Friday, 12 December 2008

Audre Lorde, Carol Hanisch, Sadomasochism, Free Love, and Feminism

This one is going to get long.

An anonymous commenter responded to yesterday's post with a quote from Audre Lorde, ostensibly to explain exactly what radical feminists' opposition to SM actually looks like. I responded in comments there as well, and then figured it would make a good post of its own. So without further ado, here's the Lorde quote and my responses, taken from the conversation in comments here.

Interview with Audre Lord [sic; it's "Lorde", anony] on MediaWatch [The interview was originally published in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, edited by Robin Ruth Linden, et. al. Pp. 68-71.]
Leigh: What about the doctrine of “live and let live” and civil liberties issues?

Audre: I don’t see that as the point. I’m not questioning anyone’s right to live. I’m saying we must observe the courses and implications of our lives. If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny. We have been nurtured in a sick, abnormal society, and we should be in the process of reclaiming ourselves, not the terms of that society. This is complex. I speak not about condemnation but about recognizing what is happening and questioning what it means. I’m not willing to regiment anyone’s life. If we are to scrutinize our human relationships, we must be willing to scrutinize all aspects of those relationships. The subject of revolution is ourselves, is our lives.

Sadomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially and economically.

...Sadomasochism feeds the belief that domination is inevitable. It can be compared to the phenomenon of worshipping a godhead with two faces, and worshipping only the white part on the full moon and the black part on the dark of the moon, as if totally separate. But you cannot corral any aspect within your life, divorce its implications, whether it’s what you eat for breakfast or how you say goodbye. This is what integrity means...

Those involved with sadomasochism are acting out the intolerance of differences which we all learn: superiority and thereby the right to dominate. The conflict is supposedly self-limiting because it happens behind bedroom doors. Can this be so, when the erotic empowers, nourishes and permeates all of our lives?...

I do not believe that sexuality is separate from living. As a minority woman, I know dominance and subordination are not bedroom issues. In the same way that rape is not about sex, s/m is not about sex but about how we use power. If it were only about personal sexual exchange or private taste, why would it be presented as a political issue?...

The linkage of passion to dominance/subordination is the prototype of the heterosexual image of male-female relationships, one which justifies pornography. Women are supposed to “love” being brutalized. This is also the prototypical justification of all relationships of oppression-that the subordinate one who is “different” “enjoys” the inferior position.

The gay male movement, for example, is invested in distinguishing between gay s/m pornography and heterosexual pornography. Gay men can allow themselves the luxury of not seeing the consequences. We, as women and as feminists, must scrutinize our actions and see what they imply, and upon what they are based.
My responses:


I'm not sure if you posted the Lorde because you agree with it, or simply as a way to explain to us exactly where radical feminists are coming with this stuff. (I don't need the education; Against Sadomasochism, from whence that quote comes, is actually on my bookshelf already.)

[ETA: I think it's also important to look at the very end of the interview, wherein Lorde mentions that she sees the SM issue as far less pressing than others within the feminist movement -- a bit that I note Anon leaves unquoted:]
First, we must ask ourselves, is this whole question of s/m sex in the lesbian community perhaps being used to draw attention and energies away from other more pressing and immediately life-threatening issues facing us as women in this racist, conservative and repressive period? A red herring? A smoke screen for provocateurs? Second, lesbian s/m is not about what you do in bed, just as lesbianism is not simply a sexual preference. For example, Barbara Smith’s work on woman-identified women, on “lesbian” experiences in Zora Hurston or Toni Morrison. It is not who I sleep with that defines the quality of these acts, not what we do together, but what life statements am I led to make as the nature and effect of my erotic relationships percolate throughout my life and my being? As a deep lode of our erotic lives and knowledge, how does sexuality enrich us and empower our actions?
[With which I totally agree. My disagreement with Lorde is that she sees SM as unavoidably leading to bad effects. I don't. I think it leads to understanding what power means for us, as well as allowing many of us to experience a mode of living less focused on selfishness and ego than modern American society is. I think such experiences are a powerful, and important, corrective for many people in an ego-focused, "me me me" society. It's not about subordination. It's about distance from the ego.]

"If we are talking about feminism then the personal is political and we can subject everything in our lives to scrutiny."

As much as I respect Lorde (Sister Outsider? On my bookshelf too.), I'm gonna have to say she's doing what many feminists do, and misinterpreting what Carol Hanisch had in mind by the phrase.

Here's Hanisch's essay.

First, what it was referring to:
For this paper I want to stick pretty close to an aspect of the Left debate commonly talked about---namely "therapy" vs. "therapy and politics." Another name for it is "personal" vs. "political" and it has other names, I suspect, as it has developed across the country. I haven't gotten over to visit the New Orleans group yet, but I have been participating in groups in New York and Gainesville for more than a year. Both of these groups have been called "therapy" and "personal" groups by women who consider themselves "more political." So I must speak about so-called therapy groups from my own experience.

The very word "therapy" is obviously a misnomer if carried to its logical conclusion. Therapy assumes that someone is sick and that there is a cure, e.g., a personal solution. I am greatly offended that I or any other woman is thought to need therapy in the first place. Women are messed over, not messed up! We need to change the objective conditions, not adjust to them. Therapy is adjusting to your bad personal alternative.

We have not done much trying to solve immediate personal problems of women in the group. We've mostly picked topics by two methods: In a small group it is possible for us to take turns bringing questions to the meeting (like, Which do/did you prefer, a girl or a boy baby or no children, and why? What happens to your relationship if your man makes more money than you? Less than you?). Then we go around the room answering the questions from our personal experiences. Everybody talks that way. At the end of the meeting we try to sum up and generalize from what's been said and make connections.

I believe at this point, and maybe for a long time to come, that these analytical sessions are a form of political action. I do not go to these sessions because I need or want to talk about my "personal problems." In fact, I would rather not. As a movement woman, I've been pressured to be strong, selfless, other-oriented, sacrificing, and in general pretty much in control of my own life. To admit to the problems in my life is to be deemed weak. So I want to be a strong woman, in movement terms, and not admit I have any real problems that I can't find a personal solution to (except those directly related to the capitalist system). It is at this point a political action to tell it like it is, to say what I really believe about my life instead of what I've always been told to say.
So what she's talking about, actually, is not the idea that women must carefully examine their personal lives for false consciousness. What she's doing is defending the work of C-R groups as political rather than personal, because they focus not on being therapeutic rap sessions for "messed up" women, but on doing political work together. It's not about whether issues are personal or not (though the implication is strong that what's considered "personal" is affected by patriarchy, I'll grant that), but about whether a certain kind of group meeting can be considered to "count" as political work. It's a response to "Why are you talking for two hours when you could be lobbying?", not a response to "Why do you have sex that way?" or the like. In faaaaaaact....
The groups that I have been in have also not gotten into "alternative life-styles" or what it means to be a "liberated" woman. We came early to the conclusion that all alternatives are bad under present conditions. Whether we live with or without a man, communally or in couples or alone, are married or unmarried, live with other women, go for free love, celibacy or lesbianism, or any combination, there are only good and bad things about each bad situation. There is no "more liberated" way; there are only bad alternatives.

....When our group first started, going by majority opinion, we would have been out in the streets demonstrating against marriage, against having babies, for free love, against women who wore makeup, against housewives, for equality without recognition of biological differences, and god knows what else. Now we see all these things as what we call "personal solutionary." Many of the actions taken by "action" groups have been along these lines. The women who did the anti-woman stuff at the Miss America Pageant were the ones who were screaming for action without theory.
As I read this and the other quote, she's actually vehemently denying that being for or against particular "personal solutionary" things is actually good political work, because it sidesteps the real problem, which is not that women choose one thing over another, but that all possible choices have been stunted in some way or another.
One more thing: I think we must listen to what so-called apolitical women have to say---not so we can do a better job of organizing them but because together we are a mass movement. I think we who work full-time in the movement tend to become very narrow. What is happening now is that when non-movement women disagree with us, we assume it's because they are "apolitical," not because there might be something wrong with our thinking. Women have left the movement in droves. The obvious reasons are that we are tired of being sex slaves and doing shitwork for men whose hypocrisy is so blatant in their political stance of liberation for everybody (else). But there is really a lot more to it than that. I can't quite articulate it yet. I think "apolitical" women are not in the movement for very good reasons, and as long as we say "you have to think like us and live like us to join the charmed circle," we will fail. What I am trying to say is that there are things in the consciousness of "apolitical" women (I find them very political) that are as valid as any political consciousness we think we have. We should figure out why many women don't want to do action. Maybe there is something wrong with the action or something wrong with why we are doing the action or maybe the analysis of why the action is necessary is not clear enough in our minds.
[ETA: There is also this:]
Of course there were women within New York Radical Women and the broader feminist movement who argued from the beginning against consciousness raising and claimed women were brainwashed and complicit in their own oppression, an argument rooted in the sociological and psychological rather than the political.
Also, I disagree with Lorde's analysis of play, there. To be fair, I don't think that we remain completely unaffected by the things to which we turn our attention. At the same time, though, play is an important part of the growth and socialization of youthful creatures, whether human, dog, cat, whatever.

But small humans' play is very complicated. The simple fact that one finds a child playing a certain game of make-believe today does not tell us what she will grow up to be like tomorrow. I liked pretending my Barbie dolls were rock stars. Am I a musician? No.

There are other games that I played with them that more closely paralleled what I grew up to be. Sure. Like I said, we're not totally divorced from what we do for fun. But that doesn't mean that we can look at what someone plays with and read off who she is, unless we have more information.

[ETA: And I think getting that information will tell us what we need to know about what the play, whether a child's game or an adult's SM, means or doesn't mean. How does it relate to how she sees herself? Is she trying on a way of behaving that's foreign to her as a kind of personal exploration? Is the adult woman submitting or dominating because she feels she does the opposite in her regular life, and seeks balance? Is she expressing something she believes is essential to her character? If she is doing this, is she doing it because she looks down on herself or others, or is she reflectively involving herself in a relationship where her personality is valued? The answers to those questions are what strike me as important. On the question of whether SM itself, as some monolithic Practice, is better or worse for women or others than Vanilla, as some similarly monolithic Practice, I'm inclined to agree with Hanisch's analysis of all alternatives as just as bad (or as good -- I'm not so pessimistic) as one another. I also don't believe that either SM or vanilla activities are any kind of monolith, so theory based on seeing them as such is unavoidably flawed and therefore bad.]

I am, however, guilty as charged about believing that hierarchy is inevitable. I don't think this because it's so damn sexy I'm willing to put up with patriarchy, though.

I believe it because every time I've gone into a relationship expecting there to be no power dynamics, I've found myself ripe for other people's manipulation. I know how to handle someone with authority behaving in a way I don't approve of: challenge her, renegotiate our ranks if possible, or leave.

But I've had much less success in situations that were supposed to lack power dynamics. It was a big thing in my family as a kid, that no one should "want power" or "be selfish." Which yeah, sounded nice, but it left a lot of room for people to manipulate others and, when called on their manipulations, to say "You're crazy. I'd never do that."

I've seen the same thing when I've been in relationships that would supposedly be especially relaxing or healthy because "no one had the power." It's very easy for "the power" only to refer to some kind of rank ordering, and for people who are skilled at manipulation to turn that into, "Oh, you're not outvoted, sweetie, you're just wrong."

Especially when there's a specific ideology that the accuser can point to: "Oh, you want that? Well, but that's bad feminism, honey! Oh, don't get so upset, this is just about liberation!"

I think that the idea of ending hierarchy is nonsensical and dangerous [at least as I've so far seen it presented] because it doesn't include plans for ending manipulation and emotional abuse. [If it did include such plans, though, I'd likely dismiss the whole thing as a pipe dream, so make of that whatever you will.]


Gorgias said...

"Sadomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially and economically."

It has done quite the opposite for me. Practicing my sadomasochistic tendencies in a loving relationship with consent and negotiation has done much to allow me to overcome my timid disposition in other walks of life. It's like... "this is special, this is something my Master gets from me, and moreover, it's something I CHOOSE to do. You are not my Master. You are not honoring my choice, your goal is not mutual pleasure, gain, or intimacy but gain for yourself. You are not celebrating it with me, you're trying to hurt me. I'm not going to let you do that to me anymore."

"This is also the prototypical justification of all relationships of oppression-that the subordinate one who is “different” “enjoys” the inferior position."

The only difference is, we are freely choosing, free from coercion to do this, and nearly everyone in the lifestyle will tell you that they'd rather not leave it (cause they'd already have left it by now if that was the case, right?).

I understand that you think that the society has brainwashed us, but I think that puts too little emphasis on individual autonomy. We're all products of our upbringing, our education, and our society. At some point after the age of majority, we just have to accept that this is this person's will, free even if it was shaped by factors outside hir control. If we don't do this, your own will in becoming a feminist or choosing to question these norms itself becomes suspect- how do we know that you haven't been brainwashed by the dirty liberal establishment in rebelling against the natural order of the cosmos? (Not my view on the matter, obviously).

Trinity said...

"It has done quite the opposite for me. Practicing my sadomasochistic tendencies in a loving relationship with consent and negotiation has done much to allow me to overcome my timid disposition in other walks of life."

Makes perfect sense to me, Gorgias. I think a lot of these people think that our lives involve only one motivation or only one way of acting or relating to people, and we either pick that way of acting for political reasons or have it foisted on us.

Where my experience of human life is a lot richer. Hell, even my experience of my D/s relationship is a lot richer! I outrank him, but that doesn't mean the same thing at all times.

"I understand that you think that the society has brainwashed us, but I think that puts too little emphasis on individual autonomy. We're all products of our upbringing, our education, and our society."

Yeah, that's my problem with a lot of radical feminism (and communitarianism, for that matter!) too. People are seen as nothing more than products. There's nothing unique about anyone, nothing worth liking, loving, or honoring.

I can't imagine how that view leads to truly affirming sex.

What I do think, though, is that Lorde is often brilliant on sexuality. I don't agree with her anti-SM views, or her division of sexuality into the "pornographic" and the affirming, but I think she has wonderful things to say about the erotic and what it means for us. Sadly, this interview is all about views she holds that, I feel, are ignorant and prejudiced.

Here's some of her powerful views on the erotic that I'm saddened she doesn't see fit to apply to consensual SM and consensual D/s:

"The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.

It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.

The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining an idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

....We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But, once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our deepest cravings keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our own oppression as women.

When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual's. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering, and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like the only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within."

Renegade Evolution said...

"I am, however, guilty as charged about believing that hierarchy is inevitable"

Me too. To the gallows with us.

SnowdropExplodes said...

Hierarchies or power differentials are inevitable because human beings are not carbon copies of one another - we're different, with different abilities, strengths, weaknesses, knowledge. Wherever two such unequal entities encounter one another, there will be, well, inequalities. And therefore, there will be some difference in power, relative to whatever situation(s) they encounter.

As a sadist/dominant type, no one would guess from my usual interactions with the world - I am naturally timid, self-effacing, eager to help others, and basically kind-hearted: there's a reason why my NSFW blog is called "And you thought I was sweet" - it's because most people do think that!

It's worth mentioning, I guess, that early Radical Feminism tried to use similar reasoning about gay/lesbian sexuality as well, about what it all means and where it might lead people.

I struggled with reading the Lorde quotation and following it, because each point seemed to use logic along the lines of: "All post boxes are red. Therefore, the moon is made of green cheese", as though the conclusion followed naturally from the premise and needed no explanation.

Trinity said...

"there's a reason why my NSFW blog is called "And you thought I was sweet" - it's because most people do think that!"

Many people were initially taken aback when I came out to them as kinky, too. They seemed to think I'm quite innocent!

Which is another thing I think gets lost in a lot of these debates. For many people (though not everyone, and not all the time), SM provides ways to explore parts of yourself that you don't usually show. The dominant side, for a meek person. The submissive side for a take charge person. The angry side, for a harmony-maker, etc. For many people it's about personal balance. It's odd that the Examiners have never, well, examined that.

Trinity said...

"I struggled with reading the Lorde quotation and following it, because each point seemed to use logic along the lines of: "All post boxes are red. Therefore, the moon is made of green cheese", as though the conclusion followed naturally from the premise and needed no explanation."

I'm not so sure I agree there, SD. I think it's pretty clear what she's saying:

1. Sadomasochism involves setting up power differentials.
2. Sadomasochism is about sexual pleasure.
Therefore 3. Enjoying sadomasochism is enjoying power differentials.


4. Society includes unjust power differentials, such as those that place men over women.

The piece of the argument that is not well-explained, and that I think both you and I would disagree with, is something to the effect of one of these:

5a. These unjust power differentials are the only power differentials that exist; or
5b. The power differentials that sadomasochism deals with are only the unjust ones.

With the addition of this, we get, therefore, 6:

6. Sadomasochism involves eroticizing something unjust.

Then going back to Lorde, we see

7. The erotic has an important place in our lives. It is a part of who we are.


8. Whatever we spend time eroticizing -- especially if we build whole parts of our relating around the erotic, as relationship D/sers do, will affect our identity, our deepest self.

But since we know from 6. that sadomasochism eroticizes things that are unjust, then we have by 8. that 9. our lives will be affected by our investment in/erotic fascination with the unjust things.

Now here are the two major flaws:


5a is pretty clearly false to me. Anyone who's had a mentor, a sensei, a good teacher in or out of school, or a loving parent knows that not all power dynamics are always bad.

5b is trickier to refute. From what I gather, the justification for this (which is not in the quoted bit of Lorde, but is in other essays in the same volume) is the fact that some SM folks do play with clearly unjust social dynamics. There do in fact exist people who do, say, race and Nazi play -- and I'd agree that eroticizing those things, as well as setting up some of the "meaner" style scenes, do include eroticizing injustice. Sometimes we are being mean. I know from having looked at your "and you thought" blog that, well, yes, sometimes you're eroticizing coercion, fear, death, etc. So... yeah, I'm gonna have to bite the bullet on 5b, and I think you would too, as I characterize you from peeks at that blog.

HOWEVER, I do not think this is necessarily the case of all D/s. Some people really are quite sweet and nurturing all the time. And even those who are not, like you and me, may be far less invested in the harsh stuff than in the sweet. But by themselves, those things don't disprove 5b.

Which brings me to...


With which I do not disagree at all. (Surprised? You shouldn't be.)

and NINE

With which I either do or don't, depending on what's being said.

I do think that engaging in SM affects me. I think I'm exploring power and how it works in my life when I do it. I think I'm being intimate with my partner. I think I'm expressing my desire to possess him, to make him ever more mine. I think all of that's real. And if some of that relates directly to patterns that come from oppression, then yes, I suppose it follows that "oppression is affecting us."

What I don't agree with at all is that loving the SM, or the D/s, makes me love the oppression. The oppression can provide themes for me to stage an interest in exploring power. It can suggest historical or personal situations in which power dynamics are particularly stark. But choosing to go with that is not choosing to approve of the oppression, any more than choosing to make a movie about bank robbers because they're intriguing means choosing to support bank robbery.

It's misidentifying what I am doing to say I'm supporting, or unwittingly training myself to support, oppression or violence when I have "violent" consensual sex. I'm valuing many things: the sexual pleasure, my partner, myself, the intensity of the feelings, the excitement of exploring my dark side, etc. I'm not valuing oppression.

Does that help any, SD?

Rosa said...

"I've seen the same thing when I've been in relationships that would supposedly be especially relaxing or healthy because "no one had the power." It's very easy for "the power" only to refer to some kind of rank ordering, and for people who are skilled at manipulation to turn that into, "Oh, you're not outvoted, sweetie, you're just wrong." "

OMG YES YES YES! I have so been there. My vanilla long-term relationship (14 years of long-term FWIW) was that. My ex - in many ways a lovely, caring, political, anti-sexist man - was brilliant at manipulating me. So much so that for years I honestly believed that all the problems in our relationship were my fault and I didn't even talk to my friends about it because I was ashamed.

I am so much more comfortable with the explicitly negotiated and expressed power dynamics of the D/s relationship I am now in. And I think that ultimately it is also more respectful, and more personally liberating for me.

Trinity said...

"OMG YES YES YES! I have so been there. My vanilla long-term relationship (14 years of long-term FWIW) was that. My ex - in many ways a lovely, caring, political, anti-sexist man - was brilliant at manipulating me. So much so that for years I honestly believed that all the problems in our relationship were my fault and I didn't even talk to my friends about it because I was ashamed."

I've had that exact experience before, too. I don't want to go into precise details, because the person might well find it and reopen old drama. But yes.

I'm much happier in my current relationship too. Some might say that's because I'm the top, but I'd say it's because we actually think about power and how we use it, more than it's because I "have it" (which I think is also an oversimplification.)

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Goddamn, do I hate the misinterpretation of "the personal is political" that leads to "you are answerable to others for your private life".

What was that about? That was about people saying that abortion was just women's personal shit, not something that should be dignified with political concern. People saying that housework and childcare divisions were just women's personal shit, to be settled between them and their men, not something that should be dignified with political concern.

And so on.

It didn't mean that any random woman is available as a dancing monkey. No matter how many "radical feminists" want to scream, "Dance, monkey, dance!" in the name of "the personal is political".

Trinity said...


EXACTLY. That's why I posted this.

It pisses me off terribly to see *Lorde* did this too... she was generally one of the wise ones, one of the people going "Wait, we ought not hate on straight women, on men, white or black, on mothers or sons or people unlike us."

I guess BDSM was just so far outside her understanding that the theory took over for her.

SnowdropExplodes said...


That sounds like what Al Turtle describes as a Master/Slave relationship. When I approached him to question his use of the term Master/Slave, because I thought it impacted negatively on the BDSM community, after an email conversation, he composed the following:

As a counselor several times I have run into members of this community, and found them to be usually more informed about healthy relationship skills than the general public.


The phrase “mutually informed consent” shifts these relationships, now using my terms, to be a Friend/Friend relationship with a Leader/Follower dynamic (See my paper on Power of Passivity to understand the risks.). The 'D/s' or ‘M/s’ communities use of Master/slave (notice the use of upper and lower case) refers to this Friend/Friend dynamic, and has no relationship to the 'Master/Slave' relationship that I describe and that I believe is ‘epidemic’ in normal long-term relationships.

Funny, that.

BeccaTheCyborg said...

Holy crap, that was amazing. I'm almost speechless, and am going to be pondering further all day.

Plus, thank you for a good analysis of the "personal is political". Turns out I was right in thinking what I thought it meant, but it seems I had indeed been bullied into doubting myself.

Trinity said...


I find myself having to go back and re-read the Hanisch after some of these discussions. Blogoverse radical feminists (and, as the Lorde quote shows, apparently a few non-blogoverse ones) are utterly convinced it means something like "go over your personal life to make sure it coincides properly with your principles."

Which is not what it's about; it's about how feminists found themselves discovering that what men could call "the private sphere" and pretend therefore "didn't matter" actually did, and that political action was necessary. So, for example, IPV and marital rape was not "none of society's business" because the door to the house was closed, because marriage equaled eternal access, etc.

"The personal" -- a woman's life at home, relationships and interactions with her coworkers, bosses, or neighbors, etc -- "is political" -- is a site where injustices happen, and therefore feminists should fight for protections for women in the supposedly "private" sphere.

That's it.

I do think it is sometimes worth looking over your life and seeing how you succeed or fail in living in accordance with your own principles. But I think this is a matter of conscience, not a matter for nosy parkers. I don't think it makes any sense for outsiders to go "My theory says you failed to live up to this principle."

If I know a close friend, and I observe her behaving hypocritically, perhaps I have reason to point it out. Aside from that, the endless encouragement to match up the MY LIFE ledger to the FEMINISM ledger makes no sense at all to me.

Luke said...

Re. the inevitability of hierarchy, I'd first off ask if you've read The Tyranny of Structureless, which I suspect you have, which points out precisely that lack of explicit power structures doesn't mean lack of power structures.

Secondly, while I think everyone being quoted/you are using 'hierarchy' as meaning either 'power differential' or 'explicitly recognised power differential', I tend to use it for something slightly different. I agree that power differentials are natural and inevitable (and hence concealing them just messes stuff up) but those natural differentials (like being stronger, or knowing where a good source of food is, or being more persuasive) are, in general, very mild - for one thing, I can just go and spend time with other people, so no individual can control my whole life. 'Hierarchy' is a form of social organisation that adds together all of these tiny natural imbalances in such a way that they stack up and create vast vast power differentials - such as that between a general and a private, or a rapist-with-the-toleration-of-the-courts-and-police and a woman-without-a-home-in-a-society-where-all-homes-are-owned. Hierarchy, I suprisingly think, is bad. The opposite, 'anarchy', is a form of social organisation that adds together little power imbalances in such a way that they cancel out and balance each other and no particular people are 'powerful' in relation to society as a whole. Doing so, of course, is almost impossible if those power imbalances are not first recognised, accepted, organised, and codified.

Trinity said...


I do tend to think that "vast" power differentials are unjust and should be torn down, but this is not actually because I think there's some threshold of bigness after which they become "bad", but simply because the greater they become, the greater the possibility for corruption. I don't really think I have an innate suspicion of bigness.

There are jobs right now that I wouldn't be qualified to do; Obama's coming one, for example. Is this because I'm inferior? No, but it is because I don't have the training to do it.

In a more "anarchistic" (pet peeve to use the term "anarchy" for "small bunch of local thingees", but that seems to be what it means, so... ah well) society, such training might not be needed. In this one it is, so I'm not qualified for the job.

Now, I can in some sense "easily" rectify this and be just as qualified, though, so I don't think there's some sort of "inferiority to Presidents" in me that limits me.

I'm also leery of the idea of "cancelling out" -- it's far too pat and mathematical. Just because I do A and you do B doesn't mean we've evened anything out if A is more socially valuable. And we may be "even" if we do totally unrelated things, but how that relates to whether we are treated the same by the others around us, I don't see.

Anonymous said...

"The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house"
Audre Lorde

Trinity said...

Post coming on that one too, Anon. :)

You might want to pick a pseud, by the way.

Anonymous said...

"Now the third wave also has a take on sexual politics, that is, on the connections between power, sex as male and female, and sex as sexuality. They too believe that the power hierarchy placing men above women is unjust, but they have different ideas about what counts as challenging that hierarchy, particularly as it is expressed in sex-as-sexuality. On this view, for instance, a woman challenges the hierarchy when she plays a dominatrix role, or when she becomes a sexual consumer (for instance, using pornography or getting a lap dance at a strip club)—that is, when she adopts a standardly masculine set of sexual roles and activities. A woman also resists, on this view, when she uses the “power” of femininity—her beauty, her sex appeal and hotness, etc.—to her own perceived advantage. According to third-wave feminism, then, a woman can enact a liberatory and feminist sexual politics by adopting either a typically feminine or a typically masculine sexual role and persona, and running with it—as long as she does so freely and with the right attitudes and intentions...
That analysis, I’ve contended, is mistaken and dangerous in that it encourages a willful myopia with respect to the role of one’s choices in a broader system of sexualized dominance. That myopia, in fact—with the freedom it grants us to pretty much do as we please like good American consumers—is precisely its appeal. That’s why it’s hard to combat.."
Rebecca Whisnant 'Not your father's playboy not your mother's feminist movement'

Anonymous said...

"Now think about it: in this cultural and political context, a feminism that acquiesces to certain key male entitlements, while simultaneously presenting itself as bold and liberated and rebellious, is likely to be appealing to many women....we adjust our desires based on what’s actually happening and on what we think is and is not possible. Philosophers have a useful term for the results of this process: “adaptive preferences.”5 The basic idea is simple: if I can’t have something (or think I can’t have it), then it behooves me not to want that thing. Conversely, if I’m going to get something whether I like it or not, then I’ll be happier if I can get myself to want it and like it. So people adapt their desires to fit their situations, rather than vice versa, thus minimizing the pain and cognitive dissonance of continuing to want something that they don’t think they can get: “if you can’t have what you want,” as the saying goes, “then want what you have.”
The concept of adaptive preferences is indispensable to understanding the self-reproducing dynamics of oppressive systems. In particular, I think it can help us understand the new brand of feminism of which I am, for the moment, taking Karp and Stoller as representatives—the brand that’s sometimes called “do-me feminism,” but for which the less polite moniker is “fuck-me feminism.”.."

Whisnant again

Trinity said...

Dearest George:

I don't think that we challenge social hierarchies when we do SM in bed. But nor do I think that we challenge them when we choose not to do SM in bed so as to be more pure. Whisnant is falling prey to a common sort of "radical feminist" wishful thinking -- the idea that making some little choice in one's own life is somehow on a par with actual lobbying against discrimination against women, against rape or IPV, etc.

Even if you are right and "choosing vanilla" is a sort of personal detoxification, that in itself is not a political move. Only the activism you actually do is that.

Trinity said...

Dearest George,

I don't deny that the folks you quote are quite smart. I find much of Lorde inspiring myself.

However, shouldn't feminism be about finding your own words?

Eternally yours,

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Oh look, how cute. It's another "You're just doing what Teh Patriarchee wants of you" in catastrophic ignorance of the effort of fighting for self-acceptance.

Dear anon: Teh Patriarchee wants people, especially women, to hate their sexuality. Being a Good Woman, with socially-approved erotics, is an old, old myth of oppression, and the treatment of the Bad Women is the threat to keep them in line.

You're being a good dog for your master. Keep trying to find a button those Bad Women will respond to with appropriate shame.

Trinity said...

"Teh Patriarchee wants people, especially women, to hate their sexuality. Being a Good Woman, with socially-approved erotics, is an old, old myth of oppression, and the treatment of the Bad Women is the threat to keep them in line."

EXACTLY. In all the "radical feminist analyses" I've seen -- and yes, I've seen a lot -- I have never seen this point adwquately addressed at all.

Marilyn Frye (and others, I'm sure, but it's midnight and I'm about to flop over like a dying fish at the KB) had a good *start* when she pointed out that the rapist can justify himself whether he rapes someone who loves or hates heterosex, generally.

If she loves it, well, she must have wanted him. If she hates it, well, surely he's the cure for such offensive "frigidity."

But from there, the radicals simply cannot accept that sexual autonomy, even of a sort that bothers or confuses them, is the only thing we can advocate for women. Instead they get mired in a lovely maze of trying to decipher meaning -- which only leads to its own unjust hierarchy, the top of which is the woman with the Secret Decoder Ring.

It takes courage to say, as the boy did in the fable of the Emperor's New Clothes, that her ring does not do anything at all. But so it is: she's merely dictating her own wants for all, or at least sweeping the things that squick her under the rug.

Luke said...

"the greater they become, the greater the possibility for corruption"

I think that's a key issue, but I also think that there's no obvious line between corruption and proper use - for example, the king need not be 'corrupt' to interpret 'the good of the kingdom' in a way that involves prolonging his rule and benefitting him. The decision is so complex that almost anyone's judgement will reflect their biases and their interests (where interests need not be obvious material things but are often subtle psychological things). And since each decision conditions others (the king's conditions the Archbishop's, which conditions the guildmaster's and the lord's) these distortions can easily fit together to become a system of vast and fantastic injustice and harm. Given that, I think the only reliable way to proceed is to try to equalise power wherever possible, so as to make decisions reflect the net biases of everyone involved.

"pet peeve to use the term "anarchy" for "small bunch of local thingees""

There is a tendency to associate anarchy with separate local groups, but I think it's possible for autonomous groups to federate with such tightness that they operate in practice with just as much, if not more, integration as we have now. By analogy, ensuring that individuals have certain rights against society doesn't imply separating them from society, and has historically meant quite the opposite. Sorry this is a bit of a digression, but this idea is a pet peeve of mine as well. :)

"I'm also leery of the idea of "cancelling out""

I see a lot of our current institutions in this way. Separation of powers, most obviously. Elections also - they give the governed a form of power over the government (which has enormous power over the governed) in the hope that the two will to some extent 'balance'. The whole idea of 'law and order' in the sense of repressing violence means that people are prevented from exerting a particularly extreme sort of power over others (because if they physically attack someone, they in turn will be physically attacked with greater force). And social security/socialised healthcare, housing, etc. aim, among other things, to ensure that no individual becomes so desperately poor as to be at the mercy of anyone who can offer them work/a place to live/etc.

Of course, these institutions co-exist with institutions that enhance hierarchy (government and private property, principally) and in practice I don't think they work much like they're supposed to. But what validity they have, it seems to me, comes largely from this idea of both equalising power, both by weakening the strong and strengthening the weak.

Not sure if I'm pushing a particular point, I'm just here to big up anarchism.

Trinity said...


Well, I think the discussion of anarchism is kind of an aside, but let me just say here what I always say. That is that, well, when I actually ask people exactly what kind of society will exist and how it will function after there is no government, I get one of two responses:

1) that anarchism is a kind of personal ideal, a sort of way of looking at and living in the world based on principles, which has far more to do with these principles than with actually seeking the dismantling (or the violent overthrow) of governments. In this case, I guess I don't mind, but I find myself baffled at why people would call it a politics when really it appears to be a value system.


2) some kind of syndicalist setup, whose exact composition I can't quite determine. (i.e. I can't tell whether what we wind up with are small, barter-based communities, or large workers' collectives that trade with one another, or what, exactly.)

In this setup, I find myself extremely leery. Much is said of barter, and of workers and workers' lot, but very little is said of people who do jobs that don't fit into the factory or hands-on laborer mold.

To get to the point: What becomes of medicine and medical science when we have a series of syndicates? Health care is broken now, as it is, but what happens when there is far less centralization for doctors?

I have a disability. I and my people often require complicated medical care, much of which is best done by specialists. How will people, in the kind of localized "my syndicate trades with yours" "ideal" society, get the care they need?

You've said you're a radical feminist. Radical feminism, as I understand it, looks for the roots of social injustice and finds them in broad patterns of social inequality (like patriarchy, white supremacy, etc.) How, pray tell, can a radical feminist exalt and defend an ableist system, where people like us are left to survive or not, as though we were beasts?

The world is already built for you and those like you. I got off my knees at twelve, and don't particularly feel like scraping before y'all again so you can have your Utopia.

Luke said...


I appreciate your frustration, and I must first apologise for the fact that, rather like (other sorts of) communism, anarchism is hard to positively define. A large part of this difficulty is due to the fact that there isn't really a single 'plan' for how things should be run, but rather a rejection of certain options (a centralised coercive minority, private control of the means of production, etc.) and the belief that people will set up their positive institutions in a veriety of ways that best serve their needs.

I do however accept that even if this is true, it's not much good to people who are trying to understand what anarchists are all about.

What I would envisage (and this is simply one possibility) would be an economic planning aparatus built out of directly-democratic assemblies and layers of their delegates, where the fact that the assemblies meet regularly allows them to exericse ongoing control over their delegates and give them binding mandates (as opposed to voting in a government and then hoping that they did what they said they would). This network of councils would have no coercive powers, and would 'control' its constituent members by the threat of withdrawing co-operation and services (which is what, ultimately fines amount to). Individuals would be free to separate themselves from, or to join, any organisation, and would retain the right to inhabit land, consume goods, and so forth, but would, on leaving, lose the right to be served and actively facilitated by group members. At the same time, groups would be prepared to use restraining force against those who invaded people's personal spaces, needlessly destroyed or despoiled things, or assaulted other people. The capacity to deploy force in this way would be vested in the group as a whole.

Many things would be 'free' to consume, among them healthcare, food, housing, and education. Consequently, work would be the result not of economic necessity but of inclination and passion. Other things, which were scarce and individually consumed, would require some sort of currency, which would be issued by the network of planning assemblies as payment for socially useful work.

There might be a problem of sufficient motivation: would enough people be willing to do useful things? To the extent that this is a problem, more things could be made dependent on the currency mentioned above, while in proportion as culture changed and people became willing to work without material incentive, this could be reduced (this is roughly what Marx says on the difference between socialism and communism - when people need material incentives, give them those, but ultimately we hope that they will come not to).

There might also be a problem of order - can a disorganised citizen's militia effectively suppress violence and sabotage, and fight off enemies. Again, to the extent that this is a problem, the 'armed forces' could become more formally organised, but in proportion as the need for this subsides, as systemic causes of violence disappear, this could also disolve away. (this is also similar to, though different from, Marx's notion of the misleadingly-titled 'dictatorship of the proletariat').

There might also be a problem of co-ordination, of finding out what things people want. Hopefully, the fact of everyone's participation in the planning assemblies would be sufficient to overcome this, but in proportion as that it doesn't, assemblies could make use of market-like mechanisms of various sorts (these can be pervasively regulated so as to avoid the growth of a capitalist class, but I won't go into how here). Again - circumstances will dictate the details.

Anyway, to answer your specific question about people with disabilities, what I think you seem to be expressing is a fear that, while currently the state takes the role of 'doing things for the sake of society, not for personal gain', if the state was removed nothing would replace it. That is an accurate impression of anarcho-capitalism, but anarcho-capitalism is quite remote from the historical main trend of anarchism, which has been very much a part of socialism. It might also be an accurate impression of some 'non-theoretical' life-style anarchists. I would estimate that the great majority of anarchists worldwide believe strongly in social provision of, at the very least, social goods like healthcare, as well as guaranteeing individuals access to what they need to live, and not leaving anyone to "survive or not".

That was quite long, but I hope it gives something of a flavour of what I have in mind.

Luke said...

Oh, and to make a couple of small comments:

Barter is, I think, a very bad idea. I think it makes much more sense to either exchange relatively freely (i.e. I make XYZ because I enjoy it and people are impressed, then everyone can use it, while I use what everyone else has made) or to use a currency, though that currency could be very different from 'money' (e.g. it might be restricted to consumer goods, not to capital goods or land, or it might have a 'negative interest rate', i.e. it's going to disappear so don't hoard it up).

I also think the focus on workers is something of a mistake. I think the emphasis of many anarchist writers (as well as Marx and Engels) was on freeing people from identities as 'workers' or anything else, freeing people of the compulsion to work, allowing people to combine manual work, organisational work, research work, artistic work, caring work, in whatever combination suits them. The proletariat is the focus of attention because traditionally it is seen as the group that is best-placed (or even, in some views, historically fated) to bring about the change, not because the ultimate goal is for everyone to be what proletarians currently are.

Trinity said...


Thanks for that. That's one of the most thoughtful defenses of anarchism I've yet seen, and sounds good on paper (where a lot of the other anarchists I hear say things that don't sound good to me on paper at all.) I'd want to know exactly how the transition to the world you're describing should take place, though.

Most of the people I know who defend it are either of the "It's a way of living my life in accordance with my value system, so I don't vote so as to live my principles" kind of thing. Which, well, okay, but I don't see how that gets any kids their polio vaccine, ya know?

Trinity said...

Otherwise they're of the "We need workers' collectives" bent. Which... eh. I don't know what to think. On the one hand, I do understand both a) how it was in Marx's time, and b) how for many it's not so much better (if better at all) in ours. But I'm not so sure that I know that because one collective in Spain is famous for working, it makes sense for everything to work that way. (And even there, the whole idea that this is "not a hierarchy" doesn't parse in my head; as I understand their structure, they do in fact elect bosses of some kind.)

And also... eh. This is probably privilege talking, but I'm not so sure that I'm personally invested enough in what's best for the workers to know how society should be changed. I know a lot of people who are carefully trained in specialized fields, and it strikes me as very, very strange to either totally dismiss this or vaguely handwave about how everyone's good at different things. I just don't know how (and it sounds like you agree) pouring all our effort into workers' collectives is going to make a stable society. Maybe it is -- maybe the difference I see with people who are not, say, factory workers is only an artifact of my privilege. But it just seems to me that it's analyzing a whole lot of things -- lawyers and doctors and machinists and people working on assembly lines -- as exactly the same in a way that just doesn't parse in my brain quite right.

Luke said...

"I'd want to know exactly how the transition to the world you're describing should take place, though"
Well, how it 'should' take place would be that everybody come to see how lovely it would be, and voluntarily agreed to that. But that's very unlikely to happen. To speak in generalities, I'm afraid I do anticipate that there would be conflicts were substantial moves made towards it. But typically what that means is that those opposed to it retreat from liberalism and democracy (to the extent that we have those). This has happened in a lot of cases, often where the threatening reform was very mild - indeed, liberal democracy itself was born with huge bloodshed. And in the face of that violence (not just active repression, but the enforcement of property rights is itself violent).

I suspect this won't please you. Often people feel that 'if there will be widespread violent conflict, starting a revolution is a bad idea'. But 'starting a revolution' is not typically the deliberate action of a few people (although making a coup or leading a guerilla war, both tactics associated with setting up "socialist" states, as in Russia or Cuba, might be). A revolution, especially an anarchist one, will necessarily hae a huge number of peple behind it, and that many people won't respond to one person's plans, they'll respond to their environment and the pressures put on them. If you wish to avoid the revolutionary struggle, you should wish to avoid those pressures. But, arguably, the only way to avoid the pressures is to not have the system (capitalism) that produces them.

"It's a way of living my life in accordance with my value system"

Yeah, I think people studying law talk about 'anarchism' and mean simply an abstract doctrine that legal obligation does not guarantee moral obligation, or something. There's a lot of different understandings out there - but then, that's not really too different from words like 'liberal', is it?

"the whole idea that this is "not a hierarchy" doesn't parse in my head; as I understand their structure, they do in fact elect bosses of some kind"

Yes, but this comes back to what 'hierarchy' means. My understanding is that it's a structure that exacerbates and strengthens power imbalances - such as a workplace where not only does one person have the task of managing and disciplining the other people, that person can hire and fire, can decide when and how much to produce, and can appropriate a preferential slice of the revenues. Whereas in the kind of workplace collectives we're talking about, it's accepted that the function of management needs to be done somehow, but it's vested in someone who lacks the right of ownership, and who is accountable to the other workers.

"either totally dismiss this or vaguely handwave about how everyone's good at different things"
I'm not quite sure what you mean here, I'm afraid. Perhaps this is that I'm not precisely familiar with the perspective you're talking about.

"it's analyzing a whole lot of things -- lawyers and doctors and machinists and people working on assembly lines -- as exactly the same"

Well, I don't think they're supposed to be 'exactly' the same. Rather, it's an attempt to show where one of the most significant similarities lies, namely in the idea of doing something that will benefit someone, in exchange for entitlements to access goods and property - as distinguished from owning property and investing it, or whatever. I've usually found class-struggle people of whatever sort fairly happy to talk about the differences between different sorts of employment.

Luke said...

Ooops sorry typo. End of last paragraph should read "And in the face of that violence...I think it's necessary to respond with violence - discriminate, reactive violence (i.e. not massacres, not aerial bombing, not Red or White terror), aiming only to suppress the use of violence by others, but violence none the less."

Trinity said...

I think only people who have lost loved ones to war or state violence can be trusted to determine when bloodshed is warranted. That's the end of the line for me. So, if you've had a relative killed in Iraq, THEN go ahead and tell me warfare is a solution.

If not, you're cheapening human life. Not pleased? You could say that.

Fluence said...

Wow, this is a very good, in depth post, in fact I think I'll need to come back and read it again, but for now a phrase that jumped out at me (with reference to the idea that SM leads to bad effects) was "I think it leads to understanding what power means for us"

This is my feeling too. I know some SM relationships just reinforce outdated hierarchies in an unreconstructed way, but most of the BDSM people I know are more aware of the contingency of power, able to see through it, play with it.

Luke said...

I think there is a tendency to see violence as violence only when it is carried out by non-states. People, for example, talk about the riots in Greece, which have destroyed non-human objects and thrown rocks at people in armour with shields, as "violence", but they don't include the kidnap and imprisonment of innocent but undocumented migrants and refugees as "violence", even though it involves wrestling human bodies to the ground and locking them in cells for unknown periods of time.

Maybe you're not doing that. Maybe you would have opposed not just the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam wars, but the Second World War. Maybe you would have opposed the Tanzanian intervention against Idi Amin or the Vietnamese intervention against Pol Pot. Maybe you would even have opposed the resistance forces in France and Greece and Italy and Poland who fought the Nazis.

If so, then we merely disagree. If not, then you as much as me believe that under certain circumstances, "warfare is a solution". Again, maybe we disagree over what those circumstances are. But I don't think that anyone other than an absolute pacifist is 'cheapening human life', because human lives end from a lot of causes other than outright war.

And no, I've not lost any relatives in war.

Trinity said...

I won't be party to starting a war simply because I have ideological disagreements with the government.

I do not believe most wars are just. The number of exceptions to this is absolutely tiny, in my mind. Bored kids getting frustrated with the fact that there's a president is not sufficient justification for war.

Luke said...

"Bored kids getting frustrated with the fact that there's a president is not sufficient justification for war."

If by that you mean the kind of tiny groups who try to 'encourage' class struggle by planting secret bombs or assassinating monarchs, then fair enough, I'll agree.

But as I said, typically what happens is that states respond violently to mass-backed challenges to their power. For example, in Spain the offense was not starting a war but redistributing land, as it was in Guatemala and Chile. In all these cases, the armed forces of the state, and the economic elite, dispensed with democratic governmental forms precisely because they threatened to do what the people wanted, and unleashed torture and massacre. Perhaps the UK and USA have strong enough democratic traditions that this won't happen, and everything we might want can be accomplished legally. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't hold back from demanding things out of fear of reaction, and if armed reaction comes, it should be fought.

Trinity said...


Self-defense is definitely not what I got out of your earlier comment. I took it as "Nonviolent resistance is not enough." Think "Communist Manifesto."

And in terms of that, I stand by my earlier comment. I think it's very easy for intellectuals enamored of revolutionaries' books to wax poetic about The Revolution, yet when you ask them where their guns are or whether their faith will never waver as their partners, children, or parents are gunned down, awkward silence follows.

That's why "where are your guns?" and "do you know how you'll react seeing your sister's head blown off for Freedom?" are always my first questions to those who seem poetical about starting T3h R3volt.

Luke said...

I'm sorry I wasn't clear; looking back of what I wrote it seems consistent to me, but clearly that didn't come across.

If you want me to admit that war is hell, then I will happily admit that. War is hell not just because of the people who are killd, the famine and disease and homelessness, but because far from encouraging heroism is tends to corrupt even those who win. It breeds the opposite of the conditions favorable for anarchy: a tendency to respect only brute force, to interpret disagreement as disloyalty, to see everyone else as a potential rival or enemy. A progressive, let alone anarchist, movement would only survive a war if it entered that war with unprecedented solidarity and organisation, and fought without resorting to indiscriminate methods.

All I'm saying is, firstly, that I anticipate that war, horrible as it is, will come, through armed reaction. Maybe I'm wrong there - that would be great. Secondly, I don't think that purely non-violent methods would succeed against a committed, armed, reactionary assault. Or rather, the level of committment and tightness that a movement would need to stand up to people willing to shoot into crowds without ever using force is even higher than that required to do so with force and without transforming into 'animal farm'.

Luke said...

Hi, I hope you don't mind me using your blog to shamelessly self-promote, but I've started my own blog and just wanted to mention that I'm linking here in my blogroll, if that's cool with you guys.

stagetwo said...

i, too, grew up with liberal parents who considered wanting power and any form of domination evil. although i am sympathetic to the motivation behind this view, i think it ignores human nature: (1) people want power (for security) and while this can be destructive, it is not inherently evil. (2) people have sexual desires for dominance and submission -- this is a reality. the feminist argument appears to be that while it's a reality it is cultural, not natural, and thus we should redefine our desires. i do not think this is true: there are biological roots to these desires and a different upbringing (as many men and women of my generation have experienced) does little to change this.

i've been trying to understand these issues here:

if feminism is to continue to lead positive social change, it needs a compelling vision that acknowledges what seems to me the elephant in the room: female sexual preference, which overwhelmingly -- in my personal experience -- is a preference for male dominance. a heterosexual male who is not dominant does not get laid: because he does not appeal to women.

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