Thoughts And Ideas
Published in

Thoughts And Ideas

On the Origins of Masochism

Masochism as a Byproduct Of Sadism

Lovers, a self-portrait by Egon Schiele. “Man must conceive of woman as a possession, as property that can be locked, as something predestined for service and achieving her perfection in that” — Nietzsche on the now pre-dated wisdom of the Orient about women. One must make no mistake: this is how women were treated for most of civilization, though possibly extending beyond and it has had a major impact. Very likely a big reason behind the sadism/masochism discrepancy between men and women.

Sadism and masochism, are two of the mightiest and most deeply ingrained drives of mankind which are to be found in every person. Needless to say, the degree to which they exemplify themselves differs greatly, and only rarely do they border on a disorder. After all, what makes the difference between the normal and not so normal person, between the lower and the higher human being, is not exactly the absence of this or that drive but rather the quantity of this or that drive.

My contention is that Masochism probably developed as a by-product of Sadism. Both of these words are, however, very sublimated and high-level. Let us, therefore, dial it back a couple of thousand years.

Sadism

The original condition of mankind during those immemorial times of hunter-gathering, that exceed even our particular species and stretch up to 1.8 million years with Homo Erectus, was one where being insatiable with cruelty — this very crude and low-level realization of the will to power — reigned supreme. As Nietzsche masterfully puts it:

The pleasure of cruelty: just as it is reckoned a virtue in a soul under such conditions to be inventive and insatiable in cruelty. In the act of cruelty the community refreshes itself and for once throws off the gloom of constant fear and caution.

Cruelty is one of the oldest festive joys of mankind.

Take a look at the oldest Customs and Moores of mankind and you will find that cruelty is worshiped everywhere. The Gods themselves are thought of as being insatiable in cruelty and rejoicing from humanity’s suffering. Likewise, suffering, pain, and hardness were tolled en masse and represented the kernel of reality.

If we were to perform an experiment and for once tried to introduce some rudimentary ideas from Schopenhauer to some of these folks living about 40kyrs ago — i.e, shortly after the introduction of the great software update — they would probably find these ideas exceedingly tickling, dandy, in short, soft. Extreme suffering was universally considered the only state of existence for almost all the millennials that our species has existed thus far.

So this explains sadism for the most part. We essentially evolved with a disposition towards cruelty and, moreover as Nietzsche correctly grasps, almost everything that came afterward, all our higher culture even today, is based on a sublimation of this originally pure and unadulterated drive.

Masochism

Given these eternally long immemorial times, where being cruel was accorded the highest value, being receptive to cruelty, which also means obeying (another crucial instinct of our species), ended up being accorded the highest value as well. Again, the conditions of pain and suffering were viewed as the prime, eternal and rightful conditions of the world. They were incorporated in the “Good” of the particular reigning customs, indeed they were one and the same. By constantly associating despondency and despair with the “Good”, one became susceptible to pleasuring oneself from such a condition.

As Dostoevsky put it:

It is in despair that the most burning pleasures occur, especially when one is all too highly conscious of the hopelessness of one’s position.

However, this purely intellectual association is secondary in nature. The main point is that under the conditions of this immense pressure, made up of constant pain and suffering, a defense mechanism could have evolved whereby the ego associated them with pleasure.

In other words, this bitterness pain was sublimated into a decided, serious pleasure.

This would increase the chances of survival, given that conditions of misery would no longer elicit the same response in its host but rather the opposite, thereby facilitating getting through the day.

After all, the way that one feels and thinks is the most important (perhaps because it is very likely the only) possession that one has.

Of course, given the rough egalitarian nature of these hunter-gatherer bands, this transfiguration seldom happened in its most extreme degree (which is why few people have powerful masochistic tendencies that border on a disorder) because it was seldom needed. In other words, although hunter-gather bands have been shown to have an intra-competition for status and females, and are known for their strong male bonding and violence towards their female counterparts, they still essentially remain egalitarian in nature. Hence such a transfiguration of extreme pain to extreme pleasure was but the exception. However, this says nothing of the more acceptable and essentially weaker forms of masochism, which to be sure are to be found everywhere.

But why does this manifest itself in this fair age and time then? After all, while for some masochism might be related to childhood trauma and the likes, for many there is no particular unpleasant event having caused it. Moreover, it is very different to serve as a trigger for some behavior (this means that the behavior is already dormant and existing) than to be the cause of a behavior itself. Apart from a few retrogrades, who take pleasure in exercising this immense amount of cruelty to their fellow human beings owning to a retarded configuration of their brain, none is subjected anymore to such horrific experiences.

The answer essentially lies in the inheritance of such behaviors and traits, whereby conditions of past mankind find themselves betrayed even today. We must remember and always keep in mind that the greater chunk of the character of mankind was formed during dozens of thousands of years of hunter-gatherer societies in pre-history as well as the early stages of history after farming started and that these conditions continue to manifest themselves up to this day.

Sexual Masochism

Perhaps the origins of masochism can be traced back to the sexual act itself. The sexual act essentially represents an intricate dance of sadism and masochism so that it might even be possible to teach an A.I. system about the act in accordance with these two terms only.

The root of this kind of violence of man toward the woman in the sexual act — which essentially represents an attempt to conquer and originally the highest expression of power for an individual — is one of the oldest defining characteristics of the whole family of archaic humans. It is only with later, fairer Homos, such as Homo Sapiens, that we finally see the sexual dimorphism fade away.

The Greeks and the Romans never saw a problem with same-sex relations so long as one was on the active role rather than the passive one. The passive role disgraces, and shames, it puts one down.

And so, as long as humans continue to copulate, sadism and masochism are sure to keep their place as some of the most important drives that make up our species.

Thanks for reading.

As always, constructive criticism and discussion of any kind are highly appreciated.

Remember what physics teaches us: One’s goal is to be less wrong about everything.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Rejnald Lleshi

Rejnald Lleshi

..- . -… . .-. . — .. -. -.. . -.