, “winning at any price” and “exercising power over…”. And that’s why all those of us are soon depressed or ultimately even deprived of their dignity if we don’t recognize ourselves in these prescribed stereotypes.
To become a “Homo politicus” therefore means for me to understand that “becoming aware” – which is desired in humanistic philosophy – implies socio-politically “Consciousness raising” – for which it is inevitably necessary to get up from one’s own couch and to look beyond the rim of one’s own teacup. If we don’t just want to ” complain about the great darkness”, then we have to find the courage within us to light our candle for our concerns or for the concerns of minorities, animals, social circumstances or the environment as a whole and LET IT SHINE. From Rudyard Kipling to Tristan Taormino and Greta Thunberg: Change has always begun with one courageous individual who recognized the need for change and implemented it persistently and steadfastly.

Why am I, Oligotropos, so sceptical about the aforementioned three aspects?
All in all, the main problem for me remains that all too often we humans tend to strive for convenient results only by means of a “technique”, a “method”, a mere “in-order-to”. We practice yoga, not to connect with the roots of our spiritual existence, but to fit into our summer wardrobe. We attend psychological workshops and group therapy seminars, not so much to get to know ourselves in the end, but to analyse and diagnose our neighbours in everyday life. We prefer not to take to the streets to stand up for renewable energies and our long-term survival, because we don’t want a Wind turbine near our house and are afraid that a meat-free “Veggie Day” will be introduced in the cafeteria…

Now in my fifth decade of life, I fear that not so many people will find the courage and initiative to embark on a journey of self-knowledge, which confronts them with their spiritual roots, the state of their self-realization and individuation, and their social and political integrity.
Moreover, I think it is even less likely that there are enough of such remarkable like-minded people out there, to yield enough possibilities concerning the creation of such trusting and intimate communities as I propose.

I will continue to dream that it is (still) possible after all.

It’s cold in the scriptorium³, my thumb hurts. I go and leave this writing, I don’t know for whom, I don’t know about what anymore:
All that remains of the rose is its name, we are left with bare names only…



¹ Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, Chapter XII “The Elder from the Wandering Mountain”, Thienemann Verlag 1979

² e.g. Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving, New York 1956, but also Osho in “Love, Freedom and Aloneness”, Griffin 2002

³ Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, Epilogue, Carl Hanser Verlag 1982

Thanks to Skyla Design on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 50 #political

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 4

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Being Political – Political Being

Anyone who has read the previous three entries in this series [ 123 ] might be tempted so far to dismiss Poly- and Oligoamory as a result of the exuberant imagination of two crude writers and the colourful visions of some obscure eccentrics.
However, I would like to counter the possibility of such a dubious mental retreat with this article, because the entire development that has led to the realization of Poly- and Oligoamory up to the present day was by no means a coincidence from the outset – and it was, also from the outset, always political.

I have already introduced Part 1 (Entry 47) with reference to the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, which, with its increasing religious freedom of conscience, increasingly offered people the possibility of a spiritual as well as psychological emergence from hitherto strictly traditional structures.
The first persons to benefit in this way from a “broader intellectual horizon” were, as already mentioned, at that time initially members of an educated bourgeois middle class – and from this middle class should also arise the first courageous persons who applied the newly won “freedom of thought” in many ways.
As the author of these lines, I would say that literally “the time was ripe”, because after the almost feverish second wave of industrialization of the 19th century, the realization began to mature in some circles of more educated classes that the hectic technical and structural upheavals in the lives of hundreds of thousands of contemporaries had begun to generate problematic mental and social issues: Many people felt deeply uprooted by the rural exodus and urbanization and often experienced themselves as mere “assistants” of inscrutable mechanized processes, which added to a general feeling of alienation and loss of self. Frequently observed consequences were symptoms of (urban) impoverishment and increased potential for conflict, e.g. due to alcoholism, outbreaks of (domestic) violence, various “mental illnesses” and radicalisation resulting in “gang/group formation”.
The intellectual response at the turn of the century to these phenomena was correspondingly manifold: In parliaments the first laws regarding industrial and social security were discussed; political movements began to offer nationalistic ideas of identification; the newly blossoming sciences of psychology and psychoanalysis tried to tackle the new mental manifestations (e.g. “neuroses”, “hysteria”, “manias”, “psychoses”); esoteric groups, offering alternative orientation, emerged (as described in Entry 48 – but also, for example, spiritism and theosophy); and from the awareness that the accumulated problems would probably affect the weakest members of a society in the first place (the poor, children, women), the nucleus of the welfare-, care- and reform-movement was born. However, all persons and organisations that tried to contribute in this area had to recognise that the female sphere of responsibility for “home/hearth/childcare” had hardly been affected at all by the structural upheavals of the dawning 20th century, but that the women afflicted were still burdened by the traditional nimbus of “renunciative self-sacrifice for the sake of the family”, which resulted above all in an increased workload and complete economic dependence.

This realization became the starting point for the first wave of feminism, when affluent women in welfare organizations realized that a change in the situation of less privileged fellow females could only be achieved through general social entitlement and comprehensive participation – with respect to all women.
It was the watershed-event for the so-called “Suffragettes Movement”, which from 1903 onwards fought for the importance and the awareness of women’s concerns and needs in public for over a quarter of a century – in quite a determined and persistent manner. Therefore, the resulting increased presence of women in universities and governmental institutions, their enhanced appreciation as scientists, politicians and artists and a resulting heightened female identity, which began to manifest itself in politics, spirituality, literature and research, was, as I said at the beginning, no coincidence. It was the beginning of the long overdue “Twilight of the Goddess” (Part 2 – Entry 48).
The first wave of feminism ended with two world wars, which in turn, in a twisted way and caused by necessity, contributed to a significantly increased leeway for women worldwide in terms of occupational entitlement and freedom of social mobility.
But the restorative masculinist backlash of the ensuing 1950s (USA: Truman/Eisenhower era; Germany: Adenauer era), however, subsequently revoked much of this newly won freedom again – “home/hearth/children” were once again proclaimed as the “true sphere of womanly devotion”.

This regression decisively triggered the second wave of feminism, which this time, though, was able to rely on a broad spectrum of sufficiently educated female campaigners in many different domains of society. As a result, the starting point for the second wave was an approach that was primarily aimed at establishing awareness in society as a whole, an approach that became apparent as consciousness-raising. This “consciousness-raising” in turn triggered a growing perception of numerous grievances regarding entitlement and autonomy in several contexts, so that in addition to feminist concerns, questions of civil rights, racial differences, the nuclear arms race and international proxy wars (e.g. Vietnam, Palestine, Afghanistan), and also increasing environmental pollution shifted into focus. This “raising of consciousness” also touched the individual level, since in this way a whole generation began to define itself in terms of an all-encompassing “awakening” in both intellectual and spiritual manner.
In combination with improved communication possibilities, this facilitated a swift solidary networking between various protest movements and alternative cultural initiatives: Black musicians like Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson demanded respect and (world)peace, artists like Yoko Ono or Joan Baez denounced social defienciess, “New Witches” and neo-pagan priestesses like Starhawk and Shekhinah Mountainwater blockaded nuclear facilities.
In addition to these super-personal concerns, the market approval of effective medicinal contraceptives (first admission “birth control pill” USA 1960) turned another female main issue into one of the core topics of the “Second Wave”, which concerned the question of sexual autonomy. Although the focus here was initially on reproductive self-determination, this topic very quickly expanded into a question of general sexual liberty and self-expression.

Encouraged by the above-mentioned cross-cutting solidarity and the networking characteristics of second-wave feminism, this issues soon (end of 1960s) spread to the Queer and LGBT community, which until then had been largely pushed into a societal blind spot. Therefore, in my understanding, an important (additional) effect of Second Wave Feminism was the effective emergence of the LGBT movement, which was able to initiate its overdue process of consciousness-raising, awareness, entitlement, participation and acceptance by society as a whole (which, as with feminism itself, has not yet been fully accomplished).
From today’s perspective, it seems bizarrely fascinating that of all things the advocacy for all-encompassing sexual autonomy terminated the political second-wave feminism during the “Sex Wars” of the 1980s in the struggle regarding the movement’s attitude to issues such as sex-positivity, pornography, BDSM and the status of transsexual women.
From 1990 onwards, the “Third Wave” thus arose from the conviction that it would henceforth consistently oppose sexism of any kind.

In the meantime, many people with non-heteronormative and non-monogamous needs and backgrounds had already begun to look for their own viable and liveable ways of dealing with the demands of their everyday reality.
If you have read my Part 3 – Entry 49 carefully, you can easily see that “Polyamory” in this way was a direct result of such a need-oriented approach – referring to requirements as they existed in neopagan circles at that time.
These requirements, to enjoy beyond purely sexual autonomy additional independence and freedom of thought regarding the design of individual relationships (and their conception), however, did’nt only exist in alternative spiritual neo-paganism. The queer and sexpositive community (the latter increasingly including the BDSM scene) likewise needed new and progressive relationship patterns that took a more liberal and even promiscuous view of sexuality into account.
According to my interpretation, the relationship philosophy of Polyamory with its eclectic (i.e. “composed of elements of different systems”) origin – consisting of alternative spirituality, humanistic psychology and integrative feminism – particularly suited to offer a basis for relationship-patterns with essentially different (and differing) needs.
For example, a classic “ménage à trois” probably has different requirements than a BDSM-relationship with five participants or even an egalitarian network of asexual lovers.
Nevertheless, each of these cases today still revolves around the same principles to which feminism was committed in all its phases: raising consciousness that there is a demand for change; perceiving the needs of those affected; their all-round entitlement with regard to self-determined participation and, finally, the unlimited acceptance of the way they are.

And exactly in this respect I perceive the philosophy of “Polyamory” (and thus of course also my own conception of “Oligoamory“) as political – because, as I have stressed often enough, “Oligoamory is not something you do, but something you ARE”.
The German political scientist and historian Christian Graf von Krockow once said that “politics is the constant struggle between changing or preserving existing conditions”; accordingly the ideas and lives of Kipling, Heinlein, Maslow, the Zell-Ravenhearts, the Suffragettes, the Hippies, and those of the people at the Stonewall uprising proved to me that change is constantly necessary – and adaptation to this change is always possible.

Huge PS:
From the witches’ coven of Wicca to the committed organisations of feminism to queer activists of the LGBT movement and down into the depths of polyamorous lifestyle: All these communities, groups and initiatives seem to breathe more freely in the US, are more liberal, more often based on cooperation – and generally they seem much more inclusive in their attitude than in my country (Germany), with an approach that among themselves is more like “live and let live”, as well as a mentality of “Your xyz is not exactly my xyz – but your xyz is ok and my xyz is ok and when push comes to shove we are all in the same boat anyway”.
Why is this often so very different in Germany, in the land of allotment plots, house rules and garden fences, where differences and what separates is always emphasized combative and relentless, even when groups and initiatives belong by name to the same philosophy?
I, Oligotropos, believe that this difference in conduct unfortunately arises from the very different basic constellation of the overall social and political origin of the USA – in contrast to Central Europe (and especially to the Federal Republic of Germany).
In the US, the struggle of underprivileged groups has always been focused on “entitlement and participation”, whether it concerned People of Color, religious beliefs, orientation of sex and gender, or regarding the configuration of individual relationships. Thanks to the Declaration of Independence of 1776 with its assurance of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, the promotion of basic freedom for individuals and communities in the US was from the very beginning on the agenda and an established principle (although for a long time initially only for white men).
This situation was completely different in “old Europe”, especially concerning those highly authoritarian sovereign systems, which were the predecessors of the Federal Republic today. When, from the beginning of the 1960s onwards, the first wide-ranging campaigns for social liberalization were launched in many different areas, the groups involved not only had to stand up for their entitlement and participation, but at the same time they also had to struggle for the accompanying civil rights and liberties in a country that had been managed over the centuries (and up to the present moment) in a predominantly imperious and patriarchal way. This climate of a freedom process pursued aggressively in parts by all sides involved (e.g. APO / RAF) has resulted in elbow-thinking and a mentality of categorical enforcement, a legacy which still accompanies us today in all socio-political discussions in my country, accompanied by its sometimes frighteningly cold-hearted and often uncompromising style, right up to the social networks.

However, as I have now shown in the four parts of my series, ethical multiple relationships – such as Poly- and Oligoamory – are the result of a path of development spanning almost one hundred and fifty years of emerging multiculturalism and social pluralism.
I would like to experience this path to be a lasting inspiration for my country – and thus for all of us – and as an incentive to act with greater confidence, solidarity, social inclusion and peace.


Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the provision of the artwork „We can do it“ von J. Howard Miller (Creative Commons 4.0 Lizenz)

Entry 49

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 3

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Double, double, toil and trouble – fire burn and cauldron bubble!*

In my last entry I wrote that another encounter of two remarkable people had to take place before the term and the conception of “Polyamory” could fully emerge.
One of these persons was the psychology student Timothy Zell [aka “Otter” and “Oberon”], who was strongly influenced in his education by the way of thinking of Abraham Maslow (who by the way was also a mentor of the “father of non-violent communication“, Marshall Rosenberg).
Maslow’s ideas were aimed at a holistic humanism through individuation, especially by means of perceiving and researching one’s own needs – a process he called “Self-Actualization”. During his studies Zell heard sentences like this:

“Self-realizing people, people who have reached a high degree of maturity, health and self-fulfillment, can teach us so much that they sometimes seem almost like another race of human beings. But because it is so new, exploring the most elevated areas of human nature and its ultimate possibilities and hopes is a difficult and tortuous task. For me, it has implicated a constant destruction of beloved axioms, the incessant confrontation with apparent paradoxes, contradictions and ambiguities, sometimes even the collapse of long established, firmly believed and apparently unassailable laws of psychology. Often it turned out that they were not laws but only rules for living in a state of mild and chronic psychopathology and anxiety, in a state of disability and crippledness and immaturity, which we do not notice because most of the others have the same affliction as we do.” ¹

And it was the following sentence in particular that left a powerful impression:

“Self-actualizers are ethical; they have social feeling; they have a wide perspective, a sense of wonder and a sense of the mysterious. But they are also alienated from ordinary conventions. They feel detached from the values of the [mainstream] culture. They are aliens in a foreign land.” ²

Because during the same time, Zell maintained a literary circle since 1961, which mainly dealt with fictional texts, and it was there that Robert Heinlein‘s book “Stranger in a Strange Land” literally struck like a bomb in 1962 (see Part 1 – Entry 47).
Maslow’s views on the development of individual potential combined with Heinlein’s visionary idea of an alternative, non-conformist model of society resulted in a fascinating prospect. But concerning most people, such a mental prospect would probably have remained a mere theory.
But Zell and his small group of motivated fellow campaigners were so inspired by it that they wanted to try to convert such a theoretical “what-if” into a viable practice – along the lines of the Chinese proverb “that it would be better to light a candle instead of just moaning about the prevailing darkness”. The students at that time probably also saw the danger that Maslow’s thoughts on an academic level would have (too) little impact on actual social developments of the time. A time that everywhere announced signs of a social awakening in many respects [Kennedy/Johnson era: Civil Rights Movement, Black Power, Nuclear Arms Race, Vietnam war, Hippie culture, Gay Pride, Women’s Liberation].
As a result, the organization “Church of All Worlds – CAW” was formed in 1962 – based on Zell’s reading circle, and in 1968 it even went public with its own thematic magazine, the alternative counter-cultural Green Egg“.
One of the authors of the “Green Eggs”, Tom Williams, later described the conviction of the CAW as follows:
“Today we have the rare privilege to choose consciously the myths we wish to live by and to know that the world which is evoked is dependent on the mythic structure of a people and can literally be anything from the oil and bombers and pollution of the Pentagon and the Kremlin to the Magic Wood of Galadriel. ³
In this remarkable sentence the “creation of the (personal) myth” is likewise indicated, which the communication teacher Brad Blanton also refers to in his “Radical Honesty” (which in turn emerged from “Non-violent communication”).
Zell and his companions had thus recognised that the “true magic of the present” lies in the philosophical reality of the interaction of “our being, which constitutes our consciousness” – as well as “our consciousness, which in turn constitutes our being”. Because translated as a result, this realisation means that our perceptions and expectations are always strongly influenced, even programmed, by the circumstances and events of our environment (our “reality”). But at the same time there exists also the remarkable other aspect, which is that the human mind is just as capable of influencing and modifying conditions and events (of our “reality”!) if it succeeds in performing a change of consciousness and attitude.
Since Zell and the participants of his “church” therefore wanted to emphasize that every developed human being is potentially capable of “creative” (and in this sense quasi “divine”) action in this way, the CAW was conceived in a neo-pagan spirit (see Part 2 – Entry 48) from the outset, which was also inspired by Heinlein’s novel (see Part 1 – Entry 47) – from which the name “Church Of All Worlds” was already borrowed, and as a further consequence the members honorarily greeted themselves with the wording “Thou Art God”.
Thus, in the following decades, the CAW, founded by Zell became a dazzling focal and projection point for the unfolding North American neo-pagan scene in all its expressions. The (science) fictional foundations of the early days were soon augmented by elements coming from Wicca, eclectic witchcraft, and the Goddess movement (see also Entry 48).

Otter Zell and Morning Glory in 1974

In this way Timothy Zell finally met in 1973 the other “remarkable person” I need for my story of Poly- and Oligoamory – and of course this meeting happened in the context of a gnostic-neopagan conference (“Gnosticon”), where Zell gave the opening speech. For it was there that Zell fell in love with the witch Morning Glory Ferns (self-chosen (plant)names are not unusual for witches), who was present among the visitors. And this incident triggered a chain of events that would eventually make it necessary to cleverly combine spiritual theory with the practical aspects of everyday life.
Our two protagonists faced a state of affairs – up to their own private lives – that until now usually looked like that:
Both modern witchcraft and the “Church of All Worlds” were organized into small independent groups – in witchcraft as “coven” (see Part 2 – Entry 48), in the CAW as “Nests” as proposed by Heinlein. And in both group types, women and men worked intensively esoterically, spiritually and psychologically on their individual and collective unfolding, whether magically or for the purpose of personality development.
Probably everyone of us will now remember a small team-building group, workshop, seminar, whatever: The necessary degree of a kind of “soul-striptease” in such small groups can be quite considerable – which may lead in turn to a substantial amount of trust and intimacy among the participants. In the ideal case, this even results in the precise implementation of what the psychologist Scott Peck described as the steps towards “community building” (see Entry 8). And it was also Scott Peck who pointed out a likely amount of sexual energy building up in this regard. Against the background of the “Wild 60s” – but even more so against the background of the extremely counterculturally liberal “Coven” and “Nests”, it happened from time to time that participants occasionally indulged in this energy. And in addition to this it happened that participants fell in love with each other because of the already increased intimacy – and on top of that there was even the perspective for a continuing relationship because of the joined (and ongoing) Coven/Nest-activity. Coven or Nests, however, were attended by people who elsewhere in their lives were in other intimate relationships, e.g. with life partners or spouses – people who were not part of the coven or the same nest. Out of which a moral dilemma began to emerge, which was initially attempted to counteract with the already existing concept of “open relationship” or “open marriage”.
Nevertheless, another problem soon arose: Following the concept of “open relationships”, the new (loving) connections could often only be lived and experienced as a phenomenon of the corresponding micro-group ( similar to: “What happens in the Coven/Nest stays in the Coven/Nest” ). In practice, however, feelings couldn’t be restricted to certain areas of life, nor did this approach harmonise with a concept of holistic “self-realization” (according to Maslow, who had postulated an all-encompassing approach in this respect). E.g. Morning Glory herself had to experience how the “open marriage” with her then husband broke up in the end when she took up the relationship with Timothy Zell.
As active members of a countercultural scene who were otherwise intensively (and in parts even politically) engaged in values such as entitlement, honesty, self-empowerment, inclusiveness and tolerance, this discrepancy between ideal and reality will probably have been particularly difficult to accept. But following Maslow, who wrote “that self-actualizers are solution-oriented people”, Zell and Morning Glory spent the next 10 years developing (and living!) a model for themselves and their personal surroundings that was more coherent with the goals of consistent self-development and “creative inner divinity”.

The Ravenheart-Family 1996; f.l.t.r: Wynter, Wolf, Liza, Morning Glory, Oberon Zell

From their own experiences in a threesome and eventually even a six-sided relationship (the so-called “Ravenheart family”), a way of living and loving together finally emerged, which Morning Glory first outlined in writing in May 1990 in the “Green Egg-Magazine”. This text, in which the word “polyamorous” was used for the first time worldwide in a context of ethical multiple relationships, can be found HERE.
It already contains all the guiding basic values that are still crucial for all ethical multiple relationships today: dedication, commitment, honesty, responsibility and transparency.
[And why of all things was the descriptive term “polyamorous”? There are several sources regarding this question, e.g. here and there. Morning Glory once said in an interview »When Oberon and I wanted to coin words, we usually looked at Greek and Latin roots. However, the Latin term for “loving many” would be “multi-amory,” which sounded awkward; and the Greek would be “polyphilia”, which sounds like a disease. So I chose “poly-amorous”– and the rest is history.«]

And the rest is indeed history.
Polyamory became the breakthrough for the overdue liberation and justification of a world of (loving) relationships and experiences, which many people already considered themselves to be in one way or another – and in parts already attempted to bring to life in various subcultures. Morning Glory’s “Polyamory” thus followed the path that the Queer– and LGBT movement had already begun to pave just a few years earlier in terms of liberation and entitlement regarding sexual and gender preferences.
Over the next 25 years, however, this succession would regularly raise the problem of how extensively the “relationship-mode” was dependent on sexually connoted parameters – with the result that the philosophy of Polyamory is continually in danger of being claimed as a characterizing feature of merely promiscuous or predominantly sex-positive clientele.

(My) Conclusion:
The huge success of Morning Glory and Oberon Zell, to combine a creative self-realizing philosophy with a community-building way of life by the conscious constellation of loving companions as “family-of-choice”, was groundbreaking in many ways.

  • First and foremost for the neo-pagan community – whether purely mystical/esoteric or political (e.g. Faerie, Dianic Wicca, Reclaiming etc.). The Zell Ravenhearts, with their holistic approach of living and loving and the group-psychological insights gained from this, have made a significant contribution to the understanding of spiritual self-development in intimately joined togetherness. Since the turn of the millennium, guidebooks such as “Wicca Covens: How to start and organize your own” by Judy Harrow (Citadel 2000) have appeared in this way, which can be read like the 1×1 of integrative community building within a witches’ coven.
  • In any case socio-politically, since the first ever formulation of an ethical concept regarding multiple-relationship management has created public perception concerning this way of life at all. This perception had – similar to the Queer/LGBT area – a beneficial two-sided effect: On the one hand by manifesting in the public consciousness that there were (and are) people with these desires and needs – which on the other hand makes it easier for people who think about the possibility of multiple relationships to acknowledge these thoughts, to network with like-minded people and to dare to put this way of life into practice. [About the political dimension of Polyamory see Part 4!]
  • And of course – last but not least – in the private lives of many tens of thousands of people who are globally striving to follow in the footsteps of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory. People who daily walk the “path of greatest courage” in their multiple relationships, who face their fears and jealousies, who constantly strive to improve themselves – in order to finally participate in the most fantastic experience of all: To get to know oneself as an individual, to realize one’s true self, and to experience how we can use our collective creative potential – in its magical synthesis as a potentiated sum of its parts – to create added value for the good of all that surrounds us and that which is within us.
Morning Glory and Oberon on their last trip to Australia together in 2006


* Quote from William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Song of the Three Witches, Act IV, Scene 1

¹ A. H. Maslow (Ed: Richard Lowry), “Dominance, Self-Esteem, Self-Actualization: Germinal Papers”, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole, 1973

² A. H. Maslow, “Motivation and Personality”, 2nd Edition, New York: Harper & Row, 1970

³ Green Egg, Volume VIII, 1975

Thanks to Atman Wiska for the German translation, contextualization and uploading of the “Bouquet of Lovers” by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart.

Thanks posthumously to Margot Adler and her book “Drawing Down The Moon – Witches Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and other Pagans in America”, completely revised and updated edition 2006, Penguin Books

And a thousand thanks to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart for the friendly and very personal contribution of the beautiful private photos. (Copyright: Oberon Zell and CAW.org)

Entry 48

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 2

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Twilight of the God(des)s

The transformations at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century also affected the spiritual life of the people, after several centuries in which mainly the Christian churches had been almost exclusively responsible for the spiritual needs of the people of Europe as well as America. As a result of ever greater social enlightenment, improving educational opportunities and an increasing freedom of choice, a desire for religious models began to emerge that offered more active self-participation, opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience.
In addition to an increased attention for Hindu and Buddhist teachings, this led to a newly awakened interest in pre-Christian religions of the Mediterranean antiquity as well as in ancient pagan traditions of north-western Europe.

However, the seemingly sudden fascination concerning pagan myths of ancient times did not come out of the blue at all: Archaeologists such as Heinrich Schliemann or Egyptologists such as Sir Arthur Evans, for example, had begun to discover with new techniques and by tangible archaeological findings that numerous legends and myths of the past probably contained sometimes a verifiable, true core. The sheer possibility that legends like those of Odysseus, Cleopatra, King Arthur, the Nibelungs and Attila, even Lugh of the Long Hand or the figures of the Edda might have really happened in some way inspired countless artists* in their paintings, literature, sculpture and music; however, it also inspired numerous nationalist movements as well, which now conjured up and exploited a “rediscovered heritage” of the Celts (e.g. Druidism), Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Slavs, etc. for their obvious political reasons.

Nevertheless, the scientific approach at the turn of the century hardly possessed any critical discourse: Most of the “specialists” in their field were usually the very first people ever to deal with a certain subject, there was almost no possibility of comparison and interdisciplinary work was still in its infancy. As a result, the “dim and distant pre-Christian past” regularly turned into a dazzling canvas for liberal ideas, egalitarian ideals and cultural counter-concepts, which often corresponded more closely to the longing and dedication of the researchers themselves as to clearly provable historical evidence. “Gaps” were often initially filled with more poetry or convenient wishful thinking; and most of the time there was no critical scientific opposition yet.
In this way, the idea of a surprisingly emancipatory, sunken ancient “ideal pagan world” began to unfold itself, for which seemingly more and more historical-literary and archaeological “evidence” was being discovered all over Europe.
The main contributors regarding this assumption were the Swiss antiquarian and anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (“Das Mutterrecht”; 1861), the ethnologist and philologist James George Frazer (The Golden Bough, 1890), and the American folklorist and philologist Charles Godfrey Leland (“Aradia – or the Gospel of the Witches; 1899), and last but not least – the anthropologist and Egyptologist Margaret Alice Murray. The latter finally drafted in her bookThe Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921) a comprehensive folkloristic study that proposed a complete theory about a pan-European, pre-Christian, paganistic religion.
This religion would have been based on a polar (=opposed in relatedness) concept of divinity, which consisted of a lunar, eternal “mother goddess” (e.g. Hecate, Cybele, Isis etc.) and her companion, a solar, versatile “vegetation god” (e.g. Tamuz, Pan, Apollo etc.) – and thus was tendentiously balanced towards matriarchy and the feminine. This deep-rooted kind of worship would have been terminated during the medieval persecution of witches, when the last people who still practised this religion in small groups (so-called “circles” orcoven) were scattered or put to death.
This scholarly treatment by Murray (and her contributors) sparked a further wave of romanticism and renewed artistic approaches; examples include e.g. Dion Fortune with her novel “The Sea Priestess” (1938) or Robert Graves and his White Goddess(1948).
The longing of several people for such a supposedly “unspoilt kind of original spirituality” was considerable – now only some kind of structure, a framework was needed to turn songs, myths and images of goddesses and goods into a practicable form of religion (again).

At that time, the interested consumers of the “new old myths”, who also had the leisure and the context to be able to follow those amazing developments in research and literature, often came from the educated bourgeois middle class. In this middle class it was not unusual since the mid 19th century to join “magical” or “occult” associations, such as the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians for social exchange, establishment of influence or for charitable purposes (like a kind of “private club”). These associations often still possessed a substantial continuance of ceremonies and customs, which were practised extensively, e.g. for the purpose of new admissions or on festive occasions.
Some of these ceremonies were actually quite old and were based e.g. on Neo-Platonist or hermetic rituals or they resembled traditional customs of medieval craft guilds. In this vein, charismatic persons such as Éliphas Lévi (Lodge “Rose of Perfect Silence”; 1861), Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; 1888) and the notorious Aleister Crowley (Ordo Templi Orientis [OTO]”; 1912) thus became formative providers regarding an emerging magical-pagan neo-spirituality.
It only required a few more strokes of the pen to combine the various initiatives into a practicable whole…

This part was given to the Englishman Gerald Gardner, who in 1949 compiled a first Book of Shadows from the ideas and conceptions outlined above, by which he then dared to establish – more or less publicly – a first actually practising pagan circle of modern times as a spiritually functioning group.
Gardner called the resulting concept “Wicca” (after the Anglo-Saxon term “Wicce”, “witch”). He incorporated the aforementioned female matriarchal accentuation as well as the coven structure (circle/convent), so that always a “high priestess” took over the leading ritual function of such a small manageable group.
The second high priestess of Gardner’s own starting group, Doreen Valiente, finally revised significantly the original version of the “Book of Shadows”, which initially comprised various sections that were not yet completely coherent, creating a printable copy for a larger audience by 1954.
Thus, Gardner’s and Valiente’s conception of Wicca, as an approach for “practicable witchcraft and paganism”, met a considerable spiritual demand, which existed in parts of non-conformist, romanticizing and esoteric circles – exactly with regard to the above-mentioned need for active self-participation,opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience. The cell-like and minimal-hierarchical “coven structure” (copied from Murray), concerning 13 participants at a max, additionally accommodated a potentially individualistic culture of creativity and experience.
By the time of Gardner’s death in 1964, this cell-like organisational structure – by the formation of “offshoots” of the mother coven – had given rise to about eight further circles in Great Britain; the “international breakthrough”, however, was to come via the USA, where “Wicca” and the pagan revival found most fertile conditions.

Already in 1960 a certain Monique Wilson had been introduced (“initiated”) into Wicca by Gardner’s fourth high priestess, Lois Bourne.
In 1961 Monique had already founded her own “Coven” (circle) in Perth (Scotland), where in 1963 she consecrated the couple Rosemary and Raymond Buckland as practitioners of witchcraft (who had lived in the USA since 1962 and were in regular correspondence with Gerald Gardner).
Rosemary and Raymond subsequently founded the first “official” Wicca coven in the USA in New York; however, independently of this development, several copies of Gardner’s “Book of Shadows” had already reached the States since 1954, whereby a variety of different non-Gardnerian “Wiccan traditions” had begun to establish themselves all along.
In the USA, “Wicca” (and the modern paganism) thus met in good time the bubbling mixture of civil rights movement, social upheaval, liberation campaigns (women / gay) and “spiritual New Age” of the Kennedy/Johnson era (keywords: space program, abolition of racial segregation, Hippie culture, Vietnam War, growing consumption, health improvement, increase in women’s employment) – important factors that were ultimately to have a decisive influence on the conception of ethical non-monogamy as a whole.
But before the word “Polyamory” was actually pronounced and written for the first time, two really remarkable personalities – a high priestess and a magician of course – had to meet. About their extraordinary synergy I will tell you in Part 3.

In my conclusion today I would like to completely agree with the religious anthropologist Michael Strmiska, who in his research has dealt intensively with the “Renaissance” of different neo-pagan and witchcraft movements:

“Modern Pagans are reviving, reconstructing, and reimagining religious traditions of the past that were suppressed for a very long time, even to the point of being almost totally obliterated… Thus, with only a few possible exceptions, today’s Pagans cannot claim to be continuing religious traditions handed down in an unbroken line from ancient times to the present. They are modern people with a great reverence for the spirituality of the past, making a new religion – a modern Paganism – from the remnants of the past, which they interpret, adapt, and modify according to modern ways of thinking.”
[…]

“The rise of modern Paganism is both a result and a measure of increased religious liberty and rising tolerance for religious diversity in modern societies, a liberty and tolerance made possible by the curbing of the sometimes oppressive power wielded by Christian authorities to compel obedience and participation in centuries past. To say it another way, modern Paganism is one of the happy stepchildren of modern multiculturalism and social pluralism.” [see also Part 4]


Sources:
Raven Grimassi, „The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins and Teachings“, Llewellyn 1997

Ronald Hutton, „The Triumph of the Moon – A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft“, Oxford-Press 1999

Philip Heselton, „Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival“, Capall Bann 2000

Michael F. Strmiska; “Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives”; Santa Barbara, Dencer, and Oxford (2005)

Thanks to Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash for the photo of the Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).

Entry 47

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 1

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Of Jungles and Moons

In 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay as son of an Anglo-Indian family. “Anglo-Indian” families were actually wealthy British families, who – due to colonial rule – lived entirely in India and thus were also largely influenced by the local culture there. In his memoirs Kipling later wrote that in his early years he was mainly cared for by an Indian “Ayah” (nanny): “In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she or a Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution ‘Speak English now to Papa and Mama.’ So one spoke ‘English’, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.” English, Kipling went on to write, would thus finally have seemed to him to be a somewhat foreign language.
But already in 1870 little Rudyard was expelled from this paradise: He was sent (together with his younger sister) to foster parents in England for further upbringing and education, as was customary at that time. The shock regarding language and culture was considerable, the different customs were strict – and there are bitter entries about this in his later memoirs.
It was not until twelve years later, in 1882, that Kipling was able to return to the places of his lost childhood, once again accompanied by a whirlwind of strong emotions; he wrote: “I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular [Kipling is referring to Punjabi!] sentences whose meaning I knew not…“
However, Kipling, with the support of his family, and also thanks to his rich imagination and pronounced intellect, managed to emerge inspired from these conflicting experiences. Over the next twelve years he lived and worked as a journalist and writer in England, India and the USA, married and founded his own family.
In the winter of 1892, when his first daughter was born, Kipling began to pursue the idea of a children’s book, in which various motifs from his own childhood were incorporated: There were for example the ancient Indian legends he knew from his Ayah, fables from the “Panchatantra” (a collection of ancient Indian animal tales) as well as the “Jataka” (myths about the Buddha in his animal and human form). But probably also whispered servant stories about the “Jungle Children of Husanpur and Sultanpur” (reports about several “Feral Children” who, according to hearsay, were found surviving without human care in the wilderness between 1846 and 1848 in the Indian provinces of Agra and Oudh¹). And of course Kipling’s own life experience, as a “scion of two worlds” – the Indian and the European – and his own growing up under strongly contrasting views.
Especially these – in part quite personal – impressions prompted Kipling to tackle a question that was also of great concern to the just burgeoning science of psychology of his time: What are the circumstances and developments that make a person human and what are the decisive factors that influence the unfolding of an individual?
Rudyard Kipling answered this question for himself with the first part of his “Jungle Books”, published since 1894, with the story of the foundling Mowgli, who is raised in the jungle by wolves and finally “socialized” by them, as well as by a panther, a bear and a python.
Kipling designed a fascinating and exotic world in which a human child finds its way to survivability and ethics, solely guided by the mythical forces of its inner and the omnipresent outer (untamed) nature. His book became a world success, certainly also because at many points of his story the belief in an “immanent good” regarding mankind and concerning the whole creation can be felt – possibly a reflection of the optimistic confidence of the 19th century, but perhaps also the confidence of Rudyard Kipling himself, who had to find – and who did find – his way of life “between two worlds”.

About 25 years and one world war later, around 1920, another boy, this time in the USA, began to explore his way “between the worlds”.
Youth literature was by no means as rich as it is today, but for boys there existed beside classics like E. A. Poe (e.g. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”) and J. Verne (e.g. “From the Earth to the Moon”) an increasing group of more recent authors like Jack London (e.g. “The Red One”), H. G. Wells (e.g. “The Time Machine”) or Rudyard Kipling (e.g. “Aerial Board Of Controls”) who experimented with a new genre of visionary fictions concerning technology, science and society. Such stories also began to appear on the market with a completely new conception, as weekly or monthly pulp-magazines in which stories by different authors were presented to the reading public for an affordable price.
This expanding colourful world was entered by young Robert A. Heinlein, first as a reader – but after he had to end his short career in the Navy for health reasons – finally as an extremely eager and talented writer.
Henceforth, Heinlein enthusiastically produced series such as the ambivalent “Starship Troopers” (until 1959). In its militarism and totalitarianism, this particular story cycle was strongly influenced by Heinlein’s own military experiences. However, Heinlein had noticed in the military just as much how “equalizing” – regarding differences in age, status and even gender – military structures were able to affect overall conduct. Still today, a hint of these surprisingly egalitarian ideas can be felt in his texts as well as in later film adaptations, when, against a martial background, women and men interact both entitled and body-conscious with a high degree of naturalness and self-evidence.
When Heinlein approached the zenith of his creative work towards the end of the 1950s (his audience began to count him in the science fiction genre alongside I. Asimov and A.C. Clarke among “The Big Three”), he picked up an idea that had been on his mind for the last ten years: to create a modern vision of R. Kipling’s “Jungle Books”. Heinlein, like Kipling at his time, was also regularly fascinated in his writing by the question of “what conditions would define a person human” – and which parameters determined ” humanity”. For his own literary projection of this theme, however, Heinlein wanted to go beyond Kipling’s “Mowgli”, whose “human foundling” had after all been raised by rather respectable acting animals to become a kind of “noble savage”. Heinlein considered a concept in which he now wanted to let a human child grow up completely different – and according to the social rules, spiritual customs and cultural ideas of a completely dissimilar species.
The product of this thought experiment became the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961) – in which the main human character, as the title already suggests, has to find his way between two completely different universes of values after his return to earth. But Heinlein also gives the literally “cosmo-politian” main character Mike partly messianic traits, who – equipped by his alien educators with partly supernatural abilities – in turn introduces human society to a “new way of thinking” in the sense of a spiritual legacy. The resulting “Church of All Worlds” ² is extremely non-conformist, egalitarian and organized in small cell-like groups (so-calles “Nests”), all of which strive for self-efficacy and emergence of (inter-)personal potential.
Although Heinlein succeeded in “Strangers in a Strange Land” by cleverly questioning “acquired” social structures such as family, religion, gender roles or even sexual morals, his work remained in some other parts rather reactionary (e.g. stereotypical view of women).
Heinlein, who thus recognised that as an author he too was always “part of a system” and thus also part of a “way of thinking”, thereupon strove with another book to liberate himself even further from such limitations in fictional literature.
In 1966 his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was published. This time Heinlein used the science fiction background to design a challenging (lunar) environment that has tangible implications for resource distribution, shared use and optimisation of what is available to the human pioneers. For this purpose the author e.g. focused on the social structure of a colonist community that still has to cope with an surplus of male personnel even after several generations. Heinlein chose as a solution to this “social question” the formation of polyandry, group- and community marriages, as well as an unorthodox, highly integrative kind of society in which differences of ethnicities and attitudes no longer are able to prevail. When in the course of the book the moon inhabitants are confronted with an ecological catastrophe (which they can fend off by further social change), Heinlein leaves at the end of the book the question unanswered, to what extent the freedom of an individual may be restricted by democratic rules of a community.

Conclusion:
In my view, the visionary power of both Kipling and Heinlein’s fictions is so literally “groundbreaking” because both authors dared to explore in a literary way the conditioned boundaries of “human conventions”.
Their own life experience prompted both writers to offer their readers a glimpse of the surprisingly large scope for individual and social creative leeway that began to present itself when the “pre-set given definitions” had to be transcended (whether out of necessity or pioneering spirit).
Kipling, and Heinlein in particular, wanted to show that, in view of the fundamentally adaptable nature of human beings, our mobilisable potential is probably far greater than our belief in predetermined, traditional patterns, which we regard as “established normality (and normativity! )“.
And they dared to suggest that possible change due to this potential would always be “only a thought away”, in other words: within our reach, accessible with courage – realisable and consequently liveable.

Part 2
deals with a highly remarkable development that further encouraged unconformist thinking towards ethical non-monogamy.
Part 3 and Part 4 are about those brave people who took up the torch and actually got involved in this adventure.



¹ Lucien Malson, “Feral Children”, Suhrkamp publishing house 1964

² The “Church of all Worlds” with the abbreviation COW; becomes important again in the third part of this article series.

Thanks to Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 46

Know thyself*

Recently, in a conversation between two older women at the weekly market, I overheard the sentence: “Now, if the two love each other, that’s a good start in my opinion…”
“Well”, I thought to myself, “concerning love it’s almost like the dilemma of the chicken and the egg: sometimes it’s difficult to determine what is the start, the middle or perhaps even the end – and what’s the cause and what’s the effect of the other…”
But since I prefer to philosophize on my blog rather than at the weekly market, it is you, dear readers, who I will take with me to my world of thoughts in that regard.

At the end of Entry 14, I quoted the following four sentences¹:
Thus, intimacy is a cardinal process, defined as feeling understood, validated and cared for by partners who are aware of facts and feelings central to one’s self-conception.
Contributing to this perception is trust (the expectation that partners can be counted on to respect and fulfil important needs) and acceptance (the belief that partners accept one for who one is).
Empathy is also relevant because it signals awareness of an appreciation for a partners core-self.
Attachment also contributes to perceived partner responsiveness, notwithstanding its link to interdependence and sentiment, because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others
.”

I would like to take a closer oligoamorous look at these statements, because in my view they contain the very essence which configures the basis for a stable loving relationship.

On that score I find the wording “one’s self-conception” and “core-self” particularly remarkable. Because these terms suggest that sustained intimacy and closeness are not possible without basic self-awareness and a predominant acceptance of oneself.
The conclusion seems trivial: Elementary, my dear Watson – how would I be able to trust others if I don’t trust myself?

“Absolutely!” I agree as your tour guide on the remote island of the Oligoamory. Exactly that is the reason why on so many occasions I emphasize the »desire for self-exploration«, without which the foundation for any relationship that we are trying to build on it will keep a rather rickety ground work. Or rather a “rickety basement”, which is literally a symbol of our unconscious mind with its hidden chests containing our fears and defence mechanisms (see also Entry 35).
“Fears and defense mechanisms” are the key words in terms of our ability to relate, because our loved ones could show us as much validation, consideration, empathy and affection as they wanted – none of this would have any sustainable value for us if we were not able to accept such feelings in the first place.
If we are not sufficiently clear about our own motives (e.g. because we have so far avoided realising them in detail) or if we try to maintain more or less conscious dishonesties as part of our relationship management, reasons of self-protection alone will prevent excessive depth of engagement in any relationship. Because if we do not have narcissistic personality traits right away (which often goe hand in hand with a pathological inability to empathize), there would always be a part in us that would nourish our deepest social fear because of our incoherent behaviour: That we are not worth it (after all).

If we believe in this way somewhere within ourselves that we are not worth it, a problem arises, quote: “because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others.” Because as a result, our expectation and (non-)experience influences our “perception”. And if our perception has deficiencies due to a deficient self-esteem, then – regarding “love and affection” – we will only perceive insecurity and deprivation instead of security and abundance from our loved ones, despite their best intentions.
And uncertainty is exactly the reason for the a semi-alert state of careful vigilance I mentioned in Entry 42, causing ongoing mental stress.

Even the vernacular says: “One should always have the ability to accept a compliment with grace.” In our loving relationships, this “ability to accept” goes far beyond mere compliments. Since that ability is the basic requirement for integration and inclusive behaviour (see e.g. Entry 33). Especially towards our closest loved ones – and in further consequence towards all the significant others of our loved ones as well.
However, if our ability to accept and integrate as well as our self-esteem is already weakened, we live very close to the reflex of immediately pointing away from us as soon as potential difficulties might occur. Thereby allocating guilt and blame (which, in essence, is mere “causality”!) to somebody else…

[At this point it is important to me to briefly point out the socio-political dimension of good relationship management. Because currently the vast majority of economical units (states, communities, families, etc.) still work largely on the principle of “guilt-allocation”.
In that regard self-reflection and mindfulness towards oneself with the aim of self-awareness is surely a contribution to a more peaceful world.
Are folks in ethical non-monogamy, like Poly- or Oligoamory, therefore more “developed” than people in monogamous relationships? No, I don’t think so, precisely because the measure for “relationship-skill”, as I outline here, is at its root not a question of the chosen relationship model but of the individual’s ability (and will) to reflect.
Since monogamy is admittedly the recognized main mode of relationships in our current system (with its mentality of “guilt-allocation”), it might be a little bit “easier” in such a standard-mode to ignore personal or inter-personal deficiencies by projecting them “onto someone else”.]

In this way, “self-awareness” is also an essential part of “self-confidence”. Essential – to reverse the sentence from above again – because if I don’t trust myself, then I can’t trust the others.
The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel once called “trust” the “middle state between knowledge and ignorance”, regarding a “hypothesis of future behaviour/conduct”. This hypothesis had to be reliable enough to “justify practical action on it.” ²
As far as our (loving) relationships are concerned, I think that this provides an excellent description. We humans “trust” in everyday life, surprisingly often, countless circumstances that we consider “reliable enough”: We drive vehicles that are capable of speeds far beyond 100 kph, or we sit back on chairs that we can’t even see at that very moment (!) – rock-solid convinced that they will be exactly there nevertheless, the moment our buttocks are going to meet the level of the imagined seat…
So, basically, certain types of “trust” seem to belong to our “second nature”, types of trust without which extensive everyday processes would be impossible or at least very inconvenient.

However, the mutual trust that we need for reliable loving relationships is actually somewhat more complex than that which we need to sit on a chair or to drive a car. These two examples are more likely to be assigned to a situation-based or quality-based trust: We have e.g. learned that chairs normally do not move stealthily when not being observed (Caution, exception: sitting balls!) and we know that cars can be kept on track and are sturdy even at high speeds – provided they are regularly serviced.
But among fellow human beings we rather need “identification-based trust”, which – according to the American philosopher David Kelley – consists of the components openness/communication, empathy, community and sympathy ³.

If, however, I have to “identify” (which literally means “to equal / to equate” [Latin]!) myself with the other participants in community through communication, empathy and sympathy to establish mutual trust, this means that I have to be very friendly regarding myself in the fist place.
Because – to stick with our example of the “invisible” chair – I can only “let go” without execising control if I am convinced that the others are as friendly and reliable as I am.

And that’s why we won’t get around the author Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince” in this entry too: When the psychologists Cohen, Underwood and Gottlieb write in their opening quote that we need a feeling of understanding, validation and care to experience intimacy and closeness, the factor “time” inevitably comes into play. Time for what “Saint-Exupéry called “taming”, to “establish ties” (Chapter XXI).
In my opinion, the novella “The Little Prince” is so strangely touching and at the same time so disturbingly complicated because this “taming” always includes two components:
On one hand, the obvious, slow convergence and the getting-to-know-each-other of the main participants in the potentially emerging relationship.
But on the other hand, there is also the “Hero’s journey”, which each person has to do accomplish alone in order to explore own strengths and weaknesses (see also Entry 18).

Here the circle closes, as we encounter the importance of our “own self-conception” and the “awareness and appreciation for the core self” once again.
True trust has (only) been established when I perceive that others value me as the person, as the identity, as whom I also respect myself.
And at this moment we would have restored the beneficial coherence (context / consistency) of inner and outer experience as well, which our mind considers as the most desirable state of being (see also Entry 21).
In any case, coherence, which in turn can serve as a compass for all of our other relationship skills, which enables us to better contribute to a common balance of mutual well-being and personal happiness.

Is that (already) love? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In any case, in my opinion it is much more than just a good start.



* Wikipedia: Self-awareness; Know Thyself

¹ S. Cohen, L.G. Underwood and B.H. Gottlieb in “Social support measurement and intervention“ – A guide for health and social scientists“, Oxford University Press, 2000

² Georg Simmel, Soziologie(1908); Complete Edition, edt. by O. Rammstedt, Vol. 11, 1992

³ David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence, The Objectivist Center, 2002

Thanks to Kristopher Roller on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 45

The Wonderful Ordinariness of Being¹

In my January-entries, I dealt extensively with the issue of trust and entrustment in our relationships – basic requirements so that a true, authentic and intimate togetherness may become possible and can be experienced by all participants.
Several components that are important regarding successful Oligoamory reappear there, which, like a recurrent theme, are repeatedly addressed in my bLog:
Accountability (primarily for yourself and then – in an extended dimension – also for others), commitment (especially with regard to the choices you have made yourself) and last but not least, love that approaches the whole person.

I admit that – concerning the very detailed considerations on these topics- I may sometimes put my readers’ stamina to the test, especially in those moments when I seem to be working my way through the “theoretical underpinning” in great detail.
Nevertheless, accountability, commitment and integrative love are – if we start bravely to give these ideas more space in our relationships – in the end decisive trump cards for the everyday feasibility and viability of ethical (oligoamorous) multiple relationships.
Because in these relationships we always deal with living, breathing people, concerning whom we hope that we can count them among our “loved ones” – and accordingly we are usually confronted by most practical, everyday questions.
And these are usually quite tangible questions like e.g. are how much we should put up with our loved ones (and they with us), how much autonomous privacy a person should keep to itself – or what to do if people are already parents in the (upcoming/potential) network of relationships.

The essence of my personal answer to these questions can be found on closer inspection in my somewhat humorous Entry 34, which deals with our self-chosen “companions”.
Because all people, who have ever dealt with multiple relationships,sooner or later came to the point where they had to realise that at the end of all talks, agreements, regulations, consents and liberties, still one cake simply couldn’t be portioned indefinitely – and that is time.
Strictly speaking: our personal lifetime. Which we as an individual can divide, distribute, maybe even allocate; but which itself still remains relentlessly and unimpressedly finite.

The entire non-monogamy revolves around this dilemma and sometimes performs quite bizarre dances around this invisible but nonetheless irrefutable “elephant in the room”.
Which leads to such awkward approaches like sorting loved ones in a pokémon-like manner according to their “ability to meet needs” (see Entry 2) or to arrange affair-like flings with them on spatiotemporally limited “islands of happiness” (Entry 43).

But why do we remain unsatisfied in the medium term, somehow unfulfilled and needy, though?
Well, the theoretical oligoamorous answer to this question would be: Because such a relationship management is not sustainable at all (see also Entry 42) by violating all sustainability criteria, which are called consistent (stable), efficient (satisfactory) and sufficient (suitable).

And the philosophical-psychological answer would be: Because such strategies are hallmarks of a “reality of separation and compartmentalisation” (see Entry 26).

The latter, however, is not just a problem of non-monogamy, but an omnipresent contemporary phenomenon.
We can easily observe that when people talk about their work/life balance – and their attitude towards their jobs and their leisure time: There are certainly exceptions to this, but when you listen to most people in this regard, it sounds like they are talking about two completely separate areas of their life. Thereby, “work” often seems to belong to a sphere of quasi-divine punishment², “real life”, on the other hand, only takes place in leisure time – and if you can believe some people, it actually only happens during vacation: on a literal, remote, “island of happiness”.
In such descriptions, the “grey areas of everyday life”, that is, the transition moments, also often come off badly: Shopping, childcare, profane family interaction, everyday functional agreements (“Did you collect the car? / Did you call the plumber?”), etc., appear as annoyances which one wants to get rid of as quickly as possible – and accordingly they are often performed half-heartedly and harried. This reinforces the impression that these activities definitely belong more to the realm of “biblical plagues” than to our enjoyable true life.

Such a continuously maintained “reality of separation” will then confront us with a rather sad balance in old age – or at the latest in our last hour: Our existence had been predominantly “toil and labour”, and “true life” was experienced rather infrequently. When I look at this record, I become terrified and I am not surprised that Parkinson’s tremors, the forgetfulness of dementia or the despondencies of depression are among the “diseases of civilization” today…

“Well, but Oligotropos, it is actually hardly possible to accommodate more than one loving relationship (if any) in life. If we humans experience so little love, it’s small wonder that we are feeling bad and becoming ill…!”

“Aaaargh – no!” I want to call out. Trapped again.
Do you know the saying “One should not necessarily give life more days, but rather more life to the days” ?
Because the huge opportunity of ethical non-monogamy is to make multiple relationships practicable and liveable every day. This is one reason why in many of my entries I cite Scott Peck, who dealt intensively with the challenges of community building.
If we agree that the “cake most difficult to divide” is our limited and at some point finite individual lifetime – then we have to “bridle the horse” exactly from that side: Concentrating on the factor which in doubt is the scarcest resource in our sustainability mix!
And instead of trying to get around this fact with circumvention-tactics, by using as much energy as possible on how we could somehow still stretch the “cake” as thinly as possible, how we might chop it in pieces or finely grind it as a mere “spice”, we should instead“ embrace the principle ”and use it as potential in our favour.

Accordingly, when I talk about accountability, commitment and inclusiveness in so many entries, it serves as a kind of preparation regarding the question how we can experience as many wholesome human relationships as possible in our everyday life. An “everyday life”, which is then also experienced as a “full-featured, wholesome life” because we recognize in it: (all of) THIS is our true life, here and now.
That is quite comprehensible: We humans simply do not have the infinite luxury of projecting potential benefits into a possible “tomorrow / then / soon / when…”.
In the end, it could catch up with us quickly, as in Hans Christian Andersen‘s terrible story about the little Fir-Tree: “Now I’m going to live again!” he cheered and spread his branches wide: but alas, they were all dried up and yellow” ³.

“Let me have a look, maybe I have another weekend off in March…”
“I have annual leave in June, perhaps it’s possible then…”
“When the children have left home…”

I see – by then we will be changed people. Because by then our “true life” may start eventually. Because then we can finally be much more authentic, more truthful, more honest than now, while our ordinary everyday life prevents all that…
Our ordinary everyday life prevents us from being authentic, truthful and honest? And because we know that we are therefore insincere, inauthentic and unreliable most of our time, we do prefer not to let anyone into this ordinary everyday life?

Here we are getting caught by a very strange snake that seems to bite its own tail…:

Because we wish to be on our best behaviour regarding our loved ones – and, of course, we want them to be on their best behaviour in respect of us.
In this way, however, the obstacles that we build up for ourselves and for others become ever higher and more absurd.

So we have to get out of this vicious circle completely.
On my homepage I write:
“Finiteness – and the dawn of the 21st century makes it quite obvious in so many ways – immediately suggests a more attentive and sustainable husbandry regarding our available treasures of substantial as well as ideational nature.
Our awareness in respect of the ubiquitous finiteness has always evoked in human groups the fascinating aptitude of distribution, shared use, and optimisation of the available.”

This means that we have to stop perceiving our everyday life as an “inferior form of our existence”.
Or rather: That we may confidently leave that to our loved ones, whether they perceive it that way. Maybe they would happily collect the car from the workshop with us – because then they could talk to us 1:1 in the car undisturbed for 20 minutes. Or maybe they would pick up the car on their own because they know that this would provide us in return with the benefit of a relaxing bath. Perhaps they’ll listen to a scientific podcast with us while we have to sew this darn curtain – but at least we’ll have something to discuss afterwards. Or they go out with the kids – and we can finally finish this valance without annoying interruptions…
Maybe, loved ones like that would endure our burnt-up scrambled eggs in the morning because we left them out of our sight for 3 minutes too long while we were blow-drying our hair in the bathroom. Or perhaps we will endure their flabby scrambled eggs because they removed the pan to early from the stove to fetch the stupid newspaper…
Of course, a haphazardly prepared scrambled egg in the early morning could cause a lot of negative stress for everyone involved. But maybe also compassion and the (self)realization that it would have been ruined in any case, because everyone gropes around like a zombie in the apartment almost every morning.
At least today you didn’t wake up alone. And in the afternoon you realise that someone hasn’t left the blackened pan on the stove… Several voices are also practising Spanish vocabulary in the living room. And somebody let the cat out, even though you explicitly told everyone…

If we have recognized in such a manner that the real “treasure” of our life consists of the many things of “(ordinary) every day”, then we are well on the way to understand how we can enjoy this treasure together appropriately: accountable, committed and integrative.
Big words that simply mean human, fallible and tolerant most of the time.
Because if we would not dare to put up with our loved ones in our everyday life – and if we could only bear their ordinariness with difficulty – then we would transform the majority of our common treasure like in a fairy tale into mere muck: “worthless” lifetime, that we somehow have to pass.
[“No, Oligotropos. Precious life time that I do not always want to share with my loved ones…” Oh yeah? Then I would advise to change either the loved ones or the attitude towards them…]

The “Wonderful Ordinariness of Being”, which requires us to occasionally “endure” one thing or the other, which makes us cope with unexplained emotions, sensations (and smells) that are not always immediately attributable to the cause, represents in my view the same source that also provides acceptance and respect, thereby enabling true intimacy, familiarity and trust.
And with it a true loving togetherness, today, tomorrow and every day.



¹ Intended appeal to Milan Kundera‘s Unbearable Lightness of Being, which deals with the consequences of compartmentalized relationship management, flings and love affairs.

² Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 17-19: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field!”

³ Hans Christian Andersen, „The Fir Tree“, 1862

Thanks to Jisu Han on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 44

Beloved Friends

Over two thousand years ago, a man from Nazareth climbed a hill to teach an amazed crowd how beneficial it would be for all of humanity and its relationships if we would love our enemies.¹
Over two thousand years later, I wonder whether it would not have been a good idea at the time to add to this remarkable thought the consideration that it would be just as beneficial for all of humanity and its relationships if we were at least be able to love our friends…

How did your travel guide, Oligotropos, came up with such a copious idea?
By contact with the surprisingly tough reality of present day, which bears witness to the fact that true “love among friends” does not seem to be a common topic in 2020 either. And that for many – perhaps even most – people it does not even seem particularly desirable.
A bold hypothesis? Well, then let’s have a look at real life:

In this still fresh year, I had two conversations in short succession with a downright déjà vu-like course.
In order to do justice to this (small) target group, however, I would have to admit that the déjà vu character was probably due to the fact that I was the interlocutor each time – and that both conversations dealt with the core concept of Oligoamory.
In that process I explained that it was essential to me in this regard that in all oligoamorous relationships always “the whole person” should be meant and addressed. Accordingly, it would be very important not to “compartmentalize” another person in one’s thinking. Because every human being would always be a “complex artwork” with different facets – being at the same time e.g. employee, possibly parent, member of an (already existing) group of friends and family, committed member of a hobby- or voluntary organisation , etc. Thus, I declared, if I would make friends with someone, I would suggest that in that case I would relate to the “complete person” with all its aspects and with all of its liabilities that already existed – and not just with a selected “fair weather face”.
So far, so good.
Then I expanded this description by the factor of “originary freedom of category”, which I borrowed from the concept of relationship anarchy and adapted regarding Oligoamory. By that I mean that, as far as the source of my feelings and the expression of my emotions are concerned, I don’t want to differentiate (any longer) between “just friends”, “mere acquaintances”, “close family”, “best buddy” etc. Because I want to be equally authentic “I” among all these people and be allowed to express all my feelings everywhere in the same genuine way.
Thereby my immersion, my love and my trust that I would invest into all my relationships would be energetically the same – originating from the same source. Which would ideally mean that e.g. I could be as honest with my children as with my handball coach, deal with the postman as committed as with my loved ones. As a result, I would endeavor to be authentically the same person in all of these areas of my life. [Which, by the way, is THE challenge of ethical non-monogamy and Oligoamory par excellence. And which makes me strive for a better version of myself, by the way…].

Alas, the reactions, in short succession, were as if my interlocutors had touched an electrically charged wire – or as if I offered them a box full of exotic worms:

Dialogue partner 1: “Oligotropos, I am responsible for all people I am related to; in practical terms, however, I mean that I only want to be responsible for the both of us, just you and me. But whatever you have agreed with third parties, how much you let them participate, what they may know – please keep those things among yourselves as you see fit.
Regarding me, a relationship – as you are imagining it – means too much responsibility; I cannot bear that and I would never be able to live up to it.”


Dialogue partner 2: “Oligotropos, I notice that I’m overwhelmed with the whole thing and that’s a little bit too much for me. I’m somewhat unsettled.”
And a little later, since this dialogue partner was actually a parent: “I wouldn’t even know how I would be able to explain a get-together like this to my child…”

Well, there I was left with my Oligoamory as if I had tried to sell buttons at the door².
Even though I had just tried to illustrate how great it might be if the people involved in a relationship would appreciate each other completely and comprehensively…
Maybe that wasn’t as desirable in reality as I had thought. Still more: It seemed to be so absurd that children had to be protected from it.

I am shaken: We bestow on our friends personalized pillows, sometimes even personalized wellness vacations, but at the same time we don’t dare to have personalized relationships with them, that is: relationships appropriate to this special person.
Because that thought could mean “too much responsibility”, because it “overwhelms” and “unsettles”

In my previous Entry 43, I outline some of the scary reasons that probably spark such a way of thinking. And in Entry 26 I describe the result of such an attitude: the continued persistence and experience of a “split reality” – both regarding ourselves as well as regarding our relationships with other people.

Most of us humans, however, seem to have come to terms quite well with this continually experienced “reality of separation”. Of course they do, because we grew up with it – and because it corresponds to the normal, everyday mode with which most of us conduct our relationships. “The familiar” easily seems to be “the right thing”; people are “creatures of habit”, and the comfort zone is known to be guarded by one’s weaker self.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the price we pay for this kind of relationships and friendships – which have (and should keep!) a purely situational and few-dimensional character – is rather high.
Because we human beings are obviously able to reject and even hate without any reasonable or obvious reason – but in return we do not allow ourselves the ability to conceive un-reasonable love, or its much more essential requirement: basic trust.

As a result, we create a very harsh reality that we unconsciously regularly reinforce ourselves.
If we were to accept a person “completely”, that would mean that we would also perceive them with their ideas and dreams, talents and weaknesses, worries and needs and with their pending everyday life. Because if we wouldn’t strive for a purely “aspectual relationship” or “fair-weather-friendship”, then the not always pleasant potentials of the other person would automatically become part of the relationship.
But how can we be able to really appreciate each other if we keep each other out of large parts of our lives? And now I’m no longer talking about handball coaches and postmen, but about our self-chosen friends!
If I would try to establish a close relationship, which I give would call “friendship”, upon only partial (personality) aspects, I would feel very dishonest and insincere when looking into the mirror, because – hand on heart – in that case I would not be able to allow myself any opinion regarding my corresponding counterpart, since I would know far too little about it, him or her.
And I think it is precisely this unspoken perception that underpins countless friendships – and many other intimate relationships. And because we are not stupid and because we still have a rest of healthy, well-functioning interpersonal instincts, we will feel incoherence (lack of connection, see also Entry 25) in such relationships and as a result we eventually DO NOT TRUST even our closest friends entirely.
How should we ever be able to love them…

If this is the last state of affairs concerning our current ability to relate, then old Goethe will continue to be right with his over 200-year-old sigh (Entry 39): “Communities and families behave like that against their dearest members, cities against their most worthy citizens, nations against their most excellent people.” And we will remain part of a distrustful and unpeaceful world, which we will pass on to our children if we do not know how we “would be able to explain a get-together like this” to them.
Do we really want to let our lives pass in the midst of such non-committed relationships?

At this point I would like to remind you again of the intrepid request of actor Anthony Hopkins, which I quoted in my Dating-Entry 30: We urgently need to stop treating each other as “afterthoughts” – or, as I specified – as arbitrary “bonuses and give-aways”.
We have to find a way back to increased self-honesty – which means that first of all we would have to take the sometimes painful effort to get to know ourselves quite well. Not to unleash the little perfectionist or control guy who dwells in most of us, in order to monitor and restrain us as much as possible concerning every error and imperfection that we have found inside and upon ourselves. But rather in order to empower and encourage us concerning our self-efficacy. In order to muster the courage – as mentioned in the last Entry – to really interact wholesomely with other people.
Since without being able to endure this courage for a while, without being able to endure its consequences for a while – by giving our own imperfection and that of the other people a little leeway – we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to find out whether there is a real chance towards a deep, familiar, intimate, connection.

By the way: In the US sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” you can watch during 279 short episodes how seven people slip into a surprisingly oligoamorous relationship. And there is by no means an idealized process of getting-to-know or getting-to-love each other. Even at the end of the last season, the viewer can imagine how the protagonists would probably still be sitting together in their retirement home, occasionally playing childish pranks or making flippant statements about the characteristics of the others. Nevertheless, I have never followed a television series in which the participants gradually grew closer together – across gender, racial, educational and stereotypical boundaries – and eventually openly and sincerely confess their literal love for one another.
Should it remain the prerogative of cinematic fantasies that something like this can only exist as an idyllic utopia of somewhat nerdy screen characters?

For this reason I invoke you once again today from the remote island of Oligoamory:
Keep trying to walk the “path of greatest courage”.
Dare to trust!
Allow yourselves to confess your own uncertainties in this regard and still – or rather because of it – strive for a little bit more than your present comfort zone offers.
And above all: Treat yourself and other people “full-featured” – that would be, to conclude with Bertolt Brecht³, “The Hope of the World”.



¹ Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5, verse 44 – and Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6, verse 27

² The magician Gandalf the Gray blames the reluctant Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit” and reproaches him, that he would treat him “as if he were selling buttons on the door”.

³ The last paragraph from the text “The Hope of the World” Bertolt Brecht, Collected Works in Eight Volumes, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967:
“The more who suffer, the more natural their sufferings appear. Who wants to prevent fish from getting wet?
And the sufferers themselves share this hardness against themselves and lack goodness towards themselves.
It is terrible that humanity so easyly to comes to terms with circumstances that already exist, not only with someone else’s suffering, but also with one’s own.
Anyone who has thought about this grievance refuses to appeal to the sympathy of one being in respect of the other. But sympathy is essential. It is the hope of the world.”


Thanks to Kelsey Chance on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 43 #Commitment #Trust

Committed – not entangled…

The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin wrote last year¹: “In the philosophy of language, it is agreed that successful communicative practice can only be achieved if those involved in communication abide by certain constitutive rules. This includes the rule of truthfulness [synonyms: sincerity, honesty, loyalty, righteousness, commitment, reliability]. It requires that, if I say something, I myself am convinced that it’s true.
We can also expect our communication partners to trust us; that is, they may assume that what I say corresponds to my own beliefs.
These rules are only seemingly trivial. Since they impose on the communication partners the obligation to orient themselves – when communicating – to be guided by good reasons which they recognise and not on behalf of their own self-interest. Because in many cases, the mere self-interest would speak against compliance with the rules of truthfulness and trust. If we were always untruthful
[= insincere, dishonest, disloyal, corrupt, non-binding, unreliable!], if it were in our interest, the communicative act would suddenly lose most of its value.”

From an oligoamorous point of view, I think this text is great, since communication partners are treated as if they were involved in a relationship – and that is certainly true: When people communicate, even if only briefly or about an irrelevant (factual) topic, they are in a mutual relationship at this moment and an exchange (of information) takes place. Concerning Oligoamory, it is also remarkable that Nida-Rümelin mentions important relationship values in this context as well: “truthfulness”, “trust” and a “mutual interest”.
However, as far as the “good reasons” are concerned, I have to admit that I am a little more cautious about this than the author of the lines above. In Entry 11 of this bLog, I deal in detail with the “individual good reasons” and try to show – although we humans really value an “all-round common good” at the need-level and usually strive to bring it about for everyone involved – that we still are often sabotaged by the choice of our strategies to get there. If, despite being aware of our “good reasons”, we choose a fulfilment strategy in which external needs are ignored or even curtailed – we usually reach a point where we quickly slip back into the treacherous waters of our not-quite-so-selfless self-interest.

Likewise, “trust” is nothing we can count among our natural gifts. On the contrary. Both the scientist Stefan Klein² and the philosopher R.D. Precht³ indicate in their work that the evolution of the human species is rather based on genetically induced caution. If, for example, an early Homo sapiens had discovered a bush with blue berries on a hike, his brain would NOT have come up with the initial idea: “Great – there is my next meal!” – but rather with the thought: “Be careful, those berries might be poisonous…”. In other words, in an unfamiliar decision situation, our brain would have advised caution and avoidance in well over 50% of the cases. In the early days of mankind, such a “vigilance program” definitely made sense: Not every berry was edible, not every cat was suitable for petting, not every cave was uninhabited – and when suddenly a bunch of long-haired neighbours with crooked branches stood at the door, they rarely wanted to invite you to a hockey game.
One of our human problems today is that this vigilance program – which is actually a “survival security program” – is still active in us today in the manner of a predominant, initial distrust. And it is also active every time we are confronted with new people. Our primeval program tries to keep us alarmed and instead of saying “Hey, a new person – that might be an enriching opportunity…!”, we rather think: “Better be vigilant, let’s check out this guy first…”. And since we have a powerful brain, which is able to quickly search through its databases of past potentially bad experiences, a film of (pre)assessment and assumptions is quickly knitted. The results – even in the 21st century – are mistrust, avoidance and ultimately rejection and exclusion.

The combination of not always impeccable need fulfilment strategies due to only poorly clarified personal “good reasons” plus a tendency towards initial mistrust as a reflexive standard reaction easily results in what is to a certain extent the antagonistic nemesis of the Oligoamoy: NON-BINDING and NON-COMMITTED behaviour.
And as a faithful author and chronicler of Oligoamory, as an idealist, as a romantic and especially as a passionate advocate of a conscious and free human will, for me this is precisely the main problem of successful – or more often rather unsuccessful – ethical non-monogamy.

Non-committed behaviour – sometimes it starts at a very early stage, for example when someone says: “Yeah, well, Cathrin and I – well, we have this little something going on, I don’t want to label it in any way…”. Already in Entry 7 I try to describe that this is not necessarily a mature expression of personal freedom, but rather an admission of little reflected approximation.
Or it concerns the drama of clear nomenclature as a whole, wherever so-called “polyamorous” people come together, who use this term as a self-designation. Because let’s just imagine a social scientist who would ask those people present at any polyamorous regulars’ table, workshop, seminar or meeting, what would be the connecting characteristic of all participants with regard to the lifestyle and philosophy of Polyamory. You would probably be faced at first with a somewhat embarrassed bunch that would look a little waggishly before a few people would grin whimsically, poke each other in the ribs and finally answer: “…that we could all have sex with each other!”. Oh dear, I think, that would have been an answer if asked about promiscuity or sex-positivity. But if that is all that provides the smallest common denominator regarding polyamorous multiple “relationships”, then it is no wonder that this lifestyle will always fear and fight for its reputation and recognition. And that is why I also explain in detail in Entry 2 why I myself no longer want to be counted among such “Poly-people”.
Because in the end, this non-binding nature will rather sooner than later shape the view of any metamour-relationship (concerning the potential significant other loved ones of our loved ones): These are just some strange people the partner has in tow – and one don’t want to have anything to do with them. Neither in the sense of mutual togetherness (although you share the same significant other!), nor in the sense of any overall responsibility for a common good. Because that would get you too close to you, would be somehow almost unpleasantly “real”, no, that wouldn’t work…

Human beings resort to non-commitment, as seen above, when we define our personal self-interest as the most valuable asset in a relationship. Self-interest that frees us from the obligation to be always honest or sincere, which keeps our loyalty flexible, always leaves room for a little bit of seductiveness and always leaves some ethical leeway…
How on earth… – why do we want to be like that in our most intimate relationships?

Because we humans are very often afraid of obligations, commitment and expectations.
We are afraid of reliably “being someone“.
That seems to be a terrible reference which I am giving to all of us (including myself) here. And monogamy seems to be the sole way out – because we can only barely manage to offer a more or less tolerably authentic idea of ourselves to just one single partner, maybe to one-two-three children and a pet. And if the beautiful façade crumbles? Get out by means of a divorce – “better luck next time” – and off into the next kind of seriality?

In several entries on this blog I wrote that a characteristic of “adulthood” is a certain desire to take on responsibility. But true responsibility, which I once again highlighted in my previous entry as “accountability”, inevitably goes hand in hand with (self)obligation, with commitment and expectations.
Why is it still such a big deal to stand up for it in a relationship?

I believe the reason is Julian Nida-Rümeling’s “blind spot”: that our “good reasons” are often more closely intertwined with our “self-interest” than we usually recognise.
In Entry 11 I tell the story of the “Black Flittermouse-Man” who wants to be a good and ethical person in all his relationships. However, he gets into turmoil because he is trying to fulfil everybody’s needs to the greatest possible extent as well as he is trying to do justice to his own interests. For this purpose, he chooses different strategies, which ultimately do not turn him into a “great hero” for everyone, but in the end he has to deal with emotional outbursts and, as a result, even self-doubt.

Dear readers: We are all the “Black Flittermouse-Man”!
And today we live at the beginning of the 21st century still in a time when most of us have not learned to accept themselves with all(!) of their own feelings – and we are afraid of being rejected because they exist nonetheless.
Please think about it carefully for a moment.

How should our most intimate relationships ideally look like? They sholud provide a place where we can authentically be ourselves, where we can drop all masks – a place where we can trust that we will (always) be accepted as the person we are.
But we are also human. That is why we cannot always merely display a socially desired spectrum of positive and pleasant feelings. Sometimes, we are sad, angry, depressed, confused. We are also not always perfect. We will not always be sincere, honest, loyal, righteous, committed and reliable. We are humanly fallible – and that is why we will make mistakes.

Many of us today are (still?) trying to keep our relationships as the “last bastions of bliss”. Relationships in which there is always harmony, in which everything is joyful and easy, from which one always emerges energised and in which only appreciation and understanding are expressed on all sides.
As understandable as this longing may be at the beginning of this crazy 21st century and its unraveled work/life balance – it is also completely unrealistic. And it puts tremendous pressure on everyone involved: On the one hand, to pursue an ideal in which everyone has to hide in the basement, who violates it – on the other hand, to impose this unfulfillable longing on any new relationship in the vain hope that it might be fulfilled there.
As a result, in the harsh reality we are only able to create disconnected islands of short happiness, which must literally remain “non-binding”. Because if they were connected, the imperfect overall picture of our personality would be immediately visible again – revealing our temporary sadness, our situational anger, possible depressedness and confusion – and, above all – our faultiness. Accordingly, we prefer to have compartmentalized, non-binding, non-committed relationships. We do not want to show our deficits to the others since we have difficulties to trust in anybody: In the others and their possible reaction – and in ourselves and whether we can endure that reaction…

Folks, if we approach multiple relationships in this way, any relationship building, any relationship management, any attempt to “love (several) people (at the same time)” will remain a futile venture.
I emphasize the “mutual we” and the “all-round trust” in the Oligoamory that much, because they are at the very bottom the literal linchpin with which (strictly speaking) every relationship-management stands or falls.
Relationships cannot be places of perfection. They can’t be places where there is always cheerfulness and lightness. Where only a good moods and good feelings prevail. Where there are no differences and where no one is ever hurt.
That is why relationships must first of all be places of trust. Or respectively: everyone involved must first muster the effort and the will to create them together. In order prevent the above-mentioned pressure in the first place, not to be allowed to appear in that relationship in one’s own (fallible) human nature. To create a place where sadness, anger, depression, confusion and mistakes may occupy the same space as the supposedly easier “good feelings”. Ultimately, “good” is in this regard an (external) judgment anyway: I am human – and sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry – why should I put a bag over my head during one of it?
In addition: I can only be really authentic, honest and therefore credibly commited if I can entrust myself to my loved ones with all of my needs, emotions and feelings.
And as a result, relationships are authentic, honest and committed, in which everyone involved is allowed “be” completely.

But what if the others can’t endure it?
If we humans want it, we can endure seemingly incredible things: We give birth to babies, we cross snowstorms at night, rescue people from burning buildings or hold hands with the dying. Most of the time we have a choice – we don’t have to do any of that. All four examples just listed probably fall into the category “uncomfortable” – and difficult. Still they are done.
When it comes to people we love and trust, we can activate enormous abilities.
Having these abilities does not mean, however, that they make us invulnerable, impenetrable. Which in turn wouldn’t be human again.
But our humanity clearly shows that if we really want it and a thing or living being is really important to us, we can grow far beyond our primeval “avoidance strategy”.
In this respect, it may be like the first human being to pick up a burning branch: This person dared to trust. First of all, him*herself, because he*she wanted to accomplish something against which all his*her animal instincts and fears violently objected. But maybe he*she also trusted in a group that stood behind him*her – a companionship that would help in case of emergency – people who would be capable to “endure a failure”, who would endure such an imposition and would care for possible blisters.
But without the “imposition” that we all probably occasionally are for our familiar group in this way, we also couldn’t become heroes and sources of all-round well-being the next time or the day after. To be human, to be with each other, means to accept both occurences regularly – in respect of us as well as in respect of the other participants.

Therefore, I hope that all of us will always find the courage to make a conscious leap into trust, a trust that sometimes seems to be based on no plausible reason.
And that we end up with people who really dearly want to “endure” us.




¹ Julian Nida-Rümelin in “Digital Humanism”, Max Planck Forschung, 2/2019

² Stefan Klein, “The Formula of Luck – or: How good feelings arise”, Fischer 2014

³ Richard David Precht “The Art of Not Being Selfish – Why we like to be good and what keeps us from being it”, Goldmann 2012

Thanks to my constant muses Kerstin, Svenja and Tobias and to congerdesign on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 42

…see, the good lies so near.*

The current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is someone who regularly emphasizes that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. In his speech at the Futurium Berlin¹ last year, he even said that freedom includes an “expectation of responsibility” that arises from freedom itself.
I, as the author of this bLog, believe that he is right, especially because in my view “responsibility” has something to do with “sustainability”, which I embedded in the subtitle of the Oligoamory-project.
In the book scene I have already often cited, in which the “Little Prince” by the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meets the fox, the fox explains: “You are responsible for that what was entrusted to you and for those whose trust you gained.” ²
Accordingly, trust and responsibility necessitate each other as well…

Freedom, trust, sustainability, responsibility – I would like to try to sort out a little bit why I think that these values are important for oligoamorous thinking and acting – and how they are related.

In my 3rd Entry I introduce sustainability as an important oligoamorous value by explaining that “sustainability” comprises three important core criteria³, namely consistency, efficiency and sufficiency. I wrote that concerning Oligoamory relationships should be ‘consistent’, since the participants “hoped, that their relationships would be lasting as well as steady in respect to the people and values involved. […]
But oligoamorous relationships were bound to be ‘efficient’ as well. That means in effect, that the relationship had to be conductive to all people involved, that it was meant to promote the participants to evolve themselves and to complement one another, depending on their individual potential.
And the relationships were bound to be ‘sufficient’ […] because the relationships were bound to be satisfactorily and literally self-sufficient, and for that reason precisely not unlimited and arbitrary, but suitable to a humane degree of clearness and nearness.”

Even if I read these lines again today, I notice that these are definitely somewhat ambitious goals for every relationship. At the same time, I almost involuntarily nod my head because I think: “Yes, such relationships would definitely contribute greatly to my personal well-being due to their predictability, their scope for my feasible freedom, and my perception of my acceptance/inclusion therein.”
And exactly that’s the point where in my view Saint-Exupéry and his fox come into play once more in several ways. Because the fox shows the “Little Prince” that such a longed-for state cannot be brought about quickly. As its condition, he constitutes a “gaining of trust”, that is, a gradual build-up that can only become means to its ends over an extended period of time – and that can only be achieved by mutual effort. And this process would result in a growing “familiarity with each other” being accompanied by the increasing “responsibility for one another”.

The fact that this is indeed a groundbreaking, sustainable way of thinking is particularly noticeable when we try to omit the responsibility:
Without responsibility or more precisely “accountability” it would probably be very difficult to obtain any trust at all. Who would trust a person or an institution that would decline accountability for its speaking and thus appear inconstant or arbitrary? In such a case even time spent together wouldn’t be a helpful ally any longer, because “coherence” (consistency) that is so important for our well-being wouldn’t ensue: a reliable, predictable pool of similar experiences wouldn’t accumulate.
Such a condition would keep us mentally constantly “on the go”, in a semi-alert state of careful vigilance, because in the next moment a completely new or different (relationship-) experience than the time before may come along – or the next time or the next…
Neuroscientists call this state, when the brain’s alarm switch is stuck in a middle position for a long time, “stress“. And who wants to be in a relationship in the medium or long term where stress would be the norm?
In this way, a sustainable “state of satisfaction” will never arise, because we could not be sure whether our relationships would be stable (consistent), suitable (efficient) and adequate (sufficient).

Without sustainability, in turn, we would most likely sooner or later find ourselves in an unfulfilled and needy state, which would sooner or later drive us to consumption and a certain degree of excess (= lack of measure). And since “satisfaction” actually means “contentment” and “being at peace”, we would also become more aggressive and uncompromising…
Whoops?!
Did we just recognise something there? From our everyday life or even regarding the state of the world?

If I have succeeded in that, then I am very close to my bLog-goal today.
Because I’m trying with oligoamorous means to raise a desire for familiar and trustful circumstances.
And this can mean at times that I have to try not to flee from a situational “dissatisfaction” into consumption and excess. Or it can mean that I am asked to check whether I can be “at peace” with the “existing”, the familiar.
In this regard, we are living in a somewhat ambiguous time. Because although there are increasing initiatives that, like me, want to give sustainability more importance, there are still enough voices who want to stamp “familiar” as backward, old-fashioned or boring – and lure us out of our peace of mind (and without dissatisfaction there would certainly be less consumption…).
If we transfer this dynamic to the level of relationship management, we quickly see how we could be catapulted into an attitude of “higher-faster-further”, which earned the non-monogamous lifestyle such a bad reputation. Because once our inner peace is lost, there is a certain danger that our unfulfilled needs will always fuel the hope that “out there” could still be something (that is: someone!) that/who is more appropriate, more suitable, better – and the “swipe-and-away“ of modern dating sites is born. And at some point the goal won’t be any longer the fulfilment of our own needs (and may it be in some unattainable superlative); in the end only the next endeavour, the next excitement the next kick will vanquish for a short time our inner emptiness.

If we do not want to get into such a hamster wheel, then we have – especially in relationship matters – to (re)mobilize a somewhat forgotten virtue: To be satisfied with what we already have. Or what I prefer in dimensions of Oligoamory: To carefully consider what we already have.
This seems to me to be very important today in a time when consumer confidence is still so often artificially generated: What do I (still) need to be satisfied, at peace? Or at least: more satisfied. And: Is all of that (only) “out there”?

But by looking at the things (and relationships) I already gathered, I’m much better able to check, how my state of “satisfaction”, of “inner peace” appears. And concerning that, I can stay completely with myself – and do not have to point to the “world outside” or to other people.
For example, what about my own accountability? My accountability (and responsibility!) includes important cornerstones of every (multiple) relationship management: my honesty, my loyalty, the degree of my transparency. How much of such capacities am I willing to contribute to prove myself consistent, sincere, and, yes, predictable – as someone who is trustworthy? And do I have the will and the time?
The latter question isn’t that trivial. The other day I read the following sentence on a (non-monogamous) dating site: “Please only write to me if you really have the resources for another relationship in your life.”
Apparently, some people seem to conduct their flirts like they handle milk bottles: They come home with a new bottle, only to find that the fridge is already full – Consequence: No space for new bottles, and existing bottles become sour…

Sustainable relationship management, as I would like it to be in an oligoamorous fashion, must therefore be exercised with care. Therefore, my personal freedom actually goes hand in hand with an “expectation of (my) responsibility” : On the one hand, that I know myself well enough to recognise where my strengths, my limits and my possible potential are. On the other hand, that a relationship process, in which two (or more!) beings voluntarily engage, always means simultaneously the emerging acceptance of an overall responsibility for one another.

And that’s actually a good thing. Because sustainability, with its aspects of consistency, efficiency and sufficiency, means that a certain matter has gained a distinct value for us. Usually that much value that it is not arbitrary or interchangeable any more. And this (added) value has alway arisen from an increase of familiarity and trust regarding the object, the person or the relationship.
And everyone knows it: What has become “dear to us” in such a manner is in turn always treated with special effort, care, attention – and responsibility.

In this regard, the slogan from the environmental movement “Sustainability starts on your own doorstep!” can be directly transferred to our intimate relationships. We don’t have to “roam forever” * or gaze fixedly at the greener grass beyond the neighbours fence any longer. We can start proving ourselves here and now in our existing relationships as the best hopeful contestant – responsible as well as free.
Which is extremely sexy, by the way, really attractive…
And what better argument could there be for (potential) participants in multiple ethical relationships?



* second line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s poem “Memento”.

¹ September 26th, 2019 at the Futurium, Berlin, speech for the campaign “Freedom is our system”.

² “The Little Prince” ; Chapter XXI; “Friendship with the fox”.

³ Thanks again for input by Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner.

Thanks to pine watt on Unsplash for the photo.