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On the Dominant Problems of sub/Cultures

posted by on May 6th, 2012

So, another post by SnowdropExplodes1 that’s worth boosting, for those who don’t regularly read there.

In terms of what he quoted from Daisy Deadhead,2 I’ve argued similar things here, though with an arguably darker slant. But there are a couple of additional things that I’d like to note, the first of which is in regard to this, quoting SE:

Obviously, “trying and failing” is the field that Consent Culture seeks to deal with; Decency 101 (or “education” in the terms used by CC) will only work for people who are engaged with learning. Those who won’t listen are a problem. Those who listen but don’t care (i.e. the serial abusers) are fundamentally a threat, and have to be dealt with differently.

As well as in other posts, that’s what I was getting at in this one.

The thing that almost floored him, when he heard that, wasn’t the comparison. It was the idea that the difference was one related to consent. What a lot of people don’t seem to realize — but what becomes readily apparent if you’ve dealt with a number of these individuals, especially in a treatment context — is that they often do believe in consent. Or more to the point, a twisted form of it. It’s just that in their minds, it becomes something that we no longer recognize. And that’s one of the main reasons why straight-out attempts at education fail. Because the information goes in, but once it’s there… it’s no longer what it was.

They don’t listen, but often because they believe that they understand it better than we do. They don’t care, but often because they believe that our understanding of these things is marred by obstacles from which they are free. Or they don’t listen, or they don’t care, because they feel that they have a right, or even an obligation, to question. To seek out the answers themselves — the answers that they believe that we, or anyone else, cannot provide, and that only experience can prove.

And sometimes,3 they don’t listen because they’ve come to believe that they have no other option. That even if true for others, the words could never be true for them, even if they wanted them to be.

None of which is to say that reform and rehabilitation is impossible; as we continued to talk, the doc I referenced agreed with this, and, as I’ve referenced elsewhere on other occasions, I’ve known people who’ve worked in that specific field as well. But it’s a complex and delicate thing, involving victim empathy, risk factors and aftercare, and it only works for some. To see it as a matter of consent education is to see it as something that it is not: it’s fully possible to respect consent, fully and completely, and to fully and completely believe it — and still, on occasion, commit these offenses. The sources are not the same.

But returning to SnowdropExplodes’ post, there’s one point on which I have to disagree:

Fundamentally, though, the message of this post is that these problems and issues are not unique to any particular type of space: they exist in BDSM, they exist in liberal politics, they exist in SF/Fantasy fandom, they exist in all spaces that are open to anyone to say, “yes, I belong here.” Because the types of people who represent problems of this type are present in society as a whole.

But in a nuanced way.

Although I agree on the general point, there’s the idea of restricted, transgressive and specialized knowledge that comes into play; and extending from this, the idea of a counter-moral ethical space, or one of judgmental suspension, within which ideas that are normally rejected can be explored with acceptance, or at least with the dispersal of censure. And it’s with this in mind that I’d assert that the problems of the BDSM scene seem to have more in common with some scenes than others, this being something that the above overlooks (quite possibly out of lack of familiarity).

Specifically, and saying this as someone with long-running background in it, it’s worth noting that some commentors in Cliff Pervocracy’s thread referenced similar problems (and suggested solutions based upon their experiences) in the pagan scene. My background is more with the occultism community than the pagan one as such, but I’ve noticed the same. And even the same issues with privilege, sexism, classism and race,4 depending upon which schools of practice were involved.

(Anyone with a sufficient history in these scenes will probably note the similarities in this article, linked in another of Snowdrop’s posts. Including, most notably, the reactions in the comments. Also, the elements noted in the “They don’t listen…” paragraph, above, should be quite familiar.)

So, although it’s accurate to say that these phenomena occur widely, it’s also worth pointing out that they seem to coalesce more strongly, and in certain, identifiable ways, under certain conditions. And it’s worth suggesting that those differences should be taken into account.

  1. Along with his one on feminist self-identification.
  2. This should not, however, be construed as agreement with DD: her posts and comments, in my reading, consistently raise a number of red flags. I’ll restrict myself to that.
  3. As was claimed by the man subject to one of this state’s first chemical castration sentences, if not the first, when I met him, previous to it being imposed. (It was a chance meeting: we happened to be in the same block of holding at the time, as he was being transferred through the area.) His claim was that he was looking forward to it; he saw it as a release from something that he couldn’t control on his own.
  4. The strength of each varying with type and the “lineage” issue, and this aside from the widespread problem of cultural appropriation.

 

4 Responses

001: SnowdropExplodes,

May 6th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Yeah, on the “disagree” point – I was just going for the general conclusion that the types of people are going to be present. I think the nuanced version sounds like saying that the forms in which problems arise around those types of people are shaped by the distinctive features of the spaces in which those people exist. And it’s trivial to state that some spaces are going to be more similar to one another than others are (although I would accept that a lack of familiarity with a wide range of social spaces is relevant to my observation). The issue is that I am still walking the tightrope of campaigning for wider acceptance while recognising there is a problem that needs to be addressed in BDSM communities.

I would very much like to draw out your views on the links between these two statements:

“there’s the idea of restricted, transgressive and specialized knowledge that comes into play; and extending from this, the idea of a counter-moral ethical space, or one of judgmental suspension, within which ideas that are normally rejected can be explored with acceptance, or at least with the dispersal of censure.”

“Or they don’t listen, or they don’t care, because they feel that they have a right, or even an obligation, to question. To seek out the answers themselves — the answers that they believe that we, or anyone else, cannot provide, and that only experience can prove.”

They sound very closely related concepts to me – it is just that you reference one in a context of criminality, while the other is in reference to an ordered subculture.

002: Infra,

May 6th, 2012 at 7:41 pm

The issue is that I am still walking the tightrope of campaigning for wider acceptance while recognising there is a problem that needs to be addressed in BDSM communities.

Yeah, I understand that, and I agree with the point about the triviality of the observation of similarity — it was mostly a segue into the point about the two (sub)cultures in question. Though I’d contend that it isn’t just a matter of form. It’s also a matter of the people attracted, which contributes to the form. Which goes to the two parts that you quoted (but also including, in the second one, the absence of obstacles — such as inhibitions, hangups, qualms about the morality of symbolism and act, and boundaries of sensation tolerance — and knowing better — such as having more enlightened, progressive, or unrestricted views of the world or of human experience and power relations).

Although I don’t think that there’s a direct relation between criminality and ordered subcultures with those forms, certain questions start to bridge the two: are the absence of obstacles and the existence of insight (or the talent for it) inherent, or could they be, and if the answer is yes, what does this imply? Is there a way to thresh out the chaff, so that only the ones with the right capabilities are taught? If someone is tried and found wanting, what’s to be done about them? Should such knowledge be restricted, and if it should, does this imply the existence of an elite? If it does, what is the relation of this elite to the rest? And most importantly, does the remainder have any right to impose limits upon it?

Of course, these aren’t new questions: they’re the ones that de Sade explored, assuming that one reads him as a philosophical author. And that’s how the two relate, I think, and where the core of the problem lies.

It isn’t a matter of absence of consent. It’s a matter of questioning the validity of the social relation, of questioning the very nature of the social itself.

003: SnowdropExplodes,

May 6th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Again, agree with the point about types of people – another way of slicing the cake, I just wanted to recognise that there is a cake to be sliced.

The thing that bothers me is that, as Clarisse has discussed with respect to polyamory, there is a tendency for subcultures to use language that is very similar to, “having more enlightened, progressive, or unrestricted views of the world or of human experience and power relations,” in particular. I’ve definitely seen that turn up more commonly than is good, in BDSM discussion spaces. That whole thing of “we know better” that I see as an undercurrent both in liberal spaces and alt-sex spaces.

“It isn’t a matter of absence of consent. It’s a matter of questioning the validity of the social relation, of questioning the very nature of the social itself.”

Again, it’s hard to draw the line between that, and what BDSMers do: the only distinction I can form is that when BDSMers play, or form a D/s relationship, together then it is ideally together, and so they question the validity and nature but also construct a new validity and structure between themselves. My best guess would be that the criminal/abuser types tend to construct it for themselves alone. Which seems to loop back around into the issue of “consent”, but from a different angle?

004: Infra,

May 6th, 2012 at 9:32 pm

The thing that bothers me is that, as Clarisse has discussed with respect to polyamory, there is a tendency for subcultures to use language that is very similar to, “having more enlightened, progressive, or unrestricted views of the world or of human experience and power relations,” in particular.

Definitely. I’ve gotten extremely wary of any mention of “sheeple,” especially. And it actually connects to why I’ve been doing the analysis of Sucker Punch, too. It isn’t just about the film; it’s about how these views of being enlightened and informed can end up producing dehumanization and dismissal of reams of information, when presented in a normative form, even by those who pride themselves on standing for humanity and in-depth normative cultural awareness and critique.

The same kind of thing with the Popchips video and the PETA “boyfriend went vegan” one, too. Though not as directly.

Agreed, about the difficulty in drawing the distinction — but that’s kind of what I was getting at in one of the other posts, in terms of the structure of the scene being useful for certain individuals. And it relates to something that I haven’t written about here in a long time: the idea, in law, of positive and negative failures. The idea being that a positive failure is when the guilty are more regularly convicted, but this comes at the price of increased numbers of innocents; and a negative failure is when innocents are spared, but with the consequence of more of the guilty going free. Given the difficulty of drawing the distinction, it seems that the BDSM community prefers to err on the side of negative failures — or, in large measure, has.

But I think that there’s a more complicated issue here than one of consent, or more accurately, one that defines the meaning of consent by context: it’s the issue of what “together” means. And that’s what I’m getting at with the point about questioning the validity of the social relation, and the nature of the social itself. It loops back around to the issue of consent, but in such a way as to redefine it, preemptively, by challenging the grounds upon which it relies.

Lars-Henrik Schmidt did some work exploring this in The Libertine’s Nature, in an analysis of Sade (short preview available at link). That might help to clarify the kind of thing that I’m aiming at, here.

 

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