Docile by K.M Szpara
There is no consent under capitalism.
In an uncaring debt ridden future – the US state of Maryland has devised a debt relief system where Debtors become Dociles. Which means they are essentially slaves to the trilionaires for a fixed term to pay off their debt. Dociles take the drug Dociline which ensures they do not recall their term of servitude. To pay off his family's debt farm boy Elisha agrees to become the Docile of Alexander Bishop III – whose family make Dociline.
Elisha exercises his right to refuse Dociline angering Alex who only cares about being CEO of his family's company. Alex could care less about debt resolution or Elisha. He only cares about making Elisha into the perfect Docile without Dociline. The fatally possessive and selfish Alex will teach Elisha submission.
Questions remain: why are there so many trillionaries in Baltimore?!? Why does nobody ever raise the obvious fact that the Docile system is just an excuse for trillionaries to abuse the poor? Also why is it legal for children to become Dociles?
There are many ghastly characters in this book: the selfish Alex, his evil family and friends, Elisha's terrible father who mocks his son for falling prey to Alex's 'behavioural incentives' and being sexully, physically and emotionally abused by him. Then there is the SJW group Empower Maryland who say they want to 'rescue' Elisha from his entrapment in debt and physical and sexual violence but only hurt him more. None of them face any consequences. The brainwashed Elisha is coerced into unprotected sex and is stuck in a lifetime master/slave violent relationship with Alex and sees bedwork as 'love'. It is with unseemly haste Elisha embraces being facedown and ass up for Alex. Elisha is reduced to just (literally) crawling around with nothing to do except please his owner.
This was good. Alex never says sorry even when outright called a rapist. The issue of historical slavery is never once addressed. The Docile system is just accepted in this chillingly normalised world. Elisha ends up despondent and Alex sees their transactional, pornagraphic and violent sex and breaking Elisha's will to go on as his right.
There is little public discourse on the Docile system only escalating sexual demands on Elisha. Alex does not care about Elisha only his desire to live the life of a society gent. Elisha is scared by Alex's reponses to him. Alex wants to control and have power over Elsiha and wields his money and power over Elisha like a weapon.
Anything Elisha asks for basic loyalty or respect, he is gaslit and taught he has no right to his feelings, his experience of the world or of any say in their 'relationship'. Alex causes Elisha pain and it is unshakeable opinion that it is his right to do so. Any attempt by Elisha to start a conversation about the brutalities that have been inflicted on him is to begin an argument that will have no resolution.
Elisha is in a cycle of panic and neglect as he has to constnatly understand what Alex wants and has to provide it in order that Alex might continue to 'love' him and not subject him to punishment. Elisha's present and possible future are a palimpset of failure, self loathing, despair and Alex's legal control of him.
How is there social coherence in such an unequal world? Alex abuses his Docile and others even though it cannot be guaranteed their consent to become Dociles was given voluntarily. There are no moral objections to the social expectations about the public abuse of Dociles. Alex is obsessed with his ambition, image and his alleged class and is an active participant in abuse which leads to the court case that ends the novel. There is no real moral ruminaiton by Alex, no thought of those irreparably harmed by the rich's strategy of manipulation and forcing the poor to live lives of abuse.
The ending pushes the boundaries of good taste as it is clear Alex and Elisa are forever interconnected and Elisha may be unable to shrug off the many cruelties he has been subjected to. This is not the damning indictment it thinks it is. What shaped this culture, values and social relations? Why does Elisha continue to love the person who demeaned him? One fears for Elisha and his shattered confidence at the end. One also doubts Alex's sincerity at the end.
At the end, Alex wants a 'relationship' with Elisha but Elisha can't really also want that. It's untenable. On such a bittersweet and ambiguous note this book ends. There's no one there to help Elisha and nothing is definitively won.
“He's mine to do with as I please.”
“No one ever notices we exist until we owe them money.”
“He's whatever I made him.”
“I only know the person I made him into.”
“Trust someone is asking my consent as if I had a choice.”
“Alex has conditioned you to behave the way he wants you to. To follow his rules. To speak and act in the manner that suits his lifestyle. You're not the person you used to be.”
“I wonder how much goodwill that will earn me.”
“You never chose my friendship.”
“Assuming we were friends when you didn't have a choice in the matter.”
“Choices I've been fooled into thinking were my own.”
“How could I say no,”
“How could I consent when I had no choice but to say yes?”
“Enforce corporal and emotional punishment.”
“His behaviour was forcibly modified.”
“Terrified of losing them – not as they are but as I want them to be.”
“Never refused me and did whatever he was told.”
“No one believed us or helped us,”
“Refused to see or care.”