The Dominatrix and the Sheriff

I’ve been watching the reaction on Twitter to President Trump’s pardoning of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio is a despicable authoritarian bigot, who I’ve written about several times previously. He is famous, and famously proud, of how tough he was on the prisoners in his custody. He liked seeing them mistreated and humiliated, often in very unpleasant ways. I don’t know if he actually enjoyed it when his prisoners died, but a bunch of them have died, often under questionable circumstances, and Arpaio has never shown an ounce of human sorrow.

I was most struck by the reaction from Mistress Matisse:

Now, this next part is probably the sort of thing that only seems profound at 3:00 in the morning (when I started writing this), but bear with me… What really got me thinking is that Mistress Matisse and Joe Arpaio have something in common: They both like to hurt people.

As you might have guessed from the name, Mistress Matisse is a professional dominatrix. She literally hurts people for a living. And if you follow her Twitter feed (@mistressmatisse), you’ll see she enjoys her work. Oh, I’m sure there are days where she’s like “Oh God, I can’t wait to veg out in front of the TV once I finish sticking needles into this guy’s penis…”, but for the most part, she seems to have found satisfying employment. She hurts people, and she’s good at it.

Nevertheless, Mistress Matisse is pissed about Joe Arpaio, because of course, the difference between Mistress Matisse hurting people and Joe Arpaio hurting people is consent. And consent makes all the difference in the world.

Mistress Matisse posts descriptions and photos of the some of the things she does to her clients and, honestly, I couldn’t take that. If she tried to do some of those things to me without my consent, I would resist, violently if necessary. But her clients not only give their consent, they actually pay her to do those things.

Yet if I’m ever in Seattle and I happen to run into Mistress Matisse, I wouldn’t be the least bit concerned about her pain-causing skills. I don’t pretend to know or understand her very well, but I’ve read enough of her writings to know that she thinks very carefully about issues of consent. She doesn’t want to hurt people against their will.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on the other hand, doesn’t give a shit about consent. He’s a thug, and he had an army of deputy thugs working for him. I would be very nervous running into him in a situation he controlled. If he could find a way, he wouldn’t hesitate to have a critic like me thrown in a cage in the 110 degree heat of the Arizona sun.

I don’t have any profound point here. And I certainly hope this is not coming across as “Joe Arpaio is even worse person than a professional dominatrix,” because that would be insulting to the pro dom community. The juxtaposition between Mistress Matisse and Joe Arpaio just struck me as a stark illustration of the importance of consent.

As a someone who leans libertarian, I place a lot of importance in the concept of consent. And I regard the absence of consent as a defining requirement for legitimately designating something as a crime: Sex without consent is rape, commerce without consent is theft, and inflicting pain without consent is torture.

Lack of consent alone is not enough to make something a crime, but if there is full consent, then it should never be a crime. As far as I’m concerned, Mistress Matisse is a successful and valued practitioner of an unusual art. Nothing to worry about.

Joe Arpaio, on the other hand, hurt a lot of people without their consent. Obviously, detaining and punishing criminals without their consent is a necessary part of criminal justice, but the lack of consent also makes it especially important that the criminal justice system is subject to strict requirements and oversight. Arpaio had little of that, and he and his deputies went way beyond what was necessary to keep the peace.

It’s particularly relevant to the contrast with Mistress Matisse that Arpaio jailed consensual sex workers and subjected them to harsh conditions, including one particularly gruesome case in which his guards tortured and killed a sex worker. Yet that’s just one of many deaths and many more prisoners subject to torturous conditions. Arpaio was one of the most monstrous figures in modern American law enforcement.

There’s something very wrong, some kind of complete inversion of the meaning of consent, when we have governments that want to throw people like Mistress Matisse in jails that are run by people like Joe Arpaio.

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