I have been instructed to follow up my last post with more in-depth thoughts on this paragraph:
I decided to focus this year on becoming strong, and, as I explained to Jos today, I associate strength with independence. Putting your improvement into the hands of someone else, letting them judge your progress, letting them determine your worth – these are not the acts of a strong person. When the person is your ex-boyfriend who you still hope will take you back, it’s even worse, isn’t it? I want to focus my year on being stronger and in more control of myself. (Is that a pipe dream anyway?)
Jos asked me, “Why do you associate strength with independence?” and I’ll admit, my first response was something along the lines of, “Well, duh.”
A few minutes later, I commented to him that he considers my cats weak. He doesn’t really like them, and part of the reason is that he can’t respect them, I think because they are eternal supplicants, asking us for attention, food, etc. They don’t seem to have any dignity. Yet what are they but pets? They didn’t choose to be pets, and who knows what kind of feral personalities they might have had? And their species has been bred for thousands of years to be (among other things) pets. (And of course I adore them, and they are exactly as I wish them to be, for the most part, but this post is about strength and independence, not the merits of cats, which are in any case too numerous for a single blog post.)
It also strikes me as intersting that, while identifying as a slave, Joscelin chose to name himself for the Jacqueline Carey character who is only a servant as far as his own honor demands. Joscelin Verreuil is not at all up for being judged by other people – he only serves his own god and only submits to his own honor. He is completely self-directed.
Since I began with a particular version of Christianity as my touchstone, let us posit for the moment that it is metaphysically true – C.S. Lewis’s God exists, pretty much as described, and putting oneself into his hands to be turned from tin into real flesh is a real thing. (This avoids the questionable aspects of doing so with another little tin man.) Is it stronger to hold back, or to submit?
We still have too many background assumptions. In the Christian view, God created us, and he alone knows how we can be made into flesh, and what that flesh looks like. He is the operating manual for our species. If one’s maker is good and the above is true, should one shy away and pursue one’s own path blindly? Perhaps not.
Let’s alter the theology a bit as a thought experiment. Everything up to the birth of Jesus, say, accords with the atheist vision. We evolved from animals and all of that. (I am an atheist myself, in case that’s not clear.) God, a supernatural being, or one with powers we can’t comprehend, but not our creator, showed up at some point, surveyed us, and saw how we could be improved. He came down in avatar form, as Jesus, to see what it was really like to be one of us. And then he made the offer to us – follow me and be saved, or go your own way.
Now, assuming that we trust God, is it stronger to accept the offer? He knows things I do not. He can see me from a perspective from which I cannot see myself. He can strip away my false outsides and make me into a more real creature, more humble (which I do want), more self-disciplined, more able to choose right over wrong. It comes at the cost of making myself completely his servant. I trust that my service will be only in the cause of what is right and good, but I won’t be able to see for myself exactly where we are headed.
There certainly is a strong trend in our mortal world, our modern American world, to reject that vision. In college, I was a fucking Objectivist, for God’s sake. (Or, you know, distinctly not for his sake.) I’m still a social libertarian. Why would I submit myself to someone else’s goals for myself? I have my own goals. I have my own judgment.
No, really, it’s a real question: why would I submit myself to another person?
Because it’s hot?
Because if someone beats me if I (e.g.) overeat, maybe I can really lose weight and be healthier/fitter/better-looking?
Because it will help me become humble, which I want for reasons that are not clear to me and probably aren’t particularly practical in themselves, but which satisfy a deep emotional need?
As a gift to the other person? (This motivation has relatively little appeal for me.)
Because he knows better than me?
That last one is interesting. Does Jos know better than me? Of course the immediate answer is no, but is it? Am I allowed to answer yes?
Assuming that we are essentially equal (neither of us is vastly smarter or more perceptive than the other), then of course someone who is not you can in some ways make clearer judgments about you than you can make about yourself. That (plus training) is partly the idea of therapy. Another person can see the mote in your eye.
But I do also in some ways think he knows better than I do independently of that. I see him as being “good all the way down” in a way I don’t think is true of me. (Do I just know myself better? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I’ve known him for a long time now and this perception has remained constant. I see his deep kindness towards other people and ideas all the time.) He claims to have an internal compass, which I most certainly do not. (Yes, I can often decide right from wrong, but I do this by comparing various conflicting ideas of right and wrong and deciding which applies. And I do not have a compass that points me along my own path, at all. I take whatever path seems more likely at the time.) Of course, being righteous, tolerant, and committed to an arbitrary path could be viewed as signs of weakness, or just pretentious bullshit, but I don’t see it that way.
So that’s interesting.
But I feel I’ve gotten off course a bit, perhaps, from what I was meant to address. Can submitting be a kind of strength? Of course in the BDSM community the answer is always yes. It’s practically a dogma. I go along with it just like everyone else – oh, of course, being submissive is just terrifically strong. Well, it’s certainly hard, but that doesn’t make it an act of strength. Cutting is hard but not (in my view) strong.
I don’t mean to imply, of course, that making someone else submit to you, accepting ownership of another, is strong, either. What’s strong about that? Again, it’s hard. Ideally one brings commitment and a host of other good qualities to the task. But does it make you strong that you’re willing to play that way? Not really, I guess.
Getting back to my original paragraph, I wrote, “Putting your improvement into the hands of someone else, letting them judge your progress, letting them determine your worth – these are not the acts of a strong person. When the person is your ex-boyfriend who you still hope will take you back, it’s even worse, isn’t it?”
I imagine explaining it to a non-bdsm-practicing friend. “Oh, yes, I have to do xyz, because Jos makes me. Why? Oh, because he’s making me a better person, and someone he likes better, someone who is more pleasing to him.” And then they ask me why I put up with that, or tolerate it, or whatever. And I say…because it’s hot? because it works? because I’m so very fucking strong that I can take a path to self-improvement that goes entirely through another weak little mortal like myself?
But you see, I think the desire to be strong, or to be seen as strong, is itself part of the “front,” part of the tin body, part of my ego. If I were submitting to God, part of it would be not caring whether I am strong, trusting God to make me, or help me to be, as strong as he needs me to be. I would be humble. I wouldn’t be looking at and judging myself all the time. I would be letting go of the need to judge myself in these ways.
From that view, it all comes down to the original question: be the best tin man I can be, or be made into flesh? You can’t submit as a way to be strong any more than the tin man can do it to make his tin shinier. Whether it requires more strength is undecidable, but, more to the point, immaterial.
Sir, I think that is my final answer. The question you should have asked isn’t, “Why do you associate independence with strength?” but rather, “Why do you care about being perceived as strong?”