Concening sexual idealism, I discuss with my beloved Sharon various topics, including sex, the morning news and our plans for the day. One day our conversation turned to the free love of the 1960s. A postmortem on the ‘60s is nothing new. My thoughts on that era I passed by Sharon’s critical eye who, being 21 years my senior, lived through that era while I was still pooping in diapers. I think some of the mistakes that people made in the 1960s haunt today’s attempts at a sexual evolution. I’m talking about making judgments based on a desired ideal instead of relevant facts.
The concept of free love surged forth in various past eras, not just the 1960s, including when Dora Russell Black gave pen to open sexuality in 1927.[i] However, in the 1960s, the media documented “some” of the sexual experimentation. We cannot neuter the 60’s as we wrongly do with distant eras because of the existing record. Also, many people who lived through that era are still alive. But as with any sensational topic, bias often slips in unawares.
The notorious topic of drug use in the 60s receives so much attention it is difficult to think of that era without associating it with drugs. I think reducing the so-called sexual revolution of the 60’s into a video clip of stoned and naked youth at Woodstock is a mistake. I will only briefly touch on the issue of drugs and move on. When people attempt to cast off arbitrary restrictions, drugs are one method of bypassing inhibitions. But the new beliefs people were trying, though they might not exclude drug use, those beliefs also existed apart and on their own.
A belief like free love offers an alternative to the tradition of monogamy. Beliefs can be like a Teddy Bear that we cling too for security. We use ideals to justify our actions, while working toward a better tomorrow. When new beliefs fail, people often go back to the tradition that they know, even when the tradition includes flaws. We can imagine a world where people are not possessive, sexual joy is more available for everyone and women are not shamed for that sexual joy. Still, prejudices around sexual beliefs (just like racism) hide in new systems of thought. Moreover, the change of language and actions makes the prejudice hard to spot. Peanut butter and jelly is quite similar even if you use different brands, bread or simply add more of the stuff you like. Many of my polyamorous brothers and sisters make the same mistakes as monogamous folks; they have simply added more people or more rules and ‘boundaries’.
In the Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad[ii] symbolizes idealism via a painting by Kurtz, the man who went mad in the Congo. The painting has an image of a beautiful, blindfolded woman holding a torch in the darkness. If we are blinded by sexual idealism, we do not learn from our mistakes. It requires guts to admit the trial and error of human affairs.
Beware when people suggest that doing the ‘right’ thing will lead to an ideal result, especially when dealing with human affections.
The implicit promise of ego fulfillment is often the insidious temptation of countless ideals.
It is common for groups and leaders to associate moments of joy, like at a feast, or in sharing beautiful music as ‘evidence’ for a far better future. Such optimistic suggestions often fail in practice. When we believe in a future world, a life without woe, filled with loving people, and if the sexual idealism does not materialize, we probably will assume that somebody is doing something wrong rather than questioning the belief. The faults of our ideals we explain away by blaming human shortcomings. This is also common in sexual relations where the people share an ideal.
Rather than questioning our sexual idealism, we imagine that, with the right people and right actions, life will automatically be good.
This is emotionally charged wishful thinking. Said differently, people want to have a better life based on a belief without the need to adapt to changing circumstances. The goal is following the dots, doing the ‘right thing’ so there is no reason for exercising our judgment in problem solving because the answers are ready-made. People imagine that automatically knowing what is right is transcendence or enlightenment. Such a life relegates us to living in preconceived responses which defeat the purpose of our cognitive functions and reduces life autopilot. People even have the unfortunate tendency to call such aspiration to effortless-ness the raising of consciousness when it is, in fact, the opposite. If we imagine that automatically doing what is right will lead to freedom and joy, then we are forgetting that automatic actions are redundant habits or imitations; the opposite of conscious action. I can chew gum and tie my shoes without thinking about either because both are redundant unconscious actions. However, I cannot relegate to habit listening or doing a math problem without reducing the quality of both.
A vision may not only be flawed, but also arbitrary. Adults pour beliefs into children like water into a vase. To children, adults are the authority. If we seek authority to give new ideals, then we also have someone or a group to blame if we fail. This fault-finding leaves our pursuit of sexual idealism intact. Assume as adults, we defer to some authority like a Guru, priest or psychologist. If the behavior the authority recommends is better adapted to the facts then what we would otherwise do, the authority is a good thing. The rightness of an action comes from being better adapted to reality, not from having an authority as the source. The weakness of authority is obvious. When authority is wrong, everyone who defers to that authority and others affected must suffer. Why not question and test ideals instead? Also, the reality around us may offer alternatives that are better than what our ideals conceive.
A new, but different vision is a point of departure through which to try something and see what happens. It is a beginning, not an end. We should temper our faith in ideals with the observation of facts that surround us. This open-mindedness allows trial and error to work without limiting our actions to an ideal and this adapting to facts is what I call being a flexible visionary. We need this kind of flexibility in human relations, especially when they are sexual.