Home » Uncategorized » Excerpts from Against Sadomasochism

Excerpts from Against Sadomasochism

“We have been taught that an individual is free to make choices about her life, when in fact our choices have always been limited and defined by gender, our race, our class. Free choice and individualism are the basis of many arguments which support oppression. For example, we have been told that women choose marriage and motherhood because they want that life, that they are happiest and most fulfilled as wives and mothers. That view ignores the socialization of women from birth to make this particular “choice.” This myth, exposed by the many women who could not live it (and so were often incarcerated in mental institutions) was finally denounced by feminists. Women have wanted more than “story book” marriages and have been capable of more than menial and low-paid jobs. The concept of “free choice” is often a smoke screen for socially determined behavior. Proponents [..] do not question why an individual would choose [it] nor do they ask from where such fantasies arise. What looks like free choice is often forced upon people by education, the media and other cultural insitutions.
Along with fantasy violence, the media gives us fantasy sex. The “sexual revolution” and “personal growth movement” encouraged the idea of sexual gratification without emotional commitment or even involvement between partners — sex for pure physical pleasure. In this fantasy sex there is instant gratification — deep intimacy and high ecstasy are supposedly achieved with little effort. Gratification becomes an end in itself and any means to it are valid. Reduced to orgasm, sex becomes a commodity, one more thing to “get.” However, such encounters, characterised by lack of feeling, growth or intimacy, are not often satisfying on any emotional level. At the same time, real-life relationships pall in comparison to fantasy and frequently suffer as people set themselves impossible goals.”
— ”Is Sadomasochism Feminist? A Critique of the Samois Position” section entitled,”Free Choice,” p. 142

“The original swastika was a Sanskrit holy sign for life, used by gurus and pious Hindus in celebration of the life force. It was, as we all know, adopted by the Nazis and became a symbol of the power of the Third Reich, Hitler’s attempt to seize that life force. The swastika was irrevocably removed from one context of meaning and associated with fascism by that political move.The association of the swastika with the Third Reich is very strong. If somebody wants to depict a Nazi in a film, for instance, they almost always show a swastika. For dramatic effect, this is sometimes kept from view for a while in the film and then suddenly displayed in a splurge of bright red, black and white, accompanied by music meant to convey shock and power (often a blare of French horns). The message announces: evil and violence.

The historical message of the swastika also announces death to all Jews (also lesbians and male homosexuals, gypsies, the mentally ill and retarded, and ultimately all people of color — and each of these groups include Jews). There is no doubt that Nazis maintain a firm commitment to kill Jews (and many other groups).[…]

In philosophy, assertions that symbols or ideas have no material consequences outside the context which you specify is called objective idealism.

It was for objective idealism that Marx decided to “stand Hegel on his head.” Marx believed that Hegel’s theories about masters and slaves were dangerous, in fact became a tool of the dominant class because they did not begin in the widest possible interpretation of material reality and stay accountable to material conditions. Marx’s work is explicitly anti-psychological in the sense that he believed one cannot specify the context of a psychological experience at will. One must be accountable to historical and material consequences in describing psychological experiences of any kind.

I find Marx’s idea to be a useful “rule of thumb” in evaluating academic arguments. For any theory of explanation I ask, what is its grounding in material reality? What are the material conditions which gave rise to it and which it supports?

I do this partly to keep my street sense satisfied and partly because historically, objective idealism always gives rise to violence against disenfranchised people. These ideas often begin in the universities or enter them from political movements (like Nazism or the ideology of capitalism).

The idea that symbols or experiences can be amputated from their historical and social context, and that material cosequences can be designated a priori, has worked out historically against the best interests of women and all non-dominant peoples. In the first place, such control can only be gained if one has power over a wide social context and is willing to enforce the reinterpretation of the symbols over the scale of their usage. […]

It is vital that contexts be continually renegotiated or else there can be no social change and no individual making of meaning. But at the same time, knowing the limits of one’s ability to crate context and designate meaning is very important, or else one falls into objective idealism, empty psychologizing and solipsism. Under such conditions, there is no morality.”

— Susan Leigh Star, ps. 133-134, “Swastikas: The Street and the University”

One thought on “Excerpts from Against Sadomasochism

  1. Pingback: “Choice” is a smokescreen. | The Prime Directive

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