Skepticism, Ethics, and Consensual Slavery

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Skepticism, Ethics, and Consensual Slavery

Post  Dixie on Sat Mar 20, 2010 12:20 pm

So, in the BDSM/leather community there is a "kink" called Master/slave (M/s). Without going into detail that you could read up on your own, it has to do (among those who are self-reflective about it) with consensual relationships of dominance and submission (DS), but the people in it make a distinction between the DS and M/s. To me, it seems more a matter of degree than of kind. There is a belief that the desire to participate in this kind of relationship is "hard wired" like being heterosexual or homosexual, and that as long as the relationship is negotiated in detail and is consensual, it is ethical.

The motivation of someone to be the slave is reported as "service." The nearest analogies I can make are people who are driven to religiosity (serving the lord) or military service (serving one's country), where there also can be a desire for extreme externally imposed structure, and for yielding oneself to something greater than oneself.

My motivation for raising this topic in this forum is personal. My husband is "master wired," but I am not "slave wired." He therefore would like to bring a slave into his life, to fulfill what he feels is a core need that I am unable to provide. He states that our relationship would continue to be primary, and that he and I would negotiate the whole thing out.

This raises numerous issues, both practical and philosophical. As a rationalist and atheist, I certainly am concerned about the underlying ethics, especially as I draw the parallel between someone who wishes to lose themselves in "serving god" and someone who wished to "serve a Master." I don't find the former "healthy" and by extension, question the mental health of the latter. (Please note, the yearnings and motivations represented by the slave side of this paradigm are much more articulated in that community than are the master side. Please note further that the terminology "master and slave" is unfortunate because it is culturally laden with universally negative meaning, but was historically used by the leathermen from the '50's, and is so rooted in that subculture that I doubt it will ever be sanitized to better represent what they have in mind. Note even further, that it has been my observation that within the people who represent themselves as either master or slave, there are undoubtedly some crazy and dangerous SOB's, but that is not universal, and there is introspection about the ethics of the relationship, and how to manage them.)

Much is made in this community of consent, negotiation, limits, and communication. But consent is a very cognitive construct for what appears to be a very emotional situation. Can someone who technically agrees to drink the koolaid be said to have consented, given their emotional needs? Alternatively, aren't people responsible for their own decisions about what they do and do not want, and who am I to second-guess or impede their ability to enter into any relationship they want, just because I happen to have misgivings?

I wonder how much of my kneejerk aversion is an irrational reaction, rooted in insecurity, jealousy, and judeo-christian baggage. The problem touches on many issues: monogamy, marriage, possible biases against atypical sexuality, the nature of "consent" and whether one can "consent" to non-consent in some sense, and generally the ethics of relationships.

I find it difficult to separate my emotions and baggage from my rational brain, and to apply my skeptical principles to this particular situation. Help if you have some thoughts, from a rationalist, skeptical perspective.

Dixie

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Re: Skepticism, Ethics, and Consensual Slavery

Post  Aught3 on Sun Mar 21, 2010 1:13 am

Wow this is certainly a wide ranging topic, I think I'll just give some thoughts on various aspects.

The fist point is that you seem to be desiring to suppress your emotions in what is clearly an emotional issue. I don't see any reason why you should discount your emotions or rely completely on your rational judgment. Whatever you are comfortable with should be the limit, and that's clearly an emotional boundary.

I can't think of any reason why a monogamous relationship is necessary after marriage. The main problem is how hurtful it is when the other partner finds out, not just because of the lying but because of the sense of possessiveness we have towards our partners. Not that there's any reason to let go of that feeling either, everyone must agree to it and you don't need a good reason to object - hurt feelings are more than sufficient.

As for master/slave types being equivalent to sexuality I find that to be completely baseless. Sexuality is much more fundamental than a fetish, although fetishes are pretty common in our sexually repressed society.

The last point is that you seem to be worried about the master/slave relationship itself. I think I would probably agree that it always demeans the slave and can sometimes brutalise the master. I don't think it is quite the same thing as consensual slavery because it can be stopped at anytime so I don't think that it is your responsibility to be worried about the well-being of the slave. However, I think you could be legitimately worried about how your husband would react and change. If you do go through with it you should probably check that he isn't changing too much.
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Re: Skepticism, Ethics, and Consensual Slavery

Post  Dixie on Tue Mar 23, 2010 6:36 pm

Aught3 wrote:... you seem to be desiring to suppress your emotions in what is clearly an emotional issue. I don't see any reason why you should discount your emotions or rely completely on your rational judgment. ...

I can't think of any reason why a monogamous relationship is necessary after marriage. ...
...Sexuality is much more fundamental than a fetish, although fetishes are pretty common in our sexually repressed society.

...I don't think it is quite the same thing as consensual slavery because it can be stopped at anytime so I don't think that it is your responsibility to be worried about the well-being of the slave. However, I think you could be legitimately worried about how your husband would react and change. If you do go through with it you should probably check that he isn't changing too much.

Aught3, you raise some very good points. I AM trying to divorce the thought process somewhat from my emotions, because my emotions are through the roof. I don't want to fall victim to unexamined assumptions, so I am going about my initial inquiry in as rational way as I can. In the end, as you suggest, I may not find enough reason to dispel my emotional response.

You raise the question of whether these fetishes and kinks are a function of a sexually repressed society. Could be. Wonder what evidence there might be for a correlation between social repression and kinky. Or between kinky and other plausible social or psychological suspects.

With regards to your last point, while it is technically consensual, and therefore could technically be stopped at any time, I think that the pressures are very intense not to stop, partly because it is viewed as a personal failure, and partly because the person in the slave role is predisposed toward dependence and the nature of the relationship reinforces that to an extreme degree.

It is interesting that a number of people have read this thread, but only you have commented. Possibly because the notion is too outre, possibly because I think a lot of skeptics like to stay on a pretty abstract plane. But it does press the envelope of how far we might be willing to discuss some things in a rational way.

Anyway, thank you for your thoughts.

Dixie

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Re: Skepticism, Ethics, and Consensual Slavery

Post  Daneel Olivaw on Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:52 pm

First I would really doubt the whole concept of "master wired" and "slave wired". Because, really? He can't be happy unless you have a salve? The need of being a master is so strong that he can't just don't fulfil it and be happy? He really wants it so bad that he doesn't care about your feelings about it?
Look, it's all right and good to be rational and thinks things through, but your emotions HAVE to be part of the equation. It doesn't matter if jealousy is irrational or not, if you are not fine with him having a slave and you will have to repress bad feelings your whole life if he does then the rational thing to do is object it.
I don't think your issue has much to do about ethics but more about personal relationships. No one will way that using your time to build homes for the homeless is less ethical that going to the movies with your significant other. But that doesn't mean that he can't get angry if you don't spend time with him. In the same way you can believe that there's nothing wrong with polygamous relationships but you don't want to be involved in one anyway (that's my thinking for sure).

As an aside you should listen to this episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast in witch they talk about reason not being sufficient to explain or actions; we also need to care.
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