I woke early my brain flipping and spinning from what I have been reading the last few days of what it means to “consent.”
Here then are the troubling thoughts of the day on an issue I understand yet cannot comprehend. What exactly is consent?
When I ask this question what I am speaking about is not only the specific concept of Sexual Consent; I am speaking of the broader and wider aspects of consent in a digital community that is pervasive, always on, always recording, always sharing. When does the bubble of “I” begin and when does the bubble of “YOU” intersect to create the sea-foam of “WE”?
Consent obviously has a lexical meaning which I looked up via the online Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/consent (accessed May 22, 2016).
That states consent is both a NOUN and VERB.
NOUN: Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.
VERB: To give permission for something to happen.
In both cases it would seem the word ‘consent’ is an active participatory process between individuals, that requires an expression of what is wanted/desired; and a response that indicates active agreement.
Then we get all legal on the issue. Wikipedia the omnipresent quick summary of collective knowledge provides this adequate summary of how ‘consent’ can be analysed: (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consent for full article)
- Implied consent is a form of consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather inferred from a person’s actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation (or in some cases, by a person’s silence or inaction). Some examples include implied consent to follow rules and/or regulations at an education institution.
- Expressed consent is clearly and unmistakably stated, rather than implied. It may be given in writing, by speech (orally), or non-verbally, e.g. by a clear gesture such as a nod. Non-written express consent not evidenced by witnesses or an audio or video recording may be disputed if a party denies that it was given.
- Informed consent in medicine is consent given by a person who has a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences of an action. The term is also used in other contexts.
- Unanimous consent, or general consent, by a group of several parties (e.g., an association) is consent given by all parties.
- Substituted consent, or the substituted judgment doctrine, allows a decision maker to attempt to establish the decision an incompetent person would have made if he or she were competent.
Without getting to much into the intricacies of the four concepts of ‘consent’ outlined above, it is clear that in all cases there is a requirement for active participation in a process. Yet we live in a world that seems to take consent for granted, by the way our own governments treat us and our data. It is evident in the way law enforcement works to monitor and manage our daily lives. It is pervasive in the way the Internet is used to record and analyse our daily lives and activities. And now it is in the way we move through public spaces can be used to track and monetize our economic interactions.
In other words we live in a world predicated on “Implied Consent”. On the age-old legal rationalization that since we did not protest, then in fact we gave SILENT consent. Or as has been argued before: “Silence is Consent.”
And here is the problem we enter into: When the bulk of our real world interactions is based on our IMPLIED and SILENT consent, how the fuck do we teach people when EXPRESSED consent is absolutely required? How can we as a modern and diverse society accept on one hand that IMPLIED consent is the normative operating process of our modern economy; and then say but in personal relationships you must always have EXPRESSED consent?
To really change the world, to change our operations our normative operation must be to always assume that EXPRESSED consent is required. And yes this is not easy. In fact it is incredibly and horribly difficult.
Here then is the rule for consent, for all consent:
Always Ask. Every time.
Just because the answer was YES for yesterday; doesn’t mean it is still YES today.
I am guilty of this same presumption and assumption.
Here is the rule of living in a community:
Always listen, Always look, for a change of consent. We all need a safe word, and that safe word by default is: STOP.
When you hear that word from another person I advise you to take it to heart. And yes you can get all pedantic on me and show me the times when you really shouldn’t STOP ‘because what if…” Dammit just STOP it! Yes there are times you should RUN when you hear STOP – and you will clearly know when that is the case.
I am not asking you to stop thinking. In fact it is the exact opposite: When you hear STOP it actually means START THINKING.