Towards an Understanding of M/s in Western Thought

With the need to manage various real-world events bearing down on me, most of my writing in the past few weeks has been in response to writing on FetLife. This started life as a post in response to a very intelligent question about M/s and inequality, suggesting that it was a division of responsibility rather than negotiated inequality. I began to enlarge on that theory and…a lot of thoughts of the past few months came pouring out, albeit in somewhat rough form.
This is not an end-all-and-be-all philosophical breakdown of M/s, but rather the core and germ of an attempt to build an understanding of M/s from a standpoint of modern thought that can serve not as a “justification and defense” but as a model for building future culture and directions. My intent in writing this is not to set forward “rules” or “laws” but rather observations about how things are and notes about correspondences and similarities that help us to see the shape of what already exists.
Nobody has impacted human thought a lot by telling people what they ought to do. People who tell you how you “ought” to behave are usually voices crying in the wilderness…I’ll leave that for the Objectivists. The best thinkers have shown us what we are doing and therefore made it easier for us to choose how to do it better, or in ways that bring us or those around us greater benefits.
Towards an Understanding of M/s in Western Thought
It is my position that M/s is not a recidivist philosophy, hearkening back to the middle ages or the time of Pharoahs, but rather an extension of our growing understanding of the human mind to create lifestyles which meet our diverse emotional needs within the framework of post-enlightenment thought.
I think that the whole concept of “inequality” creates confusion, and I think it’s worth digging through two and a half centuries of history to look at the evolution of the concept of equality and inequality.
The Enlightenment
Most Americans and many other people derive their concept of equality from Jefferson’s assertion that “all men are created equal.” The statement, in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, is a distillation of the concept of Nautral Law, which was framed in the two centuries before, notably by Hobbes and Locke.
Locke writes of “life, liberty and property,” as natural rights.
In Leviathan Hobbes says:
Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination or by confederacy with others that are in the same danger with himself.
And as to the faculties of the mind, setting aside the arts grounded upon words, and especially that skill of proceeding upon general and infallible rules, called science, which very few have and but in few things, as being not a native faculty born with us, nor attained, as prudence, while we look after somewhat else, I find yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength. For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto
In short, he says that while there are differences in strength and intelligence among us, they are not so great that the very greatest of us deserves to be considered something greater than the least. In talking about “prudence” Hobbes means “common sense” and he makes the…questionable assumption that with time everyone gets it equally.
So, that frames the thought of two and a half centuries ago. But the men who wrote these things did not yet understand the scientific fact of evolution, and the science of psychology did not really exist.
About halfway between then and now, Friedrich Nietzsche laid the groundwork for post-evolutionary post-enlightenment thought. Nietzsche was, and is controversial, but his core work cannot be disputed and is merely iconic of his period. The Enlightenment held the seeds of the rejection of the concept that all human meaning is defined in relationship to God, a looming inevitability in human thought which boils from roots in Erasmus and before through Voltaire. Neitzsche put forward in no uncertain terms the proposition that it is a disservice for us to accept the then-prevailing idea that man’s life is given meaning principally by a relationship with the Divine, and that our suffering is either our “pitiful lot in life,” as beings inherently inferior to God, or actually visited on us as judgment by the higher power of God.
I am not putting forward Nietzche as a “one stop philosophy source” or personal deity. I’m merely calling him out as iconic and significant in an array of human thought that includes hundreds of others, such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Adler. Nietzsche himself was anti-Darwinian, nobody is right about everything.
Despite the fact that some of the Nazis embraced a distorted version of Nietzsche’s doctrines, he is still considered one of the most important thinkers and writers of his era, and the foundation of the world after Darwin can be seen clearly in his writing. The Atomic era only added relevance to his picture of a scientific universe.
This isn’t the time or place to go into a full investigation of Nietzsche, but he puts forward several concepts that link closely with modern M/s practice, including the concept of the “Superman” and the concept of “Will to Power,” both of which sound cooler in German.
The “Superman” is Nietzsche’s term for what we might well call a “humanist guru.” A person who has through realism and suffering arrived at “a point of enlightenment beyond and removed from the constraints of society.”
“Direct experience of the harsh and impersonal nature of the universe leads to a unique understanding of reality that sets a person above and beyond the comparatively shallow belief systems and illusionary hopes of the mass of humanity.”
The concept of the “will to power” at firsts contrasts with Freuds’ “pleasure principle” but was central to the work of Adler and through Maslow has found its way into the core of modern psychology and our understanding of human thought.
In shortest description, it puts foward the idea that since we are self-aware beings, we can understand our control or lack of control of our environment, and that we have a central and defining need to exert control over it. This concept can be seen in modern developmental psychology as well as 19th century philosophy.
Inequality in M/s
So…what does all that have to do with M/s?
The M/s relationship is best seen through the window of the Will to Power and the needs it creates in us, as an answer to lack of equality in the individual.
I would further suggest that this view of M/s presents a philosophical core that makes us different from Eastern European or Central American sex traffickers, who may carry out actions that are superficially similar but morally and ethically different in the extreme.
To understand that, consider that a man being whipped for a crime in public and a man being flogged at a recreation of the Passion on Easter would appear identical to a visiting Alien from another world, but carry vastly different meanings for us, even though the events have some shared roots.
Perfection of Will
In M/s we create a hierarchy of will that suits the “M” and the “s” partner. The only real distincton that is shared by all M/s relationships is a subordination of will of one partner to the other.
The concept of Natural Law, that “all men are created equal” falls greiviously short of the experience of the modern world. Or we may say “they are created equal and are never thereafter equal.” The “Rain Man” is not equal to his brother. But the enlightenment philosophers provided the first key…we need to see all men as of inherently equal worth…no one less important in the universal sense than another.
The problem is that we cannot live in an idealistic vacuum that denies the existence of specific inequality born of nature and nurture (our genes and our upbringing). So we need new, modern, models that respect the enlightment concept of equality in terms of universal worth, while addressing the needs of situationally unequal humans.
M/s provides a number of structures that have the potential to be healthy for certain people with certain needs. That does not mean they are right for everyone or should be visited on people who do not want or need them.
There is the presumption that those who seek Mastery are more comfortable with the Will to Power than their subordinates, whose pursuit of the Will to Power may have been frustrated. This suggests that the “M” is further along in progress towards personal enlightenment in the sense of the “Superman” than the “s,” or is at least more comfortable walking on that road.
Feeling powerless is one of the most negative of human experiences. Through surrender to the “M” the “s” gets to experience the benefit of power by proxy…a feeling that through taking control of their own life and surrendering they have the benefit of the Will to Power in terms of their own protection. I consider this the very most basic level of M/s, a core on which everything else may build.
A characteristic of many M/s relationships is some form of suffering, whether through Discipline or BDSM. The very act of giving up is to some extent a “suffering,” and discipline is a “suffering” through hardship and deprivation. The discipline and or suffering may expand the ability to experience enlightenment in terms of the Will to Power and the progress towards enlightenment.
Other Angles
I would add that the prevalence of kink and sexual power dynamics bridges the perceived rivalry between Adler’s Power principles and Freud’s Pleasure principles, showing them as closely interrelated.
There are also many couples that believe that sprituality should form a strong element of M/s tradition and teaching.
In the esoteric world, Aliester Crowley wrote in 1904 “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” which is understood by those who study the esoteric to mean the pursuit of the concept of “True Will” not an injunction to party down and do whatever you want. The line is drawn from Rabelais, at the start of the Enlightment “Do as thou wilt, because men that are free, of gentle birth, well bred and at home in civilized company possess a natural instinct that inclines them to virtue and saves them from vice. This instinct they name their honor.”
Crowley’s “True Will” is similar in most regards, and probably not coincidentally (Crowley was familiar with Steiner, who wrote extensively though sometimes critically of Nietzche) with Nietzche’s concept of the “Superman” enlightenment.
Through the later rephrase of “An it harm none, do what ye will” by Doreen Valiente following the general direction of Gerald Gardner in 1964, it became the “Wiccan Rede” probably the most widely adhered principle in modern esoteric tradition, and is a profound underlying concept of most modern esoteric thought.
“Equality” is an Enlightenment ideal, at odds with the Post-enlightenment experience of the real world in which birth order, socioeconomic status, trauma, and genetics produce profound inequality. M/s represents a partnering of those with a strong Will to Power and those whose Will to Power is conflicted or has been damaged to allow the fruits of equality, and the potential for an environment in which both partners can experience personal growth, whether that takes the form of healing, new growth, or both.
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