Many people attempt to make the singularly determined effort to tie ‘our culture’ (that of the leather culture of the late 20th - early 21st centuries) to past practices of the ‘human experience’ in the areas of slavery/chattel, serfdom, and indentured servitude. The reasons that folks make such an association are myriad. Some want a historical reference for their predilections; some desire to tie their personal history to these enterprises as aggrandizement of their self and to establish some semblance (misguidedly so) of ‘lineage’.Some simply are making a co-relational comparison in a logical but incomplete way of historical monetary and non-consensual slavery. And, in many ways, these people are superficially correct in their assertions. After all, we (do) derive many of our basic terminology, methodology, and fetishes from these institutions.
However, except for some of the jargon and the tools of the “trade”, there is a vast chasm of disparity in the comparison that separates the two ideologies/cultures in such a way as to make a historical parallel both incorrect and potentially (exceptionally) misleading.
Slavery as a cultural institution has been traced back to the beginnings of civilized man. It has been shown through the ardent research of archaeologists to first appear in the Neolithic Era in the land of Jericho (c.6800BC); was established as a formal institution in ancient Babylonia in the Euphrates Valley region (c.4200BC); and, was finally codified trough the “Law of Hammurabi” about 1720BC - the first real experiment in the formation of a slave society based in common civil law.1
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.” 2.
Slavery began, and continues to exist as a means of economic and social improvement, societal security (no benefits there for the enslaved), and monetary trade.
Morally and ethically the making of prisoners into slaves and utilizing them in the improvement of a civilization they were ‘behooved’ to (for every breath they drew) was and is considered to have been a vast improvement in man's ‘humanity’ and basic civility for our race.
Although this may sound like a conflicting view of the situation from the current cultural understanding we have of “old time slavery”, the reality for people who were placed into slavery in the early centuries of recorded history demonstrates that this was true. If they had not been enslaved and used for toils, they were (from habit and the demands of laws and culture) put to death. These early slaves were the losers in war, and the ‘enemy’ in these days was not to be coddled or catered to in any way. There was no existing equivalent to a ‘Geneva Convention’ or civilized behavior in warfare; combat was an all or nothing proposition with no quarter given. When a prisoner was taken, they were generally questioned and summarily executed.
Unfortunately, slavery became an 'economic drug'. In all societal models when slavery was introduced into a culture. It led to a fiscal dependence on the practice and therefore, became a 'hinge' upon which that society’s stability would eventually "swing".
A continuous influx of slaves was eventually required to maintain a parity in the standard of living. With the introduction of slave emancipation (for years of service or deeds done), the natural attrition of mortality, the rising cost of living, the rising standard of living, with the increasing general demand placed upon these chattel as a means of alleviating the rigors of pre-machine societies, and their ascension to the positions of ‘overseers’ with managerial responsibilities over the work, more slaves were required. In many of these societies, the very army the nation relied on for their freedom and viability became infused with slaves (after all, who wants to got to war and potentially die when a slave might serve the function just as well). At times, this abrogated responsibility for the maintenance of the government and the lands in too many ways. In most instances, the society collapsed in on itself because (for one reason or another) the influx of slaves became inhibited (conquering all your viable neighbors or allowing freedom of slaves or slave’s children was often a cause of this), or, the slaves gained power to the extent that they were able to ‘free themselves’ or subjugate the ‘masters’ and/or the government through their effort (Rome presents an excellent example of this dynamic).
Another item for consideration in this discussion is that (again, in most instances) we might 'walk away' from any master/slave relationship.
It should go without saying that the individuals, peoples, states, nations and governments that supported and institutionalized slavery were not exactly amenable to (simply) allowing someone to leave their status of 'slave' in any easy manner. They depended on these people to assure their own status and place in a stable society in too many ways to simply allow this in any manner, shape, or form.
Our people seek out and ask for their servitude as a
means of expressing who they believe they are and in order to find their
‘niche’ in life and the world. The slaves of our pre-modern era were forced
into slavery through warfare, slavers who sought them out, through family
association (born as a slave), or through legal means. They were kept there
through means of force and distance, isolated from those who they might call
family, and generally disallowed from seeking a life outside of this, unless and
until they were freed from their condition (and, then often they were
emancipated under strict conditions that precluded total freedom or allowance
“…but Ulysses was overcome as he heard him, and his cheeks were wet with tears. He wept as a woman weeps when she throws herself on the body of her husband who has fallen before his own city and people, fighting bravely in defence of his home and children. She screams aloud and flings her arms about him as he lies gasping for breath and dying, but her enemies beat her from behind about the back and shoulders, and carry her off into slavery, to a life of labour and sorrow, and the beauty fades from her cheeks-“ 3
Another inane allegation made by ‘leather’s historical revisionists’ is the nature of the interaction on the most base level.
Although some that claim the slaves of historical note (in general) “enjoyed” being punished, how can anyone reasonably state that it was more than a minor anomaly (at best) that slavery had/has that many masochists of such strong timbre (slavery is unfortunately still a viable institution in some third world countries)? It is exceptionally disingenuous and utterly ridiculous to assume that what we do to the people that enjoy our corporal ministrations bear any resemblance to the violence of what was (is) perpetrated upon the unwilling in days gone by.
Certainly in every era and culture there have been masochists.
Their existence appears to be something statistically small in stature through the course of human history. But, the penalties for disobedience in this ancient institution ranged from starvation, to torture (in the traditional ‘bloody’ sense), to death. It is too much to assume that people under bondage would potentially incur this absolute and terrible penalty in their effort to ‘enjoy’ a ‘good beating’ or to garner the attention of an authority figure. Anyone looking into the methods and manners of these early slave owners understands that this type of attention (despite anyone’s ‘kink’) was not something to be appreciated, as chronic illness-maiming-and-death was the potential result; especially in a time before the advent of modern pharmaceuticals where a simple scratch might mean death through a common infection.
A flogging was not performed with a deer or moose skin device, rather with something constructed of rawhide (if lucky) with knots on the end, and could open wide someone’s back with a single expert (inexpert?) stroke. Lashes were seldom limited to a single digit count of strokes if the offense was severe enough to deserve the punishment at all.
Other instruments might have been used as well, depending on the culture the, crime, or the time; but, suffice it to say, they were less than the pleasant experiences we devise in our inherently consensual and modern play.
People who try to directly associate us with this extreme past beyond a simple comparison are seeking to make this connection for personal reasons and are not being honest.
Every time I see a web site, hear a speaker, or read a paper that uses the two as some ‘natural progression of one to the other’, my skin crawls and I find myself anxious to respond using facts. In the long run, what the folks who make these allegations lack are facts to support their statements and theory. Insubstantial conjecture is often the means of proof, whether it is a hieroglyph showing a man striking a woman in ancient Egypt or comparisons of the American pre-Civil War south justifying our existence.
We cannot justify ourselves to others through the use of such conjecture as it only serves to further muddy any rational explanation by tying us to something that was (and, is) a reprehensible institution based on the development of cultures on the pain and suffering of untold millions.
We have a rich and new history that is made up of real people with real lives and real concerns. Interjecting mud into our clear historical path is not the way towards justification, acceptance of “WIITWD” by folks outside of our sphere, or a morally proper manner to justify (or, build) oneself to a local group or (even) oneself.
And, yet it is a widespread issue in our leather way of life. One that we should take offense to (from a moralistic perspective) and one that has to be argued down whenever we see it being used to link us with such a venal institution.
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