Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Concept of Slavery (or Training and Conditioning 101)

Over the past several months, there have been several discussions about the concept of submission and slavery and the degree of choice (or not) a “slave” in particular is privy to. Some thoughts have been tumbling around in my mind lately about the degree and extent of “ownership”; whether in truth it really exists, whether it is simply a lovely fantasy, or conversely, a dangerous precept based on an unbalanced and intrinsically dangerous vision.

While I am cognizant that a great number of people quite passionately feel to their core that they are indeed “slaves’ to their Masters and as such, have no freedom of action, choice or want, I question the veracity and ultimate REALITY of that belief.

But that’s me and at the best of times, I know I tend toward cynicism and a hard-headed practicality that can effectively quash any fantastic imaginings.

I thought it might be instructive? fun? illuminating to get some viewpoints!

To clarify, I don’t challenge ANYONE to the right to call themselves whatever they damn well want nor do I question an individual’s sense of self. I don’t live in your skin, have your experiences, experience your dynamic, nor think your thoughts – and believe to the soul that your perceptions are JUST as valid as mine – so challenge me.

These are just my views – not the only ones, not even the “right” ones (I don’t think there are any hard and fast ‘right’ ones) – let’s just have fun with this.

It’s no secret that I believe the entire concept of “slavery” is in itself a lovely fantasy, one in which adults are entitled to indulge and enjoy, but one that, IN MY OPINION, has no basis in reality.

Jean-Paul Sartre said as long as there is consciousness there is the ability to negate - to say NO. Regardless of whether that negative is internal or external, it is the NATURE of consciousness that there is awareness - if there is awareness there is the ability to say no.

Regardless, I don't believe in the concept of "internal slavery" - I see it has a mythic dream or fantasy and works very well only if both participants choose to believe that fantasy.

Freedom is not itself a matter of choice,” Sartre insists; it is the ineluctable, inherent and foundational quality of human being. We are, as he puts it in one of his pithy formulations, ‘condemned to be free’: every time we act, we are destined to discriminate anew between various possible courses of action in pursuit of our project to modify our situation in the world. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for the actions we commit, and we are therefore, on the evidence of these, amenable to moral judgment”… Ultimately, in Being and Nothingness, Sartre asserts (and I agree) that we ALWAYS choose how to act.

The fact that a submissive/slave CHOOSES to obey every single command of his/her Master STILL makes it a choice – conscious or otherwise and in that sense, “conscious choice” and awareness are probably more prevalent and obvious at the beginning of the relationship but less obvious (yet my assertion is nonetheless existent) in the end.

Now, in terms of an M/s dynamic, Sartre would see it as a conscious choice made by BOTH parties – one on which they are willing to be judged. One which is “chosen” by both parties within the parameters created by one and accepted by the other.

I am also aware that in the long-term, what starts as choice, becomes almost a form of “muscle memory” – which leads me into the concept of “training and conditioning” which Pygar first brought up here .

Because as with the entire concept of “slavery” (in the BDSM construct), “training” and “conditioning” smacks too much to me of an excess of Story of O readings. (I mean, am I the ONLY one here that finds that story tragic to the extreme and the “Master” in it the epitome of what a Master should NOT be?)

The human brain, the complex physiological makeup and incredibly intricate psychology of each unique person ensures that there is no simplistic way to “alter” behaviours that are bred in the bone – whether as the result of genetics, experience or training.

But before I argue the semantics, I want to address the concept.

I’m not a puppy.

I don’t see myself as something to be moulded and changed into a perception of someone’s fantasy. I come complete with my own personal set of triggers, experiences and mindsets.

While I understand (and yes, concur) that it is neither unreasonable nor odd for a Master to have expectations and desires with respect to what he wants in a submissive or slave, I personally would not want to submit to anyone that wants to change me into something foreign to who and what I am. Apart from anything else, I would find it perplexing as to why he would wish to alter to any considerable extent the characteristics and personality of someone I assume he was attracted to for specific reasons in the first place?

But that aside, the reality is that it is entirely beyond the abilities of MOST people to really undertake. As Cutsey Pah succinctly points out in her comment to Pygar’s post – psychological manipulation can cause long-term trauma and issues and should not be undertaken at all without experience, education and expertise.

Straight behaviour modification requires stimulus response – but if you’re a thinking being, that conscious response will not work effectively. Without a solid, scientific background in behavioural modification, in cognitive therapy and psychology, the chances of altering an individual’s behaviours to a degree that is considerably different from their “norms” is problematic, unlikely and can (if the individual has a fragile emotional balance) be dangerous.

The bottom line is that I think a lot of people fool themselves into believing they are “training” and “conditioning” their submissive or slave when the reality is that as in any relationship, compromises are made, behaviours modified and choices undertaken that reflect the Master’s wishes – because said submissive or slave is motivated, driven and eager to please the one they serve.

Now, having established that in many cases, it is simply relationship-driven, there ARE cases where conditioning, habit and willpower do create changes in the individual. These, however, are not based just on a Master’s whim but rather are usually apparent in long-term relationships, where certain behaviours have been rewarded, others discouraged, and yes, psychologically manipulation has taken place.

This cannot (in my OPINION) happen in short-term situations but occurs in a longstanding, intense relationship where the simple passage of time and the day-to-day interaction and impact of the dynamic consistently and persistently emphasize certain behaviours and requires constant repetition, consequences and rewards (becuase psychological studies show in humans, as in animals, POSITIVE reinforcement is far more effective a tool than punishment).

And the impact will be not only on one individual only (the submissive) but will have a commensurate impact to a degree on the dominant as well. Because when all is said and done, we are NOT dealing in one or two dimensional individuals at either end of the spectrum – we are dealing with complex human beings whose interactions can and do result in changes to both.

[more to come]


swan said...

My facile response to this is that it is not about choice at all; it is about what each partner in the relationship is obliged to care about or react to. The nature of these dynamics is that the submissive half of the equation must by habit or will or some combination of those, come to care intensely about the wants, needs, feelings and responses of the partner. On the other hand, the Dominant half of the relationship need not care or respond to those same bits on behalf of their partner -- althogh they may do so. AND it is the choice of both to live inside of that apparent inequity. Whatever it is called, that is, from my perspective, the salient reality.

There is probably much more to say. Your arguements are surely grounded in good background. I suspect that we fall into trouble in trying to discuss this just because it is hard to come up with the exact definition of the critter we intend to reference.


selkie said...

swan, you bring up one of the most salient points and one I argue for consistently - you're right, to simplistically define this issue is an exercise in absurdity as we are all unique and the dynamic created between each of us and the others in our individual dynamics is in itself unique.

And I DO understand from reading your wonderful writings and others that the inequity you speak of is bred in the naature of teh relationship - that I can't get my head around that simply underlines MY reality not anyone else's!

M:e said...

I was going to leave a comment which simply said "look forward to the more to come" but the exchange of comments between you and swan have helped me frame my reaction to this piece. Very often as I read around cyberia I find people reacting to the language we the labels. 'Slave' is a very emotive term to both good and bad ways. The whole idea of inequity within a relationship pushes buttons equally hard.

I do believe that those of us who feel we are in our rightful place within our relationships don't really care too much what we're called, or how others view us.

M calls me his slave simply because its a term people recognise....they understand the dynamic the term tries to convey. We ARE an unequal relationship of equals.....ultimately, despite any struggles....I submit to him or I cannot be his....that's the bottom line. So yes, while I would agree that there IS a a choice, for many of us within relationships like these, its a pretty stark one....and one I'm very happy not to put to the test!!

I think you probably know swan and I well enough, and probably others too, even if only through our writing to know that we don't blindly submit either. Any struggles we have come from both a belief in our dynamic, and a wish to make it work. We strive for the perfection of it...whilst recognising it will always be imperfect, because relationsips contain human being and humans are imperfect. So yes, maybe a mix of fantasy AND reality....for many of us heavily weighted towards the latter though.

love and hugs xxx

PK said...

Hi selkie,

Please allow me to say a couple of things coming from someone who struggled with these concepts and finally, just gave up.

I think there are MANY people who romanticize The Story of O. They pick and choose the parts that they like and ignore any that don't fit their schema. Like someone going down a cafeteria line, I'll have the carrots, but no peas thankyouverymuch.

I was involved last year with a man for several months. A master. Who wanted a slave. Who had other slaves. He was smart, erudite and interesting to me. That doesn't happen very often, so off I went. I thought, well, I can be a slave. He was older than I and having living a fairly exotic life where he used his body to the extreme, for all intents and purposes, he was slowly becoming crippled. It became that he wanted to exercise control over every aspect of my life. What I ate. Who I saw. What I read. You get the picture. At first, I went along. I AM such a person that really likes to try new experiences. However, I came to realize that the severity of his demands seemed to be a substitution for his lack of physicality. In other words, if he couldn't control what was happening to his body, he could control what happened to mine.

Bit by bit, I could see that this was truly the power that was left to him. In his day, he was a man among men, and a force to be reckoned with. At the time I knew him, that power was fading. That is not why I ended the relationship and yes, it was just another relationship to me because NEVER in my heart did I feel that I was truly his slave. I knew I lived in a free world when one person does not OWN another, but merely consciously conceded my will to be one taking on the label of slave. (Yes, here someone will say...ohhh she wasn't a real slave. Uh. No. I wasn't. Dumbass.)

In the end, it had the complete opposite effect. It made me realize that by trying to relinquish my identity to someone else and trying to submerge myself in the safe haven of a 'slave,' that I was really shirking my responsibility to live my life on my terms authentically. For me, it was, don't like making decisios? be with someone who does. don't like managing money? be with someone who will manage it for you. don't like exercising? be with someone who will punish you for missing that yoga you see where I'm going here?

It's not that living with someone and choosing a M/s dynamic is wrong as long as both parties know what is what. It's that it is (for me anyway) the absolutely fucking WRONG choice to choose that when it is not a choice, but rather an ABDICATION of my own personal responsibilities and power.

In the end, the 'slave' revolted and told the Master he could pretty much go fuck himself. It didn't end well and it didn't end pretty, but the fact of the matter is...I may make some mistakes in my life, but they are my mistakes and I take full responsibility for them. ERGO, the same goes for the successes. THEY ARE MINE AS WELL.

This is the true lesson that I learned. So for others, while they may say they are a slave and act out in ways that present themselves as slaves, it IS a choice they have made, at some level along the way. The real enslavement comes from within with their own abdication of their personal power. No matter how you flip it. I am the stronger because I submit or I submit because I am strong. No matter which way you choose to cook the egg, in the end, it's still an egg. I also believe that this is a first world phenomena and I many people of African-derived ethnicities buy into the whole slave dynamic?

I didn't say it very articulately and I reckon there will be some people that say I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about...because THEY have the real deal. Well, the truth is, I've been searching for the real deal for about 10 years. And what I found are plenty of "MASTERS" who aren't the masters of their OWN lives, but would sure love to be the master of someone else's.

I finally just gave up. Feh! Now, it's really just about some very interesting sex to me. For anyone who practices either dynamic, I don't judge them, but as for me, it just wasn't the right road to travel.

In the end, if you and your partner CHOOSE to define yourselves as Master/slave and act that out accordingly, then I support that completely.

For me personally, ultimately, what I discovered is that I am my own fucking force of nature. And that is mine to negotiate. On my own terms.

Sheesh. I'm a wordy fuck.

gabby said...

I wanted to thank you for this post. I have been reading your blog for a few days now and I am impressed by your writing and grateful that you put forth items for true introspective thought. I will be anxiously waiting for the next part of this post and thinking on my own reactions.

selkie said...

M:e .. I think it is partially because I DO “know” so many of you through your writings that I find this topic so fascinating, complex and quixotic. And so many of the individuals whom I really admire and see as strong, committed, amazing women DO perceive themselves as “slaves” – i.e. swan, you, morningstar and many many more!

Although I never termed myself slave during my own long-term D/s relationship, I DO understand the motivations and the mindset regardless. And I think BECAUSE I have enough insight into myself, I find myself often questioning the apparent dichotomy of submitting and yet also being strong, feminist and decided.

I think you’re right that ultimately it is not that different to ANY relationship – ultimately it is all a give and take (with rather more emphasis on the take perhaps); it is finding a balance that two individuals find comfortable, intricate and right.

PK – sometimes I think you have a direct link into my own mind. I don’t know if you have noticed how often we concur on the (sometimes quirky) way we view life!
First, thanks for sharing that story – I think I find it most fascinating because I’ve wondered myself what it would be like to give up that degree of personal autonomy – I think I would have reacted in exactly the way you did.
I was also struck very much by your comment “In other words, if he couldn't control what was happening to his body, he could control what happened to mine.” – as there were frissons of that in my own relationship – D. and I had a big battle when I was diagnosed with Type 2 and I remember after several months of what I found unacceptable intrusiveness in the way I was dealing with it – saying to him –“it is MY disease, MINE, you can’t control it or me – it’s not yours!”. (In all fairness I know a lot of his attempts were due to genuine heartsick worry about me and i did understand that).

But, bottom line is that yes, the fantasy to me of giving up all right to make decisions is enticing (I mean, seriously, don’t we ALL get so damn tired of responsibilities sometimes?) but for the Master there is something probably immensely attractive about controlling someone completely – theirs do with as he pleases – well, that’s the FANTASY.
As D. said when we were talking about this yesterday, is that apart from what he feels would be the boring mundane aspects of the dynamic (i.e. picking out clothing, meals, etc) he said where would anyone get the TIME?? It takes time to plan out your own day not to talk about someone else’s!

I’m really enjoying this discussion (and relieved so far people are taking it in the right spirit) – as both M:e and Swan bring up facets I wouldn’t have thought about.

Ultimately, as you say, however people choose to perceive their dynamic, whatever label they feel comfortable assuming, is fine – because it is all about each of our personal CHOICES.

selkie said...

gabby, welcome to my corner of the cyber world! I look forward to getting to know more about you and thank you for yoru kind words about my meanderings!

Gillette said...

Chapter 2 of the Universal Parental Handbook (which doesn't exist except in my mind) contains one of the most important things a parent must keep secret: one must never, never let the kids know that they are the ones really in control. Because, in the end, it is they who decide to obey us or not. Think about it...what happens when they choose to not obey? We don't want them to get any that they have choice because it might create a revolution that would be messy once word got out.

Many people applaud me as a great parent, my kids included. I can (and did) create a great illusion and thank heavens they believed me. But I secretly know I was lucky. My children never went overboard, I was never truly tested.

In the end, to me, every human response and relationship is based on choice. In the D/s case it's about the conscious choice to let go of choice or not. That initial dynamic/committment is there and remains as long as the relationship sustains itself. There may be specific instances where we give up something smaller (something not perceived as "choice") in the moment to honor the bigger choice, but that Primary Sacred Choice remains.

We may not like what we think are our options: "he may leave," "I may be physically harmed" or die. The options/choices may be totally fucked in our minds, and we may not see other choices...but that in, itself is also a choice, n'est pas?

But...every thing in my world is about choice, though. It's all a part of the construct or our minds. Everything is choice and intention. It creates worlds. So that would be the only way I could respond to this topic, yes?

Muahahahahaha...she takes herself wherever she goes...

Buffalo said...

You've thought this through quite well. I think your argument and conclusions are dead bang on.

I could debate Sartre's theory re consciousness and the ability to choose, but it is too damn early in the day for me.

Anonymous said...

when h and I first went down the 24/7 path we did try for a while to define things in a contract. One clause was:

h has the right to expect her Master to both know her, who she is and has always been, and to respect these facets of her personality and not to require her to do or become anything which would make her uncomfortable or in any way interfere with those facets of her personality.

I agree with you Selkie I fell in love with her for specfic and wonderful reasons why would I want to change her. All relationships require choice and I believe they all exsist is a form of fantasy.

I look forward to the more to come.

littleone said...


i have read this post more than a few times these past couple of days.. (i don't know .. maybe i am brain dead - but it did seem to take some studying to take all of it in)

At first i sorta / kinda disagreed with you....... but then.... tonite i realized.. you are absolutely right..

Changes in my behaviours.. my attitudes etc.. that Sir "trained or conditioned" me in.. wouldn't have happened if i hadn't accepted/wanted the changes..

i always thought i could never be "slave" because my commitment wasn't deep enough....... perhaps slavery is just another fantasy that some folks live - others strive for...... and i have discovered is just that... a fantasy

(if you follow that rambling you get a gold star!!)

morningstar (owned by Warren)

cutesy pah said...

I tried to post this once, but it didn't appear. so, if this comes up twice, don't blame me, blame blogger.

selkie, if you EVER decide to move to the US for work, you and I definitely HAVE to work together. Your writing is amazing, and I can only imagine how great you are at job in the legal world.

What a thought-provoking post! I have read, and re-read this post and the comments several times over. There is so much here that I want to discuss, but I don't know where to begin, or if I would be better served addressing it on my blog rather than all here in your comments.

I've tried to be as succinct and concise as possible. Please forgive my verbosity.

I've tried the whole "labels" game and it just didn't work for me. I've been told many many times that I am not submissive because I speak my mind, and don't bow to every man (female Dommes don't seem to have this problem) who calls himself a Dominant.

I've been told that I'm not a slave because I work outside the home, make most of my own decisions, have my own clients, and have my own possessions such as a bank account, my car, and refuse to allow someone else to raise my children.

And, in my heart and mind, I'm not certain what I am, in terms of a slave or a submissive. I'm very much a sexual submissive. But it's more than that - I mentally want to be a slave. I want to be competely dominated, and give up complete control.

But, as Daddy says into every life some vanilla must fall. And, we connect in so many ways that makes our relationship so wonderfully comfortable, intimate and satisfying. We can talk about everything. We think alike, ratioalize in the same manner, have the same work ethic, drive, focus and dedication. Daddy actually tells me that I'm perfect, just the wsy I am, and he has no interest in changing me.

But, every other relationship I've been in, not long after we started, they wanted to change me. Suddenly what they were attracted to was no longer acceptable, and they wanted me to be different - less outgoing, less outspoken, less opinionated, and less intelligent. Huh? The sad thing was that I went with it for too many years. For many, many years, I tried to change me to satisfy the men in my life - vanilla and dominant.

Until, like PK, I gave up. and took a break for me to figure out who I am, what I want, and what I need.

And, then, I decided to venture back out in the dating/BDSM world. I decided to take a chance on free websites instead of the big pay sites that I've used in the past. And I still got all the flack that I couldn't be an attorney and a submissive, and definitely couldn't be a slave unless I was willing to turn over eveything to a complete stranger.

And, then I met Daddy. I truly didn't think that a man who would love me for me didn't exist. I was wrong. And, for once, I'm absolutely, unequivocally thrilled to be wrong.

It is all about choices. I've made poor choices in the past, and I was convinced I couldn't find the relationship that blurred the line between fantasy and fiction.

For that's my choice, to have that relationship that involves the heart and mind, that blurs that line between fantasy and reality, and to have a man who wants to walk that fine line with me, who's willing to drag me kicking and screaming through vanilla and D/s life, and who above all else, loves me exactly the way I am. For the first time in a long time, I'm finally making the choice to trust and to give myself to a man who respects me, loves me for me, and who is truly worthy of my submission.

I've discussed this same concept with Deity, in that the submissive truly controls the situation. For if the submissive chooses not to submit, the Master or Dominant is without control or power. If the submissive is hungry, cold, in pain, the Master or Dominant who loves and cares for his pet, or property (insert the appropriate term of endearment here), he will adjust the situation in order to make the submissive more comfortable. Now, some might say that's unacceptable behavior for a Dominant, but I think they would be wrong, and wouldn't be anyone to whom I would to submit. And there are those who would say that it's topping from the bottom because the submissive expressed her discomfort. but, I say that's poppycock. Topping from the bottom is trying to manipulate the situation, and trying to MAKE the Dominant alter the situation to suit the submissive. In this case, I'm talking about two people who truly care and are concerned for each other's health, safety, comfort, and pleasure. In this situation, the Dominant clearly knows and understands his submissive, and chooses to alter the situation because he wants his submissive to be comfortable, or pain-free, or knows that without changing the situation, harm may come to his pet, property, etc.

Daddy always says that his mother taught him if he didn't take care of his toys they wouldn't be there to play with later. I choose to be submissive to him. And, he honors and respects that choice.

He also chooses to honor and respect my career, and takes great pleasure in knowing that I am a tigress in court, and his pussy in bed. He knows that I retract my claws out of respect and deference in his presence. I am an alpha female, a dominant woman in public, but he is MY alpha. I choose to trust him with my secrets, my health and safety, with my emotional triggers, my frailties, and my idiosyncrasies.

And, above all else, I choose to submit to him, and he chooses to dominate me. We are symbiotic, feeding off each other, and our focus, our purpose is to please each other, to seduce the other to commit and willing fill our roles of dominant and submissive.

Vesta said...

Selkie: I don't know how I didn't manage to find and read you before now. You're my kind of girl!
I have to think that the major factor in any relationship is that the two people like one another fundamentally as they are. That said, I think, as a submissive, I am striving to be the best person that I can be; not just as a submissive to a dominant, but as a person. If I acknowledge that I could be more even-tempered and my dominant works with me towards that goal, teaches me, then I see that as "real". Interestingly, I wrote this morning, before I read this, that I need to feel that the situation I am in, what I agree to, is "real". The things I am asked to do need to be meaningful or else I am going to struggle to consistently do them. Unless the submissive (or slave, or whatever) feels that there is a purpose for the change, then I don't see how she can maintain her desire to make the changes simply because another person desires her to do so. I think the D/s needs to be part of real life rather than as a adjunct to real life for it to maintain relevance over a long period of time.
Your writing is just what I have been looking for!

THE Michael said...

I believe consensual slavery and religion both share the same paridime, in that both depend on something that simply isn't real, yet, both are practiced as though they were both cast in iron, which is what makes them "real" to their adherents. I pretty much accept, based on common sense, that there is no real "Goddess" floating around out there in the cosmos, wearing gossamer robes of starlight and asking to be worshipped by over-the-hill-hippies, but I don't NEED her to be that kind of real. The kind of real I ask of her is the metaphoric representation she is tasked with that allows me focus my best efforts towards reducing the harm I inflict on my world. Plus, the pageantry is cool.

So, if a woman derives pleasure from "serving" me, you honestly think I'm gonna complain? Attempting to force her into service and acting as though it was all her idea, now, THAT I have a problem with. The word is CONSENTUAL. Something the Taliban need to be taught.....

Liras said...

Very thoughtful and well-explained.

You speak of responsibilities, of being released from them.

Being submissive is fraught with responsibility. I will gladly admit that I cannot and DO NOT want to work that hard. Bearing his expectations and mine? On no.

I see the desire for an intense, encompassing bond that is the root of D/s. Sadly, I think it truly escapes many of us. Just brief glimpses and a few heady days, here and there.

I shall be curtail my thoughts on the slave issue, as we still have real ones in our current times and I don't it is sexy for them or fulfilling. Once slavery is truly eradicated the world over, I will chatter away on that aspect of D/s.
(If I live that long.)

Best wishes on balancing it all.