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BDSM as a Logical Reaction to Monopoly Capitalistic Society

Popular culture depicts BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Submission/Sadism, Masochism), which utilizes sexual power dynamics as a means of furthering excitement and eroticism, in a way that generally distorts mainstream perception of practitioners. Ironically, by enforcing just one extreme of BDSM play, thereby painting the culture in a biased light, the media is demonstrating exactly what BDSM is confronting. Power is everywhere: present in institution-to-individual interactions as well as individual-to-individual interactions—including sexual relationships. In understanding how inextricably combined power and sex are, we can understand why power dynamics are the linchpin of BDSM play and get a more holistic view of this heavily misunderstood subculture.

 

Power is Everywhere

On bold-type phrases, interpret “power.”

To understand this concept, we have to examine what gives an entity power or what characterizes something with power. Power lends agency, running everything from machinery to the White House. As an abstract, power allows us to hold some capacity of control. Necessarily, this concept involves an exchange between an empowered entity and an entity lacking empowerment.

Forces in our atmosphere as well as the ground beneath our feet have a capacity to control where populations decide to live due to natural disasters and the motion of tectonic plates can kill.

Police officers also have the license to end a life—if they deem it necessary—and to deprive individuals of their freedom. Elected officials and representatives have abundant influence on the laws that govern our society and can even sway the governing forces of other nations. Power decides the rules and, if those rules are not followed, the repercussions. Those who have power can wage wars; the masses are the pawns of those with power.

Even micro interactions involve power exchange. The professor has the qualifications to grant a grade, and therefore, influence the likelihood that a student’s invested time, money, and hard work will result in a degree. It is within a parent’s hands to decide everything for their child until that child becomes an adult.

 

The Problem with Power

All of these positions that we identify with power also come with the potential for corruption. The parent, meant to act in the best interest of the child, may abuse that child or use the child in a myriad of inappropriate and dangerous ways. The professor may blackmail the student for something that they want.Those that govern our nation may cater to their own interests rather than those of the citizens they are in place to serve.

The police officer may use an unmonitored prejudice when they rationalize whether or not to use deadly force. The officer is prone to biases like anyone else, but because their position in society holds considerably more power, these biases carry more weight. If you’ve been paying any level of attention to the news or social media trends, you are probably aware that all of these problematic dynamics are both present and in a number of instances, allowed by the Monopoly Capitalist system to persist.

In a Monopoly Capitalist society, citizens serve a few functions. Not only are they the worker bees slaving away their libidos for the benefit of the 1 percent, they are simultaneously the consumers latching that dulled desire & stimulation to empty entertainment and luxury after unnecessary luxury; Lending their meager paychecks to those who make the profits. The Protestant values our society was built on (hard work is necessary for rewards and status) helped construct the path that most Americans are pressured to take. The school system teaches us that we must get a job to earn money so that we can buy the food and shelter that we need to survive, along with the most recent iPhone, clothing fad and other necessities.This system pressures us to go to places of higher education that shackle us to our debt in the name of a more prestigious existence (a specialized job with a higher income—and a more costly certification process). Yet, this upward mobility—a cornerstone of the “American Dream”—has never been easy in America. According to the The Equality of Opportunity Project, a child’s chances of “earning more than their parents have fallen from 90 percent to 50 percent over the past half century,” while the wage gap between the top and bottom percentiles grows broader. The America that is okay with these blatant disparities is the same nation that drives home the values, legislation, and economy that keep it this way.

 

The Role of Power in Identity

The world that we live in carries many forms of power that consistently determine our environment by limiting options, directing individuals toward one route instead of another, and largely shaping who we are. Foucault argued that power can now be understood as the “boundaries that enable and constrain [an individual’s] possibilities for action, and on people’s relative capacities to know and shape these boundaries.” Power sculpts who we are by being present in the influences on our “possibilities” from birth.

If you are born an American citizen, you were probably born in a hospital current on specific regulatory codes enforced by the dictation of the Department of Health. You were born in a healthy, clean environment, away from toxins and unsafe conditions. If you were born in a developing country, you may have come into the world undernourished, in a war zone, or into a poverty-stricken family. Already, two very separate tracks have been paved. If you went to public school growing up, you were taught logic and the scientific method for determining truth—as well as accepted organizations that presumably follow these methods and present the facts that the masses can invest in. If you went on to higher education, you learned the acceptable and unacceptable ways in which information is integrated into cultural understanding. The process by which we determine what information to let into the canon of accepted ideas is monitored by those with the responsibility to dictate which educational facilities will elevate or condemn. As a contrasting example, religious facilities may use other measures for truth, such as what is outlined in a sacred text. Socially, some use anecdotal (subjective, empirical) evidence, which is generally unaccepted in the scientific community. As Foucault detailed, “scientific discourse and institutions...are reinforced (and redefined) constantly through the education system, the media, and the flux of political and economic ideologies."

In the American school systems, you were taught the rules of this society by parents and peers alike: red means stop, killing people is wrong, the most important goal of life is to make money, etc. We gleaned all of our symbolic recognition, moral understandings, and ideological brainwashing from the culture and society we were socialized in. We were taught everything within the confines of what the overarching systems of control allowed us to learn.

Maybe we learned about these systems: ideology, corruption, etc.—and decided that we want less restriction and more freedom of action. Sometimes, we tested the limits of these systems of control; went over the speed limit one too many times and faced the repercussions. Sometimes, we learned and sometimes, we became more curious. Sometimes, we go farther and find ourselves in the almighty face of power—facing something more than just a $100 fine—facing a life sentence, facing mortality, facing crippling debt and repossession, facing ostracization and isolation—all methods of intense control.

Even if we didn’t encounter this backlash, we certainly grew up hearing about those who did. Part of our societal education is to learn about those who did not play by the rules and how they were made examples of. Now, fear becomes a mechanism of control, wielding power. Institutions, especially “prisons, schools, and mental hospitals” set a clear standard and promoting conformity in society. “Their systems of surveillance and assessment no longer required force or violence, as people learned to discipline themselves and behave in expected ways,”John Gaventa of adds.

 

Where BDSM Enters the Picture

Power permeates life in the ability to provoke something. Because of this fact, we are constantly surrounded by very subtle, inbred modes of control— constantly subjected to unquantifiable power dynamics, that we largely avoid consciously recognizing, because it would hinder functioning smoothly in this social system.

BDSM brings these power dynamics to the table and forces participants to recognize them and move within them. To understand these dynamics is a kind of power in itself because it is the first step in expanding the capacity for changing the instruments that alter and dictate who we are. Practitioners experience what it feels like to be entirely in control of the situation or to experience complete impotence (and not just if the scene gets weird). By allowing them to fully invest in roles they do and do not play within society, BDSM allows people to confront their staggering lack of power as an individual. Play can be very cathartic, with a potential for both great healing and great shattering.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

Power permeates the sexual field similarly to the way it permeates institution-to-individual interactions. For example, sex may be used as an exchange for money or advantageous situations. Some individuals may find it empowering to entice others through sexual attraction, just as it is a show of empowerment to deny sexual interactions. Maybe you find the physical show of power (domination) as a turn on.

Generally in sex, a duo can be classified into one of two categories that do not necessarily align themselves with the opposing: Dominant and Submissive. One gives, one receives. One controls the situation, the other allows themself to be operated. This juxtaposition can go as vanilla as one person initiating or guiding the other or as intense as a BDSM scene that is orchestrated to follow an agreed upon script. There may be pairings of two Dominants and two Submissives, but the power play remains the same. How pronounced the power dynamics are determines where on the scale from “Conforming” to “Deviant” the sexual act falls.

Think about the nonverbal conversation that goes on during sex (inside and outside BDSM play), from the point of initiation. Perhaps it starts with a dialogue between the eyes—lingering just too long on the lips or body. When a hand crosses the threshold and is placed on a knee, an arm, or directly onto the other’s genitals, a question has been asked—namely, “is this okay?” If the person being touched is uninterested or has been read wrong, they will [ideally] verbally or nonverbally respond conveying that information. Or they may respond with another question: moving in to kiss the initiator or touching them back. The one acting is the one showing power, as power is the ability to do something specific. A couple may show power equally and at the same time. Or perhaps, one member of the group will take a stronger leading role, directing which positions are utilized. This isn’t to say that the passive member is void of power, as they always have the power to refuse advances (except in cases of harassment, coercion, sexual assault, and rape). Even during a sex act, if the Dominant directs the Submissive in a way that the sub dislikes, they can respond either verbally (“stop”) or physically by assuming a role of power and redirecting the action to something that does please them. Power often operates to benefit the entity with power; and in sex, the goal is generally that all parties involved get off in some way. To directly facilitate one’s own orgasm or excitement is to assume a role of power. To negate another’s eroticism is also a utilization of personal power. In this light, BDSM becomes a “set of tools for sandboxing...mainstream power dynamics,” according to freaksexual.com, “by providing a safe space to experience and confront, in a corporeal way, all levels of power and control.”

 

Conclusion

In a world where power permeates every interaction, social construct, and institution, human beings are constantly sculpted and directed by subtle forces that surround everything we know. By bringing these power dynamics into a space where they can be physically confronted, negotiated, and controlled in a way that is ultimately pleasurable, BDSM provides a cathartic release for the tensions that a Monopoly Capitalist society presents.

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