Category Archives: philosophy of relationships

“Lifers”

Recently I had a discussion with someone who had spent significant time in the scene, albeit in another city. He mentioned a non-group of people, since they didn’t get together or necessarily even know one another, that he referred to as “lifers”, i.e. people who lived a 24/7 M/s or similar dynamic but weren’t part of any “scene”, although most had been part of one scene or another at some point.

We discussed the reasons most of these people had no further interest in the scene: they had no interest in the mutual admiration performance art of a play party; they had no interest in the mutual justification societies of the BDSM / leather conference circuit; they had no interest in relationship-oriented groups since, just as individuals individuate and diverge from group interests, their relationship had individuated to the degree that group discussions about relationships had little to no relevance.

One of the reasons I found the discussion fascinating is that it articulated many of the things I feel about the scene and the various sub-scenes, and their relation to emmie and me.

I find no interest in playing publicly, the aspects of the way emmie and I actualize our fantasies are rather personal and playing publicly forces us to “tone down” what we do to the point of disinterest.

I haven’t enjoyed the conferences I’ve been to: the only areas of interest are largely for beginners and, it seems to me, necessarily so, since discussions on more advanced topics would be too specific to the people involved, without enough in common to attract any type of group.

I’ve lost interest in the relationship-oriented groups we’ve attended: I have very little advice to offer that is generally applicable, what we do is too personal and thus irrelevant to others; the inverse is also true, where what others who have been involved in this lifestyle as long or longer do things in such a substantially different manner that beyond mutual respect there isn’t much worth discussing; the idea of teaching or otherwise influencing those new to the idea of a 24/7 power dynamic is both repetitive, since what is common to this type of dynamic is very limited, and irritating, since people whose longest power dynamic has been measured in months or less are aghast at how emmie and I actually live and spend the time telling us that we’re doing it all wrong.

I have no interest in any of the established “groups” precisely because they, as groups, depend for their own survival on inculcating and maintaining group values and interests, while my own desires and interests have diverged further and continue to do so.

Although many of our friends, naturally, are in the scene, meeting at “scene events” gets annoying simply because we’ve said all we have to say to one another about “scene stuff”. While I enjoy them as people, the enjoyment of their company has to do with enjoying things that have nothing to do with M/s or BDSM from the perspective of non-vanilla people. Since people are busy though there is an unfortunate tendency to put off getting together with other people in the scene in non-scene situations, with the idea of “we’ll see them at such and such scene event in any case”.

It appears to be the last point that seals the effect where those my acquaintance referred to as “lifers” often know very few or even no people who share their lifestyle the longer they’ve been involved in it.


Definitions

Mastery (of someone):  to appropriate, own and give a disposition, a state of being, to that person.

Domination: to make available to oneself as appropriate.

To submit: to be revealed or exhibited as available and proper.

Submission: available to hear and simultaneously obey.

Submissive: acquiesce to obedience through devotion.


Marriage in an Egalitarian Situation and M/s Dynamics

The question of marriage came up the other day, mainly due to emmie’s family and their investment in the idea, whether it arises mainly from their Xian beliefs or their lack of trust, which is somewhat understandable given they’ve never met me.

The problem, though, with marriage in a situation where the two partners are legally equal is that it becomes a contract between two equal but separate parties, a contract that isn’t even particularly binding. The moment one of the parties feels they’re not getting what they want, they can simply file for divorce.

The historical reality is that marriage was often no more than that in many layers of society at any time, but the legality of the situation was different when marriage required at least some acknowledgement of responsibility, since the woman as chattel was inherently to some degree the man’s responsibility. Of course in many cases reality didn’t quite work that way (where the woman was from a wealthy family, for instance), and in others men didn’t live up to their responsibility. But at least theoretically there was a meaning to marriage, and a responsibility that ought to have been taken on.

Today’s marriage is simply a social convenience in areas where the law or individual moralism hasn’t kept up with reality. People remain emotionally invested, though, not in their particular marriage, which in most cases quickly becomes a socially convenient contract, but in the idea of marriage itself as meaningful, when it’s patently obvious to anyone that thinks about it without the blinkers of sentimentality that it isn’t.

An M/s dynamic is old fashioned in precisely the sense under which marriage might have been, for some at least, a meaningful event. But simultaneously it replaces marriage since it goes completely against the current form of marriage. In this sense it is a new relationship form, because it is a repetition of an earlier form in a changed situation, where the meaning of the act can no longer be what it was.

Marriage under those conditions seems not only superfluous, but by bringing in the current sense of the term, in my experience undermines the relationship by having it conform to a concept that is both meaningless and antithetical to the actual relationship.


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.


Style as Mastery

I’m going to talk about style and mastery, not simply the style of mastery, something that varies from person to person, something optional, but style as mastery, style as the necessary manner of doing things that changes their fundamental meaning from simple acts to dominating acts.

I was reading an article about dominance in a different sphere, specifically English football, or soccer.  The article was focused on a former Manchester United player, now manager of the nascent New York Cosmos, Eric Cantona.

Cantona puts paid to the idea of moneyball.  While statistically he was a good player, he scored plenty of goals but not the numbers recorded by van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney; he assisted on plenty but not with the numbers of a Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs or David Beckham; as far as defending, United fans put their hands over their eyes whenever Cantona went in for a tackle, fearing he’d be sent off again for another badly timed lunge.   On top of that he only played for United for 5 years, retiring young even by footballing standards.  However in fan voting Cantona was picked as the top United player of all time, eclipsing Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes, Beckham, George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton among many other greats.

The article made the point that after years of mediocrity (United hadn’t won the title for 25 years before Cantona joined, they won 4 out of 5 in the years he was there) Cantona not only taught United how to win, but how to win with authority.  Not the authority of quantity, outscoring opponents massively on a regular basis, but the authority of style.   Cantona’s style was dominating in that it said to the opposition “try this … you can’t?  That’s why you’ll never be at the level I am …”

Looking at a specific instance, with United up one goal in an away game Giggs sent a cross field pass to Cantona with plenty of space around him and one defender plus the goalkeeper between him and the goal.  The obvious possibilities as a striker are to either hit the ball quickly, low and hard, trying to catch the defender and goalkeeper before they’re able to set themselves to block it, or to knock the ball past the defender, run onto it and therefore have a shot available with only the goalkeeper to beat.

Cantona, instead, controls the ball and comes to a dead stop, facing the defender and goalkeeper.  Then he stabs his foot downward under the ball, causing it to float into the air, catch the cold Lancashire breeze and drift over the helpless goalkeeper into the net.   Rather than an ecstatic goal celebration, Cantona then stands there looking at the other team with a disdainful expression.  Not only has he put United 2 up, a difficult score to come back from, the other team is completely intimidated by the style with which he scored it.  I could give plenty of other instances of Cantona’s style, such as the pole dance celebration after a goal against Liverpool, but you get the idea. During his time at United Cantona was referred to, not just by the fans, but by the rest of the team, as “King Cantona” or simply “Dieu” (God).

In another game, Cantona starts from close to the corner flag, skips past a couple of defenders, stops in front of the goal while the defenders and goalkeeper slide across to try to block the coming shot, then casually chips the ball over them into the net.  Cantona’s composure to the point of casualness, his nerve in front of goal and the apparent ease with which he does what he does, is a big part of his domination of the other team.  Showing strain lets the other know about the difficulty involved, restoring some sense of power to them, whether another team or another person in an M/s relationship.  Cantona, like any good master, makes his dominance look easy and natural.

Within M/s dynamics initially there’s a focus on the what, rather than the how.  Once the what is decided and to some degree achieved, however, there is often a sense of “what next?”.  Any specific what’s, whether rules, protocol, etc. can become either habitual, tedious or both, yet dropping them comes with the fear of “vanilla death” creeping into the relationship.  What seems to be missing in terms of understanding how to further and deepen the relationship is an understanding of style as mastery.  Mastery never consists in what is done but in the way that it is done, the specific style of domination required to dominate the specific slave in the relationship.  At best, though, style is often seen as something optional, an accoutrement to what is done.  Someone like Cantona demonstrates that the style changes the act itself.  Conceding a goal can be recovered by simply scoring one yourself at the other end, but Cantona didn’t just score a goal, in a topological sense he removed the level playing field that had existed by putting the other team in its place, and its place was to be dominated by United.  From that there’s no easy recovery.

Of course style remains something personal, the style with which one does things is, in total, how you are as a person to others.  As a result there’s no manual available on how to use your specific style to further an M/s context, and people seem to be constantly looking for manuals or guides on how to make their relationship work.  Having a sensitivity to how the way you do things affects the person you’re with, though, rather than simply looking at how what you do affects them, can lead to a better understanding of what it is about your particular style that is effective, eventually leading to an understanding of the best manner in which to accomplish something specific while simultaneously enhancing the dominant position you enjoy in the relationship and maintaining the appropriate places you and your  slave dwell in.


Moving … finally

After a hectic last day of packing, arranging changes of service to the new place and signing the lease, we had a boon in the way of a borrowed teenager (offspring of a friend) who had no trouble helping us get out a few heavy things to the curb for garbage pickup, and moving most of my music studio to the new house (some of that stuff is just too delicate for me to trust to movers).

So tomorrow is d-day, emmie and I move to a new house, the first place that is just ours, emmie, myself and the (now 14 yr old) kidlet. It’s a good deal smaller but with one less adult and a better floorplan it should do nicely. With the quirkiness of 80’s interior design plus cathedral ceilings and everything built lower than usual (it was built for someone with physical disabilities so many of the things like windowsills, sinks etc. are lower than usual, it does feel a bit like a fairytale house. Not to mention the fairytale ending of getting it at the last minute when ever other plan fell through.

It does feel like a fresh start, and a good one if signs are as auspicious as they seem.


Master, Slave, Humanness and Truth

In the crossing from conceptual thinking to inceptual, truth interpreted as relational and externally founded (correspondence theory of truth) is initially rejected by Nietszche as mere valuation, and not the ‘highest’ value. But with the second Nietszche remains wedded to the notion of valuation in general. Valuation goes hand in hand with the nature of technological (metaphysical, conceptual) revealing of beings in general. The enframing nature of technological revealing requires a posited identity between differentiable things, in order to be able to ‘have’ them at one’s disposal – as a resource any given example is equivalent to any other of that type.
Nietszche then brings in the valuation of humanness as rank. Truth as valuation renders the difference null, they are both ‘human resources’. Within any enforced Master/slave pairing the metaphysical notion of truth is always advantageous to those looking up. Maintaining the differentiation though is not merely in the Master’s interest but in the interest of undermining valuation in general.
Within consensual Master/slave dynamics the metaphysical valuation is disadvantageous to both, since it renders them effectively equal, and their dynamic is posited on inequality as in itself desirable. Truth is re-posited in an inceptual manner, as the self-presentation of something to a human being, and thus founded on humanness in general.


Mastery / slavery ? Digressions in Terminology

How the more extreme forms of domination and submission oriented dynamics acquired the terminology “Master/slave” is an odd question at first glance, and one related to another form of terminology, that of “Owner/property”.
A slave, defined by being-owned, would by definition have an owner.  One who owned a human being would by definition have a slave, owning simple “property” would not distinguish one from any other in our current society.  Masters in various areas of endeavour might have servants, novices, acolytes, initiates, apprentices, etc.  But in the specific area of consensual slavery the slave’s owner appropriates the designation “Master”.  Seemingly in reaction to the ability and responsibility mastery requires, some in domination/submission dynamics opt out of the issue of what mastery entails, preferring to return to simple ownership, but the simulaneous reduction of human property (“slave”) to just “property” signals a felt lack, as if owning a human being without mastery is somehow inappropriate.
Consensual slavery has multiple defining features, but one of the principle features is a vow of obedience that overrules further need for consent, in most cases perpetual, at least in intention.  Perpetual vows of obedience are found in a number of other areas of human endeavour, but are most associated with the religious life.  Within many religious orders a vow of obedience to the order is prescribed.  While it is unusual today, vows of obedience to a particular person were at one time also common within Christianity as in other religions.
The justification for vows of obedience within specifically Christian theology stemmed from the limited perspective available to any given individual, together with the notion that community ameliorated that limitation and provided a brake on unconstrained and potentially mistaken willing by the individual.
Will as Will to Power, in the consummation of metaphysics and therefore Christianity itself, however, is the term for the essence of being itself, rather than a specific faculty of a specific being.  As the essence of being itself the slave’s being is as fully Will to Power as the Owner’s.  Rather than ameliorating the expression of Will to Power, the being of the community, religious or otherwise, is also Will to Power.  A vow of obedience could not in post Nietzschean terms accomplish any constraining of the Will to Power but would simply make the perspective panoramic, and as panoramic all the more perspectival.
A vow of obedience, as central to the slave’s being-a-slave, and hence the slave’s expression of Will to Power, serves two other purposes.  First the vow is a shield against the tempting, in particular the most tempting itself.  Second it is the focus for the more understanding and creative expression of that will demanded by its continuing alignment with the will of the Master.

It is in the radicality of the demand of obedience that it functions as a shield against the tempting.  “The most tempting itself” is an odd phrase at first –  temptation is often conflated with desire, yet in a sense it opposes and frustrates the pursuit of that which is most desired itself.  Temptation diverts from the pursuit of desire as much as from the pursuit of perfection, or any other particular pursuit.  As the “most” tempting fundamental temptation is something we always find ourselves in in advance.  Radical obedience, in either expectation or fulfillment, opposes the most tempting in an essential way because it is an extraordinary expectation, and an extraordinary thing to attempt.  “The most tempting”, the founding temptation in which we always find ourselves immersed is essentially the temptation of the mediocre, the averageness of everyday understanding and levelling off any distinctions that might threaten that tranquillizing mediocrity of everydayness itself.

Expecting this kind of vow implictly requires a sense of one’s own unique abilities, a sense that develops with mastery of those abilities itself, a sense that breaks and continually re-breaks the temptation towards a tranquilizing common mediocrity.  Consenting to such a vow requires an honouring of the uniqueness of the Master’s abilities that accomplishes the same severing from the temptation to mediocrity.


Direction and Directives

Is it enough for Mastery that a slave obey his / her Master’s directives, while his / her thoughts, desires and will remain free? Or does the act of directing implicitly require that the directed align those thoughts, desires and will with that of the Master?

In directing the Master points in a direction and sets the slave moving in that direction. This of course requires that the Master have a perspective from which to direct. The perspective itself comes from the positing of viewpoints inherent in mastery, power itself is perspectival in the sense that it is always an empowering of overpowering, a will towards a horizon, enacted through the slave, that comes back to itself in the slave’s obedience and the Master’s self obedience.

The slave’s obedience in merely accomplishing the activity is never sufficient in itself to satisfy power. At best it can allow power to be maintained, but power is always overpowering as mastery – mastery of the slave and self mastery. If it is only maintained as measure it dwindles temporally.  Mastery must empower its own overpowering and for this it requires the overpowering of its perspective itself via the merging of the slave’s will with its own, the merging of viewpoints into one panoramic perspective.

Directives are obeyed by the slave in the sense of moving in that direction, but they empower the will of the Master when the directive’s viewpoint and perspective are adopted, such that the slave’s obedience returns and empowers the Master’s self obedience. In this the directive reaches its panoramic completion, empowering further perspectives, viewpoints, and directives.


The Enchantment of the Extreme

One thing that I’ve tried to be clear in discussing M/s with other subgroups within the BDSM community is that I don’t consider M/s “higher” or “more developed” than other relationship types, but I do consider it more *extreme”. While many are wary (for good reason) of extremes I believe the extreme carries with it its own special fascination.

Nietzsche talks about “us immoralists” as the “outermost”, the extreme. As such “we” do not need the lies of other powers. All other powers are force hiding behind the semblance of law, hence lying and dissimulation are necessary to veil true intentions, to display goals that are ostensibly sought after, and so make the subjugated happy.

Within the M/s dynamic, Masters refer to themselves as such, slaves know themselves as slaves. There is no false set of goals promulgated by the Master in order to underhandedly subjugate the slave. There is no expectation of eventual equality or even a specific reward for servitude to be sought after. The power differential is decided on in advance, and maintained and welcomed by both sides. The extremism of the dynamic, far from putting people off, exerts a powerful fascination, seduction and enchantment.

The “magic” of the extreme is the power of the most powerful. Most powerful because it hides behind no false pretenses of humility. Masters do not seek power over slaves “in the slave’s interest”, nor govern “as servants” (think public servants). We seek power solely and purely for its own sake and enjoyment. Slaves do not submit to their enslavement in order to gain a future advantage. This power transports members of the dynamic to another world with its enchantment and there brings them to themselves in a different way.

Who are, then, “we immoralists”? Are we an unethical gang of bandits on the fringes of society? No, we immoralists are those who stand outside the distinction between the true and the apparent worlds promulgated by metaphysics, and the hierarchy of moral rules and values that sustains it. We stand outside the distinction that sustained metaphysics and all its correlates, instead standing in the seduction of truth. We know that ethics is always concrete, always particular to the situation and are not confused by childish a priori rules.