Domination The Art of Sex
Over-Generalization Problems for Structure-Based Accounts
Over-generalization worries are the most common objection to neorepublican approaches to domination. I
f domination is just the capacity for arbitrary interference, and given that such capacities seem ubiquitous, domination may be ordinary to the point of triviality.
Even when sitting around minding their own business, physically strong people have the capacity to overpower weaker people; even if they never do, people with a natural gift for persuasion have the capacity to talk the gullible out of their savings
Also, if the primary function of the state is to minimize domination, neorepublicanism suggests that the state should try to make people less strong or less persuasive in order to reduce their capacity for arbitrary interference.
That is unsavory. An obvious fix is to insist that only “actual or attempted arbitrary interference” dominates (Friedman 2008: 252).
For some feminists, the over-generalization worry is specifically that neorepublicans make relationships of care and dependency unreasonably suspect.
A caregiver who would not dream of harming their charges nevertheless has the capacity to: infecting wounds instead of cleaning them, throwing someone down the stairs instead of helping them up
Pettit acknowledges this feature of his theory when he claims that caring and uncaring mothers—and presumably caring and uncaring fathers—alike dominate their children in a state of nature
The alternative is to insist that though care providers may stand in a relationship of unequal power with a vulnerable dependent, unless this power is abused it does not dominate.
Domination, instead of mere power, requires active violation of moral standards and/or compromising the best interests of others
The attractiveness of this alternate depends on how we understand powers or capacities.
If A has a power or capacity to interfere so long as it is possible in any sense for A to do so, as Pettit sometimes suggests, criticism focusing on the value of care is damaging: physically possible for caregivers and parents to interfere with their dependents.
If, however, A does not have the power to interfere so long as appropriate penalties are in place for such interference, the objection may not be so potent.
In other words, it’s not mere possibility that matters, but social or legal possibility—roughly, what it is possible to do without risk of sanction from other members of your social group or by agents of the state
A hallmark of feminist ethics and political philosophy has been the insistence that power relations inside the home often manifest domination, even though the home can be a center of loving care and dependence, and that legal regulation
—against spousal abuse or child neglect—might reduce that domination (Costa 2013: 928). Such laws, of course, do not make interference impossible simpliciter; instead, it makes interference risky and potentially costly.
Also, shifting from domination as mere power to domination as abuse of power may lead to other unattractive results, especially given broadly feminist commitments.
If domination requires actual or attempted interference, women who avoid interference by “seduction, ingratiation, [or] avoidance” will not count as dominated
This feature of neorepublican accounts—the insistence that domination is the “mere condition of being vulnerable”—may be exactly what makes the concept useful for feminist philosophy
Can Non-Agents Dominate?
That agents alone can be dominated is rarely disputed; but can agents alone dominate? What about non-agents like institutions or systems or ideologies?
Vaclav Havel’s (1991: 136–138) example of a grocer in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia recurs in the literature as a possible example of domination by a system, where particular agents are merely conduits (Lovett 2010;
Krause 2013; Blunt 2015). The grocer posts slogans favorable to the regime in the window of his shop. By posting the slogans, he both signals his cooperation with power and extends its reach.
Similarly, Sharon Krause (2013: 194) recalls her mother’s insistence that she take smaller, more “ladylike”, steps and overcome her natural stride.
Perhaps the ideology Krause’s mother both obeys and enforces is what dominates, rather than any particular agent or agents (see also Foucault 1975 [1977: 26–27]).
Workers who have deeply imbibed the values of capitalism might be another example (see Thompson 2013, 2018): e.g., someone who accepts whatever meaningless work is available because their sense of self-worth depends on not being a “slacker”.
While it may be that the values of capitalism are a social construct produced over time by agents for their own benefit, if what motivates the worker is their own corrupted sense of self-worth,
it makes sense to think that they might be dominated by an ideology rather than other agents.
The central question is whether we can understand possible examples of domination by systems or ideologies as instances of domination by agents through systems or ideologies.
An affirmative answer is more often assumed than argued for in the literature, but Frank Lovett tries to motivate it with this example:
There are other proposed counter-examples to the claim that the “capacity to interfere … at will” dominates
What about “a playground bully” who is “able to beat up any of the smaller children but is widely known only to beat up black children”?
Does the bully dominate the white children just as much as the black children? What about someone like 1950s
American senator Joseph McCarthy? He had the same power to interfere in the lives of right-wing and left-wing Americans; but citizens on the left had far more reason to fear him.
Perhaps the intuitive judgment here is that the bully only dominates the black children, and that McCarthy only dominates left-wing citizens. (Both examples are from Ian
Shapiro 2012: 324; 2016: 21). It should be noted, however, that the persuasiveness of these examples depends in part on whether we think domination is the sole political evil,
at least in the sense that all other political evils can be addressed most effectively by minimizing domination.
The black children and the left-wing citizens in Shapiro’s examples are obviously worse off than the white children/right-wing citizens. If we diagnose their condition only by appeal to the evil of domination,
Shapiro’s examples are damaging to the idea that domination can be an unexercised power. This is true even though there may not be much practical space between Shapiro’s account of domination and Pettit’s, given that Shapiro speaks of complaints against domination as complaints against a “power relationship”. Interestingly, Shapiro emphasizes the possibility that someone may be vulnerable to domination without being dominated, and that vulnerability to domination—like domination itself—is morally significant and represents an injustice
While the idea of domination as vulnerability recurs in the neorepublican literature, there is relatively little examination of this intermediate category:
those who are vulnerable to domination without being dominated.
The controversy about whether completely dormant power can dominate continues, but there is broad consensus that you can be dominated even if nobody is actively dominating you at the moment.
Even if there is no domination without an actual display of power over you or people like you at some time, domination might persist when unexercised precisely because of its previous exercise.
As Wartenberg (1990) says, the actual exercise of power can “condition” a social relationship in a “longstanding” manner.
If power has been exercised over you in the past, or over someone like you (perhaps because you are both members of a subordinated social group), this will affect how you relate to those in power.
For example, suppose you know that the boss can fire you at will. He has not fired you or even threatened to do so, and so has not actually exercised his power over you.
Even so, you have seen him exercise this power over other employees. As a result, you do whatever you’re told for fear of what the boss can do to you and has done to others.
This motivates the view that your domination does not require the active exercise of power against you even though it might require the active exercise of power against someone relevantly like you.
Of course, this leads to further questions: e.g., How recent must active exercises of power be in order to condition ongoing social relationships where power is dormant? Such questions have received relatively little attention thus far (but see Hirschmann 2003
Imagine a society in which the law of property recognizes the possibility of ownership in human beings, but in which it just happens that there are as yet no slaves.
After some time, however, slaves are imported, and the law duly supports their masters’ rights of ownership. Later still, the masters repent, and manumit their slaves. (2010: 48–49)
Lovett thinks we will agree that domination occurs only during the period after slaves are imported and before their manumission: the legal system that allowed property in slaves enabled domination but did not dominate.
The proposed lesson of another thought experiment—this one from Gwilym David Blunt (2015: 17–18)—
is that domination without agents is conceivable but impracticable, at least in the near term. Suppose, a legislator organized a dominating regime and died soon after, but not before programming
“a series of automatons … that cannot be reprogrammed” to enforce his will against a subordinate group in the name of a privileged group. If this is domination,
it cannot be domination by the deceased legislator (on the assumption that the dead have no agency),
or by the automatons (who are assumed to be not sophisticated enough to count as agents),
or by the privileged population (who did not write the laws and cannot control the automatons); therefore, it must be the system itself that dominates.
In general, the disagreement about whether agents alone dominate tracks the division between theories directly influenced by neorepublicans and those descended from other traditions.
The neorepublican preoccupation with the master/slave relation makes it natural to focus on domination by agents: to be dominated by a master is, obviously, to be dominated by an agent.
Working from this central example, the republican tradition tends to see institutions, systems, and ideologies as sources of power that make mastery possible rather than as standalone sources of domination without agents.
If, instead, our attention is focused on the ways power can shape the consciousness of those under its sway, domination by, e.g., patriarchy itself becomes more plausible, even without the looming presence of particular patriarchs.
Non-Moralized, Norm-Independent Theories
Theories identifying domination with even unexercised power tend away from moralization and norm-dependence. If A has a great deal of power over B,
A will be well positioned to wrong B, or to force B at least to act like A has authority. Non-moralized/norm-independent theories maintain that this is not essential to domination.
What is essential? Roughly, that A has an unchecked or uncontrolled power to impose their will on B, to shape the framework of choices available to B so that B is highly likely to cooperate with
A. The disagreements among non-moralized/norm-independent theorists are about the kind of checks or control that might prevent domination, and about how imposition works.
Most non-moralized/norm-independent theories follow in the wake of neorepublicanism, and share its basic approach
—theorizing domination in two movements: identifying a kind of power manifest in domination but also in non-dominating social relationships;
then identifying the feature of domination that separates it from the power manifest in those non-dominating relationships.
Usually, the second movement describes the controls or checks present in non-dominating social relationships and absent from the dominating ones. These two motives will be treated in order below:
First, what kind of social power is of interest to a theory of domination? Neorepublicans like Pettit focus on the capacity to interfere with an individual’s choices, by replacing, removing, and/or misrepresenting these choices.
A can interfere with B’s choices by removing potential objects of choice: suppose A runs over B’s bicycle, destroying it. This removes the option of riding B’s bike. Suppose instead
A knifes the tire: this replaces B’s option of riding their bike with another option: riding the bike after the tire is replaced or repaired. Removal and replacement are both objective forms of choice interference: mind-independent alternatives been removed or replaced.
Misrepresentation of options is cognitive: e.g., A lies to B and says that only idiots have bikes like B’s. If B is credulous and refuses to ride their bike from embarrassment,
A manages in this way to interfere with B by misrepresentation (see Pettit 2012).
This general emphasis on choice is what provokes the over-generalization worries already introduced (Shapiro 2012; Friedman 2008; Blunt 2015; McCammon 2015).
Some choices clearly have more weight than others. Nobody thinks having no choice about where to sit in a café matters compared to having no choice about where to live.
Connecting the former as well as the latter to dominating varieties of choice-interference, because both might represent, e.g., the removal or replacement of an option, seems to exaggerate the idea of domination.
If, however, we want to keep domination and the reduction of freedom conceptually connected, there is reason to see domination in all power to interfere, at least when that power is outside the control of the interferee.