Sunday, February 03, 2013


Every living creature in its life of consuming and discarding is seeking survival, which can often become a need to dominate.  Not finding some way to co-exist means being eliminated from the ongoing stream of lifeways.  The alternative of surrender can mean a diminishment, but cooperation might also feel like a loss of control.  Domination can mean being stronger, more resourceful, maybe even more brilliant or educated, or it can mean looking for others to dominate -- put pejoratively, to victimize.   Weaker, female, displaced, undefended, younger, stigmatized, ignorant, poor, emotionally needy people make the biological potency of domination much more accessible, sometimes even to the point of running amuck, out of control, a kind of cannibalism.  Sometimes connected to testosterone secretion.

Today’s capitalist-tending-toward-oligarchy cultures who struggle to keep order by force, are not essentially different from kindergartners.  One summer when our six-year-old grandson lived with us, he came home from his explorations with a black eye, crying.  We told him not to stand for it, to fight back.  Soon the parents of the other kids that age were at the door, complaining that our boy was beating up on others.  We had created a monster.  He had discovered dominance.

When my mother, an elementary school librarian, caught one boy bullying another, she would lean in on him in his seat and intone:  “For every bug there is a bigger bug, and I am the big bug you’ve been dreading.”  True enough, and quite effective, but not very transformative.  The bullying shifted to the boys’ bathroom.  (They didn’t know my mother.  She went in after them.)

Persons who are charged with keeping order are hard-pressed not to at least present a dominating front, and hopefully they are backed up by a society that values their work.  It’s a symbiosis, since vulnerable sub-cultures that are not protected by authorities will no long respect law and order, and enforcement personnel who can’t get dominance (which they see as control) any other way will use force.  When I watch my favorite mystery and cop shows, this is the thread I’m watching for because that’s often what the good writers follow.  

Every television series that has tried to deal with the problems of dominance/submission in the context of the church (except in England, where they are always comedies) has been pushed off the air by dominating religious institutions.  I don’t know why they seem no longer able to suppress news stories.  But I guarantee that even now what gets to the newspapers is a filtered account or else packed with tabloid sensationalism and sentimentality. 

There’s almost always a flip side of everything, so the flip side of cheap dominance is cheap submission, which is not quite like “cheap grace,” a theological term referring to unearned redemption.  Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace” in WWII when people wanted to be seen as virtuous Christians though they didn’t want to act in a Christian way because the cost was so high.  He himself was hanged for plotting to kill Hitler, which -- if you are a faithful Christian -- was akin to crucifixion:  “earned redemption.”  “Unearned condemnation” is the same as “stigma” -- which to Hitler justified the Holocaust.
Decades ago when I was working with humane society people, one female colleague said her ideal relationship was that of the gazelle with its throat in the mouth of a leopard.  Her image.  A final deadly ecstasy.  It was the Seventies, so she was not thinking about Christian martyrdom but rather something more like a dangerous lover, a heroin overdose or one of those mega-orgasms.  Kind of SM.  She was a beautiful young woman and I suspect she didn’t have much trouble finding someone to grip her by the throat.  

Since then I have run across other women seeking submission and a few boys.  Sometimes it seems to be a matter of not wanting to have to grow up, and other times a guilt wanting punishment and even now and then a weird way of feeling superior, a martyrdom.  Once in a while it’s kind of being an “assistant person,” not necessarily sexual.  All those buddy movies usually are one-strong/one-weak, the sidekick syndrome.  When I preached about it, people objected to a sidekick being any kind of worthy role.  They wanted everyone to be in charge and no one to be weak, but in fact there were always marginal people trying to affiliate with the minister.  In practice, we used to say, “for every Lone Ranger there should be a Tonto” (not the kind exemplified by Johnny Depp), someone willing to help and thereby learn the job. We know about gender assignments based on dominance/submission, which is part of the reason sex gets into it, but why does Tonto have to be the submissive?  The mask, of course, is part of the paraphernalia of dominance, hiding identity being a privilege of the powerful.  (Was Jesus really the masked God’s sidekick, submitting to crucifixion as His surrogate?)

Dominance is often associated with wickedness, the power seized through social structure or force.  Submission is sometimes associated with transformation, a matter of learning through submission, maybe even by having been “inside” the dominator, seeing Darth Vader with his helmet off, all the scars signaling his secret vulnerability.  Dominance/submission can be distant -- as with predator drones -- or intimate as in sex or torture.  It can be mental or physical or a mix. One practical reason for buddies in films is that they are the writer’s source of dialogue over the issue, most sharply over the question of how to survive a predicament.  The Lone Ranger has silver bullets, but it is Tonto who knows the territory.

Cheap dominance has few rewards.  In fact, it destroys the dominator who becomes convinced of his power though he has none, like a mass murderer who shoots a roomful of little kids, which so diminishes him that he self-destructs.  “Expensive” dominance is the same as responsibility, accountability, and protection of the weaker, female, displaced, undefended, younger, stigmatized, ignorant, poor, emotionally needy people.  Of course, the church can be criticized for NOT doing this, for not emptying their pockets and discarding their fancy red shoes in order to walk in the dust with the refugees.  That’s the trouble with institutions in general -- they succumb to cheap dominance, become bullies, and justify it by their alignment with the Bigger Bug in the Sky. I wonder what the Catholic Scalia really thinks about Dominance -- he doesn’t seem to value the humility element very much.  And Thomas has already said that he considers the equal opportunity forces that put him through law school to be contemptible.  I think they have dominance/submission issues, not safe for Supreme Courts with much power.

Cheap dominance is also a matter of commodification, not just the fantasies of Conan the Barbarian in books and movies, but also access to medical care -- Big Pharma has you by the throat.  Appearance rules.  Sensationalism trumps achievement.  Too many crave the cheap dominance of a gun in the hand.  This is a nation built on dominance, hooked on world domination both economic and military.   Our Congress in its budgeting capacity sits in Washington DC with its thumb voting on budgets that rule our lives, like Nero in the Coliseum.  Thumbs up on banks, thumbs down on AIDS funding.  It’s not easy to evade even in daily life.  

The question is how to use strength without dominance.   I have a list:  awareness, justice, listening, cooperation, clarity. . .  The things a democracy must practice.  But, Grasshopper, we can always turn to the East where winning through submission has been developed to a high art.  The seeds of overthrow take root in the earth under the stamping feet of dominance.  Hispanic voters demonstrated this in the last election.  They tend to be religious.  Some try to exclude them, feeling their very survival threatened.

1 comment:

Szymon said...

Dobra puenta.