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M/s and the Dangers of Ego

Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent. ~Sigmund Freud~

Morningstar reminded me of a piece that has floated around the BDSM-oriented parts of the Internet for years and years.  Written by a fellow who goes by the name of Jonathan Kay, the 128 Basic Slave Rules would be laughable except that I imagine they are taken seriously by a fair number of people as they try to figure out how to live this lifestyle and actualize their own inner drives and erotic needs.  To be fair, Kay doesn't prescribe his rules for anyone, nor does he suggest that anyone try to follow all 128 rules.  Still, I'd think a person would be hard pressed to find a dozen that don't presume that the Master will be viewed as "god-like" by the slave who devolves to object through the training the rules suggest.  I'm really not interested in pointing out all the "Oh, please!  You have got to be kidding" elements of the 128 rules.  I am, instead, thinking about the risks (for both partners) inherent in the perspective represented there, and yes, I DO think I have a bit of hard earned wisdom to share.

The "rules" are meant to teach women who would identify as slaves to define themselves and learn their place and role within a BDSM Master/slave relationship.  If one assumes that partners, entering into something as intense as an M/s relationship, are mature, self-aware, competent, loving, responsible, sane, intelligent people (and I understand that may be a bit of a stretch) -- then it is reasonable to believe that they have a lot to offer to each other and to the relationship between them.  Ideally, they know one another well, and have spent time learning about things outside of the sexual and erotic realms encompassed by scenes within the context of BDSM.  Both partners would, presumably, take the time to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, character, temperament, reliability, integrity, and trustworthiness of their opposite number. 

That, of course, would be what happens in a perfect world -- but we humans are notorious for our ability to walk right into a potentially "perfect" situation and turn it into a spectacularly fucked up mess.  Driven to some large degree by ego, we do the dumbest things.  We do.  One of the ways WE do that, inside of an intense power exchange relationship, is to make the mistake of forgetting that the players are human.  One may be given the capacity to decide and direct while the other takes on the obligation to accept, honor, and obey.  The humanity remains.  That agreed upon power imbalance does not, and should not, deify one and objectify the other.

The slave WANTS to be controlled; WANTS to feel owned; WANTS to experience the ecstatic state of total surrender; WANTS to live in continual and unceasing awe of her Master; WANTS to be recognized for the depth and breadth of slavish accomplishment.  It is ego.  Even as an otherwise and formerly strong, independent, capable, intelligent, sensible, wise woman gives up her freedom, loses her voice, ignores her best instincts and intuitions, and denies her capacity to think and perceive and judge -- it is her ego that is driving the apparent descent into nothingness.  A whole list of "shoulds" inform every decision, and she slowly (or maybe quickly) abandons all the skills, abilities, and talents that made her a good and valuable partner in the first place.  Incorporating all of those rules, or some other set of foolish rules, is dangerous precisely because it deprives the relationship of her fully functioning participation.  Bit by bit, and piece by piece, she stops contributing to the success of the shared relational endeavor and becomes a dead weight that must be carried along just like some kind of interesting piece of luggage.  Should the partnership encounter difficulties and challenges (and what relationship doesn't), she is, at best, handicapped in her ability to respond.  I know because I made those mistakes and fell into those traps.  I let my ego and my own wants seduce me into acquiescing to decisions and demands that nearly destroyed us all.  When it came down to it, for us, I had nearly lost the capacity to offer any sort of counter argument even as it became more and more clear that He was wounded, lost, frightened, and in need of something more than my poor efforts at some sort of idealized slavery.

On the other side of the power equation is the Master.  The Master/slave interaction is a duality.  It really does take two to dance this tango.  Whatever the inclination, in the absence of a Master, slavery is only an elaborate imagining.  In just the same way, the one who claims to be Master without one who would choose to serve, is a naked Emperor at the head of a parade that exists only in his own mind.  One who would assume the control of another person, who moves to own the choices and options and the very life of that person, steps out into territory where very few have the courage to venture.  For most of us, the act of making choices and decisions for our own lives is quite enough of a high wire act.  Taking on that responsibility for another is an enormous undertaking.  Within the context of the BDSM Master/slave dynamic, that choice is most often made within an elaborate social construct that requires the assertion of ultimate power, complete control, unwavering certainty, unshakable self-confidence, and a sort of god-like perfection that cannot ever sit easy on the shoulders of a fallible human.  It takes gigantic ego to even begin such a journey.  That is the fact, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Whatever great and grand things humans have accomplished throughout our long history, it is a good bet that somewhere in the mix is a powerful and healthy ego driving everything forward.  Without that sort of engine, nothing much gets done anywhere -- ever.  But even the strongest, most sure, most controlling and confident men have their weak places; their secret fears; questions for which they do not have the answers; private demons.  To whom do they look for clarification, the sometimes necessary gut check, the moderating second opinion?  If a Master makes a mistake, who can He trust to tell Him that He's gone down the wrong road?If Master insists that His way is ALWAYS the right way; if His every decision comes with the presumption that questions and challenges are unacceptable; then who will offer the sometimes necessary counter argument - or just a straightforward "no," when things go off the tracks?

I have never lived with a list of "rules."  I've never been asked to maintain formal protocols or rituals.  I speak as plainly with Him as I do with anyone else.  I sit on furniture, eat from plates, and wear the same kinds of clothes as any other woman of my age.  Those 128 rules have never been more than an interesting oddity from my perspective.  Still I lived with all of those unwritten and unspoken "shoulds:"
I should be quieter
I should be more trusting
I should be more respectful
I should be more graceful
I should be more obedient
I should be less angry
I should be less jealous
I should be more focused
I should work harder

On and on and on.  Not rules but expectations created by us but also impressed upon us and upon me by the social milieu of our Internet blogging pecking order.  Today marks the date when, nine years ago, I got in my car, turned my back on the life I'd had, and headed east to begin this life.  I can look back at good times and bad times; at hopes and dreams turned into life lived in love; at fears and sorrows and faults and failings -- and I know there have been mistakes and miscues along the way.  It hasn't been all one thing or the other.  Life never is.  I am glad I came.  I am glad I'm here.  I'm glad for what we have, and for who we've come to be.  I wish we'd managed to avoid some of the pain and heartbreak and struggle, but I wouldn't trade the good days and nights for the chance to do that. 

In the end, I guess I've rambled on and on to get to the point of saying that I believe that, even when the dynamic runs on a non-traditional power exchange, partners owe each other the best they have to give.  When we create rules and structures that prevent the full giving of the gifts of the Master or the slave, we hamstring them both in the service of their relationship.  Life is too tough and too unpredictable to tackle it with our hands tied.  In the view of this one, old lady, no one should ever agree to do that.



  1. Impish15:52 PM

    This is a great post, and much more universal than you realize, I think. Take out the BDSM, and - oh, God, how many rules!?! That alone would take anyone down. I think, for many men and women, you've described a pretty normal life experience we fight against regularly. I might call it fear, not ego, and trying to control things that cannot be controlled is the often inappropriate behavioral result. We can be control freaks from either side of the dynamic - submissives/dominants or vanillas too.

    In my relationship, submissive me, married to a vanilla (who plays), it's a real interesting relationship tug of war, and much of your post applies. When stuff hits the fan, my contol freak tries to maintain order with perfection and the "shoulds" can go on overtime. I get better with age, but I'm a work in progress and will always be. The inadequacies of my chilhood will remain with me.

  2. Dear, dear swan,

    This post is particularly thought-provoking, coming to me so soon after the sadist informed me that I am now his slave. I'm still trying to figure out what difference that will make - because his statement seemed to be recognition of the development of my state of mind, my sense of who I am with respect to him (and with a lot of respect for him), and the extent to which I have yielded to him my life.

    I don't expect to receive a list of new rituals. In fact, the one ongoing ritual I do have (a thrice daily devotion) was devised by him in response to a plea from me for help in keeping my ADD-addled mind focused on my submission.

    And thank goodness, he does value my mind so much that he would never want to repress what it has to offer. after all, he originally pursued me for my mind.

    But there are definitely problems when it comes down to certain issues. Occasions in which he becomes furious and takes complete control of what will happen with regards to the relationship. I admit to sometimes thinking that his responses are out of proportion to what I have done or said, and there is no way I can counter his fury. But I have the feeling that this reflects his own vulnerabilities. And yes. I dare to admit that he has his soft spots, his weaknesses. Although I may feel worshipful towards him, I do know he is not a god. And it's both the strengths and weaknesses of his ego cause him to insist that he is absolutely right.

    Because I absolutely agree with Impish1 that this applies to more than BDSM. Any relationship is fraught with perils, whether imposed by ourselves, our partners of any flavor, or society. Damn, it's hard!

    I like to think we can grow and learn, and that even those who hold the whip can eventually learn that yielding can be a sign of strength.

    Meanwhile, I do intend to read those 128 Slave Rules, if only to feel grateful that my own Master, as full of himself as he can sometimes be, and as potentially dangerous as I know him to be, is in truth a whole lot more sensible than many.

    Thanks again. And congratulations on your hard-won 9 years.


  3. Bravo! Very well said. I've certainly observed online and in real-time, that people seem to want black and white definitions, and set-in-concrete rules, even though this is truly unhealthy. I've also observed that people seem to really like their titles and elevated status as best master ever or super slave of the world. W/we've actually removed O/ourselves from the local scene in many ways simply due to the behavior and attitudes of those around U/us. W/we have a core group of close friends who share O/our discomfort with all the pomp and circumstance, and those are the folks W/we interact with.

    The rules and definitions seem to go hand-in-hand with those who need all the titles and accolades. Living it for real showed U/us quickly that real life is not for the faint of heart, it can be messy. Ya just can't sleep in a cage every night or chained to the bed.
    And I swear, I don't understand why some insist that because they are the Master in their own private relationships they should be awarded extra respect or any submission from me. I have a Master, and He's the one I will submit my will to. I owe no other "Master" any greater respect than the common courtesy I extend to all people.

    Sorry for the rant.
    It's just nice to see someone turning on the light and applying common sense to some of the silliness that people take so seriously.


  4. Ordalie10:54 PM

    And that's a very nice wallpaper again!


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