The Big Problem With Gor

Role-playing Gor is one thing. But believing in it is another.  And for some people, they may gradually go from role-playing it to believing it without realizing it. And, as a result, they may start believing some very harmful things about women — and themselves. 

The Big Problem With Gor

By Billie Brewster
There are a variety of problems with the ethics and culture presented in the series of Gor science-fiction novels written by John Norman. But one problem stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and it’s what makes Gor not just disturbing to read, but potentially dangerous to the life, welfare and mental health of some people.
There are two primary concepts commonly accepted in Gorean culture that most make it different than Earth culture:

First concept: It is ethically acceptable to remove the life and/or liberty of a person who has been physically overpowered.

Second concept: It is ethically acceptable to remove the life and/or liberty of someone who engages (or expresses a desire to engage, or even an interest) in the activities commonly associated with a slave.

The first concept, which leads (in the books) to raiding parties attacking homes and caravans and killing all the men and enslaving all the desirable women, is justified by saying it supports “naturalistic” evolution. According to this concept, physical prowess is the most important trait of a human being, and it follows that physically weak guys and ugly women are supposed to be killed for the betterment of the species — no matter how beneficial they may be in non-physical ways (such as being skilled surgeons or great musicians). Naturalists say that only allowing the strong men (and the attractive submissive women) to survive and reproduce is the way of nature. But successful species do not do that. Wolves don’t do it. Nor do ravens. Nor do tigers. Nor other major species. It’s simply not natural.

Members of wolf packs may kill intruders into their territory, but they don’t raid other territories or steal members of other packs. Nor are only the strongest members allowed to survive. Wolves work as a team, with the mental skills valued alongside the physical ones. In one documented case, a wolf pack continued to provide food and protection to an elderly female even after she had broken her jaw and was unable to fend for herself. Why? Because she was a very good tracker and was highly skilled at locating herds of prey.  Omega wolves, the lowest and most submissive members of a wolf pack, have been shown to be valued because of their ability to instigate play into wolf culture.
What does wolf behavior have to do with the success of the human species? Possibly everything. To quote animal behaviorist Temple Grandin in her book, “Animals in Translation,” “[A] study by Robert K. Wayne and his colleagues at UCLA of DNA variability in dogs found that dogs had to have diverged from wolves as a separate population 135,000 years ago. … [W]olves and people were together at the point when homo sapiens had just barely evolved from homo erectus. When wolves and humans first joined together, people only had a few rough tools to their name, and they lived in very small nomadic bands that probably weren’t any more socially complicated than a band of chimpanzees. Some researchers think these early humans may not even have had language.
“Going over all the evidence, a group of Australian anthropologists believes that during all those years when early humans were associating with wolves they learned to act and think like wolves. Wolves hunted in groups; humans didn’t. Wolves had complex social structures; humans didn’t. Wolves had loyal same-sex and nonkin friendships; humans probably didn’t, judging by the lack of same-sex and nonkin friendships in every other primate species today. (The main relationship for chimpanzees is parent-child). Wolves were highly territorial; humans probably weren’t — again, judging by how no territorial all other primates are today. By the time these early people became truly modern, they had learned to do all these wolfie things. When you think about how different we are from other primates, you see how doglike we are. A lot of the things we do that other primates don’t are dog things. The Aborigines have a saying: ‘Dogs make us human.’ Now we know that’s probably literally true. People wouldn’t have become who we are today if we hadn’t co-evolved with dogs.”
Therefore, despite naturalists who say mankind is most successful when people follow their primate instincts, the fact is that we’re successful as a species because we diverged from the other primates and adopted lupine (non-primate) behaviors.
Some naturalists say that mankind used to be based on the idea that only the strongest men and most desirable submissive women should survive. Really? When? Maybe the Mongol hordes did it — but can anybody say that mankind grew to become one of the most powerfully influential species on Earth because of the actions of Genghis Khan? Or did we become so powerful because of the peaceful ways of the Greek and Roman empires? Or maybe from the scientific and philosophical breakthroughs of the Renaissance? Let’s see — when Great Britain ruled more than a quarter of the Earth about 150 years ago, were they killing all the weak men and turning the enemy women into pleasure slaves? Or were they being ruled by a very strong, independent, intelligent woman who was attempting to encourage freedom of thought through (the possibly misguided) imperialistic spread of modern ethics?
Despite commonly touted misconceptions, studies have shown that the idea of “strong men and submissive women” was not the way mankind lived in the distant past. Before the advent of agriculture, early humans lived in nomadic tribes, and food sources were limited to the herds of prey they followed. As a result, overpopulation would lead to starvation, and so women were encouraged to hold high-status positions in society (such as priestess, administrator, artist and even warrior) to give them something to do besides stay at home and make babies. It wasn’t until mankind learned to grow their own food did humans gain the luxury of being able to support large families. And only then, when people starting seeing the value of having a large population to support large armies for attack and defense from other agriculturally based cultures, did the idea of turning women into submissive baby factories take hold.

Regarding the second concept, an associated societal belief is that a woman can only truly embrace her femininity by becoming a slave. This is propagated in Gorean culture because Gorean men only allow certain desirable things to be done by slaves, then say that anybody who wants to do them really wants to be a slave. Circular logic at its worst. Let’s say that a culture believed that beef was holy food, but chicken was unclean. Free people ate beef, and slaves were only allowed to eat chicken — but, conversely, nobody was allowed to eat chicken but slaves. And let’s say that the culture believed that, because only slaves ate chicken, if somebody publicly expressed a desire to see what chicken tastes like, or especially if they liked the taste of chicken, then that was proof that they wanted to be a slave at heart, and the penalty was immediate and permanent loss of liberty. Sounds absurd, right? But on Gor, women are told the only way to embrace their femininity is to be a slave because the laws only allow slaves to fully embrace their femininity. Pleasure slaves are required to be submissive, have sex with strangers, wear revealing clothing and dance with erotic abandonment. So if a woman expresses an interest in any of these things, even as a casual comment, even as a momentary fantasy, even in the privacy of her home with her free companion, she can be instantly enslaved for life.

Add to that the public-relations campaign (repeatedly described in the books) showing happy pleasure slaves compared to disgruntled free women, and you have (at least, in Gorean society) women naively wishing to be a slave because they think it’s the only way they can ever be truly feminine.

During the years proceeding the American Civil War, and actually many years afterward, it was commonly believed among white people (and even among black people) that the Negro race is genetically inferior to the white race. It was believed (and taught in churches, of all places) that Negroes were born with genetic differences that made them naturally stronger than white people but less intelligent than white people, and therefore designed naturally to be servants and slaves. Something people believed a long time ago, right? Wrong. I grew up in Texas in the 1960s. I was taught by my parents and grandparents that “niggers are dirty” (my mother wouldn’t let me swim in the city pool because “niggers swam there”). And I was taught “niggers are dumber than white people” and “niggers are lazy” and “you can’t trust a nigger”. It wasn’t just bigotry. People actually heard these things so much they actually believed them.

What if the Gor books were written such that every other child born to a person had dark skin? And every person with dark skin had to walk around in fear that they never accidentally appear to be submissive, even out of friendship or love, because they could be enslaved for life as a result? You think the books would be acceptable to anybody but White Supremacists?

At one time I totally embraced the idea that being a kajira was something truly desirable for a woman. During that time, I wrote an essay on the “joys” of being a slave in Gorean society. The following is taken from that essay:  “From where does the joy of being a slave truly come? One word answers that question completely. That word is “love”.  In love does someone willingly sacrifice their own dreams, hopes and desires in order to fulfill those same things in another. Because love affects those of all castes, from peasants to initiates, truly can all people know the bliss of giving of themselves in servitude, even if legally they remain free. … [A] slave is wise to always remember the following — perfect love casts out all fear. Through love for a master, one comes to not only accept the whip, but to welcome it as a tool to help one become truly the best at providing the desires of those you choose to love. This may be why women seem to be more prone to becoming slaves — because they often are more courageous and willing to love than men are in our world. Yes, courageous, for loving is a risky act in which one jeopardizes not just their body, but their mind and soul as well. Loving the one whose name is engraved upon your collar is just the start, however. For a slave truly embrace their lot in life joyfully, one must be willing to love ALL masters — which means ALL freemen and freewomen. Then can a slave find themselves in peace no matter where they may physically reside. Love is servitude. Servitude is love. Remember those two sentences and be happy in your days.”

Since writing that essay, I’ve broken free of the idea that my natural submissiveness is an indication that I should be a slave. After coming to that realization, at first I thought my essay was incredibly naive. But then I realized it wasn’t my essay that was naive — it’s Gor that’s naive. When somebody loves somebody, they want to serve them joyfully, gaining pleasure from giving pleasure. It’s what love is. Do women love more easily than men? Or do they simply express it more openly? Is that why they seem more submissive? I don’t know for sure. But just because a person wishes to lovingly serve another person — or lovingly serve many other people — doesn’t mean they are a slave at heart. There’s a big difference between being allowed to serve and being forced to serve.  Love is servitude by choice. Slavery is not. Even though a slave may love her master, it is truly despite being forced to wear a collar, and not because of it.

Gor hates love. Gor is afraid of love. Gor corrupts love. Gor says that any who wish to serve should be forced to serve all, forever, to lose all ability to be independent members of society. Those who wish to be open in love should be locked up and limited and become objects, be tightly controlled. Men on Gor are taught that love is weakness. When women show love, and express those things that are considered “womanly”, it is considered weakness and proof they should be enslaved. Nobody loves on Gor except in tightly controlled situations.

Love is not meant to be controlled. It is meant to be free. And that’s what scares the people of Gor. What scares Goreans. What scares so many people in our society.

Those two concepts I identified are not dangerous by themselves, and they are actually acceptable as background ideas used to create a fictional storyline. In comparison, the world created for the Buffy: the Vampire Slayer television series is an awful place to live, but it’s interesting and enjoyable to experience as an observer (by watching the television show or reading the associated books). Gor is also a world that can be interesting and enjoyable to experience as an observer (by reading the books) or even as a roleplayer (in online simulations). The difference is that nobody says it would be a good thing if the Buffy universe was real. Nobody says the world should really be one in which demonic vampires and evil magicians are intent on destroying humanity. But that’s what so insane about “real-life” Goreans. They think those two concepts I identified are actually legitimate. They actually believe that the real world — the Earth we all live in — should really be run like it is on Gor.

And that’s the problem I spoke of in the first paragraph. The fact that some people truly believe Gorean ideology is a good idea, one that mankind should follow. They truly believe that the only good woman is a submissive one, and that the only natural role for a submissive woman is to be a slave. And they sometimes actually convince women to believe it, too, and to act on it — in real life. Roleplaying Gor is one thing. But believing in it is another.  And for some people, they may gradually go from roleplaying it to believing it without realizing it. And, as a result, they may start believing some very harmful things about women — and themselves.
And that’s when Gor becomes dangerous.



About this entry