Monday, November 7, 2011

My wife is really clever. (Also, how I exercise power over her.)

So, I'm arguing with my wife, Aubry about what to watch. She wants to watch a sitcom, I want to watch cartoons. The tension is in the air for a stand-off. Before the fireworks can start, I proceed to get her sitcom going on Netflix, yielding to her preference.

Her response, to my giving her what she wanted (my gift), was brilliant.

She said, "you can't concede, and win!" Meaning don't just give in like that! Now, on first blush, her statement seems to be self-contradictory (How can one both concede and also win?). But Aubry was actually exactly correct, as I will explain.

You see, the stage was set for a confrontation. And the fight would follow a predetermined script. We would disagree. We'd stonewall for a bit. One of us would grudgingly yield. The situation was such that one of us was going to get our preference on Netflix, and the other was going to get to yield; thereby rendering the person who got their preference indebted, indefinitely. Thus, the gift of yielding to Aubry's Netflix preference, was no gift at all, since it was in fact a reciprocal exchange. (When a buyer gets a house, in exchange for a promise to pay for it later, it's not correct to say that the bank gave the buyer a gift. It is instead an exchange. Similarly, when I give Aubry her way and make her indebted to me, what I'm doing is not giving a gift. I'm just making an exchange.) We tally up our gifts and debts, and the next time we're trying to decide what to watch on Netflix, the person with the most Netflix IOU's gets to choose. (This is an example of what Derrida and Caputo call the many "cunning ruses of love" and "the gift".)

Now, as to Aubry's objection ("you can't concede, and win!"). What she was reacting to was the fact that I didn't stick to the script. I short-circuited the conflict and skipped straight to the conclusion by immediately giving-in. We knew how it would end, so that wasn't the problem. Insteand, what bothered Aubry is that she was denied the opportunity to make the gift, the initial yield that would set the recipricol exchange into motion, because I (rather than stonewalling and making arguments) skipped right to the end of the confrontation and started her show. By excluding her opportunity to act, I took the choice out of her hands. I conceded and won. I got to choose how the exchange would take place, and secured a debt from her without even giving her the opportunity to object. Not only that, but by acting so quickly and not acting petty about getting my way, I reserved the moral high-ground for myself. This in turn, made her look petty. Therefore, I cheated. I didn't play by the rules. And by conceding so early, I won.

I think I do this a lot. It is just another example of my will to power. In the face of confrontation, even conceding can be form of taking power, and, thereby, winning. You force the other into a position of indebtedness and retain moral authority over her. Perhaps this is what Jesus Christ meant when he taught that the "weak things of the world [will] shame the strong".

Built in to the act of yielding to the other is an act of assuming power over the other. I sometimes wonder, is it possible to escape this economy? Where does love fit in? Is love an economy, or is it something that exists interstitially between the feints and parry's of this ongoing spar?

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