Monthly Archives: March 2013

Continuing from the last set of thoughts on community, a particular post made me think about community in a more general sense, specifically in terms of what kind of community do I want, what kind do we want, in line with my sense of the Self as simultaneously individual and shared.

From the outset, my approach isn’t founded on the Cartesian notion of the Self as an isolated subject, with community as creating some sort of external relation on this isolated “I”. For me a basic aspect of being human is being-with, that even when we are alone we experience that aloneness as a deficient mode of being-with. Being-with can take a number of distinct forms, the most basic is everyday being-with-others in whatever setting one is required to be in.

In this everyday situation being-with is mostly experienced in deficient modes, being-against, being-indifferent, ignoring, and perhaps the most insidious, being-against in the guise of being-for. As a result our basic being-with is a less than ideal starting point in terms of building a community where the mode of being-with is fundamentally a being-for those who one is with. On the other hand the Cartesian ‘problem of other minds’ and other solipsistic issues such as the question of what a ‘relation’ between two subjects actually consists in are not relevant. On the other hand, precisely the danger of being ‘lost in others’ is a strong potential. However being an authentic Self can’t consist in being alone, since that is also a deficient mode of being-with, so being authentic has to involve finding an authentic way of being-with others, an authentic community.

I can only speak about community from out of those communities I’ve experienced, but this includes those I was fully involved in and those I was periphery to. The experience in each case is a very different one, of course, but via analogy one can to a degree understand communities one is periphery to in terms of the community or communities one has been a part of.

The community I grew up in, primarily, was the Jesuit community. Since that community is not well understood, particularly here in the U.S., I’ll say a few quick things about it. Contrary to most ‘religious’ communities, being a Jesuit isn’t primarily a matter of having a shared belief-system, the notion of “once a Jesuit always a Jesuit” applies even if one doesn’t believe Jesuit theology, or even in Christianity or theism itself. For this reason, and others, there are some resemblances that are inherent in terms of being able to understand somewhat similar communities modeled as ‘brotherhoods’ that are not simply a matter of a shared belief system but a commitment.

Part of the implication of our average, everyday deficient modes of being with is that building a community is inherently a difficult task. One of the strongest temptations in inauthentic being-with is to desire that others have a fixed image of ‘who we are’ that relieves us of the burden of our own freedom. An authentic community, then, while it may have an ‘image’ to the public, may internally look very different from that public image, because the members are themselves not intending to be reified as that image. For instance in a leather or fetish community members may or may not ‘look the part’ at all times, even though both leather and fetish, as terms, are precisely a manner of dress. Looking the part doesn’t in itself demonstrate authenticity or inauthenticity: I could be dressed the part in order to give others a mental image of myself that in fact hides who I am; conversely I could be dressed the part because that’s how I feel most comfortable and most myself; a third and probably more common situation is that I dress the part when I’m going to be in a situation where I feel comfortable in it because it’s appropriate to the situation. Of course, members publicly representing the community, if it has a public face, or acting as representative of the community to itself, if it is private, are likely to dress the part simply because otherwise they wouldn’t be seen as representative of it. Within an authentic community, though, members are going to be judged as authentically part of the community over the long term by their demonstration of their ongoing commitment to it, not by their conforming to incidental representations.

The difficulty of creating community today is even greater, for the same reason as community is more needed by many people. The acid of rationalism and secularism, which dissolved many communities based on shared belief, is ironically now threatening the scientific community that most promoted it, as their shared praxes have been exposed as predominantly belief based and themselves not rational, and costly compared to knowledge work that doesn’t involve the shared praxes that make the scientific community a community. The same ‘efficiency’ concern has also successfully dissolved communities that were based on shared praxes in terms of labor, other than the few ‘professional’ unions such as the AMA and the Barristers’ association that are financially secure enough to maintain their organizations. The notion of the post-secular society, as a society based on newer thinking that has successfully undermined the dissolving rationalist worldview is still for the most part conceptual. We haven’t seen the emergence of new communities other than a few new fundamentalisms, the re-emergence of a few ethnicist groups, and scattered communities such as the various LGBT, leather, fetish and biker communities that have emerged, merged with others, dissolved, re-emerged and are now (at least in the leather/fetish area) trying to establish a more stable existence as a single recognizable community. There aren’t therefore many models to go on, and cultish, shared belief as a foundation is not a reasonable option for most of us, nor is ethnicism a choice we either can or want to make. Exactly how various communities, or what might better be described as proto-communities, might establish the type of shared praxes that eventually foster the sense of community is difficult to project.

Going back to the notion of commitment, though, I do think that personal commitment will be a necessary component, and with that personal commitment a commitment to be personal. By that I mean a commitment to not predetermine or stick to an initial or early determination of who others are, but to view them as they manifest, which includes how they may grow and change. And as importantly a commitment to allow ourselves to be viewed as we manifest, not as a fixed picture we would like others to have of us, but as we authentically are, including in ways in which we may have grown or changed over time.

The Difficulty of “Community”

There is a lot of discussion, pro and con, regarding “community” among the set of people that view themselves as “kinky”, or “into BDSM”, whether that means the leather community or some more general community.  However there are a few fundamental difficulties that don’t affect more stable forms of community to the same degree.  If it seems like I’m singling out the leather community that’s simply because it is a nameable group or set of groups that people identify with as being-part-of, as belonging-with, something that is more difficult when you’re talking about “people into kink”, where the notion is so indefinite (how does one pick out a kinky person in a crowd?) that the idea of belonging-with is too intangible.  I also know a fair amount about the leather community, having been peripherally involved since my teenage years, without personally identifying as leather.  Partly this lack of identification comes from my not being particularly community-oriented, belonging-with has never been a focus of the way I am and therefore behaving in any specific manner other than what I felt like in order to belong was never particularly attractive.  At the same time I have consistently had friends who were very involved in the leather community, and I have no issues with their involvement, since it works for them.

One issue is the push-pull between inclusion/being included and exclusion/separating.  This has been an issue in the LGBT community, particularly in terms of ‘acceptance’ politics, for years.  I recently read a post by a leather dyke complaining about not wanting to be part of the “pansexual” play space because they prefer to be separated from het couples.  Although the post had a number of self contradictions (the main one being the notion that gay women had more “right” to being part of the leather community than het couples, when in actuality gay women were only accepted as part of the gay male leather community at the same time as heterosexuals, and even then somewhat begrudgingly).  There was also a snide comment about people “living based on fiction”.  While I’m not a fan of the fiction being referred to myself,  as far as leather goes, the look and the communities that followed were popularized by the film “The Wild One” with Marlon Brando, and as far as I remember it wasn’t exactly a documentary.  Prior to that there was really only one major biker club that had a look anywhere close to the way Brando dressed in the film, and ironically even that club changed their logo to resemble the one in the film after its release.  Gay leather and all the variations that followed came after the film and their dress code was based on it.  

Overall, my feeling about that post and similar ones I’ve read, is that you can’t really accuse people of jumping your train when it isn’t yours, and it barely left the station in any case.  The first women’s leather club was formed only 25 years ago, so even referring to the “history” of dyke leather (or any other form really as they’re all fairly new) is a pretty ersatz notion of history.

A more fundamental problem, though, is the lack of any praxis that is shared by the community as a whole.  Other communities, whether religious, scientific, political etc. generally have, or believe they have, a set of shared praxes that foster the sense of community, however BDSM doesn’t involve any particularly necessary praxes that are therefore shared with everyone and determine at least partially who they are. One would think that, within the leather community, the shared praxis of wearing leather in order to dress in a way that evokes masculine power, which was the original point of the dress code, would be the minimal requirement since it determines who the person is at least insofar as their appearance goes, but even that requirement is not acceptable to many people that nevertheless claim to be part of the leather community.  As a result the leather community, which at least appears to be more of a community than the kink scene as a whole, is in actuality a hodgepodge of clubs with very different praxes and ideas.  Someone who recently attended a couple of leather conferences complained to me that those who take it upon themselves to “represent” leather are themselves a very small group that, because they travel to most conferences, give an appearance of representing a community that in fact is mostly mythical, and only exists in the appearance itself as appearance.  Since I’m friends personally with certain people involved in that representation, there was a degree of trepidation in his saying it to me, but I think his perception is fundamentally correct.

This is true, though, in some cases more than others, of many communities that we still think of as actual communities.  For instance scientific method as the shared praxis of scientists is only valid if you stretch the meaning of scientific method to include a wide variety of techniques that contradict notions such as the repeatable experiment completely, simply because that method is not particularly useful except in particular sciences.  Yet even those scientists that fundamentally never use most of what is meant, strictly speaking, by scientific method, themselves believe that they use it in a modified form, and as such are members of the community.  There are equivalents in most religious and political communities . In other words, the representation of community in those that represent it doesn’t necessarily represent any specific reality behind the representation, but instead gives a specific form to how someone in the community might appear and behave and therefore be known as belonging-with that community, and in turn at community events that form is more or less followed by most attendees. This appears to confirm the representation but in fact is post facto based on prior knowledge of the representation, such that the presentation of community as community mimics the representation, not the other way around.  That many of the attendees don’t dress that way at other times doesn’t affect the situation, since it is only at such events that the community presents as a community.

This isn’t necessarily a negative judgment either on the community or those that represent it.  It may be the only means of creating a sense of shared, social being in a situation where we are only ‘together’ in a negative sense, i.e. because we have a shared dislike of the lifestyle promoted in the mainstream, but no specific shared likes.  In this sense the truth of the community is that it is a fiction, but truth often takes the form of fiction, the reality only appearing after the fiction has created its preconditions.

It can become problematic mainly if the fiction over-determines reality rather than simply determining a particular appropriate aspect, in the sense of normalizing practices and relationships that we specifically left the mainstream in order to not have normalized for us by others.  The representation has to be seen as only one possibility that may even be purely fictional, but represents a myriad of realities that specifically do not want a normalizing representation.

Theology of Leather (tongue firmly in cheek)

I came across a few posts mentioning ‘leather identity’ as who the author ‘is’ spiritually. Since my own journey of learning began in theology I thought I would investigate the theological implications of a spiritual leather identity.

As a theological term, spirit, like psyche and self has a specific meaning. All of these kinds of words (and we can add will, being, god, world, nature etc.) are difficult to define conceptually because they are themselves determining concepts, which as such are never themselves fully determined. Things can only be fully determined via these determining concepts.

Spirit is what determines the “who” of the psyche, our self-identity.  From spirit we always already know who we are such that we know when we are being “truly” ourselves and when we aren’t. As what determines from the beginning, spirit exists in the eternal past, i.e. the past that was always past, not the past that at one point was present. The psyche arises as a response to spirit. All the aspects or “existentials” of the psyche (such as understanding, interpretation, discourse, being-in, being-with, ambiguity) partially actualize that response. Authenticity consists in being true to spirit, which calls us out of inauthenticity in the wordless call of conscience. Although the call of conscience has no content, we always “know” what it means: that we are guilty of not actualizing a true response to our spirit.

God as a perfect being may only, as will, will good. Human beings on the other hand have the freedom to will its opposite. Since this freedom in itself cannot have originated in the living God, human self-will originated as spirit in the dark ground of God. This potential for evil in God’s ground, which although part of God, is unknown even to God himself as the living God, is the cause of God’s coming out of his ground as the living God.

If the identity of one’s spirit, then, is a leather identity, as determining who one truly is. Leather as a potentiality of being, as will-to-leather, must also have existed in the originary dark ground of God.

The living God, as the highest being and the source of all other being, contains all positive potentials of being in himself, so the human will-to-leather must have a corresponding divine will-to-leather.

As a result, someone with a leather identity, spiritually, would feel the call of conscience denoting them as guilty in any situation where they were being inauthentic, not responding appropriately to their leather spirit. They would feel guilty cavorting in the vanilla world, wearing cotton or polyester or rayon, against their true identity as the actualization of their leather spirit.

Concomitantly, the living God of the leather spirit would be the highest leather being, the source of all human leather being, the Absolute Leatherman.