Tag Archives: philosophy of relationships

The Problems with “Identifying-As”

A number of things I’ve read and/or observed lately run aground on the notion of “identifying as”. The notion of identifying as in a fixed manner indicates not only a misunderstanding of the proper use of that action, but a misunderstanding based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the notions of Self, identity and Self-Identity.

The only thing I identify as in a fixed way is my Self, i.e. I identify uniquely and solely as me. This isn’t some rampant individualism, since my Self is largely shared with other human beings, more so the closer we are in terms of the society into which we were initiated, and in which initiation we became human. Self-identity, at its base, is precisely the identity of one’s Self with oneself. How we comprehend this identity and how we always know when we are being true to our Selves is a complex matter, but it has nothing to do with identifying as one genera or another, or with one group or another.

When I see someone doing verbal somersaults trying to accommodate their sexuality, as an example, to a label they can be comfortable identifying as, and predictably failing, there is a demonstrable confusion between who one is and how one happens to live. Simply put, if I fuck the same sex, I’m gay; if I fuck the opposite sex, I’m straight; if I fuck both, I’m bisexual. At any given point in my life, based on how I project myself acting in the foreseeable future, picking one or the other shouldn’t be altogether that difficult. The apparent difficulty arises when we try to use the way we project living in the reasonably near future as determining who we are. At that point the simple definitions (and the huge variety of more complex ones) are never sufficient to capture every aspect of something as complex as sexuality, and the only possible outcome, beyond the above mentioned confusion, is a self-limitation to one or another group’s definition of itself as a group. Living as straight, gay, bi, is not a limitation since that projection can change as we change and develop. Identifying as any of those, or queer, or leather, or cuticle-centric, or whatever is inherently limiting the manifold ways in which we change and grow as selves.

Of course we spend time in various groups, not just over a lifetime, but over a single day, and to some degree we ‘take part’ in the identities of those groups. However simply because we are employed by private businesses we do not necessarily ‘identify as’ rampant capitalists; nor do we necessarily ‘identify as’ xenophobic nationalists simply because we come home to a family of a particular ethnicity and enjoy some of the common praxes of that ethnicity. The State arbiters between groups as groups precisely because individuals morph between various groups on a constant basis, and as a result their identities, wants, desires are far too complex and fluid for any kind of comprehensible contract between state and individual. Just as having an ethnicity that is part of my identity does not make me identify as that ethnicity, neither should having particular sexual proclivities, or being part of particular groups that are defined by some common proclivity, force me to identify as that proclivity. While it is part of my identity it may be a major or minor part, it may be constant or fleeting, or it may come and go.

The exceptions, of course, are groups where membership is a lifelong binding commitment. Being a Jesuit is not something you can take up and put down, for example. Neither is being a Hell’s Angel. Even in these extremes, though, members remain the complex beings they are, the difference being that they have made a solemn commitment to putting a particular group’s interests above those of any other group they may take part in at different times in their lives or different times of the day or week.

With the implosion of the concept of ‘personality’ and its replacement with the poorly enough defined ‘self-identity’, as individuals we are in greater difficulty coming to grips with who we are than ever before. However self-identity and identification are separate matters, and conflating them cannot lead to a satisfactory self-understanding. Simultaneously modernization, and capitalization in particular, has functioned as an acid on a vast number of shared praxes that lent a sense of belonging to members of different groups, whether the destruction of the shared praxes of particular rituals in various religious groups and their replacement with groups that only share abstract ideological belief-systems, or more recently the abandonment by capital of the shared praxes of the sciences, and the ensuing removal of funding for the scientific community and its replacement with “knowledge workers” that do not maintain the expensive and, from the perspective of global capital, useless shared praxes that gave a sense of belonging to members of the scientific community. These changes lead to an understandable desire to have a comprehensible determination of oneself, and a sense of belonging to some sort of community with whom we share something intrinsic.

Creating new communities, though, requires new shared praxes, and this is a difficult achievement, particularly in a time where people are skeptical even of skepticism itself. Trying to create communities via a shortcut of self-imposed sets of limitations via the notion of ‘identifying as’ will not work, and in fact will cause nascent communities to self-destruct, leaving individuals in the same place they were to begin with. There’s no point in defining and redefining what makes a particular group the group it is to such a degree that it becomes unrecognizable. All that’s been achieved, functionally, is the destruction of the group and its replacement by an arbitrary set of individuals with no common praxis that would lend the sense of belonging and identity desired in the first place.

Redefining something in order to make it more inclusive, in this case usually inclusive of whatever is part of your Self, but was excluded in the original definition, also makes the definition less precise. As an obvious example, some of the recent redefinitions of ‘leather’ that I’ve read are so inclusive they make it practically synonymous with ‘human’. We all belong to that definition in any case, there’s no need to duplicate it, nor will doing so give anyone any greater sense of belonging to something particular.

Communities based on new shared praxes, providing they are not particularly difficult or onerous, have the advantage of being open to anyone willing to participate in the shared activity, without thereby becoming more and more inclusive to the point of meaninglessness.

Social Conceptions of Marriage and Alternatives

There are two different basic conceptions of marriage operative in society.  The first, and socially encouraged, conception arose from the Christian, specifically Paulist, conception of marriage as a social control on the ‘evil’ of erotic passion. 


Erotic passion is not ‘natural’ but a specifically human sublimation of the generically animal expression of sexuality as a means to encourage the reproductive cycle.  The erotic is essentially individual and transgressive.  Ontologically it is the erotic horizon that is transgressed by the individual uncovering of what is erotic, which in itself is indeterminate – what is erotic is specific to the individual and in general terms can be anything at all.  In Lacan’s terms ‘There is no sexual relationship.” i.e. normalization of the erotic precisely undermines the erotic as erotic, returning it to the ‘natural’ expression of animal reproduction.  For the Paulist Christian this is the lesser evil, since the passion of individual eroticism is made to conform to a non-transgressive, moral ideal of a socially acceptable sexuality, and is thus destroyed as erotic passion and turned into a social duty within the confines of a socially inscribed formalism.  The civic conception of marriage simply re-inscribes the religious conception from a formalized union ‘in the sight of God’ to a formalized union ‘in the sight of the Big Other of the ideological framework, where God is removed from the place of the Big Other without removing that place as a structural necessity within the ideological framework.  This removal of a God posited as loving and forgiving in fact absolutizes the formal rules of marriage since there is nothing in the place of the Big Other that can respond to an appeal for forgiveness in transgressing the formalism.  It is within this conception of marriage that anything that does not follow the formal rules, such as gay marriage, cannot be considered a ‘real’ marriage in its institutional meaning, but only a civil union.  Although a civil union is legally the same as a marriage, for a Paulist it does not properly reduce dangerous erotic passion to the societal duty of passionless ‘natural’ sexuality.


The second conception of marriage is precisely the equation of marriage with a civil union, a social convenience that itself is meaningless and simply confers social acceptance while not affecting the transgression of eroticism and romantic passion.  In the case of someone whose initiation to society included a strong indoctrination of the first conception, viewing marriage in the second sense can even strengthen the erotic transgression of romantic passion, because the intentional refusal to engage with the expected formal rules of marriage is itself a further erotic transgression, enhancing the transgression of the erotic passion.  


While a move to the second notion looks immediately as both simple and attractive as an operative notion where marriage confers social advantages but the partners have no intrinsic interest in submitting their passion to a socially acceptable formalism, the reality is that maintaining that understanding is far more difficult than it appears.  We are all initiated into society with certain understandings and resulting inherent ways of interpreting given situations.  We have all experienced, at least at second hand, the initially baffling situation where lovers who have already had a long term passionate relationship marry as a social convenience, and it results in a falling apart of the relationship within a short time.  Many have also experienced on a more intimate level a sudden change in the other, where from being a passionate lover there he or she immediately conforms to the social expectation of the behavior of a husband or wife, confusing the person who hasn’t changed yet is expected to match the change by conforming to the social expectations of their role in the marriage. 


Although the partner who suddenly changes may have believed himself or herself that marriage is simply a social convenience, the act of inscribing the relationship into the symbolic order of society results in an immediate change in the operative interpretation of the meaning of the relationship.  Suddenly erotic passion becomes a more or less boring duty to one’s partner.  Erotic passion becomes something looked for or at least fantasized about as extrinsic to the marriage, something to be enacted with another.  Ironically, the fear of being found out that may be operative if this fantasy is indulged, or may prevent the fantasy from becoming more than that, is often not primarily related to the other partner discovering the extramarital activity, in fact they may be completely open about the situation with the other partner, who is often engaged in similar activities.  The fear is primarily that of being found out by society in its guise of the Big Other that remains operative despite being unoccupied by a posited being.  It is the fear of transgressing the inscription of the marriage into the symbolic order of society.


Often, precisely because the erotic is always transgressive in some way, the extramarital activities are perceived as ‘kinky’, which is nothing more than society’s judgment on the nature of fully erotic passion.  The ‘kinky’ transgressions may include physical activities that are against the established societal norms, such as violence that may range from mild spankings to extreme whippings and beatings.  Interestingly, within the ‘scene’ that provides both a relatively safe space in which to indulge this behavior, and a meeting place for those interested in the activities in the first place.   In some cases the activities are not extramarital but are carried out with the married partner, in order to reignite the passion of the marriage that the social inscription has obnubilated or even obliterated, but more often the activities are carried out with other partners, although often with the knowledge of the married partner who tends, at least initially, to see it as a way of satisfying desires they don’t share, and thereby maintaining the marriage.


In other cases the transgressions are specifically opposed to current society’s conception of an appropriate intimate relation.  This may take the form, for example, of an actual enactment of the largely mythical and now socially unacceptable ‘1950’s household’; it may take the form of the power differential initially found in a small minority of the ‘leather’ community (itself already a transgression of the societal stricture against damaging the liberal egalitarian ideal of marriage by adopting a dress and manner designed to evoke the impression of extreme masculine power); it may take the form of an extreme interpretation of the ‘courtly love’ relationship that initially required obedience due to the danger involved, but evolved into a dominant/submissive or even Master/slave ideal of extreme or absolute obedience for its own sake as fully transgressive of the liberal egalitarian ideals.   This latter type of transgression often goes beyond the bounds of the specifically erotic situation and eroticizes the entirety of the relationship.  While this remains a minority of the specifically erotic community, it has developed from a small and very secretive group to a group with a public international presence, one that very often wears external symbols of their relationship that are becoming more and more known within society at large, and even in a small way acceptable enough to be portrayed in mainstream media rather than only in small release productions that are unknown outside the community itself.  In many cases these different forms are mixed, where the ‘leather’ dress and manner is adopted by the dominant partner, while a dress and manner reminiscent of 1950’s pinups is adopted by the submissive partner.  This mixing is very prevalent within the heterosexual component of the community, especially those with a dominant male and submissive female.  While this may be seen as ‘reactionary’ in terms of being a repetition of at least a perception of a historically older type of relation between men and women, the transgressive situation in which it is enacted changes the meaning of the power and authority discrepancy into an erotic, socially transgressive situation, which is unrelated to a reactionary stance.


While in many cases even the more playful, less relationship oriented types of transgressive eroticism erodes the conformist marriage to the point of dissolution.  Other than the cases where both partners already married are simultaneously attracted to abrogating society’s expectations of the nature of their relationship in order to increase or reignite the erotic passion of the relationship, or conversely those already in a transgressive relationship get married for the sake of the social convenience but are careful not to let the expectations of others that they will now ‘act married’ affect the eroticism of their relationship, in most cases those that were married to another find their lack of real interest in the marriage inevitably leads to its dissolution.  Of course this makes it all the more imperative, but all the more difficult, to maintain the initial level of eroticism in the transgressive relationship.  By carefully avoiding any tendency to drift towards a normalized relationship or to accept others’ expectations (whether real or only posited) and change the relationship to be more in line with those expectation, the eroticism of the relationship can be maintained.

“Crazy Making” as Psychological Self-Abuse?

Perusing a friend’s blog, emmie came across the following quote, which was startling in terms of the accuracy to which it describes our ex’s behavior patterns. While many of these patterns of behavior were directed at me and emmie, I didn’t necessarily perceive them as specifically abusive behavior towards me at least, more the behavior of someone with a very on again / off again relationship with reality, i.e. I didn’t see it as necessarily “crazy making” (although at times it had that effect on emmie particularly) but as simply already crazy. For instance the aspect to the pattern of accusing you of saying things you didn’t say or doing things you didn’t do was consistent, but in a relationship that started as a quad and then continued as a triad the person accused could more easily check the reality of the situation with a witness than is usual in monogamous relationships, so it most often made our ex look like the crazy one, not the person it was directed at.

I’m pretty thick-skinned (and probably thick-headed, as my father would say), so it perhaps simply didn’t have the full effect on me, although it probably had more of that effect on emmie. Since the relationship ended her writing and what she has said to others has been filled with a vitriol that appears intended as an attempt to continue abusive behavior from a distance.

Strangely though the worst aspects of this behavior pattern in our ex were self-directed. Since the split she has complained constantly, although vaguely, that she was ‘abused’ in the relationship, but when called on the claim by someone who knew the three of us well for virtually the entire relationship, she couldn’t name a particular instance of any type of abuse, and later responded in her public writing by referring to that person (and apparently anyone else who doesn’t automatically see things her way, although what that way is appears to change from moment to moment) as a “fucking asshole”.

The quote interested me not just due to the accuracy of the description of her behavior pattern and the description of it as abusive, but in terms of the possibility that she remembers the situation as abusive not due to anything emmie or I did, which is demonstrated anyway by her inability to name a single instance of any type of abuse, but due to constant psychological self-abuse, a constant ‘making herself crazy’. Has anyone else seen this type of behavior pattern used by a slave in an M/s dynamic? And is this kind of psychological abuse being used against the self a common pattern or something unusual?

“Are you in a relationship where you are made to feel like you need to doubt yourself, doubt your sense of what is real or that your every thought and behavior is questioned? Do you feel like you may be “going crazy?” If so, you may be in an emotionally abusive relationship.

According to the University of Missouri Extension service, the term “crazy making” is used to describe a process in which a victim of abuse questions their sense of what is real and what isn’t. People who constantly have their perceptions denied by an abusive partner can tend to lose this ability to see what is real, thus questioning whether their own mental health is to blame and not the emotional abuse that is actually occurring.
Crazy making can also be called psychological abuse. This abuse is about trying to make you look bad, discredit you and silence you; all while making the actual abuser appear to be calm and cool to the outside world. The following are some signs that psychological abuse may be occurring.

Distortion and Distraction:
An abuser may say that you said something you didn’t say, did something you never did, or demand things that are impossible for you to do. They may try to distract you from their abusive behavior by changing the subject and not keeping to the issue at hand. They will bring up things that happened days, weeks or even years before to avoid what is really going on. An abusive person may often give you more than one choice between two opposite things, and then later become angry because you chose one thing over the other.

Black and White:
An emotionally abusive person will see things in black and white, with no room for shades of grey. They will be inflexible and unwilling to compromise. Often an abuser will only consider their way as the only way.

Passive Aggressive:
Someone who is emotionally abusive may act out in a passive aggressive way. They will give you the cold shoulder and quiet treatment, sulking in a way that they are hoping you will read all kinds of meaning into. Sometimes an abuser will subtly sabotage things you enjoy by saying negative things with a smile. This type of behavior makes it difficult for anyone on the outside of this relationship to detect that there is anything wrong.

Crazy making is a real form of emotional and psychological abuse. If your partner repeatedly exhibits behavior that is meant to confuse you or make you think that things are different than they really are or than you know them to be, seek help from a counselor trained in dealing with abusive relationships. You are not the crazy one, even if your partner is trying to make you believe that you are.”

Slave-Being as Tool-Being (Zuhanden)

Having come across a post recently that struck me as evincing a psychopathic view of Mastery and hence of the being of the slave, I wanted to work through the ideas in the post and how they do and don’t relate to the notion of tool-being as an intrinsic aspect of slave-being.

Tool-being is also known as being ‘ready-to-hand’, zuhanden in the German text where the idea originated.  This is opposed to vorhanden, which means ‘present-at-hand’, which is the way we relate to beings when we are not involved with them but simply looking at them, i.e. the theoretical stance.  Zuhanden can quickly turn to vorhanden, for instance, when a tool is recognized as being unsuitable for the job or damaged in some way.  A third mode of being, dasein, is the way in which we experience ourselves, as being-the-there in which other beings can appear as the beings they are (they may be extant without dasein but they wouldn’t appear without an aware perception to appear to).

As well, since dasein is never purely individual, we are initially and for the most part what the matrix of society and sub-societies we grow up in, there are two forms of shared being or being-with that are part of the matrix of ‘existentials’ that are necessary for a creature to be considered dasein.  These two are mitsein, or simple being-with, and mitdasein, or being-the-there-with.

Mitsein is not ‘community’ in the strong sense of a committed group, but neither is it simply a collection of isolated ‘subjects’ that happen to be located in the same vicinity.  Mitsein involves the mostly indifferent way in which we are involved with people we don’t know particularly well in an everyday way – the shop clerk, the person from the office down the hall, etc.  In interacting with them there are stock questions and stock answers that smooth simple transactional interactions and put a veneer of friendliness on our semi-social being-with.  However the inauthenticity involved in mitsein always means that underneath for-one-another a competitive against-one-another is always in play.  Part of the psychosis of society is that dasein is only seen as mitsein when looked at as a societal group: ‘personnel’ becomes ‘human resources’.

Aristotle described slave-being as a ‘talking tool’ at the beginning of western civilization.  While this relates to zuhanden as an aspect of consensual slave-being, slaves in Aristotle’s time were not initiated firstly into society in the same manner or to the same degree as citizens, which may very well have limited their being able to participate in mitsein, never mind the more authentically involved mode of mitdasein.  This is not true however of a 21st century consensual slave, who was precisely initiated into a similar society to their Master / Owner and has the same capacity for meaningful shared being.

Zuhanden is a possible mode of being, an appropriate one in many situations within a power dynamic.  When I give an order I expect it to be simply done in the same way I expect my leg to move when I want to get up.  However it is not the only mode in which a consensual slave exists, because they are firstly dasein and display all the existentials of dasein, including being-in-the-World, being-with, being-the-there, interpretation, understanding, discourse etc.  Both the difficulty and the reward of owning a dasein is in this richness which disappears if we view the slave as ‘merely’ a tool (or in the societal way as ‘merely’ a resource, which  affects all of us, not just consensual slaves).  A slave should be a tool when required, a good tool, but being ‘merely’ a tool is a reductive over-determination of the slave’s possibilities that devolves their real worth to the Master / Owner.

Intimate being-with involves mitdasein rather than mitsein, a being-the-there-with that denotes a shared reality.  It is through this shared reality that a slave, whose participation in that reality is guided and determined by their Master / Owner, is properly put in their place within the place that mitdasein opens up.  For mitdasein to be a potential, though, the dasein of the slave has to be recognized and accepted, that tool-being is only one aspect of the multi-faceted self that is dasein.  It is perhaps the facet that defines the slave as a slave, but not the facet that defines the slave as a person, and it is in owning a person that the full richness of Mastery and the full reward of the effort involved comes about.