Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Service -- reposted from comments to another post.

I originally said this in comments to another post, but I'm reposting it here because I want to think further on the topic:

I think a big thing that doesn't get discussed in these interminable "how much D/s is too much?" headspinning games is:

the concept of service.

Many, if not most, of the "slave" types that I have met are not so much looking to lose their freedom or not make decisions so much as they are looking to serve. They feel called to some kind of life of service, and want to be part of relationships or dynamics that allow them to serve well.

To me, the dominant partner in such a dynamic is not so much The Boss making All The Decisions as she is someone who provides the opportunity for the submissive to be of service to someone. The service is more important, for most I've met, than the decision making.

There are of course many people who do have the Stepford attitude, both male and female: decide everything for me O Sir/O Ma'am. They tend to proliferate, a la roaches or paramecia, on the internet especially -- as do the sorts of "Master" they want.

But in the real, dedicated, M/s community *I've* met -- it's Service that matters most. Obedience is secondary.

Do I know some people who I think overvalue it? Yeah. But I only consider myself qualified to offer relationship advice to people I know. And I find the more I get to know people, the more flexible I realize their power dynamic actually often is.

Yes, even the masters and slaves.

I first really noticed this with an old play partner/buddy. He wasn't my partner, in service to me, etc. But we were friends, and we'd play. I started to notice that he would do all sorts of little small things for me, totally unprovoked. Make little arts and crafts projects to give to me. Clean his car if I mentioned I didn't like it not to be tidy. Small things like that. I didn't ask for them, not at first. But when he did them, and I was impressed and grateful -- his face would warm like the sun. He loved to do those things.

I didn't really know what it was about. Gradually I realized that my buddy was what they call a service oriented submissive. That all was part of what he wanted to do and enjoyed about (mild; remember we were mostly all just buddies) submission to the people he was friends with.

At first I'd always assumed that I wouldn't like service oriented people. I figured that they were servile, and unsure of what they wanted. I felt sure that they would be unhappy, always giving other people what they wanted and never paying attention to themselves. But observing my friend, I realize that the small acts of service that he would frequently do made him happy. He really enjoyed giving toppy friends little things that they wanted.

And I don't remember him being chronically unable to stand up for himself. I do remember a couple of situations in which I thought he was a bit too flexible. But I don't remember times when something was important and he didn't tell us to shove it if we were being jerks.

So I started to realize that for a lot of people who feel called to SM slavery or other forms of deep submission, what it's really about is something similar. Service. Feeling pride in service will given. Of course they enjoy their place in the power relation -- that's part of the definition -- but it seems to me like enjoying that is more about kink and fun, and the service is the real calling.

I don't mean to say that there are never problems. Some people get very into the idea of behavior modification, and even those words make me cringe (if you want to know way too much about why, go have a look at ballastexistenz and look up any references to "the Judge Rotenberg Center"). I remember talking to a certain couple in the local MAsT group, who mentioned to me a persistent problem that they were trying to correct.

The issue was that the dominant wanted his submissive to speak in formal, polite ways: "Yes, Sir." "Please, Sir, may I ____?" etc. She had a rather gruff manner -- think New Yorker, though I don't think she was one. She'd lapse into "Oh, yeah, yeah." when she was supposed to be being formal. It drove her dominant absolutely up the wall.

They described an absolutely sitcom quality carnival of follies coming from attempting to modify this woman's behavior. No matter what they did, she could not speak this way. They were both very distressed about it, as she clearly wanted to change but simply could not.

To my mind, this is where the dominant partner in the relationship cuts his/her losses. If a person simply cannot change something, no matter how much D/s is put behind it, that's just a facet of that person. If he really absolutely couldn't stand it, to the point where it was dealbreaking, then that would be time for a dumping. If not, then that would be time for him to learn to deal with it, and choose some other ritualized behavior to demonstrate her politeness or her elegance or her service, whatever it was that the polite way of speaking was supposed to demonstrate.

So it's not that I think that anyone can do whatever they want, or that I believe that strict behavior modification is a wise thing for people to do. What I do think, however, is that service oriented submission is a valid life path, and that setting up power relations with such people is not inherently limiting, oppressive, restrictive, or bad.

I think if people want to challenge long-term D/s, they should at least be aware of the stress many people put on service, and be able to either argue

that it too is a bad thing from a feminist viewpoint

or

that it isn't relevant to the issue at hand (this would include, of course, a discussion of why it is not)

or

that it doesn't do enough to divorce long-term D/s from problems. This discussion should include, bare minimum, discussion of the nature of service and how it is given and accepted.

30 comments:

Bubbas' Nightmare said...

Absolutely.

Having orbited at the edge of a large social gathering of D/s folk for years, I can tell you that I saw very little belittling or ridicule. Everyone acknowledged that we were all adults, and there was a tacit understanding that a sub's place was to serve, not to be humiliated.

I have to laugh in dismay at "Master/slave" online forums. It's like watching a bunch of schoolyard bullies looking for victims, and it has nothing to do with healthy D/s relationships.

Trinity said...

"I have to laugh in dismay at "Master/slave" online forums. It's like watching a bunch of schoolyard bullies looking for victims, and it has nothing to do with healthy D/s relationships."

ROTFL. Yes.

The very first D/s relationship I tried I met the guy through an online forum, and since my only previous experience had been with a group of primarily SM players (wonderful people btw, I'm not into the whole "those folks are JUST tops and bottoms" shit -- those are lovely things to be) I had no real way of gauging how good the advice I was getting was.

My "sub" was very into the idea of domestic discipline, a setup I don't much go for even in play, and everything was a disaster. Scared me totally off D/s for years.

Then someone randomly (or so I thought) invited me to a MAsT munch.

I haven't had any relationships since then, but I say without hesitation that it changed my life. I finally had some idea what to *do* with my dominance. Things started to make sense.

I understand myself now, in a way I hadn't since that big fucked-up flop of a relationship.

Alon Levy said...

Betty Friedan did have a point about the psychological damage of orienting one's life around service.

That said, this almost certainly doesn't apply to service-oriented submissives. For one, they voluntarily choose to serve, while the mentally atrophied housewives of The Feminine Mystique were pressured into their purdah lifestyle. In addition, what may not be true in general can easily hold for a subset of the population. And finally, in the D/s relationships I've read about, even the 24/7 ones, the submissive works for a living, which gives him/her an activity that makes mental atrophy unlikely.

Trinity said...

"Betty Friedan did have a point about the psychological damage of orienting one's life around service."

Was that psychological damage due to orienting their lives around service, or was it psychological damage due to not using and developing their talents, and rather spending their entire lives doing repetitive work and being promised that a new vacuum cleaner would give them what they really needed?

Service can be a very active vocation.

Alon Levy said...

Well, both, I suspect... but it really depends on how varied and mentally stimulating the service is, and on whether the person performing the service has other opportunities for socialization.

Trinity said...

"but it really depends on how varied and mentally stimulating the service is, and on whether the person performing the service has other opportunities for socialization."

Agreed, which is why I take issue with standing protocols based around silence or not speaking -- which some people I know do have.

Trinity said...

(to be clear, I don't mean silence for the duration of a scene or during a particular ritual or the like; I mean "you must ask permission to speak to my submissive" style stuff, which some people I know consider traditional and proper manners in the M/s community. BAD IDEA JEANS, imo.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

There's also the frame-conception on service to be considered.

The way I look at things, letting my skills and abilities atrophy is not only a bad idea for me as an individual, but it is a failure of proper service -- because my obligations to my liege include providing him with the best support that I can, which includes the broadest range of capabilities that I am able to develop. I'd be little use as a minion if all I could do is supply blowjobs and make toast.

The hardest thing for me about the way we do d/s is that I don't get to slack off when I'm feeling like a lazy bastard or have a horrible case of the d'wannas. And one can frame that, conceptually, in a whole bunch of ways, ranging from "getting maximum value from his property" through to "wanting the best for a partner in health and happiness" depending on how one wants to frame it; we tend to settle somewhere in the middle.

We don't have a formal "If I need this skill, you will learn it" agreement, which I have seen in some people's negotiations -- but that doesn't mean he's not teaching me how to drive. :P

verte said...

And finally, in the D/s relationships I've read about, even the 24/7 ones, the submissive works for a living, which gives him/her an activity that makes mental atrophy unlikely.

I have to say I've come across 24/7 couples where the sub stays at home, and it's tended to be M/f couples. It's still her choice (one hopes - or is it just her choice to be led? I think this is where decision-based D/s comes in), but even in relationships of this kind, where DD is included, I can't say the subs I've met who've made this choice are brainwashed, and they certainly aren't weak. It's just how they choose to structure their structure.

verte said...

.........structure their RELATIONSHIP.

Bleh, early morning.

verte said...

Some people get very into the idea of behavior modification, and even those words make me cringe

See, I'd say behaviour modification is part of what we do and I don't mind using that terminology, 'reclaiming it' even. If done well, I don't think it's totally dissimilar to cognitive behavioural techniques, and in helping me with my anxiety T's dominance has been incredibly useful. He can give me a single look and I'll know when a negative thought has spiralled out of proportion.

It's invaluable to have 'no go' behaviours outlined for me.

Trinity said...

"If done well, I don't think it's totally dissimilar to cognitive behavioural techniques"

I've known a lot of people who use cognitive behavioral techniques.

I don't know whether this is anything like a representative sample, but without fail these are the most fucked up people I have ever met, and without fail they lapse back into problematic and even sometimes dangerous habits, while trying to "change their thought patterns" and insisting it's working... but then going right back and stalking, violently exploding in anger, etc.

I'm no fan of CBT unless it involves genitals.

Trinity said...

I also feel that behaviorist approaches to D/s really miss something huge.

And that is that you can make someone behave in any way you like, provided you adequately persuade or compel them, but that doesn't mean you've affected them.

The big example here that always sticks in my mind is queerness. Plenty of people repress their queerness out of fear or self-hatred, and behave heterosexually. If changing our behavior really had deep effects on changing our selves, this would work for at least some sizable number of self-hating queers. "Look, I've trained myself to be straight. Enough modification of my behavior and ta-dah!"

But -- inexplicably if one buys into strictly behaviorist models about human nature -- it doesn't work like that. Nor does such stuff work for the autistic kids at the JRC, who are notorious for "relapsing" into autistic behaviors and requiring harsher and harsher punishments. Nor does it work for the many transfolk who try to bury their gender stuff in becoming as manly or as feminine (depending on gender assignment) as they can in an effort to train themselves to be the gender others think they are.

Why is this? Well, in my opinion -- and I freely admit I'm not a psychologist -- it's because there are things about a person, facets of the self you might say, that are fixed. Whether this is due to biology or nurture or flying purple bogons, I've no idea. But they're there, and they blow the theory that changing behavior changes much about the internal worldview of the person in question totally out of the water for me.

That's why I think the fellow I mention's behavior modifying quest is doomed. Not because saying "Yeah" is internal to the self, but because if someone like this person, who is one of the most serious people about her service I've ever met, can't change that behavior, it must either be something about which she disagrees fundamentally with her partner (whether she admits it or not) or somehow tied to those parts of her self that are fixed or anchored.

So: back to we can change how we think/who we are by changing how we behave. True? Maybe sometimes. But we have to already know where those anchors are. And for me and the way I look at domination -- hoo boy, does that look like a waste of my time.

If we want to change those anchored things -- those things that we usually most want to change, if we've got bad ones -- an internal shift in self-conception is required, and that requires, to my mind, something very different than simple shifts in behavior.

belledame222 said...

*nod*

at minimum, even if they're not "fixed" per se, they are not modifiable in the cog-behavioral model (which is a different approach than say depth psychology anyway).

belledame222 said...

and, heh, I -always- have the same thought wrt "CBT."

CBT (-that- kind) does have its uses, I think, but it mostly works for relatively surface-y or at least y'know -behavioral- problems. Learning to organize one's time; self-talk; sometimes, stuff like how to quit smoking (even there, though...there's always stuff below)

I'm of the school of "whatever works, works," and I know that some people swear by it.

but yeah, it's a very very bad mix with sexuality, I'd say, because, whether actually inborn or not, that shit is pre-verbal, pre-rationality; and CBT is all about the talk and the "rational" mind.



to serve, not to be humiliated.

opens up a fresh thread, but: of course there's also consensual erotic humiliation...that's not, I think, what you're talking about here, though. at any rate, if it's not what you signed up for, then...well.

belledame222 said...

...i'm off there, of course; CBT is derived from "operant conditioning," done with pigeons and so forth, so no, it doesn't have to be -verbal.- It's still very much -not- about howyousay "the inner life," which behaviorists were pretty strongly against incorporating into psych from the git-go, and which is pretty much what sexuality is all -about- (which is easily forgotten in all the emphasis on this act and that physiological sign).

also, we're not gorram pigeons.

...probably...

verte said...

I have to disagree. I'm having CBT right now, and find it incredibly helpful for dealing with anxiety, so I think it's natural to involve T in helping me overcome it. But yeah, that is a minor mental health problem. For more complex and severe health problems, it's mostly useless, I agree. However, I've seen people who were previously having non-epileptic attacks stop being triggered by things they were previously triggered by through CBT. There is some psychodynamic stuff in there too with my therapist, but a psychodynamic approach is useless for me, and in fact, has always made things far worse.

And BD, that's the thing. It's not about sexual behaviour. It IS the tiny things, just being prodded to have a little more self-discipline. I don't think that's a bad thing.

But I see what you mean. In D/s it could all go horribly wrong, you're right.

Trinity said...

"It's still very much -not- about howyousay "the inner life," which behaviorists were pretty strongly against incorporating into psych from the git-go, and which is pretty much what sexuality is all -about-"

EXACTLY.

And eh. Maybe CBT does have uses in that sense. I just know that I've seen a lot of people trying to use it to change deep-seated bad personality juju, like "my explosive temper," or "my ADD making me unable to plan" and -- eh.

Maybe it does give people some tools for managing, say, "what do I do when I start getting pissy/craving nicotine/etc." But I doubt that it gets to the root, and I think getting to the root is often what's needed most (though what's hardest to do.)

And my own personal experience dominating people sexually -- well, my own attitude is different from many others I know. I see what I do as a kind of... slight bending, shaping, nurturing of traits I already see in the person submitting.

So, say, he's really sexually voracious and eager to experiment, esp. with bottoming in various ways, but feels "men oughtn't." So I come along and encourage him to do it, knowing he'll love it, and knowing it'll help him to rid himself of pointless shame.

And some of the "encouragement" is direct orders. :)

To me that's not behavior modification. It's "you want this end result [less sexual inhibition] but you're afraid. I want it too, and I'm the boss, so: IT'S GONNA HAPPEN WHETHER YOU'RE NERVOUS OR YOU AIN'T."

Which is, to me, bending someone. To re-use an old metaphor of mine, it's putting the plant in a certain window, so it grows thus toward the light, rather than so.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

This time I'm gonna snag the book I was paraphrasing incoherently a while back and do the quote properly:

"My wife summed it up in talking about her .22 rifle. It was basically 'empty' when she brought it home, but she pointed out that it developed a spirit over a period of time through regular use, respect, a feeling of being valued, and most of all, special rituals for its care that one did over and over again. In the case of her rifle, it was cleaning it, carefully trigger-locking it and putting it away, and having the proper signs and sigils (the FID and the registration paperwork) ready to hand.

"This way of working with valued tools is what I think a pagan master ought to base 'slave training' on. After all, as a pagan animist I expect my most valuable and useful property to have spirit. Why would I want less from my human property, which would arguably be the most valuable resource of all? Instead of trying to reduce them to a drone and then programming them from the ground up, wouldn't it be more appropriate to use the kind of techniques that an animist uses to create spirit in and bond with their precious tools?"

-- Raven Kaldera, "Don't Break The Spirit: Slave Training in an Animistic Pagan World", Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path

He's writing that in pretty much direct response to Skinnerian-influenced notions of training, and the whole notion that I've seen some people put forth that one must 'break down' the person's personality and rebuild them -- like boot camp. Which he finds both inefficient and contemptuous of the sub/slave/pick your term.

Trinity said...

"Instead of trying to reduce them to a drone and then programming them from the ground up, wouldn't it be more appropriate to use the kind of techniques that an animist uses to create spirit in and bond with their precious tools?"

I want that book.

belledame222 said...

I can't speak to how it would work with epilepsy. Wrt anxiety--well, I wouldn't call anxiety "minor," actually, but, yeh, it can be one of the things that responds best to CBT, on account of a lot of the -causes- of anxiety can be chalked up to cognitive habits. i.e. black-and-white thinking, negative predictions, mind-reading, globalizing...which -is- the sort of thing that you can deal with "rationally." "Okay, let's just look at the facts. Now, break it down into small chunks..."

Trinity said...

*nods* Yeah, that makes sense... though reason does a lot less for me personally during a panic attack than, say, being held and soothed.

annalouise said...

My work computer won't let me comment on blogger so I keep forgetting to post here
but I've been so excited about this blog.

anyway,

Funny that Betty Frieden should be mentioned in this conversation early onbecause I was
thinking that if feminism really wanted to address "service oriented submission" as
a concept it would be a lauching pad for dealing with the shit that Betty Frieden
screwed-up in the sixties and that the feminist movement hasn't been able to get its
collective mind right about sense.
Getting emotional satisfaction from serving others, from seeing another person's
needs and fullfilling them is normal and okay. The satisfaction a person gets from putting others need first or from doing something altruistic is real and should be respected.
It doesn't have anything to do my sensitive womanly nature or gender or natural inferiority. It weirds me out that feminism doesn't take on these assumptions more. What parts of society benefit by presented the desire to please others as pathological? It should be a no-brainer.

Trinity said...

"The way I look at things, letting my skills and abilities atrophy is not only a bad idea for me as an individual, but it is a failure of proper service"

Yeah. A lot of the things that people need in "egalitarian relationships" that some folks attempt to leave by the wayside in D/s are also quite necessary for a properly working hierarchy, simply because they're needed in ANY relationship, regardless of the intensity or overtness of any power dynamics.

Trinity said...

"Getting emotional satisfaction from serving others, from seeing another person's needs and fullfilling them is normal and okay. The satisfaction a person gets from putting others need first or from doing something altruistic is real and should be respected."

Very well said, and I'm absolutely elated to see you here. :)

I grew up in a family where my mother -- well, she's a very dominant person, and sometimes I wonder if finding and embracing some form of D/s would have been good for her.

Because she's convinced that her desire for power is a bad thing, and she goes over and over through "how to be a good Christian" hoops trying to make herself more altruistic -- despite the fact that she's accommodating when people actually need her help.

So I grew up really enjoying reading Nietzsche and Ayn Rand and the whole "let go of false altruism," "will to power is natural and whether acting on it's taken to be moral or immoral is a social thing," etc.

But the whole thing gave me a very fucked up understanding of altruism generally, and especially of service and of people who are especially drawn to it as a life-pattern/vocation.

I, too, think that we have some really screwed up ideas and understandings about what service is -- religion (and sometimes volunteer work) are really the only places that openly talk about it in a sensible way.

As far as Friedan goes, I do think that she was probably noticing a trend and a worrisome pattern (among well-to-do white women, who are a small group and hardly the whole concern of "feminism") -- but that didn't, I don't think, have to do with service but rather with fucked up expectations of certain women and what would fulfill them.

verte said...

Annalouise: Welcome! So glad this blog is welcome.

though reason does a lot less for me personally during a panic attack than, say, being held and soothed.

I think that's why CBT works for me. I don't have panic attacks any more because I've learnt to control them with balancing worry into proportion. Anxiety, particularly, is often quite 'rootless', so I think that's why CBT can be effective in some circumstances.

I think I need to think a bit more about the idea of service. I've always wanted to detach myself from the word, but I think that's because of the religious connotations.

Trinity said...

"I think that's why CBT works for me. I don't have panic attacks any more because I've learnt to control them with balancing worry into proportion."

Okay, that makes sense. For me, panic attacks are a PTSD thing. I know full well I'm not going to, for example, die because I walked into a house with a cat (to which I am mildly allergic.) But the sudden presence of a mild danger sets all of my senses on alert no matter how I tell myself "this is the most that will happen now, this is not a threatening situation, etc."

It's not about faulty reasoning for me. It's about brain chemistry.

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