Impositionists and their problems with consent.

In this entry, I want to make some general observations about some common characteristics that impositionists seem to share. When I say “impositionists,” I am referring to people who hold to an ideology which explicitly advocates imposing harm.

Invariably they have reasons why such imposition is just or reasonable (e.g. innate evil or sinful nature, innate gender, the innate stupidity of children and other species, might makes right, etc). I do not care about these reasons, or at least not in this entry. All I will say is that only the limit cases (e.g. saving someone’s life by pulling them out of harm’s way) have been proven justified; every systemic imposition of harm in our society is blatantly unjustified. Of course they don’t really care about justification anyway: harmful power has no motive to deconstruct itself, only its victims do.

* They have major issues with consent.

My first issue is that of consent. Consent is a vitally important topic because it represents the bare minimum standard that must be met by any action for it to be non-coercive; advocates of most ideologies are keenly interested in portraying them as non-coercive for the same general reason as advocates of some pseudo-science want to portray it as scientific: being explicitly unscientific or coercive is considered bad form in this day and age.

So again let me list the criteria for consent to be present. First, the obvious:

1. There must be a clear signal of approval of the action.

This is merely a slight extension of the standard definition. And now, for the corollaries:

2. If there is no signal that one or the other party would accept as a refusal (no alternative), then there can be no signal of approval either, and no consent.
3. A signal of agreement given where there is a credible alternative, but said alternative is not viable due to pre-existing conditions, is as invalid as one given without actual alternatives.
4. Any signal of agreement given under a threat of force is the product of duress, not approval, and is therefore not consent.
5. In a situation where one of the parties cannot communicate, there can be no consent.
6. If the signal of agreement cannot be given prospectively (i.e. to the action itself), then there is no possibility of consent for that action.

I would say that all impositionist ideologies break at least one of these principles. Before I get into examples, I do want to point out that probably all these ideologies fall into most categories I’ve listed, and when I say that a given ideology breaks a particular point, I am not by any means implying that there’s nothing else wrong with its attitude towards consent.

***

* Most religions heavily rely on childhood indoctrination in order to propagate. This breaks point 3, as childhood indoctrination is most definitely a “pre-existing condition” that makes alternatives (to belief in the religion one was raised in) non-viable. A person cannot be meaningfully said to consent to anything that they’ve been indoctrinated to believe (e.g. we don’t say a cult member consented to the hardships of being in a cult, such as false imprisonment or human trafficking).

The religious call it “freedom of religion.” They are incapable of explaining how being indoctrinated and peer pressured into a religion which keeps you in by threatening eternal torment has anything to do with “freedom.”

* Genderism is similar to religion in that it’s indoctrinated from the youngest age, and therefore there cannot be any freedom to live without some conception of gender, gender hierarchy and gender roles (which are all the same thing). It’s equally meaningless to say that the performance of gender is consensual, in any form.

* Statism always assumes that anyone born within a nation’s borders “implicitly consents” to whatever the State makes into law. As a citizen, you simply have no means to signal disagreement with the law, breaking point 2 (prejudice against prisoners would also enter into this).

Yes, I know, the standard argument is that voting is the signal of agreement. But that’s not really true, is it? Otherwise non-voters could veto any law applied to them, which obviously does not happen.

Another argument is that staying in a country is the signal of agreement to the laws of that country. But we don’t use this “go away if you don’t like the rules” in any other context. Either way, it’s only further proof that there’s no means to signal disagreement (compare to telling a child “you can’t get beaten by your dad if you just run away!”).

Related to statism is imperialism and neo-liberalism, which follow the same general pattern, except applied to other countries. You will be liberated whether you like it or not; consent is always assumed.

* Capitalism relies on pre-existing conditions for its docile workforce (poverty, expensive education, creation of artificial unemployment, need for medical insurance in the US). It is therefore part of point 3. The conditions that make capitalism possible (property rights, money system, corporatism) are set by States, so what I’ve said for statism applies here as well.

The usual sort of reply you get to capitalist consent issues is that no one has to take any specific job. That may be so, but it doesn’t provide an alternative to capitalism. Faced with the massive inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, objectification, servility and conformity inherent in capitalism, it’s natural to want alternatives. People do not naturally want to work for other people’s profit margin or to have no control over what they produce.

* As a way of often dealing with having limited possibilities (or no possibilities, in the case of trafficked women) within the capitalist system and often as a result of parental abuse ingrained in the personality, prostitution is also part of point 3.

* Natalism, insofar as it assumes consent to being born where consent cannot be obtained, breaks point 5. The usual natalist answer is that we should assume implicit consent because it’s necessary in order for them to experience the pleasures of being alive (compare with: brown people implicitly consent to us “liberating” them and will be happy later, after we’re done killing them).

But mostly natalists just don’t care about consent, because they assume that the impossibility of consent is a carte blanche to do anything you want, which is absolutely illogical and delusional. Impossibility of consent basically means you are not allowed to do anything, because consent is, again, the absolute bare minimum criterion.

* Pornography and BDSM both fall under point 6: they both pretend to be concerned with consent and contracts, but only prospectively, which means that there can be no agreement on specific acts.

Advocates would, I suppose, argue that a contract is enough agreement to signal consent to any act that’s part of it. But if you sign a contract to perform a series of acts, and then no longer wish to perform one of the acts but are coerced or intimidated into performing it, that’s rape pure and simple. No contract can contradict this fact.

* Misopedia and carnism, two ideologies which posit a hierarchy where children/other species occupy the bottom rung, both partake of point 1, because they just don’t care if children or other species consent. The “lower intelligence” argument supposedly justifies exploiting children and other species. Guess who gets to define intelligence? Adult humans, of course. Surprise, surprise.

When you do point out to misopedists and carnists that they are simply ignoring consent issues, they will use the “lower intelligence” argument to posit that children/other species cannot consent, therefore justifying coercion against them. Again, this is logical nonsense.

***

I cannot think of a single ideology which explicitly creates harm and does not also attack consent in some way. This is not too surprising, as they are also all hierarchies, hierarchies set people apart as superiors and inferiors, and inferiors cannot have the same freedoms as their superiors; a child cannot have the same freedom as a parent, a cow cannot have the same freedom as a human, a sub cannot have the same freedom as a dom, a worker cannot have the same freedom as a boss. There must be some imposition, and that imposition cannot be consensual (the superior-inferior relation is based on obedience backed by power, not consent), for a hierarchy to be maintained.

Note that you could do this same analysis with the term “scientific” and show how various pseudo-sciences line up.

What is the perspective on consent from their perspective? One credible model was made by Tom W. Bell and is called the “scale of consent”:

Now, from a rational standpoint, only the very first item on this scale- “negociated exchange”- is actually a form of consent (“standardized exchange” implies giving consent prospectively, which breaks point 5), so the idea that the top half represents different forms of consent is complete bullshit. “Negociated exchange” is basically consent, the rest of the top half represents all the non-consent that impositionists claim as consent.

If we look at this scale, not as any sort of truth, but as a tool to help us understand how impositionists think, then I think this scale can be used as a complement to my list of points. It’s basically a chart version of the impositionist’s rationalization playbook.

For example, consider “custom” as signal of consent. That is an exact description of cultural relativism and how it provides support for customs such as female genital mutilation, suttee, foot-binding and prostitution, to name only those. It is assumed that because it’s “their/our culture,” that the issue of consent is automatically resolved.

Granted, proponents of cultural relativism would not state outright that they think there can be no consent issues. Rather, they would say that we, as outsiders, have no grounds to criticize the practice, but this really amounts to the same thing; we are after all talking about harmful, non-consensual practices, and therefore suppressing criticism about them is the same thing as evacuating consent issues.

The concepts of “standardized exchange” and “consent per past agreements” are often used to justify rape, especially spousal rape. Marriage is supposedly a contract which grants mutual sexual ownership, and therefore spousal rape is seen as just sex. It’s also often argued that past interactions justify sexual demands (you made out with me, so you should let me fuck you).

Likewise, “hypothetical consent” is reflected in many different areas. Take the natalist justification “the vast majority of people are happy, therefore anyone would want to be born.” That’s purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to gauge a state of non-existence: anyone who is happy also exists, and has vested interests in being optimistic. It does not mean that e.g. a hypothetical person in Rawls’ Original Position would always want to come into existence. In fact, it seems more likely (from the antinatalist perspective) that a fully informed person in such a position would decline existence.

* They refuse to quantify the risk of harm.

Impositionists have to ignore the harm their ideology causes because that would mean they are cheering for the perpetrators, not the victims, which is why they have to claim victimhood in any way possible. Statists build up the big bad leftists and Anarchists as their persecutors, capitalists scream about the “entitlement” of poor people, the religious demonize anyone who stands in the way of their pseudo-moral agenda, parents claim to be slaves to their children, and so on.

Related to this fundamental dishonesty is the fact that impositionists refuse to quantify the risk they are willing to impose on others. For instance, I asked anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates to quantify the risk they bring about, and very few even tried. Of course they cannot, for doing so means no longer ignoring the harm their ideology causes.

I admit that asking such a question puts the person between a rock and a hard place: who wants to say they want such and such number of children to die as a result of their cause? But if you have this problem, why do you believe in an ideology that entails the death of children in the first place? Shouldn’t that make you think?

The quantification of risk can, and should, be asked for all ideologies which promote harm. For instance, here’s one that has been asked about pornography:

And a serious question for porn users in general: what’s the maximum percentage of risk you’re willing to accept that the scene you’re getting off to has a performer who was coerced into participating, who couldn’t consent to participating, who was forced to perform acts she was uncomfortable with or explicitly barred, who didn’t consent to the distribution of the material? Give me a number.

But we can make similar questions for everything else, too. In all cases, what we’re trying to find out is: what’s the point where the implementation or fulfillment of the ideology entails just too much harm? And most importantly, how do we determine that point?

That would be the start of any real discussion on the ethicality of harm and risk. But impositionists will not, and probably cannot, have such discussions (feel free to prove me wrong!).

* They treat people as means to an end.

This can be deduced easily from what I’ve said so far. Impositionists see other people, especially their inferiors, as resources to be controlled (non-consensually) by a hierarchy to achieve some level of control over society. Impositionists see harming other people as a tradeoff, that it’s okay to do so in the name of some higher goal, which is really some level of control over society. All of that is very anti-freedom, anti-individual and anti-human.

If there is any ethical principle that should be obvious, clear and basic, it is that we should not treat other human beings as means to an end. It is the most basic form of egalitarianism that one could conceive.

* They all fail the Chomsky Principle.

I’ve discussed before what I call the Chomsky Principle, that we should in principle reject any hierarchical relation or structure unless it’s proven to be justified in some way.

[T]he basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified- it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it- invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else- they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power

One thought on “Impositionists and their problems with consent.

  1. […] of the reframing in BDSM has to do with “consent.” I’ve already discussed the problems they have with consent. Within the cult mentality, they believe that purely symbolic gestures like signing contracts or […]

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