Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sado-Masochism, Addiction and Empire (draft)

JMG has done a superb analysis of the structure of empires and in particular the US empire: But his analysis neglects the psychological dimension, and the effect of the psychology of empire on people in the inner sanctum of the empire. This is an attempt to fill that gap.

I will keep updating this entry, not waiting to publish it.
"The various aspects of masochistic personality structures provide a useful model for examining familiar elements of ordinary religious life. Overall theories of masochism can be divided into six general categories which trace masochism to 1) a distortion of love, 2) a need for punishment, 3) a payment for future rewards, 4) a strategy of the weak or powerless, 5) a flight from selfhood, or 6) an effort to be an object for others. In each case, religious analogies can be found exhibiting the same dynamics. Thus, certain religious phenomena may provide cultural or collective responses to the psychological needs at the root of masochism." from Stuart L. Charme, Religion and the Theory of Masochism.
In number three, we may substitute the word “sacrifice”, though as will become clear below, there is more to sacrifice than a payment for future rewards.
In number six above, we might add that to be an object involves giving up one’s freedom and will.
The missing link of Charme's analysis is the connection between religion and empire. He sees a connection between masochism and religion, and between masochism and early childhood psychology. But he missed the connection between masochism and the almost universal sociological phenomenon of empire.
Before we delve into the connection between sado-masochism and empire, let us consider the question of human needs, free will and the nature of evil. One theory of human needs is that they are all benign and that evil is a pseudo-phenomenon. This is more or less the position of humanistic psychology and many pop-psychologies which sprang from it (e.g. Re-evaluation psychology, and Non-Violent Communication). The purpose of human life is to satisfy the benign needs. Evil arises from misguided strategies for satisfying benign needs. Free will allows us only to choose which strategy to employ in order to satisfy our benign needs.
Another theory is that there are both benign and malevolent needs, but that we need not strive to satisfy them because if we believe in God, he will provide for whatever we need. He is omniscient and all-powerful and can predict the future. This is the position of mainstream Christianity.  The purpose of human life is to OBEY God. Buddhism has a twist on this, saying that the source of suffering is the striving to satisfy needs (malevolent or benign), the past determines the present through the law of Karma, and salvation comes from a radical acceptance of what is.  The purpose of human life is to give up all desires.
Neither of these theories admits free will for humans. Either God decides what happens (and any apparent decision of ours is a pseudo-phenomenon because it can be predicted by God), or it is all determined by Karma. In Christianity evil is seen as both internal (as in original sin) and external, as in the devil and Empire. In Buddhism it is all internal.
A third worldview is that there are both benign and malevolent needs and it is up to us to satisfy the benign needs (and help others satisfy theirs), but that we must confront, integrate and transform the malevolent ones so that we could live in a society where everyone can be happy and also so that we can become better people.  Rather than solely satisfying needs, this worldview seeks to assist and create balance. This is the position of Jungian psychology, and some versions of Christianity. Free will is not in this worldview just choosing between two possibilities (good and evil, God and Lucifer, etc), but developing one’s inner nature, and from that spring creating balance. Balance is not always orderly or harmonious.
Freedom and free will are difficult for our species. We have replaced the obedience to instinct and the necessities imposed by nature (find food, warmth and mate or die out) by obedience to the hierarchical, sado-masochistic social order of empire. In empires, to do what one is expected, to obey, to command, are regarded as virtues. Curiosity, collaborative decision making, spontaneity and deep joy are regarded suspiciously and termed rebellion. And so it is no surprise that most people are afraid of freedom and choose to be enslaved, and to enslave others.
In both Buddhism and Jungian psychology, what makes a need objectively malevolent is not absolute but relative; malevolence is an imbalance in either a social system or an individual consciousness. Too much selfishness is malevolent. Too much altruism is not good either.  A balance between the two is optimal. Integrating and transforming is balancing. Similar things hold for ecology.
The crucifixion:sadism, masochism and altruism
From the point of view of the first theory, the crucifixion is about satisfying the need to serve life, willing to trade off the need for comfort and pleasure. This is a form of masochism because it involves a flight from selfhood, but emanating from a benevolent need.
From the point of view of the second theory, the crucifixion is also a form of masochism: suffering to annihilate oneself. Because God is omniscient, he predicted it and hence Jesus had no free will (while he was human). It is a giving up of Jesus’ free will, as Jesus himself is purported to have said. The crucifixion is also in this view a need for punishment. In addition, if he knew that he would be resurrected, then it can't be a sacrifice that he made, but one that was done to him, again objectifying him.  The cross is a form of torture and sadism. Empires institutionalize torture and sadism.  We should not be surprised at its current manifestations in the US and the US representatives in the military. If Jesus came to the US, many would want to torture him again. Empires have a way of disempowering  and objectifying their subjects, especially those who resist and speak truth to power. Direct resistance is futile, but masochism as a strategy is effective in some cases.
There was a sacrifice from the point of view of the second theory, in the sense that Jesus suffered so that others won't have to as much. That kind of sacrifice is not masochism (payment for future reward, but not for oneself; close, but not really fitting Charme’s definition above), but altruism. However, it doesn't really work until others do what he did, which is to confront and integrate evil within oneself before confronting it in Empire. Humans will continue to suffer and inflict suffering no matter how much they believe in him, because the dark side can't just go away. We seem to need to humiliate, hurt and control each other. This explains the crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, wars, child molestation in the church, wife abuse, genocide of native peoples, slavery, disdain for the body and for nature, and small everyday acts of dominance, submission, sadism and masochism prevalent in the Church and Christian nations (the Buddhists, somehow have avoided this, probably by confronting, integrating and transforming internal evil). Masochists become sadists, victims become abusers, as is well known from the abuse (sexual and otherwise) data. The masochist loves their sadist, the abused wife or child loves their abuser husband or parent, not only because these fulfill the need for punishment and ego transcendence, but because often they are in a powerless position and their survival depends on the husband or parent. The idea of integrating and transforming the evil within is originally a pagan one. Unfortunately, mainstream Christianity adopted another pagan idea (thanks to the Greek writer of the fourth gospel), that of sacrificing an animal or human or god to atone for sin and get right with the gods. Wearing an instrument of torture around one's neck is a graphic illustration of mainstream Christian sado-masochism.Why not wear a symbol of transcendence, as in Christ floating above the cross, or something which doesn't involve the cross at all, like a dove, or an infinity sign?

The psychology of survival in oppressive situations
Inside of an empire, there is no way to opt out, or rather no easy, obvious way. One must participate and hence be complicit in exploiting people, destroying nature and waging war.The soul deadens in a typical mainstream urban life, with work that is not clearly useful to one's community or even to some abstract community on the other side of the globe. With recreation that is more aptly called distraction and addiction (more on that below). Whereas on the periphery (and in the past even in the interior) empire wields power through the threat or use of military might, on the interior it wields its power psychologically through power-over type interactions, and economically, through "participate in the economy or die".

Power-over psychology is everywhere where people have to work closely together. Most interactions where people work closely together are dominant-submissive. Power-over and under poisons human interactions that could be a paradise (Jesus was trying to model a different way of interacting).

Economic power is both concentrated in the hands of a few, and distributed in the hands of many. Everybody participates in the game of controlling resources in order to control people, not just the elite.  A psychological coping mechanism (#3 in Charme’s analysis) arises of accepting suffering for a future reward in heaven (e.g. mainstream Christianity), or post-enlightment (e.g. Buddhism).

Ways to escape and their pitfalls
The people who have historically started rural utopian communities (such as the Essenes and early Christians) have not done so out of escapism. They have done it in order to create an alternative to empire, not just theorize or write about it. They have done it out of a genuine love for life, wanting to show by example how good life can be and make that alternative possible for all, not just for themselves. They have done it as an alternative to either totalitarian utopianism (which tries change on a grand scale, and sadistically imposes it on others), fatalistic resignation to the status quo (which is a form of masochism), or reformism (which tries small changes that are usually insufficient to get out of the meme network of empire, as reformists well know). The basic theory of small utopian communities is that they could be seeds (that could propagate) of another culture. Instead of trying to stop a massive train, one plants seeds and offers them to the conductors (which unlike in a train, is everybody participating in the culture). Part of the reason the seeds didn't propagate is that they never matured into a good culture. And the reasons for that are either insufficient cultural isolation or because of a few master memes that are hard to change, as discussed previously in this blog. Those of pride and selfishness that are often blamed on human nature, but that find encouragement in empires, with the most prideful and selfish rising to positions of power. And the seeking of power over other people is a major meme, one of the founding memes of empire. It has a concomitant meme, that of wanting (not just having) to submit to the power of other people, or other beings. Are these basic human needs? I ascribe to the third theory mentioned earlier, so I think they are, but they are also sometimes substitutes for other needs.

Real Human Needs and Addictions
What happens when a need is not able to be fulfilled? People either  become neurotic or they try to fulfill it with substitutes. This is a big part of what an addiction is: trying to fulfill a real need with a substitute that doesn't really fulfill the need, but can work temporarily, perhaps with less and less efficacy (tolerance building). Real needs and their external satisfaction do not exhibit the  phenomenon of building a
tolerance and needing a more or bigger fix: food, water, warmth,
stability, security, good work, sex, deep emotional bonding, a
coherent worldview, a sense of belonging and usefulness, nest
building, ego transcendence, ability to take care of oneself and
family in adulthood, etc. The needs to dominate, hurt, submit and be hurt, do they exhibit tolerance building? I think they do when they are substitutes for other needs, but sometimes they are not. They can be satisfied, for a while, just like real benevolent needs. Perhaps one way to confront ,integrate and transform them is within a consensual sexual relationship. Another is to channel the energy into constructive, creative projects. And a third is to infuse them with compassion.
Real needs are renewable, one doesn't get tired
of them, their satisfaction does not decrease in efficacy over time.
Note that some of them can be substituted for others and then they
become addictions. For example the need to belong can be partially
substituted with eating. Or the need for emotional bonding can be
substituted with sex. The need for sex can be substituted with domination or submission. Other examples:
1. Relationships with pets instead of humans or wild nature
2. Power over (people and pets) instead of power with, self-mastery and self determination.
3. Mood altering (anti-depression and anti-anxiety) drugs/alcohol or expensive therapists instead of self-mastery, understanding, communion, right livelihood, and ego-transcendence.
4. Sado-masochism instead of intimate, honest, divine and primal relationships.
Now, there are other aspects to addictions besides tolerance building.
But these aspects are shared with real needs. One is the desperation
of an addict that doesn't get his need fulfilled. The person who is
deprived of food (unless they are on a fast, knowing that the fast will
end) usually feels the same desperation. Another aspect of addictions
is that they have power over the addict. Again, this is also shared
with real needs. A person who is thirsting is under the power of her
So the way to distinguish an addiction from a real need is not by
measuring desperation or power over the person, but whether or not a tolerance is built up, and (more difficultly) whether the external
"object" craved by the person satisfies a real need or not.
Now it is not easy in this culture (and in any culture of Empire) to
satisfy all our needs. So we know that addictions are quite common.
In an imperial culture, some people at the core end up sucking
resources from periphery states. How do they do this? The most crude
way is with brute force. A more effective way is to make the people
who are being sucked dry to think that they need the empire to provide
some services (sanitation, protection, roads, education, governance
and entertainment are the most common) in exchange for the resources
they are providing the empire. That they are incapable of taking care
of themselves without the empire. That accepting the empire is for their own, and the empire's good. This mode of thinking is eventually believed by the people in the interior, not just at the periphery.
Note that this is already an
addiction because it substitutes for the adult human need for
self-determination, spontaneity and autonomy, the childish need for being taken care of by a more powerful entity. There is security in a  childhood where the parents take care of the children. There is a comfort in not having to make decisions for oneself, and having ones parents or some other external higher power or moral code make them for us. There is eroticism in being vulnerable and at the whim of the higher power.

Christianity and Buddhism co-opted by empire
This is one of the great ironies of history,
that Christianity (and a similar story for Buddhism, but instead of the Roman empire, the Chinese empire, maybe an Indian precursor. See ), which arose in response to the Roman empire, ended up being co-opted by that empire and being used for its own purposes. (There are still Christians who have not joined the mentality of empire: )
Instead of the addiction to the empire, a new substitute was found for
the need for self-determination: God, Spirit, the Church. This new way
of looking at the world also sometimes substitutes (the real needs of) communion with
other people or communion with nature for communion with God, where
God is seen either as a paternal figure, or as a fuzzy benevolent
intelligence larger than us (it's tricky because that can also be a
real need, perhaps better described as ego transcendence). I am not
denying the existence of either of these (I lean towards the second
though), but I want to bring your attention to how we interact with
either of these and how it can be an addiction.
Before mainstream Christianity, the strategy used by empire involved only one step:
1. Acknowledge your helplessness in the face of the empire (and pay tribute).
With the advent of Christianity, the first step was sometimes modified
by substituting empire with "God", "Kingdom of God", "Spirit", or
internal foundation, and a new step was added:
2. All your other needs are secondary to the need for the first step.

Before the roman empire co-opted Christianity, change was not to be imposed on a person. A person would be helped to change either by asking for help or being moved from within by seeing an example of change (offered freely) that worked in another person or community outside of himself. 

After Co-option, Christianity was to convert people at the sword or by use of other imperial techniques.

There is ample literature on the connection between Christianity (and Judaism) and sado-masochism. I claim it is only the imperial version of these religions that is sado-masochistic.

I think masochism could be an attempt to experience vulnerability and trust at the same time. Vulnerability is essential for the basic need of intimacy, whereas trust is essential for the basic need of security. But why does it need to be combined with pain, possible violence and objectification? Somehow these intensify the experience in a culture where intensity is rare and mostly vicarious (The Image is the idol partially because that is where intensity happens, but the reality is mostly "vanilla"). But it is more than intensifying, what happens (or desired) is ego-transcendence, which is another basic human need. I think Fromm didn't quite get how important ego-transcendence is for humans. This is different than ego annihilation, or maybe only a temporary ego annihilation.

asochism is useful for hierarchical organizations like the military or most corporations. Meme networks have evolved into hierarchical structures because this type of organization offers both stability and ability to make large adaptive changes (through changing one or a few master genes/memes, instead of the impossibility of changing lots of genes/memes). I don't think masochism is the only way for complex organizations to operate, even if they are partially hierarchical. Wholistic interest (as opposed to self-interest or masochism) might be an alternative, where every part is conscious of the needs of the whole without losing its integrity.

Those people who seek to satisfy their
real needs are called addicts by the addicts to the empire (who usually
manage to fulfill their "secondary" needs by playing the game of empire). Similar to a man swimming in water telling a man dying of thirst that he is addicted to
water and should pray to God, see a therapist, or take a class, and denying him access to the water. Jesus would have just given the thirsty man water, but some of the followers of Jesus are sadists.

Now the pleasure aspect of masochism is somehow related to the erotic instinct, which is also related to the altruistic instinct, which is also related to the need for ego transcendence. None of these are bad things. The dysfunctional thing about masochism is the fatalistic powerlessness to make any changes beyond one's own psyche and the sublimation of primal needs for self determination and power with/within, which get expressed as sadistic outlets instead (another example of addiction as need displacement). The masochistic mentality increases the fitness of the empire meme network.

Here is some more background on meme networks:

It is interesting to me that both Klaus Barbie (The Nazi torturer) and Dietrich Bonhoffer were Christians, one (the sadist) allied with Hitler and the other (the masochist obsessed with obedience) tried to assassinate Hitler. Also, Fromm analyzes the masochistic tendencies of Luther and Calvin. Anne Rice, who wrote a few books on sado-masochism is also a Christian.

Newsweek article

This week's Newsweek (by coincidence?) had an article about modern female masochism, which wasn't impressive in the depth of its analysis, but did remind me of one of my favorite subjects, gender. I suspect that masochism IS more common with women than with men. Even though modern women may no longer be oppressed, some might fantasize about not needing to think and make decisions for themselves, consistent with Fromm's “escape from freedom” hypothesis about masochism. For most men this escape might be more natural with sadism rather than masochism. But I think for both men and women, much of this way of dealing with the issue of freedom is reinforced by living in a meme network of empire. Also, if someone has to be dominated and submit, the needs for self-determination and ego-transcendence are both being repressed. The need for ego-transcendence is being suppressed because there is a difference between being forced to submit, and voluntarily accepting submission. With the former ego-transcendence is much harder than with the latter. The need for ego-transcendence can be achieved for real with either sadism or masochism, and so in this sense neither is an addiction. But the need for self-determination can't be achieved with either sadism or masochism and so it might surface in an addicted way, that is by substituting sadism or masochism for this need. This is especially true in a culture where no other choices are known or easily available. The motto of empires is: dominate or be dominated, and if one can do both so much the better, though it still won't satisfy the real need for self-determination lurking underneath. So the man who is dominated by his boss, comes home and dominates his wife and family. The woman who is dominating her husband at home or her employees at work, wants to be spanked.
I am not saying that gender or early childhood experiences have nothing to do with sado-masochism, just that these influences are all regulated by the master memes of empire. Even the term that was invented (initially for genes-”master genes”) is indicative of sado-masochism and (in feminist-speak) power-over relationships. Genes and memes organize themselves in hierarchies, but these hierarchies do not have to always exemplify a sado-masochistic, power-over relationship.

Are there any biological ties between power-over dynamics and sex? This is suggested by the writer of the article. There are simian societies where males are dominant and females are submissives, but also at least one (bonobos) where dominance/submission is not the main mode of interaction. There are human societies where dominance/submission is not the main form of interaction, but empire is not one of them. But still there is a biological association of power with sex, not just a cultural one. One can feel this power in a sexually dominant position, by "doing" one's partner, but this is not necessarily a gender-specific experience, nor necessarily a sadistic (or masochistic in the case of the partner being "done"). Dominance and submission in sex is an example of the mingling of power and sex, but it must be distinguished from sado-masochism. Perhaps the biological element comes from the anatomical differences between males and females and the evolutionary remnant from the submissive position taken by females of ancestral species. But sex in humans (and bonobos) did evolve into other positions and other more collaborative, communicative and nurturing forms. It would be interesting to study whether there is a correlation between the frequency of dominant/submissive sex and imperial cultures. I think empire is a factor, but not the only factor. Biology is another factor.

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