Friday, September 04, 2009

BDSM and the problem of evil: Darkness is relative

(updated for afterthoughts)

BDSM echoes real world acts of evil and abusive relationships, then how do good people - or people who think of themselves as good - manage to live with essentially evil fantasies?

Well, mostly they probably don't. They reframe morality to fit their fantasies, or try to crush their own psyche to fit their morality.

But, those of us who do - the kinksters practical and mental - seem to have several coping strategies.
  • Fantasy Acceptor: e.g. "Rape me in a car park (since it's only a game)."
  • Fantasy Distancers: e.g. "I'm a Celtic slave and she's a Roman Widow (so we know it's only a game)."
  • Experiential Acceptors: e.g. "I enjoy doing this. What of it?"
  • Experiential Distancer: "This isn't sadistic punishment, it's a ritual of trust etc etc. (Evil? Moi?)"
  • BDSM Acceptors: e.g. "Men/Women deserve to rule over women/men. (I'm not kinky, I'm righteous.)"
  • BDSM Distancer: e.g. "I'm into BDSM. This is what BDSM folks do. (Our power relations are nothing to do with the real world.)"
These are all effective approaches for consenting adults getting off on playing with whips and chains. They are, however, not entirely compatible - I'll get to that. There's another more general problem. For example...

I'm a Fantasy Distancer. I'm happy - these days - to embrace the evil inherent in my fantasies. I imagine and play out (consensually) non-consensual scenarios. However, I shy away from anything that brings me bumping back to reality. So I cheerfully imagine being a Roman slave, but not a prisoner of the SS.

For a Brit like me, slavery is not even a folk memory, but I've seen French villages where, during the war,... well, you know. So the SS are not on the menu, despite the cool uniforms. Sorry Tom of Finland. Conversely, there are cultures and sub-cultures where slavery is a much rawer wound. Talk of owning other humans is abhorent, but posing around in Nazi-style caps is OK because - hey - it was all a long time ago in a country far far away.

So darkness is relative to culture. A bad enough cultural mismatch can be enough to override any coping strategy, and that is a practical problem to bear in mind when playing with others.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

BDSM and the problem of evil: Why submit?

The problem with BDSM is that it's based on evil.

No, I don't mean that the consensual activity itself is evil. Far from it. However, BDSM acts and relationships simulate or echo evil real world counterparts.

It's not just that these are a convenient form adopted by lazy kinksters. The evil is an inherent part of the dynamic.

"No no", you say. "They may be playing a master and slave, but we are exploring trust!"

Yes, but would the trust be neccessary if the acts themselves were not acts of violation?

Even "Female Lead Relationships" are just an inversion of the rightly maligned old world patriachal marriage, with some sexual manipulation thrown in. Without the man's consent, in what way would that be different from an abusive relationship?

If evil did not provide the thrill, then the visual trappings of BDSM would be comfy clothing and sensible Velcro restraints. There'd be no dressing up, posturing, and harking back to the titles and ranks of yesteryear.

To dominate somebody, to manipulate them, to hurt them for pleasure, to force pleasure on them... without consent, these acts are evil--and yet we consent to them.

The evil poses an intellectual problem: why would people so ardently seek to become victims?

The psychological answer is probably different for each person. I have a strong suspicion that it's got a lot to do with the flow of intimacy. When you listen to other people's introspection, you also get a sense of catharsis, escapism, and physical pleasure.

But why that particular form? I strongly suspect that both submission and masochism have an evolutionary basis. Just as boredom probably evolved to prevent us from wasting time in fruitless activities, I think there's a good chance that masochistic submission evolved to prevent us from getting ourselves killed in battles for dominance, and to ensure group cohesion.

In other words, monkey people that got a kick out of submitting to stronger monkey people survived to breed, and their clans hunted and gathered more effectively because they weren't always jostling for the top position.

If this is true, then recreational masochistic submissives deliberately seek out submissive situations in order to get that hardwired buzz, partly just for the hell of it, and partly for relief from the endless subtle tussle of human society.

So much for my theory... there are countless others. One way or another BDSM looks and feels evil, even though it's not. This leads to the most pressing problems related to BDSM and evil: the practical ones...

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