Even if ‘Unity, Justice and Freedom’ is considered the unofficial national motto, that’s not what springs to mind when foreigners think of Germany. You might think immediately of their incredible organization, their love of rules and beautifully shameless attitude to sex. You might also remember their extraordinary powers of thinking which produced great philosophers like Kant, Schopenhauer, Marx and Nietzsche. You will almost certainly remember their role in the two world wars. And if you’re British your first memory is likely to be John Cleese’ impression of them in Fawlty Towers.
But when evaluating cultural influences and how this might influence the acceptance and practice of polyamory, the first port of call is to analyse the typical cultural profile. (And frankly my impression from English speaking television was rather skewed). So I asked a German. What does a German think of the Germans?
I guess one could call me staunchly polyamorist, as I have lived polyamorous with one and the same married woman for ten years now. And all without a permit, which brings me to what I think of Germans. We have a stereotype here that the first reaction of a German, when seeing someone doing something unusual, will be to ask if this person has a permit.
We have a framework of human rights, the rule of law, and a great social security system, and within that framework we have all the freedom you could wish for. There are few things that you can’t do in Germany.
So says Viktor Leberecht, poly-activist, lover and – German – philosopher. He’s also a new virtual friend of mine, and not only because he managed in one fell swoop to capture and eradicate my biased impression of Germans. As it turns out Germans paradoxically install a vision of anarchy from within the system. But just because one has the freedom doesn’t mean people take advantage of it. Adultery isn’t a criminal offense in Europe at all (whilst in America at time of writing it is illegal in 22 States) and yet the social consequences even of ‘agreed’ adultery can be severe. Do people still hide in the polyamory closet in Germany?
Well, that’s up to each individual. And yes, a lot of people will still worry that being openly polyamorous will be to their disadvantage at work. So I predict that a typical reaction of most German readers about what I just said would be to say that I´m painting way too positive a picture. Constantly criticising things that we think are not good is a kind of national hobby. Germans who don´t know each other, if they get into talking at all, will start by discussing politics or society.
Like the British start talking about the weather then. But if there’s anything that polyamorists have in common – and perhaps the only thing – it is that communication is all-important. So wouldn’t a constant inclination to criticise hinder this?
It’s easier than you think. Surprisingly enough when I recently asked all the important German parties what they think about polyamory even the two big conservative parties CDU and CSU (Mrs Merkel and company) answered that private contracts between people who form a polyamorous group and want to have some legal regulations would be accepted by them. So there might be more acceptance for polyamory at least in politics than many people in Germany are aware of. Also the ideology behind polyamory is fairly philosophical and lies within the same sphere as politics and society for us.This is accompanied by a rather free attitude about sex and besides an interest in rules you can also find a surprisingly rule-averse, almost anarchistic element in some German polyamorists…
Of course there’s also a minority who comes from an ideological point of view that goes like: everybody should be poly, and if you are poly of course you have to like it if your Partner has sex with others and should not feel jealousy. That is an approach that looks at polyamory as being somewhat superior to other ways of life. But the more prevalent way of thinking in the german polyamory scene is that it is just one more way to live and certainly not for everybody. And in both cases there’s a segment who don’t want any state rules to interfere with love and family. That is why my approach of demanding from the government to give polyamory and polygamy a legal status is unpopular with some people.
It seems to me that Germans have a great public spirit, but most of us will only start taking care of political or society matters if we think there is something seriously wrong. And as far as multiple relations are concerned for most people they are still a strange if not to say alien concept. So the majority of people will not think that we need to legalize them, because people don´t see that with the current legal status we have a serious constitutional problem.
My basic thesis is that free choice of the form of heterosexual, homosexual or sexually mixed family life is a human right, as long as all parties involved are adults and freely agree to it. I´m not making rules but I used a combination of philosophy, history and human-rights to create a whole set of currently 14 theses about polygamy and monogamy. Multiple relations, be it in the form polyamory or polygamy, can be lived in a modern society within the framework of human rights and could be an important part of a modern society.
To forbid them is a breach of the concept of human rights which at it’s core says: do what you like as long as you don´t harm anybody else.
But of course for many – especially those practising monogamy – the practice of polyamory does ‘hurt’ them. It offends them simply by demonstrating that not everyone agrees with them. That their way is not the only way (and that there is therefore no one ‘right’ way). And to infer that those who object to polyamory for those who choose to practice it are fundamentally breaching human rights poses a much more difficult road to acceptance.
Even if it’s true.
Interview with Viktor Leberecht.