I have lived in relationship for 46 years. What have I learned in this time? Perhaps the most important realisation has been the idea and practice that we can live from love.
Love for me means seeking the flourishing of a significant other and of significant others. The strong version is where love is reciprocal, where giving and receiving love are mutual, alongside this, if we have the capacity, is seeking flourishing generally.
What enhances love and flourishing? Safety, negotiation, diplomacy, care, nourishment attention, etc., to which as a psypractitioner I would add, emotional competence, particularly knowing the extent to which our choices are unduly repetitive of upbringing. Love is nourished by watering the roots of inspiration, protecting the growing shoots of creativity, giving support to persistence and stamina, and celebrating the only miracle, cellular life – reminding ourselves that the present moment is all there is, that future and past are body memories. These are the ingredients from which love can be baked.
Love is a matter of intention, of practicality. For example, in the dance of relationship, how can our dancing sometimes honour intimacy and sometimes distinctness? How do we negotiate a balance between them?
But before you dismiss living from love as a hangover from hippydom or as emotional hygiene, there are some questions to be answered, does capital accumulation equal flourishing? What about greed, envy and jealousy? What about debt?
For me these have long seemed pointers to something deeper, something out of sight. During a decade of political activism, resisting the attempts of the psychological therapies in the UK to get into bed with the state, I realised that contrary to what you might think, these professions had been captured by a societal norm, that dominance and coercion were ‘natural’ and inevitable. Or at least that was how these professions did and continue to behave.
Why does this matter? It mattered to me because it brought dominance into the foreground. I came to see how dominance is the antithesis of love. In the presence of coercion, or the threat or use of force, love dies. It is replaced by trauma, frustration, disappointment and the sharper feelings of hate, envy and the slippery, sticky qualities of collusion and corruption.
Tomatoes can be forced to grow in ways that mean they have thick skins and can be gas-ripened when the supermarket needs re-supply but flavour is impoverished. So too does dominance distort our living, working and caring for each other. Tenderness, grace, mutuality, caring and love, go missing.
In this Cultures of Domination picture album I present evidence collected over a couple of decades of how we inhabit cultures of dominance, how dominance is celebrated, how it enjoys high status as aspiration, how we tolerate it as normal and ‘natural’ and inevitable, i.e. unchangeable.
The evidence consists of publicly available pictures from the street, from media. They show how dominance gets in the way of love, make it seem unrealistic or utopian, how dominance kills love, demeans love.
When love goes missing, so also do the consequences of celebrating or tolerating dominance – abuse, harassment, trauma, insanity, injustice, damage, victimisation and discrimination are regarded as tolerable or unavoidable.
Cultures of domination feed off themselves often with, as many of these images show, a breathtaking disconnect. Dominance and the varieties of damage, abuse, trauma, violence it generates, seems beneath our daily radar. As the collection shows, bullying, coercion, threat, blackmail, force, injustice, exclusion and discrimination enjoy an astonishing level of status and privilege.
The intention is not to blame but to make a wake up call to what is intolerable. Just as child abuse (a central exhibit of dominance behaviour) or sexually harassment is no longer tolerable or inevitable, and just as public smoking wasn’t inevitable, so also a belief that dominance is ‘natural’ and inevitable demands active challenge and contradiction.
Conversation, comments and contributions are welcome.