Whether it was an explicit intent of the books or not, over the years many have taken aspects of the Gor novels to heart. The Gorean community is more than just a fandom, however, as many fans of the series try to incorporate the philosophy of the books into their daily lives.
The Gor series enjoyed widespread success for years, but only a select few took it to heart as representative of a philosophy to live by. As was the case for so many things that began to change in the mid 1990s with the advent of the Internet. Fans of the series met online and began forming online communities, mostly fan-based or role-play-based but also a few who took the books more seriously. In 1996, the first “modern” Gorean philosophy-based group was founded under the name ‘Silk & Steel” by three men going by the names Bear, Marcus, and Zeb. It began as an online chat room but soon began holding offline meetings as well.
Many other groups sprung up soon after in various venues, mimicking Silk & Steel to a greater or lesser degree and with a greater or lesser degree of success. Many were strictly role-play oriented (the books offering a robust fictional world in which to do so), other discussion-oriented, most a little of each. In the early days they were spread across many online media (IRC chat rooms, AOL message boards, mailing lists, and the like) but over time migrated from one preferred chat medium to another. Some met offline, most did not. Over time, many practitioners from the BDSM community came across Gor and either embraced it as a “stricter BDSM” (untrue) or rejected it as a “too extreme BDSM” (also untrue), resulting in a great deal of overlap between the two “alternative lifestyle” communities.
After a peak in the early 2000s, the online Gorean community began to decline. Many who were around only or primarily for the role play aspect got bored, the Gorean-flavored BDSMers found new fads, and many simply gave up on the admittedly extremely hard work of building and maintaining an online community, particularly one with a strongly counter-cultural and libertarian bent.
Various offline or online/offline hybrid groups also sprung up over the years. Notable and influential groups include the original Silk & Steel, GoreanWhispers (led originally by Ursa, then by Crell), GorFest (an annual offline “Gorean SCA”-type event), and the roving House Malkinius biannual gathering.
As of early 2017, the primary Gorean forums are
- Second Life - Almost entirely Gorean role play, within a 3D environment one of the more popular settings there
- Palace - An online chat program with 2D avatars allowing scripted behaviors and providing a realm in which Gorean roleplay and theory can be explored
- IRC Channels on various networks
- FetLife Groups - (community-oriented BDSM/Kink social networking site), catering to a mix of role players, lifestylers, and those who straddle the line.
Schools of Gor
The following is specifically based on the research of Crell of Chicago, keeper of the Chicago Home Stone
There are, broadly speaking, four schools of thought within the larger Gorean community. Those are Simulation, Emulation, Inspiration, and Justification. All four can be taken in positive or negative ways, depending on the people involved.
In practice, anyone involved in Gor partakes of at least a little of each although different people emphasize different ones. Those who are more heavily invested in role play will tend to emphasize simulation and emulation, while the “lifestyler” or “philosophical” Goreans will focus on inspiration and justification.
As its name implies, simulation is simply an artificial construct inspired by the books. On its own it is largely role-play oriented, trying to “act like” Goreans from the books. However, simulation does not need to take place within a structured role-play context. Strictly speaking, even speaking of the application of “slavery” is a form of simulation, as is any other cultural affectation borrowed from the novels, such as greeting others with “Tal,” clapping by hitting the left side of your chest, or so forth.
Nearly everyone involved in Gor borrows some cultural affectation or another, be it (consensual) slavery, claiming a Gorean caste, adopting words or phrases from the books, etc. In itself there is nothing negative about employing some of these, and in fact such cultural affectations can help to reinforce desired behavior as a form of self-teaching. (That’s the entire point of cultural practices and traditions.)
At the same time, however, simulation that is not understood as simply a replication of a real activity, created for training or entertainment purposes, becomes falsehood. When simulation is taken too seriously, it becomes a form of lying to oneself, and thereby others.
If simulation is trying to “act like” Goreans from the books, emulation is trying to “be like” Goreans from the books. It is a subtle, but important, distinction. Whereas simulation is inherently superficial (which in this context is not a pejorative), emulation seeks to internalize behavior from role models in the books that one wishes to be more like, or to emphasize one’s similarity with a characteristic or character.
Emulation is again a natural and normal form of learning. Children learn by emulating their parents and peers, employees learn a job by emulating their new colleagues, and would-be Goreans learn to be Gorean by emulating other Goreans (either real or fictional).
As with simulation, though, emulation without understanding is hollow and false. Too, the books contain a fair number of characters that are not the sort one should emulate, nor are they presented as such. Trying to emulate and learn from one of them is counter-productive.
More loosely, one can take inspiration from the books and develop a practical, useful worldview from practices and philosophies drawn from them. If it sounds weird to take a series of books and build a worldview and lifestyle around them, consider that’s what Objectivism, Confucianism, or any western religion is.
Of course, such a process is fraught with risk for being inspired in directions that were unintended or even counter-productive. There are many negative characters and villains in the books. Shall we be inspired by them? There are many parables in the books that can be understood superficially, but many others that can only be understood with a deeper contextual background and analysis. Should we accept superficial inspiration of all of them?
It is well understood that humans take solace in community. The vast majority of people like, want, and need the support of a community of at least somewhat like-minded individuals in order to not feel outcast. A host of human behavior and culture is built on this need for connection; in fact, a lack of such behavior is considered a psychological disorder: sociopathy.
For those who feel like they do not “fit” with conventional western culture, finding a successful book series, and especially a community, that feels the same way they do is very gratifying. It allows them to say, “I’m not wrong, I’m just different, and there are people like me so I’m OK. I’m not broken.” That ability to have a “safe space” to be oneself without judgment from chosen peers is necessary for mental health, and for many who feel outcast may feel like coming home.
Given Gor’s emphasis on natural, biological factors in human behavior that provides another layer of justification and comfort in one’s beliefs. It allows those who hold such views to ground their beliefs in science and biology, at least in part.
If Gor can be used to justify “I’m not broken, it’s OK to think this way”, however, it can also be used to justify many other things. The books, especially given their hyperbolic style, can easily be taken to justify grossly antisocial, violent, destructive, misogynist behavior. As with every other belief system in existence, it becomes incumbent on those who practice is to police it and its definition, and exclude those who would use it to ends they do not support.
In the books, the main urban subculture explored has a very explicit profession-based caste system. In practice it is modeled on the early modern European guilds, not Indian caste system that most westerners would think of when they hear the word “caste”. To some extent it is simply part and parcel of the mytho-historical setting, or as a way to further exemplify the warrior caste ethos (as the Caste of Warriors receives virtually all of the attention paid in the books, with Slavers and Merchants coming in a distant second and third). However, on another level the caste concept in the series demonstrates that, quite simply, different people value different things, and think in different ways. A member of the Caste of Scribes, for instance, may value knowledge and its dissemination more than money or power, whereas a Merchant would find such priorities utterly backwards. A Builder would take pride in a building that stands for decades, while a Singer would care more that a song or poem he wrote has moved a grown man to tears.
We’re never given a complete list of castes in the books, but it’s implied that there are dozens if not hundreds. The five “high castes” are, in rank order, the Initiates (Priests, although they are generally presented as charlatans in the narrative), Scribes, Builders, Physicians, and Warriors. Other castes mentioned include the Merchants, Slavers (whether they’re part of the Caste of Merchants is a subject of some debate within the books themselves), Metalworkers, Woodworkers, and Peasants. There are also a few “adoptive” castes, such as the Singers or Players (professional players of Gorean chess, or kaissa).
Not all of the regions on Gor have a caste system. In practice, only a subset of practicing Goreans identify with any particular caste. Among the primarily role-play branches of the community it is overwhelmingly common for men to identify with the Caste of Warriors, although that is less due to actual affinity than aspiration. (The number of physically unfit couch-surfing online grand warriors is purportedly quite high.) Among more lifestyle/philosophical Goreans it tends to be more eclectic. Those with a military background still often identify most closely with the Caste of Warriors, but there are a fair number who self-identify with the Scribes, Builders, or Merchants. The majority, however, do not particularly identify with any Caste.
Also, unlike in the books, there is no caste support structure or hierarchy in practice. Those who claim a caste do so unilaterally, and either as an aspirational statement or as a way to advertise “this is what I believe”.