27 April, 2011

Taking Responsibility For My Choices

Incidentally, today is Secretaries Day. That doesn't really mean anything to me, but it just so happens that the subject I want to explore in this blog post has some relation to a film titled Secretary, starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which I watched a while back during my phase of being interested in serious movies depicting alternative sexual lifestyles. This one is about a D/s relationship (that is, a fully D/s relationship, even outside the bedroom) and is significant in that it demonstrates that - contrary to sensationalist stereotypes - Doms can actually care about the wellbeing of those they dominate, and subs can enjoy (or even thrive on) being dominated. And that last point is what ties into my theme for today.

I was out walking in the beautiful eighty degree weather today, and had worked up a bit of a sweat toward the end of my walk (which took me through the woods). I was contemplating taking my shirt off (which, as a nudist, would be a step towards a much more enjoyable state of being), but my fear of drawing attention and/or being judged negatively by others prevented me from taking that step. Obviously, taking my shirt off on public streets is not illegal or anything like that, and I wouldn't have even been the only one (although certainly within the minority). But, you know how people are, even about partial 'nudity'. Even if it's nothing you wouldn't see at a public swimming pool, some people don't mind it, but others do.

Really, I shouldn't care about those others who don't, because this is such a trivial thing (not comparable to doing something like shouting obscenities in someone's face). But, I do. Now, if I had been with another person who I knew was on my side, I would have been much more confident in the tacit knowledge that I was not alone in thinking my decision (to take off my shirt) was a good one. I would feel defended, backed up, and that could stand against anyone else's opinion who might disagree with me. I really should be confident enough that I can trust my own judgment, without having to defer to external support, but that's precisely my issue.

Because you see, if somebody tells me to do something, or explicitly agrees that something I had already wanted to do is a good idea, then I feel like I'm not totally responsible for doing it, if someone were to come up and complain. I could say, well, this other person wanted me to do it (or thought it was a good idea), so don't blame me. I want to be able to shirk the responsibility for making those choices, so I don't have to feel in a position where my judgment is being questioned. Because I much too easily succumb to those sorts of psychological attacks on my self-esteem.

What I need to learn how to do is to take responsibility for my choices. It's true that we all make mistakes, and this isn't the end of the world. If I make a bad judgment here and there, that's okay. As long as I'm committed to learning from my mistakes, and working together with other people that I (unfortunately) share this world with, then there's no justification for me to feel hated or despised. And when it comes to subjective considerations, such as the appropriateness of doffing one's top on a warm summery (even though it's still spring) day, I have to be able to stand up to my fear that someone might disapprove - because that's not the end of the world, either, and there's no rule that says that you have to please everyone all of the time, regardless of the personal sacrifices required.

But it's not entirely that straightforward, because there are lengths to which I'd like to go that are not as generally acceptable in public society as male toplessness. And yet, rarely are codified laws so specific as to be unambiguous - most of the time, these things are determined largely by 'community standards', where 'community standards' are largely assumed to be a certain set of behaviors - a certain set that I don't necessarily agree with. The confusion comes in regarding rare behaviors I would like to engage in that don't have a clear precedent of either acceptability or non-acceptability.

Just for example, the whole male toplessness thing works on exactly the same levels as full nudity. It's about people being offended by parts of the body. I know genitalia are clearly off-limits, but I fail to understand why. It's merely a difference of degree. Some people don't like to look at bare chests, yet it's allowed. Some people like to look at genitalia, but it's not allowed. It doesn't even have to be this perverted sexual thing, I fail to understand why simple nudist-style nudity is not tolerated in reasonable contexts - such as public streets and parks and pools and things like that (I'm not even talking about restaurants and business establishments here). And sometimes the law isn't all that clear-cut, and there's a question of exactly what you could get away with, and it might be as arbitrary as whether your particular local community gets upset or not. But then the risk of testing the waters could prove to be dire, so it's almost a chilling effect.

Getting back to taking responsibility for my choices. I just don't see how I could learn to be comfortable taking responsibility for my choice to go topless, while still restraining myself from going fully nude. The only thing that would stop me is a blind adherence to the law and fear of subjective community standards, and that's exactly the sort of thing that impairs my ability to live a happy, fulfilling, content life. I almost feel like, if I can't go all the way, I may as well impose a punishment on myself, to spite the community standards, by not going any distance at all. But of course, that's probably exactly what the system wants - to scare people into not taking risks until we're all terrified conformist yes-men.

The law and community standards make such little sense to me that I'm struggling to figure out an egosyntonic reason to follow them. It's not healthy living a life where you have to curb your natural impulses for no other reason than the fear of being beaten into submission by the authority of the state. And I'm not talking about impulses to go out and hurt someone. If someone has an impulse to murder, for example, then I might argue that, practically speaking (ideally, my position would be different), that person may not have recourse to a healthy life. But what is so terrible about wanting to walk down the street naked that I deserve to have to curb my impulses and live a restrained, resentful life? I agree that the law (and the community) should regulate things like murder - but when the law stretches out to cover things like what a person wears outdoors in public, I have a really hard time maintaining my respect in that law.

I choose to follow the law to my own personal detriment, because I recognize that the law has power over me, and I fear it. But in the process of trying to learn how to overcome my fear, I am at an obstacle, because I don't know how to be happy and remain obedient. And every step pushing me towards being more confident and trusting my intuition and reaching out and grabbing the things I want in life leaves me worrying that this can't happen as long as the law stands in my way. And I don't know which way to go. It's like I'm being pushed towards a ledge. I need to get off the ledge, but falling isn't the solution I had in mind. And I'm not so sure the people who are helping me can even see the drop-off. And of course I'm afraid to mention it, because the minute you start talking about breaking the law, you put yourself in dire jeopardy. Course, avoiding the issue doesn't make it any more likely that you'll avoid a disaster. I guess I'm not in much of a position to demand sanity from others...

Sometimes I wonder if I'd be more content being a prisoner with my integrity intact, than a hypocritical "free" man who doesn't practice the freedom he preaches. It seems to be a question of trading my psychological bars for physical ones.

If I had no fear, even then I would not go around hurting anyone, simply because that is not something I desire to do. I care about other people (too much, it seems). But I also care about myself, and there are things I do desire to do that carry restrictions in this social climate. It just really bothers me that the authorities can dictate the way I live my life in such a way as to prohibit certain activities - not because they harm anyone, but for purely arbitrary reasons. It's not right.


  1. I think there's probably some sort of equation that dictates how likely it is that a person can get away with something based on how far outside the norm the act is, the size of the group of people observing him, that person's influence with said group, and the number and influence of people joining with him.

    Regardless of whatever social and historical reasons there are for our laws and "community standards" we have, there's a practical side to keeping genitalia hidden away.

    First off, considering how many bodily functions go on below the navel, any naked person with less-than-admirable hygiene becomes a liability in public. I'll just leave it at that.

    Second off, clothes provide a psychological barrier against activities that the general public might find more offensive than nudity, if done in public (or at all, in some cases). Example: How much more likely is a disgruntled or bored corporate employee to photocopy his butt if there's no penalty for getting caught with his pants down?

    Things to consider.

  2. 1) Your first point pretty much emphasizes the advantage that people who are popular and/or in the majority have. It's really hard being eccentric and asocial.

    2) Public places are frequently filthy to begin with. If a person is making a significant contribution to that filth, that is something that can easily be dealt with, without concern for how much or how little that person is wearing.

    3) The existence and popularity of nudist resorts across the country (and world) prove that people can behave in a civilized manner even when nude in [relative] public. It is my policy not to legislate overbroad measures to discourage acts that we don't tolerate.

    Provided we agree that photocopying one's butt is unacceptable (and really, I don't see the problem provided the employee is courteous enough to wipe down the photocopier afterwards - there's nothing about wanting to photocopy one's butt that necessitates having a lack of courtesy - and it's the lack of courtesy that harms other people, not the butt photocopying), then we ought to punish only people who photocopy their butts, and not write a no-nudity discouragement measure which, in addition to discouraging butt photocopying, also punishes people who might like to take their pants off yet don't have any intention of photocopying their butts.

    If anything, what I've learned in my experiences is that, while all those concerns (that people frequently have) are indeed valid, people tend to make a much bigger deal out of it than it really is. How hard is it to continue to punish people who behave inappropriately, while not judging them based merely on the articles of clothing they may or may not be wearing? It's easy to imagine extrapolated scenarios where totally disinhibited hedonists are engaging in horrendously unacceptable behavior in public, but that is not what is being argued, and I do not see how that justifies punishing the courteous, hygienic nudist who wants nothing more than to take a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood on a beautiful day, clad only in the uniform God intended.

    I just don't believe that people should be punished for the actions of the least common denominator. My courteous behavior shouldn't be limited by the uncourteous behavior that someone else engaged (or might engage) in.

  3. "How hard is it to punish people who behave inappropriately..."

    Could not have said it better myself, this sums up my feelings on any and all social laws or victimless crimes. It should be written into the constitution that where there is no harm, there is no penalty of law.

    I'm sure that practically speaking, proving harm would be too much of a burden for the justice system to susation. Although, as a small precedent, the existence of harm is already required to be proven for cases of slander and libel, in many jurisdictions.

    Regardless, I know that you are above most, an ideological man. And ideologically I believe that there can be no superior law than: if it harms none (ones' self excluded, as we are by nature if not by law, property of ourselves), do what you will.

    Hypothetically if I am capable of smoking crack cocaine on a daily basis and maintaining a healthy, strife-devoid role in society, the state has no moral right to move against me. Laws shouldn't dictate morals, laws should punish people who have caused harm.

  4. Well said. There's this concept of one having the right to face one's accuser. If a crime has been committed, generally the idea is that somebody has violated another person's rights, that person has been harmed in some way, and he addresses the court for restitution. If there doesn't exist a person who can stand up and say, "this person has violated my rights", then I don't see why the courts should have any jurisdiction to interfere with the accused person's life.

    If a cop entraps a person in a sting, there is no victim, there is only an "assumption of crime". Essentially, cops are being paid to pose as professional victims in order to punish people who might engage in an activity that's not socially accepted, even though it hurts noone. Like prostitution. If a prostitute gets paid by a john, and the john gets sex for his money, then there's noone to complain. So the cops step in and take the position of a prostitute who, ironically, is opposed to prostitution, because the minute a deceived john strikes a deal, the prostitute turns around and puts cuffs on him. Or in a different case, a cop might bag a prostitute for roaming the street. Who is the accuser? The cop? Whose rights have been violated? The 'community', that doesn't happen to like the idea of women dressed provocatively who like sex, walking down their streets? Fuck off, I say.

    If somebody drinks alcohol and assaults another person, harm has been done, and there is a victim who can address the court for his grievance. If somebody else smokes pot, and that's it, then nobody has been hurt, and nobody can call him to court to address some violation of rights. But there's this nebulous conception of harm, these days, that seems to suggest that citizens have a right not to be morally offended. Or they have a right to control how other people live their lives. It's bullshit. And the funny thing is, it's neither Christian, nor American, if you consult source documents.

  5. Sorry, should have clarified where my thinking is: when I think of a society that has no laws or taboos against nudity, the first thing that comes to mind is our society as it is now, but suddenly minus the clothing. I wasn't thinking of civilized nudists, but rather of every slob and unrestrained teenager I've ever known.

    I was envisioning a place where everything's the way it is now, and then suddenly, poof, everybody was suddenly naked and felt no shame about it. If everyone in the world suddenly got drunk all at the same time, a lot of people would be unprepared to handle the situation responsibly, too.

    Obviously this is probably not how the repeal of a law or the acceptance of a social idea would play out in real life. Still, the notion that people need proper exposure to a culture before they can accept it or become a part of it seems relevant here.

    Most people haven't met the courteous, hygienic nudist, and especially if they're only familiar with the lowest common denominators, they have no compelling reason to change the status quo. After all, if the requirement of wearing clothes in public isn't harming anyone, why bother fighting it unless you're personally affected, or are willing to fight against all restrictions that are unreasonable or unfair to certain parties?

  6. Whoops, I'm going to have to split this reply into two parts.

    "I wasn't thinking of civilized nudists, but rather of every slob and unrestrained teenager I've ever known."

    Yet, the issue still isn't one of clothing, it's one of behavior (and personal habits). How easy is it to tell 90% of people not to go naked because they're incapable of doing it right while still letting the other 10% do their thing without harming anyone? And then punishing only the people who behave in a way that is harmful, rather than based on what they're wearing?

    I, personally, don't believe that it's right for minorities to have to make unreasonable sacrifices for the majority. And that's coming from the perspective of being a minority whose life is frequently made miserable by majority customs. I feel for the people of the majority, too, but I'm not gonna sacrifice my comfort for their convenience. It might not be easy, but I know there's a better solution. And it probably has to do with education. Teaching people to be independent thinkers, to respect diversity, and to reject conformity merely on the basis of tradition.

    "I was envisioning a place where everything's the way it is now, and then suddenly, poof, everybody was suddenly naked and felt no shame about it."

    If noone felt any shame about it, I'm not so sure there'd be much of a problem.

    "If everyone in the world suddenly got drunk all at the same time, a lot of people would be unprepared to handle the situation responsibly, too."

    Frankly, I don't think drunkenness is a favorable comparison to nakedness. Nevertheless, I think a lot of people would be able to figure out how to deal with it rather quickly. It's not rocket science. And it's not so much a matter of saying "anything goes" as it is saying "let's be reasonable". And requiring clothing in every situation is not reasonable.

    "Still, the notion that people need proper exposure to a culture before they can accept it or become a part of it seems relevant here."

    And the real tragedy is that we're not exposed to it during childhood, and raised that way. In fact, a lot of kids are natural nudists, until we teach them body shame (that, plus the shame that sets in during puberty, due to our sexually repressed culture). The easy solution is to start from the bottom up, but the first step is to make it ok. We don't have to force anyone to be naked, we just have to tell them they're allowed, and then gradually teach them how to do it.

  7. Part 2...

    "Most people haven't met the courteous, hygienic nudist, and especially if they're only familiar with the lowest common denominators, they have no compelling reason to change the status quo."

    Unfortunately true. I know just how hard it is to change the status quo, and it is a great source of frustration in my life. Most people are just fine with the way things are, even if they're not perfect. But I'm not. That's the trouble of being a minority, but I won't give up on trying to change the world, because I believe it's the right thing to do, rather than to sit back and say, 'eh, it's good enough'.

    "After all, if the requirement of wearing clothes in public isn't harming anyone, why bother fighting it unless you're personally affected, or are willing to fight against all restrictions that are unreasonable or unfair to certain parties?"

    I think we *should* be fighting against all restrictions that are unreasonable or unfair to certain parties. I am certainly *willing* to, but practical concerns dictate that I can't do everything, and it's only right that I should focus on the particular issues that affect me most directly. True, I wouldn't expect you, or anyone not sharing my position, to go out and advocate on behalf of my cause, but I do expect you to make the right decision when the opportunity comes up - that is, to choose liberty and justice over control and tradition.

    Because, in the end, it all comes down to the question of what you would do if I walked down a public street nude. If you would call the cops, then you're betraying freedom and infringing on my rights. If you choose to turn your head (at worst), or better yet, smile at me, then you're celebrating freedom and diversity, and helping to make the world a happier place. If _I_ saw something I didn't like out my front window, then as long as nobody is being hurt, I would simply ignore it. Live and let live.