(Woman at far right, with whip): "OK, it's my turn to be the one tied up next!" Image source: WhippedAss.com.
Every so often, the human race makes a huge leap that makes human life immeasurably better for everyone.
I would say the single most dramatic example of that was the germ theory of disease and the public health efforts that wiped out many childhood illnesses and caused the infant mortality rate to plummet, and also made childbirth a lot less dangerously fatal for many women.
Prior to these events, most everybody born had lots of brothers and sisters whose major notable thing they did was not survive to adulthood. In fact, in medieval times it was a common practice not to give children formal names until they reached the age of six or so, a way for the parents to distance themselves from their own children so they would not suffer quite so horribly if the children died in infancy, as was very likely.
Of course, people, especially mothers, did suffer horribly (emotionally) anyway. The net result of the understanding that it was tiny animals invisible to the eye that were responsible for people wasting away and dying was a huge increase in human health, welfare and happiness, especially once we understood that they lived in our water supply.
And arguably, the people who made these great improvements in human life weren't public crusaders or politicians or generals or the usual suspects, but techie types who were redesigning municipal water systems to keep the outflows separate from the inflows. (I.e., keep the piss and crap out of the drinking water, not to put too fine a point on it.)
But the whole change in human conduct and improvement in human life came about because of reframing of the causes of disease: tiny animals did it, not evil spirits or bad humors or whatever. It arose out of a techie hobbie (microscopy) which reflected a new understanding of human existence, namely, that the universe is not built to human scale. The astronomers had discovered that initially, looking at the scale of things larger than ourselves and discovering whole new worlds, then the microscopists looked at things smaller than ourselves, and discovered whole new worlds.
And arguably, the recent advances in nanotech and genetic modification is further exploration of the small end of the universe's scale, reaching all the way to the Higg's Boson at present. Who knows what else we will discover?
It's my hope that the next big advance in human welfare and happiness will come about because of the efforts of a group of psychological hobbyists, i.e., the BDSM community, changing our understanding of what it is to be human once again.
BDSMers do something quite remarkable, I think. They deliberately play with some of the drives that cause a lot of human unhappiness: the drive to gain power over others, the drive to give up power to others, the drive to hurt others, the enjoyment of being hurt. Dominance, submission, bondage, slavery, mastery, pain, pleasure, it's all a fun game to us. And after we're through playing with those drives, we go back to living relatively normal lives.
We've learned that these drives can be exercised in a manner that is safe, sane and consensual. But looking at what goes on in the world, it's very obvious that others have not, that they are literally driven by their drives, acting out in real life what we play out in the bedroom.
We understand that we have these irrational aspects to our behavior, it's part of being human, and we have learned to control them and enjoy them as part of sexual play. But many people are deeply suspicious of us because they DON'T have that understanding of human nature, they think we are all inches away from being rapists and torturers, because they don't understand human nature as we do.
They think they don't HAVE these irrational drives ... and of course they do. Everyone has them, to greater and lesser degrees, but they have them. They think you can't safely indulge those impulses, because they don't have that framework of understanding of human nature that we do. In their view, your appetites define you, they can't be controlled and ... played with.
It's obvious, though that every last human being DEFINITELY has dominance/submission impulses. All of human society, everywhere, is hierarchical to some extent or another. Every country has leaders, every business has a boss, every household has a head. We could not conceive of it being any other way ... because we're human.
And we play out our dominance and submission games, most of us, because we think those impulses toward dominance and submission ARE us, they define us ... because most of us can't see them in operation.
Not like BDSMers can see them as they play with them sexually. We have developed a different frame for understanding these fundamental human drives that allows us to exercise our impulses towards dominance and submission in ways and to an extent that is not possible outside the area of sex play, and to do so harmlessly. In fact, possibly healthfully, able to work with and understand dominance and submission behavior in others in very different ways. We see hierarchies and the dominance and submission impulses that are fundamental to them differently, because we have a different intellectual framework than others.
You know, like those guys with microscopes who eventually saw disease differently, because they could see the little animals living in the water, we can see the little animals living in our psyches diffeently, because we can take them out and play with them.
And eventually, perhaps, we can learn to undo the harm that those animals in our psyche do, undetected, because we can see them now. Perhaps instituting massive changes in the way people relate to one another in social hierarchies might just bring the human race to whole new levels of human health and happiness.