Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I recently read "Thy Neighbor's Wife" by Gay Talese. Wow. Invaluable information for anyone interested in writing on any topic pertaining to the sexual revolution. He's a great story-teller too which made the book all the more enjoyable. I feel like I cruised through the 550 pages.

Discussed extensively in TNW was a couple by the name of John and Barbara Williamson. The Williamsons started a retreat called Sandstone, just north of Los Angeles. John had a high school education only but what he lacked in formal education, he made up for in self-study. He was fascinated by the sexual theories of Willhelm Reich among others, and along with his wife Barbara, a liberated woman of her time, he built the retreat to put those sexually liberating theories into action.

Sandstone was a place where people who wanted to free themselves of hang-ups went to share both intellectually and sexually. They wanted to liberate both their minds and bodies. They wanted to love not only their spouses or partners but others as well (i.e. the concept of polyamory). As Heinlein was quoted as saying, "The more you love, the more you can love--and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just."

Sandstone was communal and at various times, members lived there and helped to operate and maintain the retreat. When I was reading about Sandstone, I thought about how, while I applauded their efforts intellectually and philosophically, such a place would be hard to maintain order within. You would need all the players to be rational actors, to get along, to cooperate, and not to let unhealthy emotions like envy and jealousy get the best of them. People had to give up a part of their egos in order to function at Sandstone and although Talese didn't explain why Sandstone isn't around anymore, I can only suspect that too many variables were allowed to enter into the Sandstone group and that this eventually resulted in disharmony and irrationality. Or perhaps John Williamson was the glue holding it together philosophically and intellectually and once he became distanced, the group had no clear force to seek guidance from.

I do know from Talese's chapters on Sandstone that John Williamson himself became emotionally exhausted by all the activity at Sandstone and the energy required to help others free themselves. Talese said that Williamson was prone to bouts of depression and I could see from reading about Williamson that there was a strong part of him that was introverted and introspective and perhaps the role of "guru" became too demanding as Sandstone became more popular and more famous.

I think that Williamson had some good ideas but I wonder if he wasn't trying to apply his ideas on too large of a scale. The more variables you let in, the more you risk instability within a system. Perhaps he stopped screening people with as much discrimination and this resulted in more unstable variables as well.

I can see why life at a place like Sandstone wouldn't be for everyone, regardless of how liberated one is. Some people are more introverted and become exhausted by the amount of energy it takes to interact with large numbers of people on a daily basis, as would be the case in the communal living situations of Sandstone. Furthermore, while dropping unhealthy egoism can be a good thing, individuality is also important, because it adds to the diversity of our planet. I can see how some people would not want to lose so much of their individuality and replace it with group living and think. Sometimes the individual has better, more well-reasoned ideas than the group and it's healthy to have differences of opinions even if an individual is "wrong" (i.e. because it broadens your own perspective and allows you to better understand why you feel the way you feel).

Perhaps the real point that Williamson, and Robert Rimmer for that matter, would want to get across is the idea that people should realize there are choices beyond strict monogamy and if they feel so inclined, they should feel free to pursue polyamorous relationships or other "unconventional" romantic configurations they see fit for themselves.

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