Monday, February 18, 2008

The Mark of Cain

Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me." Then the Lord said to him, "Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.

Book of Genesis, Chapter 4, Verses 13-15

(Gustave Dore, "The Death of Abel", 1866)

It is said that after Cain slew his brother Abel, God placed a curse on him, forcing Cain to wander the earth for the rest of his life because he would be unable to grow crops. He also put a mark on Cain as a warning that whoever harmed him would face God's wrath. To this day, there is debate among Biblical scholars about the passage. What exactly did the mark look like? Was it visible or more of an "aura"? Was it to alert others to the presence of the murderer? And why did God keep Cain alive and protected?

Even as a non-believer, I find this Bible tale quite intriguing. Especially after I heard in a literature class that the German writer Klaus Mann considered his homosexuality to be a "Mark of Cain". He felt that, rather than being shameful, it was something that enobled him and made him a member of an exclusive elite. I don't know if Mann ever used the specific term himself, but the comparison with the mark has stuck with me ever since.

Somehow, it appeals very strongly to me as a spanko. Kinky people aren't murderers, of course, but we are still seen as immoral or objectionable by some groups. We don't have a visible mark (although we sometimes use handkerchief signs), but in a way, we are like Cain - he was unable to grow crops and thereby lead a normal life, we are unable to be fully content just with vanilla sex. So we often become wanderers and seekers, in a metaphorical sense. Whether it is true or not, I also liked the story about Klaus Mann and how he turned the (even worse) prejudices of his time around - choosing to view his "affliction" as a blessing rather than a curse.

I think it's a question we all ask ourselves at some point: why am I different? Why am I turned on by spanking, corporal punishment or bondage when most people are not? Why do I gleefully fantasize about whippings or torture when I certainly don't support the real, non-consensual thing? What is it that "marks me out"?

Scientists have dozens of theories, but no consensus on the phenomenon of BDSM. Psychologically, it is often categorized as a "disorder of sexual preference" - not a full-blown pathology that is harmful and needs to be cured, but unusual none the less. We knew it's unusual, but how does it arise? And how much can science tell us about our strangely ineffable desires, anyway? Isn't that a fruitless approach, and moreover, doesn't it threaten to take away the mystique we hold so dear?

Personally, I think scientific theories are interesting and have their place. Needless to say, they don't explain "everything". But they don't diminish the fascination of erotic CP for me, either. It's simply another angle of looking at it. Take another example: imagine that you're looking up at the stars in the night sky, and it fills you with awe. You could describe everything that is happening here in scientific terms: stars are huge masses of mostly hydrogen and helium, they produce visible light through nuclear fusion, the light hits your retina and causes impulses that are transmitted to your brain through the optic nerve, those result in certain neurochemical processes, and that is why you feel the way you feel.

I wouldn't say that this is a "wrong" description. It's certainly valid in its way and quite informative - but also very incomplete. Third-person science can never capture the human experience of what it's like to see the night sky and feel this tremendous wonder. That's not even the scientist's job, really. His task is to give us one very specific type of account that explains certain aspects of what is going on. But you can't simply "reduce" the phenomenon to a purely scientific description, because a lot of questions remain open - and usually they're the real interesting ones. Like, why does it feel like that to see the stars? And why should it feel like anything at all? How can we even bridge this mysterious gap between the physical world and our subjective mental states?

Before I get all philosophical, let's return to BDSM. It's really the same thing in regards to scientific theory. One popular approach focuses on endorphins. Your brain produces them when you experience pain, and it's somewhat similar to a marathon runner's "high" or the afterglow of orgasm. We even know that just looking at another human being in pain, or fantasizing about it, can have a similar effect - a sort of sympathetic response. So maybe that's part of the reason why we are "floating on clouds" after an exciting scene or why we enjoy watching spanking movies.

I think all of this is fabulously interesting stuff. But again, it's a very limited way of looking at erotic CP. Like the "nuclear fusion" description of the night sky, it only covers one particular aspect. To say that we spankos are "endorphin junkies" by another name would be a gross over-simplification. Not only because it fails to even approach the complexity of the experience, but also because a lot of important questions remain. If we all have largely the same brain structure and even the same reactions, why do only a select few of us ever get into erotic corporal punishment? Why not all? Is a spanko's brain just "wired" a little differently? Doesn't seem like a very satisfying answer to me.

I can't rule out that part of it is genetic, but I find it more promising to go beyond mere biology and into psychology. For most of us, the fascination starts at a very early age, even if we are never spanked at home. There could be other childhood experiences like just hearing about spankings or witnessing one, as I did. I will write about this another time. Still, it remains a mystery to me why I found it arousing when most others probably wouldn't have.

At the end of the day, we should simply acknowledge that we have the Mark of Cain and that we'll probably never fully understand why or how that is. What matters is that we make the best use of our gift. Klaus Mann gave a very good example, I think.


punishedbutts said...

What an interesting article! - Aren't we all proud of our marks? After a caning I definitely spend too much time at the mirror watching them... ;)
Welcome in the blogging scene btw!

Indy said...

A very interesting take on the Great Spanko Question, Ludwig. I enjoyed this post very much.

I find this topic to be endlessly interesting. Although I would be very interested in seeing real scientific data about who we are and what we do, I don't think science is particularly well suited to examine why we are the way we are. My guess is that, physically, we have stronger endorphin responses than average and that the bottom is a stronger erogenous zone for us. There also seems to be a fascination with power, with playing games in which we give it away or accept it from another. Is that completely psychological, or does it develop around spanking as a child-rearing practice, whether or not we were subject to it? It will be interesting to see if spanking as kink disappears as physical punishment becomes less common for children. I suspect not, but the forms of expression will probably change.

The physical basis I described above really only works for bottoms. How would the tops out there answer that question?

Ludwig said...

It's an interesting question, Indiana: will erotic spanking among adults "disappear" as we progress towards a society where there aren't any spankings in the family anymore? I very much believe that it would be a better world if no one hits a child anymore. However, I am "optimistic" about erotic corporal punishment, i.e. I believe it will always be around.

As for me, I was never spanked at home and I had a very happy, liberal childhood. I did hear about other kids being spanked and even saw it first-hand once. However, my main inspiration came from history books, historical novels and films. I would read about whippings in ancient Sparta, torture in the Middle Ages and canings in 19th century schools. That was the stuff that turned me on the most, and I developed my most intense fantasies around it.

The historical material will always be around, in textbooks and in fiction, and I think a lot of kinky people will discover their "Mark of Cain" from that.

When you look at erotic CP films today, it's interesting to note how many of them revolve around some sort of "antiquated" scenario: punishment in schools, in the military, in 19th century prisons, in Medieval fantasy, Czechoslovakia under Stalin...

Hermione said...

Very interesting observations. Of course, I think immediately of the 'Mark of Cane' but hten, I've been visiting the Spanking Writers (Abel and Haron) regularly.


Anonymous said...

I believe my kink was nurtured more by horror movies than by any actual CP (which I did get as a child and do NOT eroticize as an adult). The dread, the "safe" terror, the feeling of survival... I'm just a Final Girl at heart.

I also believe that the obsessive (and I don't mean that negatively) serach for "What Made Us The Way We Are" is an independent fetish. I think it's similar to the way certain vehement anti-porn crusaders find an erotic outlet (unknown to them) in preaching against the perverted. It's one way they can justify exposing themselves to porn/kink and it's probably a fetish in its own right.

I have this silly fantasy of being on all the couches of famous psychiatrists/psychologists. Just to see what their various conclusions wold be. I can guess what predictable Freud would say, but what would Jung make of me? I just find the idea really hot - being dissected by someone who gets inside my head. Non-consensual psychoanalysis!

Whoa, tangent... too much Riesling...

Ludwig said...

"I also believe that the obsessive (and I don't mean that negatively) serach for 'What Made Us The Way We Are' is an independent fetish."

I believe so, too. Some kinky people are deeply interested in the question, others aren't, and it's ultimately a matter of personality type. Personally, I'm interested but not obsessed.

It can become an unhealthy fixation for some. I've met people who were on a real obsessive scientific quest. They read psychology papers, neurology papers, social studies and soak up every new theory. To the point where they lose all sense of fun of being kinky.

That's why I wrote that, while I find a lot of the scientific stuff quite fascinating in its own right, we shouldn't look for the One Definite Answer. There is none, and it's not necessary, even.

Why does Niki like horror movies while Adele doesn't? Well, because some of us like certain things and others don't, simple as that! Same thing with BDSM. What really matters is that you get a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment out of it.

I suppose that, as a philosopher, I'm used to dealing with questions that have no definite answer. But they're not useless because of that. Often, you can learn a whole lot of other things by thinking about them. You can discard some possible answers that are definitely wrong. Or you can learn to render the original question more precisely. All of this is a form of progress in its own right and worth doing.

So I enjoy raising questions, and I'm not bothered by not getting a definite answer.

tigerbutt said...

The quest for answers may be futile. Why do some people like lickerish or anchovies or the Grateful Dead while others detest them. There is not much middle ground there.

Ludwig says he was never spanked as a child yet apparently has a strong kink for it. I was beaten long hard and frequently yet still can't seem to get enough.

This is why I always like reading Ludwigs long winded dissertations on this subject. Just when you think he has husked the corn right down to the cob, he cuts the string and your balloon goes spinning off into the sky.

Anonymous said...

Three questions
A. Have you and Nikki done it?
B. Are you a genuine Goldberg freak - or did you just think it was cool incidental music for those DwithW clips?
C. What about Bela Bartok?

Ludwig said...

Three answers:

A. No. We are very good friends and we explore kinky erotic fantasies together, but there is no desire from either of us to bring sex into it.

B. Sure I like Bach, and I'm also a big fan of the pianist Glenn Gould, whose famous 1955 recording of The Goldberg Variations you can hear in the clips. Moreover, the choice of music was an homage to "The Silence of the Lambs", obviously.

C. I like Bartok, especially the Concerto for Orchestra.