Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Caring as a kind of Dominance


Thinking of dominance usually does not evoke images of caretakers laboring to help others, but appearances are deceiving.

Taking a look back to our origins as humans, we see that coming out of primate politics (male hierarchy) humans were surprisingly egalitarian in their social organization. Although there were elders who were revered for their knowledge, no such things as a special or stratified class or kingship existed. It was only much later that tyranny began to take hold and royalty emerged. Naturally, some question why the shift from and back to dominance hierarchy? It hasn't happened to any other primate, and we also fell back in to it. It’s temping to think of this time in human history as akin to the garden of Eden when all seemed right as people treated each other more or less equally (as long as you were in the right tribe or band).

Perhaps this era was a more tolerant time for human attitude and behavior; more connected to the earth’s cycles and dynamics- fining identity not just with the self, but with the rest of society and nature in the form of ritualistic myths and animal worship. Many do believe this and as a result see the current development of mass civilization as a detriment to our species; it’s seen as an artificial world we don’t fit in with, and deep down we yearn back to that simple time when things had less names, but the things themselves brought more meaning with them, especially the mysteries. All of it sounds romantic and even a little idealistic. But was the era not an absence of dominance, but instead another shade of it?      

At first it may seem hard to imagine care as a way of dominating another person. The fact that one sacrifices to help another in order to care for them seems to be lacking the violence and force domination usually brings to mind. The notion becomes easier to grasp when we consider that the central characteristic of dominance is not violence or even evil, but control. In the act of caring, one assumes control over another in order to provide help. They dominate the person by taking over the deeds which would usually be up to the individual themselves. Some may find this to be counter-intuitive to their idea of what domination can bring out in people. This is a kind of domination which is proactively social rather then being tyrannical.

Just maybe, we as a species never stopped our dominance tendencies during that era before sophisticated civilization. Rather, we merely changed from one kind of dominance to another; from one which exploits to one which helps. But the question of power still remains: is it ever good or just to be under another’s control? Regarding our current society and its emphasis on individual liberty (while we still have it), domination is not seen as a fair way to behave, even (for conservatives) if its in the form of help. The tide against the formation of universal healthcare by conservatives is an illustration of the ideal of liberty in opposition to power, because to care for someone is to dominate. Self-sufficiency is the cornerstone of liberty, even though it involves risk.

This brings the topic to the debate between the balance of person liberty with civic duty. How much is one not only free to do, but obligated to do by society (i.e. other people). If we believe all forms of power and dominance to be malevolent and wrong, then one believes that individual liberty should be maximized. On the other hand, if one thinks dominance has a good side, then the power of society on the individual, as long as its in their best interest (whatever that happens to mean) should be strictly implemented into their lives.

It’s clear how dominance being control has vast implications for not only the origins of human civilization, but how we are related to the large body we call society. Does dominance have a productive and just side, or is it always wrong to lord power over others (unless they ask for it, as then it would be their own will)?  

Another implication of this new look on dominance is the role of women in this dynamic. If caring is dominance, then all mothers are dominate of their children. And as everyone came from a mother, everyone has a dominator. Therefore, the role of mother as caring dominator shows the flip side of the male dominator role of not children per se, but society and politics in general. This broadens dominance from the male sphere  into both genders. What was once seen as one way dominace dynamic (between genders) seems to be more of a two way street with both genders playing their respective roles. Although the male side of domiance attracts more immediate attention, the female side is no less pervasive and situated in society.