brni (brni) wrote,

  • Music:

it's a lot like life

Not too terribly long ago I had a discussion with a friend regarding the filtering of blog entries, in particular regarding a series of posts regarding dominance and submission. I'm capable of self-filtering, I told her. I do this all the time, based on interest and how much time I'm willing to invest in reading blog entries at any given point. And, I assured her, though this is not my kink, very little that is consentual is likely to squick me unless it involves the inappropriate use of fecal material.

On that latter point, I was wrong.*

(To the person whose posts I'm referring, this does not mean I want you to take me off the filter list, for reasons that I hope will become clear later.)

Power relations are something that have concerned me and, to some extent, confused me for a long time. Caught in that weird limbo that existed between the hippies and the punks during my formative years, I was raised in a religious household to respect my elders, my teachers, parents, etc. To respect those in a position that demands respect, and to do what is asked/expected of me. But also, raised by parents who had survived Nazi control of Yugoslavia and who had embraced much of the liberation ideology of the late 60s, I was also taught to equally respect those whom society deemed "below" me, to understand that societal position was not an indication of how good or bad or smart or stupid or hardworking or lazy or deserving of anything.

I was taught to respect authority.

I was taught to question authority.

Nixon, Hoover, Liddy, Hunt, et. al. showed us that we couldn't trust the people who held positions of power over us.

When Johnny Rotten flipped off all of western civilization, I was right there. Yes. Absofuckinglutely. When Jello Biafra wanted to tear down the institutions of hierarchical privilege – the banks... Yes. Yesyesyes.

When I was an undergrad, I started reading Nietzsche, Marx, Foucault, Deleuze, Baudrillard. I started to get a conceptual and theoretical understanding of the things that I had been dealing with instinctually. I started to have the words with which to formulate these questions.

Still, the symbols of power would leave me paralyzed. I barely questioned professors when they were clearly wrong, unless they were completely over the top fucking bonkers (my high school German teacher and my freshman year Problems of Christianity prof). Encounters with the police have left me humiliated and raging, but I'm oh-so-respectful at the time. The first instinct is to defer. The rest comes later.

In the everyday living of my own life, I've done everything I can to destroy or subvert power inequality (not on behalf of everyone, because that is simply taking the power oneself; only as far as my relationships with the people around me). This has gotten me into trouble. I've very deliberately subverted the assumed authority of alpha personas in several social circles, not out of any desire to assume that role myself, but in order to exempt myself from their dominance, and to some extent as a result of this am no longer in some of these social circles.

When I was teaching, I found myself necessarily in a position of authority over room-fulls of first year college students. Everything in a classroom setup is designed to support teacher authority – the teacher controls the grades, the content of the class, the pacing. The teacher is the active partner, the person from whom knowledge flows. The students are passive. They receive whatever it is that the teacher chooses to give them. So the classroom is set up very much like a theater – the audience (receivers) are arrayed in nice rows for easy observation and correction. The teacher takes her/his place at the fore of the room, the focus of attention. There are props that reinforce the position – the podium, the big desk, the blackboard (upon which the teacher writes at will, and the students write at the teacher's will). I wasn't able to fully destroy that theater, but I did all I could to subvert it. Used my first name. Sat on the desk instead of behind it, or paced in front of it. Invited students to bring their own knowledge into the class structure. ~shrugs~ Hopefully some of them got something out of it.

I do not want ever to do something simply because someone else wants or tells me to. I do not ever want to have someone do something simply because I want them to.**

This is why I find myself drawn to Coyote symbolism. This is why he is on my web page, and on my business cards. This is why I've incorporated him in ink into my body.

Wrapping this back around to the beginning: while I can see temporarily adopting certain roles for play – voluntarily asserting or relinquishing power – as interesting and titillating, I find freely choosing to make that an organizing principle of one's life very difficult to understand. And it does squick me, perhaps because it feels so antithetical to what is at my core. Or perhaps (and perhaps?) because I recognize within it some elements of myself that I'm not yet willing to see.

BUT: power relations are the organizing principle of civilization. And I suspect that coming to understand that part of my friend's life – of someone I know and like and respect – within the context of whatever else I may know of her will give me significant insight into the world, into people, and into myself.


* The part that got to me was this: I often call him Sir when no one is paying attention to us. "Thank you, Sir." (Quoted with permission.) I'm not entirely sure what of this triggered my reaction. I have a complex relationship with this word, and it brings up many different emotions in different contexts, including love, contempt, respect, anger, and humiliation, as well as being a reminder of my mortality every time I buy something at a store.

** Which made martial arts classes, both from a student and as a teacher perspective, extremely problematic. The "Sir" issue related here as well, quite significantly, as did my dislike and distrust of uniforms. That's a post for a different day.
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