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Reaching for divinity –  Why do dominants do BDSM anyway?

BDSM, like every complex subject, cannot be truly explained unless you disassemble its many, highly varied facets and analyze them separately before trying to make sense of the whole. Such approach makes it easier to understand the real reasons behind some admittedly rather bizarre-looking practices besides simple instinct. In my books, for example, you can learn all about how the very concrete phenomena driving submissive persons: the allure of respite from responsibility; subspace; endorphinic ecstasy; even transcendence and more. But some aspects remain impalpable and much cloudier even under the sharpest of lenses. Case in point: the opposite of submissiveness.

Ask any dominant – or sadist – why they enjoy their peculiar brand of eroticism and the answer will hardly get clearer than «I just find it arousing» or «I have always felt attracted to this sort of dynamics». Granted, some people are clearly into it in the attempt to compensate for the agency they feel they have lost in their daily lives – but even this cannot explain the immense time and effort investments they make to become, indeed, masters and mistresses of their art. To properly conduct even a simple spanking session you have to take care of so many details, to study so many notions, to focus so intently on your partner’s smallest feedbacks that you sometimes actually wonder why didn’t you simply go for an equally satisfactory but much simpler bit of bedroom gymnastics.

When I get asked where the fun is for me in being dominant, I have some difficulty putting into words a sensible answer myself. My stock reply is that I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of creating and directing all the sensations and emotions experienced by my partner while I feed off her growing intense reactions… but that barely scratches the surface of an enormously more nuanced pleasure. I believe, however, to have finally stumbled onto the real – and much more exoterical – answer thanks to a very roundabout path.

Like many other people worldwide, I have recently spent quite a bit of time delving into the work of professor Jordan Peterson – the Canadian psychologist equally idolized and hated due to his painfully objective outlook on life, which he makes abundantly available online in videos that highlight his rigorous and blunt speaking style. I am especially interested in understanding the reasons why this abrasive, Nietzschean, very intellectual character managed to become a global superstar, so I also read his latest book, currently shining on the best-sellers list of several dozens of countries.
There I found a pretty interesting passage, that goes:

Dogs are predators. So are cats. They kill things and eat them. It’s not pretty. But we’ll take them as pets and care for them, and give them their medication when they’re sick, regardless. Why? They’re predators, but it’s just their nature. They do not bear responsibility for it. They’re hungry, not evil. They don’t have the presence of mind, the creativity—and, above all, the self-consciousness—necessary for the inspired cruelty of man.
Why not? It’s simple. Unlike us, predators have no comprehension of their fundamental weakness, their fundamental vulnerability, their own subjugation to pain and death. But we know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why. That is as good a definition as any of self-consciousness. We are aware of our own defencelessness, finitude and mortality. We can feel pain, and self-disgust, and shame, and horror, and we know it. We know what makes us suffer. We know how dread and pain can be inflicted on us—and that means we know exactly how to inflict it on others. We know how we are naked, and how that nakedness can be exploited—and that means we know how others are naked, and how they can be exploited.
We can terrify other people, consciously. We can hurt and humiliate them for faults we understand only too well. We can torture them—literally—slowly, artfully and terribly. That’s far more than predation. That’s a qualitative shift in understanding. That’s a cataclysm as large as the development of self-consciousness itself. That’s the entry of the knowledge of Good and Evil into the world. That’s a second as-yet-unhealed fracture in the structure of Existence. That’s the transformation of Being itself into a moral endeavour—all attendant on the development of sophisticated self-consciousness.
Only man could conceive of the rack, the iron maiden and the thumbscrew. Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. That is the best definition of evil I have been able to formulate. Animals can’t manage that, but humans, with their excruciating, semi-divine
 capacities, most certainly can.

Regardless of the context the above text is taken from, this analysis sounds a lot like the unraveling of the old Sadean paragraphs where his characters rambled on about how indulging in their debauchery and excesses – notoriously including the torture and abuse of innocents – made them feel like gods. When you see it this way, the act of willingly making others suffer becomes no less than a sort of affirmation of the glory of humankind; it isn’t even limited to an artistic act on par with painting Van Gogh’s Starry Night or sculpting Michelangelo’s Pietà, but it is imbued with fundamental moral and philosophical value that is precluded to other art forms. Wow.
Is this the reason why I get off on whipping people and doing insanely complicated things to them? Am I maybe choosing to be evil to fulfill my position on the evolutionary tree? Is my kink the result of a divine call? I actually pondered these questions for a while before realizing that this was not the case. This insight, however, yielded the actual answer I had been looking for.

As a matter of fact, the kind of cruelty Dr. Peterson wrote about is that of psychopaths: mentally malfunctioning persons who are unable to empathize (sometimes even with themselves!) and therefore let their basest instincts go unleashed because they are unconcerned with the consequences. This is actually the very definition of a clinical sadist – someone who just enjoys hurting anyone, because their focus is on performing the act itself, and to them the victim is merely an interchangeable tool on par with the instruments they are wielding.

What I and countless other kinksters do, however, is not clinical sadomasochism but BDSM, governed by a whole culture of ethics, rules and principles aiming to keep everyone involved safe and make them feel good. The practices may be very similar, but the intention is completely different – starting with the fact that in BDSM you play with a specific partner you have negotiated the experience with and whose wellness is your utmost concern. You do make them suffer all right, but you are also there to guide them out of the torments you have lovingly devised for them, and you ensure they end their session happier than they were at the beginning.

So, what does drive the dominants after all? I have grown to believe the answer indeed lies in the unique, rush of being able to just do whatever you please – no matter how deviant or “immoral” it may be – because you can. This truly makes all the power of millions of years of evolution, from amoeba to homo sapiens sapiens, become tangible. This really makes you feel like a divinity. But not because you are “evil”.
On the contrary, the actual spiritual elevation comes from being in the position to destroy another person, proving this power to both of you in the most concrete possible way… and choosing not to, saving them instead in the highest of meanings. That is really reaching a divine status, a strictly erotic ecstasy that has nothing to do with religion. And who wouldn’t want to become a god from time to time?

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