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Hello merry readers, guest blogger Onyx back with a small piece I’ve been meaning to write for a while on the subject of semantics.
Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while knows that Semantics is something that Scarlet often brings up, both through her Semantic Sunday posts, as well as her many posts about labels and identity and the difficulty she often faces trying to explain herself and her ideas to others.
In a couple recent posts Scarlet has done an excellent job discussing labels, their use, their limitations and why she’s a fan of them. I’m going to expand on this and offer some reasons why I feel that labels so often are misused or downright abused and some ways I feel we can remediate this.
I do not claim to be the originator of the ideas and concepts I will discuss. They were thought up by greater minds than mine and all I can hope to do is to communicate them in a clear and understandable manner. My main influence comes from the school of General Semantics, originally espoused by Count Alfred Korzybski and elaborated upon by writers I respect greatly such as Robert Anton Wilson, as well as ones I hold in much lower regard such as L. Ron Hubbard.
To go into depth about all aspects of General Semantics would require a book, or perhaps a number of books. Briefly speaking it can be said to be a discipline dedicated to increasing awareness of how our use of language informs our thoughts and ideas, especially what one might call “common sense assumptions.” Korzybski taught that words always seem to fail to fully describe any situation, object or action and sought to help us avoid the linguistic traps and manipulations we’re all too often subjected to.
Perhaps this can best be described by one of General Semantics’ key phrases “The map is not the territory. The word is not the thing defined.” Our language is unable to ever describe anything in a comprehensive way; instead we describe various aspects of something, small bits and pieces of the whole.
One of the most dangerous aspects of language Korzybski warned is any variation of the verb to be, to say that anything is anything makes us to grossly oversimplify reality and leads us into dangerous thinking. To illustrate let’s look at stereotypes and prejudices that most of us will have observed at one point or another.
“Black people are criminals”
“The Irish are hard drinkers”
“Queers are immoral perverts.”
Feel free to exchange these for your favorite stereotypes if you wish. The point is that these stereotypes gain their power from the verb to be. Statements such as these assign labels to groups in an absolute manner that grossly oversimplifies reality. Sure we can find partial truths in such statements; we can’t deny that some black people commit Illegal acts, or that some queers violate SOME people’s standards of morality, but the oversimplification forced upon us by the verb to begets in the way of a more detailed and accurate understanding
Any description of an object will vary based on circumstance and time, and if we can train ourselves to recognize this we can avoid the largely emotional responses often triggered by this particular linguistic trap. If we can translate the phrase “Blacks are criminals” into the more abstracted phrase “A portion of blacks have at some point in their lives committed an act considered illegal at that point at that point in time and space” we will almost certainly have a far less emotional response and have a better understanding of the nebulous group known as “blacks”.
Of course, these concepts do not only apply to groups, but to anything we choose to describe. Any time we use any form of to beto describe something we run the risk of oversimplifying our thought process and make potentially very flawed assumptions. (Hopefully I haven’t lost you at this point with my simplistic explanation of General semantics, I do have a point, and I’m getting to it, I promise!)
This brings me back to labels. Most people I know seem to have an aversion to labels and will say they avoid them or don’t want labels applied to them. In my experience this seem a result of the how people fall into the to be trap. We often feel that if we accept a label we have to be whatever we think that label describes, and that we can’t be anything else.
If one adopts the label of “submissive” by saying “I am submissive” we oversimplify and limit our ability to fully express ourselves. If instead we adopt the label by saying “I feel submissive” or even “At this point in time I choose to explore and express myself in a submissive manner” we are no longer bound by the label although we can still use it as a means to communicate and express ourselves. Thus the label itself is not the problem, but rather the verb we use to tie the label to ourselves and our identities.
The mental discipline Korzybski sought to instill can be hard to attain in full. Most languages that I’m aware of, English among them make heavy use of to bein various permutations. Likewise our culture seems very devoted to these oversimplifications, perhaps because it seems easier, more convenient. It takes less effort and mental agility to think of things in fairly rigid absolutes. One might ask whether our cultural attitudes were shaped by our language or if our language was shaped by cultural attitudes. Korzybski believed that language at the very least reinforces these unhealthy thought patterns and that they key to overcoming them was to change the way we use language.
Some students of General Semantics such as D. David Bourland have sought to do this by creating a brand new form of English known as English Prime or more commonly E-prime which seeks to do away with the verb to beentirely. Others have argued that we do not need to eliminate to beentirely, but rather simply become more aware of how we use the verb and more careful with its application.
An interesting experiment I propose you try is to go for a day or even longer trying to avoid using to bein any of its forms or at least marking down every time you do it, and then give some thought as to how it oversimplified or even misrepresented the thing you were seeking to describe. I have found it to bea fun and useful exercise that helps me view the world in new and fascinating ways.Possibly related posts:
Ellie Lumpesse has been posting a series of interviews with men about masculinity all of which are absolutely fantastic, and I highly encourage you all to check them out. A little from her on her interviews: “So the other day I was thinking about masculinity. And then I realized I should probably think about it in conjunction with men. So, I asked a few guys to answer some very difficult questions about their relationships with masculinity. I’m amazed by the response so far and I hope that a dialogue will begin.”
When was the first time you remember being aware of masculinity? How old were you? What was the cultural climate or influence?
Growing up I don’t recall much of a focus on what masculinity was per se. I was raised by a single mother and largely raised by my two grandmothers; in fact I never even met my father until I was 7. Also I grew up in Norway which means a slightly different culture than in the US, though the ideas of Masculinity and Femininity are similar enough, if perhaps somewhat less extreme.
My first real experience with a Father Figure was when my mother got married to another man, a man I hated with a fiery vengeance. He also had a son who was 4 years older than me and we disliked each other even more. Growing up I had never been in to a lot of “proper” masculine activities, I hated sports and while other boys would love to play soccer or go skiing I would prefer staying home reading a book.
This didn’t fly with my step father, he had rather traditional ideas of what boys should be into and so he set out to “make a man of me”. Of course, even back then I had a rather stubborn and surprisingly well-developed anti-authoritan streak and I fought back against pretty hard. Luckily it didn’t last long as he and my mother had problems that resulted in a short marriage.
Do you think of yourself as masculine? Why or why not?
Yes and no. I like to think that I’ve embraced some of the better aspects of masculinity while rejecting the aspects I consider useless or counterproductive. My “embrace” of my masculine side began in High-school where I went through a large shift in personality, seeking to become more assertive, more confident and more in charge of my life. But with my typical contrariness I put my own spin on it and refused to easily fit with a masculine stereotype. Where other boys were still enamored by sports and physical prowess, I focused on mental prowess and poured my energy into becoming some sort of Intellectual Alpha-Male. The advent of the internet made this even easier and I adopted an online persona where I felt I explored a more aggressive masculine persona. I found it easier to be what I had been taught a Man should be online where I could play to my strengths than in real life where I still found the typical male bravado and chest-thumping to be rather distasteful.
Eventually as I got more comfortable with my masculine sides they also began to mellow and I began to feel more like moving outside the limitations they in some ways imposed on me. I feel less of a need to prove my masculinity, but more of a need to really explore it beyond what I had been taught about it, to find a masculinity that’s my own instead of that imposed by culture and society. I am still going through this process and am probably going to be doing so for the rest of my life. In fact the whole question of masculinity becomes just a part of a larger context of self-realization where simple labels increasingly fail to convey any real meaning about who I am and the ideas, thoughts, opinions and desires that I’m composed of. Masculinity fits, better than some other labels, but my Masculinity is to me unique, in some ways more forceful, in some ways more compromising than what others expect. It is in some ways subversive while in others it is almost frighteningly conformist.
How does your masculinity relate to your sexuality (be it your orientation, preferences, or expressions)?
For me my Masculinity in many ways ties in with my Dominant preferences. I don’t consider myself strictly heterosexual, but I’m primarily attracted to Biological females who are “feminine”, and I tend to present my Masculine side to others. Occasionally though, I feel a need to move completely out of that framework, to be the one not in charge, the one being fucked instead of the one doing the fucking, the one who surrenders control, while at the same time I have a very hard time doing so, and even talking about it or acknowledging it becomes very challenging. My appearance, mannerism and demeanor are thus almost universally “masculine” often in an almost exaggerated manner, especially around strangers or people I don’t know too well. In some ways this might be a defense mechanism, an easy way to keep others from really learning about me, from really getting to know me. Opening up and being vulnerable is something that I’ve always had a hard time with and even with my current partner who I feel closer to than anyone my whole life it still takes enormous effort on her part for me to really open up and show my vulnerable sides. The only consolation here is that it’s gradually getting a little bit easier.
Now this is not to say that I feel bad about my expressions of Masculinity, I definitely feel they are an important and cherished part of me, but I also feel a need to move beyond them and no longer be restricted by the limitations I feel they impose on me.Possibly related posts:
Long time reader, first time poster.
I’m Onyx, Scarlet’s oft-mentioned Dominus and new guest blogger here on the femmeinist fucktoy blog. I hope to contribute occasionally to this site in order to offer a different, but hopefully complementary perspective on many of the issues Scarlet covers and hope that I have some thoughts or at least witty remarks you, her readers, will enjoy.
So by way of introduction I’ll offer a quick biography of myself.
I was born far away across the sea in a relatively small town in Norway. I moved to the US almost a decade ago and made it through a failed marriage before I got involved with Scarlet. We first met online on the chat network IRC and were sufficiently intrigued by each other to meet in the flesh, the rest they say, is history.
I interests tend to be centered on three main areas: computers, occultism and kink. The first two are things I may touch on tangentially, but in keeping with the theme of this blog I will be focusing mainly on the third category in my posts here.
I will be covering some of my thoughts on such topics as gender identity, polyamory, BDSM and D/s in general and my relationship with Scarlet in particular. I’m also open to any questions readers might have not to mention Scarlet’s ever so subtle hints about what she’d like me to blog about ;)
I’m excited to be posting here and hope you will enjoy my contributions.
You can find me on Twitter as Onyx93 or on FetLife as Onyx93.Possibly related posts: