This topic is to brainstorm possible ideas and understandings of consent, especially as it touches upon sexuality. It relates to ways that contemporary understandings of sexual consent and agency (at least in the U.S.) seem inconsistent to me. And also how even though interpersonal consent seems more progressive to me than selfish opportunism, I think it still carries a lot of baggage which is seldom remarked upon relating to attitudes of proprerty and territory generally. Also I am thinking of models of consent which are collective, going beyond the merely interpersonal. These are areas typically never considered in contemporary capitalist Western-ish societies, which I expect some people would consider provocative. But it is my intention to consider and discuss, not to provoke. Please do not presume that because I am interested in the far frontiers of what consent is and/or can be, that I am striving to undermine yours or anyone elses preferred models of consent, because that’s not the case! I am sensitive that discussion which seems to “lawyer” at the fringes of consent can easily seem creepy. But I am trying to extrapolate trends and consider possibilities, and to explore agency and autonomy in conventional ways, to maximize interesting possibilities even if it seems like some weird transhuman sci-fi nonsense. My interest here is in how people relate to each other and structure societies, not to find clever/skeevy ways to circumvent others boundaries. That might sound defensive, but I need to clarify my interest because it is a sensitive topic.
At its most basic level, I think that problems of personal consent are not unlike those of personal property. On either side, they are defined by somebody feeling entitled to what they need, with differing levels of justification. As with tangible goods, one party might feel entitled to help themselves to what somebody has, while the other feels entitled to keep it unmolested. So consent can be established as inter-personal, a framework of protocols to ease the negotiation of boundaries - access, engagement, etc. These are the perspectives I most often encounter. They are both founded upon feelings of entitlement, but the strictly personal is limited by its selfishness, while the inter-personal is more sociable and sophisticated. At this stage, getting people to even acknowledge and respect the inter-personality of consent is quite a challenge. But I see in conservative politics and capitalism how it’s an uphill battle because most of social life only accepts the agency of the individual in very limited and superficial ways, so as to enforce hegemonies and hierarchies. For example, who sincerely discusses “consent to be governed”? Or “consent to create any contracts as equals?” In many areas, people tell me that I would be a fool to expect non-sexual consent to be realistic, because of the inter-relationships and externalities of existing power structures. Yet I feel that those difficulties do feed back into other problems of getting sexual consent recognized, as well as other manifestations of disempowerment and disenfranchisement. Sexual liberation and feminism grow as forces which exist as bubbles within strata largely characterized by commodification and coercion.
How I see people transcending the problems of selfishness and coercion in other areas of life is in adopting the discipline of avoiding personal problems, of being able to frame possible problems not only as The Self and The Other, but also as other kinds of groups and collectives. Of striving to overcome individual biases in part by application of ecology and social “set theory”. For example, a personal description of commerce might be “a way to get the stuff I need”, whereas a collective description could be “a way to manage and distribute resources”. Being able to see beyond the immediate personal need greatly increases the dimensionality of the models which can be used. These are areas of conceptuality which I refer to as social, collective, or trans-personal. And not unlike how trans-personal ways of considering old primate stand-bys such as property and territory can open interesting and productive possibilities, I think that this readily applies to human sexuality and consent as well. An example I like to give is that of the centralized control of people possible with the imposed selfishness of the nuclear family model, as compared to the more communal nature of a village / extended-family model. The former is more “modern” because it creates more economic activity which can be exploited by an elite, while being arguably less efficient for the average participant. But many seem reluctant to progress from an inter-personal framework to a trans-personal one because they don’t implement protocols which enable the trans-personal. It’s why those who prefer to not consider themselves selfish still insist upon notions such as property and territory, mostly as reactions against the self-serving approach of those who are still at the personal level. Likewise, it feels risky to abandon inter-personal consent if the only alternative seems to be becoming a mere object of other’s selfishness.
So, I am interested in discussions of frameworks of consent which are social, rather than personal. Possible benefits and disadvantages alike. How can one align one’s sexuality directly with a certain type of cultural or societal climate? To what extent might “personal chemistry” simply be a lot of deeply conditioned mating rituals, and what do you think might be beyond them? What are some of the possible ethics of being a social and sexual being while avoiding selfish personal attachments - to oneself and others? To what extent does this change if instead of individual-as-organism we consider it from the persective of organism-as-colony, or person-as-network? What do you consider as being the frontiers of consent?
A few possibilities:
- sex as ritual - One consents to a particular kind of sex act, time and place, independent of who the other individual participants are.
- sex as lottery - Consent is to the process used for selection of other participant(s)
- sex as commune - Consent to the membership, ideals, or cause of a specific organization or movement